Lessons From The Road: Adventures Of Newbie Travel Traileristas, Part X

The Saga Ends. For Now.

Friday, August 28th – Saturday, August 29th

All things – the good, the bad, and 2020 – come to an end. Sometimes earlier than expected. Given the brackish bog of thorns and spectral hellhounds that is this year, it’s only fitting that our first epic trip would end early.

Fires were already burning in California even before we roosted in Coos Bay, and would soon spark in Oregon too (not that we knew that). While we didn’t want to cut our trip short, not now that we were getting the hang of parking our travel trailer, we had been monitoring the air quality predictions for our final slated destination: Mt. Shasta and the Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort. It didn’t look promising, with predictions of unhealthy AQ levels for the next couple of nights.

And so we called Lake Siskiyou (the resort, not the lake) and cancelled the second and third nights of our stay, leaving us a one-night stopover to avoid an 8-9 hour drive home in one day. Thankfully, they obliged the late alteration without penalty.

Having learned our lesson from the first disastrous cross-mountain excursion, we made sure to ask the staff at Bay Point Landing for the most-trailer-friendly route from Coos Bay to the north-west arterial rush that is Interstate 5. They referred us to Route 42 heading south-east out of Coos Bay, linking up with I-5 just south of Roseburg.

We left early on the morning of the 28th, and I soon remembered what made me love driving through Oregon on family road trips from Montana to California when I was a kid. Mist was lifting from reed-edged ponds lining the highway, and towering trees offered shade and sun in equal measure. It echoed the Redwood Highway between Grants Pass and Crescent City, California. We stopped for gas in Coquille, and here the attendant was well-masked and gloved, so kudos, Coquille.

We reached I-5 and rattled south, with cars swooping past on either side. Through Grants Pass, through Medford (stopping for gas again, because a travel trailer guzzles gas like Cookie Monster guzzles cookie juice), through Ashland (my temporary home for two weeks when I was two months old; or was it for two months when I was two weeks old? I wasn’t keeping notes yet).

As always when driving through these Oregornia borderlands, I found myself fascinated by the “Free State of Jefferson” flags and wooden billboards (I will have thoughts on this later in life, but not in this blog entry). I was also curious what the libertarian, anti-mask, pro-gun Jefferson advocates would say about the local public radio network: Jefferson Public Radio. But more on that elsewhere.

Everything was hot and dry as we approached the California border. Obviously there were no warning signs at the time, but I still feel odd thinking back on that drive, knowing that within a week or two Medford would be burning. All of Oregon would soon be on fire, orange with smoke.

The images of those fires are shocking. To see them, to consider the sudden ferocity of wildfires throughout the west, you understand the impact of climate change. To deny the facts of climate change you have to have your head in the sand, or be so totally invested in businesses that profit from harmful behavior that you aren’t willing to acknowledge the danger.

Fire season is starting earlier and lasting longer. That’s one more reason why there should be greater resources and political support applied to the practice of prescribed burning, or controlled burning, which has long been an accepted necessity of Montana life, with the devastating summer fire seasons requiring planning, culling, and reduction of fuel. Fire itself is not a destructive force only. Did you know that some trees actually need fire to reproduce? Some pinecones won’t burst open and release their seeds except in extreme heat.

Climate change is one problem. Another problem? There are just too many people. And now we’re having to push further and further out into the periphery for affordable places to live, slowly devouring the remaining bastions of wilderness like Pac-Man gobbling dots. We’re not just visiting the wilderness anymore; we’re wandering into it, and we aren’t necessarily always prepared for the consequences.

This raises a lot of questions about the ethics of trailer life and camping that I’m not prepared to address at the moment, at least not with any certainty. I will say, though, that we got to show P a lot of wonderful things on this trip that we might not have accessed without a travel trailer.

What can we do? Not an easy answer. One step is to donate to relevant non-profit organizations such as the Sacramento Valley Conservancy, who preserve and maintain open spaces for education and conservation.

****

You can always tell when you cross the border into California on a freeway, whether I-5 or I-80. The roads get wider and bumpier (i.e., poorly maintained), and the drivers get more aggressive (they can usually back it up with skill, but that doesn’t mean they should zip at a 45-degree vector across three lanes of traffic to catch an exit ramp at the last nano-second, at least not without a brutal and exemplary prison sentence to follow).

Everyone seems to accelerate, even when the road gets rough and steep, as I-5 is for much of that border region as you swoop down through volcanically-rippled mountains towards the central valley of California.

Once again, I was glad for those reassuring “All Vehicles Max 55 When Towing” signs. They gave me reputational cover for driving more slowly than the sports cars, mini-vans, and even some reckless semi-trucks that whizzed past on both sides. I was finally starting to spend less driving time glancing at the rear- and side-view mirrors to make sure the trailer was still back there like a shadow, but I wasn’t going to go faster than I had to.

Northern California – and I mean northern – isn’t like other places. Volcanic, empty skies, snow and scrub and gravel and freeways. There’s an undulating beauty and loneliness, and you can see why people would want to live here.

Mt. Shasta – you see her for miles. She’s not really one single vent; she’s a complex of several vents (including Black Butte and the adorably named Shastina), with a few small cities scattered around her base, including Weed, the most-Californiacally-named of California cities in the eyes of the state’s critics.

We found Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort nestled on the shores of its namesake, a large reservoir southeast of Mt. Shasta. There’s a central hub of campsites around a grill, movie theater, and beach, and as we drove in on our way to the site, it was uncomfortably busy-looking in terms of milling people. But fortunately, you aren’t forced to stay with the crowds. From our quieter trailer site, a little ways removed from the central hub on a separate peninsula of campsites, a short downhill walk through pine trees led to a semi-private beach area, perfect for swimming, sitting, looking at the mountain, and enjoying a bit of peace and quiet, even though the air was a little bit gritty.

Perfect day to swim in a mountain lake

We weren’t able to do everything on this trip we wanted to do – we never got around to inflating the kayak, for instance – and we cut it short after this one night at the lake, but P loved getting to swim and examine things, like the small bubbles that occasionally broke the surface close to shore: baby catfish buried in mud? Natural exhalations of gas from shifting sand and water? Hard to tell, but the little scientist was full of theories.

****

And so, the return home. If the air was going to insist on being irritatingly smoky, we might as well be at home with air conditioning and more room, where my snoring would be less of a declaration of war on the nerves.

We started the final drive by hunting coffee, and we found an excellent local option we would gladly recommend: Yaks Mt Shasta, located on Mt. Shasta Blvd in the town of Mt. Shasta. They really want you to know without a doubt where you are, which is to say, Mt. Shasta. Anyway, definitely worth a stop when you are in town: great and surprising latte menus (including a tasty peanut butter latte), great service, and a variety of breakfast bagel options. And an excellent adherence to social distancing requirements.

And then the short drive down the interstate to Sacramento and home, arriving there mid-afternoon.

So what did we do well on the trip?

  • No one died (that we know of) as a result of a catastrophic freeway pile-up involving our loss of control of the travel trailer at an inopportune moment
  • We got much better and more efficient at parking, blocking the tires, hooking up the trailer, leveling it, and then undoing all of that at the end of a stay
  • We got lots of beach time
  • S’mores were accomplished on multiple occasions

Lessons for next time?

  • Install side-view mirror extenders on the car for backing into uneven, narrow spaces
  • Or get new batteries for the walkie-talkies
  • If a road on Google Maps looks more squiggly than a polygraph, don’t attempt it with a travel trailer
  • If you buy firewood at one campsite and decide not to use it, figure out a way to stow it without it getting damp, or it won’t burn, and definitely don’t leave it out overnight.
  • You can’t import firewood bought in Oregon into California – they will ask at the border
  • No, those last two points aren’t directly related

We’re looking forward to incorporating those lessons next trip. Assuming there is a next trip. We dropped off our trailer on September 10th for body repair and some warranty issues for internal problems from the shakedown cruise, and it still isn’t quite ready for pickup (part of that was due to a metal shortage and shipping delays, to be fair). Apparently it has proven too much a task for some, as the original service rep we worked with has been replaced by someone named Andrew who has not yet responded to our request for a status update.

We’ll probably have forgotten everything we learned about hooking up and parking the trailer by the time we get it back, but that will part of the fun. Practicing everything again and taking next steps to get even more wilderness-adjacent; you know, so P gets some practice for after the world takes a turn down Mad Max Avenue.

Published by dmhallett101

Husband, father, writer, reader, mostly in that order. Staying sane by pretending to be creative by playing with (WordPress) blocks.

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