October 31, 2012. Somewhere on Route 140 in Oregon.
Today is Halloween.
After a phenomenally early start for us (on the road before 7 AM), we continue to follow our plan to find sunnier, hopefully warmer, weather. Our compass bearing is basically east and south toward Nevada and beyond. Today, we aim for Lakeview, OR, because just north of town is a hot springs where we might clean up, freshen up and possibly stay the night. During the 200 miles it takes to get there, the winds increase and sudden gusts blow hard against the truck as we drive. In Lakeview, the wind is so strong, doors are hard to open and after opened, violently blow shut. They talk about a storm coming that night adding rain to the wind. We decide to try to outrun it and continue our route toward Nevada.
The landscape has completely transformed from the lush forest of the coastal region into severe and attractively desolate desert. We cross small mountain ranges and wide valleys and keep hoping we will leave the ominous clouds and persistent, almost frightening, wind behind. The dust in the valleys is whipped up into a high flying frenzy. It looks like smoke.
We need to stop for the night and look for a sheltered spot where we can wait out the storm. The mountains, in contrast to the valleys, seem to slightly block and redirect the force of the wind. We come to a treeless, concave area surrounded by small peaks with a dried lake at its center. Several dirt roads fan out through the scrub grass. We park on a flat gravel pull-out. To minimize the truck’s profile, we point its nose into the oncoming wind. We have some concern about the camper’s ability to withstand the force of this storm. Could an exceptionally powerful gust tear off the roof or even knock us over?
So what was that night like? It was like for 12 hours of turbulence on a plane. At least, we were already on the ground. The truck and camper shuddered and shook; it was jostled side to side. The roaring wind pushed and pounded the walls, and anything that was loose, rattled and banged. The wind came in waves, dying down and bringing hope that the worst had passed, only to resume its assault, as it it had just taken a few quiet moments to regather its strength.
It also reminded me of sailing on the Atlantic when a big storm hits. You must set anchor or tie up to a mooring to wait it out, hoping everything holds against the fierce winds. Hunkered down in the small boat cabin, I remember nervously sitting tight as the boat vibrated and rocked and the wind howled against the mast and hull, the lines straining against the force.
We signed up for this adventure. (Whenever one of us complains about something, the other one says, “Well, you signed up for this!”) An adventure by definition entails risk and uncertainty. It opens the door to serendipity, discovery and excitement. Fresh vision and moments of wonder. The same door also opens anxiety, doubt and indecision, not to mention potential hazard and harm.
Do we keep going? When do we stop? Will there be a more protected place just ahead? What is ahead? Are we making the right decision? Should we have stayed in Lakeview? Is this dangerous? Will it get worse? Will there be snow and ice? Are we safe?
Just being alive is, of course, the most obvious adventure we are on. Life by definition entails risk and uncertainty. Every moment we are on the precipice of the unknown, whether we acknowledge it or not. Only the past seems to lose its uncertainty. But that is an illusion of memory.
It was Halloween so maybe it was appropriate to spend the night with uneasy and fearful feelings. No ghosts here but it was a dark, lonely, isolated place. Adding some incongruity to the experience, we watched on computer the very early, very silly Woody Allen movie, “Take the Money and Run.” Chris picks up DVDs here and there and occasionally he or both of us will watch one.
Later, lying awake in the dark, I thought about all the 19th century settlers who had crossed similar land, possibly over the mountain pass just ahead of us on this road. I envisioned the conditions of their journey in the deserts of the west, so unlike traveling today. We go on trips for pleasure, for adventure, for education, sometimes for relaxation and rest. But the settlers experienced ongoing hardship and danger. While I find this landscape to be dramatic and starkly beautiful, it may have seemed frightening, threatening and unwelcoming to them. What would it have been like for them in this storm? The wind tearing at the canvas wagon covers, rain entering any small opening, cold and wet penetrating wool blankets. These thoughts help bring perspective and I feel empathy for all creatures who migrate.
In the middle of the night, rain began periodically pelting violently against the sides, the droplets propelled by the intense winds. Eventually there were longer periods with less wind and I was able to sleep the remaining few hours of the night. In the morning, in cold rain and heavy skies, we packed up and hit the road. Although this was our windiest night so far, we will likely run into more hard blows as we travel. We survived this one without any real problems.