Throughout this trip we’ve stopped in several big cities, but mostly we’ve ended up in smaller, less well known places. The small town stops have mostly been single-nighters with no particular destination in mind, just a halfway stop between other high profile places. One of the things we’ve noticed about the small town stops is that our first impressions of the town dictate how we feel for the rest of the stay. On the one hand, you have the run down, widely spaced towns that greet you with mile after mile of grim looking clothing outlets, fast food chains and mattress stores. It’s hard to see where the heart of the town actually is, and so you’re not compelled to get out and explore. In these towns, we usually just find something to eat and hole up in the hotel for the night.
The other type of small town is far more welcoming. Houses instead of fast food chains, manicured lawns and public spaces, and a well defined town centre. The weather can help with this – blue skies and nice temperatures can really lift a place. Whatever the reason, if you like the look of a place when you first drive in, it makes you want to get out and see the rest of the town.
Eureka yesterday was an example of the first type of town, so it was an enormous relief to have today’s town – Ashland, Oregon – be a really good example of the latter.
We reached Ashland after a scenic drive through the final bit of northern California and the first part of Oregon. Initially following the rugged and bleak Pacific coast, the route eventually became another mountain road that was blissfully wide and not at all challenging. The highway followed the banks of an idyllic, green river through endless pine forests and through the towns of Grant’s Pass and Medford, before finally arriving in Ashland.
The best word to use to describe Ashland would be “pleasant”. It’s very green, and sits between two hilly ranges, about twenty miles north of the Californian border. It’s also a university town, so appeared to be awash with lots of recently graduated students, looking all confident and hopeful and showing their parents around before heading off for the summer and college student summer hijinks. The town’s main industry is, inexplicably, Shakespeare. It plays host to a Shakespeare festival and every other building has a Shakespearian theme about it. Like a lot of the other well-to-do towns we’ve ended up in, Ashland contained more boutique art galleries than could be reasonably sustained by a place this size. But somehow it appeared to be thriving.
After a grabbing a quick sandwich, we wandered up though town and into the beautiful Lithia Park for a sit in the sun. As we were enjoying the music of a cello playing busker, we were approached by a friendly looking chap who inquired if we were from Wisconsin. This didn’t come as a massive surprise to us because Michelle was wearing her new Packers t-shirt. Despite accumulating “roadstink” to an almost dangerous level, it nevertheless always manages to attract conversation from travelling Packers fans no matter where they might be. This particular chap and his girlfriend were visiting from Minnesota and were quite surprised and impressed to hear that two Brits would travel all the way from the UK and stop by Green Bay. So impressed in fact that he offered me a “fist bump” which, I’m happy to report, I managed to reciprocate without getting into a classic British limp hand grab situation or something.
We chatted for a while and then took our leave. After wandering through the park, we set off on the road back to the hotel where Michelle’s t-shirt attracted more attention (“Fuck the Packers!”, shouted from a passing car) and then saw the oddest thing. In the front garden of a house, on a perfectly normal and busy four lane road, was a deer, eating the plants and strutting around as if it owned the place. It was all of about three feet from us, and didn’t appear to give a single damn that we were there or that we were frantically fumbling for our camera. Strangest thing was that other passers-by didn’t think this was odd, and just sauntered past without even acknowledging the whole deer situation at all. So we snapped a few shots, declared it to be some “Twin Peaks level bullshit, right there” and carried on walking, filing the encounter under anomalous deer sightings.
Later that evening, we decided to sit out on the motel veranda, since the weather was clement and we had cold root beers. As we were sitting around like some good old motel rednecks, another deer wandered up out of the bushes, through the car park and started scoffing from a nearby bird feeder. There it stayed, chomping away, seemingly not caring about the cars, kids or rednecks, all within rock flinging or gun shooting range. Intrigued by the two odd deer sightings, we Googled “Ashland deer” and found that this was a known phenomenon. Free roaming, devil-may-care deer had been responsible for two hundred road accidents in the city limits, and had even caused an incident where a fully grown deer crashed through the window of a high class clothing boutique (sadly, we could find no further details on the events leading up to that one!). In fact, the mayor of the town had recently seen a doe and two fawns casually saunter up to the road’s edge, check both ways for traffic and ambled across. This caused him to proclaim “I think we might have a deer problem” and the city is now taking steps to reduce the number – thankfully humane steps, it should be noted.
I have to say, if having these magnificent beasts roam freely around your town is a “problem”, then I wish it was a problem more towns had!
Before finishing up on the lovely Ashland, I’m told I also have to mention the fact that Michelle punched off her own toenail today as well. It happened, I saw it, I can’t explain it. But in a world where deers walk among men, I feel that anything is possible.