Day 14 – Zero Plans, Zero Coordination

It was below freezing this morning at 7:30am! I had an early start because of my early finish yesterday. I’m not kidding, it was 0oC in the van which meant it was definitely colder than that outside. There was ice stuck to my windscreen wipers! Brrr… I used the bathroom at the trailhead, had a very refreshing face wash, then got the car going so I could use the heater and get the feeling back in my fingers.

I drove in through the North entrance of Crater Lake and drove straight past since there was no one manning the booth. Before 8am is too early obviously. I’m glad I left it until today, driving in, there was a mountain visible that hadn’t been before because it had been shrouded in cloud. There were still clouds about, but nothing rain threatening, not at this stage anyway. I was blown away by the amount of snow in the park. As I got closer to the lake, the snow built up as well. It looked pretty fresh too. I would later learn that the snow had fallen within the last week. The snow wasn’t just on the mountain peaks either, it was right by me on the road, covering the pine trees in the beautiful way that it does, untouched, pure white.

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At the intersection for the east and west rim trails, I chose east since it was longer and had no roadworks. It was at this intersection I also got my first look at the lake. There was a small carpark so I parked and walked up the frozen ground on a little hill to overlook the lake. When I reached the top, instead of being blown away by the view, I was nearly blown away! I couldn’t believe how cold it was outside my now-warm car, the wind was carrying right across the lake and straight through my body. I was underdressed. Still, the lake is breathtaking. The crater formed when a 12,000 ft volcano exploded one last time, spewing out so much of its insides that it couldn’t support its own weight, so collapsed, forming a crater. It is, to use a technical term, HUGE. To imagine that a 12,000 ft peak once stood here is incredible. And the water that fills the crater is probably some of the purest on earth. No lakes feed in, so it is just snowmelt and rain and it is full. It’s the deepest lake in America. All this I tried to capture in photos, but they won’t do it justice.

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Back in the car, I put on some warmer boots and put my hands back over the vents as I drove on. There were a few short hikes that I’d picked out to do, but honestly they weren’t going to get done in this weather. Kimberly had also told me that Crater Lake is a “walk up and take a photo” kind of place, and I was seeing why. You get such a good view of the lake’s expanse from the rim, there’s not much to gain by climbing another 1,000 feet to have a higher view of the same thing. I stopped at a viewpoint for breakfast, staying mostly in the car and out of the wind, except to cook up my oats. A nice hot breakfast went down pretty well. It took me about two hours to drive the whole east rim. Time actually flew, I didn’t realise how long it was taking, but I was happy. I took a side trip to the Pinnacles area to see some very strange Pumice formations that had resisted erosion to stand erect amongst what looked like sand. I would have loved to touch some of them, to test their sturdiness, since they looked so thin that they might just fall over. It was a unique sight and it was a lot warmer here away from the water.

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The rest of the drive out I consistently missed turn offs to some waterfalls I was planning to stop at, but I wasn’t that committed because it had started raining again and it was so nice and warm in the car. I ate a muffin on the road as I exited the park just after 10am.

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Listening to music, I kept heading south, my next destinations being Mt. Shasta and Lassen National Park. I stayed right of Klamath Lake (unintentionally, I had planned to go the west side but missed the turn off) and it was a very pretty drive through farmland that was surrounded by snow-capped peaks. There were a number of lambies in paddocks with cute jackets on them to stop them freezing overnight. I had half a mind to make myself something similar.

The scenery continued into California where I stopped at a rest area that lay between Klamath Falls and Weed (yes, there’s a town called Weed). I was making a habit of stopping at every rest area I saw, just to see if there was consistency to the rules. This one allowed an 8 hour stay, the first in California that I’d seen. This one also had free Wifi! I went in for a chat and to get my water filled up. I mentioned to the lady there that I was heading back to the bay area and was planning to see Shasta and Lassen, was there anything else I shouldn’t miss? She said Barney Falls straight away, so I made a note of that. I sat in the car for a bit just to have a rest from driving and downloaded some audiobooks and more podcasts to try using the Wifi, then was off again, listening to “Four” by Veronica Roth, a very easy listen.

As I got closer to Weed and further south, Shasta came into view. At least, I think it was Shasta and when I say came into view, I mean the base came into view. Even the base had snow on it, so I could only imagine what the top looked like, if it weren’t shrouded in cloud. Just after the town of Mt. Shasta, I got off the main road to highway 89, which would take me through Lassen. I clearly wasn’t going to see Shasta like I’d planned and I definitely wasn’t going to go hike it! It was nearly 1:30pm at this point and I was hungry for lunch, so looking for a spot to take a break. At a town called McCloud, I saw a sign pointing to a historic district. I love that stuff, so I turned off.

It was a pretty little town which would normally have a grand view of Mt. Shasta. I pulled over outside the information center, which was closed, but took a look at the information sign. I was tired of driving and needed a small hike to do or something. As I got out of the car, a couple nearby asked if I was here for the race, pointing towards my bike on the roof. Confused, I asked what they meant and they explained that there was a big bike festival on in town tomorrow. Really? They said there was more information at the info center. I thanked them very much and went up to the window to read the brochures about McCloud’s Bike-toberfest, happening on September 24th! Well I’ll be. I got onto the website and found there was both road and mountain bike events, the most interesting of which was a 30 mile mountain bike ride that involved taking a bus to the start, then riding all the way into town. Wow! Even better, pre-registration was open in town at 5pm. Guess I’ll be staying here tonight and going riding tomorrow! I didn’t get too excited, knowing the event might be fully booked already, especially since there was a bus involved, but I was pretty stoked about the couple that had told me, I would never have known otherwise! Even if I’d seen the brochures in the info center, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that tomorrow was the date of the event!

I drove on down the highway a little ways to McCloud Falls, where I’d learnt from the info board there were picnic areas and some hiking trails along the river. As I drove in, I saw a couple on their mountain bikes, so beelined towards them in the car. They stopped as they saw my bike on the roof. When I rolled my window down, they asked if I was local, which was a bugger because I was going to ask them the same thing. They were wondering if the trail along the river was rideable and how far it went. I showed them the map I’d got and we all agreed that there was no signage that stipulated no bikes, so figured it would be ok and from the map the trail went for seven miles along the river and past the lower, middle and upper McCloud falls. They invited me to ride with them, but I still needed lunch and they were already geared up, so I bid them goodluck, hoping I might run into them on the trail. I made a wrap and took it not far to the picnic area by the lower falls. It was a short fall that fell into a large pool where a few fishermen were eagerly trying to snag some salmon or trout. I spied the trail from where I was and thought riding it was a wonderful idea. Honestly I hadn’t really thought of that, was just going to walk it a bit, but the couple I’d met had great creativity.

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The sun was out a bit, but I left my long pants and a thermal top on, again travelling light. I called Kevin as I rode off, chatting with him as I pedalled lightly along the river. I woke him from a snooze he was having at work, then we hung up when he got roped in to do some work. I was out of reception soon after that anyway. After the initial climb to get past the middle falls, which were stunning, to the upper falls, the trail rolled gently alongside the river. I came out at a number of camp and picnic spots and even found this old chimney fire pit in seemingly the middle of nowhere. The trail map said 7 miles (11ish km) but after 14km I turned around, not sure where the trail ended. I was still following mountain bike tracks along the trail, so the couple I’d met must have carried on. I think the trail had been trending slightly uphill on the way out because I felt faster on my return.

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When I was back in range again, Kevin and I got back to our conversation, catching up on everything. Bike back on the car, I drove back into town for registration, hopeful I would be on for a ride tomorrow. Back in town, there were two ladies sitting on a bench outside one of the bars with a bike-toberfest banner, so I figured that must be it. They indeed still had places on the MTB marathon ride as they called it, so I signed up and paid my $55. Another rider there explained how he’d been looking forward to this event for months so they balked when I told them how long I’d known about it. What a welcoming group. Race number “104” in hand, I wandered around town, happy to be walking comfortably in Tevas without being too cold. The clouds had shifted so most of Shasta was in sight now and it is an impressive peak, made even more dramatic by the fresh snow on its cap.

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I left town aiming for a creek off highway 89 so I could have a shower, I was feeling very dirty from the activities of the last two days. The creek was a little dirt, but I considered the sand that ran through it exfoliating. I pulled up just over a bridge, then noticed on the other side that a forest road lead away from the main road and along the creek. I went to explore since I thought I might find a nice secluded camp. The road was a little sandy, but not too bad. The pull-offs were out of the question though because they were very sandy, with deep ruts no doubt left by 4WDs. As I continued on, I got a feeling that this wasn’t going to work, so was looking for a place to turn around. By this point, even the main forest road was getting sandier so I didn’t want to stop and risk bogging myself. I thought about maybe stopping and reversing all the way back instead of u-turning, but I considered that a bigger risk that keeping my momentum up. Eventually I found a spot that looked alright and made my turn. Turns out the spot wasn’t that great. I got about a quarter of a full circle and the rear tyres started digging on. Oh no. It was 6pm, I am on my own, far enough away from the road that no one can see me. Not a good situation. I switched between reverse and drive and eventually got momentum going again. I kept on with my full circle, getting another 90 degrees, then really getting stuck as I tried to drive the car back over the bank of the road. SHIT. I did the forwards/backwards shift a few times, but wasn’t getting anything other than a lot of dry dust flying up everywhere. I got out and the view wasn’t good. I was up to my hubs in sand, the exhaust was nearly buried.

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I did some digging behind the wheels to see if I could reverse out of it. Back in the car, I was going nowhere. At this point I had a bit of a panic. I looked at the clock. 6:15pm. I said to myself, “Sarah, you’ve got time, just have one really good go at it and you’ll be find.” So, no half-assed nothing this time, I dug and I dug. This time in front of the rear wheels, not just in front of them, but I dug a path all the way to the front wheels. Once I was done with that I grabbed some dry brush and shoved it infront of the rear wheels. I think I’d created enough of an initial downhill slops and traction with the brush that I’d be ok. Back in the car, hopeful and absolutely covered in dirt, I put it in drive. Sadly, nothing. I dug in again. Despair! I actually thought at this point to call Dad, who had texted earlier and just cry into the phone that I was stuck, but what good would that do, I would be better off calling him after the fact with a funny story. Frustrated now and feeling a bit stupid, I shifted from drive to reverse, and back to drive again, putting my boot in it each time. Eventually I got enough of a rocking motion to propel me forward onto my carefully dug tracks, then with sheer will power (on my behalf and Astro’s), she cleared the bank of the road and we were back on top, going back the way we’d come. Woo!! The relief and my gratefulness to the Astro and its rear wheel drive goodness. I did NOT stop on the way back out, didn’t even consider a campspot in these treacherous sands.

Considering what had just happened, I definitely needed a shower now. The bright side is that since I’d been working, I’d warmed up, so the water wouldn’t seem so cold. I got my bucket, towel and shower stuff and walked off downstream until I was out of view of the road. I stripped off, filled a bucket with water, had a pre-rinse (very cold!) in the creek, then soaped myself and washed myself off with the bucket away from the creek (very, very cold!). After a final rinse down in the creek I think I’d got most of the dust out of the crevices of my body. The good thing about a cold shower is that you feel immediately warm afterwards.

Feeling refreshed, I drove back along the road I’d come to a spot I’d seen as I drove in, not far off the road, but far enough to be incognito, especially after the sun went down. I spent the night chatting to Mum and Dad, who needless to say found the whole bogging thing very funny and suggested that next time I get out of the car and have a look. I heated up some turkey pasta for dinner while we caught up. After that I got to talk to Ben, he’d been an intern at Tesla for a few months and I missed him in Vancouver so we definitely needed to catch up. I told him all about what had happened at work after he left and why I’d left and he caught me up on his post-Tesla life.

The whole time, I looked up at the stars, I think the first time on this trip that I stopped to enjoy them (most likely because clouds had hidden the view before). I set an alarm for the first time since my retirement so that I will be on time for the bus at 8:30am tomorrow. I just hope it’s not too cold in the morning!

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