The Weeks in Pictures

Spence here:  “I was looking for a job and then I found a job…and heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

…The immortal words of our generation from The Smiths–I may have been known to repeat them a time or two. After landing in Ashland for a little over a week, I acquired a job at the Ashland Food Coop. At first, as per usual, I was excited to find something so soon and considered myself lucky. Although, Billy and I were still in Ashland seemingly on a trial basis, what better way to sink in one’s teeth than to try and connect with the community and make a little cash while I’m at it. The first few days were hectic at the job–people were nice but it is a very large grocery store–a size of coop I’m not used to. It was extremely busy and crowded–good for an economic standpoint, but usually not very good for workers. Long story short, I hurt my wrist trying to keep up and by the end of the fourth day I was toast. That night, I joined Billy for some libations at our friend’s place and I had a meltdown. My health was not worth this job.

Fast forward a couple weeks and my wrist has still been giving me trouble, although its definitely on the mend. We spent a glorious week up at Wildcat Campground, on Hyatt Lake, located in the newly created Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, east of Ashland. Summer temperatures have reached over the 100s in the valley, and Billy and I were happy to stay in one place in the cool of the mountain forest, to discuss our options–while swimming, hiking and reading. What a nice life! (I realized I had missed the smells and sounds and warm water temperatures of a nice inland lake–similar to the lakes in my youth.) We talked about still driving to New Mexico, but ultimately I felt like it was a big risk to take with an old jeep on our hands. So Billy took the opportunity for a time-out to go to Texas on the train instead to visit family, while I took a time-out and stayed on, exploring more of the monument. I continued wandering back roads, day-hiking many miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through the area, and tried to regroup. While the dry mountain air and breath-taking mixed forests, diversity of wildlife and trail access have certainly drawn me into the area, the human community aspect of this place is just not there for us. Not that people aren’t nice and all–for they most certainly are welcoming–Ashland just seems to have a gap in the kind of art, music, weirdo and queerdo contingent we’re looking for. It seems as if there was more of an anchor here–a fun job, or school classes Billy was more interested in and/or cultural art/queer community–or if it was at least cheaper to live here–which it definitely isn’t–we would be more likely to stick around. Ashland is great, but maybe it is not great for us. Time to break up… it’s not Ashland, its us.

After the magnanimousness of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse has surpassed, it is onto a new horizon. Many of the classes at the University of Oregon in Eugene, still stir Billy to giddy moments of spontaneous dance, so perhaps we’ll seek our treasures there. More interesting jobs, a more livable wage and price of rent, more opportunity and still wonderful waterways and mountains to explore. I am excited this weekend, however, to shift my attention to witness this solar eclipse and just enjoy the love and company of Billy and some friends. Our time apart while Billy was in Texas, although brief, deepened and reaffirmed so many more of my feelings for him and the strength of our relationship. I struggled with the decision to not go with, and it was the first time I have felt lonely in almost a decade. But it is good sometimes, to have such feelings and know my heart is in the right place, at the right time, with the right person–and everything else is sure to follow that lead. Billy’s post coming soon…

Sweet Jeep Relief

 

Spence here: Le Huckleberries were last seen camping with some friends over the 4th of July, at Cook Creek, a tributary of the Nehalem River. A grand long weekend, filled with (work for me, in my last few hours of being a prep-cook for an amazing Manzanita restaurant called The Blackbird), surfing, grillin’, beerin’, chattin’ and fishing! I bought an amazing fly rod from a co-worker and proceeded, on my third cast, to catch a 6 inch trout. I think that’s good luck! After the party, Billy and I packed up to make our way into Portland for some appointments. The idear’ (I’ve been reading Steinbeck again!) was to wrap up some business in Portland and make our way south to New Mexico to wrap up things there and see old friends. Well, I noticed a certain clanging coming from the hood of the jeep, trusty old Fen, and Billy and I took a look inside. A pulley wheel had started to squeal and smoke a little, but in order to get anywhere to fix it, we had to go somewhere else. So we decided to head toward Portland anyway and keep an ear out for more noise. Stopping off to watch the late night firework action on the bluff over-looking Manzanita was not to be missed, however. Amazing local-talk and hilarious old-timers accompanied several fireworks shows going off all down the coast. As we rolled into Tillamook the sound under the hood was getting worse and worse–had it not been midnight on a holiday we probably would have drove it straight to a garage in Tillamook. While wondering what the right thing to do would be, the jeep just suddenly stopped steering and the noise gave way. I managed to pull over on a great wide shoulder of highway 6, luckily just on the outskirts of town but within cell phone range. The pulley had dislodged itself, leaving metal dust and bearings on the ground. Not too good. Nothing to do but wait until the morning and have it towed into Portland when the garage was open–72 miles away–but well within our AAA towing limit. So we spent a bad night’s sleep on the side of the road, feeling the wind of the logging trucks rocking the jeep all night, headlights blazing. It actually turned out to be the least bad case scenario for what it was.

Once in Portland, our friends were kind enough to put us up (again, thank you!) while our jeep was getting fixed, (needed a new power steering pump). We had a few days to ponder our driving future as the garage was backed up with broken down cars over the holiday. We decided to skip driving across the country again in the summer and contemplated maybe we were tired of driving altogether. It was a moment to pause and think about retiring the jeep life sooner than later. Looking ahead, we have decided to give Ashland, Oregon a go-around. The Siskiyou Crest and Applegate Valley are too beautiful to miss, as well as the cute, liberal downtown, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With miles of trails leading right out of the town park, including hikes to the Pacific Crest Trail and world-class mountain-biking, I think we’ll have plenty to explore for awhile.

In the mean-time, it is perhaps plausible that we will just skip the “middle-man” and buy land, in order to not pay rent! Why not? The idea of putting down thousands on a deposit on a rent-able place that we do not own, have no control over; where the rent could be raised at any time and /or the possibility that the landlord just doesn’t like us–decides to keep our deposit, etc. The whole thing stinks and what will we have to show for it? If we buy land, we can at least invest in where we are, keep our stuff there, have friends visit, camp out… even if we don’t stay forever. The concept of buying land is a little problematic for me, in that “owning” land in the pioneer sense always feels a little like “from whom has it been taken away?” Let alone the act of “owning” part of the Earth. However, the lack of safe wild space in this day and age, (peace and quiet? ATV’s, logging, shooting, hunting, partiers and trash), the concepts of my own piece of “home” and just a plain old wanting of a place to hang my hat for more than 6 months at a time are issues I have been dealing with since I left my parents house. Till all these ideas come to fruition, however, the jeep will still be home for now, but I am looking forward to growing some roots in some capacity for a spring bloom.

Billy here: The 4th of July (our dating anniversary!) seems like forever ago. In the three weeks since, we have been in a kind of limbo with the jeep breaking down, putting us in a kind of existential…crisis is too strong a word…reassessment, perhaps. What does it mean to be free and also responsible? If we didn’t have the Jeep, how would our life look? If we had roots somewhere, how would that look? Literally every week it’s a new idea with an entirely new direction. Each week it gets scrapped for another idea and it’s back to the drawing board. The drawing board is a fruitful place to be and though some of us might dislike the sight of blank paper, I find it refreshing as falling snow. The possibilities are endless and the usual life scripts can be scrapped for a playful curiosity. However, it seems clear that some kind of rooting is imminent (and even perhaps immanent!), if at least for the winter.

The first day of the Jeep being fixed, we hightailed it out of the city to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and stayed at a rustic camp. Clearly, we still have itchy feet! We swung on a big old swing among tall ponderosas and swatted mosquitoes, just happy to be in the woods. We took the back roads into Ashland and have been exploring the surrounding areas since. The swimming here is divine and the views of Mt. Shasta from the Siskiyou crest are amazing. A favorite swim spot next to an old bridge even has an upright piano in a shelter that is surprisingly not too out of tune. I spend entire afternoons sitting by Ashland Creek, watching deer and listening to musicians in the park, a short walk from downtown Ashland. The Mediterranean climate suits us very well. The heat of the day is perfect for a dip in the Applegate River or in the lakes along the Pacific Crest Trail, but the dry air is still cool in the shade and at night.

I have been accepted at Southern Oregon University here in Ashland, but I am awaiting for the sediment to settle (and some grants to clear) before deciding to attend the school. The last year has been a busy season for the heart and mind, and each foray into a city, whether as big as Portland or as small as Manzanita, reminds us that we like the slow and quiet country life. I feel as jumpy as the deer and the chipmunks in the hustle of urban life. Perhaps we just need some autumn fermentation and the crisp dormancy of winter to know which trees will bloom and which ones will give fruit.

Mt. Shasta in California, as seen from atop Mt. Ashland

Midsummer’s Creatures

 

2017 iPhone pictures 139

Billy here: We’ve been living in the state forest in our Jeep for about three months now, during which time I finished my last term at Portland Community College and earned an associate degree. Going to school and living in the car was challenging at times, as when I needed to finish an art project for exhibition or finish online assignments. But mostly it was amazing to have resources on campus, such as a gym, non-gender single showers, a library, computer labs, and even digital pianos. I feel grateful for the opportunity to attend this great school, which, in addition to employing caring and motivated teachers, is a sanctuary campus for immigrants, hosts its own farmer’s stand, and is active in creating safe spaces for gender nonconforming folk, among many other things. Without grants and scholarships, this opportunity would not have been possible for me (anyone interested in my final art projects can see them here).

Spence started a job in Manzanita on the coast six weeks ago, which has been a kind of weekend home base since. The same weekend he started the job, he exhibited art in a Trash Art Show fundraiser for the non-profit CARTM, a fantastic organization that operates out of the dump and recycling station to re-purpose materials for art and raise awareness about waste and consumption. His beautiful pieces (and amazing salvage lumber-strap tie) can be seen here. The folks here are lovely and welcoming, so much that I nearly got a job at my favorite coffee shop and feel like I have known the local weirdos forever. But, ultimately, we don’t want to settle on the coast, so after a stint down south to visit friends and family in New Mexico and Austin, we are off to find the land where we want to put down roots and cultivate food, art, and music. I am taking, at the very least, a semester off from school, to recharge, decide where I want to finish my bachelors, and find a more permanent home base.

I won’t romanticize living the Jeep. There are times when I just want to find the bird guide and it’s under my clothing bag, under the seat, the last place I’d look. There are times when I just want to go to bed instead of rearranging the whole car to sleep. There are times when I just needed to submit a school assignment and all the small town cafes were closed. There are times when I just want to make dinner completely from scratch, but don’t have access to a full kitchen and oven. There are times when I feel genuine fear that the young, swearing drunks, whom just started a bonfire down the road and are gunning three large pickups, are going to mess with the two queers in the woods with no phone signal.  There are times I would just rather not drive anymore.

But overall, the experience has enabled us to be outdoors most of our days in the forest. We wake up to the trills of hermit thrushes and go to sleep to the hoots of barred owls. We see the different microclimates of each slope where we camp: where the salmonberries and thimbleberries fruit first, where the foxgloves bloom, where the bells of the salal are draping, where the dry “piney” mountain scent is on the air, and where the biting gnats like to feast on bare ankles and hands! Nowhere is the siren of the law or the beeping of the garbage truck! Only logging trucks, trash, bullet shells, and the throng of recreationers, waterlogged from this year’s oppressive winter, remind us of the presence of humans. One of our favorite camp spots, however, affords us so much solitude that we felt quite comfortable taking solar showers naked in the open with water from the creek. The sun, thrushes, and sparrows wake us every morning. Nighthawks and eagles soar and dive overhead. Elk and deer graze nearby and newts and frogs hide in the riparian pools and crooks of skunk cabbage.

The night of the summer solstice, we heard the raspy, rising whistle of a strange bird, a sound we had heard only once before at Alsea Falls. Spence diligently chased the sound as I watched the fire and came running back to tell me he spotted the source: two small, fluffy, white owls with dark eyes! As he rummaged for the bird guide (rargh!), I saw a third owl deliver a chipmunk to each of them and they began to devour the chipmunks, ripping them with their beaks! They bobbed around, making circles with their heads, and jerking the little rodents apart. We had never seen such a thing! Spence did research later and learned they were juvenile barred owls. We settled next to the fire, glowing with our good fortune, and silence settled around us. Suddenly, to the north of the road (where we nearly camped), a sound arose like Black Cats exploding, then a sound like a large truck peeling up the gravel, then several great wooden cracks, followed by the crushing of branches and shrubs. Then silence. A tree had fallen in the forest of its own accord. We were finally around to hear it! Later that night we heard the adult barred owls hunting, hooting, and screaming like monkeys above us. What a midsummer’s night!

Spence here: Just as I could start to smell the dank, moldy basement essence emanating from my shoes, the sun came out and saved us all in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s celebrate! I want to first congratulate Billy on getting his Associate’s Degree. It is an important chapter in his life that he humbly has worked very, very hard for. I am so proud of him. In June there was also my birthday, which sheepishly I usually spread out through much of June. This included a celebration in the big city, following up a celebration in a small city. I always wanted to stay in the hotel/hostel that is The Norblad, in Astoria and we really had a shockingly royal time, complete with fuzzy white robes. More important than all of that has been the amazing wild life we have seen in the past 48 hours–juvenile barred owls, (hear their call here!), frogs resting on skunk cabbage leaves, bald eagles flying over highway 205, and the Clackamas River alike, a tree cracking and falling of its our accord in the middle of somewhere (I am glad we weren’t camped on that ridge), as well as fish jumping, bats, sphinx moths that look like humming birds, actual humming birds… More over, another event involving a group of diverse friends was our newest little friend and his “Blessing Way” celebration–not quite a baby shower, as the intent is much more significant. It is a ceremony linking our friends with this new life and welcoming him in this circle of connection and love. I am feeling very thankful to be reminded we all have this web of support and how lucky we all are. P.S. We drove on the beach for the first time on the northern coast of Oregon and it was fun, but strange. I only saw one person actually walking there but many many trucks.

 

 

 

Life’s Next Assignment

We were not seeking to escape. On the contrary, we wanted to find a way in which we could put more into life and get more out of it. We were not shirking obligations but looking for an opportunity to take on more worthwhile responsibilities. The chance to help, improve and rebuild was more than an opportunity. As citizens, we regarded it as an assignment.” –Helen and Scott Nearing from their 1954 book Living the Good Life

Spence here: Back on the road; as Billy and I decided to move out of our rented house in Portland and live in the national forest. Our reasons were noble enough: save money on rent, be able to go to school in the spring without much to tie us down, get outside more after a long and cold, wet winter, be healthier and more mindful about food, drink and exercise, seek out a different way to live. We have gained insight over the course of the first month: the presence of mind when one has to deal with immediate concerns, such as food, water and shelter. We have been having amazing conversations, dreams, visions and ideas about what life can look like, where to go after this: what is working and what is not.

Mostly, we have been spending time on the coast, or at school. All of our needs are met between these two ranges and I think I am healthier because of it. I admit, the rain and uncertainty were really stressing me out at first. We had to figure out our systems and road rhythms. Perhaps also, it was the plethora of mishaps in the beginning which soured my mood; such as my 20 year old coleman stove finally breaking, mice in the jeep, a cracked radiator, a jeep flat tire, logging truck headlights at 3:45 a.m… or it could be just good old life transitions, which I look forward to but also struggle with. A big question was where to camp? We started by staying in some of the ‘family’ campgrounds for around $20 a night, but quickly realized this would not be much of a savings, not to mention fulfilling more of the ‘wild’ experience we were craving. Over the last few weeks we have found some really great free dispersed camping spots in the national forests. This, and a break in the weather have really lifted our spirits.

I had a dream last night where I visited an intentional community, living high in the mountains. I climbed the rocks to enter and the rocks became sculptures and furniture. Everything was oversized and made of old varnished picnic-table wood. The ceiling was a circus tent. The people who welcomed me had on stage make-up, and were literally two-dimensional. There were other people there however, who were three-dimensional called “myss” (pronounced sim-misses), who were transgender and fluid. They were open, spiritual dream leaders. Only when I accepted and revealed my whole self in the dream, did I also become “myss”, have magic powers and fly. Only then, did the community become 3-D as well. I need to remember in order to find “home” I have to be open and optimistic and arrive with my whole self. Additionally, I can no longer carry around the suitcase of preconceived judgements about people I haven’t even met yet.

Things about the road life are often very interesting and funny, although not always ideal. The driving, for one. However, I am optimistic this journey will lead us to a discovery we would not have come upon otherwise. For now, I love going to sleep with the peeking crescent moon, rain on the tarp and elk curiously stomping around in the dark . Waking with the sound of the first bird, clouds in the trees and my snuggling accomplice.

P.S. Praise to our friend and former housemate who also hit the road in April for an intense 2-5 year walk across the country. And to our friends everywhere who are steeped in grand adventures this spring. Cheers.

Billy here: It’s been a while! School has kept me occupied, sometimes more than I’d like. I’ll be finishing my Associates of Science from Portland Community College in June. It will be good to have a break. I’ll admit it’s been a tough season. The winter was bitterly wet and cold, I lost a dear friend, and I became increasingly disillusioned with the insulation of city life. School has kept my mind busy and it needs a good unraveling! It became clear we needed to untangle our hearts and minds before we could see where it is we are going.

Taking off a layer of insulation by moving into the jeep was the first step. It’s not perfect: we’re using gas to get places and propane to cook. We are aware of exactly how much we use, however. We hear the sounds of trees falling and chainsaws buzzing when we camp near timber sale areas. The Tillamook Forest is feeding Portland’s new condos. Whether we live in a house or a car, the resources are coming from somewhere. I took to heart what a Torres Strait Islander once said: “Understand what you have got on the plate in front of you, and your roof over your head, where it comes from, how it got there and what it took to get there.” I don’t think there is such a thing as opting out. We are all on a journey with the land and it’s up to us whether or not we go along with it. I believe that the Universe is alive and moral, that everything is related and space and time determine the nature and meaning of relationships. If I am sped up in an environment full of human making, I feel disconnected. The disconnect created a gap in my consciousness somewhere and I’ll admit it has manifested in depression over the last couple of years.

So here we are, trying to figure out how to be alive and connected, not knowing exactly where to start. I reject the patriarchal systems of domination that Europeans  spread, so I’ll also admit I feel like a cultural orphan. But when I drink spruce tip tea under the tarp and the drooping hemlocks, I have a feeling we are the ones who orphaned the land. I believe that life asks us for meaning, not the other way around. We must respond by being responsible to our conscience and our creativity that the Universe gave to us, in order to unfold. I think that is what is meant by being fruitful. The whole land blossoms. How can we live like that?

 

A Year’s Turning on the Oregon Coast

Spence here: {Billy is taking another hiatus from posting, as he is swimming through mid-terms in school.} Over the holidays, my sister sent us some remarkably accurate, thoughtful gifts! Among them is an amazingly raw and beautiful and tragic and fun and under and overwhelming piece of poetry in the form of a book by Michael J. Wilson, called A Child of Storm. What follows is a pipette of the poem “Study (Three Seasons”:

The nervous system is the figure of a tree

feathered and dropping then rebuilding itself

January is a purple bruise–the coldest month–a diamond mistaken for ice

You were pale and falling into a hole that you were filling up…

January is a full stop

a wrap everything up and hold it–hold it–hold it month

A moment of hardening–sap freezing into copper holding–

all that energy holding–wait–wait–wait–

That great release of spring–

We escaped town and went to the Oregon Coast to witness solstice and the great dark times of winter. We were rewarded with two days of full sunshine. A brisk, slanted breeze held us up on the beach, but back at the ‘warming hut’ (our rented yurt) we slept on bunk beds (I got the top one!) with the heater blasting and made epic egg-in-a-hole-in-the-breads, one after another. On our last afternoon, parked at an overlook called Roads End, we finally stopped our fidgeting and succumbed to a glorious, sleepy, hazy dream–we napped sitting up in the seats of our jeep, with the sun pouring in and a view of undulating 6-8 foot waves spread out before us. Hunger woke us up a bit and we ventured further down the beach to Neskowin to watch Venus and the Knife of Time rise over Proposal Rock.

As the snow came down back in Portland in buckets, we ran through Billy’s 2016 journal of days and hysterically cackled at our fortunate lives and our unfortunate, ridiculous, insulting whining. Because what?! We really have it too good to be true.

Giving Thanks to the River

Spence here: (Billy is taking a writing hiatus, while he finishes up another semester of school!) In two weeks time we visited Cottonwood Canyon on the John Day River, (outside of Condon, Oregon) 2 times. Overall I think that makes at least 6 trips to the canyon for 2016. Like the Oregon version of New Mexico, we go there for big open sky and the dry, colorful peace. For the super full moon in November, we took a quick overnight trip, arriving at the campground at dark… time enough to have a soup snack and a home brew and settle down in our nylon cave. It was mild weather and the clouds parted for us to catch an amazing glimpse of the Moon, of which I put so many thoughts and feelings into. We were back in town for work the next day, tired, but on another level, rejuvenated.

The next trip was Thanksgiving time. Although Billy and I were worried about the cold, we found the weather to be rather accommodating, not so windy and fairly dry and sunny. We spent time walking, reflecting, talking about our goals for the coming year, and in general, gulping deep breaths. I laid down in a mostly dry riverbed, (the John Day had been very low at that point from a long dry Autumn), and looked up at the  grey, patchy sky for what felt like weeks. We discovered secret, silent groves of Pinon pine, walls of asteroid-looking rocks and a couple of new insect and plant friends. Thanksgiving is such a strange time, as I am torn between celebrating and being thankful for my family and my luck and the love and health in my life, yet mourning for all that humanity has created and destroyed and waged. I don’t buy the whole pilgrim-indian feast thing anymore, and instead have had to come to terms with this holiday in my own way. Much like Christmas, I get a little depressed at the ways in which our species has acted, but because I have so much to be thankful for, it seems a bit daft to be solemn. At least being outside and close to the ground and surrounded by natural things helps me to piece it together. It can never be one thing… it is always many things. It is always many many conflicting, simultaneous wonderful horrible things. It is how things go. The water flows, and I go with it or against it. Thank you to everyone in my life who has shown kindness–to me–but more importantly to everything and every being I care about. May we be able to drink right out of all the rivers again in this lifetime!

Roll Out to Stub Stewart St. Park

On the rails-to-trails

Spence here: I set out last Thursday on another bike adventure, thankful the weather was a calm, 60 degree sunny day in November. (Sometimes the West Coast wins!) I told myself I was going to go on this bike trip no matter what the weather. I sure was glad it wasn’t raining and 40 degrees, or I would have had to eat my hat.

I left Portland–taking the Max train out to the suburbs, all the way to the end of the line in Hillsboro. From there, an amazing scenic bike route on mostly wide open farm roads took me to the town of Banks where the Banks-Vernonia Rail-to-Trail started. I had read varying reports on the internet about how far it was from Hillsboro to Banks, however, since I took most of a scenic bikeway loop, i.e., the long way, I am pretty sure it was about 20 miles just to reach the trailhead. Without a fancy gadget to tell me, it is hard to say. Although, this trip I did take a map of the area and it came in handy!

Stub Stewart State Park is located about midpoint of the Banks-Vernonia Trail. Click here to see the brochure and map!  The park has a neat set of mountain bike trails and a rather large, well-organized, quiet, private hiker/biker campground. I rode that first day to my hiker camp in the woods, luckily located above the creeks and valleys, (hilltops are somewhat warmer if not windy). It was a beautiful evening. By the time I got my tarp set up and dinner on the stove it was dark. I forgot camping in the winter months is a funny time warp, with darkness falling about 5:30pm. I finished my dinner with a headlamp and sat out on the picnic table for quite sometime. I watched the light fade from the hills, read a little of my book (Woman of the Boundary Waters, by Justine Kerfoot), and wrote in my journal. I was leery of all the rustling in the bushes, but it turns out the noises were only a few mice. The owls soon took over with their calls as the stars came out. I was the only one in the campground.

I had not yet used my new bivy sack and tarp set up, so I was a little nervous about how warm I would or wouldn’t be, and also, not having that perceived protection in the form of a cozy tent. I lamented at first about it… and missed my adventure captain, Billy. Once I settled down in my little ‘home’ however, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I was. It felt good knowing I could camp like this anywhere if I had to, and I had shaved a few pounds off of my overall packing weight. With food and water and some winter clothes, my total pack weight was only 18 lbs–much less than the trip I took this summer even. I found the biking with less weight much more enjoyable. Of course, not packing a six-pack of beer helped lighten the load.

In the morning I got up at first light–eager to make a warm beverage and finish the trail to Vernonia. I arrived by 9:30am and thought about going to a little cafe for breakfast. Vernonia, as well as Banks, is super accommodating to bikers since the rail-to-trail went in and there are plenty of cute cafes and breakfast nooks, as well as craft breweries. I was having such a nice morning though, just enjoying the sunshine, the riding and the scenery, once I made it to Vernonia, I just turned right around and kept riding. I took some breaks along the way, to see the chickens in the fields, the pigs with their baby piglets, nodding to numerous cows and stopping once to pet a horse. The riding was easy on the way back, mostly flat and/or downhill-ish and I made it back to the Hillsboro train station by 2pm.

The people in the small towns of Banks and Vernonia were so kind, as were the people driving (moving way over on the road and even slowing down!) People on the trail were commenting about the great weather, the autumn colors and in general seemed at ease. In the wake of this presidential election, I was happy to see so many people out enjoying the natural areas, getting exercise, running their farms, waving greetings and smiling gently. It reminded me not to lose hope as I gaze over the political map of the United States and see abundant red states. It left me to remember that kindness, especially during this time period is the best thing I can offer. It doesn’t take that much more energy to try and smile and wave and be friendly. I’m not naive; I know of terrible political upheavals, unfair laws in practice, hatred, environmental and humanitarian degradation–most recently hearing about the unjust ways First Peoples are being treated at Standing Rock–but for me to dwell on those things all the time is too much. It is overwhelming and can be paralyzing. However, it still seems possible to have an influence, maybe even a greater one, on a daily level with basic presence and gratitude towards strangers, loved ones and my immediate surroundings. I’m not always in the right mind to do so, but getting outside, either walking or biking or just getting out and doing different things, one’s perspective is changed and empathy hopefully can sneak in there. I get out to get away, but ultimately it is the chance to shake up my stubbornness, ease my set-ness and to have another chance at being a better person.

 

Seekseekqua

 

Spence here: Over the Labor Day weekend, I managed to wrangle (seriously, I had to wrangle it) an extra day off.  I have always wanted to check out Mt. Jefferson and the whole Jefferson Park area, outside of Detroit, Oregon and the South Fork of the Breitenbush River. With an extra day for driving and seeing the sights, we were off.

I knew the trail to the area was steep (trail 3375)  and we hadn’t been backpacking in awhile. I was still a bit disappointed in my fitness level, however, and it still came as a surprise as to how long it took us to get up the 6 miles (and 2000 feet) to the park area. I felt happy though, just to get out there, feel the late afternoon autumnal sun rays and smell the breeze. I bought a new backpack several weeks ago and really got a chance to over-load the thing with heavy food, extra clothes, books, journals and water, to test it all out. My review of the pack is simple–awesome! Mountain Hardware’s South Col 75 is a good friend to have along in the back-country. Comfortable, big, nice hip belt, great outside pockets and mostly waterproof.

The first night we stayed in a site among the boulders, hiking up about 3 miles. We had left late from Portland and meandered our way to the trail head from Genie’s restaurant, the library and a stop at the North Santiam River State Park–finally driving through Detroit and down a long gravel way. The first morning was chilly. We made coffee early and then got back in our sleeping bags with the thermos full, reading books until the sun came up over the ridge. Warming up came quickly though, as we hiked the rest of the miles up to the lake. We took our time feeding and watering the horses (I like to think of myself as a horse sometimes when I hike uphill, as it makes me feel stronger), eating fig newtons all the way up.

Our reserved back country site was on Park Lake. There are numerous lakes in the area: Bays, Russel, Scout, Park, and Rock Lake. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the area and on our next full day we hiked along the rocks and on this famous trail.Views of the mountain were in my mouth it was so close and the shadows long with a strong warm sun. The next day however, the mountain changed moods. We woke to dark, chilly sky and a misty ridge line. By the time we thought about packing up, the rain was actualizing and the temperature had dropped. We said goodbye to the brook and the trees, glanced up and said farewell to Seekseekqua, aka Mt Jefferson, the lakes and Park Butte, (and our abandoned oatmeal breakfast) and headed down at a good trot. I finally found a good pack weight equilibrium for my knees and felt like they were healthy for the first time in years. I actually had a great time going down over loose gravel, mud, rolly rocks, wet plants and low hanging brush. We stopped a few times to pick and eat wild blueberries and Oregon Grape. At one point I was running down the trail, using my trekking poles like a slalom skier… thankful to be feeling better in my mind and body. 6 miles in 3 hours and were getting back in shape. I love the woods!

Billy here. What a much-needed foray into the wilderness! We were so happy to be on our first real backpacking trip of the year that we didn’t mind the ridiculous traffic on the highway (that seemed to mysteriously end after passing the suburban outlet malls with their Labor Day sales).

On the way, we stopped for lunch at North Santiam State Park and sat at the river bank for a bit, enjoying the sun. It was late afternoon by the time we took our final turnoff on the forest road for our trail head: late enough that we knew we may not make it very far in before setting up camp for the night. On the road, far from any other campground, a lone man was walking with a dog. Spence waved, but the man only peered in to the jeep at us intensely. We thought it seemed odd, but soon forgot all about it when we reached the trail head and tried on our fully loaded packs. It had been entirely too long, but it felt good. My pack was actually too heavy, despite my assertion that it felt light. I had journals and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit packed, along with fresh fruit, vegetables, and more food than we could possibly eat in three days. However, it was sunny and the smell of the woods was invigorating.

Posted on the trail head was a flyer for a missing young hiker by the name of Riley Zickel, who had been missing since July 27th. His car still remained at the Breitenbush Lake trail head, according to the flyer. Spence said maybe he just decided to keep walking the PCT. This put me in a reflective mood as we ventured into the woods. The lady fern, vine maple, and big leaf maple began to envelop us. Some creature left several half devoured grand fir cones in the trail. As the trail climbed, the ferns changed to bear grass and huckleberry, and the maples gave way to mountain hemlock and Douglas fir. We struck off the path as the sun turned red to find a flat spot to camp, but the going was rocky and steep. I kept imagining how the missing hiker may have slipped off and into a ravine to perish. By the time I was really thinking of how tired and out of shape I was (and how we probably should’ve settled for the last flattish spot), we found a beautiful little camper nest off the trail with just enough space for our tent and a kitchen area. It was cold that first night, maybe because it was wet near the creek and the sky was clear.

The next day was gloriously sunny and warm. We hadn’t made it quite as far as we’d imagined, but it was only a few miles to the wilderness area up near Park Lake where our reservation was for the next night. Hikers leaving for the weekend, it being Labor Day Monday, reported being rained out the entire weekend, only to have the weather break today when they were leaving. We knew we had a little window though, because the forecast called for rain tomorrow. The hike over the ridge into the Jefferson Park was really beautiful and, after feasting on wild blueberries, the rest of the walk was more or less downhill.

We crossed stunning meadows and creeks as the mountain suddenly came into view, large and sheer. Park Lake was nestled at what seemed like the foot of the mountain, where our campsite sat at the top of a hill overlooking both the lake and the mountain. We sat at the water’s reflection. We ate chocolate and drank wine. We wandered the lakes and walked a short jaunt of the PCT around the park. The sunset was golden and the stars that night were powdered sugar and crystals.

The next morning we moved slow. It was misty and wet and we didn’t finish breakfast before it started to rain. We packed up everything wet and began our descent down Breitenbush Trail. I forgot my gloves and Spence graciously lent me his socks and carried my cold trekking poles. Raynaud’s syndrome causes the blood vessels in my fingers to constrict, so my hands overreact to cold and wet climates. I should start packing my neoprene surfing gloves everywhere! Despite being soaked and a little cold, the hike down was lovely. We ate more blueberries on the way down. I think they are the most delicious blueberries I have ever tasted in my life.

Driving back out down the forest road, I mentioned to Spence that the man we saw walking with the dog a few days ago may have been the missing hiker’s father. We stopped in Detroit for coffee and snacks and the hiker was the talk of the town. The family was indeed searching for him and they said that his father, Robin, did indeed go walking for him every day. Sadly, as of this post they still have not found him yet, despite weeks of rescue efforts, but the search continues.  I found myself deeply moved by the courage family and friends showed when faced with this uncertainty and loss.

A friend of the family, Cheryl Alterman, described the young man: “Riley was a special kid. He’s an old soul. He’s 21, but you would never know it, and his smile entered the room before he did. He is the guy that every mother hopes their daughter can marry. I know his heart is brightening up the forest.” Lt. Chris Baldridge said: “I think it’s the hardest thing for us to have to look the family in their face after getting to know them for eight-plus days, and letting them know we can’t find their child.” The father posted this moving message online from the family:

I will be leaving Detroit today with great gratitude for the love and support  we have received from the people of Detroit and from the people who have tried so hard to rescue him.

What we have learned from this very hard lesson is that Riley has shown us that the most important thing is to show love and compassion to one another. This is what we have received from you and this is what we would like to give back to you so that we all can continue on to give to each other.

Our lives have changed forever and it is our hope that due to our beautiful son Riley so has yours so that we can all share with each other and the world the beauty of the lessons he has shown us.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Erin, Robin, and Noah

Cheryl observed, “The forest was (Riley’s) favorite place, and if that was his way to go, then he’s probably in the happiest place that he can be.”

Five Mile Butte Fire Tower

Spence here: Its been a peculiar summer in the Pacific Northwest. At times it still feels like Spring, with Fall soon to follow, nipping at our heels. One or two days of 90 degree weather in June, has been closely followed by cloudiness, 65 degree days, fog and wind the rest of the time. The mountains have magnified this pattern, and although we had good weather for most of our trip on Mt Hood, the rain and cold threatened at many turns. In the sun, when it shone, and out of the wind, I felt my body warming as I laid in the wild flower fields surrounding the fire tower we rented for a few days. But in late afternoon, the breeze would shift, become chilly, and the view from the tower too awesome to resist. Billy and I would retreat to the glass-enclosed tower, which felt like a boat in the sky. It would sway a bit with the whipping wind and creak like an old knee. The Five Mile Butte Fire Tower is built 40 feet up off the ground. Its current incarnation was built in 1947, but there has been a tower there since 1920. The area is popular for mountain-biking, but the hiking is just as spectacular. I was thrilled to finally stay in a tower, equally as cool as sleeping in a lighthouse, which is also on my list of fun. This tower had a solar panel, so we had an overhead light for the night time. It also had a nice propane stove with an oven. I could see how snow-shoeing in and staying over during winter would be cozy and quiet. There is a wonderful old wood stove and a huge shed stocked with firewood. We had to pack in our own water, and on day 3 we decided to hike down to 8 Mile Creek and filter water to bring back up. We probably had enough but it seemed like a great hike and a way to explore Five Mile Butte.

We had a few days before our reservation at the tower and a few days after, so we took the opportunity to explore more of the southeast side of the mountain. Our first night, on recommendations from friends we drove down highway 42 toward Boulder Lake. It being the 4th of July weekend, we decided to backpack in to avoid some crowds. We ended up going around Boulder lake, past Little Boulder Lake and camping at Bonnie Meadows. We were the sole humans there camped by an amazing little creek filled with fish. We spent a wonderful afternoon, eating snacks and laying in the dirt in the bright sunshine. It eventually turned very cold, even too cold for the mosquitoes, so a roaring fire kept us up past 9pm. We bush-wacked a little bit to find a neat trail back the next day, circumnavigating the area. We day-hiked some trails with magnificent waterfalls and had many second breakfasts and second lunches.

After our fire-tower adventure, the weather turned. We decided we needed some time to think about what to do next, so we headed into Hood River to contemplate life at Pfreim… our favorite craft brewery! Heading back to the mountain, we stopped to hike up Cooper Spur. We drove a crazy dirt road 20 miles up to Cloud Cap Saddle and even though rain was intermittent, hiked up a glacial ridge to see the mountain personally. The rains really came down soon after getting back to the jeep, so we drove some more to find a secluded spot in the woods to spend the night. We cleared the back of the jeep and decided to sleep in it. Even though it was a little cramped, the temperature inside the jeep was so inviting… wine, snacks, good books and deer tv out of the windows. We fell asleep listening to all the creatures and the dripping dropping. When day light came again, we decided we still hadn’t had enough fun, so we drove to Lookout Mountain and climbed to the top during a foggy, cloudy, rainy late morning. I suppose one would want to climb that mountain when one could see a view, but I would say it was still very magical, at times peaceful and simultaneously electrically spectacular. Glimpses of Mt Hood felt especially well-timed and powerful as clouds eerily flowed over us and into us. What a way to spend an anniversary with the most magical creature I have ever known.

Bike Camp-Out: Oxbow Park and Beyond

Spence here: A few months back I decided to take my little bike on a small camp-out. My destination was to be Oxbow Park, located on the Sandy River outside Troutdale. I haven’t ever ‘toured’ before, staying overnight somewhere, only long day trips so I was excited for the possibilities. I (tried) to pack the bare minimum, as my bags, rack and handlebar bag are of second-rate-used quality from Next Adventure for a total of $30. No use getting expensive stuff if one is not even sure one is going to like said activity. Anyhow, these bags worked great and I probably won’t get fancier ones. There are many bags out there that are water proof, but garbage bags on the inside to protect my clothes and sleeping bag work well for me. I spend my money on backpacking stuff. Probably I had about 30 pounds of stuff all said and done, including water. For a list of things I brought along, see below.

My bicycle doesn’t have touring-magical-powers, nor do my legs. The gearing is a 2×8, 2 in the front and 8 in the back. Not bad for a 40 mile day with decent hills. Oxbow Park is really only 20-some miles away, but I took the long way because I wanted to see all of the Spring Water Corridor Trail. It was awesome! Even with 3 flat tires there and back (I had old tubes in there) I enjoyed myself. The route after the bike-and-pedestrian-only trail ends is very hilly, through rolling farm county. I felt like the trucks and locals were pretty respectful and moved way over for me, except for one motorcyclist who had something to prove by buzzing me while I was going 5 miles an hour up a hill. I guess he showed me his man-power!

I ended up getting lost, as I didn’t have a map and I don’t have a fancy phone, gps or the like. I did write down the directions, but I took a different turn than I was supposed to, just to see what was down the road (and to ride a 3 mile downhill!) so I stopped at a gas station to ask for firmer directions. While I was there, I picked up a 6-pack of “morale booster” and what-do-you-know, it fit in that old handlebar bag like it was meant to go there. It even is insulated! At first glance I didn’t notice.

The people at the gas station didn’t know where the park was, even though they were local people and the park was less than 5 miles away. After asking 4 people, a 5th person knew and set me up for success. I reached my camp after another ridiculously long steep descent and toured the park. A wonderful, clean, well-cared-for park with plenty of wild areas for your imagination. I spent a lot of my two days out napping and writing on the beach and trying to figure out a way NOT to ride back up that screaming hill! It looked like the only way in and out of the park so I was sweatin’ it. I even thought I might be able to convince a drift-boater-fisherman to take me across the river, as I knew the road was flat over there. I never got up the gumption, but also then I found an old horse trail on the map that I thought I could walk up. My bike has knobby tires so I figured I’d rather hump along an old horse trail than ride up that monster twisty hill. Maybe I m just a backpacker at heart. In any event, sometimes not knowing what you’re getting yourself into is all the courage you need!

I got up early on departure day and I had another flat tire. After fixing my pump! and then fixing the flat! and then missing my turn to go up the trail (it was a little overgrown) I had breakfast by the river. I managed to find the trail and it went straight up. I could barely push my bike up the grade. Once I got to the top of the ridge however, the trail was easy, open pine floor and quite lovely. It was very quiet and a perfect temperature and I decided I would like to go on another bike trip in the future if conditions were like this. I rode that trail for awhile and then reached the switchbacks. A quarter mile later, after grappling over some roots and fallen snags, I reached the dead end road that would lead me to my turn-off back to Portland. I felt pretty clever and energized for the rest of the ride. As they say, it was all downhill from there. I will probably go on another ride/camp-out this summer, when I have forgotten how much I dislike biking uphill. I will probably take even less gear and bring a friend. Biking is safer in numbers. Yee-haw.

List of gear, loaded into 2 rear panniers and a front handlebar bag:

sleeping bag

alcohol stove, cook mug, spoon, knife, lighter and fuel

food, 2 water bottles and an insulated coffee mug

extra socks, shirt, underwear, bandanna and raincoat

journal, pencil, colored pencil set, paperback book

tools and 2 extra tubes: tire levers, 3,4,5,6 allen wrenches, 13, 15, 17 cone wrenches, adjustable wrench, leatherman multi tool, chain-breaker, extra master link and patch kit, travel pump

sleeping pad, tarp tent and ground cloth bungeed to the top of the rack