Swimming Upstream

Road-Trippin’ Through the Pacific Northwest


Text and photos Natasha Bourlin

In their attempt to spawn, certain salmon migrate annually from the ocean through the freshwaters of the Pacific Northwest. This arduous journey involves navigating through fishing lines, pollution, predators and more. If successful, their arrival deserves applause.


Lengthy, land-based migration possibilities exist for us humans, offering their own set of challenges and rewards. Following the salmon’s lead – sort of – I packed my car to the gills (pardon the pun), ready for a different sort of northwest adventure: a Seattle road trip.


Washington’s Puget Sound and the metropolis home to many a musical legend is about 12-hours north of Reno by car. Two states and a million things to do and see pass by along the way. Alternate routes add time, but present other picturesque options, such as a coastal detour. Sure, you can fly, but why miss everything you can discover by car?


Driving, the rich verdant landscape gets thicker as miles pass. Come fall, a volcano of color erupts betwixt the greens. Hit Ashland, Ore., nearly 300 miles from Reno, your first day. Known for their live Shakespearean performances, the surrounding Rogue Valley is an up-and-coming wine region with affordable tastings and varietals frequently found in Europe. At Ashland’s utopic Lithia Springs Resort, thermal waters with purported healing properties engulf you in their outdoor pool and hot tub, or in your room’s private, jetted tub.


Depart the next day for Portland, a similar distance from Ashland as Reno. “Bridgetown” is worth visiting for a couple of days itself. Check out the many districts there, each with its own distinct flavor of lodging, dining and activities. Personal food favorites? Pok Pok for affordable, world-class Thai food, and this Russian girl revels in Kachka’s cuisine and vodka selection.


Motor on to Seattle, three hours away. Well, if the Bay Area-like traffic doesn’t trap you for a while.


Join throngs of other tourists at the waterfront Pike Place Market. Established in 1907, it may be one of the first farmer’s markets in the U.S. Follow the wafting conglomeration of aromas ranging from fish to incense to the dozens of shops and eateries throughout. Then, take a high-flying spin on the Seattle Great Wheel, a 175-foot Ferris wheel on the water.


Another day, visit the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), formerly the Experience Music Project. Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, this colorful, curvaceous modern structure is filled with exhibitions like MARVEL: Universe of Superheroes and Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses, and a full day can be spent exploring them all. At some point, sip on local brews or imagination-pushing cocktails, and suck down some local oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter. When finished in Washington, take another route home and find all new spots to explore.


Leave airports to the sheep. Find your inner salmon.


Freelance writer Natasha Bourlin has loved a good road trip since trekking through New England each summer growing up.

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