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Inside the slipstream of air created by
the bike, the temperature reads 108. The rush of air dries any hint of sweat on
my skin. This desert climate stuff just plain sucks.
As I reach Redding, the temperature drops
10 degrees in 3 minutes. The elevation rises, and the bike purrs beneath me.
This feels good, this feels really good. This enveloping knowledge that all that
lies before me is open road.
The bike is loaded up. I have a 20-pound
duffel bag of nonperishable food, sleeping bag, cycle cover, sleeping mat, and
my shelterhalf. I even brought my ALICE pack with me just in case I want to do
some serious hiking. There is a board on the seat behind me to be able to carry
extra gas. Jerry cans sit one on each side of a board, which allows another 5
gallons worth of range. I have a temperature gauge, altimeter, illuminated
compass, map light that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and an insulated drink
holder mounted on the fairing. Now I can get a slurpee and still ride.
I even wired in a 30-watt amplifier and
antenna booster to the radio to give me some extra boost in the tunes
department. Arms outstretched, clad from head to toe in black leather, the boots
out on the highway pegs, the radio cranked- there is nothing quite like this!
Second fillup of the day, a kid walks up
to me and the loaded down bike as I roll into the service station.
"Looks like you're having the time
of your life," he says.
"Yep," I reply, "the trip
of a lifetime with nothing but endless road in front of me." I can't help
grinning to myself as I fill up the tank. The excitement of having just left is
very consuming. Knowing that I am on the motorcycle and just riding off
northward is both exciting and relaxing.
I left late in the day so I've only made
it to the Oregon border. Tomorrow the real miles will start to rack up. Ten
zillion bugs are making a frontal assault on my position at this picnic table as
I write this with a flashlight in Hagelstein Park just north of Klamath Falls,
Oregon. At least the temperature is a perfect 70 degrees. Crickets chirp away in
stereo surround sound. The bright half-moon sits in a clear sky, and countless
stars shine above. The air is still, not even a slight breeze. Even the grass
feels velvet soft beneath my bare feet. I have never been in Oregon or
Washington before and tomorrow I make for Crater Lake.
I'm headed for Alaska...
July 18 Day 2
Southern entrance to Crater Lake National Park
Birds, birds, birds. They are everywhere
chirping a sweet endless banter. Staring into the sky, I awake to the sound
lying on my back. The sun is just starting to glow above the eastern horizon. I
am beginning to realize that there isn't anyone looking over my shoulder. Out
here all by myself, no work, school, duties, everything. This is a life where
none of that exists. It feels like a parallel universe or alternate reality from
the 9 to 5 life.
After a spartan breakfast of water and
crackers with jelly, the bike gets repacked, bungeed tight and we're off. At
the first town, I fill the tank and get a Slurpee. While riding, I can stick the
long straw up through the bottom of the full-face helmet and suck away. Then I
set the throttle lock and place the Slurpee back into the cup holder careful not
to drop it as I ride. Now this is cool!
The road to Crater Lake flattens out as it
heads north into Oregon. Off in the distance, the mountain begins looming before
me. I take the turnoff and start climbing up the side of mountain to the rim
A sign for Rim Village appears but I decide to
circumvent the mountain first. The map shows the road circling around the rim. I
stop by the park entrance sign, grab a picture, and suck another gulp from my
slurpee. Ooh, not too fast, little brain freeze there.
The elevation climbs quickly. On one side
is cragged rock, the other is lined by a rock wall overlooking a view that
begins to show off the plains and mountains to the south. At a waterfall
sprinkled in green vegetation, I notice two people, mere specks at the edge of
Vidae Falls. Its waters cascade down the side of the rock face, then beneath me
and onward down the mountainside.
I crest the mountain edge and look out
over Crater Lake. Overwhelmed is the only emotion that comes to mind. I pull to
the side of the road to peer over and read the pictograms placed for curious
visitors like myself.
Climbing up the south wall of Crater Lake
Chipmunks break the moment. Very fat
chipmunks, chasing each other down the retaining wall. I go on reading the
description of how the lake below me was formed and what a Pumice Castle is. The
chipmunks scramble by again. Then one jumps up on the crest of the sign and just
stares at me. Been fed lately I chuckle looking at its round little body. It
waits for a morning meal, I respond by taking a picture of it instead. Typical
Somebody wants to be fed
The sign reads:
Mount Mazama the great volcano that
preceded Crater Lake was built up by successive eruptions of lava over many
thousands of years. Some lava oozed or poured from the volcano's top or sides.
Some erupted as red-hot rocks that flooded down the slopes. Others expanded into
the air and fell as cinders or globs.
There are a variety of Mount Mazama's
lavas on the steep calders wall. Pumice Castle with its pinkish brown 'turrets'
in the most eye-catching feature. It's made of layers of pumice and other
rocks coughed up by Mount Mazama- some so hot they welded together. These air
fall deposits were buried and compacted to the other lavas, then exposed when
Mount Mazama collapsed. A firm foundation of andesite lava has kept Pumice
Castle intact while surrounding pumice deposits have eroded away.
Crater Lake has to be one of the most
beautiful wonders of the world I've seen. Even standing here at 8000 feet, the
air is still and the temperature is pleasant. A sheet of blue glass unblemished
by any ripple or wave rests beneath me. The lake is surrounded in sheer
mountainous walls extending up for 1000 feet on all sides. Jagged barren walls
reflect in the water's surface a perfect mirror image. In the middle of the lake
is a cone with trees dotting its steep sides.
It's the deepest lake in the United
States at 1,932 feet. The lake is so deep; it's considered the seventh deepest
lake in the world. Originally, the mountain was 12,000 feet tall and collapsed
about 7700 years ago. The signs say that the explosion of the mountain was
probably the largest, estimated at forty times as powerful as Mount St. Helens
in 1980, in thousands of years in this region and coated a massive area with
Looking out from the wall of Crater Lake
The advancing trappers and pioneers didn't
even know about the lake for many years. Indian legend and lore abounded
regarding the lake. Some of them even forbade mentioning or talking about the
lake that was considered sacred. In 1853, while the gold rush was in full swing
mere hours to the south, some prospectors, including John Wesley Hillman found
the lake. It wasn't for another twenty years, that a young nineteen year old
from Kansas, William Gladstone Steel, set out to find the lake that he had read
about two years earlier.
"All ingenuity of nature seems to
have been exerted to the fullest capacity to build a grand awe-inspiring temple
the likes of which the world has never seen before," said Steel when he
found the lake finally with another man, John Beck. In 1902, the lake became a
National Park, one of the first in the entire United States.
I ride the cycle to another vista and peer
over the wall. Below me almost straight down is the tiny shape of a boat, so
minuscule in comparison. Below it I can see the bottom of the lake extending
from the shore colored in the deepest sapphire glow.
Note the size of the boat
Pivoting on my heels, a vista that extends
northeast for miles across a volcanic plain until the horizon melds hazily into
the sky. I stand here and gaze into the distance mesmerized. It reminds me again
why I ride motorcycles.
At the highest point in the road, it
dead-ends. Only one kind of tree seems to be able to grow up here, the Whitebark
Pine. Many of the trees are rather odd looking.
The sign describing the trees
reads: Because of strong, harsh, and nearly
constant winds, many of the trees here are deformed and stunted. The almost
never-ending pressure bends trunks and branches so they grow away from the wind.
As the trunks thicken with age, they bury the curved bases of the limbs on the
windward sides. Buds on the windward side may also die. The combined result is
the grotesque lop-sided appearance typical of exposed trees at higher
elevations. These trees are Whitebark Pines, one of the few kinds of trees that
can survive under these severe conditions.
At Rim Village I devour two eggs and hash
browns with toast. I study the roads north. See, my route isn't exactly
planned out. I simply sit down every morning and conjure the day with roads that
look interesting. All while headed in the general direction of Alaska. Where
each takes me is half the fun. Seeing what's at the end of the road is the
other half. I choose a route heading for Mount Hood, a few hours to the north.
About to leave the rim of Crater Lake
Leaving Crater Lake, I ride down Highway 138 to 97 passing the Mountain Crest
National Scenic Trail. It's this little dashed line on the map running along
the tops of the mountains. The thought is interesting. But then again, I'm not
that much of a hiker. I brought my pack though just in case.
The terrain changes and I am reminded at
how quickly different elevations equal different climes. Descending into the
interior of Oregon, colors of brown, brown and more brown greet me. Everything
is brown, dead and lifeless. It reminds me of being back in California in
summers. I pull into La Pine on Highway 97 near the Newborn National Volcanic
Monument. The gas jockey, about 16 years old, comes out to aid me in using the
Texaco pumps. There's some sort of trick to it, old pumps, small town. In
addition, I wasn't aware that in Oregon, you are not allowed to pump your own
gas. No self-serve here, the gas is always pumped by some gas jockey like this
He circles round eyeing the bike and me
after he hands me the hose.
"So what size is she?"
"I like the Honda Magna but I think
the V45 engine layout of Yamaha is better."
"Oh," is the only thing I can
think to say.
"So how fast does she go?"
I can't even answer that. It's a
touring bike, sheesh. What does this thing look like, a race bike?
Maybe he couldn't think of much else to
say but neither could I. He doesn't ask where I am heading. Six month ago
traveling through the south on a 6000 mile journey in 8 days, I got that
question every time I stopped. Maybe traveling alone on a motorcycle in the
middle of winter was a little more curious to the people I came across.
Away I go heading for Mount Hood. Through
Bend and past Redmon, the 59 miles from Madras to Government Camp bores me to no
end. Finally reaching Mount Hood, I deem it the ugliest mountain I have ever
seen. Even as I start to climb from about 3000 feet, the mountain looms getting
larger each mile. 11,235 feet the map says, the highest mountain in Oregon.
Reaching its side, I welcome the curvy sweeping corners. I've noticed the bike
handles completely different with all this extra weight I am carrying. I split
off from 35 and make tracks for Dufur.
The road falls into a valley, pops out of
the trees as the elevation lowers and then gently slops down into a broad wide
valley. The wheat and alfalfa in the field along the side of the road sway
gently in the wind. The moist air tastes wonderful in this irrigated green
valley. Off to the right, the valley is smooth from years of disking and plowing
these fertile fields.
Looking back west on Mount Hood in Wasco County, Northern
Halfway down the descent through the
valley, I pause to shoot a picture looking back at Mount Hood across the fields
with poised irrigation rolling things that roll slowly across these fields. They
remind me of this seesaw thing we had as kids made out of an old wagon axle and
steel spoke wheels.
Dufur shows itself to be this sleepy
valley town just 11 miles south of the Washington-Oregon border. Church steeples
compete with leafy treetops for a reach of the sky. The road winds through
creating this Americana main street. Towns like this remind me of the National
Geographics I read as a boy. The vivid images of gnarled weather hands, fields
of green, the farmers upon their tractors late into the setting sun. Some things
I can always count on when it comes to riding across America.
A sign proclaims 'Harvest Threshing Days
are coming soon'. You notice in traversing the country that every town has its
claim to fame from free olive tasting to Pickle Days to the ever-present county
I leave Dufur joining up with 197 and drop
into the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The road plunges to almost
sea level in an amazing 11 miles. Alongside the road are steep hillsides. The
green slopes are planted even in the steepest of places. In some parts, the hill
is so steep, it would seem any tractor would surely tip over.
Entering Washington on Highway 197
Washington, The Evergreen State, arrives
as I push into the northwestern corner of the United States. Highway 14 heads
west along the banks of the Columbia River through a series of tunnels, all
numbered with a 3 or 4 and so on. I ride along with train tracks as the Amtrak
zooms by going the opposite way. I embrace the wind as it rushes up the river
gorge. This is really a blast!
A bend in the river finds wind surfers
skimming the waves. I count 20 to 30 of them shooting across the river then back
again. Surfer style vans jockey for position to launch their boards into the
river. People just sit on the shores gazing at the windsurfers as the day melts
Others sit in tandem with their boards watching the parade of color across
the river. Clad in wetsuits, board under arms or carried overhead, windsurfers
make beelines along narrow worn dirt paths to the river's edge. It's a union
of sorts, a homecoming, the board, the water, the wind, and a single person.
Windsurfers on the Columbia River Gorge National
I reach my turnoff for Carson and ride
into the town to find another sleepy hamlet. While pulling into a tiny grocery
store, two young girls about thirteen or fourteen glide into the parking lot on
their bicycles skidding to a stop right at the entrance of the store. Magazines
and the town paper sit in racks near the door and a canopy covers the opening to
They pop out their kickstands and leave
the bikes right there. Skipping up to the community billboards posted beside the
door full of miscellaneous notecards or a car for sale or clean fill wanted,
they stand there playing with curls of their long hair.
"Oh look, free kittens!" the
brown haired one says to the other pointing. A slip of blue paper held by a lone
thumbtack on the board holds her attention. She fiddles with the strips of
scissor cut notecard. A phone number is hand written on each strip. The look on
her face is wide-eyed. Several of the strips are ripped off. Her friend slips a
quarter into a gumball machine. Her mouth receives the gum happily as she chomps
away loudly. Then they turn and head into the store giggling, not a care in the
I head for Mount St. Helen's slipping my
way into the mountains as the terrain melds to a rainforest style of vegetation.
The lush green flourishes beneath the shady pines. The air becomes moist. The
temperature cools to a pleasant 75 degrees. Ah, finally I get to put my leathers
back on. The day has been warm so far.
A couple motorcyclists pass by, we all
wave to each other, heading our separate paths. Deeper into the mountainside, my
not-so-detailed map becomes sketchy. I find myself just riding hoping the road
leads somewhere. The pavement weaves among tight switchbacks and along narrow
mountain roads with no shoulder. The whole scene is engulfed in brilliant
greens. I follow signs that have a picture of a mountain with smoke rising from
Many years ago I was required to write a
research paper, I think I was 13. I chose to write the paper on Mount St. Helen's
based on a copy of a National Geographic I had seen once. My best friend, Tami,
found the issue in a box of old magazines in her basement. I snuck into the
office at my school and photocopied the entire article to work from. The
photocopier was something our school had just gotten. No more sniffing the sweet
smell of handed out papers from our teachers who just ran them off on the
It was a whole 16 pages by the time it was
finished. Back then, that seemed like a lot, it was the longest of the entire
class. Now years later I am a few miles from the mountain of my childhood
I have turned in early today. I stopped
riding at 8:30, pulled into Swift Campground and have called it a day. I am
trying to take my time, but this ubiquitous urge to see what's around the next
corner is ever present. Had a triple cheeseburger couple hours ago and I'm
snacking on fresh cherries, yogurt, an apple, and a banana I bought back at that
store. Sent some postcards- two actually, since I only had two stamps to some
friends. In bed by ten, and am looking forward to seeing Mount St. Helens and
Mount Rainier tomorrow.
I worry sometimes about something going wrong, mechanical
or a misjudgment on my part. I think that must be a natural tendency.
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