Our route was about as organized as our timetable, which is to say we knew we had to be on a plane again in a couple days. So after spending the night north in the city of Santa Rosa, we headed due west the next morning to catch what we could of Highway 1 up the rest of the Northern California coast. Like the weather around Big Sur during this season, low-flying clouds linger well past the morning, yielding soft, photo-friendly light all day and air that’s cool and thick.
The flatter coastal areas up here allow for more quaint sleepy towns like Mendocino to pop up, and with them an odd magnetism that likely prompts many unscheduled stopovers. After a brief 45-second walk through a bustling pocketsize farmer’s market and lunch at one of the small cafes lining what appeared to be downtown Mendocino, we were back on the trail towards Oregon, and feeling the sedative effects of our full stomachs.
It usually wears off me within a half-hour, but if I weren’t so lucky, I’d have EyeSight acting on my co-driver’s behalf – her having freely succumbed to the forces of food coma. With the camera detecting lane delineations, EyeSight alerts you audibly if you’re about to cross out of your lane (without signaling) or if you’re swaying erratically within your lane.
Should you arrive at a curvy section of road as we did, when Highway 1 bends back inland just south of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, you’ll want to switch off this electronic overlord. Do otherwise and its effect may be a little overbearing.
The Outback strikes a great balance between utility and size. A lumbering truck or floppy SUV on (Highway 1 in Oregon) would be an absolute waste of good asphalt. The Outback, by comparison – while no sports car either – is enjoyable and hoofs along easily on the power provided by the more efficient and slightly more powerful 2.5-liter flat-4 it received this year.
Paired with the Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), gears (or rather ratios) can be selected via steering-wheel paddles, or leave it in “drive” for seamless kick-down on long ascending road grades. Our combined fuel economy over the trip averaged a laudable 27.4 mpg.
As we head away from the coast through tight windings leading into Humboldt County’s Redwood State Park, our carry-on roller bags slide around at every turn in the cavernous cargo hold – like marbles in a game of Labyrinth.
Aptly named the Avenue of the Giants, the road shadowing 101 is an absolute must. We stop to hike through the Founder’s Grove, an area of downed redwood trees of unfathomable proportions. Among them, the Dyerville Giant, once standing 57 feet taller than Lady Liberty herself, sent shockwaves characteristic of a train wreck heard 10 miles out when it fell.
Our impulsive stopovers collectively derail any chance of making it across the California/Oregon border by nightfall, so we soon set our sights on finding a place to sleep. We gamble on some late night Thai takeout (which is actually incredibly delicious) from the nowheresville city of Brookings, Oregon, and by 10:30 p.m. finally settle into a small beachfront establishment in Gold Beach.
The next morning feels like Christmas, awaiting the revelation of what you’ve built up so highly in your imagination. As we leave town, I make friends with the Gold Beach gas station attendant who informs me that I can’t pump my own fuel here, and then poses some trivia on what other states enact this law. (Answer: New Jersey).
Perhaps it’s just good timing, but the sun is out, which makes everything up here feel more lively and positive. There isn’t a single rise you come over or a corner you turn that suddenly proclaims OREGON COAST VIEW, but a gradual realization that between each small town, you’re either constantly witnessing long stretches of serene, unpopulated beach or filing through beautiful tree-lined mountain passes.
Every other mile, it seems, there’s a state park or ocean-view picnic area to explore. And if you’re driving a vehicle as versatile as the Outback, there aren’t any offshoots or dirt roads you’ll hesitate exploring – which probably explains why it feels like Subaru Country up here.
A couple more stops for lunch and a visit with the master craftsmen at the Rogue Brewery, and our rendezvous with the Oregon Coast winds to an all-too-abrupt close. We’ll stay overnight with some friends who live in Portland (and happen to own a Subaru Forrester XT) before we hightail it straight down Interstate 5 to our departing plane.
Though wholly satisfied with our trip, perhaps my expectations stifled the full effect my scooter-riding friend felt encountering something entirely unanticipated. Nowadays, there aren’t many places around us that feel uncharted, in part due to technology and the seemingly omnipresent cameras powering Google Street View.
But at least, with the Outback, there’s a chance to get to those places that still feel like they are.