Their intense body posture mirror the force of the river they’re about to meet head on in a crescendo of flesh and water. All I can do is watch the river chew its way back through the raft towards me ready to swallow me up.
I take a stand to meet the river face to face tempting fate as they are blasted by the blunt force of the river’s attempt to stop us dead in the water.
The river humbles me to beat retreat and I am swallowed up as they barely escape exploding out of the belly of the beast.
The river does not discriminate and it’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ it will reach out and grab you one day. Everyday I push away from the boat ramp with my guests I breathe a deep sigh of acknowledgement and humility and pray for good fortune that today is not the day.
I loaded my up my B.O.B (beast of burden) bike trailer with just about everything I own and peddled out of Bend, OR at sunrise and headed north for the sleepy little riverside town of Maupin, OR where I will be spending the summer sitting on the back of a raft telling the same old jokes and working on my spectacular life jacket tan line that looks like I’ve been wearing a sports bra all summer.
My ride took me along the shoulder of Hwy 97 and 197 which parallels the eastern slope of the central Cascade Mountains and I stopped along the way to take some photos of a couple landmarks, the Crooked River High Bridge and the old The Dalles-California Highway, as well as beautiful landscapes of the arid high desert of central Oregon.
Above: This is a stretch of the old The Dalles-California Hwy that I rode up Cow Canyon Pass. You can see the new highway in the background. This ‘ghost’ road was my personal bike path as I climbed almost a 1000 feet in elevation. It was nice to be away from the buzz of traffic and tractor trailers.
Above: Found a patch of shade along the old highway for a much needed rest to hydrate and a snack of jerky and smoked almonds.
Above: The views from atop Criterion Pass were beautiful. This view is just a small part of the tens of thousands of acres of ranch land that is managed by R2 Ranch. The white puffy clouds seem to float just above my head.
Above: Mount Hood in the distance was like a white beacon urging me onward toward my destination. The landscape here is dotted in sage and juniper and you could smell the fresh sage on the warm breeze.
Above: The town site of Maupin, OR sits above the Deschutes River. Maupin is named for Howard Maupin, a pioneer who had a farm and ferry at the town’s location in the late 19th century. Originally named Maupin Ferry by town founder W.H. Staats, the city’s name was shortened to Maupin in about 1909. Now, it is home to a local economy the largely depends on outdoor activities like trout fishing and whitewater rafting.
The trip mileage was just short of 95 miles and took just under 7 hours to complete. The afternoon temperature reached well into the 90’s and after lots of exhausting hill climbs I reached my destination and was able to soak my hot tired feet in the cool and refreshing waters of the Deschutes River.
It was late afternoon when I rolled into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park just outside of Santa Rosa, CA and the weather forecast was calling for a steady rain throughout the evening. With about an hours worth of daylight and fading fast due to the encroaching rain clouds I was optimistic that I would be able find a camp site, set up my 6×8 tarp, and throw up my tent comfortably underneath and would be dry enough to weather the impending storm. I had sent out a text earlier that day to a friend of mine asking her to check online for me that the park did in fact have hiker/biker camping available and she quickly responded reassuring me that it did. When I finally arrived to the entrance of the park after a grueling 3 mile up hill ride my hopes were quickly dashed when I read the updated park information board that they no longer offered hiker/biker camping and that all the available campsites were 50 bucks cash due on arrival. My heart sank with the setting sun. Due to budget shortfalls in the California state legislature many state parks had been closed or services severely reduced in an effort to save money. This particular park had been recently taken over by a private company like many other parks throughout the state to be run like a business at the expense of weary travelers like myself. I decided to cruise into the park past the camp host or in this case the ‘evil tax collector’, to see what 50 dollars buys you these days. This is the highest price I had seen in a thousand miles of biking down from Oregon and I figured that its proximity to the high property values of Sonoma County and the rolling wine country had something to do with it. Though the park offered well maintained hiking trails and an observatory the campground itself was lacking any natural inspiration. The sites were completely exposed and stacked on top of one another and the physical exhaustion I felt from the long hard ride just to get here made me feel depleted and kinda angry. I knew paying the 50 dollar cash fee was not an option. One, I didn’t want to pay it on pure principle, and two, I didn’t even have the cash even if I wanted to.
The rain started as a light drizzle and whatever sun that was left in the day was now completely obscured by the dark clouds and the encroaching night. Being on a bicycle does have its advantages when you are trying not to be noticed. I quietly biked to the far end of the park looking for a place that was tucked into the trees and out of the way where I could fly my tarp and set up my tent and stay dry. The drizzle turned into a steady rain and though I was trying to stay optimistic I just couldn’t quite accept the circumstances in which I now found myself. I walked into the woods to look for an acceptable clearing where I could find trees close enough together to hang my tarp and ground open enough for me to place my tent. I tromped around in tall grass that was now soaking up the rain like a sponge and my bike shoes were quickly drenched and I could feel my toes squishing in them with every step. After about 15 minutes exploring one spot after the next I didn’t find anything I deemed acceptable and decided to retreat to the observatory that was situated behind a locked gate about a quarter of a mile down a gravel road away from the main part of the park.
The observatory was comprised of a couple of modular units and had a wrap around wooden deck that was high enough off the ground that I could actually stoop underneath it with my bike and trailer. As I scrambled my way underneath to get outta of the rain I had a moment of optimism and was quickly warming up to my new potential campsite for the evening. I sat on the ground with my back against the wall legs stretched out and with a heavy sigh of relief I clicked on my headlamp to investigate this little refuge from the weather. The ground was dry and covered in small gravel pebbles. I eyed a potential spot to place my tarp on the ground where I could spread out my sleeping pad and bag and there was plenty of room for me to set up a make shift kitchen to cook a much need hot meal of pasta with dried veggies and tuna. My stomach growled at the thought and I gave it a reassuring pat to let it know food was coming very soon. With a low rumble of thunder the rain had established itself for the evening and I was quite thankful for my makeshift accommodations. Just as I began to unstrap the dry bags from my trailer to settle in for the evening the rain poured in from above through the cracks of the boards that made up the deck. I cringed as I felt water dripping through steadily like a form of Chinese water torture, tap, tap, tap, tap on top of my head. I pulled the hood to my rain coat up and over my head and crawled to the edge of the deck to asses the situation.
In the faint light about 30 yards away I could barely make out a small structure. It had the shape of a small utility shed and as my eyes adjusted I began to make out the familiar green walls and white rooftop and concluded that it was in fact a port-a-potty. I needed to relieve myself as it were and I made a run for it. When I opened the door there was a fresh minty bubble gum smell that greeted me and I was surprised how clean it was. This particular ‘honey bucket’ was wheelchair accessible and had at least twice as much available floor space than your normal port-a-potty. I estimated it to be about 7 feet by 7 feet with a bench seat next to the toilet and space next to one wall that was wide enough and long enough to accommodate a sleeping pad where a man of my size 6’2″ could easily lie down comfortably. As I inspected the cleaning calendar on the wall I was happy to see it had in fact been serviced the day before and the interior was surprisingly clean. As I was mentally mapping out the floor plan my dampened spirits began to warm up to the prospect of escaping the steady downpour outside into this luxurious studio apartment! I ran back to the deck to retrieve my bike and belongings and bid farewell to the deck that once looked so promising, but now had become a sieve filtering the rain which began to collect into puddles below.
I stashed my bike and trailer in some bushes behind the ‘storm shelter’ and brought all the belongings I own in the world inside and began to settle in for the evening. Re-energized and feeling quite comfortable I was very grateful for my surroundings and took a moment to really appreciate my good fortune. Of all the nights spent camping in beautiful parks nestled in majestic pine forests or on cliffs perched above the sprawling Pacific Ocean, I’ve never appreciated a place so much as I did that stormy night tucked away in that wonderful toilet. Home really is where you make it!
Jedediah Smith State Park is less than 10 miles northeast of Crescent City, California and offers hikers and bikers an incredible opportunity to explore old growth stands of the mighty redwood tree. The park was established in 1929 and is bisected by one of the last major free flowing rivers in California, the Smith River. If you’re traveling south along Hwy 101 from Oregon to California this is your first opportunity to explore some of the world’s best old growth redwood forests. This is one of the least developed redwood parks and offers campers and day hikers jaw dropping scenes of trees of unimaginable width and height. This was also the first time I learned about bear boxes and the need to take great care with my food and trash so as not to attract any unwanted guests during the night. It was a little nerve racking to see signs posted throughout the campground that warned of bears that had been recently seen in the park and the need to use caution when hiking the trails. Fortunately I did not have any issues with the ‘local natives’ and I spent hours exploring the famous Stout Grove which is considered one of the most scenic redwood groves in existence. Though much larger trees can be found in the Grove of Titans most visitors including myself are hard pressed to find it as their location has been a closely guarded secret to protect them from damage. I visited the park in late September and was perfect timing to beat the hustle and bustle of the tourist season and the weather that time of year is usually the warmest and driest. Jedediah Smith State Park is a must see if you ever find yourself cruising along the northern California coast. Your only regret is if you don’t!
There are few things that I enjoy more than a morning campfire, hot cup of tea, and a map. The fire warms my achy muscles, the tea clears the fog from my sleepy head, and the map inspires the imagination of the places I’ll soon discover. Along the Oregon Coast there are no shortage of beautiful state parks with available hiker and biker campsites and as I pull into each campground I’m excited to discover the designated site that I’ll call home for the night. After a long hard day’s ride exhausted from climbing the rolling hills that make up the Oregon coastline I’m always relieved when I finally reach my destination and rest and reflect on the day. Making camp is something I look forward to every day and despite being so worn out from the ride I get a second wind as I map the layout of the campsite and begin unpacking and setting up my tent, arranging my makeshift kitchen, and gathering wood for a fire that will snap and crackle to life keeping me company as I drift off to sleep.
It was at this point on my journey down the western coast of the U.S. that I actually felt far removed from home. I’ve always been fascinated by bridges and the bigger the better. Though there are bridges that are much larger and span wider gaps none have held greater hold on our imaginations as the Golden Gate Bridge. To stand at the foot of this iconic American landmark after having come so far I truly felt the psychological and metaphorical significance of bridging the gap between what I left behind to what was waiting for me on the other side.
With so many incredible views along the historic Hwy 101 on the Oregon coast it’s hard not to stop at every mile marker to snap a photo and capture the moment.
Traveling heals the soul and what was once broken can always be mended with a little perspective and a trip to Santa Barbara County wine country. The hills near the town of Los Olivos just off the historic and scenic U.S. 101 are bursting with fresh spring grass and the vineyards will soon be waking from their winter slumber to start growing the bounty for which this area is best known for. The sprawling countryside is punctuated by bubbling emerald green hills pockmarked by the sturdy Valley Oak tree with it’s irregular shaped branches silhoutted against the azure sky inviting you to come lay beneath them in the cool shade and forget your worries for a bit. It’s the kind of pastoral scene that brings all else into perspective and causes you to breathe a sigh of relief because you just realized that this is your life.