Published on Monday, August 21, 2017

Good grief, Charlie Brown! US road trip comes to an end

A river otter sat on a rock about two feet away and stared at us unblinkingly. Clearly, it was unfazed by the presence of jet boaters in its Rogue River home - and that was pretty much the attitude of the black tail deer, minks, bald eagles, ospreys and beavers we also saw as we roared along 104 miles of these wild, unspoilt waters from Oregon's Gold Beach inland to Agness.

The family and I had placed ourselves at the mercy of Big John, captain at Jerry's Rogue Jets, the only commercial outfit allowed to access the water, and that sometimes required a great deal of faith - the jet boat trip was six-and-a-half hours long and involved a great deal of navigating white water which resulted in us all getting soaking wet about every five minutes. But with temperatures in the 90s, no-one was complaining.

In between Big John's 360-degree spins ("More, more, more!" shouted sopping wet Charlie, 10) and animal and bird-spotting, our captain told us how the boats had been delivering mail along the river since 1895 when there was no road access to homes and regaled us of tales of bear and cougar encounters. People have lived along this wild and rugged river, which runs from the Cascade Range all the way to the Pacific, for at least 8,000 years and with only a handful of cabins along the stretch we saw, it was easy to imagine the solitude of life here before modern civilisation.

As we glided past the cedars and hemlocks, I fell into chatting with my neighbour on the boat, a woman from neighbouring California, about the differences between language in the US and England.

"So you don't weigh yourself in kilos?" she asked me, wide-eyed. "No, in stones," I replied to which she burst in laughter. "Stones? Stones and what? Pebbles?" she screamed. Funny how you don't even think about the absurdity of your own language most of the time.

In our final days of our US adventure, we still had miles to travel to Oakland airport so we hit the 101south again, this time heading for McKinleyville where we'd heard about a great stop-off point, the all-female owned, award-winning Six Rivers Brewery. The craft beer's so good it's sent directly to cool-as-you-like Portland (where a good IPA is revered as a thing of beauty), the food is classy American-style and the ocean view a bonus. That night we checked into our Airbnb, a small but perfectly formed little house in the forest next to its owners Joan and Darrell's own home. Utterly typical of the friendly attitude of everyone we had met on the trip, Joan popped over to welcome us and tell us about spots to visit on our journey south - including the giant Redwood drive-thru Shrine Tree. Yes, it's cheesy but how often do you get to drive through a tree? Well, three times in our case (the kids demanded it).

As the week drew to a close and our flight home loomed, we made a quick stop in Santa Rosa where the Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M Schultz was raised and where there now sits a terrific museum dedicated to his work, drawing the likes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Peppermint Patty. An incredible 355 million people read his strips and the museum works on every level, amusing the kids (they can type their own stories like Snoopy on a typewriter) and brilliantly explaining his craft to nostalgic adults.

I didn't want to leave but Ben had booked a night at the city's Flamingo, a one-time getaway for 1950s Hollywood movie stars like Jayne Mansfield and now a historic landmark. A giant pink neon bird stands proudly over the sign for the hotel, Vegas style, and the place still has a feel of 50s summer pool glamour (although I don't think I quite cut the mustard in my Marks and Sparks bikini).

It was a fitting way to say farewell to a riotous adventure in the US, pretending to be Hollywood stars sunning themselves between movie roles. We saluted our road trip's end, recalled the forest fires we had dodged, the mountain lions and bears we had worried about on hikes, the whales we had spotted, the gold we had panned, the ghost wild west towns we had visited and so much more. There's no country on earth as much fun to explore by car as the US. Thanks for following our unforgettable journey…



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