The Long Trek Home

I stayed up late last night. Partially because I was packing up the car to prepare for a quick getaway in the morning, but also partially because I was so excited about the events I had planned. 

I woke up early and took River out for his morning constitutional. I skipped my coffee, and headed for the Reach Center. We had a killer group of Rockin Nia students and we started off the day in one of the best ways I know how: with a high-spirited, fun-filled, energetic Nia workout.

Eugene was so welcoming and enthusiastic about my work. It was a thrill to present it to them. And we’re already talking about my return. (In fact, I’m putting together great big ideas for a full west coast tour this spring)

After class Amy Palatnick treated me to breakfast at a dog friendly cafe with outdoor seating. This made me realize I’ve been missing out on a whole experience of the towns I visit. I just happened to find a cafe in Anacortes where River could lie on the ground as I ate, but it didn’t dawn on me to actively pursue this possibility in each new town. So now I’m going to start inquiring wherever I go about dog-friendly outdoor-seating cafes. 

Another student joined us for breakfast and generously gave me a big, thick dijon mustard-color sweater that was a gesture of pure inspiration. Since I had packed lightly, and all of my warm clothes had been worn post Nia class, they were a bit, um, sweaty. It was so nice to put on something clean and warm for a change. She was fostering a troubled dog so the three of us spent most of breakfast talking about my experiences with turning River’s life around and what I learned from dealing with his issues. 

After breakfast, I rushed back to the hotel to sneak in a shower before my 12:30 checkout. And then, I put River in the passenger seat and we hit the scenic route for home. 

It was an ambitious goal, but I wanted to see the whole Oregon coast by sundown. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to do it. The nearest I figured was we’d hit Seaside Oregon at sunset. As it turns out, it was sooner than that, but I was still so glad I made the effort. It took about an hour to get from Eugene to Florence, where we could get onto 101. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the waves of the Pacific Ocean, I got a surge of feeling that made the whole day worth it. 

As I was pulling into a gas station convenience store in Florence, I suddenly got this feeling that I was back in California. I could energetically feel and smell the Pacific ocean. I was pulling into a gas station / convenience store! And my rental car even had California license plates. I was torn momentarily out of that dream as I was paying for my gas, when I was reminded that “she will be pumping my gas.” But it was fairly brief moment of reality. I guess I just haven’t wrapped my head around being in Oregon, on Highway 101 near the ocean. Because I spent all of my formative years in California, on Highway 101 near the ocean. Add to the mix, the fact that I was wearing purple trousers and a dijon sweater and grey Vans, which is a total throwback to the colorful way I used to dress when I lived in California. 

The experience of driving up the coast is too profound to do justice to in writing. Suffice it to say that I was filled with gratitude for the ability to drive through this work of art. And I wondered why anyone would drive any other road. I also made a promise to myself to take this drive again when I had more time to stop and do it leisurely. 

River didn’t like it as much. He had a hard time with all the changing of speed and direction. He took it like a trouper, though, and by working together we did it without a single mishap. I watched him carefully. He would usually sit up and watch out the front window for what I call his phase one (getting bearings).  That would typically last ten to twenty minutes. And then he’d lie down for a while, resting his chin on his paws for phase two: (resting). He’d do that for another ten or twenty minutes. The third phase is when he’d curl up and sleep. And that phase was usually good for about 20 to 30 minutes. The fourth phase is one we wanted to avoid: this is the one when he sits back up and stares at nothing, continually smacking his mouth. 

Eventually, I learned that my goal was to pull off the road and take a driving break while we were still in phase three. More and more often, we were seeing a fifth phase. This is a good one, too. I would call it phase 3A, because rather than progressing from phase 3 (sleeping) onto phase four (we need to pull over), instead he sits up and casually looks around, maybe occasionally smacking his mouth, but not rhythmic or excessive at all. It is very similar to phase one, only a lot more grounded and settled. I’ve noticed, too, that when we’re driving in the dark, phase 3A quickly turns back into phase 3 (curled up sleeping) because there’s nothing to see. But in the daytime, he’ll stand and watch for a while in phase 3A before lying down for phase 2. 

Can you tell I had a lot of time to think about this on the road?  LOL

Before leaving Eugene, I googled directions from Florence (the west-coast town closest to Eugene) to Astoria (the northernmost town on the Oregon coast). I was driving from one coastal town to another.  And unbelievably, one of the options googlemaps suggested, was to drive all the way back to Eugene to get on I5 up to Longview, Washington and then come back over the mountain again to Astoria.  Even going two hours out of the way, the trip took the same amount of time. I thought that was amazing.  

But after taking the trip, it’s quite obvious why that is. I5 is a 70 MPH straightaway, while US101 is 55 MPH when you’re lucky. Every few minutes, you’re slowed down to anywhere from 25 - 45 MPH to go through curves safely. And 101, rather than offer Rest Areas, just drives right through small towns and becomes Main St., complete with stop lights, pedestrian crossing and cars pulling in and out of parking spots and side roads. 

I had no complaints. During the first part of the drive, in the central coast area, I relished the permission to slow down and take it all in. I felt like driving 55 MPH through this wonderland would have prevented me from seeing it. 

River and I stopped at a couple of places along the way. About every 45 minutes, I’d stop for about 15 minutes of running, sniffing, walking or playing. 

However, the fun stopped in Tillamook when the sun went down. Suddenly I couldn’t see the scenery and instead, headlights were glaring in my eyes from oncoming traffic and in my mirror from behind. It was then I decided to hop over to Portland. I had a friend there who was willing to let us stay the night there, but I wanted to see if we could push it all the way up to Seattle that night. River had a really good sleep going, since the darkness settled in. 

I had a scary moment when we hit about 1500 feet elevation on the trip from the coast to Portland. We hit some really heavy fog and I had to slow way down because I couldn’t see the turns in the road. Fortunately that cleared up after we got over the mountain. 

Once we hit Portland, I stopped and woke River up to take an urban walk. I pulled off the highway and parked in the first convenient place. Once I got out of the car and got my bearings, I realized that, probably because of my history with Portland, I had unconsciously parked only ten blocks from Nia Headquarters. So, I walked River from Tenth and Clay to Ninth and Yamhill and up the three flights of stairs to NiaHQ, but it was locked. Then, we went up another flight to StudioNia where the hallway lights were still on but it was quiet and the studio door was closed. I was able to take River all the way down the hallway to look at the pictures of the trainers on the wall and to the big, glowing Nia swoosh by the door to the studio. I noticed on the schedule that Debbie’s class would have ended at 6:45. It was now shortly after 7:30pm and the place was deserted, but somehow still abuzz. 
When I was there in the Pythian Building, it dawned on me that I have a longer relationship with this building than I have or have had with any other building in my life. I’ve been coming back to this place for 17 years now. I’ve never been associated with any job, house, school or any other brick and mortar structure for anywhere near as long. The second closest place would probably be the apartment in New York, which was home for eleven years. 

River slept all the way from Portland to Olympia, where we stopped for gas and a pee break. It had been raining really hard as soon as we entered Washington, so instead of a walk break, I parked and undid his harness so he could climb over and sit in my lap in the driver’s seat. I rolled my window down halfway and we sat together in quiet motionless rest, watching the rain. He then slept all the way from Olympia to Seattle, where we pulled in a bit after midnight.

Twelve hours on the road today!! As I said, it was totally worth it and I don’t regret a thing. But in the end, it’s not a comfortable day. I like to keep our driving days to under four hours max.  But the good news is: River can do it if we need to. 


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