In 1997 the entire side of my Dad's family moved to an 88 acre eden in the mountains of southwestern Washington, just north of Hood River, Oregon. My grandma built a three story cabin that HGTV would be jealous of. My aunt and uncle built a quaint little cabin nearby. There was a trampoline, a gazebo with a hot tub, a large shop with every conceivable tool and machine. In the winter we'd fly up for Christmas and new years. While the presents were great, I distinctly remember digging bunkers and tunnels in the snow for our snowball fights lasting hours. Summers were green and warm, the air full of the sweet smell of flowers. It was a wonderland. The exact opposite of Houston and I decided at twelve years old that it was my favorite place on earth. I mean, it was the first place I was introduced to StarCraft in 1998 afterall! 

Picture I took in 2000 with my first camera. My family and I playing in the snow near their property. This is my personal favorite photo I've ever taken.  It means a lot to me

They all moved to Arizona sometime in the early 2000's, maybe 2004-05. I was pissed! I was selfish in thinking that I'd never see Washington again! I was really bummed until I visited them in Arizona, and then I fell in love with that state as well. Anyways, since they moved from Washington I have managed to go back twice, but not staying long enough or exploring parts unseen, which has been on my list for about ten years now. 

I'm happy in Austin, with my friends and circumstances, but my daily internal dialogue is always full of questions like, "where can I go next?", and "how far can I go on this amount of money?". After befriending Genest, a woman with the same questions, we decided to put our money where our mouth was (I'll get to the money part later, that's one of the best areas of the trip!).

After a few weeks thinking and planning, we booked our flights (free - airline points) for August 27th! We would fly into Portland and Tom, my vagabond of an Uncle, would pick us up in his Explore Morebile, in which he travels the US for the summer months before returning to Baja for the winter months. 

Man and his home

Just as planned, Genest and I flew into Portland, then Tom and his girlfriend, Barbara, picked us up. Oh yeah, she brought her sweet little pup named Beans along!
I remember as a kid always stopping at Multnomah Falls on the way to Hood River, Oregon. We would hike to the top of the falls, but we had never done the full seven mile loop all the way up and around. This was first on the agenda and a perfect introduction to our trip.

Upper and lower Multnomah Falls, OR

Looking down from the bridge

Upper Multnomah falls dropped off directly behind me. This was the scene at the top.

After climbing 1,200ft, we came to a pristine waterfall. One I'll never forget. It topped Multomah Falls in my opinion. I don't know what it's called, but I do know what it looked like... 

My favorite of the hike. 

One of my favorite shots from the trip

We hiked further up between streams, the landscape turned into a dense pine forest. It reminded me of parts of the Black Forest of Germany. 

Black Forest of Oregon

Not a dream... 

After a three hour hike in lush perfection, we headed to Barbara's house in White Salmon, Washington. On the way we stopped in Hood River, Oregon. A picture-perfect little town with a young, booming and active population. There's a bike shop, a coffee shop and a surf shop at every corner due to the world class windsurfing/kite boarding on the Columbia River Gorge. Not to mention the terrain is ideal for mountain biking. It's a very fit and active community, I enjoy it there very much. I don't have any photos of the town, but I have pictures of the surrounding areas. 

Strawberry fields forever

I'd like to shake your hand

Bashful uncle after a dip in the river

That night Barbara hosted us at her house in White Salmon and we all had a nice evening over some spaghetti squash and all the fixins!

The next day we packed up after a nice breakfast and headed out for Mt. St. Helens! I had never been there before and being the geography nerd that I am, it had always been high on my list. 

View of Mt. St. Helens from the trail to Spirit Lake

Spirit Lake was a mystical place to me as a child. An entire lake full of obliterated trees from the blast in 1980. Basically, when St. Helens erupted, Spirit Lake took the full impact of its lateral blast. When eruption debris hit Spirit Lake, it displaced the water and created a wave that crashed 800ft high onto the surrounding mountains on the northern edge of the lake. The debris deposited 350,000 acres of pyrolized trees. The lahar (volcanic mud/debris flow) that was deposited into the lake raised the lakebed by 100ft, which caused the surface area of the lake to nearly double in size. The trees that were ripped from the hillsides by the eruption now cover 40% of the lake's surface area. 

Genest pre-dip

Genest decided to do a little log-hopping, which proved to be very entertaining for one of us... and three onlooking otters!

The beginning of the end... 

At least she was in good SPIRITS about it... ;)

Yup, she fell in. What a wonderful experience for both of us. Thank you, Genest. 

We hiked back up to the ExploreMorebile and made lunch, decided where to camp and headed out. It was getting cold (mid 50's), windy and rainy. 

We drove north out of the park towards Mt. Rainier National Park, but turned down a forest service road to pick a campsite for the night. 

I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again. The key to cheap travel: National Forests. Free camping anywhere within them. Turn down a national forest service road, there are usually some cleared campsites from past users. Pick a spot and enjoy a free evening deep in the wilderness.

Our first campsite... in the rain. Naturally.

Chef Genest spoiling us to death in the Explore Morebile's tiny, yet well-equipped kitchen.We had amazing tacos!

The next morning Genest and I went on an exploratory hike towards a stream that we could hear, but couldn't see. We found it. We blazed our own trail up and down ridges, through thick forests and along the stream. It was great. We eventually got separated and had some real nice time in sweet sweet isolation. I didn't even take pictures, I just enjoyed it.

Down to the river

Got back to camp, finished off the taco fixins, and headed out towards Mt. Rainier! The drive was gorgeous. I felt like I was in a car commercial. The roads were perfectly damp, everything was so vibrant yet tranquil. I popped out of Tom's sky hatch while he was driving and took some pictures and timelapses of the route.

Out the hatch


Continued in Part 2...