Thursday, April 26, 2007

Snow, SUVs and Me (In a convertible)

And so that's why the poets often write

When there's a new moon up above

It's cherry pink and apple blossom white

When you're in love.

--Mack David and Louigay

It's a bitch to be butch
Taken 4/25/07 at Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon

Remember that you can click on any picture to see it full sized.

OK, even I’ll admit that when you’re at timberline, 6000 feet at this particular location, the outside air temperature is 37 degrees, and a fierce wind is blowing over the snowfields, it’s probably not a good idea to have the top down on your car. But hey, why have a convertible if you have to keep the top up?

As I repacked the car at my motel in The Dalles, I lowered the top. The outside temperature was 60 degrees. Still wearing a tank-top, but this time covering it with a sweatshirt as well, I headed out on day 2 of my preliminary test run for the 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive. As gas in The Dalles was around $3.20 per gallon, I decided to fill up a little closer to Portland. Not too much closer, mind you. Even with the 900C getting 30 mpg, it was now showing me the low fuel warning light.

Twenty miles down the highway, I pulled into a Shell station in Hood River, wind-surfing and kite-flying locale extraordinaire. Gas here was $3.29 a gallon, but I had no choice. Now for those of you who don’t know Oregon, the state has decided we’re all too incompetent to pump our own fuel. If you get out of your car and head toward the pumps, you’ll be accosted by a very angry attendant who will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that you are about to violate state law. While this practice still annoys me, I must say that the young man in Hood River not only filled the tank, but washed my windshield. I haven’t had an attendant do that since back in the Full Service days.

Tank full, it was time to refill my own system, so over to the Starbucks next door, and no, you don’t need to tell be about Starbucks, where I filled my travel mug with Chai. The gal at the counter commented on my ring (You remember the ring?) and we chatted a bit before I headed out. Climbing into the car, I put a jacket on over the sweatshirt, and headed south on Oregon highway 35. I’d never taken this route before, but the map showed it leading south and east of Mount Hood, then connecting with US Highway 26 on which I would drive into Portland. It’s quite a bit longer in miles, and definitely longer in time, but my life at this point is all about exploring new options, and there was no time like the present to explore this one.

Highway 35 climbs pretty steadily from 213 feet at Hood River on the Columbia, to 4,671 feet at Bennett Pass, some 40 miles to the south. About five miles south of the river, there is a viewpoint with a great view of the mountain, but you'll have to go to Eyefetch to see the pics I took.

Oregon Highway 35
Taken 4/25/07, about 5 miles south of Hood River, Oregon

As the highway continues its climb, it passes through some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen. This is fruit country, and all the apple and pear and cherry trees were in full bloom. Unfortunately, I never stopped to take any pictures, so someone will have to punish me. (Please!) The cherries were pink and the apples were white, and I was in love with life.

I was getting chillier by the mile, however, even with the seat heater on and the car’s heater pumping out hot air at a pretty high setting. When I passed a sign pointing out a farm that raised alpacas and sold yarn, I remembered that I had a newly woven wool scarf in my suitcase. Once I had the scarf wrapped around my neck, I continued on toward the mountain.

As I approached Bennett Pass, my neck was toasty, my body was fine, but my ears were about to freeze off. Grabbing the scarf (I always weave them at least six feet long), I rewrapped it so that it not only covered my neck, but also came up and over my cap so as to protect my precious earlobes. The outside temperature was now 42 degrees. The mountain was so close that it was almost impossible to see—the immediate foothills blocking the view. I did get a few good shots, however.

I’d heard about Timberline Lodge many years ago. My Portland friend Ted loved to go up to the lodge for dinner. I had never been there, but when I saw the sign indicating that a right turn would get me to the lodge, I turned right. Passing numerous signs warning me that I’d better be carrying chains, I fell in line with a caravan of SUVs and headed even further up the mountain. At one point the snow banks on either side of the road were taller than my car. And yes, of course the top was still down. At the parking lot I discovered that I would have to pay $4.00 for the privilege of spending 15 minutes taking photos, so I grabbed an available local to take the picture at the top of this page, and then headed back down the mountain. Well, I did sneak a couple of more shots while in the parking lot, but I never left the car. Outside temperature was now 37 degrees with a hefty wind chill factor added on for good measure.

Saab, School Bus, and Mount Hood at 37 degrees Fahrenheit
Taken 4/25/07 at Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon

Back on US 26, heading west, and therefore down the mountain, I passed the “town” of Rhododendron” and found myself in Zigzag. If you read my Volcanoes blog, you might remember that I’m planning on an Alphabetical Oregon book. I had already chosen Zigzag for my “Z” and whadda ya know, here I was right in beautiful downtown Zigzag. Truth to tell, there’s not much to see, let alone photograph in this particular wide spot on the road, but I got out of the car and took a few shots anyway. Here’s the front of the Zigzag Mountain Store, currently being rebuilt. As I walked by the dumpster in front of the building, a large piece of wood came flying out of an upstairs window, landing neatly in the dumpster (about 2 feet away from me). On the way back, I gave the builders plenty of space. They’re not going to get this boy! A picture of the back of the building, as well as a couple of pictures of Mount Hood are on Eyefetch (details below).

Zig Zag Mtn Store (Under re-construction)
Note the debris flying between the upper windows and the dumpster
Taken 4/25/07 in Zigzag Oregon

The first large town you encounter on this route is Sandy, Oregon, population 4,500. Driving through town, I saw the Kofoo Grill, and in keeping with my developing sense of adventure, I tried it out. Kalbi, described on the menu as “short ribs in a spicy sauce” turned out to be served in thin slices still attached to the bone. Giving up on the chopsticks, I held the pieces down with a fork, and cut the meat off with a steak knife. After finishing the “prep work” myself, I piled the meat and cabbage into the rice bowl and had myself a tasty lunch. If you’re ever in Sandy, Oregon, I recommend whole-heartedly the Kofoo Grill.

When I saw the sign for Oregon Highway 212, I turned off 26 to drive through Boring, Damascus and Clackamas before reaching I-205. I wasn’t bored in Boring. Damascus was way too green for anything in Syria, and Clackamas was completely forgettable—just another bedroom community on the edge of Portland. No pictures to share from this section. In fact, no pictures at all after leaving Zigzag. I know, shame on me. What kind of travel photographer am I, anyway?

I-205 led to I-5, and I turned south on the latter toward Salem, Eugene, and Grants Pass where I would leave the interstate for the final eighty miles to Smith River. I did stop at the Woodburn Company Stores—by far the fanciest outlet mall I’ve yet encountered. Spending too much money and way too much time, I saw only a small portion of the mall, and managed to avoid getting the Le Creuset tagine or the Ultimate Bread Machine. But I did find a nifty little (and I mean LITTLE) tripod at Eddie Bauer. The clerk at Eddie Bauer's also commented on my ring, saying that her uncle has one just like it. Hmmm, I wonder what that says about her uncle?

This time of year, the mountains between Eugene and Grants Pass are a wonderland of greens and reds. I kept thinking I should stop and take some photographs, but the hour was getting later and I really wasn’t looking forward to the last 80 miles of two-lane road. So on we flew, blocking traffic by driving only five miles over the speed limit. I have found that if you drive the speed limit in Oregon, you’ll be pushed off the road. With a posted limit of 65 on the interstate, I was being pushed off the driving lane at 70. Cars in the passing lane had to be going at least 80. I flew by one State Police car parked in the median with his radar gun pointed my way. At that point I was in the passing lane and going 75. The cop didn’t even blink. How fast do you have to be going to get a ticket, I wondered. But I hope I never find out the answer to that question.

Hunan Grill in Grants Pass serves a very tasty Ma Po To Fu for $7.95. I’ve had it before and this time fell back on old favorites instead of being adventurous. It was served quickly at 8:00 p.m. (well, I did have the dining room to myself), and in no time I was back on the road, this time US Highway 199, for the final push into California and my Smith River home. In California, 199 follows the Middle Fork of the Smith River as it twists and turns through a very narrow canyon. The 900C proved what fun it can be when I treat it as a sports car—downshifting into the turns and throwing my body back and forth as we twist to the left, twist to the right, stand up, sit down, fighttttttttttttttttt Oh, sorry, I got distracted. But the car is wonderful on this kind of road, and I almost forgot how tired I was.

In the house at 10:30, I picked up the mail from my neighbor and pulled out my tickets for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus concert next Monday. I unpacked the passenger compartment, but not the trunk. Fixed myself a mango margarita and a bowl of gourmet popcorn I had purchased in Woodburn, and settled down to watch the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park, falling asleep in my chair. I was determined to be able to sleep all night, and when I finally laid my head on my own pillow, it felt wonderful to be home.

Eyefetch instructions: Go to www.eyefetch.com and in the Search Images box, put in any of these numbers: 311806, 311815 (two views of Mount Hood), 311828 (Manzanita in bloom), 311842 (the back side of the Zigzag Mountain Store). I upload four pictures daily to Eyefetch, and try to make sure they are not the same shots I post here.

Miles traveled: 458

Gas Price (Shell Station, Hood River Oregon): $3.299/gallon regular

Pictures taken: 29

2 comments:

Carl said...

Thanks for another great ride!
Oh, and WELCOME HOME!

Laurens de Jong said...

Good show! There are never enough convertibles that go top-down in snow conditions. Welcome to the club -- belatedly. I just stumbled upon this today, in anticipation of winter, you know.