Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 13 : Discomfort

I listen to “A study in Emerald”, and note with amusement that I recognize the names of the elder gods from the HP Lovecraft radio plays I was just listening to the other day. As the character we presume to be Watson is introducing himself, I pass by a heap of bones in the field to the side of the road, and stop to grab a photo of it.

After several hours of uneventful climbing, I arrive on a plateau. The towns of Garden Valley and Crouch are heaped together here. I see a sign advertising an RV park in Crouch, but decide to keep going since it is only late afternoon and I’m feeling good. Then the road tilts downhill, and the terrain speeds by.

I stop at a campground to use the restroom, and notice a sign saying “no vacancy”, and another sign saying that the camping fee is ten bucks, cash only. Even if there were a space available, I don’t have any cash. I ride on, and the road keeps dropping. Late afternoon turns to evening. I crane my neck to spot any more campgrounds, but there are none. Now I’m getting a bit worried.

The road bottoms out, then begins to sway in long heavy arcs, pressed against rocky cliffs on my left and a chattering river on my right. The cars thin out to a few, and then to very few. The houses stop. Now it’s just me on an empty road, and it’s dark. Then I encounter a hill.

I know this hill is different from the others because, way in the distance and at least a thousand feet up, I can see the headlights of an approaching car. As I pedal I can watch the headlights curve slowly around towards me, as the car follows the road, down along an inside curve against the mountain, carved by the massive bend in the river below. I count under my breath and it takes almost an entire minute for the car to reach me. Overwhelmed, I stop at a narrow turnout and devour the last of my dry food – a small bag of corn chips. All I have now is part of a green squash, and a little water. “Well, crap. I’ll probably have to sleep in the woods or something tonight. Except that there aren’t any woods here, just cliffs and water. So I need to keep going.”

I’m getting very tired, and despite my gloves, shirt, sweater, and sweatpants, some of the cold is creeping in. I make frequent stops but even when I recover my breath completely, I can’t go 50 yards without breathing hard again on this damned slope. Then, about 3/4 of the way up, a strong headwind starts trying to push me back down the hill. I grit my teeth and start cursing at the wind, calling it every foul name that comes to my dazed mind. I make insulting faces at it, half from anger and half from a desire to work some heat back into the muscles of my face. Finally, at long last, I get to the top of the hill. “Glad that’s over with,” I shout. “Now, this [expletive] road better not just [expletive] go straight back down again.” I pause to take a picture of the stars with my camera, but I’m too dazed to do it properly and the shot is badly exposed. Then I pack the camera up and ride on …

… And the road shoots straight back down the mountainside again. I curse a blue streak all the way.

There is some good news: Now instead of a cliff, there is actual forest around me. After a mile or so, I see a sign for the Pine Flats Campground on my right. I turn onto the driveway and shoot down a very steep but well-paved road, then begin pedaling slowly around the campground looking for an open space. … And there isn’t a single one. The spaces that aren’t currently occupied all have little slips of paper pinned to the number posts, indicating that they are reserved for the next morning. Bah. I could try and stealth-camp in one of these sites, but I’d have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to repack all my gear and sneak out before the ranger comes trolling around. That would get me five hours of poor sleep at the most, considering how long it takes to manage my tent in darkness.

Disappointed and even more tired, I bike slowly up the steep entrance, and get back on the road. My mind wanders for a while. The cold is getting to my feet. They’ve spent too long clipped to pedals and tilted uphill. I detach my right foot to shake it out, then forget to steer, then overcorrect to avoid hitting the guardrail, then the bike pitches and I fall down. I pick it up and slowly reposition myself and pedal on. 40 yards later I attempt to adjust the hem of my sweater and nearly fall down again. “I can’t just keep riding forever,” I tell myself. “Maybe I’ll find something in the town of Lowman.”

Turns out Lowman is only a few miles away. I pedal up a relatively shallow hill and arrive at the single T-junction that defines the town. Down the road to my right is a low bridge passing over a river, with a lodge and cabins on the other side. There are some lights on but I doubt anyone is awake, since it’s near midnight. I cruise over to the lodge and around the parking lot to the back entrance, and find an open bar. I park and knock on the inside of the door and yell, “Hello?”

A woman walks out of a dining area holding a cleaning rag, so I introduce myself. Turns out she is one of the managers, and was just a few minutes away from closing up the bar and going home. I negotiate to stay in one of the cabins for a reduced rate, pick up my key, and push the bike around to my assigned cabin, for some badly needed sleep. I’ve gone 70 miles and climbed 3500 feet today.

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