The problem with writing about a family travel trip is deciding how much to write a travel article and how much to write the saga of the people involved. For example, maybe you don’t want to know that we didn’t leave Portland till 10 because of having to run an errand for Donn (and in fairness to him if I tell you that, I have to include that I myself was somewhat sluggish that morning, as I am, frankly, every single morning of my life. Shouldn’t he be used to that by now?) On the other hand, you might want to know when we left, in case you yourself are planning to drive down I-5 and you want to get an idea of distance and time involved. Where is the balance?

It was nearly 10 when we left Portland on Tuesday, icy Starbucks cups in hand, and headed south on the open road. That is actually a good time to leave, I pointed out to Donn, because we had cleverly avoided all morning traffic. We tuned the radio to NPR and drove through the trees lining the freeway just south of town. We drove past fields of flowers and past big signs announcing U-Pick Loganberries and Blackberries, and Farm Fresh Peaches. It was a gorgeous summer day, the sky a sun-drenched blue, the trees outlined and glowing in the light. I was reading “The Sky Fisherman” by Craig Lesley, a book set in small-town Eastern Oregon, perfect for our surroundings (and a great read too).  We drove through imaginatively named places like Drain and Goshen, past large tractors raising dust in dirt-clod fields, and began our climb into the Siskiyou Range.

We stopped for an early lunch at the southern-most Burgerville in…Albany…I’m pretty sure. Burgerville is a NW fast-food chain and the only one I’ll eat at without protest. For about $3.50, you can get a turkey-bacon club on 9-grain bread that doesn’t leave you feeling sick, although I think no one really needs that much mayo on a sandwich. They offer gardenburgers and local produce in season and use real ice-cream in their shakes, which are delicious. The kids love it, of course, so we try to go there at least once. Other than that, we hate fast food and avoid it as much as possible.

Oregon is a beautiful state, and even bland freeway-side construction can’t spoil it. The road began to rise and wind through the mountains, offering views of sparkling rivers in curved valleys that skirted forested hills. We drove on through the afternoon, over the Siskiyou Pass and past Mt. Shasta, which is the southernmost mountain in the Cascade Range, a range which has huge mountains strung down the West Coast, unusual in that its peaks only occur every couple of hundred miles.

The area around Mt. Shasta is beautiful, and all the more poignant because it is the last real beauty on I-5, or, if you are headed north, the first. After that, the land flattens out, and you drive and drive and DRIVE through heat-shimmery space. I suppose I should mention that this is fertile country; California is properly called the Fruit and Nut State and they’re not just talking about the people. We did drive through orchards of almonds and olive trees which sounds nicer than it felt. Donn was driving, so I was sitting in the sun, shifting, getting grumpy.

We stopped for supper at sunset in a town called Woodland, which is nearly to Sacramento. There wasn’t much; we found a Teriyaki fast-food place where we had chicken and rice. It was tasty enough but nothing to write up in a blog or anything. Then we kept going. We drove 715 miles total that first day, stopping in one of those tiny towns that line the freeway that consist mostly of motel chains and gas stations. Earlier, we had picked up a publication of coupons for these businesses along the freeway; they are to be found at gas stations and restaurants, and are worth looking at. We stayed at the Ramada Inn; 4 people could stay for $68 and we paid an extra $5 for the extra person. This included a hot breakfast, which we wished we had skipped. It was pretty gross to be honest; 2 pancakes, those fake scrambled eggs, and 2 sausages. The kids’ version was one big Mickey-Mouse pancake, one sausage, and the eggs. We ate it because we are cheap and it was free, and were rewarded by that rock-in-stomach feeling that at least kept us going till lunch.

The room was fine. The hotel is older, but the room was spacious and clean and the amenities in the bathroom were nice. That particular Ramada is in an old Spanish mission but we stayed in a more recent part. I would definitely stay there again; I’d just skip that breakfast and head directly to the Starbucks, also at that same freeway stop.

It was again nearly 10 when we set off, and I honestly don’t know why Donn even tries to get us going earlier because it is ALWAYS nearly 10 when we set off. See? It was hot already, and, to be honest, the landscape was not that interesting. Still, the iced espresso was good and we made good time.

Now we were driving past the California hills; golden brown, molded. We turned off I-5 to head towards Hemet, which is east of LA in the California desert. We stopped for some good, cheap Mexican food, which is basically one of the main points of Southern California’s existence as far as I can tell. (That and palm trees. I like palm trees) We hit traffic around Riverside but it wasn’t too bad, and we made it to the in-laws’ about 4:30 and the pool at about 4:45.

I didn’t take any pictures, which is just as well because we are having no luck getting my camera’s card reader to work.