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Headline above the column A summer of must-see Oregon.

Byline: Austin Meek

The man in the lobby didn't mince any words.

"You're going to think I'm crazy," he said, and to be honest, a small part of me did.

A bigger part thought he was generous, adventuresome and spontaneous - all the qualities that make Oregonians who they are.

The man's name was Jim Cross, and he'd read my column asking readers to submit their favorite outdoor activities. Jim went one step further. He invited me to join 20-some members of his family on a rafting trip down the Deschutes River, including a stop to view the total solar eclipse.

With great regret, I had to decline the offer. The gesture stuck with me, though, as I sorted through dozens of responses from readers sharing their favorite outdoor gems.

With Labor Day marking the unofficial end of summer, this seems like a good time to reflect on what I accomplished. If you recall, I made a vow in June to spend more time this summer exploring the great outdoors. I asked readers to pitch in by suggesting their must-see destinations.

And wow, did they ever come through. I have a stack of printed emails on my desk to prove it, each one representing a place with personal significance to the sender.

I welcomed all suggestions, including well-trafficked ones like Crater Lake and the Three Sisters. My favorites, though, were the places off the beaten trail - those Oregon discoveries that people keep to themselves for fear of attracting a crowd.

Oregonians have a reputation for being a bit territorial, suspicious of outsiders. After living here a few years, I can understand the protective urge.

In my experience, though, Oregonians are hospitable people who like to show off the beauty of their surroundings. If you come in good faith, you won't have trouble finding someone to show you the way.

That was illustrated by the people who shared their hidden treasures with me. I learned about Pocket Lake, Chuckle Springs, Proposal Rock Inn, Tumalo Mountain and a dozen other places I wouldn't have found on my own, along with a few that were too good to share in the newspaper.

One person, a sixth-generation Oregonian, described a remote part of the Pacific Crest Trail where he wants to spend his last days. Does it get any better than that?

So to all who responded: Thank you. If there's one thing I learned from your submissions, it's that one summer isn't nearly enough time to experience everything. I could spend years going through these emails and still have more to see.

Which brings me to my own confession. A few weeks ago I reported on my progress, or lack thereof, in becoming an outdoorsman. I was lamenting that even in the slow periods, it can be hard to break away from the rhythms of everyday life and disappear into nature.

I have to say, things improved a bit from there. Determined not to squander any more of the summer, my family and I packed the car and took off for three days in July, braving carsickness and mosquitoes to spend a weekend at Crater Lake.

We camped at Diamond Lake, admired the views of Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey, ate s'mores around the campfire, drove the rim of Crater Lake, doused ourselves with bug spray (did I mention the mosquitoes ) and gazed at the stars through the roof of our tent. With my son sleeping peacefully, I achieved approximately seven minutes of total relaxation.

We had other adventures, too: a road trip to Tillamook, clamming in Netarts Bay, running in wine country, hiking in Finley Wildlife Refuge and watching the eclipse from a dirt road in rural Linn County. Capping the summer with the Hood to Coast relay, a last hurrah before football season, made me feel like the summer wasn't a waste.

I wish I could say I visited more of the places you suggested. To be honest, a part of me wishes I could have found a way to take that rafting trip on the Deschutes. But I'm not discouraged at all; if anything, I'm even more excited about getting outdoors and enjoying all that our state has to offer.

Experiencing Oregon isn't something you do in a single summer. It's something you do all the time, in big ways and small, for as long as you have the chance. And if you're lucky, you find a place that becomes sacred to you, a place that's yours, and you never stop going back.

No one else can find it for you. You've got to find it for yourself.

Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email austin.meek@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Austin Meek
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Sep 5, 2017
Words:777
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