Why Not Run Away to Mary’s Peak?

DSCN4147After listening all day Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about sexual abuse, I needed a getaway day. So on Friday I ran away to Mary’s Peak.

It was so foggy on the coast I wondered if this would be another opportunity to drive for two hours to see nothing, but by the time I stopped in Alsea, population 164, about 30 miles up narrow, winding Highway 34, it was clear and hot. Since I hadn’t planned ahead, I was worried about running out of gas. How far was this dang mountain? When I saw the big GAS sign at a no-name station with one line of pumps, I pulled in. Honk or walk across to John Boy’s Mercantile to fetch the attendant, said a sign. I honked. Two people resting on a bench out front of the store looked up, and I suppose they alerted the lanky white-haired man who ambled across to fill my tank. We chatted about the weather—yep, warm here–and the need for a runaway day. He agreed it was a good idea. He reminded me of the handsome actor Sam Elliott. I wondered whether he was John Boy and whether he was single. Probably not.

DSCN4141$3.60 a gallon? Whatever. I was off on my adventure. Just before Milepost 48, I turned left at the Mary’s Peak sign and drove an even narrower, windier road for about nine miles. At the top, just past a campground, I turned into the parking lot, my jaw dropping in amazement. No, not at the view, at the cars. The parking lot was full, including two busloads of kids. So much for sitting quietly staring into the distance.

At 4,097 feet, Mary’s Peak is the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range and the most prominent peak to the west of Corvallis. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and many of the Cascade peaks to the east across the Willamette Valley. Unfortunately, on Friday, the view to the west was all foggy goo, and the rest was a bit hazy, but it was much better than the one time I came up with Fred and couldn’t see anything.

DSCN4132There’s not much up there at the top. No real shelter from heat or rain, no food or water, a couple picnic tables, a self-pay fee station ($5), pit toilets, and several trails.

I picked one of the shorter, shadier trails clinging to the steep mountainside. Man, it was a long way down from there. The trail went up and up, merging with a switchback trail that emerged into dry grass and looped back to the parking lot. My legs got a workout after two months of slow easy walks with Annie, who is still recovering from knee surgery. I saw crickets and yellow jackets, dusty little birds, deciduous trees coming into full fall color, and hikers in couples, groups, and packs. Many sported fancy walking poles, which might have been helpful. A hat would have been good, too. By the time I saw the yellow buses in the distance, I was hot, and my own gimpy knee ordered me to sit down. So I did.

DSCN4146I considered eating the healthy snacks I had brought, then decided I would rather sit in an air-conditioned restaurant sipping iced tea, eating French fries, and reading my library book. So I did. Taphouse, Philomath, good grub. Close to Highway 20, which offered a much easier ride home into the cool fog and a suspicious dog who sniffed me all over, wondering where I went without her.

The upper road to Mary’s Peak is closed during the winter, although the park is still open to cross country skiing and other non-motorized sports. For more information about trails, camping, etc., visit the website.

Rubber on the Road

I sometimes have this fantasy image of me being an adventurer, traveling all over in my Honda Element, experiencing new people and places, camping out in the wilderness, unafraid of anything. Just me and the open road.

What a crock. Last week, I drove from one side of Oregon to the other for Fishtrap, a writers’ gathering at Wallowa Lake, near the town of Joseph in far Eastern Oregon. A big chunk of the trip took place on Highway 84, along the northern rim of Oregon along the Columbia River in what is called the Columbia Gorge.

About five miles west of Arlington, I was passing windmills atop mountains that looked like they had been cut with a knife, with the river to my left. Suddenly, a piece of my car came off. It sounded like something hit the car. I kept hearing noises, so I got off the road, got out, looked around at the tires and sides of the car and didn’t see anything except a black smudge on the door. I figured a piece of tire from the road had hit me. It was at least 110 out there, a hundred miles from any town, no other cars around, so I got back into the air-conditioned car and drove on.

A little farther along, I heard something banging the car. It got louder and louder. Then I saw something dark blowing across the windshield. I pulled off again. I saw a long piece of rubber hanging from the roof. I had no choice but to pull it all the way off. I didn’t know what this was going to do. If it held my windshield in, I was screwed. Now I had melted black rubber all over my roof and all over my hands and arms. It looked like tattoos. There was nothing I could do but toss the rubber on the floor and drive on.

The river was still to my left, but it was a harsh-looking territory. Brown, sharp-edged. Dead animal in the middle of the road. Arlington went by in a blink. How could anything except snakes live here? I’ll bet Lewis and Clark said, ”Oh shit, this is bad” when they came through the east end of the gorge. Ominous. Clouds. The rubber thing smelled like cow poop.

Finally a rest stop where I could check the damage. The rubber strip had been holding the top of my windshield, so now there was a gap between the windshield and the roof of the car. I worried that when it rained, the water would come into the car. I also feared that my windshield would get loose and fall out. But what could I do about it out here?

Just past Boardman, another blink, it started to rain. Then a sign said, “Blowing dust next 40 miles.” That’s what the haze was. Damn.

Then I was driving through a dust storm. Wind pushed at the car, and it was hard to see. Tumbleweeds three feet in diameter came at me across the road. A lot of tumbleweeds. Then rain, big hard attack rain and lightning. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I chanted. The tumbleweeds were coming at me like bombs. I was afraid to use my windshield wipers but had to. Thank God, the window held. Nothing was coming in. Yet. It was getting late and dark. If I could just make it to Pendleton and if I could find a motel with a vacancy . . .

I started thinking maybe I should just take tours, even though I hate people telling me what to do and I hate riding buses.

Why didn’t I at least make reservations?

Oh crap. I got a blast of dust, rain, wind and lightning all at the same time. I passed a sign that said if this light is flashing check this radio station for weather info. It was not flashing.

Ten miles to civilization.

Ah, Pendleton. A guy in a Nissan sped by as if nothing was going on. Attractions sign: Pendleton woolen mills. Lodging, exit 207. Almost dark.

The raindrops were thick, like sleet, but my windows felt hot to the touch.

So far, nothing was coming in.

So, Pendleton. Exit. Businesses, stores, houses, a Travelodge somewhere down the road. I followed the sign. When I saw it in the middle of the silent Sunday night town, I thought, Oh Lord. It had the seedy look of those places very poor people rent by the month. But I didn’t want to drive another inch, so I parked, walked around the building until I found the office and discovered a normal-looking lobby, complete with a young Indian woman, last name Patel, at the desk. “How was your drive?” she asked.

“Crazy,” I said.

“Well, it’s been pretty hot today.”

“How hot?”


“That’s pretty hot,” I said, feigning calm. But I was thinking, “115! One hundred freaking fifteen degrees!!!!” It didn’t feel that bad then because the wind was blowing half of Pendleton from one side to the other and attack rain was cooling things down. But 115! Any thoughts I had of checking out historic Pendleton were replaced by thoughts of “I’ve got to get out of here” and “Please Lord, don’t let it be that hot where I’m going.”

It was.

But I’m happy to report I had a good time. Fishtrap worked its spirit-healing magic, and the drive back was considerably more mellow, although the wind was so hard at one rest stop that I had a hard time opening the door. I’m actually planning to go back sometime. There is so much to see, especially between Portland and The Dalles, so much history and nature to explore. But not yet.

In the early part of my trip, I was reading Robin Hemley’s Field Guide to Immersion Writing. I was in the section about travel writing, and I supposed I was immersed in it right then. Perhaps that’s what this is, immersion writing. Me and my long strip of rubber coming off the car in the middle of the Columbia Gorge. For now, that’s about as much adventure as I can stand.

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