A small sliver of sky can be seen ahead of me, but all else is lost in this world of enormous evergreens covered in snow, I’m driving on a road covered in snow and enormous piles of snow block me view into the woods, I’m in a winter wonderland and live is good. The road is completely straight, though I start to wonder what I would do if the road were to drop steeply or make a curve, there is no possible way I could actually make the turn.
I’m driving on some random road in Southern Oregon, it is so peaceful I just want to pull over and make snow angels, but I can’t, there’s absolutely no where to pull over, so I move on down the road, passing little plowed pull overs every few miles and looking to see if there is a trail or a road I can snowshoe down.
The drive from San Jose to Portland should only be 11 hours, but I’m on my second day of driving. I guess it’s a good thing my brother chose Thanksgiving weekend to get married and an even better thing that he chose a girl from a cool place so I could at least have a road trip before the wedding, it helps to have such thoughtful siblings – he knew I just couldn’t handle a New York wedding.
So I drove the highway to Chico, wandered around Chico which is a wonderful little college town with lots of bike paths and really good mountain biking, which to my chagrin was closed, so I did what any outdoors nut would do, I decided to take a 200 miles roundabout detour through Feather River country and I feasted my eyes and soul on some wonderful scenery which many Californians will probably never see.
The Feather River Canyon is absolutely amazing, I do recommend it and the road is a great one to ride. It reminded me of the road going west out of the North Cascades in Washington, California Route 89 north is amazing, it winds it’s away along this river and every few miles there are tunnels and a rather interesting series of dams and small hydro-power plants to harness the water from the feather river. There is also a railroad track across from the road and there are many tunnels and trestles that it travels through and over, being the lover of anything railroad that I am – it was a special treat for me.
The weather was cool and crisp, but brilliant sunlight was slanting through the trees as I climbed higher and higher through Southern Oregon wilderness near Diamond Lake and the general Umqua area. I wanted to snowshoe, but didn’t really know where to go and when I finally found a trailhead with ample parking I was able to speak with two ladies who had just broken the trail, they warned me that I could get killed going alone and I told them I did 90% of my outdoors adventures alone.
I mounted my MSR snowshoes and hopped onto the trail. The evergreens are enormous in the northwest, they are tall and narrow and pretty much block out the sky, I could see pieces of sky through the canopy, but my view was mostly small glimpses of distant snow covered forested ridges and the forest itself. I kind of felt like I was in the Adirondacks, except here the snow was probably about 6 feet deep, even with full length snowshoes I sunk up to my knees in the powder. The forest was perfectly still and silent, except for the crashing of snow every few minutes as a large dropping branch loosened its load onto the forest floor. I walked through the woods for a couple of miles until the ladies trail had ended and I began to break the new trail. Breaking trail is always tough and I relished in the sweat beading down my forehead, I marveled at my resilience being that it was 80 degrees last week and here I was in 25 degrees at 5,000 feet pushing my way through deep snow, I also like to get a good soulful communion with the outdoors once a day and combing it with a heart pumping workout is not bad either. I was sitting in the car all day and needed to get out, I love driving, but unlike most road trip artists, I try not to focus on destinations too much because I may miss all the good stuff along the way.
I met someone in the parking lot while taking off my snowshoes who warned me about an impending storm coming, the thought of chaining up my tires (my least favorite activity in the world) made me cringe so I decided to try and get out of the high country before I became stranded. The last store I had passed was over 50 miles ago and there wasn’t much of anything until I would get down to the interstate over 70 miles away. Like most outdoors nuts, I travel with enough gear to get me through most things, if push came to shove, I could probably camp out comfortably in a snow storm and have enough food and supplies for a week – though I was almost out of gas for my stove and didn’t have my tent, the back of my car is roomy enough to sleep two comfortably and I had brought my zero degree sleeping bag to save on motel costs.
I admit that I found a cheap motel in Weed, California to stay in on my first night, I was really tired and one of my greatest pleasures after a really nice day on the road in the winter is to stay in an old roadside motor lodge close enough to the highway so I can hear the truck tires singing to me at night and the engine breaks stuttering as the trucks exit the highway, there’s just something very romantic about the open road to me and I love the sounds of it. This is made even more interesting by the fact that I rarely find myself on the interstate because I favor the real experiences of small back road towns to the built up exit ramp towns that seem to spring up around exit ramps on interstates all around the country – while still favoring roadside non-chain motels with blinking neon signs.
I took a shower and lay in bed watching TV for several hours, television is a love/hate relationship, I would never want one in my house, I find it terribly addicting and a great way to zone out, but rarely do I want to zone out, zoning out means I’m not learning anything or having real interactions with myself and others, zoning out is the opposite of who I am – yet television is such an amazing thing, I had 100 channels at my disposal and nothing to watch, the more I experience life, the less I can relate to TV and movies, the real experiences trump those that we try to live vicariously through our favorite TV shows. The greatest thing about the new TV’s are that I can’t figure out how to work them and rarely get to sit and zone out. Of course you can watch TV on the internet, but I find that I get along best with people who not only refrain from TV, but those people that know nothing about it, my best friends usually don’t have TV’s.
So I’m sitting in my hotel room and at around 9pm I zone out enough to fall asleep, wake up several hours later, daven maariv, look at the window at Mt Shasta, a brilliant behemoth, a massive mountain that you can see on this fairly whispy night due to the moon. Mt Shatsa is only 14,000 feet tall, there are plenty of those to be found in Colorado, but the mountains around Shasta are tiny in comparison, in Colorado it’s common to have these tall mountains surrounded by other tallish mountains which take away from the massiveness of it. Mt Shasta is huge and the spindrifts coming off of it earlier in the day when I davened mincha on some snow covered mud pit road in the middle of a scraggly tree forest were quite amazing. I myself don’t have much interest in climbing mountains for the sake of peak bagging, but getting up to the top of Shasta may be something to aspire to, who knows where my hiking will take me this coming year.
I call what I am doing a survey drive, now that I live in the west, I want to know the best places to go and the places not to waste my time on. Unlike the days of yore I work full time, sometime 6 or 7 days a week and cannot just go on a whim, it may seem like that to some of you folks who aren’t serial road trippers or hikers, but I ride or hike locally every day, so driving an extra 2 hours to something that isn’t that great has to be avoided at all costs. Now that I’ve seen Upper Bidwell Park in Chico, I know I have to go back during the summer, even though they were closed, it was beautiful and the trails were totally cool.
So where was I? I was waking up in Weed and taking you through the deep snow covered forests of Oregon. Let’s talk Oregon, did I mention that I fell deeply in love with Oregon yesterday? I truly did, I felt this jolt of familiarity the second I left the interstate in Medford. Something was different than the traditional west I knew, something had changed for the better. It was cozy!
Wait Mr. Heshy, we though the west was full of mountain men living in wood stove heated cabins? There is plenty of that yes, but the scenery and wilderness is too scenic, too massive, which generally makes the wilderness too foreboding, almost scary you may say.
I love Montana and Idaho and Colorado, but the mountains are huge, the plains are huge and the rivers are brisk, it’s not like New England or New York where the babbling brooks flow smoothly through nice gentle sloping hills, low mountains and comforting deciduous forests with wet carpets of fallen leaves, but Oregon has this, even northern California has this, but here in the great state or Oregon it’s in abundance, it has the cozy-ness of the east and the beauty of the west combined for one smashing combination.
The folks I rent from in San Jose have one of the coziest houses I’ve been in since I moved to the Bay Area, this is because cozy is hard to find, it’s this feeling I get when I’m surrounded by books, music, tea and clutter, there must be carpet and there must be a good selection of tea, live plants also let the cozy-ness in. Cozy-ness makes you want to curl up on the couch in a thicket of quilts and pillows, with a cup of chamomile, a good book and some soft music in the back round. Many of the homes in the Bay Area are too new to feel cozy, I don’t like new stuff, I like old hardwood furniture, sagging couches, ragged carpets, smelly books, stained pillows and chipped plates, I like clutter, I like lived in spaces, clutter is not dirty.
I tell you all of this because one of the things I miss dearly from the east coast is the cozy warm feelings I get in certain spaces, lots of it has to do with the crisp and damp weather, here in Oregon it’s crisp and damp, but the dampness doesn’t feel like east coast dampness, here the rain is gentle, the winds are slight and the people seem to be overjoyed with a simple cup of coffee and a nice wool hat to keep them nice and toasty. It’s only depressing weather if you think too much about the weather, I myself think about the weather, but the thoughts were coming today as I debated for about ten minutes whether to see Portland by bike or by foot. It’s a marvelous city to bike around, the model for other American cities, there were plenty of people out and about on their bikes today, but I really wanted to feel the city and riding would be too fast to marvel in the old architecture, strange homeless folks and locally owned stores which Oregonians are seriously diehard about.
I wanted to slow my pace, I had driving for two days straight and even though I wandered on snowshoes and by foot, I wanted to give my head the freedom to circulate and really take in my surroundings. Portland is a great walking city, it is old and modern and gentrified, it’s truly a Midwestern city in the west, the river flowing through it cuts it in half, you can see ships parked along factories and grain elevators. The bridges spanning the Willamette river are quite nice if you’re into bridges, I love old Iron truss bridges and I especially like railroad bridges and Portland is full of old railroad stuff. I especially liked the Pearl District.
I went into Powell Books, because I was by a fan told to see it and I walked right out before I could get a heart attack. Powell Books is like The Strand times 10, it’s like an independent new and used book store with 10 times the amount of books that a sizeable Barnes and Nobles has, it is exactly the type of bookstore I hate, they mix the new and used books together, they have too much selection which means that you will probably find what you are looking for, but this always makes it hard to find treasures you didn’t even know existed. It also gives people with ADD a headache, there is just TOO much selection, I am the same way with restaurants, I hate restaurants that have a lot of entrees on the menu, I always feel that chefs should pick a few dishes and try to make them the best rather than focus on pleasing everyone.
I am headed towards Roseburg on route 138 going west, the mountains are wonderful, rolling and gentle, it’s very different here, the big mountains are covered in trees and I am going lower and lower, the snow line is at about 1500 feet. In California the snow line is at about 3000 feet or so, it is much colder in Oregon. The sky has turned overcast, I personally like dark forbidden fallen leaf filled forests, I have noticed that I like to hike in gray weather much more than I do during the summer, the forests seem more closed in, more peaceful and more in preparation mode, I like the calmness of it all, the animals sitting in their nooks and crannies eating nuts and making summer plans for tunnel extensions or supply gathering operations.
The towns are older here, the towns in California and in most of the west are built up with modern tones, here things are ramshackle, there is ramshackle in California, but you have to travel very far of the highway and much of the ramshackle is not due to the age or abandonment, but due to the poor migrant workers, the central valley is terribly bland and it takes up most of the state, once you start driving north in California, the central valley closes in and mountains appear and suddenly you’re in Oregon. It’s also the trees by the way, oaks and maples, classic eastern deciduous trees that lose their leaves in October, hard to find in the west, but in abundance here.
I’m walking through a park in downtown Portland and the ground is covered in slimy yellow and orange leaves, several homeless guys are smoking weed and discussing the latest in shopping cart technology. They nod at me, they don’t ask me for money and I go on my way, the park seems like New York, the benches have that style and there is grass and old buildings surrounding it. There is definite nostalgia for certain aspects of the east coast everywhere I go, luckily for me, San Francisco is pretty much a smaller and more beautiful version of New York, but there are still things I miss, not enough to ever move back there, but enough to make my mind wander to certain parts of upstate that I have grown to love over the years, but it’s possible that Oregon may be my new New York.