It was wonderful to return to Portland in mid-March, but I didn’t have time to savor it because I had to start preparing for my trip. It was a considerable transition, from working in Qatar to taking a road trip around America, and I spent two full months in the Northwest getting ready. Let’s see, I had to get a cell phone, buy a new laptop and get it configured, get contact lenses, buy a bunch of camping equipment, find a place to store my furniture (which was being shipped from Qatar on a freighter), get health insurance, visit my house (which was being rented), and read through all my mail from the past six months.
Oh, I also had to buy a new truck. Yeah, the truck was the big one. I didn’t have a car when I lived in Qatar and frankly, I didn’t need one, since I lived a block from the CPO (my office) and two blocks from City Center Mall, the largest mall in Qatar, so everything I needed was within walking distance. It was the first time I’d been without a car since my college days and I didn’t miss it. But now, being back in America, having a vehicle was a necessity – especially since I was planning to take an eight-month road trip!
After 31 Years, A New Truck
I’d saved up money for a new truck while I was in Qatar and during my last four months there, after hearing the news about the demise of CPO, I’d been perusing the Toyota.com website almost every day, spec’ing out the truck I wanted to buy when I got back to America. And no, I didn’t consider anything but a Toyota. I had bought a new Toyota pickup truck in 1985 and drove it for over 20 years and more than 260,000 miles around America and never had a problem with it (you can read the story of my fabled truck here), so I’m sold on Toyota. By January, I’d settled on a 4WD Tacoma and had decided on everything except the color, which I kept changing every week: first blue, then white, then gray, then back to white. After a while, it became a running joke in the CPO (“Hey Del, what color is your truck this week?” my colleagues would ask me). But by February I’d decided on gray, partly because the vehicle I’d owned before I moved to Qatar was a gray Honda Odyssey, given to me by my father just before he passed away.
Above: Here's a brief history of my 1985 Toyota pickup truck, which I bought in late 1984. I drove it to every state in the Lower 48 several times each and it was my home during my countless road trips across America. After driving it for 260,000 miles, I gave it to a friend in 2010, but it was still running strong. (5:11)
A few days before I flew back to the U.S., I searched online for a car broker in Portland and found someone who seemed reputable, a guy named Jim Hoff. I sent Jim an email from Qatar and gave him my specs, asking if he could help me. He wrote back right away and we began an email dialogue that continued well after I’d returned to Portland. He said that the truck I wanted to buy (a Toyota Tacoma, 4WD, SR5, V6, etc.) was in high demand and hard to find in the Northwest, but shortly after I returned to the U.S., he tracked one down and said it would arrive in Portland in late March. I’d been renting a car in Portland so I extended it – a couple times, in fact, waiting for my new truck to arrive.
I’d never worked with a car broker before, but this is how it works: You tell the broker what kind of car you’re looking for and the broker does all the leg work and finds you your car. The broker will tell you up-front exactly how much it’s going to cost you, so there’s no haggling with a dealer over the price.
The broker can usually negotiate a better deal than you’d be able to on your own, but then the broker charges you a commission for their service, usually between $500 and $1,000 depending on the type of car. But the total price you pay is about the same, or maybe a little less, than what you’d pay by negotiating with a dealer but – and here’s the kicker – you don’t have to contend with finding the car or any of the haggling. Jim did a good job in handling a difficult task, trying to find this particular truck, and I recommend him. And I was really happy knowing that my truck was on its way!
The Campground Hobo
For my first week in Portland, I stayed with some friends but then moved to nearby Champoeg State Park, about 20 miles south of Portland, and stayed there for most of the next seven weeks as I prepared for my road trip In fact, it really became my home during that time. Staying at Champoeg (pronounced “Sham-POO-eeg”) worked out great because it was cheap (cabins are $40/night and campsites are about $25) and it was close to Portland, so close that I drove into Portland almost every day to run errands (of which there were many). The only problem with staying at Champoeg was during the weekends, when the campground filled up with folks who’d reserved their sites many months earlier, so each weekend I had to find another place to stay.
Above: Here's my five-day trip to the coast in late March: two nights at Honeyman State Park on the central Oregon coast and two nights at Cape Disappointment in Washington before I headed back to Portland. Click on any colored line or dot to see more information.
I usually drove over to the Oregon or Washington coasts on the weekends, because most of the State Park campgrounds there had campsites available. I took my first foray to the coast in late March, while I was waiting for my truck to arrive. That weekend I drove about four hours over to Honeyman State Park on the central Oregon coast, a park that's noted for its almost endless expanse of spectacular sand dunes, and I spent several days there. And it was there at Honeyman that I had my first “yurt” experience.
A yurt – one of two Mongolian ideas that have taken hold in America (the other being Mongolian BBQ) – is a canvas-covered shelter, something like a cabin, and they’re becoming popular at State Parks around Oregon. I was still driving my rental car at that time and didn’t want to camp in my tent, this being late March, which is usually a drippy and chilly time at the coast, so I’d reserved a yurt at Honeyman for a few nights. And it was a good thing, too, because it definitely was chilly and drippy, with nighttime temps dipping into the mid-40’s. But I’d brought along a space heater, which I plugged in and, along with the yurt’s built-in heater, I stayed warm and toasty.
During the days, I drove into the nearby town of Florence, my favorite town on the Oregon coast, and set myself up at the wonderful Florence public library, where I configured my new laptop computer and did some other things, getting ready for my trip. I also set up my new Wi-Fi modem, which I’d need on this trip because it would allow me to access the Internet from almost anywhere in the country. Yeah, it was expensive – I was paying about $50 month for 6 GB of data – but it would be essential.
After a few days on the central Oregon coast, I headed up to the Washington coast, because there was a yurt vacancy at Cape Disappointment State Park, at the southwestern tip of Washington, for a few nights. I’ve stayed at this State Park before, which is located on the north side of the Columbia River, and right at the mouth where the river meets the sea, and I've always loved it. Along with incredible vistas, the park has a terrific museum that showcases the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-06, this being the western terminus of their epic adventure before they turned south and spent the soggy winter of 1805-06 on the south bank of the Columbia, in present-day Oregon near Astoria. I’ve visited a lot of Lewis and Clark museums in the US, having followed the Lewis & Clark Trail during an epic road trip across America in 1998, and along with the spectacular museum in Great Falls, Montana, I think this is one of the best. So if you’re a history buff like I am, Cape Disappointment will be anything but disappointing.
Above: After I got back to the U.S. from Qatar, I spent a several days camping at Honeyman State Park on the Oregon Coast. I rented a yurt (a round Mongolian-style hut) fortunately, since it poured during most of my stay. (0:22)
And by the way, Cape Disappointment is also the southwesternmost point in Washington. And so, being the Extreme Geographer, one morning I walked out on the jetty and, for a few minutes at least, was the southwesternmost person in the entire state. Cool, huh? Yep, but I’m not going to get a swelled head about it.
So why is it called Cape Disappointment? Back in 1788, the English sea captain, John Meares, was searching for the mouth of the fabled “river of the Northwest” in this area and sailed right by here, but he figured the mouth of the river was just a large bay. So he named the nearby point of land Cape Disappointment and left, never bothering to cross the bar. Well actually it was the mouth of the great river, but he and the rest of the world wouldn’t know that until four years later, when the American sea captain, Robert Gray, crossed over the dangerous bar, entered the river’s mouth and named the great river for his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. So instead of Cape Disappointment, maybe it should be called Cape Boy-Was-I-Ever-Wrong.
Camping at the Coast
My Tacoma Finally Arrives
By late March, my truck had reached Portland via a circuitous trip on a semi-truck from St. Louis to Seattle to Portland, and Jim called me and told me it was ready. I went to Broadway Toyota the next day, April 1 – yes, April Fool’s Day, though I hoped that wasn’t a bad omen. I met a dealer there, Gary, and he showed me the truck, fresh off the 18-wheeler from Seattle. It had arrived the previous afternoon and someone had seen it an hour later and offered Gary to buy it right then and there, and for more money than I was paying. But fortunately, Gary declined their offer, telling them it was reserved for someone else (me!) Yep, my truck was a hot item and as Gary told me, I was lucky to find it after only three weeks.
At the showroom that morning, I looked at the odometer and said to Gary, “Hey, it has two miles on it. I thought this was a NEW truck.” He started apologizing but then saw me smile, realizing that I was joking. In my entire life I’ve never seen a vehicle with only two miles on the odometer.
For the past three years I’d worked in Qatar saving up money to buy this truck. As much as I liked working in Qatar, living there had been a real sacrifice and I missed America every moment of every day, but I set a goal for myself to stick it out and save enough money to buy a truck outright when I got back to the US. There was no way I could’ve bought a new truck if I’d continued working at my job in the U.S. instead of moving to Qatar, and I was determined not to be among the 85% of Americans who finance their new car purchase, either through a lease or loan. I hate being in debt and I wanted to own the truck outright, and I was determined to stay in Qatar – as much as I wanted to come back to America at times -- until I’d saved up enough to do it. So I gladly handed Gary the cashier’s check and he gave me the keys.
Above: A short clip of the impressive waves crashing ashore at Cape Disappointment in southwestern Washington. (0:17)
A Truck with a Message -- And a Name
He also gave me a stack of papers to sign. One of the most important papers, at least in my mind, was the application for a vehicle license. To commemorate this trip of extreme geography, I filled out an application for a personalized license plate, something I thought I’d never be vain enough to do (and that's exactly what the DMV calls them: vanity plates!) Well, I guess I’m getting vainer as I get older because I decided to get an Oregon plate with the message, “XT GEOG” to commemorate my adventure. And from the variety of Oregon plates available, I chose the Crater Lake plate, thinking it appropriate not only because it was a National Park – and I’d be visiting lots of those on this trip – but also because it was the deepest lake in North America, fitting in nicely with my theme of extreme geography.
Years ago I mused about getting a personalized license plate someday with the message “NO MESG,” thinking that would be hilarious. I told a girl I was dating at the time about my idea and she didn’t understand my sense of irony – and not surprisingly, the relationship didn’t last long after that. So I’ll have to put NO MESG on the back-burner. For now, I wanted my truck to be XT GEOG.
I liked my new Tacoma, even though it was quite a bit bigger than my 1985 Toyota pickup, which I’d driven for 20 years. I’d become really attached to that little truck, since it took me to so many wonderful places around the country, including to all 48 states several times each. I’ve never been married but I imagine driving this new truck was like finding a different spouse after having been married to someone else for many years – it was nice, and new, but it would take some time to develop the same bond that I’d had before. There’s a difference between “like” and “love” and I was still at the “like” state.
I never named my old yellow Toyota truck; it was just “the truck.” Kinda bland, huh? So I decided to give my new truck a name and I called it “Gigi,” which stood for “Gray Ghost” (G.G. – get it?). Gigi was also the name of a stunningly beautiful girl I knew during my freshman year in college, who lived in my dorm at UC Irvine – in fact, the only Gigi I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Considering how gorgeous Gigi was, I figured that she, like most beautiful women I’ve ever known, was a real… let’s say… snot. So I avoided her. But shortly before the end of the school year, I talked to Gigi one day as we walked out of Lago dorm and it turned out she was a surprisingly nice person. Lesson learned: Don’t judge a person by their looks, whether good-looking or bad. So like that girl Gigi (who I never saw again unfortunately), my truck is nice both on the inside and the outside, and thus I figured it was a good name.
My Beautiful New Truck