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November 17, 2009

A Father & Son(s) Road Trip: Seattle to LA, and Back. (Part Two.)

Filed under: Cars,father-son roadtrip,Writing — chuck goolsbee @ 12:19 am

Note: The following is a re-write of my father-son road trip story for the JagMag.


On the southbound leg of the trip I am accompanied by my eldest son, Christopher. He is 19, and had just finished his Freshman year of college a few weeks before our departure. I eagerly anticipated this chance to travel with him as other than a few brief visits, I had not had much of a chance to spend time with Chris since he left for college the previous autumn. Unfortunately after many weeks of brilliant sunshine and mild weather, the weekend chosen for starting our father-son road trip brings thunderstorms to the Pacific Northwest. Rain we’re used to, but lighting and thunder are rare occurrences. We have to wait for the storm to blow over which delays our departure by two and a half frustrating days. Thankfully our plans are very flexible, and the delay doesn’t really upset anything other than my desire to be on the road. When the weatherman says that the skies will clear by the end of the day, we depart our home and head south on Monday, July 13th. Our original route plans would have taken us out to the coast and around the Olympic Peninsula, but now we’re just blasting south on I-5 through scattered showers as we’ve given up on Washington’s sights and want to get to places further afield. At Longview we leave the freeway and cross over into Oregon.

Christopher Goolsbee over the Columbia River.
Christopher Goolsbee over the Columbia River.

Our immediate goal is to find Oregon Highway 47, a thin ribbon of asphalt through the Coast Range that winds south from Clatskanie through the Yamhill wine country, to McMinnville, Oregon. The rain has stopped, and this route proves to be a proper antidote to a few hours of freeway monotony; tight turns, no traffic, plenty of elevation gain and loss, hairpins, sweepers, and finally opening up into the rolling Yamhill country bathed in golden twilight. If you’ve never driven this road in your Jaguar add “Drive Oregon Highway 47” to your list of things to do. (Note: A video search on Google turns up many wobbly motocycle videos shot on this road, so perhaps it is best avoided on weekends. We drove it on a Monday and it was completely empty.)

Chris is a real history buff, so our aim is going to McMinnville is to visit the Evergreen Aviation Museum, home to the “Spruce Goose” and many other historic aircraft. We arrive too late in the day to get into the museum, but there are many exhibits outside and we park the Jaguar next to Medal of Honor recipient Major Leo ThorsnessF-105g “Wild Weasel” and then spend about two hours walking around the exterior of the museum and soaking in the outdoor exhibits in the long summer twilight.

A Jet and a Jag
A Jet and a Jag

That night I posted an update on our trip on my website with a picture of the F105 and received this email from a fellow Jaguar enthusiast:

“I probably wrenched on that bird at one time or another. They were very limited modified 105s that flew out in front of B66 chafe slingers and B52s in Southeast Asia. The ECM emulated the B52s and the SAMS would lock on and shoot at the 105s. In return, the 105s would lock on the SAM pads and fire back with AGM 78s(air to ground missiles). They had about three seconds to dodge the telephone pole sized SAM or they didn’t come back. I lost two planes and crews during my service there.
We were called ”Wild Weasels”. The pilots were the bravest people I have ever met.”
–Jeff Cecil, 69 E-type FHC, North Carolina

Small world.

Chris & I return to the museum the following morning, and spend almost all day touring the exhibits inside. The highlight of the day is a tour of a B-17 by a former pilot. His name is Barney, and our tour is only supposed to be about 8 minutes long. He begins by showing us the outside of the plane, and describes both the design goals and the realistic limitations of the aircraft.

Barney gives us the walk-around of the B-17, starting with the tail gun. The massive tail of the Spruce Goose looms in the background.
Barney gives us the walk-around of the B-17, starting with the tail gun. The massive tail of the Spruce Goose looms in the background.

When we approach the waist hatchway of the B-17 something happens that will always be one of my fondest memories of this trip. Barney tells us that the B-17 now has a set of steps installed so that visitors can easily climb in, including him as he’s now in his eighties, but when he was flying they had to vault themselves into the plane. Christopher immediately vaults himself into the plane without touching the steps, bringing a huge smile to Barney’s face and changing his demeanor noticeably. Our eight minute tour stretches well beyond thirty minutes as Barney provides detailed background, stories, and observations concerning every bit of this remarkable aircraft’s interior and his experiences in WW2. Christopher’s simple youthful act obviously connects with Barney at a very emotional level, as he was Chris’ age when he served our country. Chris being a history buff is soaking it all up. It is a wonderful moment to observe, as a parent, as an American, and as a human being.

The moment captured: Chris properly vaulting into the B-17.
The moment captured: Chris properly vaulting into the B-17.

From McMinnville we drive south to Eugene and enjoy a late lunch with a friend, followed by a drive to, and then down the coast. Along US 101 we see an Alfa Romeo Montreal driving north. I point it out to Chris and say “You don’t see those every day!” Then I followed up by saying, “I bet the guys in the Alfa just said ‘Wow, an E-type Jaguar! You don’t see those every day!'” As the sun goes down we arrive in Bandon, where we camp for the night in one of Oregon’s state parks. The E-type gets all sorts of double-takes from the other campers!

The world's smallest RV on the Oregon Coast
The world's smallest RV on the Oregon Coast

Our next day sees us driving into California. The morning is very cold and foggy, and we are dressed for the arctic as we cruise top-down through the chill. We stop for an early lunch with friends in Eureka, then drive the Avenue of the Giants through the amazing Redwoods. It is blazing hot once away from the coast so Chris and I opt for Highway 1. The coast however, is completely shrouded in fog. Caught between the frying pan and the fog, we head down California Highway 128 towards Booneville in the late afternoon, as it cools off, enjoying dinner in Santa Rosa. We spend the night with a friend in the Bay Area, after a long day on the road. As we ticked off those miles Chris and I spent a lot of time talking, which is always good.

Day four turns out to be action-packed, with visits to three E-type owning friends south of San Francisco, and driving in a pack to a lunch in Carmel. Along the way our caravan of three E-types happened upon another E-type going the opposite direction, not something you expect on a Thursday afternoon! After lunch we part ways with our Jaguar friends and head south along Big Sur with instructions from them about an amazing, little-known road to take halfway down the coast. Along the way we stop for a break and to admire the view when by complete chance we meet another Jaguar friend (though he’s driving a Lotus at that moment) who is driving the other direction. He stops when he sees us and tells us about Elephant Seals hauled up on a beach further south. I let Chris decide which way to go and he picks the seals.

Chris & the 65E in Big Sur
Chris & the 65E in Big Sur
A chance meeting of a friend on the coast
A chance meeting of a friend on the coast
Elephant Seals bicker over sleeping spots on the beach.
Elephant Seals bicker over sleeping spots on the beach.

It is important to let Chris the pace and course of the trip. I’m happy to drive anywhere, so when he decides to see the seals it is OK with me. Neither of us have ever seen them before, and it is a shock to see how big they are. Unlike the Harbor Seals and Sea Lions we’ve seen around Seattle, the Elephant Seals are simply enormous. Though most are just sleeping on the beach, there is always some bellowing and minor confrontations going on. It is fascinating to observe. Chris oddly declines a visit to San Simeon, and I pilot the Jaguar inland as more fog rolls into the coast. We climb the coastal hills and are treated to a a spectacular view.

Looking south along the central California coastal hills at sunset.
Looking south along the central California coastal hills at sunset.

We head over to Paso Robles for the night, with a great pizza dinner enjoyed with a fine local Petite Syrah – tomorrow we’ll arrive in LA!

I have some parts waiting for me at the will call window at XK’s Unlimited in San Luis Obispo; some clips to secure a loose chrome trim strip on the passenger side door sill. I bet the cashier has no idea that I’ve driven four days to pick this three dollars worth of parts… in the very E-type they’ll fix! Parts secured, we venture onwards through Ventura and towards Malibu. A familiar name catches my eye as we’re cruising along the coast highway and I hang a u-turn. I’ve always wanted to travel the length of Mulholland Drive in a cool car, and here’s my chance! The famed road follows the crest of the Santa Monica mountains and according to my map, will take us all the way through the Hollywood Hills. What a cool way to enter Los Angeles and end our journey! While it is better than following the main highways, it turns out my map is wrong, and Mulholland Drive is broken by an unpaved, closed to motor vehicles section in the middle. Oh well.

Chris and I wait for a light on Mulholland Drive as we enter LA.
Chris and I wait for a light on Mulholland Drive as we enter LA.

We meet up with a friend of mine who works for RAND for dinner in Santa Monica, then complete the rest of Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills after dark. Our final destination is the house of a friend and fellow E-type owner in La Canada, Larry Wade. Larry is the person who originally inspired this trip, taking a similar one in 2006 with his two kids (same ages as mine), using my home as the apogee of his journey. He was now returning the favor, allowing us to use his home as our turn-around spot. We have a rest day in LA, which involves going to a local car show with Larry, then a spirited drive in our two E-types up the Angeles Crest Highway followed by a night time visit to the Mt. Wilson Observatory with a spectacular view of the entire Los Angeles basin. The next day Christopher flies home to Seattle while his brother wings his way south. I pass the time awaiting my youngest son Nicholas’ arrival attending the Art Center School of Design’s annual car show.

Next month I’ll share the return trip with my fifteen year old, through the Sierras, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, and the northern coast bathed in sunshine.

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