On the cusp of a pretty gnarly winter storm, heading out on a road trip right now isn’t high on my list. That coupled with some big plans for my on-going career shift that might come into focus this week, an emerging variant going off, and kids going back to school – I fear the notion of hoping in Marty and going on a road trip seems like pure fiction right now.
Instead, I’m going to share a “hit” from the road trip archives. This one is from just over ten years ago. From a time free of global pathogens, social media, and back when planning a road trip seemed a bit more care-free.
Back when I’d just pick a vague destination based off something I heard from a friend, or an entry I read in a paper-backed guidebook and go. No reading reviews, fretting over weather forecasts and assembling a menagerie of electronics and gear – this trip I loaded up my sidekick Sierra, and headed in a South-Easterly direction.
The stops along this trip are well documented now, and I’m certain the solitude Sierra and I experienced in these places would be quite unlikely now. But I suppose that is what makes road trips so special – they capture the magic of that moment, of the souls in the car, the open road, and the destinations. Since all things are constantly changing, no road trip can ever be the same.
It was a late October afternoon in 2011 when Sierra and I loaded up in the old Ford F-150 and headed South on US 97. We then headed East on 31 down a road we would call the Goobies Byway.
Goobies was a nickname given to Sierra by our friend Chase who used to visit us often during our early years here in Bend. Sierra who was a shepard/huskie mix resembled a coyote in many ways, and HWY 31 dubbed the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway had signs with coyote silhouettes on them – thus the Goobies Byway.
We arrived at our first stop right as the last bits of sun were setting over the rim. The area was once a great inland sea, now the arid basin is home to a beautiful spring-fed stream that I had recently become infatuated with due to my then-budding obsession with fly fishing.
We spent the night in a tent at some hot springs nearby. This spot is known and loved by many, but was a bit more rough-around-the-edges back then. Only two little cabins dotted the land near the bath-house, and a crowded night would see maybe six people in the main pool.
On this night, I had the old barn to myself. I soaked in solitude, and sometime during the night Sierra wandered out of the tent and ran among the sage. I remember being worried, but looking back on it now, it makes my heart soar thinking of her out there under the moonlight in the high desert.
The next morning we headed further into the wild scrublands of SE Oregon. As someone who had been obsessed with mountains and snow for many years at this point, I was just starting to discover and appreciate the wild beauty of the desert. Funny how now I think I spend more time speaking out solitude in the desert then in the alpine.
Our next stop was a small desert oasis surrounded on the Western bank by rim rock that was covered with ancient graffiti. Petroglyphs mesmerize me – it is captivating to try and decipher what the artist was drawing, while at the same time thinking it was likely just a group of ancient teens bored out of their minds who probably got in trouble for defacing the sacred grounds.
Sierra was such a beautiful dog in this environment. Her spirit needed room to roam. I remember that one night in our first house in Bend where she jumped through the screened front window to heed her need for wandering.
The wind was blowing out of the East when we were at the lake, and it allowed us to be undetected by a herd of antelope – well over thirty of them. Watching Sierra creep through the brush as we got within 100 yards of the herd had my heart pounding, and put me in touch with some deep hunter instincts that I didn’t realize I had inside me. Wild.
The “road” in and out of this little lake was pretty rough. I wouldn’t realize how rough it was until the following morning. But there is a bit more to cover before we get to that part of this memory reel.
We then headed to a camp that was nestled up in the foothills of the nearby mountain. The hillside was dotted with springs, and the meadow contained a developed and some un-improved hot springs. The one thing missing from the area was other people – we had the entire bit of paradise to ourselves.
The aspen which clustered around the springs in the hillside, and the creek running through the meadow were lit up with fall colors. We wandered in the hills, and I took a silly amount of pensive looking selfies.
It seemed that our day had a sufficient amount of wandering for Sierra, as she actually hung out with me a bit at camp that evening. No late-night wanderings required.
The next morning I opted for one final soak in one of the little pools in the meadow before heading back home to Bend. In retrospect, this was such a great idea because the road trip was about to take a turn for the unexpected rather soon.
While driving away from camp, I was feeling pretty great. Life had been through some really huge challenges in the prior six months – and I was still trying to recover and rebuild from some damages I had caused. I still think this trip was a pretty critical piece of that healing process for me. It reminded me that my soul needs time like this in wild places, alone, to be right.
While pondering this and many thoughts, the truck began to fishtail a bit, so I slowed down to see what was going on.
And that’s when the impact of the rough roads the prior day came into focus. Thank goodness for full-size spares as the tendrils of cell phone reception didn’t reach into this place back then – and I hope they still don’t now.
With the blow-out fixed, I still wanted to make one last stop at a little lake that hung up on the hills at the base of the mountain’s steep Western face. I had read that they stocked it with trout, and I wanted to see if I could find a bit more magic in the trip.
Fish were rising that morning. I don’t think I had ever fished still water with a fly rod at that point, and I had no clue what to do. I stood on that dock, equipped with a nascent fly selection, and very minimal casting ability. Humble pie was served for breakfast that day – but the magic of the road trip still held strong.
So while I can’t pack up right now and head out on the road with one of my furry friends to find some magic like that today – it is great to think back on this set of memories and realize that the magic of the road trip is always with me.