Labor Day weekend at Oregon

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We had off from work on Monday (Sept 7th) which gave us a long weekend to travel. As most of my Cornell friends are spread across Silicon Valley and Seattle, I thought of taking this opportunity to have a road trip and meet somewhere in between(Oregon). We finalized this about a week earlier and after spending hours on Skype, we decided to visit Oregon dunes and Crater Lake National park. I was eagerly looking forward to the trip, especially the ATV ride at the Oregon dunes. I rented a car(Ford Focus) for 3 days from Enterprise on Friday and planned to depart early morning on Saturday.

Day 1(Sept 5): Drive to Oregon Dunes and ATV ride
Woke up around 4 AM and it was around quarter to 6 by the time Karthik and I departed Seattle on I-5. The early morning drive was soothing as we encountered mist at some places and witnessed few beautiful landscapes. We stopped at Portland for breakfast and had Avalakki(which we had packed) at Washington Park. As the day progressed, the journey turned quite boring and it was around 1 PM when we reached Spinreel office.
A quick online search had put Spinreel on top for ATV rentals at Oregon Dunes. We had booked 450cc quad bikes for 4 hours which costed 228$(including 2$ Goggle rental) per person. Soon my friends from California joined us and 7 of us were ready for some action. We filled the forms and watched the instruction video. There were quite a few ways by which we could incur extra costs due to mishandling and I was thus quite apprehensive about the ride. We also wondered if 4 hours was too long. We were given helmets and goggles but I hardly wore the goggles. After few checks we were given a go ahead and we hit the dunes for an action packed 4 hours. The Oregon Dunes are a unique area of windswept sand that is the result of millions of years of wind and rain erosion on the Oregon Coast. These are the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. Some dunes tower up to 500 feet (150 m) above sea level, providing numerous recreational opportunities.

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is located on the Oregon Coast, stretching approximately 40 miles (60 km) north from the Coos River in North Bend, to the Siuslaw River, in Florence. Spinreel features one of the Oregon’s largest and best dune-riding area and I can confirm this from the first hand experience. We could take our offroad vehicle to the beach and on the dunes. The dunes were spread across few miles in length and about quarter mile in width and there were 12 layers each with varied heights and slopes. We were excited to see other quad bikes, motorbikes, 2/4 seater vehicles going up and down the steep dunes. Beach was open for only an hour more so we decided to hit the beach first. The ride to the beach was bumpy and curvy which gave us nice practice handling the ATV’s. By the time we reached the beach most of us got comfortable in handling the vehicle and we rode along the coast and enjoyed the shoreline with blue Pacific waters soothing our eye. We went back to the dunes and attempted going from lower heights. We were advised to keep the ATV straight during the uphill as moving across the slope would increase the possibility of tipping over. Also as a safety measure as to avoid collision with others, we were advised to always stop once reaching the top before proceeding to look for oncoming vehicles. Each vehicle also had a long flag which would help getting noticed in steep locations. Surprisingly, most of us could manage the ups and downs quite comfortably in a short time.

We decided to cover all the 12 dunes, but harmless disasters awaited us. The dunes were steep and narrow at some places and the afternoon Sun removed all the moisture from sand which made them very loose and difficult to maneuver. I was the first one to take a fall. I tried to go down on a steep location and somehow felt that the bike would tip over. To avoid tipping over, I jumped out. My shoes were filled with sand attempting to get the ATV out of the steep. We continued covering dunes and it was great fun to ride it on different terrains. Soon people started getting their ATVs stuck in the sand at steep locations and required man power and smart maneuvering to get to flats. We went for refueling after 2 hours of ride. I wore my cycling gloves and got my GoPro this time. It was after the refuel I enjoyed the most. As most of us were comfortable riding by then, we climbed and down the steep dunes with considerable speed. Earlier, en-route to the beach, I had seen few narrow trails disappearing into the trees, and they looked pretty adventurous too. I suggested this to my friends and they all agreed to join me. It was a totally different experience navigating the narrow trails with tree roots on the trail and branches over our heads. The speed and the curvy nature of trails added to the excitement and I kept doing this for around an hour. It was about 4 hours and after having some fun on steep side of the first dune, we went back to the Spinreel office. It had been the most action packed 4 hours of my life. A minimum of 4 hours is ideal for first timers and I thoroughly enjoyed each and every minute.
We went to a nearby lighthouse for the cloud covered sunset and made our way to North Bend for the stay for the night.

Best viewed in 480p and above:

Day 2(Sept 6): Crater Lake National park
We left around 9 in the and it was almost 4 hours drive to Crater Lake National park. We reached Crater Park information center at around 2 PM and after some brainstorming, picked a location for hike to get a good view of the lake. One could drive along the rim of the lake, which would require about 2 hours. We decided to drive along the western rim, hike to a summit and then to a cove(if time permitted) to touch the water.

We saw the lake for the first time when we reached the Crater Lake Rim Village Cafe and it was breathtakingly beautiful. The magnanimity of the lake sunk in only when we saw the lake with our own eyes. The blue water in the crater amidst tall mountains looked totally different from the pictures. Contrary from my belief the huge ditch wasn’t formed from any meteoroid colliding the Earth. The lake partly fills a nearly 2,148-foot (655 m) deep caldera that was formed around 7,700 (± 150) years ago by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama. We could also see one inactive volcano(called Wizard Island) near the western part of the lake. Having had a shallow lunch at the cafe, we parked the car near a viewpoint to hike to a peak called Watchman peak. I witnessed the honest efforts of the people in maintaining the cleanliness at such crowded places. A biker ran and almost risked his life trying to stop a tissue paper getting into the lake from the steep side. I was surprised by his effort and respected him and million others who helped maintain the lake pristine. The hike to the peak was a 1.2 mile round trip with a fire lookout on the top. The peak gave an elevated panoramic view of the lake and surroundings and close up view of wizard island. We could see a distant snow peaked mountain, pointed Mt. Thielsen and various other terrains. We also could see different shades of water in the lake. We got down after the beauty around us sunk in.

Cliff jumping at Crater Lake:
We were tempted to see and feel the water as it looked so blue and clear. We went to Cleetwood Cove which is the only place to get to water and located North of the lake. The trail was 2.2 miles round trip and we had only a few hours before it got dark. We started descending. Observing the people coming up with difficulty, and the steepness, most of us wondered if we would make it back without much sweat. This place was also the dock for boats offering rides in the lake. Though the boats were small I wondered how they got them in water in the first. Karthik joked if they had assembled it after ordering from Ikea.

I went ahead and reached the end of the trail only to witness something adventurous going on. Two girls were at the cliff and jumped into the deep blue waters one after the other. It was from quite a height(20-25 feet) and the lake floor bed was not to be seen. I was taken aback by their bravery and awesomeness. Though I was not ready and confident of attempting it initially, I soon felt like jumping. My friends warned me of the dangers and I mentally started to check off the possible dangers one by one: 1) Cold – I went down and checked the water. Though it was cold, I was quite okay with it because of my experiences with chilled waters in the Himalayas and North Cascade. 2) Waves – I noticed that lake was not calm and observed turbulence in the water. I asked the girls about it and they said it was fine. 3) Swimming – Once in the water, I had to swim to the shore. I have hardly swum in water without knowing its depth, let alone in such a big lake. Also, since my leg fracture, my swimming had been not so normal as before. I was not even confident about making it back to the surface once I was inside. Considering the worst case I asked the girls again if they could help. They said they would try pulling me out if anything happened. 4) Swimsuit – This was the scariest part. I was wearing cotton clothes and the girls had swimsuits and another guy who jumped after them had proper swimwear. I was not sure if I could take the impact or the cold.

I soon saw a guy with casual clothes jump and reach the shore safely, and this really boosted my confidence. His friend jumped next and I went to the edge of the cliff. I thought of jumping soon after the guy cleared the waters but before he reached the shore so that he could help me if I needed. Without thinking much, I took the plunge. I still remember the fear I had looking at the approaching water before hitting it. The impact didn’t hurt much, but once in the water I just thought about coming to the surface. I did come up soon and swam to the shore. I reached after few strokes and was ecstatic to make it out alive. It looked doable then but it was the most scariest thing I had done in my life. The girls were still at the shore and asked me to take a dip and look at the blueness of the water. I followed the advise and observed the pitch blue water. I still couldn’t see its depth, apart from the rocks on the shore. I had seen Casey jump in the “Make It Count” video and I had done something similar to it. I thanked the girls and guys without whose presence I wouldn’t have taken the plunge. The girls told me that they had read about the cliff jump and had come prepared for it. Lisha jumped after some time and reached the shores safely. I went to jump again but actually I took more time to jump the second time than the first. I didn’t feel much once in the water as I was accustomed to it.

We were getting ready to go back. I noticed that my friends had taken only photos of my jump(a friend took a video too but it didn’t capture it clearly). I hence decided to jump again but this time only for a video. I jumped and after hitting the water, I felt like my skin on my fingers was peeling off. I swam till the shore without knowing for sure and was glad to know that my fingers were safe but somehow I felt the skin on my hands and feet turn loose. It was only then I realized that I had pushed my body too much. My friend offered me his dry extra t-shirt and jacket. I soon changed and we started the trek back hoping everything would be fine. The walk was not that tiring since I kept recalling the jumps and enjoyed the evening sun paint different colors on the rocky mountains. Jumping off a cliff into the blue waters was an experience like never before. I changed to dry clothes, turned on the car heater and began the journey to reach Roseburg. On the way we stopped in between hoping to see Milky Way, Even though we saw lots of stars and a shooting star we couldn’t exactly view the Milky Way clearly.
Best viewed in 480p and above:

The next day was spent in driving back to Seattle with a break at Indian restaurant at Portland for lunch. During this journey it was the first time I tried Cruise Control and it was amusing. It was refreshing to meet Cornell friends and try out amazing activities. The car journey was uneventful as we were only 2 of us in the car, but the drive was nice. The rental experience from Enterprise was convenient and pleasant.

Nikhil Navali

Categories: Adventure, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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