Thursday, October 28, 2010

FALL COMES TO THE SISKIYOS AND THE ROAD POINTS HOME

A lot has happened. A lot that was scheduled to happen did not. We are now on the road home. The sheer size of the storm that was predicted for last weekend was enough to make this southern Californian decide that this had been a very lucky year and it was time to start south.


Unfortunately the start was about three days sooner than I had anticipated so two visits to see friends had to be forsaken for the journey out in fog and rain.

Last weekend brought the first significant storm of the season to Oregon. It went from major to scary Saturday when 4.0 inches of rain had fallen by 4PM on the coast and it was actually getting worse and the wind was 40 kts. and climbing in gusts. My plan had been to spend a day catching up on housekeeping matters in the Siskiyou National Forest and then head south, seeing friends along the way. At six that morning, all that changed. Water started to seep through a seal on the roof. It has happened before and I intuited that it wasn’t going to get better on its own. The immediate problem was solved by getting out of bed. The leak was directly over it. Now the choices were to find someone to fix it on a very rainy Saturday or try to control it and move right away to get ahead of the worst of the impending rain. The first has always proved the less favorable option, particularly on a weekend, when of course things like this always happen.

Apologies were made to my potential hosts and I hurried up through the passes and down into the central valley of California. The drive was not without its moments of beauty but mostly it was reminiscent of the cross country nightmare of two years ago. Fog was a near constant companion as was rain, very heavy rain. The good news is that the seal doesn’t leak when La Coachasita is moving. After a brutal 650 miles, we reached a place called Patterson, Ca and the “Kit Fox” RV park. It was seven o’clock, very dark and still raining, albeit with less force.

The Kit Fox is what I call an “out and in” park, a very large slab of cement meant to house those passing through and no reservations are needed. They are proprietary parks that charge a good deal for a one night stay, and range widely in amenities. RV parks in general never close. The offices do, however, so one must use the “after hours” check-in. There is no uniform system of after hours check-in, and the Kit Fox had an elaborate one. Without benefit of the feeble mental faculties I had possessed that morning, I noted that the bottom line of the directions was that the office would re-open at nine in the morning, so I dropped my name and the space number I was taking in the late arrival box and groped around until I managed to get in the space, got electricity to the camper, ate something, and went to bed in the hope that the “diverting” work I had done would suceed. It rained most of the night. I stayed dry, paid  in the morning, and headed further down Interstate 5 still looking for dry air. It was getting better for about two hours and then it got worse. It stayed worse for another 400 miles until I was south of Monterrey. I moved back to the coast route at Gilroy, known as the “Garlic Capital of the World.” If you have a sense of smell, you can’t miss it. I stopped often, ate often, and checked the weather every chance I could. When I found only scattered showers near San Luis Obispo my spirits lifted. The wind was still harsh, however, so I decided to continued on to Lake Cachuma in the St. Yenez Mountains west of Santa Barbara where I assumed it would be better quicker and I could count on some warmth and less moisture. After the first night, when the showers were more than forecast, the weather turned warm and sunny. There are few campers here in this enormous park that I have written of before. The help is friendly and there is a bass tournament this weekend so more people will come in by the weekend.

In the end, a week planned further north exploring new things that will have to wait for another time and two visits were lost. Yet that is the nature of nomadic travel. I am enjoying watching the migrating birds and wintering hawks, eagles, ducks, geese, herons and all manner of woodpeckers  here on the more than 1000 acres of park. The huge lake here supplies water for irrigation of the vegetables to the west and the drinking water to Santa Barbara and surroundings as the wells go dry in the summer months. The lake is high now due to the odd rain pattern and cool summer—down only sixteen feet by the testimony of the storekeeper. It is, as always, a peaceful place. A place I often try to make the last stop of a trip north, perhaps further set apart this year by the weather and the time.

Home is 350 miles away. The drive is easy enough and will be made when the food runs low or the clocks change. It has been a good trip taken all together and, since both La Coachasita and I have survived, will go down as another successful one.

Spring will come soon enough,  new plans will be made, and we will be off again. I still am curious about what is over the next hill and, as Charles Kuralt used to say, around the bend up there.

Thanks for coming along.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CHARCTERS AND CREATURES ALONG THE EMERALD HIGHWAY

The weather has stayed so lovely here it has been impossible to leave. Yesterday was the first true fog day we have had in two weeks. It is often been foggy here at night and in the early morning but rarely has lasted long. It is a rare year, not likely to be repeated soon. There has been some rain north of here, but the state from the midpoint down has remained dry and unseasonably warm. This weekend marks the first cold nights and truly grey days. It is the announcement that it is time to move on, inland perhaps, where the temperatures are higher in the daytime and the sun will be shining next week assuming the weather remains as the prognosticators suggest.


The time here has fallen into a pleasant pattern. The routine has allowed me to meet more characters and observe more of the creatures here. There are so many characters among these travelers and vacationers too and then there are the drifters, grifters, and townsfolk. There is so little time to chronicle them all.

As always, the bikers are fascinating. Two groups were here a few nights, resting up for the rest of their journeys. One, a young couple from Seattle who had made it this far in sixteen days was headed for “somewhere in California”. They showed me the topography maps that showed more hilly sections yet ahead in California than they had thought. I suggested the maps were likely right. I believe I saw Becky recalculating their turn around point before my eyes. Two others, young fellows who seemed more used to all this, told me as they munched power bars at my favorite local mini-mart one morning that they would be in Los Angeles in 20 days. It seemed short to me, but they moved with the grace of ones who should know their limits, so who was I question either their math or their determination?


The last week has seen a large influx of British Columbians headed for warmer climes or just finishing long trips and on their way home. Two ladies with delightful accents and a most noble “westie,” which walked as if he was king of the campground spent a night in the next site. They were headed home for the winter after having crossed Canada to Halifax and Prince Edward Island, and then “sort of wound their way back across the States” as they put it. They had been out six months, which seemed to me too short for such a trip. We shared dinner and a fire and they explained that they only lingered in the places they either found interesting or had never seen. This is for them an annual event although the route may be altered. They rent their house, fire up the camper and are gone a half a year. Their wit and wisdom was refreshing and, as with all such people on the road, they were gone too soon.


Denny is a drifter, in the best sense of the term. He has a camper on his pickup and had been on the road for several months just figuring out what he was going to do next. Half way through his stay, his brother joined him and yesterday they were off to Salem, his brothers “summer” quarters to sell the small rig for one that they both would be comfortable in and then they would go on the road. Denny was returning to Oregon where he had grown up and wanted to spend time here. Hosting at campsites was a possibility. I was impressed by his ability to be open to whatever the future might bring. He was a man of possibilities but not of expectations. I spent less time with his brother, but he seemed surer of what he wanted to do, and while time in the beautiful campgrounds of his home state appealed to him, I had the impression that by next winter, Tucson would be calling him back. They were nice, amiable men, well read and informed, different from many of the more parochial characters I meet on the road.


The drifters and grifters are here too. They always are. Some drift up and down this emerald highway, part beach, part forest, all year. Some do it for good reason. Work at seasonal jobs they hitchhike to every year. Or they go to see family. They are a comfortable bunch, hiking and camping as they wish, with no clock except the inner one that permits them to meet their personal timetables.


A few are just old hands at talking the money out of tourist’s pockets with a variety of stories that stretch the imagination. Often now they are couples and they have a world of trouble. Denny and I ran into one sweet pair in separate places on the same day. He heard the story up to the point where both had lost their jobs, she had lost a baby, and he was a “disabled vet.” By the time they found me, all these things were so and more. Her father had died recently and her mother now lay ill somewhere in Washington and they really only needed gas money to get there so she could care for her Dear One. He had no explanation why he had no disability check for his “war injury.” They moved off when questioned and the inconsistencies arouse. There would be a revised version for the next approach. Could it all be true? Perhaps. Yet in most cases it is unlikely. That is the scam you see, make it seem real enough and a few dollars change hands and they are on to the next mark. When directions to a shelter from a friendly store keeper were ignored, the case was made for me. Being inquisitive works best for me, as it had the day before at the mini-mart when “Billy” (his adorable dog Flash in tow) vouchsafed that he had to have lost his truck keys (he said he was a truck driver) and all he had in it the day before. When I asked him for a picture, he obliged. He sported a VA Hospital Bremerton hat and was about to tell me more about his seven tours as a combat marine in Vietnam when I found a reason to leave. He sat and finished his spiked energy drink as I headed back to camp with my newspaper and sent Flash into his act for a lady just entering. No hard feelings. Just a touch he didn’t make.


The town characters begin to appear when you ride a bike to town for more than a week. Some I had seen before on other trips, yet they seemed to be out more this trip, just like the sun. The dog walker, Florence, is a pleasant if loud woman who seems to know everyone. She appears about nine o’clock with ten dogs, all on separate leashes. As she moves up the parking lots to the convenience store lot in order to circle the gas pumps and begin the trip back, she orders them all to stop or start as the traffic requires. They obey her after several shouts in what I was told is a ritual a few years old. They are hers. She is not, as I has initially thought, a professional walker. She just brings them all out every day, rain or shine for their morning exercise. Since my trips to the store were limited to mornings, I cannot confirm that it is repeated in the afternoon.


There is a type of hat I have sought for some time. Common in the rural west, it is fine for wear in the van as a rain hat. It is made of a stiff cotton oilcloth that makes it impervious to water. It is just the thing for waiting about for the used water to empty at the camp dumpsite, or while unhooking the water and electric from the van. Its wide brim keeps the rain off both the face and the neck while not blocking the vision as a hood. I happened on a small strip mall that yielded a small tack shop that sold them. It was manned by a dapper man dressed in the style reminiscent of my father’s business attire. Harold had the hats, although only a few. I was fortunate to find my size. I asked if I could look around some more and he allowed he would be delighted for me to do so but hoped I could another time. He was waiting for, in his words “a younger woman.” She still drove, he explained so she was taking him to the senior center for lunch. Harold explained to his surprised customer that he was 95 years old, the younger woman was a mere 92, a “lovely” lady, and he was closing because his daughter (I never did get her age) was in Eugene for a show yesterday and had car trouble. He was most gentlemanly and apologetic and said I should come back again after I admired the collage of pictures on his wall of he and his wife as well has his graduation pictures from the “Teacher’s College” in Corvallis , where he had been born and raised.(now Oregon State University). He last worked for a pay from anyone but himself in 1943. He remembers U.S. 101 when it was barely more than a dirt track, paved as it was in gravel. Men of a certain age enjoy being told of thee “past” by men such as these. He explained patiently each picture of him and his wife of 65 years and those of his college days. He told of the eccentricities of all the horses he had owned and shown and how he came to own this shop, a place to be “retired” he said. He was a charming a courtly fellow and I glad I met him. I hope can be that gracious, alert and informative should I live to such an age. Oddly, after all the explanations, he did not want me to take his picture. He said he was getting to old for that.

Early the next day, I dropped my laundry two stores down and as I passed his store, I saw him sitting reading the newspaper avidly and with such focus he did not notice me pass. He looked every bit the gentleman I believe him to be.


The weekend fog and colder nights is the harbinger of the deepening fall in this magic place. The creatures now burrow in for warmth, the “snowbirds” move south, the drifters go on to the next place of interest or employment, the towns people begin to slow their pace for winter, and the grifters continue to tell their stories, bilking who they may, and life continues up and down this gloriously verdant emerald road.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

IT WAS JUST IN TIME

Carlsbad was in the mirror before five o’clock on that Sunday morning two weeks ago. The reason, in theory at least, was to outsmart the road warriors in the Los Angeles combat zone by first, travelling on a Sunday and second, going early enough before everyone jumped in their car and headed for the beach, Grandmother’s condominium or other important places. While this had been the plan for a week, it became an urgent need as the forecast for the weekend and week thereafter became clear. It was going to be summer, finally, for at least a week and while they were hedging their bets, most of the weather persons were beginning to believe it was going to more than just warm.



The benefits of an early Sunday departure are many. There were downsides. The first being “CALTRANS”, aka The California Department of Transportation, which takes advantage of the light traffic by closing lanes on the Interstates for “overnights.” Loosely translated, the term means that it shuts lanes down around midnight and works on them until after five in the morning. At the moment they are involved in a monstrous project to extend carpool lanes on the Interstate that I use most often. This involves demolishing two overpass roads in order to make room for the new lanes so that through the summer there have been weekends when the Interstate was closed completely.


The second reason it may be a bad idea is that Sunday is generally a day of rest for some business. Auto mechanics and dealers service departments being two. If you are going on Sunday then it is a good idea not to have any vehicle trouble that day. When the objective is 200 miles away, one rarely gives this much thought. In my case, I had the ambitious goal of reaching San Francisco in my brave but aging companion, more than 600 hard miles from home. While it gave me pause for perhaps a moment, my nature is to go for it. I did, and except for the brutal heat that was beginning to come upon the land even well to the north, it was a successful strategy.
Just short of the San Francisco, my brain cramped for the last time, I found an unremarkable and nearly full RV park that had a surprising four spaces left, got one of them, and crashed in the heat of the early evening until morning.


Once through San Francisco, I had hoped for a peaceful and cooler drive. But while the thermometer didn’t explode as it had in Los Angeles, it was far too hot for the season and for those of us like me who never had a real summer.


In the late afternoon I reached Fortuna, Ca where I was greeted by a westerly ocean breeze and a 75 degree temperature. After another quick stop I made the last leg into Oregon and the friendly confines of Harris State Beach at Brookings. The park was surprisingly crowded for a mid-week, but the weather forecast for the next ten days was magnificent and that for me is reason enough to drive too far in two days to get here. I stayed three days, enjoying the sun and cool weather that seems to have been with me now since I left the Midwest last spring. I made a rudimentary plan while renewing acquaintances with many of the rangers, camp hosts, and local characters I have met here over several years. I found the bike camp quite full, a group that is always interesting. Two were 16 days out of Seattle and two others were hoping to make Los Angeles in 20 days. They are kids, mostly. They are very much fun to talk to, in better shape than I, and interesting no fear types.


I wanted to see some of the river valleys that run from the coast up the coastal range. There isn’t much there but rural—perhaps beyond rural—countryside, a few National Park and county campgrounds but there are spectacular views and wildlife I wouldn’t see along the coast.


OFF THE GRID
I left real life behind for nearly two weeks. I went so far back into the hills and river valleys of coastal Oregon that I couldn’t even hear a radio station. It was a wonderful experience. I had what I carried in and there was no electricity except what I could collect from the sun on my solar panel and produce with my generator. The weather was wonderful and the wildlife everywhere. The humans I saw thought that this fellow in the van from California must be very lost. they even asked that in my few encounters. That was fine. The world I was in for a brief time was all my own. A book, a few crossword puzzles and a sense of wonder at what I saw was all I had with me. I went north from Brookings to the Rogue River and up the valley on the road that parallels the south side and passes through the Siskiyou National Forest. My first objective was the town of Agness. The sign at the town line welcomes you and announces the population as “Small.” I met the man who runs a popular jet boat business. His grandfather started running tourists in boats down to the ocean from Agness (yes, two s’s) with his dog by the same appellation. They are "jet boats" now, still a dog named Agness (the fourth or fifth by his vague count), and a great attraction to the tourists who visit the coast. This day that included three ladies “on holiday” from Australia, who found my “little house” quite charming were part of the group just returning. His staging area is one of about four buildings in Agness, the Post Office being the newest and the only one with a paved parking lot. If you ever wonder why that quasi-government corporation keeps raising the price of postage, you need only roll into a “town” like Agness and see the comparatively palatial place where the locals pick up their mail, the Flag flying proudly above. Peter Fazio, the congressman from the district has been around a long time and knows how to use his “earmarks” to keep his constituents happy. Dwight Eisenhower giving advice to a young man who sought him out to ask what he would do if he were running in his place is reported to have famously said, “Get the money for few Post Office buildings in the towns back home in the appropriations bill, and tell them all about ithow you did it for them" he said, “and be sure you ask for as much Interstate Highway money as you can.” All politics are local they say, but apparently the federal government supplies the cash. Here in Agness is a bit of proof.

The road from there is to Grants Pass, which is to Agness what New York City is to Cooperstown. It is not maintained in the winter which in the argot of the outback means it is hilly, narrow, bumpy and not all paved. Not many people would go to Grants Pass this way. It is only 56 miles, but about four hours I would guess had I done it in one day. One “summits” at a mere 4,300 feet at Bear Camp, then goes down to Gailce, Merlin, and Grants Pass a few miles beyond. I chose to stay on the mountain moving from one rural camp to another.


Five days elapsed before I reached Grants Pass. I thought five more on the Coquille River Valley back to the sea would be lovely if the weather stayed as unseasonably warm and sunny as it was now. It was an easier drive, with smaller camps but the medley of town names were magical and often apt. Dillard, Winston, Tenmile, Reston, Remote, Dora, Bridge, Myrtle Point, Gravelford, Norway, Arago, Coquille, and Riverton, bring you, perhaps five hundred people later, to the tony village of Bandon-by-the-Sea back on the coast. Bandon is a tourist town. Loved by many, nearly always windy and cold when I am there, yet  found that morning when the wind was down, the sun out and I in no hurry. I enjoyed a designer coffee and my first newspaper in a fortnight at an outdoor table while my laundry got done in the laundromat. My phone beeped to remind me that it worked again, yet I had no desire to use it. I already missed my quiet afternoons in the sun, watching and reading and trying to think about life as it is and a five letter word for “turns around, as a mast.” It was a peaceful time, time one can cherish away from a world that seems to move too fast, is far too  complicated, and more or less joyful than we may have once imagined. It was two weeks with no expectations except that day would follow night. There was no disappointment and no one there to disappoint. Just my inanimate steel companion, a book about the denizens of the Chelsea Hotel, scenery so lovely it seemed to hurt one’s eyes, and creatures great and small I could ask rhetorically of their general welfare.


I am back in the "real" world now, better for having left it and sure that I enjoyed my time “off the grid.” I am ambivalent about what it would be like to be gone for long. I believe I would miss the grid, the people, the laughter, and surely talking to someone besides myself. It is a wonderful place to go, that “world” but it seems good to be back in this one. I hope, having left for a time, I will understand it better and appreciate it more for what is here, and perhaps complain less about what is not and how it works.


There is still a month left if all goes well. The coast may see its first real rain this weekend. I am will see if it does and then go from here. It is warm and the morning mist of a Saturday slows the pace but not the activity. Dogs are walked, beaches are visited, and life moves forward, albiet at a slower pace. It is only water after all. If you get wet you go in and dry out. A gentle shower never hurt anyone. It may even be good for the soul.