The Kid’s Super Special Guy flew south, he had come this way to get a 1995 Toyota pickup truck and deliver it to Seattle. Never mind the arctic blast, the closed highways, the barely open chains only interstate, he’d hole up in a motel and wait for the all clear signal, his goal was simple his adventure purpose clear.
I grabbed him out of Oakland Airport put him up out back in our study, heater on, shades drawn, for California it has been a bitter piece of winter. This morning we took off headed across the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge into the strangest of places— Marin County.
The truck we would pick up has a cool 200K on the odometer, doesn’t leak oil, and tires look to have plenty of tread left. Last year the vehicle had gotten a fresh set of brake pads, all in all mechanically the rig was good as new— ready to go. I can be prone to overstatement.
This is the 2.5 liter inline 4-cylinder motor hooked up to a 5-speed manual row your own gearbox. Seats have seen better days but hell they were still there and that’s saying a lot— by some lucky error I am still here too. Rear compartment we found a pair of chains for the tires. There is no A/C or radio but those are minor inconveniences, a pair of good Airpods hooked into the Super Special Guy’s iPhone and hey you’re in business.
The rear quarter panel window had been repaired with duct tape after a smash and grab event some months back. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area if you want to get into a booming new business, I’d recommend the auto glass business. Fentanyl, broken windows and finding a public bench where you might remain in near total unconsciousness has become too common a sight.
North on Highway 101 appears to be the better option, Interstate 5 that transit the Siskiyou’s near the Oregon border are open, under chain control restrictions, but considerably more blustery a highway under the current wintery conditions.
I’d recommended the Arcata Hotel as a stopover for the night. The town square in this community is surrounded by small businesses— there is coffee, books, groceries, and saloons you may visit to remedy whatever want that is itching you this lost moment of your need. Humboldt State University is here too. Instead of hobnobbing with logging truckers and dope smokers you may while away your time with various countercultural warriors that are the backbone and unapologetic progressive social glue to this community.
North of Arcata no more than a few miles past Trinidad at least for today the road to Crescent City is closed due to snow and ice. No worries forecasters have this clearing by late morning Friday. This is good news because if you do make it to the Arcata Hotel you may want to linger longer here and make this oasis of bohemian life the soul healing high water mark of your road trip.
The Super Special Guy can use this time to replace burned out lightbulbs, check tire pressure, and refasten the missing bolts to the front grill. I’d mention the mudflaps are gone at all four corners, but that job is for another day, something to do in the mechanical splendor of your own garage with your favorite hand-tools. Just choosing the right mudflaps requires an appropriate lapse of time, you’ll choose best after some mindful and mud-fool deliberations.
I’d say my favorite leg of the journey is somewhere after you get to Willits and before you get to Eureka, Rockefeller Grove is located along this stretch of road. The Eel River is here, most of the time it is tame and obedient, then again back in 1956 it spilled its banks and climbed the sides of the canyon walls in an epic flood. Somehow the 2000 year old giant redwoods withstood the onslaught.
I’ve been up this piece of highway over the last decades plenty. I’ve seen it in every kind of light and mood. Like the Super Special Guy the real feast of this adventure is the road itself, being left alone to your own thoughts while behind the wheel, a proper encounter with a chunk of something you’ve never seen before is both tonic and palliative, you can get home to Capitol Hill in Seattle and sink into your own too familiar bed and no longer feel as if you are missing the reason for your existence— to live a life made of long highways and clean rest stops.
It isn’t like you want to get somewhere so much as you want to enjoy going somewhere— all those gear choices, all the braking and accelerating, all those moments when the oncoming traffics lights are in your eyes, for many these discomforts keep them from going in the first place, but for the road hungry these minor inconveniences are well worth the investment— for God’s sake man I’ve got to roam before my life flashes past my eyes and the years start piling one upon the other.
A beaten pickup truck with high miles could do just what you need the thing to do. First, it can look unreliable to the eye but remain a trustworthy companion despite the weather worn paint and assorted knicks, dents and scratches. From some distance you can see the thing is straight and sits on each corner at equal height to the asphalt, it is almost certain to have another 900 miles of reliable service to give. Once you and the machine reach your destination you can part company, your friend will garage the old truck, care for its motor, repair its every problem, use the truck for its intended purpose, and because he is your friend will let you borrow it for hauling things to and away from your own domicile.
This is the beauty of an old truck singularly dedicated to helping with household chores. Furniture is easily hauled, landscape debris disposed, neighbors moving to the other side of town can borrow the truck and return it when done. If you have a truck like this, you can say that it is more than fair that you loan the truck but not loan your own labor too. Find someone else for that part of the job— the truck is yours this sore back is mine.
I get ahead of myself. The Super Special Guy simply must first delve into the pureness of driving Highway 101. Right now, he plans to turn east at Waldport to overnight at the family farm in Corvallis. Before he’ll need to reckon with what it means when he sees Brookings, Gold Beach, the Rogue River, and the odd tune that plays in the mind when you first see Coos Bay. To my mind the Alsea Highway into the coastal range plucks some rarest, noted string in my heart. A meadow cleared of trees, outbuildings with a good tractor parked safe inside, the wafting swirl of smoke from a wood burning stove, and the thorough drenching of this region by wave upon wave of fog, rain, snow and a charcoaled toned darkness— a shadow set upon by shadow— a kind of Rembrandt’s gloom, Spanish moss draped upon trees in a pileup nowhere else so complete. Now you’ve done it, you’ve found the thing, as fine and uninhabited a place as a stranger passing through could want for, a place to see but not remain, a chunk of countryside that will cut like a cold cruel knife into your double edged dream, of a place so beautiful as not to be real, a forested range of mountains too drenched, dark and thick of mud to end any lingering thoughts of hitting your brakes as if to suggest you might choose to remain of all places right here. Only a few have such damp chilly appetites. This is the moonshot where you land in a river.
A good road will cut through your wilderness, this one will undo the gated cage to the coyote you are, run with the wind and then twist the ignition key off, go home, sometimes belonging has the final word, the very last mile to where you belong.