Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get Your Kicks on Route 126

August 26, 2013 – Get Your Kicks on Route 126

We're only one hour off of our tentative schedule when I pull out of the driveway and start in the direction of Main Street. My friend had suggested that while we have access to a car (we didn't steal it and I'm sure we have permission to take it on weekend road trips) we should go drive the Oregon Scenic Byway, and I, not one for missing out on adventures, had agreed. It's a good day for a drive. Despite the forecast it's not raining and the dismal all-encompassing cloud cover I'd expected is broken up into pleasant fluffy clouds with joyous blue sky underneath. This is a much better way to spend the day than sitting in front of my computer trying to hatch up ideas for how to manage the rest of my life. I've been doing that all week. The freedom of being behind the wheel, having an open road before me, and a day promising unlimited possibilities has come at just the right time.

My friend is the idea originator, music controller, and the navigator. Her plan is for us to take Main Street/Highway 126 east from Springfield through Leaburg, Vida, and Blue River until we hit Highway 242 and the way to Sisters which will then loop us back to Highway 126 and take us back home. It's really quite a simple plan; one with excellent scenery.

“It's about fifty miles each way and the guidebook suggests allowing two to three hours for the trip,” my friend tells me. Given our penchant for turning hours into hours I estimate five to seven hours and glibly say, “So we'll be back Monday morning then.” After all we did turn a 33 mile trip around Crater Lake into a seven hour event. I settle my hands around the wheel and smile. What would it matter if it did take us days? We’re tourists with in-state license plates. We’ve packed our snacks for the day, bid the cat adieu, and are on the road.

“We've got just over half tank of gas,” I say, doing driver’s inventory.

“There are plenty of stations on the way out of town,” my friend says. “When you find one you like stop.”

Oregon doesn't have self-service gas stations. They don't have 24-hour gas stations (that I've seen). And I'm not sure that I like this. Especially on road trips I've always enjoyed the independence of fueling my own car, using the time to stretch my legs, cleaning off the windows, and checking tires and oil levels. I'm a do-it-yourself, get it done kind of person (most of the time) and served gas stations don't cater well to that. It's probably one of my control issue issues. “Sometimes there are really long lines or the attendant takes forever to come,” my friend says. “But it's really nice when it's raining not have to get out.” However, since neither of us owns a car we only occasionally have to worry about our likes and dislikes with regards to Oregon’s fuel stops. Times like now.

I find a station and pull in. The attendant is helping someone else and eventually he makes his way to us. I hand him the credit card for payment, tell him which octane to pump, and how much. He gets started on it. 
“Are we allowed to ask him to do the windows?” I ask my friend, peering through the rain-dirt-speckled windshield.

“I guess so,” my friend says.

“Are we supposed to tip?”

“I don't think so.”

When the attendant hands the card back I tentatively ask him, “Would it be possible for you to clean the windows?”

He says sure as if it's not such an unusual request (to my relief) and proceeds to squeegee off the front windshield, my friend’s side when she requests it, and the rear window. I guess my side windows are not included in the free wash. Or it's by request only. Window by window. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Oregonian gas station rules.

On our way out of Springfield we pass a ridiculous amount of car parts stores, some strip clubs, fast food restaurants, mini marts, and other edge-of-the-city types of places and then we leave the town behind us and head into farm country. Blueberry farms, hazelnut orchards, farms that sell corn, peaches, and baskets (of all things) shift the countryside’s landscape with their differing crops and buildings. There in the distance are the rising mountains of the Cascades.

Our agenda is easy. There is no frantic rush. All we have to do is enjoy the day. I'm not even sure what we'll see--I'm just along for the ride. I'm just along to drive. Songs flit through my head: Life is a highway I'm gonna ride it all night long. On the road again. Country road take me home to the place I belong. It's a long and winding road. Only it's not. Not here. Not yet. Ahead of me the road stretches out straight as far as I can see leading us through the sky-reaching trees that line both sides of the highway.

We stop at the ranger station just before Highway 126 turns off to Highway 242 to mill about and read the informational plaques inside. We stop again down the road at a trailhead and walk along the path so we can smell the fresh pine, hear the wind in the trees, and get a sense of the forest.

 I take us on a detour to find a lake. We both agree that it won’t compete with Crater Lake, but I still want to give this lake its fair chance. After all, I’m not an “if you’ve seen one lake you’ve seen them all” kind of girl. Next we stop at a historical marker that tells us about Scott Road and how in 1862 Felix Scott “blazed a trail across the Cascade Mountains.” My friend reads the sign to me in a documentary voice and I gaze into the trees, up at the sky as I listen. “Portions of his old trail, found 1000 feet north of this point, are still maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and are used by hikers and horsemen.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Horsemen, huh?”

“Apparently someone else took issue with that,” my friend says, pointing at the sign. And we both laugh to discover that someone had scratched men out with a penknife X and written persons next to it. “Horsepeople is what they should have written.”

But we have no knife to correct the correction. “Alas,” as my friend says.

As we get back into the car I say, ““We're getting into the bad habit of stopping an awful lot.” I say this more as a reminder to me than anything else. After all I am the driver. Stopping at everything site, every pullout, every place with a view can be very addictive. And we've still got the lava fields, the Dee Wright Observatory, Sahalie and Koosah Falls to find ahead of us. But some bad habits aren’t all that bad. Right? I’ve heard it said that it’s the journey and not… well, you know.

When we come to the point of road where left will take us north on 126, curve east for a ways, and then slink us south to the 242 Junction and lead us back around to 126 I go right. My friend had left the direction of the loop up to me and it feels more natural to head this way. “I approve of your decision,” she says. Which is good because I've already made it. And we zip along at our sightseers’ pace.

I can’t help it. I abandoned the road when I see other cars pulled off and people clambering over hills of uneven, dark rock. “Is this the lava field?” Last fall when I was here I'd met up with a friend of a friend and he’d told me that the lava fields were a must see. I hadn't seen them. I'd been travel weary and worn down, not wanting to leave the house and not having the transportation to go very far. But now, here they are. Not anything like I'd imagined. I’d formed the impression (somewhere in my life) that lava fields were smooth, that lava rock made molten designs like cake batter in pan or honey dripped over the counter and then solidified in just that form. Not this lava field. Not these jagged black rocks. Belknap Crater has its own sharp-edged charm. And my friend and I get out and begin to make our way over the rocks toward the lip of the crater that we can see ahead of us. It's so desolate, a land blown up.

Another woman has gone farther than us--we've watched her make her way around--and we pass her as she comes back.

“Pretty amazing,” she says.

“Do you know all the history of this crater?” I ask hopefully.

“No,” she says, “that's what Google is for.”

“I wish she had known,” I tell my friend, probably too loudly, probably before the woman is out of earshot. But then, like a child, I'm distracted by the next shiny rock, the next slope to climb up, the lip of the crater, the horizon of mountains beyond.

At the Dee Wright Observatory we peer out at the mountains through the slots in the walls of the stone observatory. Mount Jefferson, Cache Mountain, Dugout Butte, Black Butte, Bluegrass Butte, Black Crater, North Sister, Middle Sister, Little Brother, Condon Butte, Scott Mountain, South Belknap Cone, Little Belknap, and Mount Washington, Mount Hood, Bald Peter, Green Ridge, and Horsepasture Mountain are all visible when the weather is optimal. I'm too distracted by the three little boys being shown around by their grandparents to pay too much attention to which mountains I see and which ones I don't. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Not that I need much help with my own. At the top of the observatory one of the little boys drops to his stomach to look through the rain hole (at least that's what I assume it is) and shouts, “A telescope!” The other two boys drop to their stomachs and take their turns looking through the square slot. I want to follow their lead, to scoot them out of the way and plead, “Let me see.”

“I wish it were a telescope,” I say under my breath. “Wouldn't that be awesome?”

“Can you imagine being here at night?” my friend asks. We both pause for a moment to imagine the darkness and the stars.

Then it's time to get back in the car. We drive through the town of Sisters, a quaint and somewhat touristy town with ice cream shops and knickknack stores and spinning lawn ornaments set out for sale. We could stop, shop around, visit the vintage store, but it feels too busy and I don't want to get out here. So I turn the car around and head us back to the Byway.

Our final stop is the Sahalie Falls viewpoint. It's still summer and there are a lot of people here just like us to see the falls. We traipse behind a couple and find our way down the trail. I hear the roar of Sahalie Falls before I see it. The water churns from the heights at top speed, falling gallons at a time to foam at the drop and then rush on ahead. Continuous movement. We take some pictures and press on. Trees make a barrier between the river and the path. More trees line the other side. Sunlight trickles over us through the leaves. The air gathers cold into its hands off the Mackenzie River and blows it at us. It's a far cry from the heat glinting off the lava rocks we’ve only recently come from. Braving the chill and wanting to know just how cold it is we stick our feet into the Mackenzie. Sure enough, it's icy cold, refreshing, and blue. Blue with cold.

“It seems cold enough to put in your hand and come back out with a handful of ice cubes,” I say. It really 

With our feet mostly dry and our shoes back on we descend the trail toward Koosah Falls. A quarter of a mile, half a mile, I'm not really sure. Again, I hear it before I see it. Not as many people are here and we stand and enjoy the deafening roar of the water.

“This reminds me of the waterfall in The Mission,” my friend says. The Mission is a film about the Spanish conquest in South America, religion and love and revenge, a heartrending tale about life and pain and joy and hope. At one point the Jesuit missionary and his new recruit played by Robert De Niro climb the falls in order to reach the South American tribe they’re working to convert. Robert De Niro, ex-slave trader and murderer, in an act of penitence climbs the falls carrying his armor and sword in a treacherous bundle behind him. He almost hopes to fall, he almost hopes to let the baggage of his past carry him down to his death. I think about this as I stare at Koosah Falls. I think about the punishment we inflict upon ourselves, the depths of pain people experience, and the overwhelming grief-joy when redemption is discovered. I think about the strength needed to climb up a roaring falls. I think about how cold it is here in this water.

As we head back to the car I hum the main melody--a haunting, beautiful melody--from the film. And when we buckle in I ask my friend if she'll play the soundtrack for our drive home.

The music accompanies us, the sun lowers itself into the western sky, and we keep our thoughts to ourselves for a few miles.

I'm thinking about what's next for me. Where will I go? What will I do? How will I make it work? And then I think, Be here, be here now. For just this moment.

Because maybe this trip is a metaphor for life or life is a metaphor for this trip. Anticipate the coming road, but be sure to look at the sights the current road has to offer. After all, that old Good Book did say, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Sure, it might be nice to be a tad bit taller but I know that I’ll find my way my own way. With or without worry. Somehow. Someway. That’ll I’ll do what I can to keep living my life the way I feel it should be lived. And of course, today, while I’m here, I’ll get my kicks on Route 126.

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