The Big Drive

Day 2 - Pendleton to Twin Falls, Oregon


Pendleton, Oregon - Tuesday morning. Hundred degrees or close to it. At least the high-nineties forecast (with clear skies) was accurate. First stop out of the starting gate, at 10:00 a.m. and after a couple hours of writing, is K-mart, then Wal-Mart, for sunscreen (now needed), tank tops (wouldn't hurt), today's release of "Resurrection," the new album from former Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford, and, since the Great Grape only has a cassette deck, a cheapo CD player to play the aforementioned disc. (Plus those bought in Seattle, like Brian Setzer's "Vavoom." Plus a Wal-Mart purchased, expanded edition of "Rebel Yell.") Problems ensue almost immediately, as the first disc inserted into the player (Billy Idol) is cracked by a stuck ball-bearing on the player's spindle. Great. Guess I'll wait and visit the service desk in the next city. After a McDonald's run (for lunch, plain double-hamburger, fries, and Diet Coke) and a fire station drive-by, I leave town at 11:55 p.m. At last.

Eastern Oregon - The scenery consists of dry-looking, sparsely vegetated, moderately rolling hills. On the radio, Rush Limbaugh is ranting about wild animals committing hate crimes against each other. (He even ties global warming into it.) I'm saving Halford for later, for when, like Pat Boone, I'm in a heavy-metal mood. (With practice, I discover, I can gingerly insert a disc without damaging it.) No need for gas, thank God. In addition to learning that Oregon is damn hot in August, I was told last night that you can't pump your own gas. The all-wise, all-knowing state of Oregon prohibits self-serve gas stations! Really! Other observation of note: the interesting range of ages and races. Everybody in Seattle seems younger and with a Pacific/Alaskan bent; in both eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, the median age is older and with an American Indian slant. (Results based on my crude-assed sampling, mind you.) No wildfires sighted as of yet. Measly 65 mph speed limit, too.

Explosion - The colorfully dull scenery abruptly changes after climbing one particular mountain on I-84; the landscape explodes with tall, green, and only modestly dense pine trees. Beautiful. Cross the Umatilla Indian Reservation and how. Paul Harvey on the radio at noon, reporting on a report purporting "psychological isolation" as a high-risk factor for heart disease. And easily remedied at that! Just say "hello" to a stranger. Or, better, ask them to come home with you. Soon the trees are gone. Ragged hills beget rocky mountains and, while twisting east of La Grande, I stop on the shoulder to snap a picture. A semi flies by, blowing a tire and causing me to nearly have a cow, man. (Startling noises suck.) Cross the 45th Parallel at 12:52 p.m., the geographic halfway point between Santa's workshop and the Earth's waistline. First plume of fire-smoke spotted not long thereafter, at 1:56. (Still hotter than Hell outside, mind you. I stop to shoot more mountain pics and get slammed by 100+ degrees of sunlight. Then, I climb onto a rocky rail bed, to bake even better.)

McFly - Cross from Pacific to Mountain Time at 1:59. The only apparent effect of having time-traveled is a Christopher Lloyd impersonation felt coming on. My knees are also beginning to smart, as I've been into the sun all day. So I drape a tee over me, after lathering myself with more (and, at SPF 15, apparently weak) sunscreen. And crank the air-conditioning further. More dull, dry hills. Pass a couple cool vehicles, though, such as a tractor-drawn trailer filled with potatoes (!) and a triple-trailer truck operated by UPS! First fire site seen up close at 2:05, an enormous, far-as-the-eye-can-see stretch of blackened hillside. I later learn that these 80,000 (is that right?) acres caught fire three weeks ago, taking two days to burn (it moved fast) and are still smoldering in spots, in the form of hay bales. (The latter likely the smoke I saw.) This happened about 20 miles west of Ontario, where I stop for an early dinner at a place called Country Kitchen (think a cleaner Perkins, with fewer menu items), where I transcribe the notes that you're reading while noshing on chicken fingers, salad, and ice-cream. And not necessarily in that order!

Flatter, Greener - Stop at a Wal-Mart, as well, to return both the offending CD player and broken disc. (Having sampled the Halford album earlier in the day, I discover that the road noise overpowers the CD player. So I take it back.) Also get a key made at a hardware store-- a spare, for my wallet-- and snap some pictures at the Ontario fire station. On the road again by 4:10, Boise-bound. Enter Idaho at 4:12, now 5:12, due to the time change. And after a construction zone, the speed limit increases to 75! Wheeeee! Flatter, greener scenery, too. And with quite a bit of farmland. Drive into and through Caldwell, spotting the sign "All things come to those who bait." Visit in a mall in Boise, also, staying far longer than I should. Don't leave that town till 7:55. Oy. At least the radio's good-- Bruce Williams, soothing my evening with frank financial and business advice. (Plus customary book plugs.) Sign seen outside Boise: REPORT WILDFIRES - # FIRE. Past Boise, the I-84 countryside is even flatter. More burned spots, as well. Still no active fires spotted; only a dull haze in the distance. Maybe clouds. Maybe smoke. 8:41 p.m., the smell of burning wood again. At 8:50 p.m., the plains change to gentle cliffs.

Smoke - Wish I'd budgeted my time better; I could've roamed the Boise airport. Or followed the signs to the National Fire Center, whatever that is. Or sniffed around Mountain Home Air Force Base, 30 miles east of B. Harder than expected, too, to cover 300+ miles during daylight hours. Eating out of the car takes time. Habitual Wal-Mart visits take time. Driving through the mountains takes time, both because (a.) it's slower and (b.) it requires more picture-taking. Next time, I reckon, I'll take twice as much time. Dusk-driving is great, though, I also decide. Cooler. No sun. Colored skies. And too dark to take pictures, so I'm off the hook. Bruce fades out at 9:15. Remaining AM stations are Spanish-speaking, so I switch to FM and flip through the usual snips of rock, pop, country, and Christian. (I confess I do like the latter, when there's a good, hellfire 'n' brimstone pa-reach-er playing.) 9:19. Still smell smoke. Still seeing burned patches. No orange skies in the rapidly darkening distance, however. Get Bruce back at 9:33. Pull into Twin Forks at 10:15. Days Inn, off the Interstate. Fire crews staying there, too. I take a smoking room, after personally inspecting same with my nose. $40, with discount since I wanted the other kind. Breakfast, notes the clerk, who looks uncannily like my Raleigh hairstylist, consists of Belgian waffles. You pour. They provide the batter and waffle-maker. Giddy-yup.

Total mileage today: 389

Total mileage total: 714.

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros


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