It was a weird trip. Not bad weird, just weird.
I try to get back to Portland at least twice a year to see friends and family. Last spring, COVID canceled my plans, but I was determined to get out there in September. I knew it wouldn’t be a normal trip–I wasn’t going to be hitting up all the restaurants and breweries I love, I wasn’t going to be visiting everybody, I wasn’t going to be going wine tasting. But I figured I’d get to spend a little time with family and close friends, and maybe do some hiking.
Then the winds shifted.
Smoke from the wildfires that are currently decimating the west coast was blowing out into the ocean. But a day or two before I started my road trip, the winds changed and started blowing the smoke inland.
When I left my house, the skies were blue, the air was warm, and I was looking forward to a road trip. I had plans to meet a couple of friends in Walla Walla for a night, and I was looking forward to it. I had never been to Walla Walla, and even though COVID added some challenges, I thought I’d get a chance to see the town.
When I crossed the Montana/Idaho border at Lost Trail pass, the blue skies went away. The mountains had been holding back the blanket of smoke, and the further west I drove, the thicker it got. Google Maps took me on what would normally be an awesome route through the rolling hills of eastern Washington, but I couldn’t see any of it. I stopped once for gas, and threw on my mask even though I wasn’t going inside.
I pulled into Walla Walla and could barely see a block in front of me. Friends were waiting for me at Public House 124, so the dog and I checked into the hotel, and headed over to meet them. The dogs were happy to see each other, and we hung out for a bit. The smoke didn’t seem as bad with beer in hand. Later that night, we grabbed an outstanding steak dinner at the Walla Walla Steak Company. Seriously–one of the best steaks I’ve had in a long time.
The next day, I finished the drive to Portland. Through the smoke, I could just barely make out the downtown skyline as I drove across the Marquam Bridge.
Did I mention I tweaked my back a week earlier? While sleeping. You know you’re getting old when sleeping becomes dangerous. So I had that going on during the drive, as well.
I was happy as hell when I finally arrived at my daughter’s house. Happy to see her, of course, but also happy to not be in the car, surrounded by a dense white cloud of smoke.
The first week I was there, I spent half the day working, and half the day with an ice pack strapped to my back. Everyone was getting a little cabin fever–COVID steered us away from going inside, and the smoke kept us from spending too much time outside. I should note that my daughter doesn’t live near any of the evacuation areas, so our complaints pale in comparison to those who lost almost everything they owned.
I really tried to cram in as much as I could the second week of the trip. Schedules didn’t align for a shoot with Kayla and Ashlee, which bummed me out, but I did get to do a quick engagement shoot with my daughter and her fiancée. And I was able to add a few shots to my 52 Portraits project.
The drive back was completely different. A little fog leaving Portland, but no smoke. No feeling of doom overshadowing the trip. Just a nice, nine-hour drive back to Missoula. Podcasts make the trip go by pretty quickly.
I find myself missing Portland less and less. I still miss the people, but not the city itself. Portland did exactly what I needed it to do in my 20s and 30s. Now it’s Montana’s turn to provide what I need in my 40s.