Spooky forests shrouded in fog.
Known as the Upside Down River because the more developed parts of the river are way upstream while, downstream, it flows through wilder, untamed lands and Indian territory before reaching the sea.
Many activities: picking strawberries, basil and beans; weeding carrots and drying onions; swimming everyday in the river; shooting pistols, revolvers and shot guns; selecting for the Dam Free Radio.
For the second time in two days we get taken in a car somewhere by complete strangers. Yesterday an Asian business man took us for an ice-cream, today the custodian of a yard sale took us on a tour of all the tobacco shops in Yreka after we had enquired of their whereabouts. She even took us by her house and give us an old frying pan.
From Mcloud we take the Highway 11 through the mountains to Big Bend. It’s only 20 miles or so but the rocky road is best done in first or second gear; steep inclines, clinging to the mountain wall, switchbacks and hairpins that lose any sense of direction gained by following the glittering blue reservoir a hundred feet below.
Towards evening we reach a junction to find a few parked cars and people milling around. This must be what we are looking for – no signs on the road to alert us to the jewel that lies a quarter mile off down a river. The springs are on private land and, while the owners are happy to let the public use them, they cannot be allowed to become too popular as then the authorities would step in asking for restrooms, fire extinguishers and other boring stuff.
There are half a dozen pools, the last constructed just a few months ago. This is an example of a good hot springs – with a fresh river flowing by its side and no one taking money at the gate…
Just outside Weed, down a dusty road lined with trucks resting, we find refuge for a night at a place for which there is no real equivalent in Europe. Here is a big plot of land right beside the Southern Pacific Railroad, owned by a small collective who celebrate the culture of train-hopping those long, long freight trains that pass slowly around America. In an old junk yard they have acquired several cabooses, converting them into homes and two box-car wagons that have a library specializing in punks and hobos, gallery space and a stage for bands and performers. Black Butte Centre for Railroad Culture also works in conservation and has a big workshop for constructing human-powered vehicles.
First site got busted – second site went on OK but at a quarter strength. Kind of bizarre the problem seemingly being that the location conflicts with some logging activity and a pow wow, when there’s enough space out here for, like, a million festivals.
We thought it was cos we British. But then it wasn’t raining so maybe not… the next it started raining.
We need to get some names. Andy and Dunia-How-Do-You-Spell-That just doesn’t do the job any more. Today I met two people called Mud and Friday. We met a Free Eagle and an Angel – though, actually, I think Angel was her real name and Free Eagle got unstuck when trying to remember if his email address had two or three ‘e’s in the middle. But we’ve had Leafs, Trees and Winds. Their school registers must read like Led Zeppelin lyrics or something.
Dunia has suggested I start calling myself Ropey. In English English, ‘Ropey’ means feeling a bit ill or when a building, structure or vehicle looks unsafe. I’ll have to find out any American connotations. She, of course, has the biggest problem with her name; trying to get the locals to understand it. I think the difficulty is not so much that it’s an unusual name but that they are not sure about her accent and whether Dunia just said maybe an actual word if only she had said it with an American twang. We worked out that Dunia has to ask unknown Americans to say her name on being presented with it on a piece of paper so as to hear how it should be said. Let’s hope they can read.
Interstate 5. Beautiful country south of Oregon where a range of hills divides the green from California’s brown. First the fields go but the lush trees remain. Then 100 miles on, there are fewer trees. By then, the road is dominated by Mount Shasta, another massive, majestic volcano. Interstate 5 is part of the Pan American Highway – we’re seeing signs for Los Angeles and we can imagine the Mexico and Panama Cities coming up… Beyond even that, as the Interstate 5 straightens out across California’s northern plains, the landscape opens and you can imagine being part of a Global Super Highway – the world connected. The Earthcircuit.
Spectacular scenery. Plenty of places to park up in the woods. Couldn’t see any whales and too foggy for a Green Flash.
After a smooth drive down the Columbia River Gorge, we hit the Interstate’s tangled flyovers and arrive in Portland. Our first impression’s it’s a city with a small downtown, through which we cruise looking for somewhere to park, blagging a space in St. Mary’s Cathedral parking lot. And it turns out that we are only a few minutes’ walk from Powell’s – a massive new and used bookstore that the guidebook states is Portland’s ‘biggest draw’. Well, yeah, it’s a pretty cool bookstore – with coffee shop ,I Love Powell’s t-shirts, buskers outside, etc – but what does this say about the rest of the city? We spend a couple of hours looking at the books which are all new and second-hand on the same shelves. I mean some are like a few bucks when it always seems like the one you’re really into is 20 dollars. How do they know that?
Later on, strolling around the neighbourhood, we find the inaugural event of PDX’s First Thursday – DJ, artwork, free booze and people chilling out in the large underground parking space used by PDX pedi-cab company. I meet some push-bike couriers who tell me Portland has half a dozen company of a few riders each – they all get like an hourly wage which is pretty low but Portland is a chilled, easy city to work, I’m advised, where couriers come to retire. I also meet a Deafie. My third so far in the USA after 12 days and more than I met in Europe in years… I had met a couple of people at the Rainbow who had cochlear implants. One of them had to show me his before I noticed – the other seemed to have a way to go deciphering sounds and modulating his speech. But this third guy has no gadgets or implants and is 100% hearing impaired. He’s pissed; pissed on alcohol and pissed that I’m only 50% and can’t do sign-language. Have to learn Sign. But ASL or BSL?
The next day, we hook up with some friends of friends in another part of town close to Alberta Street which is the trendy area, 200% Shoreditch. In amongst the crystal shops and stores selling home-raised, dolphin-friendly tacos with free Wi-Fi, we manage to find hamburger and fries for $3 at a Mexican place. The amount of Spanish-speaking people is unreal – always the guy at the gas station or the custodians of the cheaper stores – our Spanish software has started to boot up, turning over and firing into life… And, proving the smallness of the planet around which we orbit, I get to meet a good friend of an old, good friend from back in London. We are beginning to like this city quite a lot but we’re impatient to see the ocean. We drive southwest out of town that evening.