17-Feb-2011 -- I was in Portland preparing for the 2011 National Conference on Geographic Education with my colleagues. The conference would bring together 700 geography educators and would take place 5 months from the time of our planning meeting. Thus, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone. The only window of opportunity came right before the end of the trip, before my flight out of the area. Would I have time?
A few hours before my airplane took off saw me heading for the easiest nearby confluence. The clear choice was the one on Interstate Highway 5, at 45 North 123 West. The weather had been rainy for the past few days, as is common in this region at this time of year, but as I was winding my way south, the low clouds broke up a bit, which would allow for some decent photographs and a more enjoyable visit. A little over an hour from my starting point at the airport, I neared the area in Salem where the confluence was located.
Despite the fact that I studied the maps beforehand, I exited Interstate 5 at Highway 99E. I thought that I should have exited at Chemawa Road NE, and then immediately get right back onto Interstate 5 on the on-ramp. As it turned out, my mistake turned out for the good - 99E was the best exit I could have taken. The reason would be clear to me after a few minutes. I drove south on 99E until a break in traffic allowed me to make a U-turn, about a mile down the road. I drove back north, stopping in the shoulder before 99E dove back underneath Interstate 5. I then quickly gathered supplies and headed up the embankment. It was rather steep but fortunately not wet. My intent was to take photographs of the confluence through the fence, not actually standing on the confluence, but to get closer than the required 100 meters. To my surprise, at the top of the embankment, there was no fence on the left side, near some low shrubs and trees. I therefore walked through this break and suddenly was on the on-ramp of Interstate 5.
As has been previously documented, the confluence is actually on the on-ramp. I had previously visited a confluence on a highway, that outside Rochester, New York, and numerous confluence points just off of highways. But they were not on major highways such as Interstate 5, which was the most major road along the west coast of the USA, linking Seattle on the north with San Diego on the south. But where exactly was the confluence? As I anticipated, the traffic was quite heavy and I had to use special care. It ended up in the middle of the on-ramp, and fortunately not on the high-speed lanes of the interstate highway. I had stood on 123 West a few times, to the south in California. I had also stood on 45 North in several places, including South Dakota, Minnesota, Vermont, and in Maine. Each of these points was quite different from the rest. I obviously saw no other pedestrians, and no birds or animals. The traffic was quite heavy here during a weekday with a great number of trucks. A few of them were trucks hauling giant Pacific northwest logs. The temperature was about 45 F under mostly overcast skies with some patchy sun. It was quite hazy and the photographs are not as good as I thought they could have been. As is typical, the sun came out with more strength after I had completed my photography, but by then I needed to head back to the airport.
I took several photographs of my GPS unit but as I could only be on the on-ramp for 1 second at a time, I could not stand there long enough to achieve the zero-zero moment. Thus I gave up on the zero-zero photograph. But upon taking the last of the directional photographs and preparing to depart, I had an idea to film a movie of my confluence wandering, in the hope that the unit would zero out for a second, allowing me to take a still from the movie. This worked quite well, though I was still a bit nervous, with one eye kept out for oncoming traffic. If the confluence had been in the actual interstate traffic, I never would have attempted it. The speed of vehicles on the on-ramp was slower, and allowed me to wander for a few seconds. Upon reflecting on this process later that day, I wondered why I didn't do this type of movie filming more often at confluence points, rather than trying to capture the zero moment with still photographs. I think the reason is because it is more of a challenge to take a still picture of a zeroed-out GPS receiver than a movie. It was almost too easy to film the movie.
I was on site for no more than 20 minutes, but it seemed longer than that due to the inherent challenges. I walked north along the shoulder and then down the embankment. I then drove onto Interstate 5 north, and headed straight to the Portland airport with one stop for fuel. A fitting end indeed to these few days of planning the national conference on geography education!