Monday, April 30, 2007

Conquering fears and feeling at home in Astoria

I had another opportunity to visit the Oregon Coast Sunday with plans to check out the Crab and Seafood Festival in Astoria. While I was there, I decided to check out two more curiosities.

We drove into town on Highway 202, and I decided I liked Astoria as soon as we crossed the welcome sign. The first street after that was called Williamsport Road, and I was quite surprised and pleased to see the name of my hometown on a street sign.

I was sure to pull over and take a picture of the sign, as well as one of me under the sign. I also learned that Young's River wraps around Astoria. That name has personal significance to me, which made Astoria even more special.

From the street sign, we made our way into town, and I was ever more giddy with excitement when I saw the so-called Bridge to Nowhere -- the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
The bridge crosses the mouth of the Columbia River, stretching 4.1 miles, making it the longest continuous truss bridge in the world. Construction work lasted from November 1962 to August 1966, but critics wondered who would take a bridge from small-town Oregon to an empty shore in Washington, or "nowhere."

Apparently, lots of people. In the final months of '66, about 240,000 vehicles crossed the bridge. And by 1993, more than 1.6 million cars a year were trekking across the toll bridge. That year, the bonds were paid off more than two years early, and the toll was removed.

I'm usually afraid of bridges, but I couldn't let a little fear keep me from driving across it. The bridge starts out pretty high above the water. I'm not sure of exact feet or anything, but I know it was high enough to make me second guess my decision.
I did chance a glance out both sides of the window and was happy I did. The view was breathtaking up there. I handed my camera over to my buddy Mitch, who snapped away at the water, the mountains, the ships and anything else we could see.

About halfway across, the bridge takes a dip and levels out with the water, making it seem not so scary anymore. But it felt like we were on that bridge for half of the day. We finished the 1,232-foot journey and turned around and did it again, enjoying more scenery and taking more pictures.

We were feeling pretty good about ourselves after conquering the bridge and decided to head over to the seafood festival. But on our way, I noticed a sign pointing the way for the Astoria Column, another item on my list. The sign was sort of a surprise, and I hooked a quick left, taking the corner on two wheels.

If I thought the view from the bridge was amazing, it was nothing compared to the view at the top of Coxcomb Hill, the highest spot in town. It was a beautiful clear sunny day, and we could see for miles. But even that didn't compare to the sight from atop the 125-foot column.

There were four people in our party, but Brittany and Trisha decided they didn't want to hike up the steps, so Mitch and I were on our own. Just before we entered the spiral staircase, several people had come out, high-fiving each other or pumping
fists or proclaiming, "We made it."

I didn't quite understand why until a little later. We started our ascent to the top, and I soon realized that I'm not in very good shape. Luckily, there are landings every 20 or so steps to allow someone to take a break.

We made the first 60 steps with no problem, but after that, we had to take a breather before continuing our climb. Another 40 steps, and I was feeling winded again. I got to the next landing and the next, and before I knew it, we could see sunlight coming from the top of the column. We decided to skip the last landing and finish the hike.

At the top, I also realized pretty quickly that I have a strong fear of heights. The observation deck up there isn't very wide, and I also believed that the fence wasn't quite high enough. But I did get to enjoy yet another magnificent view of the state from up there.

We hung out for a few minutes, then Mitch and I made our descent. And at the bottom, it was our turn to high-five and pump our fists. We were feeling quite victorious after that, like we could do anything. We made our way over to the souvenir stand and promptly bought a pin and a pen that proclaimed, "I made it to the top of the Astoria Column."

I also added another magnet to my collection, and much to my delight, a pair of earrings that resemble the column. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic day.
The tour will take next weekend off, as I take a small detour to Orlando. But when I return, we'll talk about Oregon's burger crop. I currently have no plans for the weekend after I return, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

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