TRIP DATE: July 3, 2016 | SLIDESHOW | PHOTO ALBUM | Links to Honeymoon Posts
NOTE: I’m extremely busy this summer “break” with oodles of school-related projects, so I considered limiting my blog posts on our honeymoon to brief highlights. But Wendy and I only get one honeymoon, and I want a record we can enjoy in our dotage. So I’m opting for my old-fashioned detailed day-by-day approach, which means this will be a quite lengthy series of posts. Plus my busy schedule means I’ll have to space them out over many weeks to get them all in with the many linked photos. I hope some of our Gentle Readers will find the wait worthwhile and enjoy the nitty gritty travel details. We sure enjoyed our trip!
Wendy and I have traveled together extensively in Oklahoma and Arkansas for various hikes and vacations. We’ve also fled Oklahoma’s weather extremes with ventures into Texas during winter breaks and to Colorado and the higher elevations in New Mexico in summer. But I had never taken her to my favorite summer vacation area: the Pacific Northwest (PCNW).
Longing for the Pacific Northwest
My love for the Pacific Northwest as a summer destination began in the late 1990s. I had won free plane tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. as the district teacher of the year. My criteria for selecting a destination was to a) go as far away from Oklahoma as possible, b) go somewhere cool during the hot Oklahoma summer, and c) go somewhere I had never been before. So I invited a teaching colleague to go with me to the PCNW. It is a coincidence that her name was Wendy, as that was years before I met my future wife. We visited Seattle, the Mount Saint Helens volcano, and both Victoria and Vancouver in far southwestern British Columbia. It is a lovely region in the summer with bright but cool days, beautiful vegetation, and friendly folks.
I enjoyed that visit to the cool and beautiful PCNW so much that I returned to Seattle in 2005 on a solo outing, and then made another solo trip to Oregon in 2006, driving and dayhiking along the Columbia River Gorge and all of the way down Oregon’s open coastline from Astoria to the redwoods of northern California. In 2008 I again received the free-tickets deal when I was honored for the second time as the district teacher of the year (a recognition I will soon be immune from), so I returned to Washington state and British Columbia. The following year I made a second dayhike-oriented trip to Oregon. So it is little surprise that I decided we should splurge on our honeymoon and visit Oregon, Washington, and Victoria, BC.
Planning for Portland and Beyond
I’ve never driven from Oklahoma to the PCNW and never plan to do so. The trip is about 1,900 miles by car, taking about 28 hours of driving time. I used to be willing to drive as much as ten hours in one day, but I’m far too old and too wise to do that now. Five hours of driving in a day is pushing it for me these days. So we’d be flying out, which meant dealing with all of the restrictions and fees on baggage that have arisen since the last time I flew on a plane in 2009.
Wendy had flown before, with her first flight back in 1990 when she was flown out from Dallas to Washington, DC to compete as the northeast Texas champion in the National Spelling Bee. (Thankfully, I can spell pretty well: I tied for first place in a written spelling test at a state scholastic meet in high school, but my wife is even better at it.) Wendy was apprehensive about the long flight, and I too dreaded narrow seats with little leg room and the possibility of squalling babies. So I looked into paying various fees for extra bags, wider seats, seats with more legroom, etc. By the time I had seats in coach that I thought we could live with, the fees had piled on to where we might as well try a different tactic. So Wendy and I flew in First Class on all three of our plane flights for the honeymoon: Oklahoma City to Dallas and then Dallas to Portland on American Airlines and later Seattle-Tacoma to Oklahoma City on Alaska Airlines. Thus we always shared a lone row of two side-by-side wide seats with plenty of legroom and could each check two bags for free, so long as they each weighed less than 50 pounds.
Even with that luxury of an extra checked bag for each of us, the length of our honeymoon meant that we needed to plan our trip to include a couple of laundromat days. I was determined to hit several highlights: Portland’s International Rose Test Garden for my rose-loving wife, the Columbia River Gorge scenic highway, Ecola Point and Astoria on the Pacific coast, Mount Saint Helens and Ruby Beach in Washington (our friend and fellow teacher Gary Layman clued us in on the latter), and Victoria, British Columbia’s Inner Harbour and the nearby Butchart Gardens. Driving around to enjoy all of those places without having to pack in and out of a hotel every day extended our honeymoon to 17 days. That’s the longest trip Wendy and I had ever taken, and mid-trip we agreed that our future vacations will likely be 10 days or less. We got along fabulously, but two weeks or more on the road is a bit much.
Unlike my wife, I’m a morning person. Left to my own devices, I’ll get up at 7 a.m. or earlier and run hard until I head for bed around 10 p.m. Wendy would much rather sleep later and stay up late. So I decided to avoid morning flights from Oklahoma City to Oregon on the day after our wedding. Back in February I booked us on planes that would fly us out of Oklahoma City at 2 p.m. Central Time, switch planes at the Dallas hub, and land in Portland, 6.5 hours after our first flight took off, at 6:30 p.m. Pacific Time. But those flights were cancelled and we were shifted to fly out of OKC at 4:24 p.m. Central Time and not arrive in Portland until 9 p.m. Pacific Time. Arriving in Portland at what would feel like 11 p.m. to us wasn’t ideal, especially with us needing to pick up a rental car, but I’d booked a hotel in Troutdale that was only a 15 minute drive from the airport, so we’d cope.
Wendy’s last flight had been prior to the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, so she’d heard about but never experienced TSA security screening at airports, with its scanners, fluids restrictions, shoe removal, and the like. We were dreading it a bit, given that long delays, due to typically poor planning and implementation by the TSA, had led to long delays at major airports in the spring and early summer. Wendy is a careful planner, so she’d researched all of the fluids regulations and the like and done her best to pack legally and efficiently. My airport worries were more focused on baggage; I’ve had a bag exceed weight limits before and have had to scramble to avoid nasty fees. So I was using my bag weight scale and re-packing to keep my big rolling suitcase under the 50 pound limit.
I drove us and my parents out to Will Rogers World Airport in one of my parents’ cars; they would come pick us up at the same airport when we returned from our honeymoon. When I was a child, my father would sometimes take me with him out to the airport to pick up natural gas measurement graphs flown in from field stations (there was no internet nor wireless technology for field recordings back then). I was always excited to go out there with him, eager to visit the “control tower” and listen to the air traffic controllers — it was actually a shorter tower with speakers playing the feed from the real control tower. So I had fond memories of the airport, but had not flown out of there in decades. So I was interested to see how much it had changed.
There are now many more parking lots at that airport, and the interior is still recognizable in shape but has updated finishes. Our flight was taking off from an extension off the main terminal I had not visited before. The Oklahoma City airport on that Saturday afternoon was mostly empty, and check-in was quick and easy. We had only a short wait at the TSA security screening, albeit Wendy encountered a gruff screener:
Wendy approached the body scanner, and this lady asked her, “Do you have anything in your pockets?”
Flustered, Wendy tore through her pockets, looking for anything metal that might be problematic. She only found some gum and pulled it out, saying, “Oh, uh, I have some gum.”
The lady barked at her, “That’s a thing.”
Well, yes, but we’re stressed too, okay?
Two days earlier I had my own run-in with security. We had to go to the Oklahoma County Courthouse to get our marriage license, and the security officers would not let me in with the tiny key tool I had not thought to remove from my key ring before walking several blocks through the simmering sun to the building. (The streets around the courthouse were either blocked by construction or lacked open parking. Well, Wendy points out that as I tried to navigate the confusing streets I failed to take advantage of closer parking spots she spotted and mentioned to me, but that goes without saying. Men don’t listen!) The officer said, “Believe it or not, we can’t let you in with this.” Then he gave me the option of taking it back to my car and returning, or having him confiscate it permanently. So he could store it for disposal, but not simply hand it back to me as I left a few minutes later. Seething, I let him take it. The TSA has a similar policy, although theirs makes much more sense in a crowded airport than the same policy at the quiet entrance to the courthouse. In the case of the TSA, the confiscated items are sold off.
Thankfully Wendy got through the airport scanner without triggering it, so we put our shoes back on and grabbed our items that had gone through the belt scanner. Then we moseyed through the long curving terminal to our gate, which was at the end of another long terminal extension I had not seen before.
The Flights to the PCNW
Our flight from Oklahoma City to Dallas was on a smaller Bombardier CRJ900, rather than the Boeing 737 or McDonnell Douglas MD80 jets I was used to flying out of Oklahoma on American Airlines in all of my previous flights. The plane was fairly comfortable, especially in First Class, although on our flight to Dallas the air conditioning was not functioning well, so we were warm, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the flight attendant.
The connection at Dallas-Fort Worth went well, with us finding time to grab dinner at a TGI Friday’s in the airport, since we weren’t too sure about the entrées we had reserved for our long evening flight to Portland. That four-hour flight was on a larger Boeing 737-800, a style of plane which filled the gap when the venerable MD80 went out of production after McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing. We liked that older and wider plane better than the Bombardier.
We had a seasoned, expert flight attendant who took good care of us. I don’t think I’ve ever flown First Class; I certainly have never paid for it but might have been upgraded once on a short flight. So I was pleasantly surprised by the warm wash cloths, heated nuts, and other little touches we were spoiled with. Our entrées turned out pretty well, although I’ve also had good food back in coach. I purchased WiFi access for each of us through the Gogo service, so we could track where we were at along the flight and could access many internet services, although streaming video was out of the question. We mainly kept ourselves entertained with Kindle books: Wendy was reading Honky Tonk Samurai and I was finishing Ellison’s Invisible Man. I was startled to see some stills from Claude Rains’ Invisible Man movie inserted into the text; some editor had foolishly confused Ralph Ellison with H.G. Wells! That oversight only drove home the point of Ellison’s masterwork on issues facing African Americans.
I always gave Wendy the window seat, both out of chivalry and because I’ve flown several times since she took a flight. So she had fun looking out at the passing clouds, wind farms, rivers, and mountains. It was thrilling to see magnificent Mount Hood to our left as we flew into Portland. I knew we’d be seeing it from ground level from Portland and again, closer up, a few days later when we drove along the Columbia River Gorge.
Our flight ended with a mint, served on a tray with a glass bubbling vapor in fun recognition that we had landed in the Cascade Range. We would start near volcanic Mount Hood, later drive partway up Mount Saint Helens to view the caldera where it erupted in 1980, drive over by Mount Rainier, and circumnavigate the Olympic peninsula, with Mount Olympus at its distant center. There are massive volcanoes all over the PCNW, and we would repeatedly note how we were walking about on ash. It is a sobering reminder how that lovely, moist, and cool region is on occasion wracked in volcanic violence with fiery fury. Thankfully all of the mountains remained dormant throughout our honeymoon, which would commence in earnest the following day with us visiting downtown Portland.