Eureka, CA to Elkton, OR – Monday 22nd August
A misty morning in the marina at Eureka gave way to sunny clear skies as we headed inland. Each afternoon while travelling along the Northern Californian coast, a gothic fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. Cutting off the outside world the mist hangs low among the bobbing boats, the tips of their masts disappearing above. The American Gothic genre is finally beginning to make sense to me.
Eureka is a working fishing town with a sprawling marina sheltered behind Woodley island nature reserve. And as such the town is just another typical non-tourist town. No photo-worthy vistas are presented just street upon street of retail, light industrial and residential use. Breakfast has to be at The Chalet House of Omelettes, which we spied on our way into town the previous afternoon. Its laced lined windows, blue paint trim and over-sized slate tile roof helps it stand proud in a large asphalt car park. After a few days driving on the other side of the road, turning into driveways still challenges Steve with his car positioning and more than once we have stopped halfway only to let an exasperated driver manoeuvre around us, shaking his head and no doubt cursing loudly.
An extensive laminated menu is handed to us upon our seating and coffee poured without asking. Additionally, decorated chalkboard menus above the counter spruik today’s, and possibly yesterday’s and tomorrow’s, specials. Wall space was taken up with more menu exposition, photos of local celebrities and historical images. They needn’t have bothered with the cottage-style striped wallpaper or plywood panelling.
Opting for a plate of biscuits and gravy to tick that off my to-eat list, Steve chose scrambled eggs with country sausage (a seasoned mince patty) and a hash brown that I’m sure was half the size of his face. To decode biscuits and gravy, you need to realise that it is not a biscuit as in a cookie and nor is it a meat juices based reduction. American biscuits are a version of a scone with no sugar and not necessarily as light and fluffy as you would want with cream and jam. The gravy portion is a white, roux based sauce that hopefully has cream added for richness. It may or may not come with seasoned ground meat through it. The better ones do as it gives you a reason to eat the dish.
I have made this dish at home a year or two prior to my travels and I’m not boasting when I say that mine is better. I browned ground pork with fennel, garlic powder and onion powder as per my American cousins like to use, paprika, parsley, salt and pepper then drained off excess fat. Adding this to a basic white sauce made with heavy cream and serving with fresh biscuits/scones and I can see the appeal. My biscuits and gravy at The Chalet house of Omelettes, however, was not appealing. So we hit the road resolving to stop somewhere along the way for second breakfast.
‘You don’t do road trips well, do you?’ Steve proposes about an hour into our morning drive.
Reaching forward to turn down the podcast we are streaming through the car stereo, ‘Why do you say that?’ I ask, genuinely curious.
‘Well you don’t seem to want to stop much. We’ve missed two things already this morning.’
‘I don’t like crowds and stopping to take a picture of the largest redwood along with fifty other people doesn’t really do it for me.’ I’m not sure what more to say. I’m rarely attracted to the things that other tourists are drawn towards. I’m not interested in the Grand Canyon, the 911 memorial or Disneyland.It’s the Queen Anne style house, painted murky green on a hill overlooking the Eureka marina that I am drawn towards. It’s the discovering of something unexpected and unearthing its story that most delights me. The Carson mansion built in 1884 looks like it has come direct from Disney Haunted Houses 101.
The Denny’s restaurant we decide to stop at in Crescent City shares a car park with a formal ware hire outlet and a gun store. This is the America I came to experience. The sum of our experience is made up of the deliberately sought and the accidentally found. A slice of chocolate caramel pie for Steve and bacon cheddar tater tots with a side of jalapeño honey bacon for me.
Back in the car and more of Mark Maron interviewing other celebrities is our slightly aggressive soundtrack for the afternoon drive as we press on into Oregon. Almost immediately the quality of the roads change. Yes, we saw the state line signs to alert us that we were leaving California and entering Oregon but I would’ve known some border had been crossed. The roads change altogether. The lanes get wider with large cleared shoulders on each side, the asphalt becomes smoother providing less road noise inside the vehicle which had the effect of amping up Mark Maron’s verbal attacks. Tall lush green redwoods no longer loom over us.
At first, we think the change might be temporary but it isn’t. While I can’t definitively declare, I believe the state tax on the now-legalised cannabis industry has been pumped back into state infrastructure. It is a conversation I bring a few days later with Uber driver Jaimie. He confirms that the state government is enjoying a new found wealth thanks to the booming legal cannabis industry.
From a low-slung seat a few metres away from our Air BnB yurt, I watch the sun slowly set. An earlier conversation with one of our hosts’s reveals the yurt was originally built as a staging point for the many functions, especially weddings, that take place on the Bradley Vineyard. Growing predominantly cool climate grapes, under the helm of son Tyler Bradley, Bradley Vineyards has embraced social media and Airbnb simultaneously. Ferns snuggle in to the wooden deck that rings the canvas tent. Though seated on the edge of a vineyard in view of the road, the lack of human traffic makes this place feel incredibly private.
Across the road, a dozen or so cows continue to feed on the short grass. Frogs and cicadas provide a suitably bucolic tune. Having already wandered amongst the Pinot Noir vines, picking grapes to add to our salami and cheese platter for dinner I’m content to just sit and watch the colours change around me. A full day on the road together and the odd harsh word, we are happy to sit silently in this new yet somehow familiar landscape. Gentle rolling hills, vines caressing the curves and I’m easily reminded of the Yarra Valley, an hour outside of Melbourne in which I’ve spent a lot of time.
Over the next couple of hours, we spy four satellites and one meteor. I work my way through a bottle of sweet rose from the vineyard and Steve enjoyed some new local beers. It takes a while for the cool air to sink in but we just hunker down with coats and enjoy the large clear skies and no neighbours for miles. Tomorrow will bring more driving and more local craft beers so tonight is about silence and nothing else.