Sunday, July 31, 2011

Over the McKenzie Pass. Free camping always.

Lazy. Tired. I know what to do: move it. But I don't. I'm barely packed up by 10am. Then I just go to the lush green Sisters Commons to unpack it all again. I need to do chores: charge my phones, re-pack and organize my jumbled mess of gear. I need to try out my new round of PBJ ingredients.

With all that accomplished, I was off. But it was a false start. I didn't sit down on a toilet yet, and I thought my tires might be a bit low on pressure. So I rode around in a slow pointless manner.

Then I saw a $3.50 breakfast special. I knew it would be a blow to the budget, but I figured I could manage it. The eggs, sausage, and biscuit were confirmation that touring cyclists are better served by avoiding these prepared foods. I've gotten hungry during this challenge, but I think the solution is for my mind and body to adjust. I'm not doing myself physical abuse with the budget diet. If anything, I believe I'm doing myself a huge nutritional favor. The budget diet isn't a well-balanced organic gourmet, but it's closer to healthy than the regimen of grease and horseshit that I seem so well trained to crave.

So I ate a dry crummy breakfast out of a hinged styrofoam coffin. I paid with a sweaty fistful of change.

I've squandered most of my early-start opportunities. Maybe next tour I'll roll out daily at half-seven, but not this round. I sat on a bench and waited for inspiration to leave.

I always start out pretty slow, but soon I found myself leaping up the relatively easy grade toward the McKenzie Pass. I had a conversation with a guy at the lookout. I told him a few things about my trip so far. "Do you take donations?" he asked.

"No, no, no" I said. I made the gesture for no: hand out; palm down - polishing an invisible stone. I should have taken his money. I don't need it, but what's the difference? Pride? Why did he offer me money? I guess to him it looked like I needed it. But I'd prefer a person to be jealous of jubilation rather than compelled to squander charity on me.

The climb and summit were my favorite of the entire trip. I think that's true. I looked out over lava beds which contrasted nicely with snowy mountain peaks and a couple untouched green areas where the lava left islands of lush life. The descent was a steep snake. I went from 5,300ft to under 2,000 dropping like a rock as the heat returned toward the bottom. Large vehicles are not allowed on the narrow scenic road. The vehicles which are allowed seem generally willing to spare human life.

I goofed around at a ranger station and charged all of my phones at an outside outlet. I watched every available educational clip on a television in the air conditioned log edifice. Eventually, all I had left to do was eat a PBJ and move on.

Tired of PBJ? You must not be me. The more I eat them, the more I like them. Each batch has a new personality as the ingredients change and they spend various amounts of time stacked in a grocery bag in my luggage. Firm, mushy, fancy, cheap. PBJ is great to eat.

I rode downhill slowly into the wind feeling like I was wearing a parachute. I saw a girl on a loaded touring bicycle. Ellen! We'd met in Kansas right before the night I thought I might die. I pulled over so we could compare notes. I followed her to the RV bees nest where the ACA group was building its nightly hive of personalities. We talked for a minute. Then I talked to someone else. Then I made more PBJs. Then I got sneaky and took a free shower. I left feeling great.

The final mission was to secure some free camping. I turned toward a sign for National Forest camping. I hoped for free, but went about three miles off route down a tiny dead-end road to see a sign asking for $14. There was even a passive aggressive addendum admonishing people who don't pay promptly. Nope. Not gonna happen, dudes.

I backtracked up the road a mile and noticed a curious piece of singletrack starting behind a rotted log. Promising. I hiked back with my bicycle, guiding it through underbrush toward a beautiful secret spot along the McKenzie River... complete with travelin' kids. They were drinking Busch as the guy cut vegetables on a magazine cover. Whoops. I apologized for materializing in their camp. Clearly the apology wasn't necessary. We all knew that nobody can really own god's green earth. All people can do is pay other humans to put up fences on it. We were all here because paying $14 for camping seems stupid when you're surrounded by millions of acres of forest.

The guy was a skinny shirtless long-hair in a Pink Floyd hat. They were hitchhiking around and traveling light and cheap. They're the type that might have identified as 'family' if there was no secret territorial thinking in the back of everybody's mind. I chatted with them for a few minutes, and the guy mentioned there was a similar spot about a half mile up the river. I gave them back their personal space, and headed back up the skinny dirt path.

I found the other secret camping spot as described. I had my own spot. It was much prettier and better in every way than the spots in the official "fee area." I set up camp, and drank the smallest amount of whiskey ever. I cooked 33 cents worth of "Betty Baker" mac and cheese, and began to read until the sun went down. I looked at endless stars and slept to the sound of the river.

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