I left Gold Beach on another overcast and drizzling day and made for Tillamook State Forest. I knew I wanted to visit Portland, but also that I would need to stop somewhere in-between according to the distance I am willing to drive and the money I had. I knew free camping and a coffee shop would see me through. I was also buying time wondering if I should contact my second cousin who I thought might still live in Oregon. Five years my junior, she had always been to me a spoiled princess that required babysitting. When I last saw her she had grown from an attention-needy child into a boy-crazy teenager and I was debating whether I really wanted to visit with someone who I plainly took as annoying.
I stopped at a farmer’s market in Coos Bay to stretch my legs and then in the late afternoon pulled into the state forest. Finding a secluded camping spot turned out to be quite a challenge, as the free camping available was mostly for ATV enthusiasts who were out in full force. I unfortunately damaged my car backing into what I thought was a campsite and into a rock.
The next day, I brushed my teeth and cleaned up in the coffee shop bathroom before going to work. The coffee shop did lack one thing though… outlets. I decided to go find a more suitable work location and stumbled upon the generous and spacious Tillamook Public Library. I also decided to connect with my cousin, after all she is older now and it’s not right to judge someone by their youth.
I grabbed some cheese curds from the Tillamook Cheese factory on my way out-of-town and headed off to meet my cousin Olivia when she got off work. She was very excited that I was in the area and was beyond welcoming. I have several first cousins close to my age and I never really thought about how lonely it must be for her. After all my dad is her first cousin and he’s close to the same age as her dad. Also, all of our family lives in the South and she’s all the way on the opposite end of the country!
That night she was moving into her new house. I was astonished by how mature she is for being under 21. She has a full-time job in an office that many college graduates would love to have and she has a serious boyfriend who she has built a life with. Her enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on me and I was so happy that I contacted her and ashamed that I had once had second thoughts about it. I tried to make myself as useful as possible helping her pack and unpack to repay her kind hospitality.
We had an excellent time together, her boyfriend popped my car bumper back into place in five minutes and Olivia and I talked on and on about life. While driving we saw a red and white striped tent outside of town. We stopped and asked about the tent and they told us “Yes, this is a circus. The last show starts in 15 minutes.” We laughed over our good fortune and decided to stay for the show.
The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus was so charming! It was an old fashion, family operated circus that seemed straight out of Big Fish. We watched a family of unicycles, a bottle balancer, animals tricks and a girl do acrobats while being held by her hair!
In the evening we stopped by a barn to visit with the new kittens and for Olivia to train and put up her horse. Afterwards the two of us met back up with her boyfriend and grabbed some local seafood that was delicious!
Sunday, Olivia and I headed off to Sauvie Island to pick strawberries and walk her dogs. There were so many strawberries that we took only the largest and juiciest! Sauvie Island is so scenic, everywhere you turned is beautiful countryside. We relaxed for a bit at the Sauvie Island Lavender Farm. While we were there we also learned about silk worms and observed their chickens. Toward the end of the day, we hiked in the wildlife refuge and passed by a large group of people herding cows for branding. We helped them out later, by finding some missing calves that had wandered off.
Last but not least, I felt my trip to Oregon would be incomplete without visiting Portland. I had always wanted to visit Portland after hearing about the famous work of Wieden & Kennedy and then watching Portlandia. Olivia and her guy didn’t really think much about Portland – “All big cities are the same. We’re obviously country people.” I have to say though Portland surprised me. It’s not as quirky as I expected… but then again after living in Miami and hanging in New Orleans, but concept of what fazes me is very low. Also as far as weird goes – I think it would be hard to beat San Francisco.
The first thing I noticed about Portland was how nice everyone was. Ok, maybe everyone was extra nice, because I happened to come to town during a streak of perfect weather. I wouldn’t have really known how perfect the weather was except for how everyone I talked to was obviously ecstatic about it. But seriously, Southerners need to take it up a notch if they want to still be considered hospitable in comparison to the Northwest. In the South, you expect a certain amount of niceties, not because people are actually nice so much as polite. For example in the South I expect to be greeted by a friendly salesperson when I enter a shop and checked up on later after looking around, in Portland, not only would I be greeted by a real uncanned greeting, but I would also be given directions to every competitor’s store in town if I didn’t find what I needed right away.
The city includes a huge number of food trucks carrying every type of food you would want to eat. My timing was slightly off with the flower show, but they still had some festivities including a Portland-themed tattoo contest and temporary air-brush tattoos. I unfortunately had arrived to the area too late for an airbrush tattoo. Sad. I entered a candy and soda lovers paradise and hung around in the park. The city is very clean and walkable, which is great. The next day, I said my goodbyes and headed up to Seattle. I’m so glad I had the Oregon experience I did and that I was able to reconnect with my cousin.