Fish and Cheese: A Return to the Pacific Coast

Dale Paget is an Australian journalist. Susan Paget is an American free-lance reporter-photographer.

We have hit the home stretch.

Our American adventure, now clocking more than 10,000 non-air-conditioned miles, makes a sharp left turn in Seattle, where we veer south to follow the Pacific Ocean home.

We are met by warm salty winds and our first sunny day in weeks on the wide banks of Puget Sound. The waterway is busy with ferry boats.

We are at Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. Someone has yelled for a shovel. A customer at Pike Place Fish wants his crab cracked to be eaten immediately.

"The shovel!" shouts a fishmonger. He throws the crab high across two tables to a fellow worker, who catches it behind the counter with one hand.

"The shovel!" he yells, tossing the crustacean to the next fishmonger. As the crab makes the rounds, each employee shouts "The shovel!" It's like a chorus from a Broadway show.

Finally, one of the crew grabs a big garden shovel and wallops the living daylights out of the crab. The audience howls with delight.

Huge salmon are hurled like footballs. Henri and Matilda think it's a circus. It's hard not to get caught up in the fun.

We buy a crab and have it packed in ice for the night's dinner.

"One crab packed in ice for dinner!" the fishmongers shout.

Washington produce is a feature of the crowded market. We sample sweet organic cherries, sticky blackberries and fireweed-flavored honey from Mt. Rainier.

On the street outside the market, the hypnotic smell of freshly roasted coffee is fanned by a breeze.

Espresso abounds in Seattle. You can find gourmet coffee everywhere--from sidewalk stands to gas stations, supermarkets, and even (gulp) Burger King.

We feel like hard-core coffee drinkers ordering double- and triple-shot cappuccinos at Seattle's Best Coffee on Post Alley, near Pike Place Market. But we're not even close.

"People come in seven or eight times a day for these," says our coffee server, Brenda Aegeuter. "The really heavy drink is the quadruple ristretto: four shots of espresso pulled short," she says.

That's a bit out of our league. We leave Seattle, wide awake, with a trunk full of produce from the market.

Driving south there is a sense of deja vu , clues that California is not too far away.

There are signs to the 405 and 5 freeways, automated teller machines that offer to transact in English or Spanish and people holding "I will work for food" signs at traffic lights.

A couple of hours' drive from Seattle, we camp near the town of Castle Rock at Seaquest State Park, because Henri wants to see the Mt. St. Helens volcano.

From the modern visitor center across the street from the campground, high-powered viewing glasses focus on the mountain, 30 miles distant.

"Aaaahh!" screams Henri when he takes a look. "I can see the top where it explodes and goes down to the center of the earth!"

The visitor center has a movie and slide show explaining the 1980 eruption, as well as a walk-through model of a volcano and plenty of button-activated displays--great fun for kids and adults.

A new tourist road to a ridge overlooking Mt. St. Helens will be completed by 1993.

We cross the Columbia River into Oregon at Portland and chart our course to the dairy country surrounding Tillamook, the cheese capital of the state.

This is the 28th state border we have crossed on our American adventure and for the 28th time we all scream, "Yaaaaa!"

We drive through the Coast Range toward the Oregon shore. Black-and-white Holstein cows graze by the roadsides in Tillamook County. A highway motel sign reads "Smile and Say Cheese," and a music store is called Cheddar Records.

But it's the Tillamook factory that's the big cheese around here. We take a self-guided tour of the modern production facility and sample a variety of Cheddars and curd.

From Tillamook, U.S. 101 takes us right to the coast and we see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 2 1/2 months.

It is 5 p.m. Friday and we have begun our search for a campsite about three hours too late: All the coastal state-park campgrounds are full.

The sun is going down and we are all starting to feel frustrated. We are about to begin a frantic hunt for a Motel 6 when we discover Wandamere Campground--a rustic, off-the-beaten-track campsite south of the seaside community of Newport.

Like many of the scenic towns on the Oregon coast, Newport has quaint motel cottages, a lighthouse and seafood restaurants specializing in clam chowder.

For dinner, we take a drive to Mo's on the Bayfront, Newport's wharf area.

Mo's encourages patrons to rub shoulders with fellow diners by cramming all the tables close together. In the past, a waitress tells us, we could have bumped elbows with Robert Kennedy, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

The Bayfront is busy with seafood factories. We watch shrimp boats leave for the evening harvest and through a street-side window we see cooked shrimp being processed.

Next morning, after the fog clears, we explore a private stretch of seaside near the Wandamere campground.

The sand is white and covered with shells. The only fresh footprints other than our own are from webbed feet. Henri and Matilda chase sea gulls, and we relax under the chilly sunshine in sweaters and shorts.

The trip south is slow. Still following U.S. 101, riding over many grand coastal bridges, we take our time with side trips and beach adventures along the jagged coastline.

There are campgrounds or picnic areas every few miles.

At Humbug Mountain State Park, near Port Orford, we spend two days camping near a sandy, dark-brown beach under black cliffs. Sharp rock islands shaped by chaotic winter storms stand close to shore. Henri and Matilda chase a log they decorated with feathers down a river to the sea.

"It's going to Hawaii, or maybe Australia," Henri says.

"Bye bye," Matilda waves as the log boat is capsized by the surf.

Our tourist map says the last 60 miles of Oregon coastline has amazing rock formations with names such as Natural Bridge, Rainbow Rock and Rock Arch.

But all we can make out in the morning fog are the scores of "viewpoint" signs. The whole coastline is covered in a white mist.

After an hour or so of driving, a big green sign appears from out of the fog.

"Welcome to California," it says.

"Yaaaaa!" we all scream as we cross the northern border of our home state.

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