A Sixty Mile Nap

Out the car window on I5

I fell asleep in the car on the interstate. There was a big stormy sky all around, and the trucks threw great plumes of water across the windshield but I slept anyway. I had piled the coats on top of me and turned up the heat, not quite all the way, and the rain and the hum of the tires made for a white noise road trip lullaby. I had a cold, the kind that sends you into a four or five day lethargy and sends your mate off to the pharmacy for remedies that may or may not work, but make you feel better for having them on the bedside table. The temperatures in the Pacific Northwest dropped enough for there to be a dusting of snow on the Willamette Valley, and further north, near Olympia, and further north still, on our front lawn. I slept for sixty miles on the way south and sixty miles on the way north and when I awoke, in either direction, the sky was gray and the mountains were gray and the horizon was gray too.

The highway was like driving through sleep, like taking all your weird not exactly nightmares and  then, turning on the headlights and punching through a wet map. I dreamed of broken headphones and my father’s memory and the show I would miss because I was to worn to stand for more than an hour, not to mention play. I dreamed about art school and books I was supposed to read and then, awake, I took pictures out the window because the blur of water on glass didn’t obscure the landscape so much as it made things look exactly like 120 miles of foggy gray interstate sleep.

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Pictures from the Bike

My hands hurt from the cold. To get to the flat part of the trail, I drop nearly 800 feet to the waterfront and then, turn north. That drop is fast, so the wind runs right through me, my eyes tear up and my fingertips ache inside my gloves. It doesn’t seem to matter how many layers I’m wearing, the cold slices in and that’s it, I’m chilled for the rest of the day. It doesn’t help that I have a change of clothes or that I drink endless cups of ginger tea or that I have tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch and I tuck the hot sandwich inside my jacket so I can get the heat off it while I walk back to work to eat it.

But the ride is good, even in the cold. The low light of the approaching winter makes everything glow and the big leaf maples drop red and orange leaves along the trail. I move faster than the string of tail lights lined up along the viaduct. And there an unexpected landscape of other senses too, at one place along the trail it the air gets heavy with molasses — really! — and there’s mulch and asphalt and on some days, the salt air of the sound. There’s the noise of trains and the diesel trucks taking cargo from the rail yards, and all that construction along Western Avenue. There are the buses in town, and yeah, maybe a homeless guy yelling at everyone to get out of his way.

In the morning the shelters empty and hard lives spill out on to the streets Pioneer Square. Just before the election, a guy  was selling Real Change, Seattle’s newspaper produced by the homeless, and from his street corner pulpit, he shouted, “Real Change, one dollar! If you do not have a dollar, vote for Obama!”  A few days before that, I came through downtown thinking that things seemed slightly crazier than usual, that was the worst transvestite ever, why is that guy wearing a headband with fake braids, surely that woman knows that wig is a travesty… it was not until I walked into the office that I remembered it was Halloween.

Because I am on a bike it is easy to stop and take pictures, so I do, often. I stop when the light is good on the water. I stop when the trees are a blaze of color on each side of the trail. I stop when there is a serendipity of lines. I shoot with my iPhone 4s because it fits in my pocket and because it works.

It’s hard to ride in the cold. I don’t like getting bundled up so heavily, I miss riding in my street clothes. But the trails are emptying of traffic as the days become short, and the light gets longer and glows more. Most of the time, it’s okay that I’m not warm again until I’m home after the 17 mile round trip.

Plus, good lord, it is gorgeous out there.

  1. Smith Tower seen from Western Avenue
  2. Pink sky from over the Duwamish Slough
  3. Harbor Island cranes
  4. Railway drawbridge across the Duwamish
  5. Java Bean Coffee on Avalon

Things I Liked Near Bend, Oregon

Thanks to the folks at Eagle Crest Resort, the husband and I were able to spend a few fall days exploring central Oregon. Here’s a list of things that I thought were totally worthwhile in the region. Links will take you to practical information about these places, I’m just giving you the “why.”

The Sparrow Bakery: Bend. This baked goods snob likes a bakery with a line out front, she considers it a good sign. Sparrow has a beautiful little patio, quiche that is both fluffy and creamy, good coffee, and gorgeous baked treats. You’ll have to wait and/or share a table on a sunny weekend, it’s totally worth it.

Workhouse Bend

The Workhouse: Bend. Super cool arts coop featuring primarily very local but some Portland artists. It’s in a beautifully restored iron works and the resident artists make all kinds of weird and interesting things. I liked the cycling caps, the assemblage art, and… oh, everything in there has something to make your eyeballs think. Bonus, it’s across the courtyard from Sparrow.

Sno-Cap Drive In: Redmond. Every road trip needs a good diner stop. This one is on the north end of Redmond and they make a milkshake that takes work to get it through the straw, exactly how it should be. They use locally made ice cream from Eberhard’s, you’ll pass the dairy on the south end of town. Local, neat as a pin, packed with roadside calories.
Observatory at McKenzie Pass
Dee Wright Observatory: McKenzie Pass. It’s a tower. Made of lava. With little windows you can look through that are labeled with the name of the peak on the other end. I love peculiar public works and this is more peculiar than most. There’s a nicely maintained interpretive trail that describes the volcanic geology and oh, the drive, the drive. It’s stunning.

The High Desert Museum: Bend. Things that amuse me as much as a super crabby looking and huge horned owl are few and far in between. There were many large birds — rescue animals — looking annoyed and some cats that should have been wild but were domesticated and then, let go. There’s also a great overview of the tragic history of the local tribes that provides historical context to the gorgeous landscape of the region.

The Lodge at Eagle Crest: Redmond. Super comfortable, very affordable, and unexpectedly a great place from which to explore the area. No, really. The Aerie Cafe, onsite at the lodge, had decent food, reasonably priced and in large servings. Skip the other restaurant, Niblick and Greenes and head to town to eat instead — it’s not that far to Sisters, Redmond, or Bend. Our stay was comped, but I’d go back here on my own dime.

Angeline’s Bakery: Sisters. I didn’t love the coffee, I’m not going to tell you otherwise, but my bagel breakfast sandwich, oh, that was a righteous breakfast. Also, you, with your weird dietary whatever, you need a place to eat, right? This place, they’ll look after you. Nice hippie/local vibe, plus, did I mention the bagel sandwich? Man, that was good.

Smith Rock State Park, Terrebonne. You don’t have to be climber to enjoy the park, but it helps. We snapped photos of the rugged stone, gawked at the gravity defying humans, and just kind of wandered around aimlessly in the scratchy brush and sunshine. Plus, bonus, the place is populated with human eye candy. Rock climbers are hot..

Cascade Lakes 20″ Brown Ale, Redmond. What is it about the Pacific Northwest that leads to excellent beer? Clear mountain water, the right climate for hops, and a prevalence of bearded guys on recumbent bicycles? Maybe that’s it. Whatever. Just get some with your fries, it’s super delicious. That’s all you need to know.

Stuff you liked in this region? I welcome your additions in the comments.

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A Long Drive in Central Oregon

The drive from Seattle to central Oregon gets better when you leave the interstate behind. The road curves around the lower flanks of Mount Hood through pine forests. In late summer it’s still hot but because this year has been rainy, things are green and the air smells fresh. At each third bend or so, the mountain appears, a cartoon-y snow-capped mountain that looks exactly like the kind of mountain a small child would draw, blue and gray with white outline of snow at the top. Our sky was blue, we had the sun roof open. I sang along to the CD we found lying in the parking lot next to the car after we’d eaten our sandwiches at the Antique Deli in Kalama, Washington.

I kind of couldn’t wait to get out of the deli. I could not stop myself from eavesdropping on the 80 something ladies behind me, they were talking loud enough so it was though I was at the table with them. “She likes a stylish man, you know, a business man, one with some style, and he’s poor as a church mouse. He’s a simple man, kind, but not a business man, and she says she just wants someone to go to dinner with, maybe some day trips…” and “She makes a big deal about her clothes, she’s in to all these name brands and she wants you to know it but honestly, she does look so plain…” and more, so much more. It was getting into my head. I kept imagining that they were twenty something husband seekers in 1948 but I had seen them, they were spackled senior hens in lots of makeup. I wanted to stop inventing their past and get going, so we did.

We drove while Dr. Hook sang “When I see my picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.” The mountain was behind us now, and we spilled out on to the flat plains that lie east of the Cascades. A combine harvester threw up great clouds of pale brown dust behind it, bales of hay were dropped at neat intervals in stubby fields, and sometimes, there was a bright green patch of land that held some grazing horses or a few cows. American flags decorated the mailboxes, there was a recognizable increase in the number of political signs supporting the Republican nominee for president. This part of Oregon is The West that lives in our collective imaginations. There are Indians, the Warm Springs reservation is here, you can imagine the ghosts of Paiute and Wasco Native Americans watching your hatchback car from atop the basalt cliffs where the cell phone towers stand.

Warm Springs Basalt Canyon

In late afternoon we stopped at the Sno-Cap Drive In in Redmond for milkshakes. The place was full of Mexican and Indian families and a lanky old white guy with a big cowboy hat and a big belly sat at the counter. We sat in little swivel chairs while the woman behind the counter put coffee powder in with soft ice cream and made our delicious afternoon snack, too big to finish even in the small size.  We sat in the car to slurp ours through too skinny straws. We had the windows rolled down, the smell of gasoline and hot asphalt were just in the background.

We were not hungry anymore when we got to Eagle Crest Resort, a swath of developed and landscaped green in the midst of the sage brush and juniper. We checked in and walked the length of the property to the canyon that marked the far boundary. It was quiet, a few golfers roamed the course and there were a handful of kids at the pool, but for a holiday weekend, things were slow. The soccer field was covered with mule deer, they turned their heads and pointed their ears at us and then, went back to pulling on the immaculately manicured lawns.  When we circled around the other side, they had migrated right on the course and were standing on a flat putting green as though it had been sculpted just for their use.

A long drive with no particular agenda is a grand way to spend a late summer day. To watch the landscape change and light shift position. To know that the days are still long and that it does not matter what time you reach your destination. Two lane highways that divide rusted pickup trucks from bible signs, the sharp remnants of the hay harvest from a soft green pasture of rye grass. The road, a meditation for Basho and Kerouac alike.

My horse
Clip-clopping over the fields–Oh ho!
I too am part of the picture!

-Matsuo Basho

What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?  It’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

–Jack Kerouac

Disclaimer: We were guests of Eagle Crest Resort. All our other travel expenses we paid for ourselves.

Three Bridges at the Crooked River Gorge

“We’ve been here before,” the husband said. “We walked out here and looked over the edge, but the bridge was still used by cars. We drove over it.”

“What were we doing? Coming back from Montana? Idaho? That was years ago. 1996? 1997? When did we make that trip to the Rockies? It must have been then.”

The Crooked River, Old Bridge Shadow

Things looked new, but felt familiar. It was dry and hot and we were looking over the waist high wall into a 300 foot drop. The river below was a bright blue, there were bits of metal reflecting in the sunshine, a bicycle, a car bumper, a street sign. It was a long way down, a very long way. I am not afraid of heights, but I got a weird feeling in my stomach and my legs looking over into the Crooked River Gorge. There were signs in the parking lot and along the walkways that said, “Many dogs have died here, put your dog back in the car!” On the opposite side of the canyon, two people had circumnavigated the fence and were tossing rocks off the edge. Perhaps they could not see how treacherous their footing was. I know a woman who lost one of her sons when someone threw a rock off a cliff onto the beach below; her boy was  hit in the head and killed. It’s just a wayside along route 97, but Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic View Point was kind of freaking me out.

“They shouldn’t be doing that,” the husband said.

There was a sprinkler running on the grass; the spray hit the waist high wall and darkened the concrete walkway.  Three bridges span the gorge — a cast iron railway bridge, the old auto bridge, the new bridge — and they cast arced shadows down the stone walls and across the blue river. We walked down under the railway bridge along the edge of the wall, leaning over the side to take photos. I held on to my glasses. Even though there were no trespassing signs, there was an obvious footpath up to the rail bridge. I thought about that scene in the movie “Stand By Me” where two of the kids are nearly run over by a train. I thought about what it would be like to stand under the bridge when a freight train rolled across it.The sky was an amazing blue, there was no haze, the air was so clear even though there were forest fires to the north. The wind must have been blowing the right way.

“How many phones do you think are down there?” I asked the husband. “And baseball caps? And cameras?”

Below us, a scattering of birds flew from one side of the canyon walls to the other. A hawk drifted by under our feet. I wrapped the camera strap around my wrist and took some pictures. There was noting unstable about my footing. The bridge once supported rows of cars, loaded semi-trucks. Inside the concrete bridge rail, there was another row of metal posts strung through with cable to keep me from getting to close to the edge. But I still had that bad electricity running from my belly into my shoes.

Concrete Bridge at Crooked River, Opened in 2000

In the parking lot I checked my pockets. Camera. Phone. Yes. Car keys. Yes.

Feet still firmly on the ground? Yes.

We got in the car and drove south. In front of us, the land was wide and flat and stable and the gorge disappeared in the review mirror.

By the Beautiful Sea

Our room was in the basement and the windows looked out onto a forest. It was quiet so I slept late and I was surprised to see sunshine slicing through the blinds. When we’d arrived the afternoon before, the fog was rolling in from the ocean and the temperature was dropping, dropping, dropping, but it did not last. By morning, the sky was bright blue and the air was warm. We ate a huge breakfast of bacon and blueberry pancakes and yogurt and fruit salad and lots of coffee and then, we rounded up towels and kites and distractions for little boys and we wandered down to Seabrook Beach.

I can not remember the last time I was sunburned on the Washington Coast. While I am mad about this place, just mad about, I know it more in its mossy and gray state, when it is wrapped in a wet woolly mist and I am wrapped in big wooly sweaters. But this time I shed my shoes and walked right into the Pacific, into the low waves edged with foam lace.

Beach
The low depressions in the sand held water from the receding tides that had been warmed by the sun. There were little bubble volcanoes from clams burying themselves, and whole crabs, meal sized, turned upside down on the black sand. We helped the two little boys launch kites; just spreading the kite wings and letting go was enough, the slippery fabric leaped into the bright sky. I put sunscreen on my face but not on my legs and my knees and shins turned bright pink on the south facing surfaces.

When we had eaten our share of salty beach snacks (and failed to drink our share of water) and lost interest in digging with a yellow plastic shovel, and covered the backs of our legs with black and gray sand,  and petted a handful of unknown dogs on the nose after shooing them away from the blue and white beach towels, and looked through little binoculars at ships on the horizon, and gossiped about marriage and work, and said, “It’s totally okay to throw sand around, but do it about ten feet THAT way” a dozen or so times… when we had engaged in the kind of lethargy that a perfect beach day requires, we shook the sand off the towels and zipped up the backpacks and headed back up the hill to slather moisturizer on our skin and conditioner in our hair and to take deep naps, the kind that are a direct result of salt air and sunburn.

The next morning there was no sun, so we stayed in bed even later, until the noise from upstairs told us that people were moving around. The sky never quite burned off the way it did the previous day, which saved us from the necessity of spending yet other day baking on the sand. Truly summery days on the Washington Coast are rare indeed, I can think of three other times during my nearly 20 years of residence here that I’ve taken off my shoes and wandered down the beach barefoot on a mirror of wet sand. We’d have been obligated purely by the novelty of the weather to face west again, to badly apply sunscreen and to the restless sleep of sheets on tender pink sunburn.

At home in Seattle, a bird has taken to visiting the gutters outside the bedroom window at the earliest sign of daylight. I hear his pointy little feet scratching on metal at five, half past five in the morning. I am wired to wake up early so his activities mean that I start my days at his whimsy, too early for even my likings. In the beach house, our forest facing windows did not allow any sound in and if there were birds, they were up high in the treetops, away from my sleeping ears.

I like the bird in the gutter even while I’m annoyed with him; it’s funny that he wakes me. What could he be doing there that is so important that it can not wait until seven, at least? The fact that I can hear him rustling around in there means that it is summer and the windows are open. My sunburn is summer too, itchy and dry and temporary and quite rare in this part of the world that is mostly fog and shadow and gray green trees that reach for the light. Summer is short in the Pacific Northwest and I like the fact that I am a little bit sunburned, just for a day, before I go back to living in the usual gray mist.