Road Trip, chapter 8: Homeward Bound

This is kind of embarrassing, but we can’t recall much between Sacramento and Redding. Lots of almond trees (a pronounced like cat), a couple views of Mt. Lassen, and plenty of heat. That’s about it.

North of Redding, I-5 climbs out of the Sacramento Valley above Lake Shasta. The water looked green this year, with rusty orange banks exposed by low water levels. Houseboats wandered in and out of fjord-like inlets, and skiers carved walls of water from the lake’s glassy surface. What a great place to play.

The next 50 or so miles of road follows the Sacramento River up into the mountains. The spectacular rocky pinnacles of Castle Crags State Park pop into view, alerting passers-by to the wild and beautiful terrain just off the freeway. We made a quick stop in the town of Mt Shasta (3,000 feet higher than Redding) for a picnic lunch. Mt Shasta City Park is the site of the headwaters of the Sacramento River, which begins as a little brook gurgling out of a hole in the ground. We had seen the river 75 miles downstream near Redding, where it was already more than two hundred yards wide. Pretty cool to think we might have been able to crawl into the bushes and stop up the whole thing with our bare hands. Yeah, we could’ve if we really wanted to, but we didn’t want to. We did, however, stand in the icy water until our feet were numb.

I lived in Mt Shasta for a year way back when. We haven’t had enough time to poke around or visit friends when we’ve been on our way north or south, though the area holds a great many fond memories for me. Among other things, I remember being snowed in, burning 20 cords of wood in one winter, gathering 20 cords of wood the next summer, hiking around beautiful Castle Lake (see it in the summer or in winter), an aborted attempt to climb Mt Shasta, working as an extra in the movie “Baby Blue Marine” (anyone know how to get a copy?), giving a lecture on Søren Kierkegaard, and learning that you should never grow 12 zucchini plants in your garden.

Oops – that’s all the time we have for reminiscing. Back in the car, everyone; we’ve got miles to go before we sleep. On the way up to Siskiyou Summit (at 4,310′ the highest point on I-5 between the Mexican and Canadian borders) California ends and Oregon begins. More runaway truck ramps, some full of gravel that looked several feet deep. Seems like it would be awfully hard to drive in that much — oh, I get it now.

B’bye Ashland. Later, Medford. Following the Rogue River always reminds me of friends who moved there for a while to give their family some experience on a small farm. In order to help the kids see the end from the beginning, they called their cows “Hamburger” and “Hamburger Helper,” and the turkey’s name was “Thanksgiving Dinner.”

Hasta luego, Grant’s Pass. Love the Caveman sculpture. This part of Oregon has some great names: Jumpoff Joe Creek, Tri-City (shouldn’t that be plural?), Myrtle Point, Myrtle Creek, Riddle, Glide, Peel, Drain, Remote, Lookingglass, and my favorite, Nonpareil. (As an adjective, it means having no equal; peerless. As a noun, it is 1) something of unequaled excellence; a peerless thing or person, or 2) a flat disk of chocolate covered with beads of colored sugar.) Who knew??

Once past Sutherlin (from which a road goes east to Nonpareil) we know that Rice Hill (see Chapter 1) is just over a couple more ridges. We try to plan our travel so we arrive in Rice Hill when it’s a good time for ice cream. There are occasions, however – and this was one of them – when that is not possible. Though we had not yet eaten dinner, we decided to go ahead and get ice cream, and let the [chocolate] chips fall where they may. This is just one more way Susan and I can help the kids understand the importance of being flexible and not avoiding tough decisions.

We arrived at our friends’ home in Salem sometime after 8:30 that evening. Their place is another study in family-style hospitality. Mom knows and loves all things Italian, and he is Mr. I-Can-Make-Anything Man. In this instance, their skills were combined to bake all handmade pizzas in a brick pizza oven Dad recently built on the patio. We joined right in with the small crowd of neighbors and friends already busy gobbling up the pizzas.

Their son and Zack played lots of badminton, then disappeared with books and flashlights into the backyard tree house for the night. I slept in the son’s lower bunk, my final improvised anti-snoring arrangement of the trip. If the boys had wanted to sleep in the house, it’s a good bet I would have been in the tree house.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This will be our last day on the road. Kinda glad, kinda sad. Our only scheduled stop was at the outlet mall in Woodburn. Despite no state sales tax and the beautiful storefronts of too many outlets, we found nothing we couldn’t live without and a couple of things we got anyway.

We avoided downtown Portland, taking the freeways east through the ‘burbs. Halfway across the mighty Columbia River we reentered Washington. I think we were all a tiny bit giddy, actually. Nice to open the car windows and not have it feel like a blast furnace. Did it get this green all of a sudden, or hadn’t we been paying attention? Around Centralia we encountered something strange and yet oddly familiar. Oh yes – it’s raining. What a relief, even if it is August. Day after day of California sun can really take it out of a Seattleite – we’re obviously living in the right place.

Except for some traffic in Tacoma (my vote for the worst section of all I-5), the rest of the trip home was routine. We rolled into the driveway about 4:00 on a Friday afternoon, glad to have a weekend to ease back into our mildly urban life. The kids went through one room after another, reacquainting themselves with the house. It was clear they were happy to be home again. Me too.

This trip was just about as much fun as our family knows how to have. Lauren’s already talking about a return to Big Sur for high school graduation. (Don’t forget to enjoy the scenery when you’re there, Sweetie Pie!) And ya know what? We did a lot better than the Griswolds!


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