Sarah drove me to my motel that morning, we kissed, and afterward through a gradual yet dramatic change of scenery I’d quite unceremoniously found the Oregon coast. Severe stone cliffs descending into harsh bleak sands pounded by frigid swells reminded me of Victoria, Australia’s Great Ocean Road on a particularly overcast, cold and foggy day. Within 1000 miles of the journey so far wind ravaged grassland had turned to green-topped redwoods and then into moss-infested almost everything. A local told me even cars tended to get mossy. It seems less to be constantly raining in the north-west than it is always inundated by moisture flung in every direction by low-hanging cloud. Forested headlands stood sentinel amid mist disturbing the thin black line between rock and a heaving Pacific, as the Dragon made its way north navigating by moss-covered road signs. I could live in Oregon. There’s just something so, for lack of a better word, cool about it. And its capitol Portland is reportedly one of the most progressive cities in the US. Sadly, I missed it in favour of savouring its famous coast. The state’s nil sales-tax and attendant-pumped petrol were enjoyed for only one night in a state park and another in Astoria, known as a mini-San Fran, overlooking the Steel Bridge to Washington state. After a second splendid Oregon morning watching cargo ships inch past hotel roof wall art depicting identical scenes, the next stop was teenage vampire country, in Forks, via the aptly austere port town of Kurt Cobain’s upbringing: Aberdeen. I drove quickly through it after stopping only for a Jack in the Box burger and to check out a strange little Star Wars-Nirvana museum, lest I should find and put a shotgun to my own head at 27 years of age.
I was initially confused by American use of the word “gas”, which is short of course for “gasoline”, because I thought it was actually a lighter than petrol (petroleum) substance that probably shouldn’t be fed to the Dragon. Then there was the Highway 99 heading south and resembling something out of the first Mad Max film, even in the early afternoon. Either way it was impossible to make Yosemite that first day, so the Dragon rested north-west of it at picturesque, lake surrounding Stanislaus State Park while its rider guarded himself against the frigid cold with a bottle of cheap “Italian Swiss Colony American” port wine, obtained at the nearby one horse town. How a wine “vinted and bottled in Naples” can still be American, is beyond me. On Thursday the scenery cycled quickly from burned-out, undulating wasteland to pine-straddling granite cliffs rising impossibly vertically and marching east to herald the Yosemite Valley’s entrance. I remember how impassive, almost contemptuous, the cliffs stood, and feeling that the entire valley’s population could descend into an orgy of mass-murder and those cliffs would still be there millions of years later – the scandal long forgotten. I longed to magically be on top of their ancient, frigid summits. They made me feel as if I was encased within some cold yet paradoxically sun surrounded womb. Dawn was late and dusk early in Yosemite. With enough time for awe to be well and truly inspired, I set up camp by simply parking the van, drank a quarter bottle of port and set in for a badly needed two hour nap at about 4pm.
Forks, in the north-west of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, is home to the Twilight movie and book franchise, and approached by misty woods indeed evocative of the teenage angst and immortal love-bite-laden vampire and werewolf fable. The town itself was evocative of pretty much nothing. Except perhaps inbreeding. I had two encounters with its locals. One with a middle-aged man wearing combat fatigues, accompanied by a young boy and a pit bull named Guess. Apparently “his father, his father and his father before him” named their dogs “Guess”. Think he might have been joking. He spoke often of the dog and then said something like “I would never hit a child around it”. Still not sure if he was joking about that. The second involved a car load of junk food raised teenage girls, one of whom pointed to a burned down building to my rear, while I was taking a photo of the Dragon in front of a Twilight-themed shop, and asked “What do you think happened here?”
I replied: “Some kind of bad fire,” which sent them howling with laughter in the direction of La Push, fictional werewolf territory, on pretty much the extreme north-west of America’s west coast. The community marked an area off-limits to blood suckers in the popular series it was famous for, and indeed felt different to Forks, further inland, least of all because it seemed more of a tourist destination, and mostly because it was definitively Native American in flavour. Several monolithic islands rose from just offshore to provide natural attractions, and you got the feeling it wouldn’t be too hard to find some good salmon there. In fact a pair of fellow travellers from Wisconsin asked me where they could find some. I replied it was a fishing town but I was less of a local than them so was sure they’d find some if they cared to look. I drove back through Forks without being chased by flaming torch and pitchfork wielding Bible bashers, then camped on its south side in a creepy yet beautiful state park. I paid my libations to the fire gods for the first time that night, by pouring beer on the burning wood. I had drunkenly come to believe they departed with the smoke while it drifted Heavenward, and would continue this ritual for the rest of the journey. I believed their spirits neither ascended to Heaven nor descended to Hell, for they are immortal, but went where they wished. I did so that the gods should feel appreciated and perhaps safeguard my journey into the continued unknown. I was insane through intoxication, insomnia and isolation. Back to fucking reality. . . .
I woke a little dazed and cold from the nap, then drove to the Ahwahnee Hotel; the only bar open during Yosemite’s off-season. I found it ironic the Americans had taken Native American land, built a hotel in native style on it, but designed it above the means for enjoyment most natives possessed. Like a bear, I could tell from its restaurant’s smell, look and atmosphere I was not welcome there. And although conflicted by both the small amount of liquor I’d drunk earlier in the afternoon and knowledge that the blood alcohol limit in the US was .3 higher than in Australia, I ordered a scotch and coke, martini and a glass of port at the bar. This excessively classy stone and pine building even had a resident piano man entertaining its bar guests. I tipped the pianist two dollars to play Nat King Cole and George Shearing’s Fly Me To The Moon, so he of course played the Sinatra version extremely quickly. Should’ve tipped him five. Oblivious to why the bartender insisted on serving me water with each drink, I swaggered to the Dragon and headed for my campsite not 10 minutes’ drive away. Even by Australia’s fascist standards I was sure my blood alcohol level was legal. The short journey took me via the village store for a newspaper to rekindle my fire with, where I tried to take photos of a racoon who simply would not stay still. Although to all appearances alone, I was being watched by more than just local wildlife.