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Gerry Feehan

The Oregon Coast by Gerry Feehan


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The Oregon Coast – by Gerry Feehan

“It might rain a little,” cautioned a friend familiar with the Oregon coast in November. That prophecy shall rank high in the annals of understatement.

It poured every day—and most days, most of the day.

We arrived in Astoria, Oregon from Washington State via a 7-kilometer-long cantilever bridge spanning the Columbia River. Earlier that day we had braved a light (hah) drizzle and bicycled to Cape Disappointment, WA. A coast guard helicopter training mission was in session. I thought they’d warn us away as we peddled up but the crew was welcoming and chatted with us convivially about the rigours of cliff-side helicopter rescue.

One of the recruits asked if he could check out my Trek 29er. He asked me about its specs—composition, weight, gear ratio, etc. As he cradled the bike with two fingers, a few meters overhead, the whop-whop of rotor blades thundered loudly, dangerously. It was a fun morning and fortunately Cape Disappointment did not live up to its moniker.


Before our trip, I asked friends for Oregon recommendations. Many said, “Cannon Beach is a must.” Others suggested exploring the seaside State Parks. Someone else insisted we should not miss the unique lighthouses that dot the clifftops. I’m not a fan of lighthouses; you’ve seen one you’ve seen ‘em all. But if it’s pouring rain, one may as well climb some steep spiral steps to a high dry lookout—if only to stare into a grey wall of drizzly emptiness. There are 11 of these old sentinels situated along Oregon’s 580 kilometers of coastline. They are all still operating and necessary. Pounding waves arrive unabated from Japan 8000 kilometers away. Gigantic stacks of rock, eroded from the mainland, lay in stony wait for the unwary mariner. When facing shipwreck, even with GPS, a guiding light is a welcome friend.

Lighthouse maintenance is a weighty matter.

The Oregon shoreline is so scenic, unique and alluring that we hardly noticed the incessant showers and didn’t let the marginal weather spoil our fun. And on those occasions when the sun did shine, like the glorious afternoon I golfed the famous Links at Bandon Dunes, our appreciation for the rugged winding beauty of Oregon’s coast was enhanced, magnified.

A great pleasure of oceanside touring is the prospect of fresh seafood. Oregon’s salty waters overflow with nature’s briny bounty. At Barnacle Bill’s roadside stand in Lincoln City we couldn’t decide between fresh Dungeness crab, Yaquina oysters, albacore tuna or smoked salmon cream cheese; so we bought ‘em all—and before leaving Barnacle’s parking lot we were gorged to overflowing.

Deep dark arrives early in the November woods of Oregon: around 5 pm, and light doesn’t return until 8 am. Cell phone coverage is spotty. Wi-Fi is non-existent. Forget TV. What to do for six hours before bedtime? Talk to your spouse? Get serious. What did our ancestors do in the dark?

They discovered fire. A roaring blaze removes cold, fear, woe, all sense of time—even worries about the taxman. Amazing how, with a little kindling, a stack of wood, matches—and perhaps the friendly company of a beverage or two—one can be entertained for hours, contentedly watching a fire burn…while spending quality time with one’s loved one, of course. Availability of amenities varies greatly in Oregon campgrounds. The private ones typically have great services but are costlier and usually less appealing. The State Park campsites are beautiful, cheap and spacious but often lack the basics: showers, power and water hook-ups.

My morning cup of Joe is as important to me as life itself. One State campground had no electricity and prohibited use of generators. Thus, I had no way of firing up the coffee-maker. In my early-morning panic I smuggled the appliance into a bathroom with a plug-in, locked the door—and brewed to my heart’s content.  Desperate times call for desperate measures. Man I enjoyed that John Joe.

Perking the ‘John Joe’.

In late November you can fire a cannon through an Oregon campground. The places are empty. Even Cannon Beach, bursting at the seams in August, is nearly vacant. The strand in front of iconic Haystack Rock became our semi-private realm. And we had the coves and tide pools of nearby Ecola State Park completely to ourselves.

Haystack Rock.

An anemone-filled tide pool.

Oregon’s northern shoreline consists mostly of steep cliffs, with an occasional sandy beach. But as one meanders southward the craggy vistas give way to remarkable dunes. These kilometer-wide sandy barriers guard terra firma from the pounding, invading surf. At Bullard’s Beach State Park we scurried up a mountainous dune, dwarfed, like tiny crabs summiting a sandcastle. We would have run freely down the sandy escarpment but ATVs blew by in all directions, spoiling the serenity. (I admit to a touch of FOMO watching the lunatic drivers crest sandy hills, whooping and hollering before disappearing into the next hummock).

Then the weather cleared, the winds calmed—and I teed it up at Bandon Dunes. After negotiating a ‘travel writer’ discount, I treated myself to a caddy. (Bandon Dunes is a traditional links-style golf course so players must walk—no carts are permitted.) On the signature par three, overlooking the Pacific, I invited my caddy, William, to hit a shot.  His ball flew out over the precipice and disappeared into Davey Jones’ locker. William and I have a couple of things in common: we are both ex-lawyers and mediocre golfers.

(photo 710 – no caption)


Our Oregon road trip was nearly over. We returned to Bullard’s Beach for one last night. As we set up camp, I spotted a large bird waddling through the brush. A wild turkey. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. (We Canucks of course carve the turkey the second Monday in October – probably because by November’s end any bird north of the 49th is frozen solid.) I consulted my calendar. Black Friday was a week away. The turkey emerged from the woods, smugly picking through the remains of an old campfire, blissfully unaware that very soon millions of his fellow Toms would suffer a crispy fate in ovens throughout America.

The serene, rugged beauty of the Oregon coast in November is wonderful, unique, exhilarating. But after a few weeks of pounding surf, salt air, wet feet and the claustrophobic darkness of giant ancient trees, I was ready to go home. To Alberta winter and our cold endless horizon of blue sky and dry snow.

In a few short weeks, it would be time to thaw a turkey for Christmas dinner.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.

Revisiting the “All-inclusive” in Cozumel – by Gerry Feehan

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Gerry Feehan

A Rainy Day in Montenegro

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Dubrovnik City wall

Room 703, Valamar Hotel, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

I had a strange dream last night.

Well past midnight there came a quiet rap on the door. An apologetic bellboy pointed to a small man standing quietly in the hallway. The man sported a fine suit and monogrammed luggage. ‘I’m sorry,’ said the bellhop, ‘the Valamar is sold out
this evening. This gentleman needs a room. Only for tonight. Perhaps you can accommodate.’ Naturally I declined. However my wife, speaking from her comatose oblivion, insisted we invite the stranger in. ‘Sshh, it’s fine,’ she said simultaneously
snoring, ‘for today, we go to Montenegro.’

What my dream-world wife didn’t anticipate—but I did—was that our uninvited, nocturnal guest would soon become an unpleasant somnambulant nuisance and ultimately transform into a weapon-wielding demon. By the time I finally, politely
asked him to depart our quarters, the intruder had morphed into a loud, apocalyptic earthquake. I awoke in a heap of sweat to a thunderous lightning storm, crawled from bed, pulled closed the trembling illuminated curtains—and swore off rakija for the balance of our Balkan holiday. I tossed and turned the rest of that uncomfortable night, occasionally glancing irritably at my happily reposed spouse. The alarm tolled at 6:15am.

In a post-hallucinogenic stupor I stumbled into the hotel lobby and ran smack dab into the selfsame night-watchman who, in my torpor, had invited Armageddon-man into our room at witching hour. ‘And you call yourselves a 5-star hotel,’ I remarked testily. He regarded me uncertainly, shrugged and opened the lobby doors. Outside, standing curbside beside a dark blue Mercedes van, stood a veritable giant of a man; our driver for the day. He grinned grimly, swung the passenger door open and commanded us to climb in. I was fearful the nightmare was continuing. But as we pulled away from the dewy curb our mountainous chauffeur politely introduced himself as Zoran and began a casual, intriguing introduction to the history of Montenegro.

Incessant rain made for a dreary day

The downpour began in earnest as we neared the border. The Croatian exit authority inspected our papers with palpable disinterest—then stood up, exited his cramped cubicle and promptly disappeared into the mist. ‘Between shifts,’ explained
Zoran with a resigned shrug. After a 10-minute, stiflingly humid delay, an equally apathetic replacement arrived to re-scrutinize our passports. Documents eventually back in hand, we were permitted to depart Croatia and make the short descent into neighbouring Montenegro where another listless guard repeated the same agonizing process.

Everyone loves passport stamps. I entreated Zoran to ask the guard for some evidence that we were actually entering mysterious Montenegro, bragging rights for the folks back home. ‘This not good idea,’ said Zoran apologetically—but
unequivocally—and we pulled away from the tiny damp station and into a strengthening deluge. It was a half-hearted, bureaucratic, blustery beginning to a soppy day. (For no discernable reason, other than inane custom and mutual distrust,
countries of the former Yugoslavia demand perusal of papers upon both ingress and egress. But I digress.)

Montenegro. The name evokes visions of a small, opulent seaside protectorate where luxury yachts bob in an idyllic harbor surrounded by spectacular mountains. But while the country is indeed small, and is on the ocean, and does have a stunning mountain backdrop, Montenegro is certainly not well off. In fact Montenegro is one of Croatia’s poorest Balkan cousins. Together with Bosnia, Serbia and a few other newly-formed states, they were all part of Yugoslavia. In 1984 Yugoslavia hosted the Winter Olympics, welcoming the world’s best athletes to a snowy paradise. Nine years later the entire federation would descend into anarchy and civil war, the lid of a centuries-old pot, boiling with religious and ethnic hatred, finally blown off. Our destination was the walled city of Kotor, a Renaissance-era gem of narrow, picture-postcard lanes. As the European crow flies, the town is not far from the Croatian border, but getting there entails a long circuitous drive around the Gulf of Kotor, which perforates deeply, fjord-like, into the Montenegrin coastline.


On arrival, we exited hesitantly from the van, unfurled our umbrellas and splashed into town. What should have been an interesting, leisurely stroll down blind alleys and through colourful curio shops turned into a quick excursion—hurdling
overflowing gutters and dodging the deluge spilling from dilapidated gargoyles in the old fortified town. Overall, the morning was a wet bust. Zoran was apologetic, as if he were personally responsible for the obscuring rain. ‘I wish you could see our beautiful mountains.’

But then came lunch—and, nonpareil, the best meal of our three-week Balkan adventure. I stepped, glasses fogged, into the Konoba Akustik Restaurant and discarded my broken umbrella amongst a stack of equally derelict parasols.

Rainwater, dripping from the ceiling, clanged into an ancient metal pail in the foyer. Expectations were low as we dodged around the overflowing bucket and took our squeaky seats at a rustic wooden table.

Then the food began to appear. First a hearty veal soup served with fresh jecmeni—barley flatbread. Then a platter of green olives and prosciutto. Then gnocchi and pasticada—beef marinated in wine vinegar. More jecmeni arrived to sop up stray sauces.

Perhaps a cocktail with your jecmeni?

The dishes kept coming. Stuffed to the gills, I declined desert, sat back in my rickety chair, and focused my attention on the adjoining table where Zoran and two large companions sat, surrounded by three nonplussed waiters and a gesticulating chef.

In unwavering concentration, they methodically devoured every dish we’d been offered plus massive plates of crni rizot—black risotto, and ajvar—spicy red pepper paste. Between mouthfuls they’d wedge in a large portion of Pag cheese. When the
skewers of lamb kebab arrived I could watch no more and directed my attention to the restaurant’s ornate opaque windows and the passersby sloshing outside.

Montenegrins are not the tallest people on earth—the Dutch stubbornly cling to that lofty position. But I can state (anecdotally at least, having spent one full day in the
country) that the people of Montenegro are really, really tall. And apparently it takes a lot of calories to develop that degree of vertical span.

Zoran is on the right… in case you were confused 

It was a full day. On the long drizzly drive back to the Valamar Hotel, the windshield wipers flapped incessantly, hypnotizing me into a sleepy daze, interrupted only by Zoran’s occasional, meaningful collision with a muddy pothole. Nearly home, we passed through the beautiful old city of Dubrovnik. At a bus stop, under a portico tucked into the ancient city wall, I spied a small tidy man huddled under an umbrella, expensive luggage stacked neatly by his side. The fellow from my nightmare. I wiped my eyes and peered again. He was gone.

I slept dreamlessly that night.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.


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Gerry Feehan

A glorious afternoon among the vineyards by Gerry Feehan

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A glorious afternoon among the vineyards

One of the keys to enjoyable travel — and recovery from a seven-hour jet-lag hangover — is to give oneself time to acclimate. And what better place to do that than in the City of Lights?

On tap was a week-long bike ‘n barge in southwest France. But rather than simply change planes at Charles De Gaulle airport and continue on to Bordeaux, we deplaned, shuttled into the French capital and gayly strolled the streets of Paris for a couple of days.

Fun in the streets of gay Paris

Paris, like many of the world’s great cities, is a pleasure to walk. From our hotel in the Latin Quarter, it was an easy saunter along the left bank of the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. En route, we passed two of the world’s great museums, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. Famished after a half-hour en pied, we stopped at a quiet brasserie for escargot and steak tartare. Fun fact: raw beef is best washed down with a heaping helping of Pernod. After lunch we wandered on and were soon gazing up at the Arc de Triomphe and the crazy traffic on the Champs-Elysees. On the return traipse we followed the river’s course to Notre Dame Cathedral where we climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the church’s wooden bell tower for the magnifique view of Paris. We were amongst the last to do so. A couple of months later, the 800- year-old edifice was gutted by fire.

After our relaxing stay in La Cité, we boarded the train at Gare Montparnasse, well-rested and physically and mentally prepared for the formidable task ahead: seven laid-back days of pedalling through the serene back roads of southwest France, coupled with the burden of sampling fine Bordeaux wines.

The trip from Paris to Bordeaux is over 500km, but when travelling by rail at over 300km/h, the journey is over in a flash. At the station in Bordeaux we transferred for the short run into Libourne, a sleepy little village on the Dordogne River, where we boarded our vessel, the aptly named MS Bordeaux. The ship was originally commissioned in the 1920s as a Rhinetuger, hauling heavy burdens on the Rhine River. The old gal went through a number of iterations over the decades before being converted into a passenger vessel. The boat has 49 cabins, but there were only 23 guests, so we became friends with everyone on board — crew and clientele alike.

It was a cozy, intimate experience.

On the weeklong voyage, we drifted slowly down the Dordogne toward the Bay of Biscay. When we reached the wide Gironde estuary we made a u-turn and rode the incoming tide up the Garonne River to Castets-en-Dorthe where we were to disembark. It was late fall, the ship’s last sailing of the season. The weather was ideal. The autumn hues of southern France were on full display.

Each morning, after a fine petit dejeuner, we stuffed our panniers with a picnic lunch of oven-fresh baguettes, pate, brie, fruit — and a world of pastries. Then we’d roll down the gangplank and hit the bucolic road. Each route was unique and scenic.

A GPS mounted to the handlebars kept us on track, ensuring we didn’t turn a la gauche when we should have gone a la droit.

We pedalled past orchards of ripening grapes, waving at the friendly vendangeurs hand-picking the last sweet remains of the year’s vintage. Often the route led us up what looked like a private lane, a path we’d never have taken had not the GPS assured us we were on course. We’d stop and gawk at some enormous ancient stone Château before continuing down the cobbled way.

Fall is hunting season

Despite the season, many of the Châteaux were open for tastings, invariably hosted by a friendly, effusive, fifth-generation proprietor, happy to share the family cellar with a group of foreign geeks in cycling shorts.

Bordeaux boasts some of the most stunning scenery in all of France — and some of its best vintages. That’s saying a lot in a country renowned for le vin. Personally, I turn up my nose at snooty French reds like Cote du Rhone and Burgundy. They’re a little too subtle for my meat-and-potatoes palette. Give me a big beefy Bordeaux any day. And that is what this appellation is all about: deep purple merlots blended with a splash of cabernet sauvignon.

Some of our fellow passengers chose e-bikes to lighten the load, but our group of eight hearty Canucks toughed out the Bordeaux hills with good old-fashioned foot-pedal power. We logged about 50km per day, a distance one could easily cover in a few hours. But, what with stopping to marvel at the glorious views, photograph the panoramic campagne, sip Sauterne and enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch, we managed to stretch every outing into an eight-hour work-day.

Beware of dogs in the fog!

One morning as we meandered down a medieval lane enjoying the ‘douceur de vivre’ a layer of mist descended upon us. This typical morning fog offers perfect growing conditions for Bordeaux’s famous varietals. Suddenly from out of the haze a huge dog, teeth angrily bared, descended on my wife Florence. I shouted but the mongrel continued its malevolent advance, apparently unfamiliar with English profanity. Then I remembered the tip regarding unfriendly curs contained in our pre-trip information pamphlet:

“Continue cycling past the dog. If it persists, a more aggressive approach may be required, in the form of pretending to throw a stone (or in extreme cases actually throwing a stone).”

The animal’s command of English may have been lacking, but it was a quick learner when it came to comprehending the meaning of rock on chien.

That evening, after another glorious dinner on the boat, we retired to the lounge for a digestif. It was the last night of the last sailing of the year and Sebastian, our maîtres d’, cum waiter, cum bartender, was ready to let his hair down. He brazenly lassoed all the female passengers onto the dance floor for a Bacchanalian romp. Overhead, a faux-disco ball twirled as the ladies gyrated and the boat rocked. The men, fatigued from another trying day amongst the Bordeaux vineyards, were content to sip Pastis and chat.

An ebullient Sebastian

Another fantastique dinner

I quietly slipped into the night air and onto the upper deck. After bidding adieu to my bicyclette and its worn tires, I made my way to our berth and slipped into a dreamless sleep. I needed the rest. In the morning our last arduous adventure would begin: two lazy days of decompressing back in gay Paris.

If you go:

 ‘Goodbye Bordeaux’

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series.  Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.


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