Guest blogger Corinne Hogge takes us into the details of her recent trip to California, Oregon, + Washington
The Great American Road Trip has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, life happens and plans fall through, but that does not mean that I do not seize the opportunity to take trips whenever possible. Already in 2017, I have managed to travel from my home base of Pittsburgh to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Cape May (NJ), Lorton (VA), Atlanta, London (England), Brussels (Belgium), multiple camping trips around Western Pennsylvania, and most recently the Pacific Northwest.
What began as a simple trip with my boyfriend, Nick, my best friend, Deven, and myself to Seattle evolved into a 16+ hour trip – starting from the Sacramento airport all the way to the Seattle train station. The California landscape that met us was dry and barren – far from the lush scenery from my “California Dreamin”. We drove through the desert for the first several hours of our trip until we stumbled upon Clear Lake. A remote town, frozen in time with retro signage and unassuming docks along the highway. It was an oasis for us tired travelers and reminded us of the joy of surprise and why we choose to travel in the first place.
Our first stop on the journey was Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park – about 5 hours from Sacramento. We ventured here because I was determined to see the Redwood trees first hand and Humboldt is home to some of the oldest + largest trees in the region. As a 6’1” woman traveling with a 6’2” man and a 5’10” woman, it is not often that we get to feel small, but heck does a 300’ tree make a girl feel insignificant. Our favorite fact that we learned in this park was the phenomenon of “fairy circles”. When a “giant” starts to die, it creates a circle of smaller trees around it that spring up from its roots and use the energy from the passing tree to grow strong. Eventually, these smaller trees will grow to be giants in their own right. The renewal of energy and the witnessing the circle of life is one of the wonders of travel.
The second stop was Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, 4 hours north of Humboldt. The journey to the campsite brought us passed black sand beaches with massive, jagged boulders protruding from the ocean floor to remind us of the passage of time and the flexibility of nature. Our campsite itself was unlike one I had ever seen – up a flight of stairs. It felt like our own little tree house, hidden away from the road by ferns and Sequoias.
The third day took us into our second state of the road trip – Oregon. We traveled North passed ranches, mountains, and small towns unbothered by the busy nature of modern life. Our destination was the majestic and breathtaking Crater Lake – a crystal blue lake formed by melting glaciers after the devastation of a volcanic eruption some 7,000 years ago, yet another example of nature’s forgiving evolution. It took us two hours by car to traverse the cliffs of Crater Lake and see the freshwater waterfalls that outline the road.
From there we traveled against the traffic of the Solar Eclipse 4 hours to Portland to return our rental car. We got in with 2 minutes to spare, thank you very much. Here we were met by our friend, Donovan, who flew out to spend the remaining city days of our trip with us. Our one day in Portland gave us the opportunity to check out its downtown area, food trucks galore, and biggest bookstore I have ever seen, Powell’s City of Books. We spent our evening at the DIY bar – a place that combines crafts + cocktails. For a flat fee, you are given the tools and access to a myriad of paints and dyes to bring your creation to life.
We then took the Amtrak train from Portland to Seattle. I am often disappointed by the lack of a high-speed railway system through America, so it was a welcome opportunity to take a relaxing ride through the countryside of Oregon + Washington. We gave ourselves 3 days in Seattle to really take in the sites and decide whether it should be a contender on the list of “great cities we move to next”. We were lucky to have our friend, Andy, who lives in the city, be our tour guide for our time there!
Our first day we enjoyed a Savor Seattle food tour of the Public Market. This was a worthwhile excursion that allowed us to try some of the most famous stops – like Beecher’s Handmade Cheese + Pike Place Chowder – in the market without having to wait in line (I HATE waiting in line). The public market is home to one of the more odd sites we came across on our trip: the gum wall. An alley in the market entirely covered in bubblegum. We learned that the Market community regularly removes the gum and that it always ends up growing again. We ended the evening exploring the many restaurant and bar options of the hip Ballard neighborhood north of the city.
Our second day we allowed ourselves to have a full tourist day, going from the Chihuly Glass Museum to the Space Needle to the Museum of Pop Culture (AKA MoPop). I enjoyed all three, but was notably exhausted afterward and remembered how much being a tourist takes out of you! On our last day, we stopped by the Fremont neighborhood for Brunch at a French-Korean fusion restaurant called Revel and we stomped our full bellies around to see the Fremont Troll, Statue of Lenin and ended our afternoon with a trip through the Theo Chocolate Factory. Seattle is without a doubt the hippest city I have every been too with so many amazing food options that I wonder if you could ever hit them all – I cannot wait to return!
I walked away from this trip with a resounding renewal of love for traveling, an immense appreciation of the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and a fascinating new obsession with donuts. I highly recommend the Great PNW Roadtrip to anyone that wants the thrill of a road trip but only has a short time to take it!
Q: Why did you sign up for your trip? What were you looking to get out of it?
A: I’d heard about surprise trips through various blogs, and I thought this would be a fun way liven up the usual travel experience (since my husband and I love doing unique and interesting things). I’m usually the one planning out everything whenever we take a trip, so it was really nice to really leave it in the hands of professionals.
Q: Did you have any hesitations about taking a surprise trip? Were you nervous?
A: We had absolutely no hesitations. My husband and I have traveled extensively, so we’ve learned to go with the flow when it comes to the unexpected. So, at least in this case, we’re sort of planning for the unexpected.
Q: Where did you guess you were going to travel? Were you surprised by the destination?
A: Considering our criteria and the distance limitations, we did narrow it down to a few likely candidates. Then, when we received the weather report, my husband got too curious and started looking up weather forecasts and stumbled upon the correct answer. We did keep it a “surprise” for ourselves, but we weren’t TOO surprised when we finally did open the envelope in the airport.
Q: Upon discovery of your destination, what were some of your perceptions about the city prior to your trip?
A: We were excited. We’d only heard good things from our family and friends who’ve visited Portland, and it was definitely a place that we’d planned on visiting. It fit a lot of our criteria, and we always like a quirky fun city.
Q: What made the trip feel unique and tailored to you?
A: Well, the city definitely matched the criteria and interests we’d filled out on the original questionnaire. Plus, we liked the suggestions included in our envelope.
Q: What did you like most about your travel accommodations?
A: Everyone we met there was so nice and helpful. We loved the ambiance of the hotel, especially the way we could play backgammon and chess in front of a crackling fire. We especially loved that it was so dog-friendly. Even though we didn’t bring a dog along, it was always so fun to see them in the common areas. Since it was our anniversary, there was a lovely card and a little gift waiting in our room. It made us feel very special and welcome. We loved all the little details that just added up to a great atmosphere. If we’re ever in Portland again, we’ll probably stay there again.
Q: What was your favorite experience that we recommended for you?
A: Definitely the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium. As soon as we saw it, we said, “We have to go check this out.” It was so quirky and random and fun. In fact, while checking out at a nearby store, it turns out even some locals hadn’t heard of it, so it was definitely a hidden gem.
Q: What did you discover on your own (not on your itinerary) in your destination that you feel is share-worthy?
A: We did an Underground Portland walking tour, going through the Shanghai tunnels. It’s unique, you get a good history lesson (and some supernatural thrills, if you’re into ghosts like my husband is), and it’s not too strenuous (or pricey). There are other tours through the same company, so if we ever went back, we’d try the other ones as well.
Q: What was your favorite part of your trip?
A: I don’t think we had a favorite per se. We mostly enjoyed getting away for a weekend in a wonderful city.
Q: What did you learn on your trip, or from your trip?
A: We learned how nice it was not to plan anything for once. Just show up!
Q: How would you describe Pack Up + Go and your experience to your friends and family?
A: Pack Up + Go is a nice mix of hand-holding and independence. The major stuff is planned (which saves a lot of headaches), but the rest is up to you, which gives you a lot of flexibility. Aside from showing up to the airport in time, there are no ridiculous 5am scrambles to get in some tour bus, just a nice open weekend in front of us.
Q: What would you say to someone who is hesitant to go on a surprise getaway?
A: Don’t be. In our travels, we’ve found that every city, no matter how tiny or out-of-the-way, has something interesting to experience, as long as you’re open to it. Plus, with most decent hotels offering free wi-fi and everyone having smartphones, it’s not hard to find things to do, places to see, or restaurants to eat at even if you end up somewhere unexpected.