The trip has been a surprising space for strong emotions...joy, wonder, fear, anxiety, guilt...all of which has a place in completing a grounding process before school begins on August 22nd.
Meanwhile, I need to capture some thoughts from the past seventy-two hours or so. In the headlong plunge from the coast of California homeward I opted not to pause and collect my observations, so I am now reconstructing some of it from this already distant vantage point.
Thursday morning, after posting Wednesday's journey, I set off on highway 199 towards the California coast. There was an active wildfire somewhere in the Illinois River valley, which as far as I can tell is a tourist destination with the kind of climate that supports fruit farms and such. In any event, the sky was pretty thick with smoke, which was like the usual morning fog and clouds, only tinged with a kind of lovely yellowish hue. It must have been pretty bad, as they had a road closed and I later heard that a large number of folks had been evacuated from the valley. For myself, I passed over a ridge or two and the air cleared up once I had moved into areas that were west of the affected areas. Not too long after I crossed into California I encountered a visitor center that was a part of the Redwood National and State Park system, and accumulated the usual assortment of literature about the redwood forests.
It turns out that what in my head in the past had always been a single place where there were these large trees, is actually two separate areas, both of which are fairly large and sprawling in their own right. There are coastal redwoods, which grow to be hundreds of feet tall as well as quite thick, and then there are giant sequoias, which get almost as tall, thought not AS tall, but are thicker at the base. Old growth groves of both species of tree are protected through a national and state parks. The coastal redwoods are located along routes 199 and 101 in a series of parks on California's northern coast. The giant sequoias are located inland along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, primarily in Yosemite and parks just south of there. The two areas are quite distant from each other, and the giant sequoias are east of Fresno, which is quite a ways south into California. This was a bit of a surprise, and I wasn't entirely sure if I was on board for a drive down that far. If I were going to do the southern Utah parks, then it made sense, but my enthusiasm for this route was fading, so I figured I would make the decision after I spent some time with the coastal redwoods.
Heading back toward the car, as I rounded a ridge there was a movement in the undergrowth off above the trail. These parks with the coastal redwoods are all rainforest environments, so in addition to being dominated by these groves of powerful trees, the floor of the forest is covered with ferns and plant life. Huge tree trunks are strewn throughout the forest, covered in moss and ferns in their own right. It is worth mentioning that coastal redwoods are family trees. When the central parent tree dies...mind you this is after hundreds of years of growth...the root system shoots up new trees all around the dying central parent. Eventually the parent will fall, usually at a point ten or twenty feet in the air, leaving a statuesque memorial to itself surrounded by new growth as its fallen trunk feeds the forest floor. In amongst all this green and vibrant life there was a movement. It was large enough that I thought perhaps a deer was moving through the area, but it did not escape me that this was also bear country. My bear spray was not with me. As I stood there waiting for more movement my level of complete panic and fear rose wildly. I waited long enough to be sure that whatever was moving, which it did several times while I waited, was not in a place where I could see it and wasn't going to move enough for me to do so. Eventually I gave up and, steeling my nerves which were completely out of control by this point, I walked back to the car.
I really have no idea what was out there. It could have been a big squirrel, though it seems most likely to have been a deer that I could only hear and not see. I spent a lot of adrenaline on it, whatever it was.
Leaving that area, I moved on to a place where there was a redwood referred to simply as the Big Tree. There were a lot of trails in the area, so I parked, walked to the Big Tree (which it was, though not really bigger than others I had seen to this point) and wandered the forest for a while enjoying the cool and crisp air in this green lush place. There were little streams and an amazing assortment of trees and trunks to be seen. There were also more folks around, so I was a bit more under control during this walk. To be a bit more specific, the Big Tree was probably about as thirty feet in diameter? Maybe forty? It had a little plaque with info, but I didn't read that one.
Having spent a fair amount of time amongst the trees, I was satisfied that I had seen this sight and was ready to move on. I took a closer look at the map, realized the enormity of heading south to the sequoias and then on to Utah, and decided instead that I would head northeast toward the Clearwater river valley, where I could pick up the Lewis and Clark trail and then head home from there. I was ready to head home. I have much to process and would like to do it within my new context.
Getting to the Clearwater river valley required getting on highway 299, which would take me east across northern California, eventually connecting with highway 395 which heads north into Oregon. I would be taking 395 all the way through Oregon to Walla Walla, WA, and then east from there to Lewiston. It was a good long way and it would all be on a two lane road.
The answer was...not much. There was no host, and for a bit I though there might be no campers at all. Before I finished the loop, which only had about ten sites, I passed a parked and quiet RV (no lights). I went around the loop again and pulled into a spot on the other side of the loop from the RV, settled into my sleeping space, and (pretty freaked out by this lonely place in the woods) spent the night with my doors locked.
The morning revealed a quaint campsite with these neat rock fire pits. The RV was gone, which seemed strange, but I rolled out of the back of the car and headed out to the road to resume my journey. The morning drive was a series of valleys and passes. It was interesting that each pass would place you in a valley with a somewhat higher elevation than the valley before...a series of steppes, as it were. The valleys were green with agriculture, and the passes were tight winding roads surrounded by lovely conifer forests.
This might be a moment to comment on the amazing variety of pine trees that I saw along this trip. I need to do some research to get this right, but every area had its own grouping of species, though there were patterns and recurring species that I felt like I saw throughout. It was amazing.
Logging continued to be a pattern as well. In a couple of spots I encountered piles of tree trunks that appeared to have been treated with some kind of petroleum product. I assume these would then be sold as telephone poles (ever notice how telephone poles are oily?) These piles of logs had sprinklers on them, presumably to keep them from igniting while the oil soaks in.
Another interesting facet of this part of the drive was the fact that the ridges I was encountering as I moved north of the Sierra Nevadas were created by the land separating, rather than smashing together. The resultant shift caused one side to sink, creating depressions that filled with water that had no escape to the see. The ridges beside these depressions were caused when that portion of the land didn't sink, rather than from being pushed up. It was cool. This area was also very dry, such that in one area I actually saw sand dunes formed along the road.
The ridge portions of this section is almost all covered by national forests. The Malheur and the Umatilla National Forests appear all along highway 395 and are a beautiful area filled with great scenery. There is a spot that is marked as being at the 45th parallel at which I stopped for a lovely nap along a roaring river. It was a very satisfying and peaceful moment. Later that afternoon as I was driving through this beautiful canyon they took the time to label several of the curves on the road. No idea why.
I reached Walla Walla on Friday and decided to stop and check in on the electronic world before continuing my journey to Lewiston. I anticipated another night in the car, and hadn't taken the time to stop and journal yet, so it seemed like a good moment to do so. When I logged on my inbox was filled with alerts from my financial software, and a few quick checks revealed that a bill which I had intended to pay when I returned to town had, in fact, been automatically paid, thus cleaning out my checking account and making me suddenly and seriously insolvent. It was one of those, "oh, crap, that was a mistake I need to fix it", moments; but I was almost two thousand miles from home, and barely had a home in the first place. Panic. Panic. Panic. Shift money around...gather all the various liquid accounts I had together into one place and, whew, I think it's all fine. (Next day I was able to confirm that, yes, I had made the needed transfers in time). It was a harsh intrusion into my psychic space, but I tried to leave it in Walla Walla and headed back out on highway 12 toward Lewiston.
As I approached Lewiston, which at this point highway 12 is following the Snake River, I again encountered areas where the river was being used to transport logs and to manage the logging trade. There is a large factory that process logs taken from the river just west of Lewiston. At Lewiston, the Clearwater river joins the Snake, and it is from this point forward that the road is following the path of the Lewis and Clark journey westward from the pass over the Bitterroot range. I have an irrational fascination with their expedition. I read a book, so that provides me with some rudimentary knowledge, and it is a compelling story. What resonates for me, however, is the way this story plays out as part of the mythology of the European conquest of North America and stands in contrast to the story of the native peoples who unwittingly assisted us along the way. Lewis and Clark would have failed utterly and early had it not been for the fact that they were actually following well known and heavily traveled paths across the continent. All along the way native people who knew where they were going and what they would encounter, and provided essential assistance. It was as if Lewis had a AAA card, and he used it numerous times.
Highway 12 runs ninety-nine miles through narrow and winding roads between Lewiston and Lola. Along this route it initially is following the Clearwater, and then the Lochsa rivers. Initially the road runs through private commercial lands that are developed in various ways, but it soon enters the Clearwater National Forest, at which point begins the most beautiful and scenic of all the national forests that I drove through during this six week journey. The Clearwater and Lolo National Forests are bordered on the south side by the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. On the south side of the rivers, then, are areas designated as wilderness areas, and the Lochsa is designated a wild and scenic waterway. The combination of these things mean that development is very limited and the area is honeycombed with a range of backcountry and day hikes. It is a spectacular area and considerably less busy than the other areas I have been in. On a Saturday in July there were people around, but not crowds.
The river is not the actual path of Lewis and Clark. There is a point along the drive where the expedition came down from the hills to join the river, but above that point the river gorge is too difficult to pass. Lewis' team instead had followed a path that runs along the ridge that lies above the river. Naturally, they were able to do this because the indians showed them the way.
The drive home, which took the rest of Saturday (I left Lolo Pass about nine Saturday morning) and Sunday was uneventful. I spent most of the time searching for public radio stations and going as fast as I could. Montana is not a good state for public radio. South Dakota, surprisingly, was. I also spent a little time listening to a Fox radio station. For speed, it was nice to have a flat drive, but you can't beat mountains for things to look at.
As I got closer to home I began to feel anxious about the return. Would the electricity still be on? Is everything still in order? Is stuff fine? It was and it is, of course, but I had an amazing sense of bewilderment at being here. I emptied the car, and sat around for a while wondering what to do. It was about 6:30 in the evening, and while it seemed to late to start unpacking, I did a few boxes in the bedroom, did some writing, and then moved some furniture around. All seems to be well and I think I am finding my balance.
Tomorrow, I am going up to the cities to get some money in the bank, retrieve my cat (Yoda) and then come back. Katie and Mike will be here for dinner tomorrow as Katie has business at Gustavus in the afternoon. I think that tomorrow begins the process of establishing good routines here, as well as investing some time in deconstructing this journey.
What have I learned about myself? What have I learned about the world out there? What do I do with any of it? While this journal has collected my observations and thoughts as I went, there is a wealth of insights to be gained from uncovering how I felt about what I did and saw along the way. All of it is fodder for next steps.