There’s a certain feeling that washes over you after returning from a road trip: one of energy, satisfaction, of finding some kind of sacredness in the memories you keep replaying in your mind.
It's reinforced through the "ooohs" and "aaaaah"s that are softly spoken over photos you can't help but share. Your late-night adventures and early-morning missions can never fully be re-created or given anecdotal justice. Mixed emotions of jealousy and happiness cloud the eyes of your friends and loved ones as you recount the places you happened upon and the people you met on a trip. The goal was achieving a sense of freedom, and the mission was accomplished.
In the transition from summer to fall, a friend and I decided to put the quintessential road trip to the test by adding a twist: electricity.
After all, much as we all claim that our love for the great outdoors is what fuels our urge to explore, what literally fuels it is dirty gas, and what really results are harmful carbon emissions.
But are electric cars ready to be our road trip vehicle of choice? We wanted to prove that you could have fun driving an all-electric vehicle through the wilderness, but first, we had to prove that to ourselves.
I packed a brand new Chevy Bolt with camping equipment, a week's worth of snacks and even a foldable kayak. I brought a friend who I knew to be unfazed by calamities. With a range of 238 miles, a map of Oregon's all-electric highway and the will to pioneer, what could go wrong?
We set out on an autumn exploration of what Oregon has to offer – snow, sun, sand, and water, and to test the limits of an electric vehicle.
Day 1: Portland
The day of arrival. Of nervous anticipation, of excitement, of exploring new corners of the country.
There's no doubt about it: Portland is weird. Stating so is equivalent to commenting on the color of the sky: everyone knows, and if you're just noticing, you're behind.
We got into Portland early Monday morning, eager to begin explorations of a city in which we only had 24 hours. We checked into the Ace Hotel, a mashup of every hipster's dream decor and every design-minded individual's checklist of beautiful and functional necessities that make or break a hotel room, from locally crafted soaps to postcards to send back home.
The Ace is meticulous in its attention to detail, thoughtful without being overdone.
We wanted to see everything possible in our first 24 hours in Portland, and so we set off on foot to explore the City of Roses.
We stopped by a farmer's market at Pioneer Courthouse Square, bought some fresh peaches, and hit the pavement. We made our way through the Yamhill Historic District, Portland's original downtown area, before turning northwest and heading toward the Pearl District, home to boutiques, eclectic shopping, hidden flower shops and more. We visited small shops, watched locals, and took it all in.
We had dinner at 10 Barrel Brewing, and did our due diligence sampling their selection of brews. We made it a personal mission to find the finest beer in Oregon: this required extensive research on our part.
We walked the streets at night, saw the city from a different perspective: when the light spectrum changes, so does the crowd on the street.
We woke up at the Ace, with a car full of miles and endless possibilities.
What would we do first? Eat questionable food from the food truck court that beckoned just two blocks over? Explore the gritty side streets that transitioned seamlessly into the polished lanes of the Pearl District? Get tattoos we've always joked about but that, in the aura of this hipper-than-hip city, suddenly felt like legitimate ideas?
The world was our oyster, so we decided to do what felt natural, and what would seem to be the hallmark of our time in Oregon: we went to a coffee shop.
Heart Roasters is on trend without being pretentious, delicious without being overbearing, and a short walk from Powell's City of Books, where I would gladly spend weeks of my life if I could hide among the shelves without being found.
After getting fueled at Heart, we took to the streets. We bought books at Powell's, explored the Lan Su Chinese Gardens and sipped tea in their tea room, overlooking the light shower of rain that pattered against the elaborately carved windows. We went to Voodoo Donuts, because, well, we had to.
We ate and drank our way through Portland's streets, and then it was high time to hit the road. Bend was beckoning, and that is a call you don't ignore.
Bend gathers to it a like-minded sort of individual – independent, adventurous, unafraid. We knew it would be a mecca, and we were excited to see what it had to offer.
We woke up in a tiny home we rented on Airbnb, 7 miles outside of town, in farm country. Tiny homes are a special breed of dwelling: the entirety of a home, packed into a fraction of the space, requires creativity and innovation in putting a space together. Cohesiveness is key.
We were low on miles, and looking for a charger. Our trip from Portland to Bend had taken us up and over some mountain passes, and without realizing that hills would suck our battery life at an expedited pace, we had not bothered to slow our pace. We limped into Bend with 10 miles' worth of charge remaining.
The one charger in town that worked with the updated charging port on the 2018 Bolt was under construction; this was an unforeseen obstacle that left us panicking. Through trial, tribulation, and a lot of Googling and phone calls, we finally found a private charger at a car dealership, that, with pity in their hearts for two inexperienced electric car navigators, allowed us to use their private charging station inside their garage.
Bend is a quiet town on the surface, populated by outdoorsmen and women, adventurers, travelers, and lovers of the outdoors, but with more going on than you see at first look.
We visited a coffee shop, as was our way. We walked along the water, we explored local markets, and we watched river surfing. Bend will keep you occupied for hours if you let it, and with hours to kill charging the car, that's exactly what we did.
That night, after a dinner and many beers at Deschutes Brewery, we found ourselves at McMenimans: a hotel housed in an old Catholic girls' school. The hotel/bar is a meandering collection of buildings, classrooms-turned-hotel rooms, live music, a movie theatre, and a hidden Turkish pool with an open-air roof that affords a breathtaking view of the night sky. The pools are open year-round; sometimes snow falls through the steam into the heated water, reminding patrons of the outside world.
We heard there was snow falling on Mt. Bachelor, unheard of for the season, and we had to see it.
We went to bed at 2 a.m. and woke up at 5:30 a.m. A newly made friend had told us about a spot on Mt. Bachelor, Sparks Lake, where we could take out the Oru foldable kayaks that we had brought. We knew sunrise would be the perfect time.
We didn't anticipate snow when we stuffed our bags pre-trip, but somehow had enough gear between us to stay warm as we unloaded the kayaks in the pre-dawn mist and paddled onto the lake, just as the sun peaked its shy rays over the mountain range to the east.
Tiny, glittering, shimmering snow speckles, each with their own microscopic construction, waltzed through the air and landed on my hair, nose and face, blanketing the surrounding dirt and rocks with a white sheen that provided a satisfying crunch as we tramped through the forest.
As we walked carefully and slowly through the silence, we savored the sight of trees shaking off the cloaks of snow that had grown too heavy for their knotted arms to hold.
Day 4 on the road had hardened us from hopeful explorers to jaded travelers, hell bent on finding a café and charging station that could simultaneously fuel our needs for caffeine and electricity.
The beauty of an electric car is multi-faceted. The electric car is environmentally minded, and is much easier on the atmosphere than traditional gas-powered counterparts. Paying for a charge costs much, much less than filling a tank of gas, and a full charge in the Chevy Bolt can take you 238 miles before needing a re-up.
That is, if you aren't on a week-long road trip with extra gear, going up and down mountain passes (which drains the battery), heading into unforeseen snow and blasting the heat (which drains the battery even more), and unintentionally getting lost (a hallmark of a successful road trip).
We were learning that although we were falling in love with the Bolt, we also needed to be much more strategic about the way we utilized the finite energy held within each charge.
We were on our way to Eugene from Bend, but before we could complete that journey, we had to stop at two points along the road, destinations new friends had warned us that we could not miss. But it was the afternoon when we left Bend, and time cantered on ahead of us, indifferent to our wishes for more of it.
Blue Pool and Sahalie Falls are two glorious, breathtaking locations. I couldn't deny their splendor, even amidst a self-induced panic attack.
When we got to the Blue Pools trailhead, it was 6:40 p.m. The sun set at 7. The hike was 4 miles. I still don't know if it was the adrenaline, fueled by copious amounts of caffeine, that led us to believe we could complete a 4-mile trek in unfamiliar territory in 20 minutes and have time to enjoy the Blue Pools, but in that moment, with naysayers nowhere to be found, anything felt possible.
We grabbed our packs and puffys, and began to run down the trail. I will stop right here and let you know what we neglected to bring in our packs:
4. Common sense
That's when it started to rain. A soft downfall that quickly morphed into a storm, kept partially at bay by the trees that also shrouded us in premature darkness.
We decided we would run until light entirely ran out. Puddles began to form between rocky outcroppings that made their presence known on the trail, and we resorted to the flashlights on our phones to help guide the way.
Thirty to 40 minutes later we made it to the trailhead, and to the trusty Bolt. We clambered inside and took off our drenched outer layers, and headed towards Eugene.
We had to make a choice at this point in our journey: forgo the heat in hopes of keeping miles on the odometer, or turn it on and mitigate the dampness that soaked into us on the trail.
We chose heat. We were heading west, down the mountain pass we had just gone up, and with the recharging brake system of the Bolt at our disposal, figured we could use the heat for this part of the journey.
The plan was to get a hotel room when we got to the college town, but we didn't factor in one crucial detail: it was move-in week for the school, and everything was booked. We finally found a room at the Hilton, as well as a free charging station in the parking garage across the street. Eugene was quickly becoming one of our favorite towns in the state.
There's something so peaceful about a scenic drive, where your thoughts are allowed to wander. Speeding past one beautiful scene to the next, on and on for hundreds of miles, has a way of untangling your thoughts like nothing else.
We found the dunes at dusk. Sunset and sunrise are the times to experience the dunes – the glowing orb drifting along the horizon, creating shadows and planes that expose the magnitude of the sand shapes that lie before you.
The next morning, we woke in the dark, made coffee by the light of the headlamp, and set off toward the sand.
We reached the top of the first massive dune in the range, which I imagined as a hill on Mars: cold, bleak, its sinister beauty bewitching the eye and mind alike, and looked east. Wisps of cloud and fog drifted along the tops of the trees in the distance, and flooded the gaps of the valleys with their cold embrace.
We looked west, and the dunes were awash with pink, gold and swiftly disappearing cool greys.
We spent the morning at the Dunes, and then made our way up the coast. Thor's Well. A lighthouse. Small towns, passing by as quickly as they came up.
We stopped in Newport to charge the car, and to pass the time, walked to the local aquarium, 3 miles away. We had found, and began to welcome, that charging the car meant needing to kill time.
We crossed a bridge that made us feel like we were crossing through time. Studying the bridge's art-deco architecture, taking in the sweeping views, I felt like I had been there when the bridge was built – it had always been there, I have always crossed it, the moment was infinite.
We wanted to end up at the aquarium, we really did … but after crossing the bridge, we stumbled upon an oasis in a desert: the world headquarters of Rogue Brewing. Aquatic plans were squashed. Craft brew sampling initiated.
We headed north after our research, stopping for a hike at Drift Creek Falls, at the recommendation of a Rogue Ales employee. It was, he said, a hike we couldn’t miss. He was right.
It was nearing sundown when we set out for the four-mile hike. We learned our lesson. We brought headlamps this time.
We ended the night at the Pelican Brewery, and then our campground in Pacific City. Arriving after nightfall, we fell asleep imagining what we would wake up to in the morning.
Softly rustling leaves, campfire smoke drifting through the air, and the sounds of camp waking up greeted us in the morning. We were at Camp Lookout State Park Campground, right on the edge of the ocean, a forest hidden and yet right in front of us. We enjoyed the sea before packing up camp. It was time to return to Portland.
We made it into Portland in the afternoon, and checked into the Tiny Digs hotel, a group of six meticulously styled tiny homes, in the Burnside district of Portland. We showered off seven days' worth of on-the-road grime, and felt a little more human again.
We had made it into Portland with just under 30 miles to spare before our Bolt called it quits, so we dropped it off to gather a few hours' charge while we took another tour of the city. We could have made it to the airport with that mileage, but one of our learnings from the Electric Highway was to take advantage of a charge when it's available; after all, you can never have too many miles at your disposal.
First stop The Nines, a hotel home to a rooftop bar no Portland visitor should miss.
The Nines offers panoramic views, placing you at a bird's-eye perspective that opens up the skyline, and your imagination. After spending a week in the wilderness of Oregon, it was odd to be surrounded by steel, glass, and expensive clothing. I felt a twinge of melancholy as I looked around.
After the Nines, it was off to Rogue Ales. One more chance to test the beers of Oregon. We ate the food, drank the beer, and felt satisfied.
We walked the streets, taking in the city one last time. We passed what we now considered our favorite haunts: the Ace, Powell's, the food truck courtyard. I could almost see the shadows of ourselves flitting through the trees, waiting for the adventure to unfold.
We got back to the tiny home, packed up, and laid down.
Before we knew it, we were dropping off the trusty Bolt. We didn't get much time for a goodbye – the shuttle bus was waiting. As we walked the crowded halls of the airport toward our gate, I was reminded not only of the busy world we had quickly re-entered, but also of my appreciation for having been able to leave it behind for a week, and go at our own pace.
I could smell the ocean breeze, feel the snow on my fingertips, and hear the crunch of leaves and twigs. My senses kept my thoughts firmly rooted on the adventure I had left as I took my seat and headed home.