Day 23: Oregon is smokin’.

IMG_8216Today, I was traversing from Bend, Oregon to Ashland, Oregon, making a diagonal line from northwest to southeastern Oregon.  I was hoping to to go to Portland and then take the long and winding Rt. 1 along the coast, but the sciatic nerve was telling me to get to California as fast as I could.  So I did.

Leaving Bend wasn’t hard.  The Airbnb I had booked was beautiful, but the guy who owned the house seemed annoyed to have company and I felt awkward there.  I decided to leave as early as possible since I was getting a weird vibe from him, and the house was secluded.  Not that I feared him (he was small and I could take him) but I just felt unwelcome in his home, so I booked it.

Trying to get settled into a comfortable position in my car seat is getting harder and harder at this point.  There is searing pain as I try to sit, then, sore discomfort until I try to move again.  I need medical help, but when I called my doctor’s office a few days prior, she wouldn’t talk with me and her nurse was short, simply advising, “stop driving.”  I was in tears and tried to explain I was all the way on the other side of the country, but of course, I knew she was right.  The only thing that is really going to help is to get off the road.  So, I made a plan to make it to my friend, Patti’s house, in Oakland.  I was only a day or two away, so I thought, this I can do.

From Bend, I went into the cute but touristy town of Sisters.  There I found a sweet organic (of course) cafe and had their “famous green smoothie” and a latte to go.  I also stopped into the local auto parts store and bought three quarts of oil for the Rav.  It had been almost bone dry when I checked it back in Washington (and yes, I put oil in at the time) but I realized that I had neglected my trusty steed and needed to pay just as much attention to her as to myself if I was to manage to get back to Boston.


I took off through the smoke-thick, brown air towards Crater Lake, hoping that somewhere along the way the smoke would clear and I could actually SEE the mountains that I knew were there all around me.  Every so often, I could see one or two starting to form behind the curtain of haze, but then, it would disappear just as quickly.  I wondered how people could live in an environment like this, but then, they do all the time.  Calcutta, New Jersey, West Virginia coal towns, the valley of any volcano, people adjust and live with the fumes and try not to think of what sort of damage it might be doing to their lungs.  Then, there are other obvious hazards that present themselves, such as the water in Flint, or the seeping nuclear waste in an unmarked dump, that only the poor are made to suffer through.  Without resources to move, these people are stuck.  And here is what I find the most striking difference between Democrats and Republicans (and yes, this is a generalization, so apologies):  Democrats seem much more willing to accept the responsibility of the entire population and help everyone, where Republicans, may want to help the poor and the stricken with “private funds” they are resistant to having the government do this through taxes.   What the republicans fail to realize until the tragedy befalls them, is that these taxes help everyone.  Including Republicans.  And thinking that private donations will cover everyone that needs the help is magical thinking.  Government needs to have funds for Flint when the water is turned to toxic sludge (because of a government mistake, BTW) or the Jersey shore is taken out with a hurricane.  Social Security benefits help everyone as well.  And without universal health coverage, there will be higher costs to everyone as the insurance rates rise due to unchecked greed.  Social systems such as these benefit everyone – republican and democrat, and make us a country of compassion, not selfishness.

Okay, off the soapbox.  Crater Lake was stunningly beautiful, but again, the smoked lessened the impact.  There were much fewer tourists here, but still quite a few selfie-lovers more interested in how they looked, than what they were posing in front of.  I wonder at this mentality, shake my head and try to walk away to a private area where I can contemplate the immensity of the crater, formed thousands of years ago when a huge volcano erupted, leaving this crystal clear lake with one small, volcanic island, to remind us of it’s power.

From Crater Lake, I headed southwest to the small, hippie town of Ashland, Oregon.  Also the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a year-round theater, with Shakespeare, musicals, and new productions by rising playwrights.  If I hadn’t been in so much pain, I would have loved to get a ticket to see Oklahoma, but it was out of the question.  This production was especially interesting because it was an all LBGTQ production with non-traditional genders playing the traditional roles.

Instead, I checked into my my motel, the Cedarwood Inn, rested a bit, then took off to find a healthy dinner at the Greenleaf restaurant downtown.  The town is small, but hosts Southern Oregon College and attracts a large crowd of travelers in town to see a play.  There are many high school groups in town as well as the standard theater crowd:  retirees and gay men.

At Greenleaf, I saw one lone woman waiting for a table when I came in.  She and I started to talk and realized we were both solo, so we decided to team up for a table for two.  It was wonderful.  Jill, was a beautiful retired woman from Seattle, whose husband would rather poke out his eyes than go to the theater, so here she was alone, with tickets to see three plays over the weekend.  I admired her.  If you can’t beat em, leave ’em at home.

We settled in to a small table on the side porch, overlooking the river that runs through Ashland, and I ordered the salmon, and she the chicken coconut curry.  While we waited for our food to arrive, I confessed to Jill that I was suffering from sciatica and she immediately sympathized.  She told me of when she had developed the condition on a drive from Seattle to Baja.  We exchanged stories and she provided tips on how to deal with the pain: stretches, anti-inflammatories, and some back-saving seat cushions.  It was just what I needed and when I needed it.

This trip has been a series of serendipitous encounters, all providing some respite and comfort from the ordeal of long-haul travel.  Be it recommendations for a massage therapist in Wyoming, or much-needed time off the road in a beautiful location in Montana, somehow I can’t help but feel the universe is listening and providing me with what I need.  This is the magic of this trip.  And yes, having sciatica has been a huge pain in the ass, literally, it has also been a sort of bridge to caring and compassion from strangers, that I may have never met otherwise.  In a very odd way, I feel blessed.  And yes, I want this pain to go away and never come back, but I am so grateful to all the wonderful people whom I’ve met along the way.  This journey has made itself.  I am just along for the bumpy ride.



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