-This was something I wrote that went into my writing portfolio at GVSU. Its a personal memoir we had to write which is written about when
I first moved to the Oregon coast all those years ago. There is allot I left out because I was limited in length by word count limits-
All My Dreams and Roads Lead West
The air was a mix of mist and salt as it blew through the car window as my dog Harley, my friend Ken Rau, and I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway on the coast of Oregon. We saw through gaps in the greenest trees we had ever seen brief glimpses of the giant blue ocean we had wondered about since we left Michigan four days before. We pulled into a place called Cape Lookout State Park that was on the side of a densely tree lined road, not realizing at the time that this place was going to be a life changer for me. This was the place my gut had led me too, this was the place it told me I needed to be, the beauty around was mesmerizing.
This journey, this trip west, was not a vacation but rather a move. At 22, my best friend and I were leaving Michigan behind, hopefully forever. We were both born and raised in Michigan and we hated it, had for years, and were dying to get out. We had grown bored with our mundane everyday lives. The city of Grand Rapids, the suburbs we lived in, the people and everything else seemed old already at 22. Nothing seemed interesting and there was nothing exciting for us here anymore. We had no desire to be stuck in Michigan for our entire lives like mindless drones. I did not just want more out of my life, I needed more in it, to feel more. I needed to see something new, something I have only dreamed of and to grow more than what I ever would be able to Grand Rapids or West Michigan. In the fall of 2002, we decided to move out to Oregon the following the spring and began planning. As the cool fall became a bitter Michigan winter and eventually gave into the spring of 2003 things changed. I however spent the entire time biting my nails and counting down the days until May 21, the day we were going to leave. Ken, two months before we were to leave however decided he would not be moving with me since he was not ready. Nevertheless, he agreed that he would help me move out there so I had company other than my dog Harley.
Standing in his apartment’s parking lot, I gave my dad who had become more of a best friend than merely a father to me over the last few years a final hug goodbye. He did not like that I was moving out west but knew it was the best thing for my life at that time. He told me he was proud of me and started to cry just a little bit, I had only seen that man cry twice in my entire life. Moving is a scary thing for anyone and looking back I think my dad was proud that I didn’t let fear of the unknown keep me in Michigan and prevent from doing what I really wanted. He cried because I am his only son and I was leaving. Hugging my father goodbye I knew there was a small chance I would never see him again and that hug could be the last one, he may have thought the same also.
With my white 1996 Chevy Lumina packed full and Harley sitting confused in the backseat, we left Grand Rapids on Wednesday around noon and headed north. I had been hell bent on driving through the Upper Peninsula and taking Highway 2 across the country for nearly the whole trip since I started planning the move. Driving through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula then Wisconsin and Minnesota, the wooded and mildly familiar surroundings became flat, wide and mostly treeless as we entered South Dakota. Nothing was familiar and everything was new, even the gas stations seemed oddly different somehow. I clearly remember as I crossed the Michigan border that I felt like I was finally doing something special with my life, something different and something allot of people are too scared to do. In Michigan, I learned people are often expected to live, grow and go through life according to others expectations for them. People there were trapped there by obligations assumed or forced; at least it seemed that way to me and still does now. I had enough of those expectations, those limits and that humdrum existence. Although I had left Michigan on road trips before and even lived in downtown Chicago for a few months, as I passed the “Welcome to Wisconsin “ sign I knew this time was different, it felt different. What I think made this time different was I knew I was not coming back for a very long time, if ever other than to visit. Almost everything I had known was getting smaller in my rear view mirror as my car and everything in it headed west.
After driving through the wide-open and boring land of North Dakota and the vastly changing landscapes of Montana, we entered the northern part of the Rocky Mountains. After driving forty-five minutes out of our way, we entered Glacier National Park and drove down a road called “Going to the sun road” which still had piles of snow on the side. We were enamored with the incredible mountains that towered around us, which until that day I had only seen in pictures, movies and two ski trips to Wyoming. I remember standing in the middle of that lonely mountain road spinning around in a circle and looking out over a mountain lake with a glacier on the end of it. I looked over and up at the steep and stone covered mountainside on the left side of the road. Then Kenny, Harley and I did the most obvious thing we could think of; we climbed it, about 300 ft up and it seemed like a lot to us at the time. The air was thin, clean and the sky was bluer than I had ever seen. The tops of snow tipped mountaintops were everywhere we looked. To this day I still have a big rock from that mountain that says “Our hell yeah we climbed a mountain rock” written in whiteout. Standing in those mountains I could feel myself changing inside, I was not sure then if it was for the better or not, but it was a change and change was always good. A few moose, one bear and a few other new animals that crossed the roads in front of us occasionally sent my dog flying into histrionics in the back seat as we drove through the 3rd best place I have ever seen in my life.
After a day of rest in northern Idaho, we continued on our way to Oregon, my new state, my new home and my new life. We meandered our way down a highway that ran along the southern edge of the famously gigantic and varied landscape of the Colombia River and were awestruck by the immenseness and enormity of the surroundings. At one point we saw the top of a volcano called Mt. Hood and I felt smaller than I had ever felt in my whole life surrounded by this new land, this new awesomeness, I had just saw my first volcano. It made me realize there were many more things I would experience that were new and unknown to me in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually we made our way to my new apartment in a suburb of Portland after getting hopelessly lost on the confusing highways and city streets of the metro Portland area. In the pre GPS world and only having confusing maps, no real sense of direction and no recognizable landmarks to guide us, it was a miracle we were able to find the apartment complex before dark. I was amazed at the city and the feeling it gave me as we drove thru it and looked forward to exploring the downtown area eventually. I remember for the first time realizing how far away and removed I was from almost anything and everybody I had ever known. I was seeing and feeling things, I was experiencing a world that people had questioned my sanity for wanting to see. The voices of the people questioning this decision I made for myself, their opinions of thinking they knew what was best for me were already fading to the point they were almost gone.
I recall a conversation I had with my cousin Jeff a few days before I left at my grandma’s birthday party. I was standing outside having a cigarette with my uncle Rick and talking to him about the upcoming move. Jeff had walked out the door and was listening to the conversation when he asked “Mike why are you leaving Michigan”.
My reply came out easy, smooth and cold as I said something along the lines of “There isn’t a good enough reason to keep me here anymore”.
“Well your whole family is here though” he replied with a desperate almost needy look on his face.
To which I answered back with “And that will never change, my family will ALWAYS be here Jeff. That’s not a good reason for me to stay in a place I hate being”. There was a tone and dig implied with what I said and I can only imagine Jeff noticed it since he stormed off back into the apartment.
My uncle Rick slapped me on the back and said, “Don’t worry about him Michael he’s just jealous. He won’t even know our gone since you two haven’t been close since you were little kids”
I was not sure what to think about this because it was never my intention to make anyone jealous at all; I just wanted to leave. Nevertheless, I had to ask so I said, “Rick why the hell would he be jealous”.
“Michael he’s jealous because you’re leaving and he’s stuck here and his life sucks and he knows it” He more or less said. I laughed harder than I had in awhile at the comment. Whether my uncle was telling me the truth, I will never know. He could have just been trying to make me feel better, and it worked. I feel some people are meant to follow the footsteps of their parents and people they grew up around. They want the life of having a spouse, babies, a 9-5 job, a home in the “burbs” and doing a BBQ on the weekends and their happy with that life and it works for them. However, some people I believe were meant to make their own footsteps, meant for more than what they had known, been taught and shown. It is something I think you just feel inside, instinct perhaps or personal drive but whatever it was or is my gut was and had been telling me for a while that Michigan would never be enough for me and I would never be happy with that life.
The next day after moving into my apartment and some local exploring, we headed for the coast and the Pacific Ocean late in the afternoon having no idea what to expect. I remember Harley, who was still a puppy more or less at the time, was going crazy with all the new smells to sniff and things to see as she had her head stuck out the back window as I drove. On the way there going up and down a winding road we drove through smaller densely wooded coastal mountains, temperate rain forests and past giant trees covered with moss. As we drove, we saw waterfalls on the side of the road that seemed to come out of nowhere and small fishing and farming villages and eventually the small town of Tillamook that would become nearly a second home to me later on. The people seemed different somehow; I remember noticing right away out on the coast, they were nicer, easier going, less up tight and far more laid back then the people in Michigan. As we drove through town a few people waved at us as if they had known us, I thought it was a fluke and kind of weird but it happened a several times that first day. The people there were just genuinely…nice; and it was shocking to us, the cynical world of Michigan was behind me. I saw a man in a suit walking down the sidewalk talking to another man who was wearing rubber overalls and carrying fishing gear as he was going to check his crab traps and look for clams I later found out. I saw people walking out of stores and shops with kids and dogs in tow, not little purse dogs but big dogs. It made me smile and a little embarrassed I was from a dog hating state like Michigan, where dogs are not allowed hardly anywhere off or on a leash. It seemed like I just drove into some sort of alternate world, a different America, in some ways I really did, I just had not realized exactly how different it really was
After pulling into Cape Lookout State Park, we got out of the car and our faces were assaulted with the wind, sand, blowing salt and mist that seemed to permeate the air on the Oregon coast, the wind howled between the bright green trees. We could hear the thunderous crashing of the ocean waves on the beach somewhere near us. I always wondered what they sounded like in person and it seemed like Greek sirens singing to me. Although Lake Michigan that I left behind was nice, it would never compare to the sight and sound of that ocean and the area around it for me. That ocean seemed to call to me somewhere deep inside; I felt connected to the ocean in a way I never felt with the Great Lakes. Towering green fir and spruce trees and mammoth ground ferns dotted the landscape around us. I let Harley off her leash since we seemed to be the only ones there at that time and she took off investigating all the great new smells this place had to offer her nose. As we walked, we were not sure of where we were going but I remember feeling drawn by some invisible force or a feeling. We came to a small overlook and in front of us was the largest expanse of blue, crashing waves and mist my young eyes had ever seen. Ken and I stood there silently with smiles on our faces knowing the drive, the planning, the stress and everything until now had been worth it. We finally reached the Pacific Ocean and the feelings were more intense than I had ever thought.
After Harley found her way back to us, we made our way down a path that went to the beach. Standing on the drift wood laden beach we looked north, we looked south, and there was so much to see we had no idea which way to go first. Everywhere we looked, we saw something new, different and surprising. We spent the day walking up and down beach, picking up shells, throwing sticks into the ocean for Harley to chase after and just looking out at the wide blue sea. I remember watching Harley splash in and out of the ocean surf, speed away from the crashing waves and run in circles as fast as she could on the beach. Then she would dash back into the ocean and repeat this whole process of splashing and dashing as we meandered slowly down the shoreline. She seemed happy and seeing her having this much fun made me even surer about where I moved us too. Kenny and I stood gawking at the rocky cliff that partially enclosed a portion of the beach. It went a few hundred feet up, and met with the trees again as it stretched out in the ocean as the high waves crashed like thunder at its rocky base. Not far down the beach, there was at the time a sort of alcove in the rock wall beneath the trees, on one side of it was a large rock out cropping that we had climbed over earlier. In front of this alcove was a pile of burned up wood in a fire pit, and I remember thinking I would come back and have a fire here soon. We explored the tide pools in between rocks holding trapped creatures from the sea; it was like being in science class from high school but a more interesting version of it. To the people that live on or near the coast these sites were nothing new, but for us it was like a treasure and something we would never find back where we came from.
After a few days, I drove Kenny north to Sea-Tac airport in Seattle Washington so he could fly back to his life in Michigan. Before he walked towards the security checkpoint, he looked at me and asked, “So are you really going to be ok out here all by yourself?”
I knew from the minute I saw the Pacific Ocean I was going to be just fine in Oregon and I confidently answered with a smile on my face “Yea man, I’ll be more than ok I think, better than ever maybe. You should come back and visit as soon as you can or maybe grow a pair and just move out here”
He looked at me in an odd way, smiled, and then I gave him a quick “man-hug” and told him thanks for driving out with me. He turned and walked towards the security checkpoint. As he was walking he stopped, turned and yelled “oh and Mike don’t kill anybody while you’re out here” laughing while he said it. His joke got me some looks from the airport police; I waved to him and said, “See you when I see you”. Kenny and I had been best friends for nearly 5 years and I would not see him for about 6 years after that day. We became people who used to be best friends, things change and people grow apart as we get older; He never did leave Michigan.
After Kenny left, it was just Harley and I left to our own devices and whims thousands of miles away from anyone we knew or anyone that knew us. A week after arriving in Oregon and with Harley sitting in the passenger seat or half way out the window, we made the long drive back to that same park one morning. She and I spent the day walking on the beach, hiking through the deep green woods next to the ocean, and discovering more things that were new for us. I recall sitting on the beach with Harley next to me, relaxing next to a small fire I had started in that same alcove I saw the first day we were there. I watched the birds fight the wind, the powerful ocean waves roll in and out and in the distance, I saw my first whale in the wild hurl itself out of the water then splash down again. Periodically other people and their unleashed dogs would pass by and politely say hello as they did, unlike in Michigan the dogs here were allowed to run and enjoy the beach and ocean unrestrained. I sat and thought about my life and what it had been and everything that led me too this point. I thought about what it would be like from this point on and wondered what would come next. Sitting there, I realized that my life could be whatever I wanted it to be and I could do and live too my own choosing. I realized my drastic action in some people’s eyes back in Michigan gave me a chance to reinvent myself in a way that would have been impossible back there. However, for the first time ever I was not scared about what would happen next, because from now on everything was new.
I do not believe in love at first sight but if I did, THAT day, my first day at that park would be as close to it as I could imagine. Sitting there on the beach with my dog by the fire for the first time in my life I felt myself, I felt whole and more than anything, I was finally happy. My life was truly my own to be lived and made for myself and for my own happiness. Harley and I now had one more thing in common; we lived in a place where we both were allowed to be free and unleashed to live our lives. I had no one to rely on but my own wits and abilities. My only fall back was moving back to Michigan and hearing all the anxious “I told you so’s” and that would not be an option. I remember sitting on the beach on that cool, typically misty Oregon coast day realizing that I finally had the life I wanted and had desperately needed in the place I felt best. I would go back to that beach often, it became my place of peace, the place I would go to when life got chaotic and I needed to be calm. It was a place I could truly call my own, a place I could be and feel myself, it was not just a beach to me it was place of inspiration.