Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 6 : Curiosity

I’m biking my way out of Christmas Valley, having decided to go east and bypass Summer Lake and Paisley because it’s clearly too hot to camp. Back in town I found a pair of “glove liners”, lightweight cotton gloves that cover my hands where my long-sleeved shirt exposes them. I’ve soaked these in water, along with most of my shirt, and a bandanna beneath my helmet. I’m wearing sweatpants to keep my legs from burning. Only part of my face is exposed to the open air; the rest of my body is covered. As long as I keep pedaling, the moving air evaporates the water and I feel almost pleasantly cool, in contrast to the 100-degree environment I’m in.

Ahead of me, straight on for twenty miles, the road vanishes into a heat haze. Brown telephone poles, bleeding tar, march along the right-hand side of the road, so far out ahead of me that they look like burned matchsticks, and then blur into a solid wall beyond that. I look to my left and right, and can’t help thinking that the terrain I’m seeing was very appropriately named, when the pioneers came through, and gave it the title “badlands.” It’s a gently rolling expanse of gritty sand and shattered rocks, crowded over with sharp, waist-high bushes that make travel in a straight line extremely unwise. Furthermore, it’s oven-hot, and the bushes offer zero shade.

About twenty-five miles out of town, halfway up a hill, I soberly realize that if the road were to suddenly vanish beneath me, forcing me to deal with the badlands, I would probably have about three days to live.

I reach the top of a rise and about ten feet away, an enormous brown hawk leaps up from the ground, flapping, and pounds its way up into the sky over my head. I look at the spot where it had been and see the ragged body of a small animal, a rabbit maybe, in a cloud of dust. As I pedal down the hill and up the next one, the hawk draws a few wide circles in the air above me, then falls behind. Hopefully I didn’t scare it out of a meal.

The experience immediately reminds me of my past encounters with bears, and the thought that comes into my mind each time: How many thousands, or even millions, of these large animals had to die, before their gene pool was sufficiently altered to give them an instinctive fear of humans? Did they have it outright, or did they have to refine it?

Or to put the question another way, how much worse did the early settlers have it, than us, when they encountered a huge hawk, or a gigantic bear, or a wildcat? Did the critters just wander up and start swinging, and clawing through the supplies, and carrying off the cats and dogs and chickens? Or did they do what they do now – and scramble out of the way because humans are eldritch beasts of unfathomable power?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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