August 25th – Medford

     This morning I slept in until 8:30 A.M. and enjoyed my cozy campsite at Klamath National Park. When I finally emerged from my tent, I found an overcast sky and crisp mountain air waiting for me. I started out quietly, walking around and simply looking at the green forest surrounding me. Later, I wished I had gotten myself into gear a little quicker so that I could have gotten more done in the day. There’s always something that needs to be done, even on a trip where there’s no school and no need to rush around everywhere.

     Once I did get going, I packed up my tent and headed down the mountain and toward Medford, Oregon. I had arranged to have lunch there with the parents of a friend of mine. I left myself a little extra time because I planned to quickly upload my blog entries from the previous four days before I met with them.

     In Medford, I found a Starbucks to park at, intending to go inside for some free WiFi and expensive coffee. Then, I looked down at my feet and realized that my shoes were entirely covered in dirt. Since I wasn’t camping out in the woods anymore, I decided that I should at least try to look civilized. After the careful use of three paper towels and some water from my ice chest, my shoes looked a bit less like artifacts from an archeological dig and more like footwear that normal, respectable people wear to nice lunches.

     I found a few more small chores to do in my car which took up all the rest of my extra time, so I never actually make it into the Starbucks. When I finished up, I drove over to Jack and Joanne’s house (my friend’s parents) and we drove together to a country club for lunch. During lunch, I learned about Jack’s service in the military and his experiences in the sales industry when he completed his time. I also heard the story of how he and Joanne met and married, then lived in Illinois, Ohio, California and finally Oregon.

     Today my destination was Sweet Home, Oregon. It would have been wise to start the two hundred mile trip right after lunch. So, of course, I didn’t start driving.

     Before starting this trip, I decided that I would update this blog every Monday and Friday and I really intend to stick to that. If I don’t, I’ll fall behind and just make it difficult for myself. Well, it was now 2 P.M. on Friday and I hadn’t uploaded my journals from the week. Shame on me. I decided that I could be quick about uploading. I drove back to the Starbucks that I had been at before and told myself I could finish everything in half an hour.

     We all know how that works. Two hours later, around 4 P.M., I finally started on my way to Sweet Home. And it began very well. Traffic was light and I was excited to be driving again. Around the hundred-mile mark, I stopped along the way to fill up the gas tank. As I pulled up to the station, I saw a booth in between the gas pumps that looked strange. I usually just see gas pumps, occasionally with a payment terminal in-between. Why would there be a booth though? Only when a person walked out of it and came toward me did I remember that in Oregon, the law requires gas to be pumped by an attendant.

     Back on the I5 freeway, everything went well again. For twenty miles. Then, just before 7 P.M., both lanes of the two-lane freeway came to a complete stop. Eventually, I found out that there were two separate accidents up the road – one in each lane. At the time all I knew was that I would be arriving in Sweet Home a little later than I intended.

     About five minutes into the ordeal, those of us unfortunate enough to be on the freeway figured out that we would probably be sitting there for at least a few more minutes, so we turned off our engines and sat back to enjoy the mild evening weather. Some people talked to each other, some listened to music, and some got out of the cars to walk around.

     The place where I got stuck happened to have poor cell reception (phone calls worked, but not mobile data), so many people bemoaned the lack of entertainment available to them now that the ever-present internet was absent. I read, called my parents, and joined in the trapped-motorists-conversations to talk briefly with a mother and daughter who were in the van next to me. They had come from Lancaster, California and were headed up to a school in northern Oregon. We stayed stuck in the same spot for an hour and a half.

     Finally, we began to move. We had slow progress for awhile, but at least we weren’t parked anymore. After another twenty minutes, traffic picked up its pace and began to flow normally. Seventy-five miles later, I arrived in Sweet Home at 10:30 P.M. and was greeted by my friends, Marshall and Cathryn, who had graciously stayed up welcome me. They even had a glorious grilled steak waiting for me. Of course, we had to talk and catch up since it had been a  couple years since we’d seen each other. The conversations lasted until about midnight. And now that I’m done driving, eating, talking, writing, and learning lessons about trying to squeeze too much into an afternoon and the unpredictability of traffic, I can go to sleep. Goodnight!

August 24th – Klamath National Park

    After a surprisingly good night of sleep, I woke up at 6 A.M. to see the sun shining down on me. I appreciated its kind attempt to get me up, but I was too cozy. I slept for another two hours and got up for real at 8 A.M. I packed up my campsite quickly, ate a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast, and reorganized my car. I left my campsite at 9:30 A.M. and began my drive to Klamath National Park. The drive was uneventful and I continued listening to my audiobook, this time learning about China. I pulled off the road at a rest stop for a few minutes to get this picture of Shasta Lake.

    I got back on the road and drove another several miles to Shasta City. I stopped at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop to obey nature and then grab a cup of coffee. I walked around the city for about twenty minutes but found nothing intriguing. I found out when I left that I had stopped too soon – there was a much nicer downtown area a mile up the road. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I turned around and went back to the coffee shop I had seen. While waiting in line, I met a young man about my own age, named Kevin. He looked to be of the adventuring sort, so I asked him if he was traveling through, or lived there. He said that he lived in the city and had just come to have a cup of coffee while he read. I could sympathize with that! Before I could ask him what book he was reading, it was his turn in line. After him, I ordered my usual ultra fancy beverage – iced black coffee. It came out quickly and I wished Kevin well before walking back to my car.

    Now I was in mission mode. I had realized earlier that my destination for the day was across the Oregon border. This presented a problem – I had not done my two hundred push-ups in California yet. As my mind always does, I started trying to worm my way around doing pushups just yet. This was only California, I had done thousands here before. I could just skip them and start in Oregon. Then, if I decided I wanted to do some in California, I could do them on the return trip. But I knew that was silly – I wanted to start this off right. So I looked for a nice spot to do them. Sadly, exercise facilities are not a part of the tourist attraction business. I looked in vain for several miles before it occurred to me that a local park would work out perfectly. I pulled off the road and found one and here, again, I went through the mind-games of avoidance. I feel quite foolish now, writing about it. I walked all the way around the park (which turned out to be very extensive), taking pictures of the gold mining equipment they had and exploring the mountain biking trail head. It’s true that I got a good walk in, but I ended up right back where I started. I finally decided to stop wasting time and get going.

    I hoped to break the two hundred into sets and chug systematically through them. As I got close to a hundred though, I realized that wouldn’t work – would need a rest before I was ready to do a hundred more. So I did the first hundred in nine minutes, took a twenty-minute break, and finished the second hundred in eleven minutes. Some people will wonder how I did them so slow and some people will wonder how I did them at all. I’ll let those two opinions balance out and just try to do a little better each time.

    I got back on the road after taking a quick shower (using the ingenious portable shower device suggested by my brother, Andrew – don’t worry, there has never been any Roundup in this one).

    The remainder of my drive took me through increasingly exciting mountain passes, ending with a single lane gravel road with a sheer drop down the mountain on one side. Well, it may not have been a sheer drop, I’m sure one of the giant trees would have been happy to catch my SUV halfway down – though I doubt that trees know the meaning of “gentle.” Anyway, I did meet two other vehicles coming the other way (both were GMC pickup trucks). We made it safely past each other with at least six inches to spare on the cliff side.

    I found the Mt. Ashland Campground almost empty, except for one large RV. I picked the spot farthest away from the RV. I get enough of close proximity in the city, so I reclaim my personal space when camping. Five hundred feet please, keep your distance people.

    I set up my tent around 4:30 P.M. and sat down to read. Ater an hour I got up to stretch my legs and explore the camping area. This is the most beautiful area I’ve been so far on my trip (which isn’t saying much, since I was driving through California), and the temperature was perfect – around 65 degrees.

    When I came back to my tent, I called home to update my family, then went began writing. Eventually, I got tired, and now, around 10:30 P.M. I am quite ready to get some sleep. Tonight I am using a traditional sleeping back and thin air cushion since I don’t want to wake my neighbors by flopping about in my balloon chair.

August 23rd – Driving Again

    It is very nice to have a bed. At the moment I do not have one, and I am missing it. But you don’t know where I am yet, so I’ll have to tell you.

    This morning I woke up at the bed and breakfast where I fell asleep last night. Imagine that – no kidnappings, no teleportation, no sleepwalking! Everything was going right so far. It was 6:30 A.M when my alarm went off and for once I got myself up to make it happy. I got dressed and made it out the door. This was my basketball day. My younger brother, Sam, and I had spent Tuesday and Thursday mornings at our local sports park during the summer, working through dribbling and shooting drills. I have sternly instructed him not to give up the discipline during the fall. Since he will be faithfully working out (right Sam?) I cannot let myself fall too far behind. I spotted a basketball court as I drove through San Luis Obispo yesterday, so this morning I went there to keep up with Sam.

    I didn’t take too long – about forty minutes to get through everything. The weather was amazing. Overcast and sixty degrees – perfect for basketball. Once I finished, I went back to the bed and breakfast for a shower. My friend met me there when I was done and we had breakfast together on the veranda. We continued our conversation from the previous day for half an hour. Then it was time for me to leave and we said our farewells.

    I got started driving around 9:30, but an hour into my journey I knew that I was tired. I suppose waking up early does that sometimes. So I pulled off the road and found a shady parking spot, then took a nap from 10:30 A.M. to 12 P.M. That refreshed me and I got back on the road. And drove. And drove. Today was a long day of driving. I hit some traffic (figuratively speaking) through the outskirts of San Francisco and was stuck in it for about an hour. Eventually, I made it through. I had hoped to camp at a place just outside of San Francisco, but all of the spots were taken. Most of the campsites I plan on visiting are free but do not accept reservations. I will just have to be flexible and have many layers of plans. In this case, I did have a Plan B, which was a campsite west of Sacramento. It was quite a distance further north from where I was, but there was not much traffic on the way so I did not mind the extra time. On the way, I stopped for a break in the small town of Esparto. There is a park in the center of the town which still has swings and metal climbing bars, unlike our boring, “safe” plastic playgrounds in Southern California. I guess, as the cross-street explained, you only live once.

    The remaining miles went quickly and I saw quite a nice basketball court along the way. I thought about stopping to play for awhile, but it was already late afternoon and I wanted to get to my campsite.

    When I arrived, I took out my camping gear and set everything up for the first time. I have a large, green, balloon-like cushion which is intended for use as a sort of lounge chair. It is very comfortable. I set that up and put it inside my tent, intending to sleep on it. That ended up working out rather poorly. The contraption – which I shall call a balloon chair – was indeed comfortable. It was also tremendously crinkly. You know how, when you open a plastic bag full of cookies that you are not really supposed to be opening, your imagination tells you that the sound is so loud that everyone in the house can hear it? Well using this balloon chair on a quiet night is the same as that, except that the whole world actually can hear the sound. I was glad that there was only one other camper at the site, and he was several hundred yards away, behind a little hill, in an RV. Even with all that, I felt like I was making too much noise. I made it through the night though.


    I did have to wake up at one point to get my sleeping bag. During the day it had been 90 degrees and at 9 P.M. it was still 85 degrees. I figured that since the sun had already been down for an hour, it wouldn’t get much colder. I just wore pants and a jacket to bed and squished myself into the balloon chair to keep warm. Around 2 A.M. though, I woke up to find my mistake – it was quite chilly. I gave in a got my sleeping bag. After that, I slept like a baby again.

August 7th – Sequoia National Park

     Today, August 7th, was a trial run for the road trip I have planned. It started off well enough, as I got everything packed into my car and started my journey to the Sequoias around 9:30 a.m. Traffic on the 57 and 210 Freeways slowed me down, but I was having a great time. I had an audiobook to keep me company, food to snack on, and an open road before me. I transitioned to the I-5 Freeway, and got over a few hills – then my check engine light went on. When I noticed the light, I pulled off at the closest exit, which turned out to be in Santa Clarita. My clock read 11:05 a.m. Only an hour and a half on the road. I turned the engine off, then turned it back on to see if the light would go away.

     It didn’t. The light stayed on and the engine barely started, while the engine’s heat gauge suddenly spiked up. I popped the hood and got out of the car to check on the engine. When I saw the green liquid that had spilled on the ground, I knew immediately what was wrong. I must have run over an alien who had been using an invisibility shield, and its acidic blood had eaten through to my engine. Whew, it’s a good thing I was blessed with such excellent deductive skills.

     Despite my excitement over the possibility of an alien encounter, I soon realized that the car was simply leaking engine coolant. I started the engine again to see if it would run now after having cooled off for several minutes. It was a little better this time, and the radiator gauge had fallen slightly. The check engine light was still on though, so I was stranded for the moment.

     Now for the phone calls. Will Dad’s answer his work phone? Ring… nope. His cell phone? Ring… Nope. Is Mom at home? Ring… and she answered. My call interrupted her talk with a friend, but I made it brief – just telling her where I was, what had happened, and that I was going to call AAA.

     But then I sat around for awhile, not wanting to call AAA. This trial run had sounded so fun, it couldn’t just end right now. If I called a tow truck, I’d have to go all the way back to our mechanic in Brea and then my trip would be over. Boring.

     After pondering my dire situation with a suitably anguished heart, I tried to reach Dad again. This time he was there. We tried to figure out what the problem was, and I called our mechanic to see if he could help. No luck, I would just have to get it towed. Ten phone calls and thirty minutes later, I was sitting in a parking lot with my car. I had talked to Dad, our mechanic, AAA, and Mom. In the end, I got to the parking lot by moving my car, which had cooled down sufficiently, and was waiting for AAA to come. I still harbored the hope that I could get my car fixed and continue to the Sequoias.

     When the truck arrived, a little after noon, the driver got my car hooked up with only a little difficulty. The driver was polite, and I liked getting to talk to him. His name is Pete. Pete drove us to the nearest auto repair shop, so I could get the problem diagnosed and see if it was anything serious. The attendant told me very nicely that they wouldn’t be able to check on my car until tomorrow. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

     I rushed back outside, hoping that Pete had not unhooked my car yet. He had not. I told him that I didn’t want to wait a whole day to get my car checked out, and asked if he happened to have an error code reader – the simple device mechanics use to read what problem the engine has reported – so that I wouldn’t have to go all the way back to Brea. He did not have one, but he offered to take me to the central AAA hub for Santa Clarita, where the mechanic could probably help me pretty quickly.

     On our drive, I kept talking to Pete and found out that he’s only been towing cars for a few months. Before that, he drove big rigs for twelve years. He went through a driving program right out of high school to gain the qualifications he needed, and after the usual tautology of beginning employment problems (need the experience to get a job, need a job to get experience) was able to keep steadily employed. He said that driving trucks pays better than towing, but he wanted to change jobs so that he could stay in one place and spend time with his wife and three children.

     We arrived at the AAA hub, and the quick diagnosis ended up being rather slow. It was certainly better than waiting a day though. I waited from 1:30 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m. for the mechanic to figure out what was wrong. While I waited, I had a wonderful educational experience. I got to learn about the inner workings of AAA (don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, or I’ll be convicted of espionage), and I got to learn about the Middle East from someone who grew there.

     First, I found out that the place I was at (Lyon’s Towing) gets extremely busy in the afternoon. I sat in the office, and in the room next door was the “dispatch” station. It sounded just like a superhero movie. The dispatcher got direct calls from clients and assigned clients on a computer system from AAA headquarters. The dispatcher had to keep track of all these clients, assign them to one of the eight drivers who were on the clock, and call the driver to verbally confirm the “target.” Sometimes the drivers would call in and ask for specific directions when a place was hard to find. “Turn left at the light. Right at the next light. Your pickup is in the shopping center ahead of you. Wow, watch out for the machine guns! Spider-man and Iron man are cutting off their escape. Fly out of the sun at them! ” Well that’s how I heard the conversations. Maybe my imagination ran a little past the facts.

     I found out that Lyon’s Towing works as an independent contractor with AAA, which didn’t enlighten me too much since I was foggy about how independent contracting works in this industry. I learned that they take care of all business with the client/member – battery service, towing, and sometimes repairs – then send the charge tickets to AAA. So basically they do all the work, and AAA sits around making sure that they maintain high standards of customer service. Their performance is measured by surveys that are sent out randomly to a small percentage of the members that they help. These surveys are essential to them – they mean the difference between survival as a contractor, and getting completely cut out of the system. The survey asks three questions, with one point possible for each question – and thus a perfect score of 3 points. If a member marks anything less than “Totally Satisfied,” they get zero points for that question. Lyon’s towing keeps their average score around 2.72. If it falls below 2.7, they get a severe warning from their regional manager who is suddenly grumpy over losing his pay bonus for the month.

     I learned most of this from talking to the manager of the shop. His name is Sam. In addition to talking about business, we also talked about religion and his own life. We started off by talking about my college plans, and he ended up telling me about his experience with college.

     Sam grew up in Iran. He watched the Muslim revolution that took down the King of Iran when Sam was 13 and saw them shut down all the universities in the country. He turned 18 at the perfect time, right when the schools were reopened. His entire university class had only 128 students, 20 of whom were girls. The girls and boys sat in separate sections during class and could be suspended if they were seen talking to each other – inside or outside of class. Sam graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, then completed his master’s degree also. He got married, then immigrated to Canada to pursue a Ph.D. program. His plans were interrupted when he went on an emergency visit to his brother in California, who was running a successful towing shop but was experiencing health problems.

     His brother ended up in the hospital before Sam arrived, with only two weeks left to live. Sam had planned on making this a short visit and a quick return to Canada, but during the visit, his brother begged him to take over Lyon’s Towing instead. After thinking it over, Sam agreed and set his whole mind to the task of learning how to run an auto shop. He left behind Canada, his Ph.D., and his pursuit of a career in engineering. Now, about twenty-eight years later, he told me that he is happy with his decision. He is married and has an adult son.

     I mentioned that I am planning to go to a Christian college, and that got us started talking about faith. Though he came from Iran, Sam is not a Muslim. He believes that there is a God who has designed the world we live in, that we should all treat each other fairly, and that all religious scriptures are wonderful sources of wisdom. But he saw evil in the Muslims who took over the government in Iran and suppressed education, freedom, and opportunity. He does not have a problem with organized religion in general as long as it does not attempt to rule a nation, but he has no personal use for it.

     And that was how I spent my time while I waited for the mechanic. I found my second interviewee. When at last the diagnosis was made, I learned that the engine was fine. The only problem was my cooling system. In some way which I don’t understand, the fan and air conditioner that cool the cab off are also connected to the radiator. And in my car, the fans were sending little bubbles of air into the radiator instead of sending them into the cab. That’s what the smart people said. So theoretically, the car was safe to drive, the problem would just have to be taken care of soon.

     That was the only permission I needed. I drove around town for a few minutes to ensure that the car was not going to overheat again and then decided to continue my journey. I called Mom and Dad to let them know that I would keep going, then I stopped at Starbucks for a shot of happiness. I ended up paying for one cup of unsweetened iced coffee, and receiving that, along with a free cup of sweetened iced coffee which the barista had made on accident. Sweet! I also got a cup of ice and used that to chill some pure cherry juice and mineral water that I had in my car.

     Now armed with enough fluids to… well, *cough. Now resupplied for my journey, I started off again. I drove from 4 p.m. till 8:30 p.m., stopping several times to give the engine a break. Most of the time, I listened to my audiobook – Our Oriental Heritage, book one of the Story of History series, by Will Durant. I’d already gotten past the introduction of the book and its discussion of pre-civilized cultures, so today I listened to the sections on Sumeria, Egypt, and Babylon. I took a few breaks to listen to music when I got tired of hearing about people that lived and died five thousand years ago.

     At 6:30 p.m., I pulled off the road to give my engine a break and talk to my family. Past that break, I started going uphill. For awhile my car did well, and I was thrilled that I would actually make it to the campsite for the evening. Then the radiator gauge started rising again, and I pulled off to wait it out. I waited five minutes, then drove for a minute. The gauge rose again, so I decided it would be safest to give the engine a break. 280 miles on a hot day is a lot more work than I usually put it through. Hopefully in the cool of the morning, after it gets to rest for the night, it will feel better and be willing to take me home.

     So I found a nice little pullout on the side of highway 180 and spent my evening in bliss. It must have been around 9 pm when I finally settled into my spot and started enjoying the night. I took out the physical copy of Our Oriental Heritage and went back over what I had listened to, highlighting the things that had stuck out to me, and thinking grand thoughts about civilization, people, and adventures.

     As the sun disappeared and I started thinking about my situation, I will admit I was a little creeped out. I was stuck on the side of the road, after dark, surrounded by a strange forest. With no cell reception. With coyotes searching the spooky forest for an easy meal, bears lurking behind every tree ready to smash through the thin sheet metal of my car to grab me, and vampires just waiting for the last shaft of sunlight to disappear so that they can drink my blood!

     Okay, I was actually about a hundred yards from a farmhouse, surrounded by tame cattle that were safely fenced inside their owner’s property, with cars driving by every two minutes. But it was still a little creepy.

     At the present moment, in case you couldn’t figure it out, I am journaling. This has been a crazy day. It’s fun to look back over it and to think about the people I met and the stories I heard. I am still super excited for my trip, even though this day didn’t go exactly – or at all – as planned. It still turned out to be an amazing day, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.