Freedom on Oregon’s Coast

March 22: Portland, Ore. to Seaside, Ore., 79 miles

March 23: Seaside, Ore. to Florence, Ore., 166 miles

March 24: Florence, Ore., to Eureka, Calif., 265 miles

March 25: Eureka, Calif. to Mendocino, Calif., 143 miles

It’s only been four days, but I am exhausted. Exhausted but happy. Really, really happy. It’s a strange feeling to be on the doorstep of utter collapse, yet have a resilient sense of happiness propping me up. I want to sleep, but know that if I go to bed too soon … I could miss out on something wonderful. For better or for worse, sleep takes a backseat to conscious experience.

This is what happens when I am on the road. It started with documentary shoots in my twenties, when I’d be driving around with my crew from interview to interview, location to location, sometimes up to 15 hours in a day. I survived on caffeine, adrenaline and the hunger for a killer soundbite. Much the same way, this is how I last on long road trips — on caffeine, adrenaline and hunger for a killer memory.

I’ve done a bunch of road trips over the past several years: New Mexico, Sedona-Grand Canyon and Wyoming. But none hold a candle to the epic road trip journey that I have already begun: Oregon’s Coast (Highway 101) + California’s Coast (Highway 1) + Route 66.

I didn’t plan this itinerary above. I am winging it. Sure, I have a loose sketch in my mind of what I’d like to see and do, and where I’d like to be — geographically speaking — by certain days. But I am not holding myself accountable to it. That creates stress and too much projection, which runs counter to my career sabbatical mantra: Be present. Plus, methodically plotting everything out would leave no room for spontaneity. On road trips, some of the best moments are those that are unplanned.

So when it comes to accommodations, I just don’t worry. Because I am traveling as a “high-end” backpacker, I am steering clear of posh resorts that may already be sold out. I just need a bed and shower without the pomp and circumstance. At about 3 p.m. each day, I gage how tired I am and where I think I might need to rest the head. Using my smartphone, I check motel and hostel vacancies in the towns further ahead — and can book on the spot, if need be. Road trips are a little too “easy” with a smartphone, the Internet and a willingness to crash at one-star motels with a questionable door lock.

Oregon was the first leg of my road trip. I fell in love with Oregon while in my twenties, and fell hard. As a budding documentary producer, I had traveled to the state to film my very first “Cold Case Files” story. In between anxiety over location scouting and prison interviews, I had moments where I was just so awestruck by all of the greens in the landscape. Kelly green, forrest green, lime green and everything in between. I never forgot the kaleidoscope of green attached to the place — and purposely sourced stories in the state over the next several years, just so that I could return. It is amazing how the visuals of a place can have such a magnetic pull. Oregon certainly had that for me. I think I may have been more excited about this leg of the USA road trip than experiencing Nepal, India, Thailand or China. That says a lot.

Taking the wheel south on Highway 101 has been magical. The drive winds past dramatic oceanfront vistas, picturesque pastoral landscapes, busy lumber operations, fishing villages and beachfront resort hamlets. So many beautiful, colorful things caused me to pull over — to observe, to participate, to take pictures. It took tremendous will power to see a signpost that read “Scenic Vista Ahead” and not pull over. My daily drive has been slowed down considerably because I almost always succumb. But this brand of weakness is OK. I am not on any firm deadline, other than being in Los Angeles by next weekend. I have plenty of time to slow down for amazing views that I may never encounter again In this life — and nobody else in the car to tell me otherwise.

To that point, I can also play whatever music I like. Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton … and some Buddhist monks chanting. I like to play a CD that I picked up in Nepal on the longer stretches of the drive. It is a repetitive chanting of “Om Mani Padme Om” (“Praise to the jewel in the lotus”) to beautiful Tibetan¬†instruments. I sink into a beautiful meditative state with this music playing in the background. The lush, seaside landscape becomes more alive, more beautiful, more memorable with this music … versus whatever I may be at the mercy of on local radio. I wonder how many people have driven along Oregon’s Coast listening to Sanskrit chanting?

Freedom such as this — to play whatever music I like, to make stops whenever I like, to travel onward however long I like — is incredible. I can experience it in my daily life at home, too, sure. But a different key ignites the engine when I am on the road. Experiences are elevated and appreciation for the freedom that crowns them is enhanced, too. Maybe it is the novelty of the journey. But I like to believe it is the forced staying true to the present moment — something easier done on the road than in daily life.

Staying present to opportunities along Highway 101 in Oregon gifted me moments such as these below — from whale watching to dune buggy racing to savoring spectacular scenery that made it very, very difficult to cross the border into California.

Oregon, I still love you.

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