With a few days of hang-time in Southern Oregon, I decide it’s high time I head for the hills. I’m ready for a break from all the fuss and bustle of the town & city. Dupree drops me off just north of Medford in Eagle Point.
It’s around 4pm when I get my thumb out there. Heading up small country highways, I stand for an hour with the sun in my face. Most of the drivers are behind big trucks and SUVs, some towing fishing boats, others hauling construction equipment. Most of ‘em ignore me. A few pass with a gentle wave or a disapproving glare.
I get antsy standing there so I start walking. In my experience, the deeper you get into the country the better it is to hitch while walking than hitch while standing. They see ya standing, they think you’re lazy.
Sure enough, a kid stops for me and takes me up to Shady Cove. He tells me it’s illegal to hitch within city limits, so he drops me on the outskirts of town.
With the sun tucked away behind the mountains, I pop a beer and level my thumb. I hail a ride from a guy named Taz. He grows herb up on one of the local hills and offers me a job and a line of coke. The coke looks clean but the job sounds bad: no facilities, no electricity, and his truck is falling apart.
Not that I mind rustic living conditions, but if my boss can afford powdered drugs but can’t afford solar panels, he probably can’t pay me on time. I take his number out of politeness and thank him for the pick-me-up.
Taz drops me at a day camp near Lost Creek Reservoir. Now I’m drinking some wine and watching the daylight fade. A few rides blast past and I’m feeling downright chipper. If there were more daylight, I’d surely catch a ride.
Dark & chilly, I set up my hammock and go to sleep in the day park. It’s peaceful beside the Rogue River.
The morning brings bird songs and rowboat fishermen landing huge salmon.
I have a quick bagel breakfast and wave to the fishermen before getting to the highway. It’s a bit frosty still so I find a patch of sun on the bridge and wait for well over an hour before I catch my first ride.
He tells me to watch out for his fly rod as I load my pack into the back seat of his Subaru hatchback. His name’s Drew. He’s going up to Bend and on into Washington.
Drew is in his fifties with long hair. He has eleven children by eight women. He shows me pictures of his Haitian and Dominican girlfriends down south. He grows cannabis in Washington state and earns a decent living investing in rental properties. He is full of humor and stories.
He also teaches survival courses and invites me up to Spokane to take a course in exchange for labor. I take his number before he lets me off near Diamond Lake. He asks me if I brought some hooks and line, then tells me I ought to make a few dead falls after noticing all the squirrels running around piles of melting snow. We’re up in the mountains now.
Rides are slim up here so I hoof it to the Diamond Lake camp store and pick up a couple cold beers and some fishing line and hooks. I can stake the lines into the ground with hooks and worms overnight.
Only a fourteen mile roadside walk until I’m by the section of trail I want. I catch a short ride from a tweaker with an obnoxious laugh. Her baby is hollering in the back seat as she rants about her deadbeat baby daddy. She stops to let me off at an intersection and panics for a moment as a white ford pulls up near us. She’s pretty sure it’s a cop but I assure her it is not.
Walking onward with an outstretched thumb, I hail one more ride, this time from a friendly woman who confides that I’m her first hitchhiker. I smile bashfully and load my pack in and thank her for stopping. Her name is Layla and she lives in LA.
She just spent the night camping in the snow on the rim of Crater Lake. She’s headed up to Portland, stopping to see the sights of Umpqua along the way. I find myself as an absent-minded tour guide as we whimsically explore some of the North Umpqua sights. We hike a few waterfalls together, most notably, the locally famous Toketee Falls.
The parking lot is swarming with visitors and we are among them.
We hike the short trail to the observation deck, also crowded. I notice a steep, narrow trail going down to the falls. Layla asks if I want to climb down to the falls. We descend, grabbing root, rope, and rock to get down gently.
The water is roaring like a frigid lion, spraying mist all over alien mosaic rock-formations and mossy caves.
We spend awhile down here, talking with other hikers and admiring the view.
Layla and I ramble about our past, present, and future lives. Passions, careers, and reality. We agree that it’s nice to find spontaneous friends like this. After the hike, she drives me up to the hot springs trailhead and sends me off with warm wishes and a big hug.
Now in the middle of the afternoon, I have a choice to make. Which way to go? I can go east on the Dread and Terror segment. Twelve miles. Very difficult. My other option is continue onward west via the Deer Leap Segment. Nine miles. Moderate Difficulty.
The decision is obvious: continue onward west, go with the flow and follow the river. Deer leap it is.
Out of shape with a heavy pack, I begin walking trail. The weather forecast called for warm days in the seventies and cold nights in the thirties. I think I brought enough layers.
On the trail, the mosquitoes are thick and hungry. I have a few miles of intersecting roads before I begin my segment. The terrain is downhill and gentle, following Toketee lake. A couple of mountain bikers ride past me.
I cross a road and hop onto my segment, finding a nice bubbling creek to fill my bottle. After a nice long drink, I march onward through the evening air. The trail climbs high into the mountains, challenging my body and rewarding my head with views of the rivers, smells of conifers & cedar, and sounds of the whirling valley below.
I hike until dusk, nearly out of water. I have no choice but to keep moving forward ‘til I find a creek but there hasn’t been one in a few hours. I try to move slow and steady, but end up half-jogging, covered in mosquitoes.
Around a bend I hear a steady, heavy breeze. Getting closer, there’s a slapping splash on a rock. My heart sighs in relief. I get a fill up and round the next bend to find an alpine meadow full of golden-green grass and yellow spring flowers. Almost no mosquitoes here.
I scramble over the rocky meadow toward a small hollow flat with four trees: two cedar, one oak, and a madrone. I hang my hammock here and get a fire going. I counted seven miles today.
I eat a feast of eggs, onions, and peppers and fall asleep to the calm and quiet pulse of crickets and soft wind.
I wake feeling rested beneath overcast skies. I start a small fire and get some tea and breakfast in me. I stretch and warm up, hit the creek to brush my teeth and wash my face.
The morning sun burns through the clouds to give a delightful view of Crater Lake and snowy mountains nearby.
The sun dances on the flowers as I saunter down the trail to find overlooks galore.
I ditch a stick of butter along the way, deeming it as excess weight. Maybe a bear needs it to bake some cookies.
The trail descends toward some beautiful creek, full of pools. I stop off by a particular picturesque creek, swollen clear and blue with the winter melt. I strip my sweaty layers off and climb down to the edge of a pool. Wading over to a small waterfall, I shriek in cold shock and dip my head under to take a brief rinse off. I chicken-walk back to shore and lay out in the sun feeling very refreshed.
I enjoy a light lunch of bagel and sunflower seed butter before continuing onward. The trail descends back into the valley, following the North Umpqua river again.
I finish the Deer Leap Segment with plenty of daylight left. It’s hot in the valley so I take a siesta in some shade near a dam.
A bit cooler now, I walk onto the Jessie Wright segment. Four miles of easy trail. I hike a few miles and find a nice creek to rest at. I suspect it’s called Boulder Creek but since I have no map, I’m not sure. I explore up the trail and can’t find a better place to camp so I return to the creek. The water tastes amazing.
I put my only beer in the cold creek and start a large fire on a small sandy beach. I cook up a whole can of beans with some sautéed onion and pepper to fill my belly. I sway peacefully in my hammock by the waterside. Another seven mile day.
The next morning, I fry up some eggs and potatoes and get on the trail after stretching a bit. I stop to climb some boulders to catch a view. I explore some old logging trails and find a power line clearing. The poison oak is dense up here so I tread carefully.
The trail twists along the river for a few miles and catches back up with Highway 138. I start walking down the highway and find a light waterfall trickling into a roadside ditch.
I decide to wash up here and get the poison oak oils off my skin with soap and cold water. I must look funny taking a shower on the side of the road. I try to ignore the cars buzzing past. I can’t help but laugh.
I dry in the sun awhile and continue down the road a few more miles, looking for the next trailhead. I haven’t seen any signs for it. I realize the trail connects in the opposite direction.
After pondering awhile, I take the hint from the road and conclude my trail time for this trip.
Walking west down the highway, I hold out my thumb ‘til I catch a ride. First one takes me up a couple miles, near the next trailhead. I debate whether I want to hike the next segment but I have no idea how long it goes ‘til it comes back to the highway. I have one more day ‘til I have to be back in Gold Hill.
I hold my thumb out and let the road make the choice. I’ll give it an hour.
Before long, an old hippie driving a beater sedan pulls up laughing,
“Hey kid, you Rainbow Family?”
“Well you were touchin’ ‘em up there at the hot springs! Get in!” He cackles.
I hop into the bucket of a car he’s driving. There’s a big daddy long-leg crack across the windshield but it rides all right.
“How far you goin’ man?” I ask him.
“Oh, I’m goin’ all the way to the coast, down through Grant’s Ass… ha ha! I call it Grant’s Ass because ol’ Grant was a real bastard, him and his buddies went through the west drinkin’, raping, pillaging and having a good ol’ time killing and robbing. The town ain’t too bad but Grant’s a real Ass.
“You know, the Rainbows got a free kitchen near the coast if ya need a bite to eat. They got one near Bend and another outside Eugene. There’s food all over, if ya know who to ask and where to look. They’re good kids. A few of ‘em are misguided but we try to keep ‘em in line.
He goes on,
“My name’s Falcon. I’m Bird-of-Prey tribe, sixty-six years old but I’ll live forever. I can take this body with me after I go. Everybody wants you to believe in death but you can take your body with you.”
“Yeah, your astral body-”
“No, your physical body, you can take it with you after you go, man. I astral travel in meditation but I take my physical form with me now. It took a lot of practice.”
“But why would you want the body along for the ride? It’ll just fall apart eventually, all physical things come apart with time.”
“That’s what they want you to think.”
He pauses awhile and is intercepted with another idea,
“You know man, these mountains here look kinda freaky, right? They’re not mountains, these are ancient pyramids under these mountains here. They built ‘em and they got covered during one of the last floods and now they look like mountains.
I saw a train last night come right up to the mountain and go under it. I saw the headlight and then it was gone, plain as day. The government is building underground cities here for when the water rises, they wanna kill all of us off so they can have the world to themselves. Yep, some fifty million people survive after their next manufactured war and they inherent the world but we’re not in their club. We don’t have enough money to be in their club.”
“Yeah, but even if we did…”
“Yeah man, we ain’t no reptile-brained fools, God’s children ain’t cut from the same cloth. We live with the land, you know, I’m a trained shaman. I go out and touch a mushroom and I get high, I don’t even have to eat it.”
He offers me a hit from his hash oil vaporizer. I decline in favor of the half-smoked spliff in my shirt pocket.
Falcon keeps rambling,
“So they’re gonna nuke us and the planet is gonna go to shit. I’m goin’ down to New Mexico to take part in a time-travelin’ ceremony. You know the Hopi and Navajo learned how to split themselves off from this time frame and hop off into another fold. Only problem is once you go off you can’t come back. So if I go, I’ll be gone from this time for good.”
I listen awhile but it keeps coming back to “us & them” and “apocalypse”. I’m getting sick of all the doom & gloom prophecy. Looking out the window into the bright green hills, hearing the birds and bugs dance along to a swollen river song tells a much different story. Amidst decay, life springs forth.
I tell him,
“That sounds pretty far out, but why don’t you navigate this reality like a ship, help us drive now to the place that isn’t getting raped or blown up? We gotta pilot this thing together, man, and if people keep buying into the whole apocalypse ending, that’s where we’re gonna go and that’s how the book’ll end. I sure as shit ain’t buying it.”
“Right on, brother.”
We sit in silence for a few moments, winding down the riverside and on through Roseburg. We jump onto I-5 south and Falcon keeps talkin’ at me. He rambles between coherent and incoherent ideas for a while and I just “um”, “ah”, “yeah”, and “hmm” accordingly.
We make it safe and sound into Grants Pass. I pitch him some gas money and we share a meal together at a Chinese restaurant. The portions are huge and we eat in silence, grateful to have hot food, clean air, fresh water, and good weird company. After dinner, we share a shot of the Vietnamese wine I’ve been carrying around all weekend.
Falcon drops me off by the old Highway 99, on the edge of Grants Pass. He gives me a big hug and tells me,
“You’ll get where you’re goin’ kid, all the way. You’re livin’ right and we’re all takin’ care of each other. You got the good energy on ya and you just see- tonight your third eye will be blazin’! You’re Family. Bless you brother!”
I wish him well and thank him again for the lift.
It’s six miles to Gold Hill. I pick up a cold six pack to carry home, just in case Dupree is thirsty. I pop a can and walk down the road along the Rogue River in the evening heat. Nobody is stopping so I keep walking.
Somewhere I see a sign by the side of the road, “Support our Teachers” obscured by some weeds. I hop over the ditch to stamp the weeds down so I can see the sign better.
On the way back over, I find a twenty dollar bill on the ground. I grab it and look down the road to find another twenty, and then one more. Sixty dollars on the side of the road more than pays the weekend expenses.
Just then, a ride stops and takes me a couple miles up the road. The sun is setting golden on the Rogue Valley and I’m all jolly smiles, cradling the six-pack under my arm like a baby.
The sun gone down, I catch a ride for the last mile to Gold Hill. Nice kid from Oregon, said he’s been on a road trip to Vermont. Rare thing to hear on the west coast. Most folks I meet from here don’t make it out east. He says he wants to hitch across the country someday and I agree. I give him some encouragement and he drops me in front of my road.
I hoof it up the long driveway and on down past the gate to say howdy to Dupree and drop my stuff off. A few cans of beer and some belly laughs are shared between us.