What do a stripper, a teenager, a musician and a sociologist have in common? Well we were all in a car together when it overheated and died on the side of a highway just at the northern tip of California’s incredibly beautiful and sophisticated Central Valley.
After last summer’s trip up the West coast I’ve visited three times. It takes very little convincing to get me out to San Francisco or Portland, so when a friend announced that he was getting married in the woods an hour south of the Bay Area, I immediately started saving for a ticket and stalking websites with cheap flights. I ended up buying my NYC->SFO ticket in bed, in Berlin. Ah the wonders of modern life. The plan was to head to SF and meet up with the Good Doctor Daniel. We’d drive south for the wedding, camp out under some Redwood trees, and then I’d fly to Portland and make a road trip to Crater Lake, the holy grail of middle school geology lessons.
So in late July it was time to head West for an absurd fourth time in one year. San
The wedding was stunning, because you really can’t go wrong with hippies + woods + treatment from the good doctor.
After the wedding we played in Saratoga and Santa Cruz for a bit before visiting some amazing women who run a maximum security farm in the surrounding rural area. The woman who runs the farm owns a hospice, and the farm supplies the hospice with- medicine. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon, on an isolated farm with- among other characters- an incredibly dedicated caretaker and an anthropologist who studies South American psychedelic ceremonies.
We returned back to San Francisco in some of the most intense fog I’ve ever seen. I napped and woke up on the highway thinking we were at the ocean because you couldn’t see a thing in front of you. I spent the next day biking around in the same fog and in the evening I was all set to relax with Daniel and some blessed Mexican food. Then I got a text from Carrie, a stranger who was driving me to Portland the next day. She said that her car was “making funny noises.” I just knew my first attempt at a Craigslist ride share wouldn’t work out…
The getting-to-Portland issue had started a week earlier when flights from SFO shot up from $99 to $250, which was totally not in the budget. I could get up there via train for $125 but it would take at least sixteen hours and up to twenty-four, it’s supposed to be extremely scenic but, yeah- no. A Greyhound bus was about the same price and only ten hours, but then I would be on a Greyhound bus for ten hours. Craigslist ride shares seemed like the next logical option and Carrie was a dream- sweet girl in her twenties driving home to PDX with her sister after visiting family. She sent me a link to her Facebook, featuring a photo of her and her niece thus confirming that she was indeed not a vicious serial killer, obviously. My ride with Carrie was arranged before the wedding, but all weekend I had a knot in my stomach that something would go wrong, so the text wasn’t a big surprise. My neurotic self immediately started looking for alternative last minute rides up to Portland, which really doesn’t leave you with the cream of the evolutionary crop. I decided on Dirk, a man with a thick German accent and god only knows what in his trunk. My google results yielded only the fact that he was an engineer for a transportation design agency, which, little known fact, was the exact same occupation Charles Manson had. Daniel made me download a GPS tracking app and gave me a pocketknife, but in the morning Carrie called me to say that her car had a clean bill of health from her amateur mechanic father and we would be on our way. I ditched Dirk and headed out to Oakland to meet the motley crew I’d spend the next eighteen hours with.
Within a few minutes of our ten-hour road trip we were sharing tales of travel and couchsurfing and ride shares past. Michael, the musician, had spent a few days in Texas because of a broken down van and Carrie had some similar tails of horror. Why we tempted fate in such a brazen manner I’ll never know, but a few minutes later Carrie’s teenage sister, Maggie, started yelling: “the car is smoking!!” We sat on the side of the highway for an hour waiting for AAA. Michael and I discussed whether or not we should leave the sisters and try to hitchhike but eventually we all piled into the tow truck and the nice man whisked us away to Red Bluff, California, which you can just go ahead and cross off your bucket list right now.
The next six hours or so were a real bonding experience for Carrie and I. We laughed, we cried, we shared coffee, we took long walks in the hot California sun, we almost killed someone, and we rented a car together. Well I rented a car. For her. For a week.
Originally the mechanic told us that Carrie’s car would be ready in an hour and would cost $150 to fix. About twenty minutes later he decided this was more of a thousand dollar problem and the car wouldn’t be ready for a couple of days. Our only option was to rent a car, but remember we were in Red Bluff, California so by noon the only car rental place in town had closed for the day. There was one other option- an auto body shop behind a Walmart about a mile away.
The shop was run by a woman with an infant and a one-year-old, who were, of course both present. Debbie wanted to help us out, but she only had two cars and one was spoken for; the other car was an SUV and if we wanted to drive it to Portland and leave it there it would cost us $450. For. The. Day. But, if we wanted to wait a while Debbie might be able to give us the other car…
I’ve spent a lot of time in auto body shops. When I was growing up my mom drove a series of unreliable cars. There was the Oldsmobile with its complete lack of shock absorbers and collapsing ceiling, and the Lincoln town car that went up in flames in a fast food parking lot, much to the confusion of the entirely stoned employees. When I was a kid mechanics and broken down cars were just a waste of time. As an adult that wasted time is coupled with the fact that your nerves are being put in a blender—Dollar-signs and rental contracts and insurance add-ons swirling around your head.
We waited for an hour, and then we found out the car was all ours! She just had to get the go-ahead from her boss. But her boss was on his lunch break. Forty-five minutes later we were ready to go! But “corporate” wouldn’t release the car without an oil change first. Now, you would assume that an auto body shop which rented cars would be authorized to do such a thing, but for some reason they weren’t. So someone drove the car to Jiffy Lube and we only had to wait an hour for the oil change. Finally, all we had to do to get the car was sign off on the rental agreement, which took, I’m not kidding, fifty-seven minutes to print. It was at this point that Carrie and I looked at each other and started laughing hysterically, we were doubled over until we started to cry. At first we figured Debbie was just lonely but by this point we were sure we were in a Twilight Zone episode, but not even Rod Serling could be this sick and twisted. Eventually I signed away my name, my credit card information, and restful sleep for the next seven days to rent a car for Carrie, who couldn’t do it herself because she wasn’t yet 25 but she promised to return the car in a week and pay me back…
Around 6pm we finally set out for Portland for the second time that day. We crossed through the Klamath Mountains at sunset and that was beautiful but the fact that I was going to be driving this far south again in the next twenty-four hours was not beautiful.
We arrived in Portland around 3am, it was too late to bother my couchsurfing hosts, so I crashed at Carrie’s apartment and set out for Crater Lake the next morning afternoon.
There are a few things you need to know about Crater Lake to understand why I’ve been dying to go there for half my life:
-It was formed when a volcano erupted almost 8,000 years ago.
-It is the deepest lake in the US, and there are only a handful deeper in the whole world.
-All of the water in the lake is either from rain or snow, and I guess some urine, so it is crystal clear and you can see really deep into it.
-Lava eruptions created “Wizard Island” a small landmass inside the Lake.
-Native Americans might have seen the volcano collapse and they still consider it a spiritual site.
I only wanted to go to this lake because I knew the above facts and fell in love with photos of it in middle school science class. I’m kind of terrible at researching the logistics of places before I visit them, I was expecting to camp, enjoy the gorgeous views, and do some hiking. I was not expecting to be able to take a boat ride to Wizard Island!
On my second day there I made the 45-minute trek down the caldera to the shoreline of the lake. I was early for the boat ride, really early, Catholic school style early- so I kept hiking along the shore and eventually I heard a scream and a plop; and then another scream and another plop. When I got to the top of the hill I realized people were diving into the lake. Being ill prepared, I did not have a bathing suit- but I did have cute, super functional, quick-drying wool underwear that everyone makes fun of me for but HA-HA who’s laughing now?!? So I took off my clothes and handed my phone to a stranger and said “take a picture of me!” and jumped into the blissful abyss, gotta love the Northwest.
Jumping into the deepest lake in the US (sorry Mom!) feels fantastic. So fantastic that I did it three more times before the boat ride and twice after. First you’re flying through the air for a significant amount of time, and when you do hit the water (ouch) it pulls you deep down then pushes you up- almost no effort involved. It’s a little scary, but the feeling of the freezing water pulling and pushing my body cannot be adequately described, I just can’t wait to go back.
After a while I hopped on the boat ride to the island. At some point the tour guide recited some quote about Brooklyn and then went on at length about the borough he’d never been to, because I literally cannot get away from my research even on a boat in the middle of Crater Lake.
As the boat emptied people started hiking up the 800 ft hill. It wasn’t a competition or anything, but I’d like you to know I was the first one to the top, by a long shot.
This solitude afforded me plenty of time to take in the incredible views from inside the lake, reflect on the craziness of the past 48 hours, and wonder if Carrie was going to return that rental car or if she was a con artist who was currently robbing a bank and then escaping to Canada with a stolen car and any hope I had of someday having enough credit to purchase even so much as a proper couch. *
*(Update: the former).