027. ROADTRIP: ASTORIA TO UNION / by Cara Hines

After leaving Giles and Zeiss behind, I paid a quick visit to downtown and knocked back my last Oregon latte at Astoria Coffeehouse and Bisto. People in the upper left corner just seem to inherently understand that a proper coffee shop needs cracks and crevices, old plaster walls, decaying tile or concrete floors, some old soft seating with a personality of its own, and appropriately faded paint. Most of the ones I’ve visited contain more character in their front doors than the majority of coffee shops have throughout. And after my espresso fix in this more than proper coffee shop, I was on my way. 

To leave Astoria and head into Washington, I crossed the mouth of the Columbia River on the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which at just over 4 miles long is the longest truss bridge in North America. It was the heaviest rain and fog of my entire trip, so sightseeing was out of the question. I went directly to my next couchsurfing hosts in Raymond—Chuck, Chanda, and their 13-year-old son Elijah. When I walked across the hardwood floors of their old home; passed Eero Saarinen chairs, a Lucite table, an extensive library of books on spirituality and travel, and Oriental artifacts from their world explorations, I knew they would have a hard time getting rid of me. When they started talking about selling everything to go on the road in an RV, I was ready to help them price things and go with them. Chuck made a wonderful dinner, and along with their friend Molly, we talked…and talked.

As they told me of their plans to embark on an RV life, I told them about the friends I'd reconnected with via Facebook just the day before who are doing exactly that. Lisa, Mat, and their toddler Simon are living one of my dreams: traveling, living, working and playing full-time in their Airstream. They take good pictures, write good stories, and are livin’ a good life. Read about them on their website shinycamper.com, and prepare to be jealous.

Chuck and Chanda regaled me with stories of their family of three’s recent seven-month journey through Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa. Their primary impetus was a desire to give Elijah an education out in the world. They wanted him to experience it for himself rather than only in books and classrooms, to see how other people and cultures really are, to taste local foods and understand firsthand both the surface differences and common humanity that are inherent across all continents. I asked Elijah how he liked the experience. He got a lot out of it he said, but much of what he learned didn’t make itself apparent until he returned to “normal life” back in Raymond. His favorite place was Cambodia, where they lived with a family and were able to get a sense of daily life there. One of the tools they used to make their trip more affordable was www.couchsurfing.org, which is how I came to stay with them. Another site they introduced me to was www.helpx.net, a “worldwide online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.” It’s similar to “wwooffing” on www.wwooff.org, which is a listing of workstays only on organic farms. In today’s world with resources like these, there are fewer barriers than ever to experiencing the world safely and like a local. I could write an entire article about this alone, if not a book!

The cliff’s notes of other interesting things about my new friends: Chuck works as a wild-land firefighter, plays guitar, remodeled their home, enjoys video editing, and loves working with kids. He has taught guitar lessons and video editing/storytelling to kids in their town and once applied for a grant to create a community program to continue doing so. But apparently a new popcorn machine at the local theater was more important to the grant apportioning committee. I look forward to hearing he’s found a benefactor who wants to support his traveling guitar/video/storytelling RV school. Chanda works as a realtor and teaches yoga. She has an eBay business, knows good stuff when she sees it, and it shows. But most interesting to me is their philosophy. Rather than fighting paradigms they don’t align with, they graciously bow out of them and live their own. Their personal brand of activism is “Live the life you want to have rather than fight against the one you don’t.” It kind of reminds me of that quote by Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” A simple “Just do it” works, too. Like me, they’ve experienced enough of the world to know that staying lifelessly plugged into the matrix that is rapidly imploding on itself is not possible for them. Our systems are failing. Our governments are failing. Our illusions of security are failing. Our human perception that “all I can see/hear/taste/smell/touch is all there is” is proving to be false.

There is a Hopi elder by the name of Chief Dan Evehema who ten years ago said this, “Be good to each other, and do not look outside yourself for the leader. This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate! At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

As I was leaving the next morning, Chuck and Chanda were beginning the tedious and emotional task of going through their belongings, deciding what to sell and for how much. They’re going to sell their things again to set out into the world, to let go of the shore and push off into the middle of the river, or road as the case may be. They do not pretend to have any answers. They aren’t sure of what they’re doing, but they feel the current tugging at them and something tells them to go with it. I applaud them. They’re doing what thousands are feeling the call to do, but are holding too tightly to the shore that will eventually rip them apart. That grasping is fear. And it’s not real. Neither is the shore.

Chuck, Chanda and Elijah did finally get rid of me. I continued in the direction of Union located on the south bend of Hood Canal, where Linda and Greg live. They’re friends of my friend Bob. And what about Bob? Bob is a special person, a breed unto himself. He was one of the people who inspired me to start letting go of my own eroding shore and go with the current. He lives in Seattle…sort of. That’s his home base, and he’s a modern day vagabond who is much more advanced than I in the lifestyle. The irony is that he had a trip planned back to the East Coast where he’s originally from during the time I plan to be in Seattle. But he did not leave without making sure I would have plenty of exceptional company and information for my stay in and around the Emerald City. We vagabonds have to look out for one another.

Greg works weeks, six hours away in Pullman, WA where he is director of the Center for NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) Spectroscopy in the Department of Chemistry at Washington State University. “What, pray tell, is NMR Spectroscopy?” you ask. Basically, it’s a research technique employing large machines that determine detailed information about physical and chemical properties of whatever is being analyzed. I’d love to tell you more about what he does since it’s fascinating to hear him speak about it, but I’m afraid I’d sound as ignorant as I am! In any case, this meant Linda was solo in Union and welcomed my company. Bob had told me we could be sisters, but it wasn’t until I met her that I believed him. In her presence I felt I’d been a part of her home and family for years. As they affectionately refer to it, Pebble Beach Place is their beautiful two-story home and guesthouse nestled into a hill covered in one of the only swaths of mature pine forest left in the area. Views are to the north shore of Hood Canal, which you, too, can enjoy if you’d like to stay in their guesthouse. I walked down to their shared dock across the road where they harvest muscles, clams and oysters. I went for a run on Hwy 106 that hugs the canal. I enjoyed the upper Zen garden that Bob built for them. Linda and I talked for hours about life, death, losing what we thought mattered most, meditation, expanding consciousness, shifting perceptions of reality, self-empowered health and healing, and we discovered we share the common outlook that everything in life, no matter how challenging, is an opportunity for direct expanded understanding of universal truth. I was in heaven.

I’d planned to stay only one night and move on, but with Linda’s urging (it didn’t take much), one night stretched into three. This meant I joined her in hosting her friend Dana for dinner, I was able to meet Greg, and I joined them in celebrations held in town and at their home for the victory that citizens of Mason County won against an incinerator slated for construction in their community. More opportunities…to make new friends, to be inspired, to learn something about myself, about the world I live in, about life. There are no accidents. Everything is perfect. Meeting Linda felt like a divine gift, an omen on my journey to let me know I’m still heading in the right direction and to give me nourishment to keep going. Priceless.

View more photos in the Roadtrip: Astoria to Union gallery