Sunday, May 20, 2007

Home Stretch

Lake Abert, Oregon

At 5:00 a.m., it was so quiet outside my tent. No traffic on the highway a mile or so distant. The only sound, that of a few birds.

Unzipping the tent and poking my head out, I saw why it still seemed so dark. The sky was completely overcast, and beyond my cocoon, the air cold. "Not good. Rain so close to home?"

High desert campsite near Drewsey (that's right), Oregon

After so many miles, this weather stuff is beginning to fascinate me. There is so much “information” available via our senses, if we only knew how to interpret and translate it. Even so, there are often amazing surprises that are revealed with night's passage. I established a goal to study weather phenomena more after I return home.

For some reason, out in this desolate place, I thought of Catherine, a beautiful young woman I once knew.

Reflecting upon this latest trek across the country, it’s funny how the thought of a particular coffee shop, an excellent steak, a special pastry can decide my course and take me 100s of miles off track. (I guess this was in reference to my internal questioning “so, why exactly did you just drive all the way up into Montana?”)

“Now I’m going to have to face getting the bike out of here.” But I’ve found it’s almost always easier traversing the same plot of ground the second time. “It should be simpler than it was last night.”

And it was. I first walked the hundred yards or so down the slope to the road, identifying a path through the thick brush, rocks and uneven ground.

The weather may tip the scale for taking U.S. 395 south. “It’s gotta be better in California.” Up to this point, I had left the options open, still considering a possible ride over to the Oregon Coast before turning south.

In Burns, I saw a “Big R” store, a ranching supply chain I haven’t seen since the 70s, when I lived near Yuba City, California and shopped there regularly.

Beyond Burns, it became clear that continuing west on U.S. 20 would carry me into what appeared to be a significant weather front, and certain rain. I decided to turn south on U.S. 395.

The next several hours were spent in pursuit of sun. The play of light and shadow on distant mountains promised a break from endless cold, but the sun seemed always beyond reach. I remained under a chilly blanket of cloud. (It took four hours and about 225 miles to break out into sunlight in Modoc County, California.) Oregon provided a soggy farewell as I drove through brief showers in the final mountain pass leading into California. It had been in the 40s all morning. To my disappointment, the sun, once I reached it, provided little warmth.

Lichen on volcanic rock along the Lake Abert shoreline, Oregon

Across the border, I entered the “home stretch”, psychologically (and now, with some sun, physically.) An easy ride, this final 400 or so miles.

In Alturus, I could finally relax. I was no longer running from weather. I stopped in at the Black Bear Diner that I had noted on a previous journey through here. Looking over the menu, I was surprised to learn this restaurant is not unique at all. It's part of a growing chain, which includes restaurants in Sonoma and Rohnert Park, right in my neighborhood. (But the people here are unique to Alturas!) "Kati", my server, was outgoing and very competent and dispelled any negativity about this being a "chain store". I made a note to submit a comment about the positive staff and obviously good training program. Ordered a strawberry waffle – good, but pricey. With coffee and some sausage, almost $20 in total.

Over California, the skies cleared. It's amazing what a difference blue sky and fresh air can have upon one’s perception of the land. The Pitt River valley east of Mt. Shasta struck me as an attractive area. A nice place to live? Found another "Chatty Kathie’s" restaurant in Burney. I had visited the one in McArthur on a previous occasion.

86 degrees in the Redding area. There I connected with Interstate 5 and joined the flow of traffic south. To avoid the usual congestion near the Bay Area, and enjoy a more scenic drive, I turned west on California 20 towards Clear Lake. It proved to be a mistake. Lines of traffic on a winding mountain highway. But I didn't let that slow me down. Using the throttle liberally, I passed vehicles along the centerline.

When an on-coming Highway Patrol car passed, I figured I better take evasive measures. I turned off on the next rural road, just in case he had decided to turn around and pursue me. A short distance from Highway 20, I passed a CDF station and just beyond that,turned around, figuring I had killed enough time. Just then, the forestry station personnel came out and shut the road down for a medical evacuation. They were expecting a helicopter momentarily, and it would be landing on the road.

There was nothing to do but watch and wait. I decided to get the camera out, and take a few pictures.

The helicopter arrived. An elderly man was wheeled on a gurney from a motor home parked at the station and loaded into the copter. After the helicopter took off, I turned around and saw a beautiful blond-haired woman who had been standing behind me watching the action. Her car was stopped behind my bike. Quite a vision out in this rather remote and parched landscape.

Traffic was stopped on a rural California highway while emergency crews evacuated an ailing motorist

Resigned now to the congestion on Highway 20, I slowed down and even stopped on the north shore of Clear Lake. Found a Foster's Freeze and bought a marshmallow malt. Joined a Harley rider named Steve sitting by the lakeshore. An awesome afternoon. Perfect riding weather. following the break, I was in a much better mood, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride over to Ukiah, and the final run down U.S. 101 into Sonoma County. It seemed a fitting homecoming. Arrived at the house around.

I returned to just another gorgeous day in California wine country, this scene south of Ukiah

Henry and Charlene returned home, driving a rental car. They had been involved in a minor accident near Davis and their car is being repaired. They gave me fruit, offered the use of their washer & drier, and offered to run errands. So kind.

In Santa Rosa, everything looks so lush and green! Shade!!! The oaks have now leafed out. A contrast to so much of the country I’ve seen lately.

The apartment is a mess once again, scattered with my gear.

87,696 miles on the odometer at the conclusion of this trip. Just under 12,000 miles traveled during this ride.

There is news of a student march from Berkeley to Washington, starting today.I'm tempted to join in! I've recently thought about crossing the country on foot, how even a motorcycle seems too disconnected from the environment.

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