Milestones and Milemarkers

This trip’s purpose took us and our dogs to our daughter’s graduation from the University of Oregon in Eugene and we made the best of the miles along the way, camping and exploring.

At the university where I teach I’ve had the honor of reading the names of graduates at Commencement. This year’s graduation being the fifteenth time I’ve read not only their names, but their faces as well and there’s one affect display that’s truly tell-tale of the day, and it’s not the look of joy. It’s the look of oh shit.

And this occupied my brain along with a million other thoughts as we made our way around the Northwest, 2,164 miles worth. That’s a lot of mile markers.

Our first stop on Friday, June 16, was a departure from our route to Boise, a detour that took us Shoshone Falls. I’ve been avoiding Idaho for the last fifteen years, so it was nice to come back on different terms and in doing so, Idaho surprised us.

We chose Arrowrock Reservoir for our camp for the night. It was just a point on Google maps near Boise with few details and comments, so we made it a destination, stopping at Irish Point.

We’ve been sorting out the Montero that some would argue is a step backwards for vehicle-based adventure, but out of everything we’ve driven over the last decade, this nineteen year-old truck held its own. So much for milestones.

Our gear inventory from previous builds compliments this very well and we’ve added a Helios pressurized water system completing the little kitchen.

The drawer storage is ample and strong with a spot for everything.

We tested all this out on our previous adventure to Monument Valley and now have a routine set-up and strike that establishes our camp in about ten minutes.

A little light evening rain kept us cool but didn’t dampen our spirits for the night. We had a great night and were pleasantly surprised that our Idaho camping neighbors went quiet at 10:00p.

Keeps out the riffraff.

The road is precarious at times, often just a bit wider than the Montero and yet folks were pulling trailers and driving motorhomes through here. One of the locals indicated they pull three or four cars a summer out of the drink.

On second thought, it wasn’t nice at all. You wouldn’t want to go there. Ever.

Saturday morning’s drive out of that canyon got us on the road to Eugene, going through Oregon’s geographic schizophrenia. On our way through Burns we saw a too-familiar Trump-Pence campaign sign, this one as large as a garage door that someone had tagged across its face, “Traitor” in big, black angry letters. If you’re not familiar with Burns look up that little fiasco involving a standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. I didn’t stop for a picture.

But I did stop for this one. Easier to do since we were hiking. And I have to agree.

Eugene’s air is a little heavier these days. Maryjane wafts through neighborhoods like BBQ smoke, which seems to follow not long after because, well, you know.

On Sunday afternoon we visited Oregon’s campus and attended an open house for Katie’s department.

We managed to find what has now become an icon in my visual communication curriculum, the Duck’s over-sized chair and ottoman which used to be housed in the old student union. I was happy to see it’s been given new life with new upholstery in the new student union. Not quite as happy to see that those ugly yellow chairs were spared as well.

Pomp and Circumstance on Monday, 88 degrees and humid and no shade and no one seems to have thought this through. Made me appreciate DSU’s commencement. Even the grads were left out in the sun in their polyester regalia.

And there it is before us all, a milestone about to be recognized. I watched the graduates mount the stage and saw that same oh shit look on many of them. I wondered if I’d see it surface on Katie’s well-controlled visage as she graced the stage and accepted her diploma cover for her new degree in Architecture. She’d make a good poker player.

It’s the last step on any particular pathway that we call milestones, points along a living timeline marking some kind of cusp from living one way to living another. And that’s what I see every year on those faces just before they walk across the stage; leaving the habit and structure of class schedules and campus living to something less certain and predictable until they get settled into whatever that’s going to be. And that’s the milestone, really; not the graduation, but the installation into life.

On Tuesday we took a quick afternoon trip to Florence and followed a jetty out to the ocean. I watched the mile markers go by on Highway 58 and began to better appreciate their intimation of progress.

While we were doing our tourist thing around Florence, the kids made good on a sibling tattoo promise.

Wednesday morning we hit the road to Portland.

We visited the Good Mod, a furniture restoration and design shop run by young artisans who would’ve splashed in mid-century.

While Portland has its funk (Portlandia), it feels as if it’s capitalizing on simple mediocrity, like being congratulated that you made your bed, the company at Good Mod excluded.

And these folks, too.

Drinkable chocolate. I know, but you just have to try it yourself to get it. I’d dare say it’s a milestone in my chocolate experience. It consisted of a flight (my new favorite word when it comes to beer, wine and now chocolate) of milk chocolate and cinnamon, a spicy dark chocolate and a third of which I can’t recall because I became fixated on the first. Religion should be this honest and soul piercing.

And there’s Powell’s Books. No pics ’cause I was pretty consumed.

One last night of stimulating conversation with the kids and we left Thursday morning thinking that milestones are beneath them; the expectations that place certain pressures on their living pale to the swift and accelerating mile markers that they’re flying by every single day.

We left Eugene on Thursday morning, taking 58 to the Crescent Cutoff on to La Pine where we picked up the Oregon Outback Scenic Route. Sorry, no pics. Living in Southern Utah has spoiled me for so many miles’ scenic driving.

We made it to Susanville and after (thankfully) being turned away from an RV park, we made our way through town and up the mountain to Eagle Lake. My earliest recollection of camping I think was here. Our neighbors in Carmichael, California, had a cabin on Eagle Lake and we made the trip up to fish and stay a weekend or two. Most my memories are simply reinforced by the photographs my dad took and that was fifty-one years ago.

It was a terrible experience and you don’t ever want to go there as well.

We broke camp Friday morning and headed to Truckee for lunch and on to Squaw Valley to visit another haunt of my youth, Squaw Creek as it tumbles down the granite of the peak that bears the same name.

I could spend the rest of my life here, photographing this place in all her seasons and not succeed in archiving what this creek means to me. I spent a number summers on these rocks away from my hometown, away from my dad, and found a peace and an appreciation for nature. Being there with my companion was both remarkable and frustrating in that I could not express to her the full measure of the impact of this river on me.

So, we’ll have to go back.

We returned to Highway 89 along the Truckee River to find a campsite but to no avail and ended up doubling back to the other side of Truckee where we lit at the Little Truckee River campground. It’s interesting to note that doubling back, all the mile markers looked the same.

I released this shutter in between swarms of mosquitos.

And on Saturday morning after sourcing a Starbucks, we drove the long road of Highway 80 home to North Salt Lake.

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