Bend, OR. Wednesday 24th August 2016

The Victorian Café at the top of the Main Street of Bend posits itself as offering a brunch worth waiting for. Thankfully today being a weekday we manage to skip that part of the process even though it’s well after 10am by the time we arrive. Clad in red painted timber, iron chairs and tables spread out in front and to the side under the looming sequoia trees. Upon seating us outside, our server hands us the menu cards. ‘Can I tempt you folks in one of our famous 23 ounce Bloody Marys? Comes with charbroiled prawn, Andouille sausage, pepper jack, olive, and pepperoncini skewer. Double shot of house-infused pepper vodka too.’

‘Ah, no thanks. I’m driving shortly.’ Steve shakes his head.’Just coffee for me.’

‘And for you ma’am? A mimosa or Irish coffee perhaps.’

‘Ummm. I’d love an orange juice – no ice – and some English breakfast tea with milk on the side.’ I’m getting better at ordering in America.

‘So that’s coffee, a juice and a tea.’

Around us groups of mostly young adults chat and pick casually at their meals. No one is in a rush to be anywhere. Drinks delivered and meals ordered.

Biscuits with sausage gravy and easy over medium eggs (soft yolks with cooked whites) for Steve. Hobo potatoes for me. Hobo potatoes as I discover are crispy potato chunks with diced capsicums, red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms topped with American cheese (an industrial style all of its own) and spring onions.

 The server swings past multiple times filling the stout coffee mug which rarely leaves Steve’s hand.

‘So from here I was thinking we would head over to south west Bend to a place called Crux. Over twenty beers on tap on the tasting room. We may have to stay longer in Bend.’

‘That’s assuming we ever get our breakfasts and get out of here,’ I add. ‘Funny how you can never find a waiter when you want one.’

When I do track down a waiter, she apologises repeatedly. Moments later a mimosa is delivered to our table as an apology by the manager. The flaccid tea sits cold and I sip on the mimosa as a head start my day’s alcohol consumption. Feeling a little buzzed by the time our meals arrive, I can’t be bothered mentioning that I order my dish without the scrambled eggs. I do my best to eat around them.

Another thing I’ve added to my list of life in the United States of America is that alcohol at breakfast is completely acceptable. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone here; I happily admit to consuming alcohol prior to noon. Iced tea with bourbon to go with my smoked meats and salad at 11am would prove to be the perfect beverage choice a few days later. A bloody Mary (vodka, tomato juice and more) and breakfast taco in Los Angeles. My mimosa (sparkling wine mixed with orange juice) to accompany this morning’s breakfast.

I can’t say it is something I often see in Australia. In general, I see more spirits consumed in America. Cocktails are offered at all times of day and up-sized for a only a dollar more. I’m wondering about Prohibition’s influence of how alcohol has taken hold in American culture. Distilled spirits, as opposed to beer or wine, would have been easier to conceal and transport from legal authorities at that time. It makes sense.

Prohibition had other effects on American society including loss of tax revenue and increase of organised crime but also not insignificantly, a loss of wine-making knowledge and skills. I blame this for my exasperating efforts to track down affordable, drinkable American wines. Having spent too many years working in one of Australia’s premier wine regions, the yellow, oaky and sweet American wine is almost enough to turn me to beer. Luckily, a chance meeting with a San Francisco restaurant manager leads to a Californian wine masterclass and hope is redeemed.

Breakfast completed, we manoeuvre our way past oversized pick-up trucks and SUVs. Ten minutes later we are driving in circles in an industrial estate, Steve hell-bent on tracking down the first of today’s breweries. At the edge of an ill-signed industrial estate, we find Crux Fermentation Project in the home of a former transmission shop bound by the railway and an aqueduct.

Reclaimed fixtures and furnishings pay homage to the building’s history. Sitting at one of the communal bar tables mashing tanks, fermenting vessels and ageing casks surround.

‘Imagine a set up like this at home.’

‘Do you mean in Australia generally or actually in our home?’ I question, unsure if I want to know the answer.

‘A little bit of column A. A little bit of column B.’

The extensive beer tap list is outlined on a photocopied sheet on the table in front of us. Lagers, ales and all the way through to dark beers. There is even a couple of ciders and kombucha on tap. These guys are more than a fermentation project in name only.

Rogue Creamery, Oregon August 2016

IMAG5115‘It’s an hour round trip. Are you sure?’ This time it’s me with phone in hand.‘How often are you going to get to this part of the world?’ He has a fair point.

‘Okay. You’ve convinced me. Let’s go get cheese,’ I say, not really putting up much of a fight. Only the month prior I had stood at the counter of one of my favourite cheese providores and paid more than I care to admit for 100 grams of Caveman Blue cheese. Sweet, buttery and amine rich, it was reminiscent of my go-to after school snack – Vegemite on hot buttered multi-grain toast. Have you noticed that butter tastes better, richer when it melts? The milk solids get released and the salt makes more of an impact on your tongue.

Cabot cheddar, Monterey Jack, chèvres from Cypress Grove and more have recently cemented my love for premier cheese from America. It’s easy to be dismissive of both American and Australian cheese with the skewed view that only European product is worthy. Australia makes some rocking cheese and I’m damn proud of it. America is proving no slouch either. The industrial shelf-stable Velveeta is a mere fleeting thought as we turn at Grants Pass towards Central Point in southern Oregon.

Rogue Creamery is undoubtedly one of the premier cheese-making companies in North America, having won multiple World Cheese Awards. Its foundation in 1933 was an attempt to eke out a sustainable living from small-scale farming during the Depression coupled with the harsh Oregon winters. During World War 2, the company was able to employ many local women and seasonal workers as they ramped up cheddar production, supplying the USA armed forces overseas. From cheddar and cottage cheese, the founder, Tom Vella, headed to Europe to seek an entree into the world of blue cheese and more specifically, The Roquefort Association. Moulds, recipes and cultures in hand, Vella returned valiantly to Oregon in 1955. From here, Vella set about building a Quonset, which is essentially a semi-cylindrical building that would mimic traditional cheese-ageing caves. Insulated to maintain correct humidity and temperature, cheeses are regularly turned by hand as part of the process known as affinage or bringing cheese to its ideal ripening.

It’s almost 3pm as we pull into the carpark beside the unobtrusive looking building which is our destination. Parking up against the factory’s side wall, Steve is trying to get the car in any shade that’s he can. Nestled behind the driver’s seat under both our unnecessary coats is our chiller box stacked with beers gathered on our journey so far. Hot and parched from the drive, cheese tasting is not the first thing that comes to my mind. Past patio chairs and milk urns turned planters we stride awkwardly. Steve opens the door and we step from the bright sun into a cool, dark and familiar-smelling shop. The bare concrete exterior walls belie the dairy cornucopia contained within. I stop and allow my eyes to adjust to the light. Ahead of me stands multiple fridges stacked with thousands of dollars worth of cheese. Foil wrapped rounds, handwritten signage and exposed cheese faces with spidery blue veins. ‘Made locally. Celebrated globally’ is written in signature cobalt blue chalk along the bottom of the fridge. I can attest somewhat to this. Three cheesemongers, I know personally in Australia have extolled the skills of RogueCreamery cheesemakers.

To one side, there is a large window looking into the adjacent factory. Gleaming stainless steel benches and scrubbed tiled floor wait for the next delivery of milk from the farm. Today the vats stand empty and forlorn. Framed black and white photos from times gone by document the process barely changed to the current day. Rogue Creamery is the very definition of an artisan producer. They combine sustainable practices with technology to scale up production without compromising the high quality of their handmade cheese range.

A tall, stocky man clad in a blue polo shirt and matching bib apron looms over the counter. ‘How’s it going there?’

I look up from the fridge showcase before me, my face like that of a stunned mullet. Momentarily I don’t know what to say. I know he is speaking English to me but I can’t figure what words were just used. Steve steps in to ameliorate.

‘Better now. How are you doing?’

I manage to find my voice. ‘What an amazing selection. Are they all made here?’ I ask gesturing to the fridges in front of me and also lining the wall.

‘Most of ‘em. Sure. Gotta a few imports in that fridge but I make the majority of them back there, beyond that window.’

Looking up and around I’m unsure where to begin. I eschew the farthest fridge with its portioned wrapped cheese, pickles, smallgoods and other cheese accessories. Back to the glassed-in selection, I only recognise two of the many cheeses in front of me.

‘So, I’ve had Caveman Blue and Flora Nelle before but I don’t know any of the others. You don’t want to know how much we pay for these cheeses back home in Australia.’

‘How much do you pay for them?’

‘At least double,’ I respond doing some quick maths in my head.

‘Huh.’ He pauses then adds, ‘Would you like to taste some?’

‘Yes please,’ we both enthuse.

‘We didn’t come 50 miles out of our way to tell you how expensive they are in Australia mate,’ Steve adds.

For the next twenty minutes or so, our new friend gives us a comprehensive tour of his cheese cabinet. This is a move I’ve done myself professionally. It’s fun and satisfying to introduce passionate cheese lovers to new curdy delights. From salty, buttery, spicy, fruity and smokey to everything in between, Steve and I ride the highs and greater highs of cheddar and blue cheese. My mouth savours the creamy texture, the pronounced piquancy and the briny backbone. I’m eager to purchase as much as we can consume in next few days, adding to the Cowgirl Creamery washed rind and the Humboldt Fog chèvre we already have staying cool in the insulated foil box in the warming car.

If it were earlier I’m sure we’d stay on and sample more local beers on tap and the no-doubt incredible cheese toastie made with four year aged cheddar. But it’s not and we’ve still got miles to put on the odometer before we can hunker down for the evening.

Portland,OR – Thursday 25th August

Portland, OR – Thursday 25th August

11:46 AM

3217 N Williams Ave, Portland, OR 97227, United States

MILES 2.54

TRIP TIME 00:07:28

FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare $1.25

Distance 2.92

Time 1.49

Subtotal $5.66

Booking Fee $1.35

City of Portland Surcharge $0.50

Total $7.51

Driver – Scott

The People’s Pig bright sky blue building is only a block or so from our AirBnb loft lodgings in Portland’s North-Eastern district. Wide, tree-lined streets of two storey homes in lush well-tended gardens. Plenty of shade to stop us over-heating on the way to second breakfast. Steve is wearing his light white linen shirt and beige shorts, a panama atop for added protection. Our brunch, late breakfast or early lunch is worth the smoke tainted clothing we are now left with for the day’s remainder.

Smoked chicken pieces which were then battered and deep fried.

Moist pork shoulder smoked dark and sticky. Coleslaw comprising of equal parts mayonnaise and cabbage. Macaroni salad – I’m still yet to determine the parameters for salad in the United States. It seems that anything is up for nomination: dried fruit, pasta, cheese, small goods, cooked meat. In fact, raw or cooked vegetables appear to be the most flexible ingredient.

Sweet vinegary barbecue sauce, spicy aioli and jalapeño jelly.

A local beer for Steve and a sweet iced tea with bourbon for me.

As suspected, neither Steve nor I, are in any shape to walk downtown so we order an Uber. Thanks Uber Scott for saving us from excessive exertion during this unanticipated heatwave. San Francisco, inland Northern California and Oregon had been cooler than we were expecting but Portland weather certainly made us catch our breath again. It is a short but welcomed ride from brunch at People’s Pig to downtown Portland. Time to join the line of tourists, domestic and international at Blue Star Donuts. VooDoo Donuts also has a strong reputation for the fried pastry in all crazy flavour combinations, but this one is easier to get to and surrounded by a range of craft beer places we want to visit.

Over this and my previous trips to America, I’ve revelled in the differences and the similarities between my own and American culture. As a food-focussed person, one element has always confused and intrigued me. The combination of sweet and savoury within a dish and often within one item. PB&J donut with blackberry habanero jelly and peanut butter powder was an elevated example of this. A butter-rich brioche dough made freshly daily with a rotating selection of flavours, it is easy to see why the business was nicknamed ‘donuts for grownups’ – Blueberry bourbon glaze, buttermilk old-fashioned, raspberry rosemary, maple bacon, Cointreau crème brûlée.

In order to scratch somewhat beneath the surface of Portland, we book a Brewcycle tour. A dozen people together power an over-sized bike around a tour of some of Portland breweries. Possibly due to the expected heat (35 degrees Celsius plus) half the group have cancelled last minute and while the tour could go ahead, we take the opportunity to bail with a compensatory beer from Back Pedal and a full refund.

One beer in, we decide to gently wander the streets of Portland’s downtown and sample more breweries on our own. Fatheads, Deschutes and Rogue are on the hit list before heading in the direction of our new home. Labrewatory is hidden underneath a freeway overpass in a light industrial area. This is something we encounter time and again on our brewery pilgrimages. I’m enchanted by the business concept of Labrewatory. They don’t brew beer. What they do is hire out brewing equipment and space. A percentage of the beer produced is then sold in their bar. It is an intelligent way to be involved in the brewing and beer industry. A canny business plan, I’m half-tempted to try and launch something similar on return home. The sheer population size of States and its more compact distribution means that the depth and breadth of their craft beer industry is beyond the scope of what many Australians can imagine.

Our last stop before turning in is Ex Novo brewery. A not-for-profit enterprise and only couple of blocks from out Portland loft, in the four days we spend in Portland, we visit it three times.

Elkton, OR to Bend, OR – Tuesday 23rd August

Elkton, OR to Bend, OR – Tuesday 23rd August

A deep sleep buried under layers of feather and white linen and quieter than I am used to means that pulling myself out of slumber land requires genuine effort. Steve is sitting in bed next to me, shoulders poking out of the bedding. Phone in hand reading, he turns to face me.

‘I wondered if you ever going to wake up.’

I contemplate closing my eyes and rolling over. ‘What time is it?’

‘Nine o’clock. Want a cuppa?’

‘Always.’

I spread further out in the bed and into the warm patch vacated by his body. I feel myself sink deeper into the mattress. This is a dangerous bed. I might never get out. If not for a persistent discomfort from my bladder, we may never make it to our next destination today.

Dragging clothes on, I stumble to the cedar clad ensuite and squint at myself in the mirror on the wall under the skylight. Slightly sunburnt nose from all this sunshine even though I religiously apply SPF cream every morning. I tug at my hair with a brush grateful for a month without high levels of daily personal presentation demands. Two lipsticks, one eyeshadow and some mascara are enough make up supplies for a month holiday. I know that make up is cheaper here in the States but I’ve never been interested in that kind of thing. I have no childhood memories of putting on my mother’s make up. Like me, my mum is pretty low maintenance. No monthly manicures or facials for us. I’d rather spend that money on smothering more enjoyable like a meal out or a fabulous bottle of wine.

I manage to make it to the couch where my morning cup of tea, in the largest mug available, is waiting for me on the coffee table. Against the wall, a record player and a milk crate of vinyl records sits optimistically. The gentle sounds of wildlife outside, the very occasional passing car and Steve pottering around in the kitchen are all that I could want right now so the record player will just have to remain untouched.

An hour later we are packed up and closing the farm gate on the vineyard behind us. Each night when we arrive at our Air BnB it seems so foreign and someone else’s. Each morning, I feel I have just gotten used to the way the taps turn on, their particular creak of the floorboard near the bathroom or the heft with which you have to close the front door. Traveling is that odd combination of seeking out the unfamiliar and trying to make that fit with what you already know about the world. A curiosity about the world keeps the brain engaged and active. I can’t imagine ever being tired of new places. My parents in their seventies still travel, though the plane legs get shorter and the rest stops become more frequent. That will be Steve and I in another thirty years.

One podcast episode later, we are arriving in Eugene. A university town, Eugene hugs the Willamette River and in the late summer its established trees provide much needed shade. Fisherman’s Market is first on our list. This seafood place came too our attention due to a guilty pleasure of a tv show called Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The name is fairly self-explanatory. A loud, brash host with white-tipped hair drives around everyday America in a red retro sports car calling in on dining establishments nominated by the show’s audience. The premise is clear. Guy is shining the spotlight on hidden gems of America’s often overlooked dining scene – the Korean restaurant in the strip mall, the fried chicken joint attached to a rest stop and the vegan taco truck at the local park. The episodes are easily consumed, not running much longer than twenty minutes and, like the meals showcased, leaves you craving more.

With the parking challenge sorted, we find ourselves inside this part seafood retail space and a eatery.

‘Guy said the Cajun crawfish pie is the way to go,’ reminds Steve as we stand both gawping up at the menu board.

‘Ummm, sure.’ It’s another extensive menu in an otherwise unassuming place. Burgers, sandwiches, pies as well as all manner of fried concoctions fill the menu. I can’t be bothered to read it all properly so am happy to be lead by Steve and Guy.

‘I’m going to have the fried snapper sandwich. Can’t go past something with bang bang sauce.’I leave him to order and step out into a patio area. Unsurprisingly, we are the only people here eating seafood burgers and pies before noon.

Minutes later, the food arrives. My pie even comes with colourful salad. Chunks of crawfish meat held together by a thick creamy sauce, even the pastry is a delight. Flakey and buttery, I lift it off to eat first with my fingers. A habit leftover from my childhood, I always eat the top of a pie first before scooping out the insides and eating the base last by itself, now stodgy from the moist filling. Don’t judge me.

The salad is fresh lettuce, crunchy cucumber pieces, wedges of juicy tomato and thick rings of red onion all capped with slices of smoked salmon just in case you needed more fish. The obligatory ranch dressing sits in a plastic cup between pie and salad. I know Steve wants to try some and I want a bite of his sandwich but neither of us want to share. It tastes too damn good. Reluctantly, we each portion off a miserly part of our meal. While he’s distracted cutting off some of his sandwich, I steal a couple of his waffle fries.

Leaning back into the wood bench, I now notice the tubs of dirty dishes against the wall by the door and the flies they are attracting. My arms touch the laminate table top and it is sticky on my skin. The sun streaming in on the back of my neck is a portent of the heat of the day to come. Steve laps up the last of the bang bang sauce with some waffle fries. Hands are wiped as best they can with the inadequate napkins provided and I’m grateful when he says, ‘Let’s blow this popsicle stand.’

Ninkasi Brewing Company is located a walkable distance that we drive in the same amount of time. A vacant lot down the street as an impromptu parking lot as we park next to a growing number of other cars. I check the fences for signs to no avail. An expansive mural of a Mother Earth figure covers the wall of an adjacent factory. Her arms opened wide, leaves in all shades of green dripping down. I step back to get a photo but can’t fit her in. I do manage to get a photo of the next fence though. Alternating in blue and red, one meter high letters spell out B-e-r-n-i-e-16. By August 2016, Bernie Sanders was no longer in the running to become the US president. Though there was no hope for Bernie, at that stage we still couldn’t imagine Donald Trump gaining office. Like Brexit before it, the 2016 US election was a shock and surprise to most people I know.

Waiting a few minutes for noon to arrive and the gates to open, we loiter on the shady footpath.

‘Poor Bernie.’

‘Huh?’

‘I said poor Bernie.’ I repeat, gesturing towards the sign on the fence.

‘Bernie was never going to win.’

‘Why’s that?’ I am genuinely curious.

‘He is too overtly socialist and that scares Americans. They like to think of themselves as democratic cause that’s all flag waving fun but socialism sounds too close to communism and that makes them uncomfortable.’

We don’t often talk about politics. It’s not that we disagree. We fundamentally have the same take of things politically. Steve is wider read on these thing than I am. I stick my head in the sand too often as I get sick of the lies that seem to get perpetuated. My grandfather taught me not to bring up politics at the dining table. It can be a volatile subject matter and in the wrong hands, test relationships to the breaking point. I’m grateful that we have similar outlooks on politics and the world. Living in close quarters with another person can be very trying at times, but sharing the same basic political views is one less arena of conflict.

The gates are opened and we file in behind several other eager beer tasters. The black tasting room, teal green wall and corrugated stainless steel tank resplendent in the sun. Entering the tasting room we walk straight to the bar while the others let their eyes adjust and get their bearings. We are old hands at this by now. I hang back and let Steve order, knowing he’s already checked these guys on social media and consulted his private beer forums.

‘Two tasting paddles, please.’

‘Anything particular you want to try?’ The bartender asks, leaning on one of the tap handles.

‘A range of your most popular. Whatever you recommend.’ We are rubbing off on each other by now. Steve loves the research as much as he loves the travel but he’s also been pleasantly surprised by allowing staff to guide our choices. After years spent in hospitality and more spent eating out, I know that effective staff know their own product inside and out.

We grab the narrow steel trays that hold our beers and exit to find a shady spot on the patio. Slabs of concrete form perching spots but we grab a small table under a marquee. I’m sure this place is shoulder to shoulder at peak times. Each beer sits in front of a well designed card advertising its brand and varietal. In the style of a graphic novel, these cards are part marketing part collectible. A light seasonal release lager, a session-able IPA, a hoppy red ale, a deliciously bitter double IPA and an oatmeal stout are my introduction to Ninkasi and I’m happy to report that I like them all. It’s almost as if I can’t remember a time that I didn’t like craft beer.

When someone tells me that they don’t like beer, I can only assume they haven’t spent enough time tasting good craft beer. In fact, I have made it a challenge in the past to convert people. Beer can be sweet, it can be dry, it can be bitter and it can be light. Beer can be almost anything. I’ve had a beer so aged that it was thick and syrupy like a fortified wine. I’ve served a lambic style beer in champagne flutes so that guests assumed it was a sparkling wine.

Slightly disappointed not to be able to stay longer, we leave our now empty paddles behind, the cards liberated as souvenirs and head back towards the car. This is another bar that we would want as a local if we lived nearby.

‘Hashtag, our new favourite place?’ I propose, not for the first time this trip.

‘Definitely.’

Eureka, CA to Elkton, OR – Monday 22nd August

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.