I awoke to Anthony’s voice. “Trevor, did you just get up to pee?”
“No, I’m still in my tent,” I said. “In fact, I do have to go though, actually.”
“Something just touched my head,” he said, with an unmistakable tone of alarm.
I thought to myself, “well I’m certainly not going out there now,” and then I thought a bit more.
It was 4am and much colder than previous nights since we were at elevation. My heart raced as I considered what might have brushed into Anthony in his exposed position atop his hammock roost. Then my heart stopped and so did my breathing as the sounds of the night came alive. A rustling here and a twig breaking over there. We prepared for the worst. An hour later, I was still on edge, waiting and listening for the sound of intruders in our midst. Nothing ever came.
Having discussed it at length since coming back from the trip, I have posited that it was a chipmunk or squirrel, as a bigger animal would not have been able to just graze his forehead at that height off the ground. Probably. There were certainly some of what Anthony would describe to me more recently as “residual nerves” from the bear markings in our first camp the night before. It is so easy, after all, to let one’s imagination run when in new environments. In any case, we made it through to daybreak and that’s all that counts.
Leaving Mazama Campground was almost as hard as sleeping in it. Temperatures were registering in the low 40’s and only I had the tights, gloves, and jacket that would make the 15-mile descent comfortable (a fact I had been teasing him about for the entirety of the trip). We layered most of the clothing we had brought, getting out of our respective sleeping arrangements only after the sun had begun to show itself and bring its warmth.
After the long descent, we encountered a long, flat section much like what my imagination had conjured for the likes of “big sky country” in Wyoming and Montana. Herds of cattle wandered in small numbers, completely at odds with the cramped, industrial nature of cattle ranches to the south, and towns barely worth a mention on google maps came and went without significance, much as they had done for the past century. This was some of the best riding of the whole tour, being both flat and scenic at a time when our bodies were done with hills and our minds could not conjure the thought of anything else worth seeing.
After a wonderfully easy and attractive start to the last 60 miles of riding, all hell broke loose. First, we hit highway 97, the main route to and from the burgeoning city of Bend in the north. It was strange riding on a busy road for the first time in nearly a week.
Then things got even worse. As we reached what we expected would be a final chance to gaze upon another stunning Oregon lake and maybe a falls of some sort, the lake had a nasty surprise for us. Apparently, September is gnat season and I’ve never even begun to see as many as I accidentally consumed in that six-mile stretch along Klamath Lake.
To our right were some interesting birds that we didn’t have time to look at as we tried and failed to dodge huge swarms of gnats, and to our immediate left (the should now being marginal at best) was an onslaught of big rig trucks. The choice was simple: stay to the right and be covered by gnats from head-to-toe and from within through every orifice, or wind up just another piece of the seemingly endless array of roadkill on the highway. To make matters nearly unbearable, there was no indication of a falls to match the city’s name.
The city of Klamath Falls was no joy either. We passed through street after street of low-rent shacks and broken-down old cars on the streets. Even when we reached the center of the town, which had more impressive architecture and a feeling of some importance, we were greeted by a creepy “freedom rally.”
This was not the kind of freedom rally where honorable and dignified Americans go to celebrate our country’s great constitutional merits. This place stunk of dissatisfied simpletons being led around by small-time but power-hungry politicos. Enterprising individuals simultaneously set up pony rides, food stands, and bouncy houses. Next to us, a bearded fellow sarcastically jabbed at a police officers with a slurred speech that made little sense to sober ears. The place was a carnival in the worst way.Our ride and trip ended at an unassuming Hertz rental desk at the nearby airport, where I had somehow managed to snag a reservation to drive a car one-way to Santa Barbara without paying anything in car relocation fees. The small SUV I had reserved was unavailable, on account of “no one bringing anything good here, only trying to leave.” The rental agent’s words confirmed to me that Klamath Falls was not a good place, so it was lucky that it served us only as a strategic place to end our journey and take up a different means of transit.
Along the road home, we drove by an almost glacier-less Mount Shasta and a nearly dry Shasta Lake, with all its watercraft huddled in the middle of the remaining bit of water at the bottom of what had once been a much deeper lake. After riding through the deep greens and rushing waters of coastal and central Oregon, it was alarming to again be confronted by the very serious California drought.
We made it to San Francisco shortly after dark and spent the night celebrating another good friend’s birthday. Reuben’s name had come up a few times during the course of the bike trip, mostly following when I would say out loud, “you know who would love this trip!” I’m lucky to have friends who like riding bicycles. I see this adventure not as one, individual trip to be appreciated and then filed away, but as part of something bigger.
Cycling has become a way of life for me and what I have learned from this trip will serve me well on future tours and when I am at home, too. I do my best thinking on a bike. I’ve already begun to enact changes in my life that came to me while touring Oregon and I’m sure the next bike tour is just around the corner.