The next morning, after a spicy vegan omelette on the shores of Lake Tahoe, I headed north, all the way to Reno. Along the way, I noticed Rousseau struggling quite a bit, whining her way up the east shore's Spooner Summit and chugging along a little more roughly than her usual hum. I felt a pang of guilt; it was true, I had been treating Rousseau rather poorly those past few weeks, neglecting her maintenance and pushing her far harder than I should have been, even after her heroic escape from Bodie, that bumpy road from hell the night before, without so much as a flat tire or loosened bolt.
So upon arriving in Reno, what an interesting little place that was, I stopped at the first mechanic I came across and asked if he did oil changes for scooters. He said no. I asked if I could change it myself and simply borrow his tools for a fee, and he repeated himself. This, I'm afraid, was the cause of my neglect; aiming to pack light, I had left my own tools at home, and relying on others for Rousseau's maintenance was proving to be a difficult task. The last time I had her oil changed had been back in Denver, where I had the privilege of teaching a motorcycle technician how to conduct a scooter oil change, a lesson that somehow still managed to cost me forty dollars.
Mildly annoyed, I resolved to do it myself, what I should have done to begin with, and headed off to an auto parts shop to purchase a funnel, a socket, and a quart of oil. Outside, in the blistering sun, I crouched down next to Rousseau and loosened her fittings, unplugginng a bolt and allowing a small river of blackened viscous goo to ooze out into a catch basin below. When the last of that dirtied oil had dripped, I reset the bolt and went around to her other side, removing her dipstick and inserting the funnel and slowly pouring in clean, filtered, amber oil, a full quart of it.
Pleased with my work, I cleaned myself off, climbed back aboard, started the engine, and waited a few minutes for the fresh oil to coarse through Rousseau's veins. She purred in gratitude. My next stop was a gas station, where I continued to spoil her with a nice helping of high-octane gasoline, and then together we left Reno for Lassen Volcanic National Park, the ride never smoother.
Somewhere along the way, I had the good sense to check the conditions at Lassen, and was surprised to find that the park was virtually closed for the season, every road and trail throughout it still being cleared from snowfall, which blankets the region in nearly forty feet of it every winter. For months the road crews had worked to clear the snow, but such matters took time, and were I to continue forward, the furthest I'd be making it into Lassen Volcanic National Park was the front gate.
But then a stroke of luck: I read that the park's main throughway would be opening the following day, for the very first day of the season, just some eighteen hours later! Seeing no reason not to call it an early day and find a place to rest my head in the next town I passed, I pulled into the small town of Susanville only a few minutes later, and from there into the first motel I saw, a dilapidated collection of wooden rooms all stacked together with unconvincing sturdiness. I parked and climbed the steps of the lobby to find a friendly man at the desk, and I said hello, and asked him if I might have a room. He said yes, and seemed particularly thrilled at my patronage, and it occurred to me only moments later that was probably because I was the only guest at the motel, a motel that he and his family, I soon learned, originally from India and coming to Susanville by way of the Bay Area, had purchased and reopened only three weeks earlier.
Happy to be one of the family's first customers, I paid hastily. The gentleman asked me if I had a room preference, floor or otherwise, and I said no, and he pulled a key from his key rack and made a gesture to hand it to me and then, at the very last second, pulled away and said, "Actually, do you mind if I check the room first? The housekeeper didn't come yesterday and I want to be sure all is well. You wait here."
And off he went, leaving me in the empty lobby of an empty motel, empty until, that is, his wife and daughter arrived some ten minutes later, and I passed the time on the floor of the lobby playing coloring games with that lovely little girl. Another ten minutes elapsed, and finally the man returned, and gave me my key, and told me that all was, indeed, well. I thanked him, said goodbye to the family, and headed off to my room across the way, opening the door of the expectedly aged room to the strong odor of perfume, fresh perfume recently sprayed to, I could only assume, cover an even less desired odor.
No matter, I thought, the room would do just fine in whatever state it was in, for I'd had much rougher nights, and after cracking a window, I headed into the town's small center to pick up some groceries, which I later devoured in bed over several relaxing hours of syndicated sitcoms, all the while a creeping sensation of eerieness at still being the only customer of that large motel.
Fortunately, no horror plot befell me that night, and the next day, I left for Lassen, a relic of a more violent volcanic age. Lassen has the distinct honor of being
the nation's only collection of all four types of volcano, a geologist's Disney Land. I had hoped to spend a few days in Lassen, hiking from lake to lake and peak to peak, past the belching mud and boiling springs, and thus was dismayed to find, upon arriving to the park, that each and every one of those trails was coated in more than six feet of snow, most for the rest of the month. Alas, my only option for enjoying the park was a brief drive through it, but nonetheless, I found this drive to be exceptional, easily one of the loveliest of my whole trip.
It felt strange to drive past walls of white snow, packed high above my head, in summerwear, but such was the climate of Lassen. It also felt strange to drive through an area of such tremendous volcanic power, volcanoes visible in all direction, but such was the times of Lassen, quiet peaceful times, at least for the moment. I was sad to have my drive end, sad to have to leave that mysterious place so soon, without the opportunity to really feel its earth, but June will be June, and June in Lassen was not the greatest for backcountry exploration.
So back to the coast I went, or at least tried to, winding through the backstreets of no-man's land, the setting sun casting a glare on my visor and the entrails of ten thousand unfortunate insects who met their death on its plastic, a blind drive around invisible corners for hours, until coming to redwood country, where the trees stretched so high the sun didn't stand a chance. There, the air grew colder, and upon emerging from Grizzly State Park's thick covering of 350-foot-tall redwoods, I smacked right into a wall of cloud, fog so thick it obscured the street signs on the side of the road, so thick it convinced to me pull into the next town I reached, Fortuna, a fine stop for the night in any event. Too cold to camp, I sought to spoil myself with another motel, but the motels were all booked, so I opted for a hotel instead, even more of a treat, and passed the night soaking in the hottub and consuming unhealthy amounts of late-night television.
The next morning, I stayed my welcome in the fullest of manners, working out in the hotel weight room and actually washing a load of laundry, something I had not yet done on my long journey but which I, and I imagine my fellow nose-bearing countrymen, would be grateful for. Nearing noon, I departed Fortuna for a scenic drive along the coast, ducking into the conglomerate of redwood state and national parks, where I marveled at the magnificence of the world's tallest trees and embarked on a few short hikes to gaze at wandering elk.
Later, I branched from the coast and returned inland, north and east, across state lines and into Oregon, for the very first time, my first new state in over a week. Arriving to Ashland in late afternoon, I stopped at a local bookstore to purchase a new paperback, Albert Camus's The Plague, and took to a pub along a lovely little creek to hungrily consume its first few chapters. But I knew I could not waste my night away reading, not at the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so as the sun arced low in the sky, I meandered through Ashland's peaceful main street to the box office, where I purchased a last-minute ticket to a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew.
While waiting for seating to open, I joined hundreds of fellow theatergoers on the lawn to take in the angelic sounds of a two-piece female duet, one manning the flute and another switching effortlessly from harp to piano, and I was pleased to be in the company of such culture and such experiential spectators, every last one of them focused on the music or each other, not a single finger on a phone or a camera. When the performance concluded, I made my way to the theater bar, where I fell quickly into conversation with a well-traveled bartender. As he told me about the best routes through the Pacific Northwest, he spied my copy of Camus in my hand, and eagerly switched topics for his thoughts on the novel. His hands milking the tap, we chatted briefly about the book and absurdist thought more broadly, and then the bell chimed and I was ushered to my seat, saddened to have to cut such an engaging conversation short, but equally excited for the play I was to see.
And what a play it was! My seat, to begin, was quite literally the best in the house, one row back and centered perfectly, seated so close I was sprayed by the enunciation of the actors. All was superb: the acting, the set, the original play and its contemporary spin, and I passed the night away in fits of laughter at the schemes of Lucentio and Tranio, seated aside an elderly English professor with whom I conversed pleasantly during intermission.
"Let me guess: driving a motorbike around the country?" she said, almost out of the blue.
I was stunned. "How ... how did you know?"
"Well, sitting alone, and you brought your pack to the theater. What else?"
I smiled. "You have keen powers of observation."
When the show ended, she bid me good fortune on my travels, and headed out of the theater, out of my life, with me mulling about wandering where exactly I'd be sleeping that night, it being nearly eleven and all.
I had fallen in love with Ashland in a matter of hours, but I knew it had a skeleton in its closet: an unpopular ordinance criminalizing camping of any sort, a vicious measure to push homelessness out of the public center. The weather was ripe for camping, but the lawbook was not, and the weather, I decided, won out, no government of mine telling me where I could and could not rest my head, and so I took off into Ashland's main park, Lithia, a long slender stretch of green space surrounding a rushing creek. The park was unlit, yet oddly crowded, and I thus had to work my way far in, past the poison oak warning signs, until finally I gave up, unable to find a hidden spot not already claimed by the irritating plant, and simply pitched my tent right in the middle of a trail, albeit a spur, hoping no one would be too bothered with my obstruction until sunrise.
Fortunately, no one was, and I woke early, stuffing my tent in my pack with paranoid urgency, passing a few hours walking my way through Ashland's streets and drinking my way through its cafes. By ten, I left that wonderful little town, almost happy to depart before having one unhappy experience, preferring to instead keep it intact as a utopia within my mind, and made for Crater Lake with haste.
A mere two hours from Ashland, and through lovely country at that, Crater Lake, formed eight thousand years ago after the collapse of a volcano, is North America's deepest lake. Comprised entirely of snowmelt and rainfall, with no polluting streams or creeks flowing in or out, its two thousand feet of depth are also among the world's bluest, which is to say that the water of Crater Lake is astonishingly blue, a deep rich royal hue so vibrant, and yet so clear at the same time, that one can see over a hundred feet below the surface.
Crater Lake, like Lassen, was still recovering from a snowy winter, and not even the main road had opened fully, so rather than circle the rim and hike into its depths as I'd hoped, I was content simply paralleling its border for a half-dozen miles, stopping to appreciate its sheer splendor, its five miles of pristine beauty, before leaving the park and heading toward Eugene.
I should note, perhaps I should have noted a while ago, that throughout most of my adventure, I had been passively photographing through the use of a small mountable camcorder, a tiny instrument I could affix to any number of joints on my helmet, body, or scooter and set to photograph every two, five, ten seconds. When I returned home, I had intended to cut and compress these many photographs into one monumental timelapse, an accelerated visual sprint through the many hikes and rides and vistas of my trip. I had a grand vision, and I had worked intently to capture the needed footage for said vision, and thus, I was terribly surprised and dismayed to, as I was hurtling west from Crater Lake to Eugene, see my little camera, which had been mounted on the front of my bike, come flying off in one sudden snap. With my free hand, I grabbed at the tiny cube, fumbling it a number of times before inadvertently swatting it to the side, out onto the road where it bounced and skidded to a stop somewhere, though I knew not where.
I slammed on the brakes, slowing from eighty to sixty to forty to twenty, and pulled into the shoulder, then whipped around on the highway back the way I had come, scanning for a shining plastic casing. I saw nothing. I traveled on, thinking it had perhaps gone further than I'd imagined, but still found nothing, and soon, I had lost a good sense of where the incident had occurred, turning around again and again and widening my search radius each time, until I knew only that my small camcorder was somewhere in the sidebrush of a three-mile stretch of highway, all specificity beyond that abandoned in my haste.
Frustrated, I pulled into the shoulder once more and crawled down its path, at maybe five miles per hour, searching for any glint of technology in its dried shrubs and ferns. Alas, the sides of the highway were littered in trash, plastic bottles and broken glass and all, and thus all glinted, all was shiny and sparkly and impossible to differentiate from my camera, my camera with its thousands and thousands of shots of the country's most magnificent sights.
The Oregon air was hot, and I hadn't filled my hydration pack that day, and my gas was running low, and my eyes burned from staring so intently into the white sands, and things became woozy, and my hour search had proven futile anyway, and so finally, reluctantly, I took off, leaving the photographic diary of my journey somewhere south of Bend, Oregon.
I was, at first, very upset, and would still have preferred the loss never occurred, but over time, I sensed a sort of relief, a liberation, for though my documenting in this way had been of the most passive variety, the shutter forever opening and closing on its very own, the camera still required setup, recharging, consideration, and, I soon realized, I was glad to be free of that burden. I was perfectly glad, I turned out, just experiencing.
Some thirty miles later, I came to a section of road work, to a halt next to a construction worker in her yellow vest, brandishing a stop sign, and we got to chatting while we waited for traffic to clear from the other direction down the one-lane stretch of road. She asked where I was coming from, and I answered, and she was eager to hear more in the remainder of our short time together. Then, hearing that I was a man in search of good nature, she made a recommendation of her own: Salt Creek Falls, just a quarter-mile from our very spot, a place she described as the most gorgeous she'd ever seen. "If I were you, I'd turn around and go see it. Just saying."
And so I did, and I did not regret it. Just a short hike from the road, the Salt Creek waterfall is a beautiful one, with terrific vistas at its top from which to watch the cascade in all its glory. I was not disappointed, and I returned nearly an hour later to that same section of road work and that same woman with a smile and a hearty thanks. Then, in a flash, I was in Eugene, where I navigated quickly to a hostel to set down my things, and then I took off to find some food, something filling and vegan, and that was not difficult to come across in the Pacific Northwest.
On my short walk to a local establishment, I heard hooting, a whole crowd making a ruckus, and I saw in the distance ahead of my a large, brown, writhing mass. As the mass made its way closer, yells growing louder, I became able to discern individual bodies, human bodies, naked and diverse, all atop bicycles, pedaling with fury past onlookers and cars. A naked bike ride.
I had heard of naked bike rides before, and truthfully, were I with my bicycle, I would have joined them, for the naked bike ride is a wonderful example of community and passion, individuality and activism. But I did not have my bicycle, and so I continued on, on to a delicious dinner of tempeh and buffalo wraps, to a long bout of eavesdropping on conversations most intriguing from my fellow patrons, to yet another unexpected but enjoyed discussion of Camus, whom I had resumed reading, with the cafe's busboy, who had stopped to offer his thoughts on the novel.
Later, after getting some reading and writing done, I made my way back to the hostel and did more of the same, local brew in hand, where I found myself wrapped up in a whirling conversation with a man named Erwin, another hostel guest, another kid from Brooklyn, another man traveling the west, though he three times my age. I was pleased, amused even, to hear him say "oh, I heard about you" upon my introduction, my reputation, the story of my travel, having preceded me throughout the hostel.
We spoke, and then we split, and then I slept.
And then, I was off to Portland.