Thursday, March 6, 2014


I'm spending the week in central Oregon, exploring the general environs of Bend and checking out a few academic programs at Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Oregon (UO) and the Central Oregon Community College (COCC).  This whole trip has turned out to be exactly the type of trip I excel at, using all of the skills that made me a great writer for Let's Go, all of the skills that remind me of how much I related to Jerry Maguire: "This used to be my specialty. I was good in a living room. Send me in there, I'll do it alone."

I LOVE long drives and I am totally in my element when meeting new people.

I parachuted into Redmond long after dark on Monday and found my way to Bend after ransacking McDonald's.  [All I want is a Big Mac and fries because I haven't eaten since before lunch....but I haven't had any vegetables today so I should have salad.  Screw it.  The quarter pounder, fries AND the salad were gone in under 10 minutes.  Don't judge.]

When I stepped out of the Redmond airport, the air smelled like pine trees.  Literally, obviously, overwhelmingly, pine.  Of all the things I was told to expect, walking into a Glade commercial was not one of them.  

The next morning, still under the cover of darkness, I found my way to a masters swim practice (where the coach was from Green Bay, woot!) and met Byron, Rob, and Susie.

All of these people have been telling me how great Bend is and how cool/calm/collected/copacetic the locals are.  What is the first thing I see in Bend in daylight?  A traffic jam.  Parents waiting in a very long line, rendering three traffic circles gridlocked, to drop their kids off at school.   Sorry, Bend, I can find traffic jams in Austin, you are going to have to do better than that.

An hour later I headed west over the Cascades, through the Deschutes National Forest and dropping into the Willamette Valley, to the Corvallis campus of OSU.  I'd be making roughly this same round-trip twice in two days - which is basically my idea of heaven.  And it turns out the drive itself is gorgeous and totally engrossing.  The best analogy I can make it that of a 150 mile, 2-lane luge track through 100 foot tall Ponderosa pines nestled right next to the road.  That is when the road isn't carving a track immediately next to a river.  On the windward side of the Cascades the air is so perpetually moist that the trees are coated in moss.

Corvallis itself is a shabby little town, with some upscale sections along the river, and OSU is bustling, but shabby, campus just doing its thing out of the spotlight focused nearly entirely on University of Oregon down in Eugene.  Students have a granola vibe, and I have never seen so many skateboards in a three hour period in my life.  The campus area is really cohesive as a campus area, and the department people I spoke with were really personable and helpful (trust me, this is NOT a given when dealing with graduate programs).

I will say Corvallis is going to be the stronghold for survivors when the zombie apocalypse hits.  As the highway approaches from the east, the speed limit drops from nearly 70 to 25, as the road splits to cross the river as a one-lane bridge in each direction.  Tear down those bridges and crossing that river gets really hard - the city literally comes with a built-in moat!  You heard it here first: the survivors are in Corvallis.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the drive. Because I know that that is what you all really want.

The basic view east of Sisters, OR.

The basic view out the windshield once you get west of Sisters, OR.  The red stuff on the snow just beside the side of the road is cinder, which the local highway departments use as sand/salt.  I suspect they apply it in semi-liquid form through a fire hose, because in the first few miles on either side of the top of Santiam Pass, cinder is spread tens of feet on either side of the road as if someone just blasted it with great force in every direction.  Approaching the top of the west side of the pass, the road comes straight up the valley, makes a sharp right and carves a lip right across the face of the mountain.  From the road up the the valley, it looks like a massive animal died and bled as it fell diagonally down into the valley, because the cinders present a long, straight, WIDE, RED line through the snow.

This view is on the way up on the east side, but coming down this side from the west, I went five miles without touching my brake or gas and sat right at 55 mph. 

The very top of Santiam Pass suffered a forest fire about eight years ago, so the very top is only white, with stripped toothpicks-like tree trunks as far as you can see. Well, that and the big slashes of dragon blood. 

Coming down on the very moist west side.

It is green EVERYwhere you look.

A moss-coated tree, among millions of moss-coated trees.

They must have a different definition of this word in Oregon, because I didn't see another car for 10 minutes on either side of this sign.

Trading trees for water.  None of it is calm, and some is serious rapids.

And the journey continues...

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