After having driven Harvey the RV for almost 5000 miles we found ourselves back in Salem Oregon a few days too early. We were returning the car to Portland in a couple of days and had planned to return to our base in Salem the night before that, but having exhausted the few places of interest in southern Oregon we figured we might as well give the northern part another go. We slept well on the front yard of my exchange year host family and woke up with just one thought in our minds:
What are we going to do now?
It was not a simple question because we had a number of things we could spend a couple of days doing. We could head north to Washington and maybe see Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens, perhaps returning via the Columbia River Gorge. Or we could take it easy and find a nice campground for two nights and just stay there. All we knew was that we didn't want to spend the last days on the front yard. As nice as it was to stay with the host family, we had paid a lot for the car so there wasn't really any sense in not driving it.
In the end, after much thought, we decided to head back to the coast instead. We'd heard it was nice out there and there was a Walmart that was accommodating weary travelers on their parking lot. But before heading out we had a couple of things to do. First and foremost we had to find a dump station since we hadn't emptied our waste tanks since we left Las Vegas a full week before. We had filled our fresh water on the way, but going without a dumping for seven days is pretty good in my opinion. Now we were forced to do it however, but luckily we managed it for free at a Shell station near the airport when we filled up our gas tank. With that done we did what we had dreamed of doing for a couple of weeks, which was to get rid of our empty water bottles. We had been buying 500ml disposable bottles from Walmarts along the way and had kept almost all of them to return them in Oregon for five cents apiece. We ended up getting $6.25 for them, which meant we had been carrying 125 empty bottles with us! That's insane, for the size of the car at least.
These things done we returned on I-5 and drove south to exit 228 where we turned to highway 34 west. The road took us past Corvallis to highway 20 which we followed all the way to Newport at the coast. This was as far as we were planning on going that day since we got a very late start and the Walmart Supercenter there allowed free overnight parking. We paid back by shopping for some souvenirs though, I even bought a replacement for the very worn daypack I had been carrying with me since we left home. It was tearing in places and dirty all over, I wasn't going to use it anymore so I got rid of it. I kept the plastic clips though, in case I happen to need some in the fifteen years I usually hold on to crap like that.
Next morning we returned to the old faithful highway 101 that we had been following in California and headed north. The road is marked as scenic in AAA maps for the whole way up the coast and there are in fact a lot of places to see along the way. Many of these were marked on our map, but for our first stop we picked a place that wasn't (for future reference it was between Otter Crest and Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoints). The viewpoint was set upon a high cliff where a fence was separating a whole bunch of people from the great fall below. Seeing so many people staring out to sea was a sure sign that there was a whale down there, so we joined the group immediately. We weren't wrong and our death defying left turn to the viewpoint was rewarded by not one but two whale sightings as two gray whales were diving around the bay with a couple of tourist boats following their every move. The people on the boats got their money's worth as one of the beasts emerged from the depths right next to them, sprouting out water.
We continued on and stopped next at Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint which was a lot closer to sea level. The windy and almost chilly weather didn't bother us since we once again saw the telltale hordes of people leaning against the fences. Again there were two whales to be seen, this time much closer than the last ones had been. They were so close that if my shoulder wasn't so prone to dislocating I would have been able to toss a rock behind them. There was at least one seal there with them, which added to the already wonderful experience. So far we were very happy with our decision to return to the coast.
Those were the last wonders the Pacific Ocean was kind enough to allow us to see. Pretty soon after that we lost sight of the waves that we had grown so accustomed to in the last few months, our path having taken us to the shores of the Pacific over and over again. Now we were finally leaving it behind us, for who knows how long. Our path took us to Tillamook where we turned on highway 6 towards Tillamook State Forest. We stopped at the forest center to ask about possible places to spend the night and found that while there are a few options for dispersed camping, which is free, there are also multiple proper campgrounds that only charge $10 per night. Excited about that option we drove to Gales Creek campground and found it with a few sites still available. We picked one that had trees suitable for hammocking and paid at the metal box. We liked the place a lot, it was next to a small creek and had a couple of hiking trails starting from it. It also stayed nice and cool under the canopy of the trees, temperatures elsewhere in Oregon were rising up to 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 Celsius). We were perfectly comfortable, Sini even felt a little chilly in her parachute nylon hammock. We hadn't taken those out of our backpacks for a very long time, but here she found use for hers.
Had we known of this place beforehand we might have skipped going to the coast and just relaxed two days in the cool green light of the forest. Luckily we got there pretty early and didn't have to leave until 1 p.m. the next day so we got to enjoy it for almost 24 hours. In the end it was time to leave though and make our way back to Salem for our last night on the great American road trip. We followed highway 6 until it changed to highway 26 and continued on that until exit 69A where we turned towards I-5. The interstate took us eventually back to Salem where we parked once again on the host family's yard. This time only briefly though since we had a few things to take care of. Besides shopping we busied ourselves with dumping our wastes one last time, this time for a charge of $5 since we weren't buying any gasoline, and filling up the propane tank. The last part was a little troublesome but we managed it in the end at a Shell station other than the one we dumped at, for the price of $3.00 per gallon. The cheapest propane we'd seen on the trip was just $1.70/gallon, but luckily we had only used five gallons so the price didn't really matter. In hindsight we could have used the propane a bit more often to power Harvey's water heater. We had only done it twice and thus had used less than half of the twelve gallon propane capacity we had.
There was no way for us to show our hosts at Salem just how much we appreciated all of their help, but at least we were able to leave them our annual pass to U.S. national parks which was still valid for a year. Hopefully they'll find some use for it. We also gave them all the rest of our food and some other things we'd picked up along the way, in addition to our deepest and sincerest gratitude. Not only had they housed us, fed us and let us use their washing machine countless times, they had also provided us with a pile of AAA maps and TourBooks which had proved to be the best travel guides one can have on paper. We returned most of them to their proper place at our hosts' house, but kept the New York TourBook to be used in our next destination.
The evening went by quickly as we finished making Harvey presentable at the Cruise America office. We packed up all of our own things, vacuumed and even washed the car from the outside. It wasn't required in the papers but we thought Harvey deserved it. He had been a great home for us for 25 days and he had taken us through eight states, covering a distance of over 5000 miles. Even though he was a bit pricey, we were extremely happy about our decision to rent an RV on this trip. The 19 feet long compact model was the perfect size for us, we wouldn't have gotten anything extra from a longer one. The stump of a motor home got a lot of curious looks on the road but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way, we had no problem sleeping in the bed above the cabin so another one in the back would have been nothing but a nuisance. Harvey could fit into any regular parking spot, a feat not many other RV's can boast about. We also took him through places like the center of Salt Lake City, the Strip in Las Vegas, central Los Angeles and the Golden Gate Bridge and had no problems what so ever. He was basically a pickup truck with a wide bed and as such the perfect travel companion for two people who don't want their options limited. We'll miss him.
I got a little ahead of myself there, but oh well. We spent our last night in the house instead of the RV because it was simpler and in the morning said our farewells to our hosts. It took me eight years to return to them after my exchange year, we're hoping it won't take as long for us to see again. After the goodbyes we climbed into Harvey one last time and drove to Portland where we returned the car without any hassle. Then we got into a taxi which took us to the airport for $33 and checked into our Delta flight to New York City. The road trip was over but we still had a few days in the Big Apple before heading home through a three day stopover in Iceland.
There is no way to sum up our drive around the western states in just a few words because saying that it was great or awesome just doesn't cut it. Just the amount of pages I've written about the tour in this blog proves that we did and saw an amazing amount of things. We will not soon forget our time here and we might have to return one day to relive them the best we can.