Day trips are the mini-vacations that sanity and contentment are made of. They are the respite for the soul that is between longer journeys and the Sabbath for the working mind that always holds office hours.
This semi-sunny Northwest morning I awoke with a desire to head Eastward. I presumed the coast, to the West, would be overrun with the slightly insane, adventure-seeking 12 man teams of the 31st annual Hood to Coast relay race. The race is a 195 mile relay from central Oregon to the beautiful seaside. With 1,050 teams of 12, 6,000+ volunteers and countless supporters and spectators, the 2-lane coastal Highway 101 was sure to be locked up and the cold beaches crowded. No amount of enticing from my favorite beach coffee shop could sway me to join the masses. This day called for a more peaceful Sunday drive away from the oh-so-Oregon athletic spectacle.
The tranquil, pine filled, snow-capped forest of Mount Hood has been calling to me since my arrival in Oregon. The peak towers above the hills and city, keeping watch on clear days. It clothes itself in clouds through the winter and makes a triumphant return just when I need a little reassurance in the allure of this fair state. It’s beauty and mystery go hand in hand and sing to me like a Siren, wooing me into the thick woodlands and across rushing streams. I have long been convinced that the smell of pine, the mountain air and the winding passes would be my refuge one free afternoon.
This is that afternoon.
Heading Northward out of Oregon City, we quickly exchanged buildings, strip malls and neighborhoods for farmland, horses and quiet estates along the highway. The two-lane road curved and turned through tiny towns, near stands selling fruit on the side of the road, and along poorly marked routes.
It became quickly apparent that our directional abilities were lacking in this new landscape. What seemed like east was actually west. West was east and we hadn’t been traveling North at all, but south and far away from our final destination. A quick glance at a virtual map revealed our misdirection and turned us again toward the peak.
An hour or so into the trip, a cute yellow house turned small-town diner appeared on the roadway. Our stomachs grumbling, we pulled into the small, dirt parking lot and ventured inside. One moment, for just a blink, we were seen as strangers, but then came friendly hellos and smiles, water, coffee, menus and stories from the day.
To our great surprise, this out-of-the-way cafe boasted stellar coffee and fabulous cooks. A midday meal to rival Portland restaurants was placed before us. A chicken sandwich with avocado for Jo, who said it was the best she had ever tasted, and my once-a-week red meat order of a perfectly seasoned cheeseburger and warm real french fries freshly made in a small time kitchen. Any foodie would have been delighted.
The coffee was always full, the neighboring conversations worth ease-dropping on and we left feeling like part of the town. As we walked onto the small porch to leave I noticed the sign on the door stating they would be closing for a week, the whole family going on vacation. We were happily guests in this family run diner for just a lunch, but sure to return next time we were on the road.
According to my initial assessment, Mt. Hood should have been about a hour and 45 minutes away. We had been driving for close to two, including the lunch break, so I thought we would be coming up on more hills, trees and cool air in no time. Until we passed a sign at a junction in the road:
Oregon City, 17 miles.
We had only made it 17 miles outside of Oregon City in nearly two hours. The roadways had looped around, pointing us back to the first city in the West. Upon examination, our driving pattern had looked more like children’s scribbles than a route to the mountains. We had been taking the most indirect way possible to accomplish our task of circling the great volcano.
We set a more efficient course and became determined to see the peak. I was glad to have a friend along for the ride that didn’t mind the u-turns, the unmarked roads or the consistently delayed destination. We both flourished on the adventure and fun, pulling over whenever something interesting appeared near the road, a photo opp came, or a scenic pass was marked. Afterall, the journey is part of the fun.
Mt. Hood towers above the pine forest in such sudden appearance it catches your breath. Unlike the peaks of Colorado that snuggle in their high altitude community, one close to another, Mt. Hood is a lone rock, reaching for heaven among wilderness content at sea level. The route we eventually took along the Mt Hood Highway circles around counterclockwise, coming from the West. We saw the peak from every angle, through the trees, bare and abrupt against the sky, even in the background of vineyards and orchards.
As the route around the peak turns North and points drivers towards the Washington line, the road descends into Oregon farmland. The air warms up a bit and the road signs shift from “Hiking Trail Ahead, 1 mile” to “Wine Tasting, 1 mile”. Handmade signs for fruit stands and berry picking point adventurers off the beaten path and onto scenic patios looking over the well toiled landscape.
Our first stop on the East side of the mountain was an eclectic little fruit stand with the best of Oregon peaches, berries, honey, an assortment of vegetables and something I have never seen, but immediately loved: Outdoor Wino. Oregon made wine is stored in a BPA free plastic bottle, one-sixth the weight of traditional wine bottles. It is specially crafted and packaged to be taken outside and on adventure. Just my style, so a bottle joined the journey.
Not to be limited to plastic wine bottles and fresh fruit, We also took a sharp right into the driveway of Wy’East Winery, open on this lovely Sunday afternoon for visitors. Our five stop Pinot Grigio wine flight included a welcoming conversation with the winery owner and her two dogs, happily sitting at our feet as we tasted and chatted. The Pinot Grigio was so stellar the winery now sits atop the favorite white wine list and a not-too-expensive bottle made it home with Jo.