Surprise! Party becomes a cherished memory

There is a much cooler side of me that resides outside the office; I am always trying to escape the limitations of four walls and see what’s out there. In late January, I took a trip to the Northwest. Oregon to be exact. Let’s just say that Oregon’s slogan, “Keep Oregon Weird,” is just as original as it is true.

This wasn’t my first trip to Oregon. My great aunt lives in Salem and my family visited 11 years ago when my second cousin, Nick, got married. I was a lot younger then, and I realized with this trip that I didn’t remember as much about Oregon as I would have liked. So, this time, I’m sharing my experience with you while preserving the memories for myself.

We were going to Oregon to surprise my great aunt Carol for her birthday/retirement party. She had no idea it was coming.

At 6 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, I boarded a flight, tired because I attend graduate classes at night in Murfreesboro. I got home the night before around 10 p.m. and still hadn’t packed, let alone done the laundry. I’m definitely a “live for the moment” kind of girl. I was traveling with my aunt and uncle who I’m very close with. Anything is fun when I’m with them.

After an hour layover in Chicago, we boarded our second flight of the day, and landed in Portland at 11 a.m. Pacific time.  The time change was nice, but the end of the day, I had been up for 24 hours.

My aunt’s party was on Saturday, but we flew in a day early to get in some skiing/snowboarding on the infamous Mt. Hood, the tallest mountain in the state, reaching 11,249 feet at its highest peak. It’s also a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1866.

The mountain is a major destination for skiing, snowboarding and hiking. Six ski areas cover the mountain with the most famous being the Timberline Lodge that was used in the 1980s horror movie “The Shining.”

After picking up my grandmother, who also flew in on Friday, we made our way blindly out of the airport in a rental car, knowing only the general direction to where we were going.

Oregon’s interstate system is much different that Tennessee’s. There are limited roads to get from point A to point B, and there are hardly any exits on the interstate. So knowing your destination and how much gas you need to get there is a definite plus.

The temperature was really mild to be so far north. While Tennessee battled below freezing temps, I was walking around in a long sleeve shirt with a flannel around my waist. I was pleasantly surprised.

We started looking for a hotel. Passing through several small mountain towns, I couldn’t help but notice moss growing on buildings and trees. Everything looked lush. Winters are bare in Tennessee, but Oregon is filled with mossy evergreen trees that tower more than 100 feet.

We found a cute little hotel in Sandy, Oregon, but it was too early to check in. We changed into our snow clothes in the bathroom and headed to the mountain.

As we started up the base of the mountain, the mild environment changed quickly. We went from moss-covered trees and temperatures in the upper 50s to a snowy, plowed mountain pass on which we had to keep our windshield wipers racing to see the path in front of us.

We decided ski/snowboard at Ski-bowl, known for its well-lit and ample slopes for all skiers of all levels.

I picked out my snowboard and headed for the small bunny slope for some much needed practice. After about 20 runs down the bunny slope, I decided to head to the ski lift to take an easy run down.

I’ve said it a million times: You can be the best winter athlete out there, but getting on and off the ski lift is one of the hardest things to do. I crash every single time. When I hobbled my way over to the lift, I could see the ice glistening off the seats.

The lift moves fast so you have to be ready for it. When the seat buckled my knees I felt the cold ice, but even more uncomfortable than that was the iced-over pole connecting the chair to the cable - the only thing I had to hold on to.

The ride up the mountain was one of the longest I’d ever taken on a lift. I don’t get scared easily, so it must have been the lack of railing holding me in, the iced-over seat and single pole I had to hang on to as I rose to the height of the evergreens while my snowboard weighed down my feet that made me uneasy.

When I made it to the top of the slope an eternity later, I, of course, crashed and burned getting off the lift. Luckily, the snow provided a pretty soft landing. My aunt and uncle got off the lift next and skied gracefully around me.

The well-lit slope swerved through the trees. About halfway down, I could feel the burn in my legs and abs. The slope then widened to an open space to glide down the mountainside; but by the time I made it to the bottom, I was worn out!

We made it back to our hotel cold and soaking wet. The next day, going Salem to surprise my aunt, would also be filled with traveling. Of course, being the adventurers that we are, we had to take the scenic route to get there.

Every now and then on the winding roads up and down the mountain side, there would be a sneak peak of the coast. The Oregon coast is rocky and the waves are huge. On one side of the slippery and moss-covered road there is mountain, but on the other side of the road a cliff tumbles down onto the coastline.

Headed toward the coast, we winded our way through the Tillamook and Siuslaw National Forests and found our way to the famous Haystack Rock, which towers out of the middle of the ocean and stands secluded in the water. The breeze was filled with the smell of salt water, and the air was warm. In the distance, waterfalls fell from mountain sides.

We made it to Salem and met my cousins to get ready for the 70s prom night-themed surprise party.

All my great aunt’s friends were there and we were all dressed in our 70s best. Aunt Carol still had no idea we had flown in to see her, so my family and I hung around the back of the crowd. We didn’t want her to see us first.

When Carol walked in, she was completely surprised. As she began greeting guests, my family and I walked out of the shadows. Aunt Carol’s mouth dropped all the way to the floor. We all started crying and the hugs began. She was truly blown away.

The next two days were spent together. While the sights in Oregon are unique and incredibly beautiful, toasting a happy retirement and birthday to my great aunt Carol with a Natural Light is now one of my happiest memories.

My family is so dear to me. We all like to adventure and to have a good time. We’re often inappropriate and sometimes a little too loud. But at the same time we are just finding ways to enjoy the life we have while were still here. If that involves booking a flight to Oregon to toast with a cheap beer with family, then I’ll take that over living a lavish life any day.

Faith Few can be reached at ffew@tullahomanews.com.