Round the World Trip "Season 2"- Roadtrip down the US Westcoast: Portland and Sonoma
Our last post was on February 10th, we left our readers hanging in Sandpoint Idaho, where Alex and I celebrated our inner circle circumnavigation, from Coeur d’Alene (April 2021) to Coeur d’Alene (September 2021). It’s been more than a year since then!
We completed our full -Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires- trip at the end of November 2021 and after six months in Argentina, we hit the air again last June -with 100 things each- to explore the parts that were unexplorable the first time around, due to Covid. We are now in Italy after 2 weeks in Brazil, 2 weeks in the Caribbean, 3 weeks in the US and another North Atlantic crossing, with an extended stop in Greenland this time. What are our plans, you wonder? They are simply to stay in Europe until the end of the year, mostly on the ground, mainly in Italy because Alex is learning the language. Why did it take us so long to start writing again, you wonder? Because traveling is exhausting. Imagine planning vacations non-stop, all year long, deciding where to go next, where to sleep, what to do, and all that while traveling😊 So although it was the most wonderful, incredibly unique and enriching experience, our brains needed a break. The only thing mine managed to produce is a series of 10 short travel blogs for a Dutch newsletter about women living abroad: dewereldwijven.com. After all, we are not only the first Argentinian single engine plane to fly around the world, I am also the first Dutch national to have done so, according to the earthrounders.com records.
But let’s go back in time, to our 360-story which I am determined to finish:
We left Sandpoint on September 25th 2021 after two weeks there, by Lake Pend Oreille. Staying in the same place for so many days had been a welcome change from the hectic rhythm of our trip so far which had made us feel as if we were traveling in a fast train, watching the landscape fly by at high-speed.
Although many people had told us to avoid the city because it had deteriorated due to the 2020 and 2021 riots initially sparked by George Floyd’s death, we chose to go to Portland, Oregon. We were intrigued and had previously heard good things about the place, and beyond that, there were not so many alternatives: we were headed to Mexico via California’s wine country, Yosemite and Los Angeles, so it seemed like a geographically logical place to stop. In addition, it always feels more comfortable to stop in a place you have heard of, than somewhere you have not such as Astoria, Tillamook or Salem. Our new friends at Sandpoint airport (KSZT) had recommended a route via the coast and the famous Cascade Range mountains -Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Mount St Helens and Mount Adams- but the shoreline was covered in fog and low clouds so we headed directly to the heights which made for a beautiful sight-seeing flight.
After three hours, we landed in Hillsboro airport (KHIO) and were very well attended by the Aero Air FBO who recommended a few hotels. The next day was our wedding anniversary, so we chose the most romantic one: that with a view on the Willamette river, even though its name -Stay Pineapple- was not the most inspiring😊 Neither was the description of the city in the media which we had encountered while preparing our visit:
“Starting May 28, 2020, and extending into spring 2021, daily protests occurred regarding the murder of George Floyd by police and racial injustice. There were instances of looting, vandalism, and police actions causing injuries as well as a fatality. Local businesses reported losses totaling millions of dollars as the result of vandalism and looting”
“Endless riots turn Portland into city of 'mayhem'. After more than 100 consecutive days of riots last year, Portland’s reputation has plummeted. According to the Urban Land Institute, in 2017 the city was the third most desirable real estate market in the U.S. This year, it dropped to 66th”
“Downtown is like a ghost town now during the day and at night”
We found this last statement to be fully accurate: downtown, where we were staying, was empty, boarded and inhabited by dozens of homeless people. Where did all the students and urbanites go? It was a strange place, in line with Portland’s slogan “keep Portland weird” but the creators of the slogan had probably not intended it in this way.
Despite this slightly depressing environment, we really enjoyed our morning run along the river with its many bridges and our afternoon stroll through the Chinese garden. We even found a restaurant to enjoy a proper anniversary dinner. This was not such an easy task, many restaurants were permanently closed, so those that were open were quite full, especially since they were operating below capacity due to labor shortages which we had started witnessing in Sandpoint.
On our way to dinner
All in all, quite a desolate scenario in which we ended up staying another day (which we spent planning, as usual) because of heavy rain that made it impossible for us to leave. Apparently it rains a lot around there because when we asked Aero Air when it would stop, they promptly answered “in May!”. Nearby Seattle also has that reputation.
After three nights in Portland, we headed to Sonoma (California Wine County). It was raining a little less but there were huge clouds again all along the coastal area, which is where we wanted to fly… So we had to stay over land, but even there the weather was not easy. Luckily the Seattle controllers were delightful, they helped us through the buildups and accepted Alex’ request to “pop-up” the flight from VFR to IFR. When we fly in the US, we have weather information on our screens, in addition to the “Stormscope” (an application showing electrical activity which works globally), but the controllers have better radars and it is very reassuring to get their advice “there is heavy rainfall 10 miles ahead of you, it looks like if you deviate 20 degrees to the left you should stay clear”, “please deviate as necessary and let me know when you are back on track”. They do that for us (a foreign aircraft) and we could hear that they helped the local pilots in exactly the same way.
Close to the city of Eureka (!), the clouds cleared from the coast and we could finally admire the rugged shore of the Pacific Ocean, which we followed until Sonoma County airport (KSTS), only 30 miles inland.
A lighthouse standing in its own waves
Ski slopes inland, waiting for snow
In order to enjoy wine county fully in a short amount of time, we had rented a car that was waiting for us at the airport. As only happens in the US: the FBO (Kaiser Air) drove it up to the plane as soon as we landed, so we didn’t need to walk or carry anything for more than 5 meters. Did I mention that the US was aviation paradise? We booked a Bed and Breakfast in Sonoma town for one night, for once without worrying about check-in or check-out time because one of the advantages of having a car is that you have a place to put your luggage in between accommodations. It was around noon and we immediately headed out to follow one of the two scenic routes we had found online. We would drive the other one the next day, before our flight to Yosemite. We were so eager to see as much as possible that we did not want to waste time by stopping for lunch, so we decided to find somewhere to park and quickly eat the food remaining in our super lunchbox: a few slices of bread, cream cheese and cherry tomatoes (it could be worse). Most places along the road were private property but finally we found a public beach along Russian river where we enjoyed our picnic.
After that, the route took us all the way back to the Pacific Coast, at Jenner, so we got to see it again but now from sea level. Jenner has a beautiful wild and untouched coast, the kind of place where you want to a rent a cabin and spend all day reading, writing or in contemplation while the wind blows the waves against the cliffs. Or the kind of place for a murder mystery setting… Not sure for which motive, but Alex has declared that he would love to go back to the part of the West coast between Eureka and Jenner some day.
On the road back to Sonoma, we started seeing the more typical wine country landscape: vineyards. We did not stop at any winery, first of all because we didn’t quite understand how you could taste and drive, but also because we knew we would feel pressure to buy wine and did not want to carry bottles in the airplane. So our wine country experience was dry.
It was not boring at all however, the landscapes are entertaining but more importantly, our Bed & Breakfast hosts informed us that there was a concert in the town center that night, so we rushed there to find music and people sitting and dancing in the main square, a perfect background for a dinner al fresco.
The next morning we went on a short hike up a mountain to enjoy the vineyard view from above and on the way to the airport we took some back streets and ran into a bizarre series of yard decorations which put is in a very cheerful mood. We had time -our next flight would only last 1 hour- so we took lots of pictures of these creations and wondered why they were there. Maybe a contest? Or just a quaint neighborhood? Clearly Portland does not have the monopoly of being weird 😊
Back at Kaiser Air, we prepared the plane for the flight to Merced (KMCE), our gateway to Yosemite Park. Picking the best place to land to visit the Park had been a little bit of a puzzle: it was high season, there were almost no hotels or rental cars available, little public transportation to and from the sights, after calling all airports in the vicinity, we finally found a car in Merced – hurray!
I was especially excited to go there because I would be “pilot in command” for the first time. This was a perfect flight for the experience: short distance, great weather, small airports on both ends (i.e. no traffic to be expected), not a lot to command…but enough for me.