2005, the way home: day 7

Original post: 2005-05-30: Return from Mojave, Day 7


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


To this day, the most memorable part of this particular day is a near miss. [1]

Forest service roads are mostly empty on even the busiest days—especially in the middle of Central Oregon. Driving through the meadows and trees by yourself at daybreak, you start to get the feeling that you're the only person in the universe, cruising through time and space in a way that suggested that the place was mine and mine alone. [2] Forgive me. I was 24. I haven't kicked the habit but it was so much more concentrated then.

Anyway: the point.

Coming around a turn that I can still see very clearly in my mind—a 90-degree-or-so bend cut into a small ridge—sliding around that gravel bend because that's what you do when you grow up with access to gravel roads that bend—seeing the grill of that truck stamped like the aftermath of a red hot brand in my memory.

Holy shit.

Probably I'm just overdramatizing it in my memory. Probably it was routine. Probably I wasn't speeding as much as I thought I was. Probably I didn't get that ass end out around the front end and then grab traction just in time to slide in between the truck and the ditch on my side of the road. But. But but but. In memory. In that solemn memory vault where the lies and the truths spend their time shooting the breeze until they're called into action, that's how I remember it—a pound-your-fist-on-the-car-ceiling-and-keep-pushing-it kind of moment. I can't even imagine what the actual consequence of sideswiping a local in the middle of nowhere with no reception and no recourse would have resulted in. Utter catastrophe. Needle pricks in the hands and forearms even now. [3]

And I remember the next problem, maybe not connected to the first, but maybe borne out of the same bit of karma.

What do you do, when you're in the middle of nowhere, and you're out of gas?

Dunh dunh DUNH.

This specific detail eludes me: did I try to drive to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Painted Hills section) and then blanche and decide to get gas, or did I figure out, when I popped out of NF-12 (I think) onto US-26, that I was basically out of gas and needed to sort that out pronto? I don't quite remember. I remember the white-knuckle-but-slow-motion-and-neutral-on-the-downhills drive east on US-26 hoping that there was a gas station within range. I remember the single pump tiny-ass gas station that saved my ass. South Fork Mini Market. With that weird Oregon requirement of not being allowed to pump your own gas. I hope my younger self tipped the hell out of that guy. I don't think they're even allowed to take tips. What does it matter? Survive and advance.

These shouldn't be the memories that I retain but they're still there, and they're still fresh.

The rest of the day is still there in my memory in fresh relief as well. I wonder: is that the result of the early morning adrenaline?

John Day is badlands: yellow and red and, if you go to the Turtle Cove formation, blue. Weird volcanic spew dumped from somewhere on the weird volcanic coast, then covered up, then slowly revealed after ages and ages of erosion—and it takes ages and ages because it doesn't look like it rains out there.

I don't even—I can't.

It's an interesting place, but the recall of the place still fades in comparison to dumb young adult car problems. It's too bad. But John Day is mostly imagination anyway. You can see with your eyes the colors. But you have to see with your mind the fossils and the lives of the pre-fossil animals and the non-lives of the pre-color vulcanism and so on. The really interesting stuff isn't there, it's in your mind. The thing itself in front of you on the trail is just an image, a what-is-now, a what-you-see, but it has many what-it-is's to it. You have to accordion the place out through time to get a good feel for it.

This is all strange talk but I'm not going to edit it—this is the record as it exists in what passes for my memory. Then US-26 east and then OR-7 east and northeast to cut cross-country to Baker City, and then OR-86 past the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center (too late, closed) to cut through Hells Canyon to Idaho.

This day is the fulcrum of that trip—a tipping point from the left side to the right side, from the west side to the east side, from the cautious side to the aggressive side. Selah.


[1] George Carlin, it's not a near miss, it's a near hit, etc.

[2] Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came / Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name

[3] There's only one other turn in my memory, also a gravel road turn, that evokes this much ferocity and adrenaline on recall: Depler Springs Road, near Lewistown, morning, sophomore year high school, out to pick someone up for a morning run training for track, getting the station wagon I-swear-perpendicular to the gravel road in an induced fishtail before sliding it to a stop. But can that be Depler Springs Road? Wasn't that paved? How much of memory is totally paved over with falsehoods? Should you even read this post?







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.