Baja to British Columbia: 1,500 Miles on Interstate 5

We get hit by rocks, visit volcanoes, and perform a burnout or two from behind the wheel of a 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8

By Keith Buglewicz | Photos By Keith Buglewicz | April 05, 2013

Day Three: Grants Pass to Portland

I cursed my faulty memory again as my alarm blared at 5 a.m., but as I shook off the cobwebs, I decided that maybe it was for the better. The morning was still dark, but the clear, cloudless sky promised a gorgeous sunrise. I quickly got dressed, grabbed a terrible cup of coffee in the lobby, and loaded my camera gear into the car for some early morning photography. I made a quick hop down the highway to the town of Rogue River--taking pictures under its scenic bridge--then a more leisurely drive up a road squeezed between the Interstate and the river called Foothill Blvd. It's the kind of two-lane road that some say the Interstate destroyed: scenic, winding, rising and falling with the land. And it was all of those things, and beautiful, with the mountain on one side and the river on the other. But I had to slam my brakes twice as cars mindlessly pulled onto the road, and I saw at least two roadside memorials for those whose reactions weren't as quick. Beautiful and scenic, yes, but for my high-speed travels, I was happy to take the Interstate.
Back to the hotel: packing, checkout, breakfast, and on the road by 9 a.m. I plugged in my iPhone, letting it randomly choose music as I blasted north through the Oregon hills. The drive was guaranteed to be a short one--Grants Pass and Portland virtually bookend the highway in Oregon--but the scenery continued to dazzle. The road wasn't as tightly twisted as it was at Shasta, but as it wound gently northward, it was more than enough to provide an entertaining drive without slowing me down. My radar detector had already proved its worth more than once. Not that I'm prone to high-speed runs, it's just that even if you're going with the flow, and that flow is doing a good 80 mph, it's the orange-and-black-striped muscle car that will get bopped--not the white family sedan going just as fast.
By this time I needed gas, and a little south of Eugene I became reacquainted with one of Oregon's odder laws: You can't pump your own. I forgot and got halfway through filling my own tank before an attendant rushed over and saved me from myself. The hills had taken their toll on the Challenger's fuel economy; it had dropped down to about 20 mpg--still not bad considering the hugeness of the engine and car. As I drove north from Eugene and got closer to Portland, the scenery became more like the flat farmlands of California, and less like the wooded southern areas of the state. Once in Portland, the Interstate became yet another crowded, narrow-feeling expressway, albeit in one of the most scenic cities in the western United States. Before I left Los Angeles, associate editor Matthew Askari--a frequent Portland visitor--had suggested I stay at the Jupiter Hotel on the east side of the Wilamette River that cuts through the middle of town. The quirky hotel is almost too hip for its own good, but the room was comfortable, and my late lunch at the Doug Fir Lounge next door filled me up and lulled me into napping. It was that evening that I went exploring on the west side of the river, also on Matt's advice. The Challenger was safely parked in the basement, and there it would stay for the night; Portland is not particularly car-friendly, and since half the places Matt had recommended primarily serve alcohol, leaving the Dodge where it was seemed like the best plan of action anyhow. After sampling the food at the Portland City Grill, chatting with the locals, and doing my best Huell Howser, I finally got out and about and stumbled into Jimmy Mak's. The jazz bar had been recommended to me by a bartender at the Portland City Grill earlier in the evening, but the walking route sounded convoluted to a Los Angeles native like me, and I hadn't planned on going. Yet, serendipity intervened, and here I was, sipping a beer, browsing a menu, and waiting for the music to start. Then the band took the stage, a group of mostly older, experienced gents who were clearly playing for the love of it. "We just play good ol' jazz here," said Mel Brown, drummer and leader of the four-piece band that was warming up behind him. "None of jazz fusion stuff," he added, with "stuff" an obvious stand-in for a less family-friendly word. They began to play, and the music was sublime. Each member's solo generated genuine applause from the small audience. It was exactly the kind of experience I had hoped to find on my trip, and possibly, the kind one can only have while alone for a few days. I could have stayed at Jimmy Mak's all night if the music had kept playing, but the musicians were eventually winded, and I made my way back to the hotel, filled with a love of music, and an appreciation of how nearly flawless the trip had been. I was eager to hit the road the next day, ignoring the beckoning music blaring from the Doug Fir. I had a big day tomorrow, and one of the highlights of my trip awaited me.
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The open road. It beckons some of us, compels others, and maybe even scares off a few. But for most, one of the great joys of owning a car is enjoying it on a road trip, whether it's blasting down an Interstate, exploring the wilderness, or driving to your favorite annual hoedown. We love road trips, and we love telling you all about them in words and pictures, so come ride along with us as we hit the road and discover what's out there.
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