Oregon Adventures – Anxiety and the Unknown

The day before we were scheduled to leave, a wave of intense anxiety washed through me. It was more intense than anything I had ever felt. Typically before travel, I get bouts of nervous excitement and thoughts filled with worries about what I am I forgetting to pack? This was completely different.

I have friends who suffer from severe anxiety and I wondered if this is what they feel on a regular basis. As it persisted and rolled through my mind and body, concern that this was a new symptom of my chronic illness rose within me. Many others with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and/or Lyme disease count anxiety among the plethora of symptoms, and I have been fortunate to not have it on my list.

Pulling my mind off of that track, I went through all of the preparation I had done for our journey to Oregon.

I know from my spiritual practice that our energy body moves ahead of our physical body in both time and space, and relays information back to us. One of the ways it communicates is through our emotions.

I reasoned maybe there was something important I forgot, and the anxiety was my body’s way of telling me.

There once was a time where I could throw some clothes in a bag and head out the door, ready for whatever life presented. Then my body became much more high maintenance. Even though I have severe pain, traveling is still one of my favorite activities. I love seeing new places and experiencing all they have to offer. The sights, the sounds, the people, and the energy of every state I’ve visited have their own unique flavor.  Now I plan every detail I can, often piling up the clothes and items I plan to bring a week or more in advance. This gives me time to watch the weather and remember anything I may forget to bring. It also lets me pair down if I try to bring too much, as I’ll go through the pile a few times before actually putting it in the suitcase.

I checked the weather once again, both for our 6am train out of Old Town San Diego on Labor Day Monday, and in Portland, Oregon for Tuesday through the rest of the week. The forecast for Portland had dropped by 10 degrees, so I removed a pair of shorts and added a pair of long pants and a sweater to my suitcase. I went over the plan for our trip to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary once again in my mind: Tuesday night relax in Portland after the train ride, Wednesday visit the waterfalls in the nearby Columbia River Gorge, Thursday drive out to the Oregon coast town of Cannon Beach, and Friday walk through the Japanese Gardens. We would spend the first three nights in the city, and on Friday night we would stay in a hotel by the airport so we could sleep in a little and avoid any morning traffic stress.

Eggy the bartender in the antique Parlor Car

The anxiety persisted, so I reviewed all of our reservations, beginning with the Amtrak train from San Diego and the Coast Starlight from LA to Portland. I also checked on the rental car from Hertz and they said because they were understaffed, they could not pick us up at the train station. He suggested we take a cab from the train station to their office and they would deduct the cost of the cab from our rental. I made sure the hotel’s spa with a hot tub, steam room, and massage therapists was open. I had printed out all the reservations just in case my phone went down, and put the papers in easy reach along with the phone chargers and tablet that was filled with movies in case we needed a distraction on the train.

I felt some of the excitement return, but there was still a feeling of apprehension. With a list of suggestions from my Facebook friends as a starting point, I had scoured the activities in the Portland area for things my body could handle without setting off too big of a flare. I knew there would be an increase in pain; there’s no avoiding that, but with proper planning, I can usually handle the overexertion for a few days. Before thoughts about “what if my body freaks out?” could take hold, I reminded myself I could add in more rest time in between our adventures if needed.

Finally, with the anxiety continuing to surface, I called my neighbor who had graciously agreed to drive us to the train station at 5am, and then pick us up from the airport on Saturday. She told me everything was in place for her, and that our departure time fit into her early morning work schedule perfectly. She also said her husband had the house key so they could care for our cats while we were away. I backed up my computer and double checked the supplies for the cats.

Since there was nothing else I could check on, and I had prepared for everything I could possible think of, I let the anxiety sit within me. Needing some rational explanation, I told myself it was just the excitement of going on an overnight train trip for the first time. Then I decided to concentrate on the joy I felt for being able to share this adventure with my husband, and knew whatever happened we would handle it. The anxiety quieted into background noise and I felt ready for the trip to begin.

Sunset over the Pacific

From our seats on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train we watched the sun rise and light up the ocean. At Union Station, we easily found our way to the Coast Starlight and our little sleeping cabin. We were thankful we had splurged for the private bathroom and the extra space our cabin had in comparison to the tiny roomettes we saw in the adjacent train car. During mealtimes, we enjoyed the food and sitting with the other passengers. I even met a woman who wanted to learn about meditation!  We laughed every time we ventured out from our quarters because the constant turbulence made us bounce off the walls. In the parlor car, it was hard to tell who was actually drunk because no one could walk straight. Watching the ever-changing scenery zip by was better than any television show. The sunset over the ocean was absolutely spectacular!

Once we arrived in Portland, the cause of my pre-trip anxiety became clear.

Although it was warm, the ash falling from the sky blocked the sun, creating a surreal feeling of an apocalypse. From the crowd passing through the station, we heard there was wildfire in the nearby mountains completely out of control. In the cab, I discovered the address on the reservation paper for the rental car was the train station! Exhaustion from a rough night’s sleep on the train coupled with the eerie atmosphere of falling ash could have easily erupted in frustration, but fortunately both I and the cab driver had internet access, so we quickly found the Hertz office.

Haystack Rock (from the movie The Goonies!)

On the way to the hotel, we listened to the radio and learned the fire was in the Columbia River Gorge – the same place we had planned to visit the next day. Disappointed we would not see the famous Multnomah waterfall, but thankful for the efforts of the fire fighters, we changed our plans and decided to visit the coast on both days instead. Once I fully accepted the reality that things were not going to go how I planned, the anxiety completely vanished. This opened me to the possibility of discovery, and I became excited about our trip again.


Oregon Coast

Instead of a short drive east, we took a longer drive west to the beautiful coast on both Wednesday and Thursday. This allowed us to see more of Oregon, and thankfully, my husband loves to drive! We took a different route each time, although Google maps would not let us take route 30 through the city no matter how many times I tried to click on the road inside the map app. Since there were no street signs to direct us once we left the main highway, we let Google win. It directed us over the bridge into Washington State, up Interstate 5 far enough that we questioned our decision, and then back down over a bridge to route 30 in Oregon. So, we got to see a tiny bit of Washington too and enjoy some impressive bridges!


Sequoia Selfie

On Friday, the smoke in the city had cleared. In my research, I discovered Portland was home to a few random Giant Sequoia trees. One was growing in someone’s front yard accessible to the public, so my husband indulged my desire to see it. I couldn’t give it a hug because the homeowner had planted flowers around it, but I was happy to see it thriving. We also rode in the sky tram, having no idea it only went from one part of the hospital to the other. We laughed at the top, realizing there was nothing to do but turn around and go right back down. Although the sky was cloudy, we still enjoyed the sweeping views of the city.


At our last stop, we finally got to see a few waterfalls. They were very small, man-made waterfalls at the Japanese Gardens, but still lovely waterfalls! Even with all the tourists, and the buzz of cars at the outskirts, the gardens created a wonderful sanctuary and a perfect finish to our adventure.

Waterfall with Cranes



Perhaps if I had dug deeper into the anxiety, I would have learned about the fire while still on the train. But then I would have missed some of the scenery with my mind burrowed inside the internet reading the news. And I definitely would have driven myself a little nuts trying to change hotels to one by the ocean. I appreciate the early warning my body gave me, but I’m glad we stayed at the hotel in the city. Although they did not have any massage appointments that worked with our schedule, being able to use the steam room and hot tub allowed my sore muscles to relax enough to enjoy our travels. And the drive across Oregon is absolutely beautiful – even two days in a row. I have no doubt if there was more I needed to do, my body would have let me know. Sometimes I’m stubborn when it comes to listening, but I’m finding the more often I pay attention to these clues, the easier it is to interpret them.


The next time you’re hit with a wave of unusual anxiety, check in with yourself and be prepared that things ahead may change unexpectedly. Allow yourself the freedom to embrace the adventure of the unknown so you can enjoy the ride!

Heavenly Falls
Waterfall with Bridge


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