Day 23 – Monday, July 22

We got a late start today because I had to finish yesterday’s blog this morning (damn all of you blog readers!).  After checking out of our KOA Kampground in Ilwaco around noon (an hour late), we continued to wind down the Washington coast and cross back over the Columbia River into Oregon, at Astoria.  The last time I passed through Astoria was slightly more than 20 years ago, with my brother Mike and some friends, on a one-week bike trip; we all met up in Portland, biked up to Astoria, then down the coast to Lincoln City, back inland to Salem (the state capital), and then back up to Portland.  It was an incredible trip, despite going numb below the waist for a week or two afterwards (how was I to know about testicular trauma?!?).

As we headed down the Oregon coast in our Honda Odyssey, we figured we’d make it to Tillamook by 1:30 or 2:00.  But I had neglected to account for pulling over for all the photo ops of the beautiful coastline, which added significantly to our travel time, so we didn’t make it to  Tillamook until nearly 3pm.

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Views along the northern Oregon coast

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The holy grail

Our first stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory was at the cafe for lunch, with a heavy focus on cheddar cheese.   Then it was off to the guided tour of the factory, which basically entails walking one flight up to the viewing area, where you can look down onto the main processing/packaging floor.  Not a great tour by any means, but who cares, when Tillamook ice cream awaits?

I started with a double scoop in a waffle cone: Oregon Strawberry atop Tillamook Mudslide.  Even though I was full, there were so many other flavors that I wanted to try that I went back for a 3-scoop sampler dish — of Wild Mountain Blackberry, Mountain Huckleberry and Fireside S’mores (the last two of which were amazing).  So after five scoops of ice cream, I was happily sated (disclaimer: the scoops in the 3-scoop sampler were just a bit larger than golf balls, so I didn’t go all Walmart or anything).

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This vehicle is powered by natural gas (only if the driver is lactose-intolerant)

We left Tillamook Cheese Factory around 5:30pm, so unfortunately it was too late to visit the Tillamook Air Museum just a mile or two down the road — it closes at 5:00 — but we drove by and took a few photos.  It’s housed in what is claimed to be the world’s largest wood structure, and it certainly looks like it is.

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The Tillamook Air Museum — so big, even Mr. Magoo couldn’t miss it

From Tillamook we headed down the coast a bit further, then inland through Salem and onward to Eugene, our destination for the night.  Fortunately my brother Mike happened to call me after we left Tillamook, and when I told him we were headed to Eugene, he mentioned that one of his med-school buddies — JJ Lefford — lives there.  So Mike quickly called JJ, and with about an hour’s notice, JJ is now hosting three people he never met until tonight.  Ahhh…the kindness of strangers.

It’s almost 1am here in Eugene, so I’m going to sign off and get some sleep before we head out tomorrow for Crater Lake National Park.

Day 22 – Sunday, July 21 (start of week 4!)

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Washington State Capitol, in Olympia

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Aytan picking his (founding) father’s nose in the capitol

After checking out of our hotel in Olympia, we headed a few blocks to the state Capitol.  There was a fundraising volleyball tournament on the grounds of the Capitol (for what, I’m not sure), with about a dozen or so games going on.  Toby hung back in the car to do work on his laptop, and Aytan and I ventured into the Capitol, which is a pretty impressive building, especially on the inside.   We spent just under half an hour in the building, mostly in and around the rotunda, as the legislative chambers were closed (it was a Sunday, after all).  And since no stop to a state capitol is complete without a trip to the gift shop, Aytan and I browsed for a few minutes before I committed to a few pieces of Laffy Taffy (3/$0.99!) — a healthy part of any meal. Then it was back on the road, heading southwest toward the Washington coast.  We pulled into the coastal town of Aberdeen at around 2pm, and when I spotted a DQ we were obliged to pull over — a little bit of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy and gray overcast day.  Fortunately, there was a Subway restaurant next door, so we dined there for lunch (Aytan had his usual — tuna on whole wheat, and I had a terrific chopped salad with veggie patty), and DQ ended up being dessert, not the entree.

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Pizza the Hut

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Aytan Solo in Carbonite

As we were heading out of Aberdeen I noticed a sign for “Sucher and Sons Starwars Shop,” with Yoda and Princess Leia standing guard outside, so I turned the car around, parked, and Aytan and I headed in (with Toby once again hanging back, to work and/or make some phone calls, probably to his girlfriend, Katie). IMG_3972 There were thousands of Star Wars items inside, along with several small televisions playing scenes from the movies, as well as documentaries about the franchise.  My favorite item in the store was a Pizza the Hut (from “Spaceballs”) made from real pizza

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Behind the wheel…finally!

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Pelicans over the bay in Westport

After leaving the store without making a purchase — no room in our Honda for any more stuff — we headed out of Aberdeen and continued on down the coast, where we stopped not long after in the nearby fishing/tourist town of Westport.  We passed a small motel that had a small go-kart track in its parking lot, so I pulled over.  Aytan said, “After 4,000 miles, I finally get to drive!”  For $7 each, the three of us had about 5 minutes of absolute thrills.  The best moment for me was seeing the ear-to-ear grin on Aytan’s face as he stepped on the accelerator and took his first lap; that alone was worth the $21.  And since I was driving my own go-kart and couldn’t capture that moment on film, I asked Aytan to go again so that I could take some pictures, and Toby was gracious enough to provide some competition (and to pay for Aytan as well).   We spent another 45 minutes or so in Westport, walking along the commercial/tourist strip at the water, where I bought some salt-water taffy (clearly not a good food day).

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Hitting the lanes in Westport

Luckily Aytan and I did get a bit of exercise shortly thereafter, as he and I went bowling at Viking Lanes just down the road.  We both bowled poorly, but it was fun nonetheless.  The best part was that it cost a total of only $6, because Toby had picked up a coupon for 2 free games at the motel where we went go-karting, so we only paid for the rental of the bowling shoes.

We left Wesport shortly before 7pm, in search of lodging for the evening.  We decided on a KOA campground in Ilwaco, so we continued along the coast.  When we hit the town of Raymond I spotted another Dairy Queen, and again we were obliged to stop briefly at the drive-thru window (if it makes you feel better, Toby and I got kid-sized cones, and Aytan got a mini-Blizzard).

We pulled in to the KOA campground at around 9pm, and luckily there were vacancies.  Because it was raining lightly and looked like it would continue throughout the night, we opted for one of the small cabins (those of you who have camped in the rain know what a pain in the ass it is to put away a soaking tent).  While signing in at the office we chatted up a woman from Puyallup, WA (about 30 miles south of Seattle) who was there with her three teenage sons and two of their friends; the woman’s husband is in the Army and is now stationed in Maryland, so she and the kids come to this KOA often, as it’s run by a family friend.  The boys — brothers David, Matt and Josh, and their friends Carson and Gavin (sp?) — were staying in the cabin next to us and had a nice fire going, so after Aytan, Toby and I had dinner (Toby once again made a nice bean and cheese chili; Aytan opted for PB and crackers), Aytan and I asked if we could use their fire to roast some marshmallows, and they said yes.  While Toby stayed back in the cabin to catch up on his work, Aytan and I hung out with the other boys for nearly two hours, roasting marshmallows, chatting, and learning a bit about each other.  They’ve now lived in Washington for about eight years — their longest in any one state.  I was incredibly impressed with the brothers (and their friends); they seemed more mature than many kids their age I know, and I assume that some of that has to do with growing up as Army brats, moving often whenever their dad gets a new station and being forced to raise themselves, to some extent, while their mom works.  Their dad had been deployed overseas several times, including in Afghanistan, for as long as three years at a stretch, with only a few short R&R breaks.  It just reminded me of the tremendous sacrifices made not only by those serving in our military, but also by their families.

Good kids…that anyone would have been proud to call their own.