Nick & Sara’s Tour de West – 11

Tuesday, 15 Sep, 2009

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear, and I was determined to put some miles on traveling down the coast. It was becoming more and more clear I wasn’t going to make San Diego – not at the rate that I was going – but that’s OK – at least that’s what I was telling myself.

I decided since I’d seen Seaside already I’d head down the road 10 miles or so to a town called Cannon Beach for breakfast. Cannon Beach, it turned out, is gorgeous. A tony little artist’s enclave much like Taos in New Mexico, Southampton out on the end of Long Island where I grew up, or perhaps Aspen or Telluride in CO. Well, maybe not the stratospheric prices of Aspen or the ‘ride (where the town slogan is “Where the Billionaires are driving out the millionaires”) but it definitely has that well kept, manicured, please don’t-let-the-real-world intrude-on-our-peace-and-quiet vibe to it. Not that that’s a bad thing. When I win the lotto and retire, I’ll buy a house in Telluride, and one in Taos, and one in Cannon Beach. Heck, I ain’t picky. Maybe one in Southampton, too – when I win the lotto.

Cannon Beach also has a gorgeous beach, with a huge volcanic plug located just offshore in the surf zone – Haystack Rock. In fact, this is one of those iconic symbols of Oregon beaches that I’d seen many times before, and you probably have, too. Which is good, because although I wandered around the beach for quite a while and took many photos, my camera settings had gotten inadvertently changed and most of my pictures from that morning came out way overexposed. Sigh. Check the settings, Nick, check the settings.

After a wonderful respite for breakfast at a local Cannon Beach coffee shop and a stroll along the beach, it was time to head out. Down the coast Sara and I continued, until we reached the town of Tillamook, Oregon – yes, there really is a town named Tillamook, just like the cheese, which of course they make there. And apparently the cheese factory is one of the biggest tourist draws in Oregon – so who can resist? I joined the throngs of others gazing from glass windows on high as huge blocks of Tillamook cheddar are cut into smaller blocks – I could feel my cholesterol levels increasing just looking at all that cheese. Tillamook also makes ice cream, apparently, and I can personally vouch for the Caramel Toffee Crunch – good stuff!

On down the road Sara and I go, and the scenery is just stunning, as is the weather. The road winds up and over a hill, put close enough to the shoreline that you can look out over sandy beaches and blue sky on one side and green hills on the other. Sara lets her top down, and we cruise along at a leisurely pace just enjoying the sea air and the scenery. About halfway between Tillamook and Newport, Oregon, we pull into a rest area overlooking the water to find we’re the only ones there, so I can’t resist pulling out the tripod and taking a couple of self-portraits of Sara and I on the road.

We get to Newport, OR, about 5 in the evening. Sara and I could go further, but Newport seems like a nice place to check out, there’s another aquarium here, and I’m not in *that* great a hurry. Plus, I’m getting hungry.

So, how does one go about finding a place to stay and a place to eat in a strange town you’ve just arrived in? Used to be you kind of wandered around aimlessly until you found something that “looked good,” and gave that a shot. Not anymore. Now we have cell phones and internet sites and cell phones that can access internet sites, even! Yelp has become my favorite travel companion. For those of you unfamiliar, Yelp is a social networking/community review site where anyone who wants to can sign up for an account and start reviewing restaurants, hotels, etc, that they go to. There’s an iPhone version available, and even more conveniently the iPhone version uses the phone’s GPS to give you a map of all rated places nearby, and the ratings they received. Sweet! You can’t completely trust the ratings – sometimes there’s only 1 or 2 raters and once already it turned out 1 person’s idea of a “bathroom clean enough to eat in” (reviewing a hotel) was my idea of a “bathroom barely clean enough to wash in,” but for the most part it’s pretty good. And sometimes it helps you find places not totally obvious from your view as a newbie in town on the well-beaten track.

And so it is in Newport – a place called “the Noodle house,” which is down by the “historic bay front,” gets glowing reviews from a number of different people, and I’m kinda in the mood for something different, so I go in search. Turns out the “historic bay front” is still a working dock/fish processing area, so it’s not the most picturesque part of town – but I find the Noodle House, which turns out to be Korean-based, and have the freshest seafood Jam-Bong (a kind of spicy seafood stew) I’ve had this side of Cheju island.

The bay front turns out to be an easy walk from the hotel room I’ve booked, and there’s an interesting looking public tavern – “The Rogue Ale’s Public House,” just next door to the Noodle House, with what looks to be a lively, but not packed crowd in side. The night is still young yet, so I drive Sara back to the hotel, park her for the evening, and wander on back through the evening sunset to the Rogue Ale house. Turns out Rogue Ale is a regional microbrew – not unlike New Belgium in Colorado. Grabbing an empty seat at the bar, the bartender greats me like a long lost friend. “Welcome to Newport! You from NOAA? We love NOAA around here! Are you one of the folks who’re moving here?”

Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m wearing my NOAA denim shirt, in fact, so that’s how she knows I’m from NOAA. But no, I’m not moving here, and why would they think that, and why is everyone so enthusiastic about NOAA here?

The guy sitting next to me is a younger guy from San Francisco – part time guitarist in a band, apparently, and part time crewman on a commercial fishing boat out of Newport to make ends meet. He to, loves NOAA, and we fall into an easy discussion about weather, El-Nino/La-Nina, NOAA’s websites, etc.. it pretty clear that this guy *knows* weather.. local weather, particularly. For him, weather isn’t a matter of whether or not you take an umbrella with you in the morning, it’s actually a matter of making a living, and sometimes a matter of life or death. Interesting guy, and interesting conversation. I still can’t figure out why everyone’s so enthusiastic about NOAA here.

Oh, yeah – now I remember. During our week in Seattle we met with some folks from NOAA’s OMAO – Office of Marine and Aviation Operations – who maintain and operate NOAA’s fleet of research vessels and aircraft – and they had mentioned that NOAA was in the process of moving some of its ships, now based in Seattle, to, guess where, Newport, OR. So I guess the local folks are seeing this as a very positive addition to the community and to the economic base of the area, which, like most of the Oregon and Washington coast has been hard hit by the gradual dwindling of the timber and fishing resource extraction industries that used to make up the backbone of the area. So, NOAA folk, rest assured, Newport seems very happy to meet you. And I was very happy to meet Newport by the time I finished my second (or was it 3rd?) beer, and ambled back up the street to my waiting hotel room.