Monday, June 05, 2006

Another Look at Oregon

This lonely but beautiful outpost is Capetown, near California's Cape Mendocino

9:15 p.m.

Camped at the Mattole River Estuary again, listening to the muffled thunder of waves and evening song of birds. At $8, it's less than half last night’s camping fee. And this is vastly superior. No highway within 40 miles. But sheltered here behind the sand dunes, I can't deny experiencing some concern about earthquakes and tidal waves. "If there’s an earthquake, I need to dash for high ground!"

This part of the coast is just incredible. From Capetown down here, there’s only a few farms and the quaint town of Petrolia.

Dropped my camera as I tried to get a photo looking south from Cape Mendocino. The road was steep, with no shoulders. I had to park in the traffic lane, pointed uphill. I rested the camera on the seat for a moment, and it was gone. The fall crushed the hot shoe flash mount and scratched up the body, “but the camera keeps on ticking.”

The mountains around Cape Mendocino shielded this area from clouds spreading out of the north, allowing a golden light to bathe the land before sunset.

Coastal hills near Cape Mendocino

Left Brookings around 9:00. A dreary damp morning. Cruised up the road to Gold Beach and found the coffee shop from last visit Tsunami Willie's, but it was closed. Can’t even tell if it’s still in business. A sign "Calvary Bible" something in the window. But just south across the highway is a new Gold Beach Books with a coffee bar and bakery, and wi-fi. The place to be. But the wi-fi costs $5 for 3 hours (only increment), and isn’t very good.

But I stayed and made the most, listening to Democracy Now!, charging the computer, eating a bagel and a “sticky bun”.

Reading a newspaper story on global warming, I glanced up to the TV in the coffee shop. The headline spoke of a 3-year-old kidnap victim. That’s the story that dominates the news?

Rachel, the young server seems to know everyone by name. At a neighboring table a group is talking about an emergency halt to salmon fishing on the Rogue River. Those guys were already hurting. This will be bad, they agreed.

Turned inland, following the banks of the Rogue River upstream. A sign warned of a road closure thirty-some miles in, and a detour sooner. The rainforest landscape is not for me. I guess I’m glad I have an opportunity to confirm this.

A lesson of the road: try to prevent things from rushing you. If you need to hurry, it’s more important than ever to go through a mental checklist. These are the times when accidents happen.

Looking west across Southern Oregon's Klamath Mountains and the Siskyou National Forest. In the distance, the fog-shrouded coast near Gold Beach

Virtually no one on the road. Climbing into the Coast Range, I left the clouds of depression near to the coast and emerged to blue sky and warm air. Shirtsleeves weather. The road becomes a single lane, with many sunken pavement areas and occasional gravel stretches. Coming around a bend, I saw the rear end of a black bear “high-tailing it”. Cool. At a turnout high in the mountains (still some patches of snow in the shadows), I met a couple driving a VW "Beetle". They were from Port Angeles, Washington. They’re looking for a change. Somewhere to buy a house. They want to get away from Port Angeles.

“It’s getting too crowded.” Home prices have tripled in the last two years, they said.

“Too many Californians?”

“Yes,” they laughed.

So far, Southern Oregon and Montana have been the most interesting to them. They want to get away from the pine forest. Interesting. I mentioned that the Garberville area hold s some appeal for me.

At an intersection of what appeared to be several forest service roads, a “detour” sign pointed off to one of the gravel roads. I stopped. The Washington couple had come from this direction and said they didn’t have to take any detour.

There was a dump truck parked alongside the road. The driver pointed me toward the detour, so I unquestioningly followed. This took me on a long roundabout gravel trail, that gave me some practice again riding in the standing position.

Another view of Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest, showing land stripped by the Biscuit Fire and subsequent "salvage logging". (It seems nature doesn't know how to deal with dead trees.)

It was slow going, with a few good potholes (difficult to spot when hidden in the shadows of trees). Near the end of the detour, I came to a truck with a tree trimming boom elevated high into the trees, a worker clearing branches along a power line. His partner kicked aside a few branches, retracted one of the outriggers (causing the arm, bucket and worker to bounce around a bit), then waved me through. I gingerly found my way along the narrow shoulder between truck and cliff's edge slipping through piles of pine boughs.

Finally reconnected to the paved road along the Rogue River near Galice. The jostling appears to have knocked out my headlamp. This secluded spot is particularly beautiful. The Rogue River is full here, with plenty of whitewater, and many boaters.

Northwest of Grants Pass, I came to the town of Merlin. Clearly people are cashing in on their property. So many “for sale” signs! Time to take the money and run. It’s pretty country, but with vistas of formerly clear-cut mountains, and prospects for more to come, there’s a big “negative” to buying here.

Merlin, Wilderville, Wonder and the Illinois River Valley, all seem very attractive places, except for the lumber industry! There’s something I just don’t like about Oregon! They’re too dependent on trees for income.

Crossing southwest on 199, into California, there is a noticeable change. Perhaps the hamlets look a bit more impoverished and run-down, but the forests are rich. I see few traces of recent logging. You immediately enter Jedediah Smith Redwoods, and follow the Smith River down to the sea. And the cold winds blast up the canyon.

The highway descends into ancient redwood groves, the ground lushly blanketed with ferns. The land speaks: "tread lightly here." In a clearing, I pause to view a herd of elk. What an amazing state, California!

Memories come back in this fog-shrouded land. Crescent City: I think I stopped here one cold morning while motorcycling the coast in 1970. I had taken refuge in a tiny diner that served trucker-sized breakfasts. If the building's still there, it's unrecognizable.

Trinidad and Arcata draw out familiar, yet not necessarily welcome emotions. Images of Jessica as a small child, for the most part, without a father; sadness, helplessness and regrets.

Arcata is a strange, depressing place. I went downtown to see if I could find a coffee shop. The main plaza is ringed predominantly with seedy bars. I was about to leave town, when I found the Sacred Grounds Organic Coffee Roasters in a Safeway plaza that was vaguely familiar. I’m sure I took Jessica to this plaza many years ago.

A big coffee shop with a kid’s area and space for special events. There's a piano (but I didn’t see any roaster.) At 6:00, it was announced they would be closing in one hour. Couldn’t connect to their wi-fi, so I moved on. It was getting late.

Refueled in Eureka, then passed through the quaint Victorian town of Ferndale en route to the coast.

There's something nice about being on the road again, living in a tent. It's definitely not comfortable, being unclean, achy, unkempt. But it’s wild and unpredictable, and I almost feel I have a mission or purpose. But I can’t keep it up forever!

And this time, I'm traveling with a pillow. It's much better! I figure, in a tent, you have to sleep 50% longer to get as good a rest as in a bed. But the pillow helps.

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