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.