A super windstorm hit the coast Sunday and Monday. You might have heard about it on the news. Sunday night, a 98 mile an hour gust blew off part of the roof at Izzy’s restaurant in Newport. I can’t believe it didn’t blow mine off, too. Pieces of trees and yard decorations were flying all over. The wind chimes were doing somersaults. Meanwhile, I was packing for my trip to California, wondering if I could really go.
On Monday morning, it was still raining, still blowing, with reports of damage and road closures. My route was clear so far. I checked the reports over and over. I prayed. I asked my Facebook friends if I should go. I loaded the car. Once the dog was sitting in the driver’s seat, it was hard to change my mind.
I got as far as Lost Creek State Park, about a mile and a half from home, and decided to get off the road. The wind was blowing from the south so hard it was like trying to drive against an invisible wall. The rain slammed against the windows so thick I could barely see. This is nuts, I told the dog as I pulled into the parking lot and stared at an ocean that was all froth and fury.
We can’t go, I decided, but somehow when I came out of the parking lot, I turned south toward California instead of going home. The rain had eased a tiny bit, and I decided to keep going.
I had to take Annie east down Highway 34 to the kennel in Tidewater. I saw just small debris going, but 15 minutes later, coming back, there was a tree across the road. No cell phone service there. Several men had already parked and were cleaning up the tree branches with their hands. When they got one lane cleared enough, we drove over the rest of the tree and went on.
Back on 101, I turned south again. Wind, rain, water on the road, rivers rising nearby. Gripping the steering wheel so tight my hands hurt, and my accelerator leg hurt, but I couldn’t relax for a second. Speed limits meant nothing; we had to drive much slower than usual just to keep from sliding off into the ocean. I kept thinking: where will I have to stop, how will I rearrange this trip, I’ll never travel on Thanksgiving again.
I finally got to Florence, praise God, houses, stores, stoplights. I found the restaurant where I had planned to eat lunch, the Hot Rod Inn, with old cars literally sticking out of the roof. But it was closed! For sale. I drove on, hoping to eat at another place south of Florence. It was closed, too, for lease. Nuts!
The thirty-eight miles to Reedsport took forever, water blowing across the road like waves, car losing traction every hundred yards. But I made it to Harbor Lights, at the intersection of 101 and Highway 38. Got soaked on the way in. I highly recommend this restaurant. Specials in colored chalk on the blackboard on the far wall, display case with pumpkin muffins, carrot cake, Marionberry crisps, lava cake, yum. Meat lovers can order wild elk or boar, and there are eggplant sandwiches for the vegetarians. I had a mushroom burger on chiabatta bread, oozing mayonnaise. Heaven. Perfect French fries, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.
I talked to a guy there who was worried about the road north to Yachats. Just rain and wind, I said, but it could change with the next gust of wind. It turns out we both went to San Jose State.
As I paid my bill, the waitress wished me a nice evening. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon but dark as twilight when I ran out to the car, getting wet again, and started my eastward trek along the Umpqua River away from the ocean.
I saw more elk than ever at the elk preserve, most of them close to the road, most of their land under water. Usually there are crowds of camera-bearing tourists taking pictures. Not this time. Too wet and wild.
The rain began to lighten up after Elkton, a few more miles down the road. I looked around and remembered how incredibly beautiful western Oregon is. I cranked up the radio and made it to Yreka at 6:00. Clear, light wind, temps in the 50s. After all these years going back and forth, this motel room feels like home.
I had put a call out on Facebook, asking my Oregon friends whether or not to go. My friend Pat, from Massachusetts via California, said don’t go. My friend Sandy said, too late, that newscasters were telling people not to drive if they didn’t have to. My Oregon friends said check the weather and go if it’s not snowing. My friend Lauren said she had just driven to Eugene from the coast against 60 mile an hour winds. Go, she said, we’re Oregonians.
Exactly. We pull our hoods over our heads and go.
Somewhere up ahead, there’s sunshine.