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Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Everything fell into place, clockwork and circumstance, and today came together to be about as perfect as I can imagine. It wasn’t an unforgettable day, necessarily, but I filled it with such a variety of things that the sum of its parts truly adds up to something special. And since there is so much to cover here, I’m going to nix chronology and just tackle things one subject at a time.

Tent
First thing this morning, putting away my tent like I have so many times already, one of the elastic cords that holds together a tent pole snapped. My efforts to put it back together were fruitless, so if I planned to camp out any more this trip (and I did, I do!), I’d have to get a new tent.

break continuity : forward

Wal*Mart seems to solve all my problems, so I searched their camping section for cheap tents. They were pretty well picked over, but there was only one cheap one anyway: a seventeen dollar “Junior” tent, with a picture of a six-year-old girl holding two stuffed dolls, peeking out the tent’s window, on the cover. It was a nice blue and yellow, but the stripe of neon-green was definitely a “touch of class” for the six-year-old.

: forward

At my campsite at Del Norte, one of my neighbor campers came over in the dark and offered his lantern to help me set up my tent. I agreed, but only after saying “nah” and “no thank you” four or five times. It was nice of him and it probably sped things along, since it was my first time and all. Personally, I just didn’t want anyone to see the green stripe and me together. It’s actually a fabulous tent — much nicer than the one I’ve been lugging around for 10k miles already. Why hadn’t I done this sooner!!? People have commented in emails to me several times that it seemed like I’d be set if I’d just get a new tent! “A new tent seems like a smart investment,” blah blah. I ignored it for a long time and now I wish I had listened. The tent seems like it would sheath water much better than the other — the fly is about four times as large — even though the directions say I should treat it with a water sealer, which may have solved the problem with the old one too. It seems much more spacious inside, and it might be, but when I put my pad in there it fit tightly, even diagonally. But I think it will be more comfortable and I’m looking forward to my first night in it.

The morning, however, can wait. Morning brings daylight and daylight brings people pointing at my green stripe.

Crater Lake
Like I’ve mentioned before, a major impetus for the concept of this trip was Crater Lake. I had seen an hour-long show on Discovery or something about it and I was astonished that our country, that the United States, had something so beautiful, so monumental, and that I’d never heard of it. What else is out there!?

The drive into the park was mostly unremarkable — a large “pumice” desert lies at the foot of the caldera, a barren spot where no trees will grow because they’re too picky about their soil. There is plenty of water, just no trees. I ascended to the crest of the crater and slowly walked up to the edge (and I videotaped it, also) — I tend to do this with everything, like I did the Niagara Falls, the same mentality, I think, as saving the best part of your meal for last. I’d never seen such a blue. Not so much of it at once, anyway. Not so flat and unbroken and blue. It’s blue for the same reason the sky is blue — not because it’s actually blue, but because it’s nearly the last color of light to be absorbed, thus reflected.

The water is so clear, too. They’ve done experiments where they take a disk painted black-and-white — I forget the name, scelsi or something — and they lower the disk with a rope until it is no longer visible. Routinely, they can drop the disk over 100 feet before it obscured, but once they made it 142 feet! That’s clear water! There are no streams in, nor out of the lake, a closed ecosystem, so all the water is simply collected rain and melted snow. And they get lots of snow. On average, and I’m not making this up, they get 500 inches of snow per winter. That’s over 40 feet, if my arithmetic skills are still working (it’s late summer, haven’t had homework for, well, ever). And that’s a lot of snow. I recall seeing pictures of other visitors who came in winter, and they had plowed the roads through two or three times the height of a car.

But today the weather was beautiful — a lot of blue sky to reflect. A 34-mile road winds its way around the edge of the crater, and I made most of it, maybe 80%, by taking the east route from the north entrance. My major stop was at the Cleetwood Cove hiking trail, the only access point to the water. It was about two and a half miles altogether, covering a vertical distance of over 700 feet, the equivalent of climbing a 75-story building — a good morning exercise. The water didn’t seem to be anything special, though much colder than I had wondered, since it all lies in the caldera of a volcano.

I made several other stops too, mostly at the various scenic overlooks, one that takes you to the highest point of the crater, Cloudcap, at 7960 feet. It was hard to believe that I was higher, much of the day even, than a lot of my time in the Canadian Rockies. Very little about the terrain suggests you’re at such a high altitude, though I’m sure if Mount Mazama (the mountain before the crater) still existed, I’d have a different opinion.

I picked up lunch at the cafe in the visitor’s center, treating myself to a bacon cheeseburger, fries and Cherry Coke — an All-American meal. It was good — too good — and I was very full.

Roll of Film
Believe it or not, but another roll of film made it into my hands today. I initially took it to be more than just coincidence — who in the world manages to pick up two rolls of film, all completely shot, in two consecutive days? The way it came about today is that a little boy, at the edge of Crater Lake after the descent to the water, came running up to me saying “scuse me mister, scuse me, you dropped this.” And of course, I hadn’t. I took it and asked a few other people if they dropped it, but it was all for not.

: forward

Wal*Mart seems to solve all my problems, so I took both rolls of film in to the 1-Hour-Photo booth at the Wal*Mart booth in Grant’s Pass. They couldn’t take yesterday’s, the professional Fujifilm roll, because it was slide film, and they just make prints. So I had them take the other one. I did my other shopping: tent, soap, car freshener, etc., and debated the whole time what I was going to do. I almost didn’t even want to see the pictures — I knew what they’d be. They’d be of some family and their trip to Crater Lake, maybe a few exposures beforehand since they finished the roll halfway around the trail. I almost certainly didn’t want to pay for that, $5.85 or something. I almost felt dirty for having them developed in the first place, but I couldn’t not develop them. What else was I going to do? So I watched the photo booth counter and noticed that some people weren’t paying for them there, that they let you do other shopping before paying for them (I wasn’t sure if the rules were the same for the one-hour development). So I picked them up and found a chair in the office-furniture department and looked through them.

They were just as I expected, mostly. A few young girls, probably on a summer camp trip at the lake. There were a few pictures of a huge group of people — maybe a hundred, all gathered in front of and totally hiding the view of Crater Lake. There were a few of one of the girls in her home — a gold-plated drama icon hung on the wall, one of those happy mask/sad mask things. There were one or two very good photos of the lake itself. But otherwise, nothing special. It was a relief, in a lot of ways. For one, I wouldn’t have to deal with anything heavy, no major decisions, no “clues” about who these people were or where they lived or anything otherwise that might give me a window for tracking them down. And furthermore, they didn’t seem like the girls would ever miss them terribly. There were no crucial photos, but a few memories, I’m sure.

I tore off my phone number from the photo envelope and left them in the chair. If someone found them, maybe they’d know the people — maybe not. Maybe, just maybe, they’d get back into proper hands. If not, oh well. No hands are surely better than my hands.

Redwoods
My last few hours of driving brought me through some of the State and National Redwood Forests. I’ve known all about the Redwoods, of course, seen amazing pictures in my Ranger Rick magazines as a kid, saw more amazing pictures and video in National Geographic and on Discovery, but I was not prepared. Even just driving — I didn’t get a chance to stop, not yet — I was shocked at how huge and how everywhere their hugeness is. It’s not necessarily the size of one giant tree, but more the abundance of huge trees. In all honesty, it was almost hard to believe, like I was in a theme park or something. As opposed to seeming real, the drive and the trees and the entire experience was, simply, surreal. Even tonight, as I’m sleeping among them, huge stumps of trees cut down in 1926, fifteen eighteen twenty-three feet in diameter, I’m not prepared to say they really exist. It’s just too bizarre.

Tomorrow I may affirm my belief, but not just yet. Tonight, in the campground, they had a Park Ranger speak at a Campfire Program, and one of the thing he mentioned is where to find the really big trees. Even though the places he recommended would require me to backtrack a little, it’s temporarily on my agenda for tomorrow morning. I’ll get to walk, slowly, among them. Touch and hug them and compare my thumb to their trunks, and I’ll believe. We’ll see.

Campfire Program
There were several topics of the program, but the main one disturbed me a little bit — I’ll get to that in a second. The program started at 8 p.m. and in order to kill the time before it got dark, Ranger Dale played the bagpipes, asked people where they were from, including anecdotes where appropriate (and sometimes not appropriate), led us in stupid songs, mostly rounds. This went on for nearly forty-five minutes until it was dark enough to start his slideshow on, get this, mountain lions. Cougars, Pumas, Panthers, Mountain Lions! A good topic, sure, but here? In the dark? All these kids? In the dark?

When I was little and we visited the old Safari Museum in Chanute, they had a lion skin with completely preserved head, mounted to one of the walls above the staircase leading into the museum. I could usually never even make it inside, for to do so would require me to walk past it, with its sharp, pointy fangs, and reflective, following eyes. Scared me to death.

So I can’t imagine how he could show these pictures, decapitated mountain goats, full-teethed snarls, cats on the prowl, and no kid get upset. I was alright — I’m no longer scared — but sitting here the dark, right now, writing my journal, I shine my flashlight towards any noise that sounds like movement in the bushes.

August
Today is August one. I’m into the month of my homecoming. It’s a Friday and I’ll be returning on a Friday, two weeks from today. It’s all getting very close, not fast, but in a few days I’m sure I’ll wonder how I managed to only have a week left. But I’ll be ready.

Wal*Mart seems to solve all my problems, so I spent a few hours wandering around its familiar halls. If there’s one thing I absolutely love in this world, it’s Wal*Mart. Liberal hippies and anti-capitalist dogmatists be damned! There’s a lot of things I love about the place, and I’m not going to get into them all right now, but the one thing that I perhaps love the most is how familiar they are. They’re almost all the same! I can walk into the Wal*Mart in Grant’s Pass, Oregon and instantly be back home, back in Chanute and for the hour-and-then-some today, I was. I was home and all was good, and when I was done with being home, tired of Chanute and tired of the sameness of home, I walked out into the parking lot and was met with majestic mountains of evergreen, of Douglas Fir and Red Alder and tall, neck-breaking pines, and Chanute was not the same, was different, was Oregon, and I was traveling! Seeing the world! Aha, America!

And so August be damned, too. I don’t need home, not just yet, and I’ll love these next two weeks and the slowness of the hours and the velocity of the weeks and home will be there too soon, right on time, and always available. Always.

I am nervous, however, about having enough time. This is a long coast of California and I don’t have all that long to do it. I’m playing it by day, though, and I won’t think too hard about the schedule I’ve laid out — just the exit date, particularly, of August 9th, headed to Las Vegas. Otherwise I’ll try to divide my time as it comes to me, minute by minute, and that starts tomorrow. I can’t decide or say now what it is I’ll do tomorrow — whether I’ll go to see some Redwoods or spend that time on the beach. Or do both and only move 100 miles down the road. I will know after tomorrow.

New Soap
Wal*Mart seems to solve all my problems, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find a new bar soap by Neutrogena — I use the whole line for my shaving duties. The soap is revolutionary, I think, but very simple. It’s just a bar of soap inside a thin plastic sack, with holes for scouring and such, and I think it will make it so I can use every last bit of the bar and not have that little sliver that you never know what to do with. I’m going to go try it out for the first time, now, and I’ve never been more excited.

Okay, this is just getting silly. I’m going to shower and going to bed. So many new things to try out!

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