September 10, 2011
Great Adventure, Part 1: SF to Bend
I savored the rare experience of congestion-free highways as I ventured out of San Francisco and through the east bay. It was just after 5AM and I had almost 600 miles to travel today. I tried burying all my anxieties about this trip by searching for first sight of the sunrise. The sun seemed to track my movements as I headed north on I-5, the light streaming through the rows of crops in the surrounding fields. It was a beautiful morning for a drive.
Glass Sundial Bridge
I stopped in Redding to visit the Glass Sundial bridge. It was much more magnificent than the small pedestrian bridge I expected. The stroll across it was an enjoyable break for my legs after driving for almost 4 hours. I explored the grounds just enough to see how the sundial components were laid out over a huge area.
The scenery took a drastic change as I continued north out of the flat plains of the valley toward the mountains. It was impossible to snap photos but the drive through Shasta Lake was gorgeous: pristine lakes and curving roads with Mount Shasta rising in the distance.
I veered off the interstate at Weed, CA. I had a little chuckle at the sign and continued on my way. Just before Oregon, I passed through a sleepy little town called Dorris. It had so many photo opps that I couldn’t let myself stop for fear I’d miss the rest of my stops. It felt a lot like the town of Marshall I used to drive through on the way to school every morning, complete with the highway making right-angle turns all through town. It was a glimpse back in time with the grain elevator and all the gas stations & motels looking untouched since the 1960’s. As I curved out of town, I saw the state line up ahead. It was poetic timing as a John Deere tractor & semi-trailer passed just as I snapped my photo of the welcome sign. It was such an Indiana moment. As a kid, I would have sighed in frustration if I ended up behind a tractor on the highway but now they’re a welcome reminder of home.
The landscape evolved yet again as I went further into Oregon. It was high desert country with miles of shrubs dotting the otherwise barren landscape framed by rolling hills in the distance. They were repaving the road so I got delayed almost an hour by road construction. It was such a nice day, though, that I just rolled down the windows and breathed in the desert air. I drew some stares from passersby when I parked just shy of the train tracks running parallel to the highway to snap some photos. If only there had been a train! I wanted a photo of Holiday in front of one. Next time.
As I neared Crater Lake, everything seemed more green and lush with cattle dotting the pastures. As I stopped to photograph, I couldn’t help but picture myself in front of a tiny little house situated in this scene. Even the barbed wire fence made me feel at home.
Entering a national park is like entering a magical land. It’s as if they drew a line and put everything kind of amazing on one side and everything crazy amazing on the other. I knew I was within bounds of Crater Lake before I even saw the sign. My entry was marked by the sudden appearance of towering trees between which I caught glimpses of massive ravines. The anticipation was literally killing me. I’d been waiting to see Crater Lake since I first heard about it a few years ago. As soon as I pulled on to Rim Drive, the road which circles the lake, I pulled off at the first turnout, aptly named Discovery Point. I had to walk up a few feet before the water came into view. My first sight was of the image below. It took my breath away. Even though I was by myself, I blurted, “holy shit that’s amazing!” before nervously glancing around to see if I’d offended anyone. I hadn’t but I bonded with the lady nearby, who was equally awestruck. In that moment, I decided that this trip was amazing regardless of how the rest of it played out.
The water seemed too blue to be real. Pictures hardly did it justice. I wished I could have been there for sunrise/sunset, a desire I knew would continue for every location, but I had blue skies and nice weather so I couldn’t complain. Even better were all the nice people. Away from the stresses of life and work, nearly everyone said hello or smiled. As I pulled out of the Wizard Island outlook, a motorcyclist driving by gave Holiday the “good work” pistol-like hand gesture (I imagined he made the click sound with it). Holiday & I were both flattered by the shout-out so I gave a friendly return wave. Made my day.
I went down to Cleetwood Cove, which was the only spot from which you could access the water. It was a steep one-mile hike which literally zig-zagged down the side of a cliff. I was barely halfway down before I began dreading the trip back up. I came across an older man, maybe early 60s, trying to take a photo of himself on the trail. I offered to help but he politely declined saying, “nah, I’m just trying to give my friends proof that I’m alive.” I laughed because I was in the same situation.
I opted out of taking the boat ride and instead clamored down some rocks until I was sitting on a rock at the water’s edge. I took my shoes off and let my feet soak in the cool waters. It felt almost 80 degrees in the sun, so the water was refreshing. I felt something nibble at my feet and looked down to discover a crayfish living under the rock. The water was so clear that I could see pretty much everything. As soon as I broke out my snack, I was joined by a friendly chipmunk as well. He was just about to break into my bag when I turned around and caught him in the act. He had apparently been harassing the group of people nearby. I minded his presence less than they did. I absorbed the serenity of the lake, hoping it would make the hike back up that hill slightly less exhausting.
On the return hike, I got behind two elderly couples. We all stopped for a breather at the same corner and one of the men joked, “Are we there yet?”. He read my mind. I was enjoying eavesdropping on their conversations. I assumed they were all traveling together but the couples were perfect strangers, just comparing travel stories and recommendations, inter-mixed with “complaints” about the choices of their children. I imagined my grandparents had had similar conversations on their travels.
As I continued along Rim Drive, I saw numerous towers of smoke out in the valley of forests. Signs were posted, “Natural fires. Do not report.” Many of the trees appeared inverted from the wind. All of their branches were stripped on the side facing the wind. It’s easy to overlook the harsh conditions such a breathtaking place experiences, as well as forget the incredible volcanic force that initially created it. I didn’t make it over to the spires where volcanic ash had left rock formations.
As soon as I left the park, I found myself in the Pumice Desert. It contained miles of nothing. It looked more desert-like than Death Valley. It only lasted a few miles and the rest of the drive to Bend would be through corners of national forests, a welcome contrast.
Bend was a cute town. It smelled of wood chips, which wasn’t a bad thing just unexpected. I suppose there was a saw mill nearby. The main road had exits instead of intersections. It seemed like a good idea for locals, but it made it a little difficult for me to backtrack after I realized I missed a turn. I made it to my B&B with a little help from my iPhone. I didn’t know what to expect from The Country Inn the City. Despite having no online reviews, I couldn’t beat their price of $47.50. I was met at the gated drive by the owner and her 2 dogs. She was a friendly woman, just shy of 60, who had the personality of a retired elementary school teacher (it’s a good thing). We’d barely said hello before the conversation shifted to my car. It was love at first sight. As soon as I parked, she was asking all about it. I opened the door and invited her to have a seat. She’d always admired them from a distance, but this was her first time sitting in one. She was delighted and immediately started planning her life with a MINI. I love watching the childlike wonder that flashes over so many people’s eyes in the presence of my car.
She introduced me to the dogs dancing around and one of the women who lives in a separate apartment building behind the house. It’s a neat concept actually. She rents the rooms to single women who don’t want to live alone. They get the independence of having their own place without the loneliness. It felt like a big extended family and they have a huge backyard to share.
I got a tour of the house. It was a large, historic home so it had little quirks that I appreciated. My room was upstairs and the bed was situated under a very sloped ceiling. I definitely hit my head on it during my stay. It was inevitable. The room was large & cozy, though. I felt like I was staying with some distant relatives I’d just found out existed but without the awkward expectation of staying in touch with them. Hah.
After settling in to my room, I took off for dinner downtown. I was surprised how easy it was to find free parking on a Saturday night. I put my name in at Deschutes Brewery and strolled around “Old Bend” to pass the time. It was really clean but kind of empty. I saw a theater and passed a bunch of closed shops.
I was so hungry by the time I got a table. It had been 600 miles & 15 hours since I’d had an official meal. I literally devoured the beer braised pork shoulder, tillamook cheddar mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was so good. Even though I’m not at all a beer person, I thought I should embrace the spirit of my adventure, so I got a glass of The Stoic. It was unlike anything I’d ever had, so I don’t know if I actually liked it as much as I was just intrigued by the flavors. It had hints of citrus, vanilla, pepper, and toasted caramel. It had 11% alcohol, so even with only drinking half, I was incredibly paranoid driving the few miles back to the B&B.
It was probably the most I had ever crammed into a single day. I was exhausted but excited that my trip was starting off on such a high note.
I fell asleep to the sound of train whistles, a sound that initially made me jump, the same way fog horns did my first night in my SF apartment. I’m sure it’s a sound everyone in Bend has learned to tune out, so it was funny to think how something as ordinary as a train whistle could sound so foreign to me.
And I have to end with the dream I had that night:
In the dream, I was in my room at the B&B. The owner came in and asked when I wanted to get up. I thought I was still sleeping when she came in so I was confused when I realized I was standing there in my PJs holding a razor shaving my legs. I walked out of the room and my parents were there. I said, “Wait, I’m feeling a little strange…it’s like I just woke up from a dream.” I drilled them about the events of yesterday. I knew I’d left on my drive and spent the day at Crater Lake. I tried to prove to them that whatever *this* was, it wasn’t reality. I said, “I really hope this is the dream. I know I was on a great trip and I had a perfect day yesterday. I know that was real.” They were all trying to convince me it wasn’t.
My parents were still together in the dream so it was pretty powerful for me to choose the reality that included my trip over the false one. It made me happy to know that my subconscious was so onboard with this adventure. Maybe I was on more of a spirit quest than I realized.