The Road Less Traveled

“I always get where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” — Winnie the Pooh

They say to take the road less traveled. I’m not sure Interstate 5 qualifies, but that’s where we found ourselves in spring 2022, beginning a multi-day, three-state drive to Whidbey Island, Washington. Months of epic planning had brought us to this very moment, whizzing by small towns like Weed and Gerber, Pottsville and Drain, to our new home in the Pacific Northwest.

The caravanning began on an early spring morning, with a surprise donut send-off from a close family friend and to-go mugs filled with warm and soothing coffee — to be enjoyed once the first rest-stop was in sight.

We left sleepy Rancho Bernardo, an inland suburb of San Diego, before the sun was up. With two fully packed SUVs and endless music prepped for this very occasion, we were set. As the sun rose, we crisscrossed through the Los Angeles grapevine, making it through the difficult stretch of highway before many of the Amazon truck drivers were beginning their day. Bakersfield passed by quickly, followed by a quick pitstop in Buttonwillow.

The low rolling hills were shrouded in clouds and the front windshield wipers kept a constant rhythm. Today we’d be home, and nothing could dampen our moods.

After that, it was a marathon finish to Sacramento, past rolling fields of gold and through freeway underpasses serving as nesting locations for frantic swallows that dipped and dove near passing cars, undeterred by the road noise and constant traffic.

California’s Capitol served as a welcome respite, where we fueled up both the cars and ourselves, preparing for our next destination, Eugene, Oregon.

We set out from Sacramento with coffee and food, ready for the second day of travel, still enchanted with the iconic road trip experience.

Approaching Redlands, we began to see snow in the far-off mountains. Yellow fields of mustard stretched out in the distance and bright daffodils danced along the ditch by the road. What was a busy freeway near Sacramento had turned into a pleasant country road, passing by groves of almond and olive trees.

U2’s lyrics to Song for Someone played over the car radio as we made our way towards Mt. Shasta. “Far away from where I was and where I need to be,” rang true. As the majestic mountain came into sight among the clouds and through the twists and turns of the highway, scars from recent forest fires were evident along the side of the road. Green regrowth peaked through the death, a sign of hope spread among the many hills and valleys. I found myself thinking back to the California Gold Rush lessons from elementary school. If I squinted hard enough, I could almost imagine we’d taken a step back to that time.

After Shasta came the final stretch of the California highway. When the Oregon border appeared, the anti-climactic crossing was juxtaposed with our weary but joyful cheers. We’d officially left our lovely state and were in new territory. After a brief stop in Medford for a desperate In-N-Out pick-me-up, we made our way to Eugene, pulling in for the evening a bit tired, but relieved to be done with most of the journey.

After much-needed sleep, the third day of the journey began with a rainy welcome to the Pacific Northwest. Leaving Eugene early that morning, we were determined to finish the shorter road trip stretch as quickly as possible.

The California fields from the day before had turned into a green expanse of Oregon farmland, reminiscent of an Irish pastoral landscape. Sheep and cows dotted the terrain as the weather became stormier by the minute. The low rolling hills were shrouded in clouds and the front windshield wipers kept a constant rhythm. Today we’d be home, and nothing could dampen our moods.

We passed through Portland and then made the freeway split to Washington, nearly missing the exit and almost heading back on the freeway to Los Angeles. Thankfully, a quick lane change meant our caravan was still on track. After crossing one of Portland’s many iconic metal bridges, we were officially in our new home state. With big smiles we settled in for the final stretch.

A few hours and many wet miles later, we found ourselves at the Mukilteo ferry, within eyesight of the beautiful land we would soon call home. The ferry ride was quick, and the rainy weather subsided briefly for the last part of our journey. Disembarking at the quaint Clinton ferry terminal, we had officially arrived.

A thought quickly flashed through my mind. “We’re here Grandpa Larry,” I thought, thinking of my grandfather who once called this land home. “We made it.”

And we sure had.