Mr. Breakpoint rushes me to the train station Speed Racer style. I walk inside with all my luggage prepared on my back, and my ticket in hand. Of course, that's when the attendant tells me that the train is running almost an hour late. I should have expected that.
When I get on board, I am seated behind a young man yammering on his cellphone. He stays on it for the next four hours, even switching seats temporarily to plug in and charge. After the first hour, a tough old man with a walking stick and an Army cap boards the train, and is assigned the seat next to me. We both try to sleep. Four or five stops later he gets up and goes wandering around the train. When he comes back, he passes the young man yapping on the phone, and makes a face like, "Duuuh!!" at me. I laugh. We can't believe he is STILL on the phone.
Since we won't be getting any sleep, the vet and I start talking. He tells me about the time he spent in Vietnam, doing night-time tank battles. He throws me a bunch of jargon about how they redesigned the tanks over the years to minimize both the exhaust vent from firing, and the muzzle flash. Apparently the muzzle flash at night was so conspicuous that it was easier to target than anything seen during the day. "So of course, the first rule was, fire and then move immediately," he says.
"That's funny," I say, "because there are kids playing computer games today who learned the same tactic."
"Oh but they don't learn what it's really like. Not really."
"Well, yeah. For one thing, they don't crap their pants with fear when they hear return fire."
He laughs. "Well I never crapped my pants, but, I sure paid attention all right."
About ten minutes before the train pulls in, almost all the senior citizens on the train get up, gather their belongings, and file downstairs to wait in line by the doors. It truly is like my Dad says: "They have nothing better to do."
As Dad is driving me up to Crater Lake, he regales me with some of his Baja stories.
"Did I tell you about the time I almost got robbed by banditos?"
"What? No, you didn't."
"Well, I heard stories about how bandits would sometimes line their cars up across the road and just wait for people to come along, and take all their stuff. So I thought I would try and fake them out. I got this little hand-speaker from a radio set, like the police use, and I put a holder for it on the dashboard, and just screwed the wire down under the instrument panel. I figured if I got stopped, I could pretend like I was talking into that and the banditos would think I had backup, and they would get in trouble if they messed with me."
"That's pretty silly."
"Sure, but it worked! I was driving along, and ahead of me I saw a bunch of cars blocking the road, and four or five guys standing around. When I got close I saw a couple of them were wearing scarves and had guns. So I picked up my little handset and pressed the button, and looked at the guys with a very serious expression, and pretended like I was talking to somebody. The guy in the front saw me, and he looked over at his friend, and then he looked over at his other friend, and they talked for a minute, and then one of them got into a car and backed it up, and the guy waved me through."
"Oh come on! You're kidding!"
"Nope. Not kidding."
"Did I tell you about the trip where I had giant tires on the truck? Big old balloon tires?"
"You know, I remember you mentioned it once but I never heard the details."
"I had these huge tires. They were also very wide."
"What did you do when a truck came along? Did someone have to go into the ditch?"
"Well there wasn't usually a ditch but there was a shoulder. One of us - both of us, usually - would just climb up onto the shoulder, and go around."
"But wasn't the shoulder a lot rougher than the road? You'd wreck your tires."
"Oh they would roll over almost anything."
"How about cactus plants?"
"Well, I steered around those."
"Get any flats?"
"Oh at least nine or ten."
"Hahahahaha! You must have spent half your time fixing flats!"
"I got really good at it. I had this jack; very good design. Made it easy. Lift up the truck, take off the wheel, set it down, then lower the axle over the rim, and use it to lever off the tire. Patch the hole, lever it back, raise the axle, put the wheel back on, and drive."
"You know, this bike trip of yours sounds exciting. If I was younger and had a bike, I'd want to come along with you! ... Well, on the other hand, I'd have to look at your itinerary."
"You can always do what La plans to do, and ride along as a 'support vehicle', meeting me at each destination."
"That's a good idea. But we're doing this cruise right now. Maybe on your next trip?"
"Maybe. Ever since I saw that bicyclist doing the Alaskan highway, I've wondered if I could try something like that. But I'd definitely want a support vehicle, since some of the hills further up are really nasty. Are you guys interested in a return to Alaska some time?"
"Sure. Let's talk about it. But we're booked up for this year..."
We approach the entrance kiosk for the Crater Lake park.
"Huh, looks like they want ten dollars to get in," I say.
"Oh yeah? Let's see if my 'Senior Card' works."
Dad digs around in his wallet and comes up with a dog-eared, somewhat blurry card. He holds it out to the woman at the kiosk window.
She waves us in. "Have a good visit!" Dad puts the card away and drives on.
"Well aren't you Mr. Fancy Pants!" I declare.
Dad arches his eyebrows and sniffs aristocratically. "I know," he says.
In a parking lot near the rim of Crater Lake, I get out my camera, so Dad gets out his:
I'm heading down out of the campground, away from Crater Lake. The GPS on my handlebars claims I am going 35 mph. Whoo! Just for the sheer hell of it, I launch the AIM client on my phone, and send people short text messages as I glide around the curves. Mom admonishes me to be careful. Kashy sends me happy little geometric squigglies.
I stop at a turnout to adjust my seat, and take a photo of some interesting cliff erosions. Of course, now that I'm miles from the last official bathroom, my body has decided it's time to poop. I dig some folded toilet paper out of a plastic bag and tromp out into the woods.
This marks the first of six times on the trip that I will poop outside. The official count is:
- 1 time in the woods down a hillside.
- 3 times in the woods at the foot of a tree.
- 1 time in the woods in a dry creek bed.
- 1 time in the desert, in the late evening, on flat ground between scrub bushes.
All six times, the result has actually been LESS messier than using a real toilet, because instead of being in a horizontal sitting position, I can actually squat all the way down. There has been almost nothing on the paper, every time. This makes me wonder if Americans will ever be convinced to adopt the Japanese squat toilet. (Or heck, even the bidet would be better.)
A couple minutes after I've done my business and walked back to the turnout, four identical Harleys come farting up, and park at the opposite end. A family dismounts and begins chatting and taking pictures. It appears to be an old married couple, their son, and their daughter-in-law. They look hip and cool in their shiny black leather. Two of the Harleys - the ones ridden by the married couple - appear brand-new.
The young woman gawks at my bicycle. The men cast furtive glances at it. As I seat myself and then pedal away, it occurs to me that the whole family could have gone on their trip in one small car for much less money. Then they could have sat and talked to each other the whole time instead of only at rest stops and campgrounds, or over headsets. But no ... that wouldn't be nearly as hip and cool as getting four fartmobiles and leather duds.
To each their own, I guess.
At the edge of the flatlands, I stop my bike to check the rear brake and the charging box, and take a picture of some sheepies for The La. (I can hear her voice now: "Eeeeeeeeee!! Sheepies!!!") While I'm on the ground underneath the front wheel, lifting it up and spinning it to check if the charger is working, a dog begins to bark. I ignore it, and continue my checking.
When I stand up, I see a big old furry white dog come marching out from around the side of the nearby house, into the driveway. He barks a throaty bark at me, then walks a little more, then barks again. "Hey there, dawg!" I say, as I dig out my camera.
I take some sheep pictures, and the barking continues. I put the camera back in my bag, and glance up. The dog has meandered out into the road now, about forty yards away, and is sitting on his haunches barking at me.
"What's your deal, Mister Barks-a-lot?" I say. "Huh?"
I hear a rushing noise behind me, and turn to see a big-rig moving up the road. I wave at the driver, who waves back. Then he slows down, because the dog is still in the road, barking at both of us now. The dog gets to his feet and marches self-importantly across the opposite lane, and down into the ditch. The truck begins moving again, and as it continues down the road, I squat and inspect my rear brake calipers, which I suspect are rubbing against the rim of my tire. I stretch the cable, but I don't have the screwdriver to make the proper adjustment, so I shrug and stand up, wiping my hands on my sweatpants.
The dog has now wiggled his way under the fence beyond the ditch, and is sitting in the field there, still barking, but apparently at the world in general.
"Whatever, dawg. You just keep doin' your thing," I tell him.
I sit back down on the bike, and start pedaling. I expect the barking to fade into the distance, but it doesn't. I look over my right shoulder and observe the dog, running awkwardly along behind the fence, keeping pace with me. "Watch it! You're gonna run out of field!" I shout.
I pass out onto a low bridge, over a creek. The dog pulls up short and narrowly avoids tumbling into a bush. He is so startled he actually forgets to bark for a moment. But as I reach the end of the bridge and meet the road again, accelerating, the barking resumes.
Silly old dog. It's funny, even among dogs that bark, you can tell the difference between the well-treated ones and the unhappy, neglected ones. This fellow is a family dog ... Not afraid or angry, just outside doin' his job.
I'm in a campsite at the Rocky Point Resort. I've left my laptop charging on the seat of the bike, while the bike is chained to the RV electricity post, concealed under a thin tarp. I observe that my downloads have finished, and consider taking the laptop into my tent so I can reconfigure the playlists on my iPhone. "Hmm, I don't know," I think. "That would mean taking it off mains power, and draining the battery. I should conserve battery power for when I'm on my trip."
"Oh wait. I'm on my trip right now. ... I forgot." Now that's what I call a brainfart.
I take the laptop into my tent and begin moving tracks around. Outside I hear a mother walking by with her daughter. "Look at that tent, Mom!"
"Yeah. I bet it stays cool!" says the Mom.
"It has a neat design," says the daughter.
"Uh huh. Must be European."
I was unaware that good design implied European origin. Perhaps so for camping gear?
I'm out in the middle of a marsh, seated in a Kayak, chewing on some snackies. I photograph the occasion, then get out my phone, which has several bars of signal even out here, and send some texts to The La:
"I see 1000 dwagginflies!"
"Also: There's 10000000 lily pads!"
"Eeeeee! A ladybug landed on me!"
On my way back towards the Organic Market and Campground in Fort Klamath, I pass through the floor of the valley again, with its huge squares of flat ranch land. This time I zig instead of zagging, so I can see some different stuff along the way. Ahead of me almost half a mile, I see a large truck lumbering down the road.
About a quarter mile distant, the truck stops, and a rancher gets out. He walks across the road and begins to open a gate, except I can see he's doing it awkwardly because he's got one hand pressed to his head. He's talking on a cellphone.
By the time I roll past, he's got the gate open and has turned around. To my great amusement, I observe that his phone is a second-generation black iPhone, same as mine. I wonder what apps he's got on it.
Today is a long biking day. I pass through valleys and flatlands, up steep hills, across bridges, and over a wide variety of roads. Sometimes the vehicles are rushing by, a few feet away. Sometimes I see them coming from a mile off, and they move into the opposite lane to give me plenty of room. One constant, though, is the enthusiasm of the drivers.
Throughout Oregon, almost every driver that passes me on an uncrowded road has waved at me. Mostly they just raise a hand off the steering wheel in acknowledgement - the truckers like to do that - but other times they wave. I've received dozens of "thumbs-up" gestures. One woman in the passenger seat gave me a very enthusiastic double-thumbs-up as I was climbing a hill. A car full of teenagers all made "hang-loose" gestures at me out the windows - a gesture I haven't seen back in California for ten years or more. A carload of girls went "Whoohoo!" at me.
I receive waves and smiles from construction workers, "Yeaaaah!"s and "Whoooo!"s from cars, and casual nods and under-bar waves and thumbs-ups from motorcyclists. The tough guys on their Harleys seem the most enthusiastic. I think they like to acknowledge a fellow "free spirit". Or perhaps a fellow badass.
Because badass I am! On this day I will pedal 75 pounds of bicycle and gear over two mountain passes, and countless hills, for one hundred and nine miles. I can't even capture the whole ride as GPS data because the batteries in the GPS crap out at 10 hours, and I keep riding while it recharges off my battery box.
Around mile 60, still in the middle of the National Forest, I start to get very very angry at the hills. No one's around, so I'm free to tell them exactly how I feel.
"&%$#*@ YOU, HILLS! YEAH YOU HEARD ME! YOU SUCK! YOU &%$#*@ING SUCK!"
[ pant pant ]
"I'D &%$#*@ING SPIT ON YOU BUT I'M TOO THIRSTY! WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOW UP ON THE &%$#*@ MAP WHEN I WAS PLANNING THE ROUTE? WHY ARE YOU HERE?"
[ pant pant ]
"I KNOW, IT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE &%$#*@ING ASSHOLES!! HILLS ARE ASSHOLES! YOU ALL JUST CROWDED IN HERE YESTERDAY WHEN I WASN'T LOOKING!! GET OFF MY ROUTE! &%$#*@&% YOU!"
[ pant pant ]
"Oh - maybe that was the last one - let's see what's around the corner ANOTHER HILL, %$#*@&%ING SURPRISE, %$#*@&% %$#*-@&% HILL!!!!"
On the gigantic hill leading into Christmas Valley, a large rabbit hops into the road, about 30 yards ahead of me in the fringe of my headlight. Since there's no one around, I scream, "LOOKOUT, RABBIT! I'M GONNA GETCHA!! O-M-G-LOOKOUT MR. RABBIT!" The rabbit hops about twenty yards further down the road, then stops. I keep screaming "warnings", and the rabbit keeps hopping forward, for another hundred yards or so. Finally I give up with the warnings, having exhausted my supply of cute nicknames for rabbits (Mr Bun-face, Captain Hoppers, et cetera), and the rabbit hops over the ditch and into the weeds. It must have sensed that the evening's entertainment was over.
While I'm loading my clothes up at the laundromat, in the town of Christmas Valley, a woman and her six-year-old son come in to do laundry. The kid gazes in awe at my bicycle, which is resting on its kickstand by the door.
He turns to me and exclaims, "You're a world traveler!"
I look up, from sprinkling soap into the open lid of a washing machine. "A little bit of one, sure," I say.
"Are you going to go all the way around the world?"
"I'd like to! It would be really cool to bike around Europe. But it would be hard to get there."
"Well, I'd have to go all the way across the country, to the East Coast, and then I'd have to put my bike onto a boat, and sail across the Atlantic Ocean."
"Oooh. ... That's a long way."
"Yup. But you don't have to go that far to have a good time riding. There's lots of cool places to ride around here."
"Like Summer Lake?"
(Summer Lake is a body of water about 40 miles south, next to a marsh and an RV park.) "Well, yeah, but I mean... Places in this country. For example, I've been thinking about riding my bike up to Alaska."
"Cool!!" He turns to his Mom, who is roughly organizing a mound of laundry on a sorting table. "Mom! He's going to ride his bike to Alaska!!"
The Mom glances over at him. "Wow, really?" she says, in a placating voice.
"Yeah! Vreeeooowwwm, vrooooom..." He runs out of the laundromat, pretending he's a bicycle zooming along.
The Mom grins at me. "Just let me know if he's bothering you," she says.
"Oh he's fine," I say, and close my machine.
I'm biking my way out from Christmas Valley, having decided to go east and bypass Summer Lake and Paisley because it's clearly too hot to camp. Around me the desert scrolls by, and no cars are forthcoming, and I've had Spaghetti Western themes running through my head all day, so...
Dunna dun dun, da-dun da-dun DUNT
KEEP YOUR HAND ON YOUR GUN
DON'T YOU TRUST ANYONE (da-dun da-dun DUNT)
THERE'S JUST ONE KIND OF MAN THAT YOU CAN TRUST - THAT'S A DEAD MAN
OOOOOR A GRINGO LIKE MEEEEE"
I can probably be heard for half a mile, but there's no one around for much more than that... I hope...
"Dunna dun dun, da-dun da-dun DUNT
BE THE FIRST ONE TO FIRE
EVERY MAN IS A LIAR (da-dun da-dun DUNT)
THERE'S JUST ONE KIND OF MAN THAT TELLS THE TRUTH - THAT'S A DEAD MAN
OOOOOR A GRINGO LIKE MEEEEE ..."
(Ennio Morricone, Gunfight At Red Sands)
At a roadside shop called Oard's Gallery, I find the oldest bottle of Mountain Dew I've ever seen:
Advertising sure has changed, huh? Can you imagine a modern soft drink can showing a man with a gun, running into an outhouse?
The same roadside stop evidently has a problem with classical composers and plumbing:
Once I leave the museum I begin ascending a series of steep, exhausting hills. To pass the time, I continue listening to my collection of DJ Zog's noise shows, arranged in reverse-chronological order. The higher I climb, the older the shows get, until finally I'm at the summit of a mountain. As I take the following picture, Zog is in my earphones screaming about the loss of his fantastic dancing cow, Bessie, who could do the polka, the cha-cha, and also drive a car. Late in the program she enters the spirit world and drives Tammy Fake Bakker over a cliff.
I am in Juntura, sitting at the counter of the Oasis Restaurant, Motel, and RV Park. Terry the cook, a huge red-headed man in a yellow shirt, has just refilled my cup of icewater for the second time. I have consumed an incredible amount of water this day.
A group of leather-clad men have cruised up on a variety of motorcycles, and are now standing around at the counter, trying to decide whether to stay and eat. The most talkative man, a short, broad-chested fellow with well-groomed facial hair, strikes up a conversation with me about the route. I'm heading East, and his group is heading West. I learn that he is originally from Quebec, and speaks fluent French, but moved down to Miami years ago.
"Why'd you move?" I ask.
"I just got tired of the snow," he says, and laughs.
"So you traded the snow for the heat?"
"Well, not really. When it gets real hot I just drive north again. So I've ended up going back and forth for years."
We chat some more, and Terry brings the man some lemonade. "Here ya go. Great for this hot weather. It was up over a hundred today. Hundred and ten in places."
"I'd believe it," I say, and gulp more water.
"Pretty hot," agrees the man.
"So, what's worse," I ask him, "the heat here or the heat in Miami?"
"The heat in Miami. Actually not just the heat, it's the humidity. The humidity just kills you."
Terry asks, "How far have you ridden?"
The man says, "3500 miles in eight days."
"Oh yeah?" I say. "I've ridden about ... 300 miles in eight days!"
We all have a good laugh over that.
Later on I'm talking about phone coverage, and technology, with a patron at a nearby table. Terry is back at the counter moving glasses around.
"So, see, it's a phone," I say, and show the man the virtual keypad. "And it also does maps," I say, and I open up a map of Juntura and scroll around. "And it also takes photos," I say, and show him a picture of the road from a few days ago. I pinch the picture to zoom it, which makes the man blink in surprise.
"That is amazing," says the man.
Terry leans over the counter and says, "You can tell we don't get out much around here."
Okay, fellow nerds, take a look at this picture. What is this shop selling?
Yeah, that's what I thought!
I'm pedaling into a headwind, going about half the speed I usually do, through a long twisty canyon. Since the terrain is moving very slowly, I put on an audiobook: The Affair Of The Bloodstained Egg Cosy. Turns out to be an engagingly written whodunit, painted from the Agatha Christie paintbox. The descriptions of austere English countryside and dark manor houses is a severe contrast to my environment, but that kind of adds to the appeal.
I've left the depressing city of Emmett, and am on my way up into the hills past Horseshoe Bend, towards Garden Valley. The shoulder is fairly wide but a bit ragged with weeds, and the road has a mild slope, so I'm pedaling slower than usual. I'm looking ahead of me to see a clear path around the weeds and occasional rocks.
Suddenly, about 40 yards ahead, a ground squirrel pops up out of a hole in the shoulder and begins to run straight at me, full-throttle. I'm unwilling to throw myself off the road or swerve into traffic, so I just I stare at it, confused, as it closes gap between us with impressive speed. When it's about five feet from my front wheel I blurt out, "WHAT?!", and the squirrel does a sharp left turn and cannonballs off the shoulder, under a bush.
I have no idea what the hell it was thinking.
Just beyond Garden Valley, late in the afternoon, I attempt some "stunt photography": I dig the camera out of the saddlebag while I'm riding the bike, and rest it on my lap as I remove the lens cap and adjust the exposure and zoom. Then I hold it up to take a photo of my own shadow as it rushes over the road.
This change cup sits near the cash register in a Stanley restaurant:
End of theme 1!