The Big Event of the birthday road trip was to play on the dunes. Oregon hosts the largest stretch of coastal sand dunes in the United States. These sand mountains inspired the author of Dune, after Frank Herbert worked here.
Monday morning as we drove to the rental place for ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), it was pouring rain and snow mixed at about 34 degrees (1 C). Trying out a new outdoor sport seemed like a bad idea in weather like that. We stopped in at the rental place, asked a bunch of questions, and decided we would try the next day when it was supposed to be colder, but sunny. (The two photos of the ocean at the top were taken the next day) We left to find a diner and have breakfast.
At the breakfast place, I was surprised to get the most hostile glare of the trip, by the woman behind the counter. I quickly figured it out: Pedro and I happily burst through the front doors with the bottom 2/3 of our faces securely masked. We had not seen a mask on anyone in the town that day. No one at the rental place had one, and certainly no one in the bustling diner had one. The woman stared pointedly at me with a look of mixed irritation, judgement, and amusement. In rural southern Oregon, by wearing masks we were broadcasting “outsider” and “enemy” to these people. For the next two days on the southern Oregon coast, I removed my mask in certain establishments due to peer pressure. I rationalized that with both of us vaxxed and boosted and younger than the high-risk age group, we were probably ok. But still. I am surprised at how well social pressure worked on me.
By the time breakfast was over, the wintry mix had stopped falling. The sun shone brightly, and the skies opened up wide blue patches. We changed our minds and went back to the rental place. We were shown the prices first of all, probably because they are high. We got a side-by-side (a two-seater) because I did not want to drive. Our vehicle rental was a few hundred dollars for two hours, and more importantly, there was a $1,000.00 deposit to even get keys in the first place. That’s because too many renters take reckless chances and wreck these vehicles, worth $20k to $50k, depending on the model.
We read and signed safety agreements, listened to a safety lecture, watched a safety movie, and tried on safety gear from the racks in the back of the shop, till we found some that fit us. The shop was right next to the beach, and the salesperson told us to follow him in our Jeep across the highway and out along a beach road till we came to a parking area. He had Pedro hop in and gave him some instructions, and told us to have fun!
We puttered out of the parking lot, into the wide sandy expanse, and the heavens opened up and it POURED rain. The side-by-side has a roof, but it did nothing to protect us. In ten minutes we were completely soaked through and freezing cold. Then, the skies cleared out once more and we never had another shower like that. But at that point the damage was done.
We bravely stayed out there, because we still had almost two full hours before the salesperson would come back to pick up the vehicle. Our fingers were cold and stiff, and the visors and goggles were covered in water so we couldn’t see out. We were confused about where we were allowed to go and not allowed (there had been SO many rules!). We were scared to tip the vehicle and have to pay for damages. We were scared of the dunes since we didn’t know where they led to (was there a drop-off on the other side that we couldn’t see?). We tried to work as a team, communicating about it, but with the helmets and the blaring engine noise, we couldn’t hear each other. Still, bit by bit, we kept going back and forth, expanding the area we felt comfortable in, going on slightly higher hills instead of staying on the flat part, going around things, learning the landscape, driving faster.
Finally we couldn’t take it anymore. We were so cold and driving in an open vehicle meant we were in a constant wind. A couple raindrops started to fall and we decided to head back to the parking lot and get into the Jeep and turn the heater on and wait out the shower. The shower never came, but the Jeep was a great idea. We stayed inside with our sopping wet gloves on the heater vents, till we were warm and our gloves were dry.
In the meantime, a family showed up with a trailer, pulling their own personal sand machines. (I don’t know what to call these things. The little ones are “quads,” I think. The one we had is a side-by-side. I know we never actually saw a “dune buggy,” but I can’t tell you what makes a dune buggy. This whole world is outside my realm of knowledge.) The family was clearly of a mind with the woman at the diner.
The family knew what they were doing on the sand, though. After we were all warmed up we got back into the machine and started out again with a much better attitude. The family on their ATVs were fun to watch.
The second hour was much better. Cold but sunny, and Pedro had more confidence after spending an hour getting to know the vehicle. He talked me into trying it out.