9/19 – 9/25
Quick breakfast and goodbye to Rachel and Jack. Old men attentively polishing Buick windows and mowing lawns as we leave town on the 126. Pass through slices of Americana with names like Walterville, Vida, Nimrod, and Rainbow. Gas station fried chicken. Two boys pull up outside that know the owners and they chat while pumping gas.
“Your daddy tells me you’re a father now.”
“Yes sir, the good Lord wanted me to have 3 kids.” Soph jokes that it sounds like punishment for shoplifting.
We find a campground in Delta and get a site by a little creek. The plan is to get out early the next day and stop by Belknap hots springs before heading up the 242. My morning was hijacked by lingering work obligations and we end up getting in a few hours later than expected as I capitalize on a rare wifi signal found in a parking lot outside a liquor store.
Warm pools are a welcome break at the end of the day. We take advantage of them before riding out in the morning as well. Although somehow I see it as everything that is soulless and wrong in America. You take this perfect place and add all the modern “improvements” at your disposal. Beautiful grounds littered with 4,000 square foot vacation homes and walkway lighting that blurs out what could be an endless starry night. I envision these warm natural water holes in the middle of the woods, but everything is piped into a decadent tiled pool in front of a clubhouse with free hot chocolate and popcorn. They could very well be turning the heater up to full blast and we would know nothing of it. Stripped of all outdoor charm. Concrete pads and lounge chairs. Foam floating noodles. 60 hertz hum of filter motors running in the background.
An older woman with a curly mohawk and leopard one piece sits on a deck chair. She has gotten her golden doodle through security on the grounds that it is a service dog. It is impeccably groomed. Sporting the same head of hair as its owner, the rest of its body is shaved sans legs and tail. It gives the illusion of larger shoulder and hip muscles or perhaps a suit of armor. Around its neck is a leopard print collar. Owner arises to leave and puts on leopard print pants and matching high heeled shoes and a solid black shirt with a leopard print breast pocket. Bright red lipstick and stick of chewing gum. I laugh to myself as this is how I often imagine the receptionist in hell.
At the base of the 242 we meet two older men on unloaded bikes out for a morning ride. They chat for a few, but quickly realize our pace does not match theirs and pull ahead. My foot is a bit sore from a wooden splinter acquired on an old bridge the previous day. Lunch hike to Proxy falls and continuing the 3,000 foot climb through fields of ancient pyroclastic debris empty of trees and life. Three hundred and sixty degree views from lava rock lookout tower with holes in walls perfectly positioned to see distant peaks. Push bikes through half a mile of sand to get to Lava Lake Campground. Large paw prints on beach that I can now safely assume are from a dog without consulting bear literature and a growing awareness that we are now supposed to be aware of cougars.
The ride from the top of the 242 to Bend is magnificent and I can only imagine that it is even better if you can avoid doing it in a frigid downpour. Thick mist continuing through lava fields despite rain making everything cold and difficult. Painfully numb fingers can’t pull brake levers tight so I rely on the nonexistent treads of my 3,000 mile worn tires on wet ninety degree turns at thirty miles per hour. Pass through sisters, a creepily perfect mountain town, and eat breakfast in a park so pristine it is as if no one is allowed to use it. Everything smells like pine needles.
We arrive in Bend late in the afternoon. A week or so before we had gotten a message from Rick and Joan. We initially met them in Denali, and then again on the Cassiar Highway. They made the offer to stay at their place. We shower and unpack and they have beer, wine, and ceviche waiting. We then congregate in the kitchen and collaborate on the construction of two pizzas.
Joan makes spectacular baked French toast breakfast. I check in with Grandma and her leg is healed and she is feisty as ever. Rick and Joan take us kayaking on Deschutes River. We get a driving tour of the town and I marvel in how it is the only place I’ve been to that has built new neighborhoods that actually feel like old neighborhoods. Every town in Oregon appears to have a giant hill in the middle of it from which you can see clear into Washington and get a glimpse of Mt. Baker 70-100 miles away.
After dinner we sit around with exotic tea on the couch and Rick shows us old Ford archive films of his father, Fran. In the 1960’s there was an auto race known as the East African Safari. It was a two wheel drive no holds barred endurance race through the worst that Kenyan and Tanzanian roads had to offer. Mountains, mud, and rickety old bridges. In 1964, Ford sent a handful of Mercury Comets and Fran was the lead mechanic. Although there were some casualties, it was the first time an American car finished the race. The next year, as a publicity stunt, they sent six comets to Argentina to drive all the way up to Fairbanks, Alaska, to prove the Comet was the most durable car in the world.
I’m mesmerized by the black and white film with its faded quality. Everything in that 1960’s gray scale, but the cars are a bright green. It takes me a few minutes to figure out this is worn film and not artistic expression. Rick watches proudly. I see towns that we hope to pass through in their 1960’s prerevolutionary glory. Sections of the West Coast, Canada, and Alaska that are already in our rear view. Parents probably don’t usually have the opportunity to leave such an amazing picture of who they are when they’re not keeping us from burning our hands on the oven door.
The next day I wander around town looking for a coffee shop to get some work done. From what I can tell, Bend is Eugene in the absence of methamphetamine. There is one shifty character on the bus (other than myself) and they appear to be taking him to the edge of town. While this is going on, Rick is helping Soph tune and clean her bike and Joan (former physical therapist to the stars) helps her get straightened out. I get home from a long day of eyeing over spreadsheets and there is lasagna and Eiswine. They offer some advice on our planned route, and we make some amendments to include northern California. I stay up late to finish my work and we’re up early so I can clean my chain before getting on the road.