The next town on our trip is Eureka, but we pull right on through and continue around the bay to Arcata where we've arranged to meet another CouchSurfer, Amani, for lunch. I pull off the interstate by Humboldt State University, to scope out the campus a bit. That done, I ring Amani and she gives us directions to her apartment. Inside, we all need to be embraced in greeting, but lightly, as though by a breeze. We wait a few minutes more, checking out the pet turtle, and then Amani directs us to the town square and a tasty Mexican restaurant just off of it.
Amani tells us that since moving North away from the city she's had a number of couchsurfers stay with her, typically bikers following the coastal highway. We look at her in astonishment: who would be crazy enough to do that! She nods and explains that many of them tell her that their stays with her are peacefully recharging after the constant tension of curve-hugging cars passing just inches away for mile after mile. When we're finished with our burritos, we drop Amani back at her apartment and drive to the campus.
I'd been hoping there would be time to drop in and visit Steve Sillett with a question about the evolutionary dynamics of Redwood forests that I've been pondering for a while. But now, looking at the clock, I see it's past five, and we haven't even made it to Redwood National park yet. I'll have to try it another time.
We continue onwards.
But when we reach Redwoods National Park, we find the visitor's center closed. And now I'm thinking about where we'll spend the night. It's been a long day of traveling, and I know I'll get tired later. We don't have a map of the RNP and it doesn't seem as though we'll be able to get one. I've been texting Kriab, and she's offered us a place for the night… if we can make it to Eugene.
Perhaps the better thing to do would have been to find a camping spot in Redwood National Park, woke up, walked among the trees, and then continued on our way. But we're psychologically unable to identify this possibility. It works as follows.
We want to go to Crater Lake. But Flavia and Matt are not really prepared for camping, and we know that Crater Lake is on a mountain, where it will be colder. Eugene is the same distance from Crescent City (we're in the McDonald's there thinking about all this) as Crater Lake. Therefore, it costs the same to go to Eugene as to Crater Lake. We figure we can back-track to Crater Lake in the morning, which will only take a couple of hours both ways. Probably if it was just a choice between Crater Lake and the Redwoods, we'd stay at the Redwoods. But the possibility of sleeping inside and being closer to Crater Lake is a draw, especially for my passengers. So on we go.
As we leave Crescent City, the road plunges into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. I know that tall Redwoods grow near the bottom third of hillsides, where they receive a continuous flow of water from above. While Humboldt State Park surely has hillsides and definitely has a large proportion of the tall trees in the world, we didn't see those hillsides as we were passing through. This road in Jedediah Smith exposes them all: steep ravines plunging off to one side and then the other of the road. Dark trunks and heavy foilage disappearing into sharp folds of topography.
Even after we leave the park, the road continues to be long and winding. Every gas station we come to is closed. The car tells me that it has 30 miles to go before empty, then 20. We make a stop at the Oregon border so Matt can catch a picture with it, and then continue on. I'm driving a little slower to conserve fuel.
Thankfully, just after the border, there's a little town with a station. I pop out to fill up and a man comes jogging up saying, “Let me do that for you!” It's a full-service station! I thought these had gone extinct. Inside, I feel a little glow. Filled, we continue driving.
The hours grow late and the road is intermeniable. Flavia's been a source of great conversation the whole trip. She speaks with a smooth Italian accent which is itself pleasant to listen to, but she's able to back that up with an area of anecdotes from her two and a half months of WWOOFing and CouchSurfing in the U.S. But she's sleeping in the back now and Matt, in the front is less conversational and he's asleep as well. I plug in a flash drive and begin to sing sea shanties.
At some point, I begin to have realistic visions that the road isn't where it is: I'm being hypervigilant about staying awake. So I do what my parents would do: I pull off and park in front of the nearest casino: the Seven Feathers. This is more sensible than it seems. Casinos are usually clean and have food and beverages. And sometimes the food and beverages are free! If you don't need petrol, they're really a better place to stop than gas stations. If you can put up with the blinky lights, cigarette smoke, and buzzy noises.
We all order sandwiches inside and, while waiting for the food, watch Matt blow $40 on a slot machine (another hazard of casinos). For only the second time ever, I break my promise not to use caffeine to stay awake, and have a third of a Red Bull. The last time I had Red Bull, in Dublin, the extra energy wake me up, but also made abstract thinking difficult. Luckily, I don't need to do too much of that now.
Back on the road, we're only an hour from Eugene. And, as it turns out, I do need to do some abstract thinking. I've made it through most of the sea shanties I have, which means I have only one option to stay awake with: highway math! I like to play a game when I drive where I multiple all the numbers on a road sign together. This is easy if the sign says “7 miles to somewhere, 34 miles to nowhere”. (Answer: 238) It's a bit harder when you are “23 miles to here, 169 miles to there, 223 miles to that other place”. (Answer: 866801) But I can still do it. If the numbers are disappointingly short, I'll often follow up the multiplication with a prime factorization, which takes superexponential time.
Dozens of math problems later, I give Kriab a call and she guides us into Eugene. The route takes us in short order off of the interstate onto a large street, then an unlabel side street, then a dirt road, then a dirt drive-way. We pull to rest in front of a farmhouse flanked by an orchard, a field, and a horse pasture.
We had a good hug and probably some conversation happened, but I don't remember it too well… except that I was forbidden from playing the piano until the morning.