By Jamie Balke, Explorebigsky.com Columnist

Last week, I took a vacation to the Oregon coast. Specifically, I went to a small town called Neskowin, which I first visited as a kid. I convinced several friends to come along, hoping my childhood memory of a quaint ocean town adjacent to a hauntingly beautiful coastline with dramatic seaside cliffs was accurate.

My boyfriend and I packed the car and began the road trip to the Pacific. The plan was to stop in Walla Walla, Wash. to visit his dad and then continue on the next morning to pick up friends who’d flown into Portland.

We took the scenic route by way of Lolo Pass and spent the first part of the drive gawking at the wild beauty of the Lochsa River canyon. The river raged as it tumbled from the mountains, streams feeding into it from side drainages. I was impressed to see rafters and kayakers paddling this intimidating waterway, and we took turns exclaiming over the beauty of the river, and how terrifying we imagined it would be in a boat.

We spent a night out in charming downtown Walla Walla for dinner, wine tasting and live music. In the morning we stopped at the local farmers’ market and purchased fresh produce to stock the house we reserved in Neskowin. I was excited to buy morels, but unfortunately didn’t know how to prepare them. (That didn’t stop me from trying, and the results were disappointingly mediocre—this was no fault of the fungus. I take full responsibility.)

After a brief stop in Portland to scoop our friends, we drove to Neskowin and began the ascent to our rental. The road was very steep and narrow; in fact, it doubles as a tsunami evacuation route for the town.

I drove, alternately whimpering and treating my passengers to a colorful string of profanities. Soon I started to wonder if we hadn’t been taken in by some sort of internet scam. However, as soon as we arrived at the beautiful rental home my fears dissipated.

Almost all of the windows had broad views of the ocean. A built-in intercom system resulted in many awkward and amusing situations during our stay. We discovered too late that the door intercom is quite loud.

My friends, being avid home brewers, began the week with visits to a few local breweries. Next on the agenda was a trip to the awesome Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. The exhibits were colorful and well kept, the animals seemed healthy and happy, and everywhere we turned friendly volunteers provided us with interesting information. We even got to pet starfish.

Our exploration also led us to the Tillamook Cheese Factory. There, we were happily and ironically herded like cattle past viewing areas of cheese assembly lines and sample buckets. People wearing foam upside-down melting cone hats sold us ice cream. It was great.

Despite the early season, chilly water temperatures, we swam in the ocean several times. We were alone in this endeavor, as none of the other beachgoers seemed willing to fling themselves into the water on a windy June day. It was cold, anything but dignified, and wonderful.

As my friends and I screamed incoherently, jumped about in the choppy waves, and lost feeling in our extremities, I kept a vigilant shark watch. In retrospect, it was probably not a great idea to watch an old episode of Shark Week before the trip. All I will say on the matter is that I saw seals in the area, even a dead one on the shore, so you never know. I’m not a seal expert, so I kept these thoughts to myself.

Neuroses aside, I was happy to discover my childhood memory had not led me astray. All in all, I enjoyed a great adventure and many new experiences with some of my favorite people.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.