Douglas, Michigan is a charming town right on Lake Michigan. It’s a beautiful place and during the height of the summer season you can’t get a reservation. But, now in the middle of September the crowds have thinned and the locals are relaxing. It feels like being backstage. I love it. Sunsets over the lake are breathtaking. It’s easy to take in the beauty especially since everyone is exhaling and there’s room to move around. Today was overcast, chilly, and threatening rain all day. I welcomed the grey because I had some things to do online and hate feeling like I’m missing the sunshine. I found Respite, the aptly named coffee shop with delicious lattes and really good food. For lunch I had the last serving of their coconut sweet potato bisque–much to the chagrin of a regular. I couldn’t help but overhear a lot of different conversations today. At first, I’ll admit, I couldn’t believe how much people can say about absolutely nothing.
– I hear it’s going to rain. Oh no, it better not. Tell that storm to go away.
Sunset over Lake Michigan
-The thing I like about the Lincoln is that it adjusts to YOU. Yeah, but it’s too much car for me. I saw Stu, he has a new Lincoln.
-You’re as tall as my sister. Is your boyfriend tall? My sisters are all tall but none of them have tall boyfriends.
-I just put a little bit of basil in it. Oh, you do? Fresh? Yes, i just tear it up and drop it in.
-Oh, that yogurt looks yummy. I might come over there and take it from you.
But they weren’t wasting time. And they weren’t really talking about nothing. They were doing something very important and it was wonderful to watch. They were looking at each other and taking the time to exchange a few words and be kind to each other. These neighbors, friends, and familiar strangers were connecting. It’s a simple thing. It’s tempting to say that it’s just easier to take the time in this relaxed environment. But, there really wasn’t a jerk in the bunch. I hope I’ll remember the nice balance of Respite the next time I’m tempted to be one myself.
Katherine Hoppe, Director of Promotions and Conventions for Coos Bay, Oregon found out I was traveling up the coast, sent me a quick email, and that’s how it all began. After a few exchanges I knew I had to meet her. She, like all of the tourism professionals I’ve met on the road, is so cool, so helpful, and so ready to show off her town. It was hard not to break the speed barrier driving into town to meet her.
With Coos Bay and I it was love at first sight—it’s not your typical coastal tourist town. This
is a town with industry- lumber and fishing. This is a town where you can settle into seeing all sorts of action instead of just dropping in and skimming the touristy surface. Of course, Kat made sure I got to see it all.
The first thing she deciphered – do I like clam chowder and oysters? Yes and yes. Do I want to go crabbing? Yes. Do I want to go surfing? Yes. Do I want to see the giant sand dunes? Yes.
She said, “I’ll pick you up at 9am and wear sneakers.” The plan? To wear ourselves out with fun.
COOS BAY HIGHLIGHTS
32.000 Acres of Natural Sand Dunes
1. First up, the picturesque 500 foot natural sand dunes—31,000 acres of rolling, white sand mountains— on top of 400cc Quad ATVs. Spinreel Dune Buggy Rentals provides a thorough explanation of how the dunes were formed, and their future. Then they show you a safety video, strap a helmet on your head, and turn you loose to experience their magnitude by doing your best Evil Kneivel. SO. MUCH. FUN. Then, full of sand and on an adrenalin high, the Spinreel guys had a treat for us— the RZR 800cc 4-seater. This state of the art dune buggy is fully equipped with seat belts, hallelujah. The ATV is rough and tumble but the RAZR is like a hovercraft. I don’t think we had four wheels on the ground for more than a few seconds at a time. Here we are screaming our faces off in terrified delight.
2. Next up— crabbing with locals on the docks at Charleston Boat Basin. I helped Kat carry the pods and bait to the
Off to see…
dock, and picked up a six-pack of local beer. That’s what you do when you go crabbing— hang out, talk, drink beer, throw the pods out, and pull them back in. You take a bunch of chicken legs and secure them to the inside of the pod and whirl the pod out into the water like a frisbee. It sinks to the bottom and you leave it there while you drink your beer. It’s a stress-free sport. When you’re about 3/4 through your beer you pull up the pod. People gather round ooohing and ahhhing over whether he’s big enough to keep— females and babies go back automatically and males have to be a certain size. We caught only one keeper and gifted him to the crabbers sitting next to us. The hours gently drifted by.
I squeezed as much of myself into this thing before I asked for help.
3. Rounding out the first day– a special humiliation associated with booking a surfing lesson. Trying on a wet suit. This whole rigmarole would be a lot easier if you could just slick your epidermis from the neck down and wheel a pulley system into the dressing room. Getting into this thing was a pride swallowing event for me and endlessly entertaining for my new friend Kat. Brian, owner of Waxers Surf Skate Shop, is a natural teacher– amazing and unbelievably patient. A total man’s man. He put me at ease right off the bat. I felt like a real surfer girl carrying my board on my head down a harrowing makeshift trail to Bastendorff Beach. The water was freezing but totally worth it. Brian taught me how to use the current as a guide, when to scoot my body back on the board, and when to paddle like hell. I caught a dozen waves and didn’t wipe out once. (Notice there are no photos of this glorious morning on the water.) Even if you don’t surf, which you should, check out Bastendorff for watching the waves roll in.
Brian heading to the water on Bastendorff Beach.
4. Finally— Kat’s Culinary Tour. In two days I compared six bowls of clam chowder. Coos Bay claims they have the world’s best. It comes down
The Unbelievable Crab Melt Sandwich
to personal taste– do you like thick, potato-y, thin? Kat wouldn’t tell me her favorite but she did narrow it down to a nice sample set. My favorite was from Shark Bites— their broth is on the thinner side, really tasty, and they use red potatoes thinly sliced. We also compared oysters from three different locations. Again, they’re all delicious but my personal favorite was Hilltop House. Below you will find name and location of the places we tried. Don’t miss the crabmelt sandwich at The Mill Casino Hotel— I will dream of this sandwich all my days to come.
Sitting on the docks, watching the sea lions dive for tuns scraps, pulling up our pods and sorting the keepers from the throw-backs is where I got to know Kat. She’s been the Director of Promotions and Conventions for Oregon’s Adventure Coast for 5 years. It’s obvious she loves what she does. In fact, everyone I’ve met who’s working in tourism really enjoys their work and find themselves creatively challenged every day.
She moved to Coos Bay 7 years ago and had a hard time adjusting to the small town life after years of big city California living. Trading in her heels and regular mani-pedis for the slower pace and focus on the outdoors wasn’t her plan. But, that turned around when her family visited for the weekend and she planned the ultimate tourists’ adventure right in her hometown. From that moment on, she realized she was living in a dream location and began promoting Coos Bay to potential visitors around the world. She’s a one-man-band but cultivates partnerships with local businesses, is a social media marketing maven, and everyone’s favorite around town. There wasn’t one place we visited where someone didn’t light up when she walked in. The charm of a small town.
KAT’S FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO: I enjoy the diversity of what I do. I love showing off the area off to writers and visitors and letting them in on the secrets that the locals know. I work on so many different things that I am never bored. Perhaps my favorite thing is cultivating a relationship with travel writers and seeing that moment where they get how special this area is. Seeing that translated into print to share with a larger audience is extremely satisfying.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT COOS BAY: Almost everything… I love being so close to the beach
Kat Hoppe with her kids.
and that I can let my dogs run free. I love going crabbing on the docks and making new friends each time I go. When you first come into town it has a very industrial feel; you can see the boats coming in and the wood chips being shipped out… and then you turn… and there’s an unimaginable beauty that makes it feel like a secret that was meant just for you. It’s a combination of timber, fishing, small businesses and a seclusion that you don’t find many other places. It’s also the little things; In the morning when I’m contemplating going crabbing, I call the fish market on the docks and find out if I should wear pants or shorts that day, and no one thinks its strange that I call. If I’m taking a trip out of town, I always run by the airport the night before and weigh my suitcase to make sure it’s not too heavy. I drive through my favorite coffee shop and I don’t have to order, they know exactly what I want. There’s a friendliness here that allows you to come as you are and never feel out-of-place.
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPY: My dream is to retire here and have a house overlooking the beach. The beaches here are so scenic and rugged, I love falling asleep to the sound of the ocean and watching the waves come in. I can think of nothing better than waking up every day to a view of the ocean and taking my dogs for a morning walk on the beach.
This week my father turned 76 years old. I’m a lucky daughter to be able to spend his birthday with him in Bigfork, Montana. We’ve spent a portion of almost every summer for the past 11 years together taking in the charm and quirk of this beautiful little village. He and my mom introduced me to the last great place on Earth, Montana, when he retired and decided to be a guide on Flathead Lake. This employment period was short-lived once he realized that working for someone else while in retirement wasn’t his vision after-all. He ditched the work but stuck with Bigfork.
This terrain is unchartered for us native Floridians. There’s a stretch of road between here and our friends’ house about 10 minutes away. We’ve driven that road a countless times and he points out the same distant mountains and the same hay fields and says, “Isn’t that just beautiful?” Every single time. I love that.
From the last paragraph you may believe he’s something of a mellow guy. That’s not the case at all. I inherited my temper from him, although we both try very hard to keep it cool, sometimes the diplomatic route is the road less traveled. Maybe it’s because he’s my dad, but I believe he’s the perfect combination of loving father, football coach, CPA, storyteller, problem solver, AAA caller, justice defender, and best friend.
When I need a good laugh these things about my dad come to mind:
*When a cocktail is spilled, he shields his eyes and says, “Oh, I’d rather see a church burn.”
*His usual explanation for the inexplicable: “Well, I think you’re dealing with a person with a terminal case.” Terminal case? Terminal case of what? “A terminal case of dumbass.”
*The way he winks at himself in the mirror and says, “You handsome devil, don’t you ever die.”
Things that melt my heart:
*The way he talks about how smart his grandchildren are. He thinks even the mundane is amazing.
*He signs his letters, “I love you more…..POP.”
*The time he played I’ll Be Home For Christmas on his trumpet.
The reasons I’m lucky he’s my dad:
*The morning after one of our numerous conversations about the worst thing in the world happening, he calls to see if they sun came up where I live. I always say that it did. Then he says, “I told you it would.”
*He taught me that it always works out. It might not work out the way I want it to and it might take a while but it will work out and it will be ok.
*He has been a devoted and loving husband to my mom for almost fifty years.
*He kept the ball moving down the field for our family no matter the circumstance.
*He’s always been there for me and there’ve been times when I wouldn’t blame him for ditching me.
This road-trip is a fantastic experience for so many reasons. But, one of the best things is that I talk to him almost every day. I promised him that I’ll stop driving when it gets dark and let he and my mother know where I am staying every night. A reasonable request but proves difficult where there’s no cell signal. He’s the first person I recount my day to and he thinks each story is better than the last.
Pop, I wish you a year full of joy and surprises. Thank you for giving fatherhood your all. I wish I could say your job is over and I can take it from here but if I did I’d be a cold-hearted liar. I love your humor, your grumpiness, your logic, your understanding, your sense of adventure, your generosity, and most of all that you are my dad.