Finale: West Coast to Midwest
I left San Francisco and continued north along the pacific coast highway. On the way out of San Francisco I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and as I was on the bridge, a biker rally was coming into the city. I spent the evening in MacKerricher State Park which is along California's beautiful coast. Even after spending time in a hotel in San Francisco, I was still leaving exhausted this first night back on the road.
I spent the next two days exploring the Redwood national park area, including the nearby Prarie Creek Redwoods State park. The redwoods were amazing to see and experience, their sheer size is beyond impressive. Its nearly impossibly to fit a tree in a frame with me, but I found a cool hollowed out tree and decided to try :)
While in the Redwoods, I stayed at the Gold Bluffs Beach campground, which was also along the ocean. The beach's sand was dark and it was fairly cloudy when I was there, but I enjoyed walking along the beach when I was not exploring the forests.
After the redwoods, I drove north into Oregon. My plan was to spend two days at a campground at Crater Lake. However, I received a phone call letting me know that my reservation was cancelled due to construction. I was able to find a new campsite at Diamond Lake which was about 30 minutes north of Crater Lake. The water at Diamond Lake was beautiful and I later found out that the new campsite was much prettier than were I was supposed to have stayed. Crater Lake is in actuality a volcano which has a lake at the top of its peak. The weather was cold when I visited, but the beauty of the crystal blue water. I only spent a couple of hours visiting the park because I was still fairly tired, so I spent most of my time at Diamond Lake enjoying the view and reading a book.
At this point, I was supposed to camp along the Oregon coast. However, my exhaustion was getting fairly serious, despite me being able to relax at Diamond lake. My weariness was mostly mental, but a bit physical as well. I had simply become tired of feeling as though I needed to do some thing 'exciting' every day to get the most out of my trip, and I was running out of steam. In order to try to get some energy back, I decided to visit my friend Dennis (whose wedding I attended earlier in the trip) in Portland. He graciously let me visit him a day early, and we spent three days relaxing at his place in Portland, cooking ribs, going to a street festival, and overall just enjoying downtime.
While in Portland, I realized that I could not not continue my trip for another month; I simply did not have the energy to keep going, nor was I excited for the rest of the trip. I made the decision that I would continue northwest for a couple of more days so that I would reach Cape Flattery, which is one of the most northwestern points of the USA, which could be opposite of Key West which I had visited in late May. After that, I was going to start my trek back home.
After leaving Portland, I visited Astoria Oregon which is somewhere I have always wanted to see. The main reason I have wanted to visit Astoria is because it was where the movie Goonies took place. I loved Goonies as a kid, and it was fun to be able to visit two of the films locations. First, I visited the jail where the opening scene of the movie was shot. The jail has since been turned into a film museum highlighting the movie. I also found the house that was featured in the movie, but I did not go down the driveway since that would have been trespassing. Overall, Astoria seems like a cool little town and I enjoyed visiting it and walking the streets of its downtown.
In Astoria, I camped at a local state park before I began I trip into Washington. I had visited Oregon and Washington the prior summer and fell in love with the northwest. However, it was my visit to Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park that was the highlight of my trip. Therefore, I was excited to be able to camp at the lake during this trip. I was lucky to secure a campsite along the lake and also along the rain-forest hiking trail, which was an ideal location for me.
After one evening at the lake (instead of the two I initially booked) I hiked the rain-forest trail early in the morning. By 8am, I was on the road to get to Cape Flattery (the most northwestern part of the continental USA). The cape has a path through a forest with a boardwalk before you get to the coast. Arriving at the cape was strange for me. In one sense, it was the end of an adventure across the USA. In another sense, despite how tired I was, I felt like I was giving up on my 78 day planned trip early. I found a secluded spot on the coast, away from the crowds, and videotaped my thoughts for about ten minutes. I reflected on the things I had learned, the people I had met, and what this trip had meant to me overall. It was a really emotional moment for me, but I am glad I got to sit and think and talk for a while on camera so that I will always have my 'state of mind' on camera for when I am older.
After Cape Flattery, I visited my friend Jason in Tacoma. Jason and I met at Augustana where he taught Swedish during my first year there. Jason took a new position at Pacific Lutheran University, and he was wonderful for letting me stay with him. We enjoyed dinner at a great Mexican restaurant, and then enjoyed a fire at his house during the evening. I was incredibly tired, and went to bed early and woke up around 6 am. I left his house shortly after waking up to begin my 29 hour drive back to Iowa.
I really did not want to spend 3 days on the road to get back to Iowa, so I was hoping to split the 29 hours into two 14.5 hour days... that plan did not go well. Around the 12 hour mark, I was getting really tired, however I thought I could make it to 14.5 and then get a hotel/motel. However, at the 13 hour mark my GPS took me away from the I-90 interstate and into an Indian reservation area without hotels. I was utterly exhausted and frustrated that I could not find a place to sleep for the night. Luckily, I saw a ranger station which meant there was a campsite nearby, so around midnight I pulled into the Red Shale campground and found a spot and set up my tent (sorry to all of the other campers regarding me making noise). I got into my tent around 12:30 am, and despite being exhausted, I could not fall asleep. I think I had too much caffeine in me from Monster Energy drinks as well as trying to plan out the rest of the trip back. After a couple of hours tossing and turning, I finally got some sleep and woke around 8 am.
I hoped to be able to make another 14.5 hours on the road in order to get home on the second day, but that was not going to be possible. I became exhausted after another three hours on the road, and eventually got off the interstate in Rapid City. I found a hotel, and they let me get into my room early around noon. Despite having a bed, and being tired, I still could not sleep (most likely due to energy drinks and coffee I had in the morning). In the afternoon I decided to explore the downtown since I could not sleep, and visited the local brewery. I then returned to the hotel, laid in bed, and watched television until I feel asleep.
Rapid City is near Mt. Rushmore, which was one of the places I wanted to visit on my trip's initial plan. When I woke up early the next morning, I drove the monument and took some videos of me being there. I was happy I was able to see Mt. Rushmore on my way home, since that was going to be one of the the last national parks/monuments I visited on my road trip, and I was still able to have it be a conclusion to my shorter trip. I left Mt. Rushmore around 7am and spent the next fourteen hours driving through South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. I got home around 8 pm at night and it was amazing to be able to sleep in my own bed.
Overall, I had an amazing trip despite how tired it made me. I went into the trip slightly terrified since I had only camped once in my adult life, and it wasn't fun. But I quickly overcame any fears of camping and enjoyed exploring the country and seeing so many national parks. I learned a lot from others on this trip. First, life is better when you talk to strangers. I heard that quote my second day on the trip, and it stuck with me. Second, beware the 'velvet coffins' in life, which I learned from Stephen Colbert via Blythe Roberson. Third, I learned that I do not need everything planned out when I go on my next trip, or at least allow for a lot more downtime so that I do not become exhausted.
I'm pretty lucky to have been able to take this trip and I am looking forward to taking another big trip next summer. Perhaps I will visit Sweden and Europe... but for now I am going to relax and enjoy being back in Iowa.