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Cascadia

 

Yearning to break free of an El Niño-induced stupor, I seized the first relatively rainless day in weeks to hurriedly throw my gear together and drive down to Dunsmuir, hoping to arrive in the yard and be "committed" to riding before the weather had a chance to change its mind and plunge me back into rain, rain and more rain. Just like records used to get a bad groove and endlessly repeat the same passage, I felt like I was in the movie "Blade Runner" with a "bad groove" - forever trapped in descending moisture.

I was so used to leaning into the wind while I walked that when I first went outdoors I practically fell down after discovering it was actually calm. With my mole-like eyes squinted shut against the sunlight, I groped my way to my truck and drove off for the yard. This was to be another in a series of train trips where I would try to hook up with K-Line in Eugene and go for a ride somewhere. Bad weather and inconsistent trains prevented several previous attempts, but somehow I thought we might actually make it this time.

Arriving at the jungle around 3:00 pm, a "camp" was set up with dispatch and serious wine-tasting was first on the agenda. As the afternoon wore on and I had "seen" just about all there was to "see" in the immediate area, I rolled out my gear to take a nap. As I forced the last possible breath of air into my air mattress I heard the horn of an approaching train and hurriedly broke camp. The usual assortment of empty boxcars, etc. found on northbound trains pulled alongside and I found a comfy wooden-floored abode in a few minutes. After waiting for a couple of southbounds to go by we left the yard around 6:00 pm and had a very smooth ride up to Klamath, getting in at 10:30 pm. I was surprised to see stars in the sky, especially to the west, so I decided to bail off and stay at the Maverick Motel that night so I could ride over the Cascades during the day.

With a brief but restfull sleep behind me and a filling Gino's breakfast under my belt, I hit the yard just after 7:00 am. Chatting with the guy who worked at Gino's earlier I learned that it was 15° outside and some tramps coming down from Eugene the night before almost missed getting off in Klamath because their sleeping bags froze to the grainer they were riding on. It was indeed cold that morning but it was mostly clear and I knew that as soon as the sun came up at least there would be a chance of warming up. I found another nice wooden-floored boxcar in the yard and positioned myself against one wall so that the instant the sun peeked over a distant hill I would receive it full in the face. As luck would have it, after a half hour of anticipation and calculations based on the ever-lightening eastern sky, perhaps minutes before the sun would finally "rise" and warm my shivering personage... a switch engine dragged a string of cars by on the next track and parked a loaded bulkhead of lumber right outside my doorway. This rude intrusion delayed the first rays of warmth-giving sunlight by at least an hour, but gave me time to chat with "Rocky", a tramp who I invited in to share my car because the boxcar he was riding in several cars behind mine was filled with junk. Rocky and I spent the next couple of hours talking about this and that - mostly the tramps he had just ridden with and the places he'd been. Yet another bottle of wine I procured from my pack kept our bodies warm and our tongues loose, and just as the topic of conversation turned to bulls and which ones were assholes and which ones were cool we heard a vehicle crunching along on the gravel road outside and suddenly come to a skidding halt. Figuring the crew bus wouldn't dump the crew halfway down the train, we knew it was Roger and quickly stashed the wine just as he peered into the door and offered his friendly greeting, "Hey, where're you fellas headed?"

Leaping to my feet, I blurted out "Gee, Roger, we were just talking about you!" Grinning and mumbling something about in just what capacity were we discussing him, he was assured by Rocky and myself that we'd both voted him the "World's Greatest Bull". Brushing our B.S. aside, Roger checked over Rocky's ID while I noticed that the names and places were not at all like what Rocky told me earlier. I wondered if Roger ever got tired of "interviewing" tramps and wished for more exciting work. Handing Rocky back his wallet, Roger asked us "So you guys are headed up to Bend, eh?" Leaping to my feet again I exclaimed "Bend!? I thought this was a Eugene train?" to which Roger informed us that UP was starting to run some northbound trains along the BN line (over which they had trackage rights) up to Bend and then, apparently, into Portland. For a few milliseconds I pondered a possible change in direction, but realized since it was almost noon now I would end up going through the most scenic part of the ride after dark - hardly consolation to freezing to death in Eastern Oregon. Quickly gathering up my gear just as the train lurched forward to leave, I packed up on the ground and thanked Roger profusely for the tip.

With my hopes of riding over the Cascades during daylight starting to dim a bit, I trudged over to the Ice House and set up "camp" again on a concrete slab with moderate southern exposure to wait for the next northbound. Now swathed in "warmies", after a few more sips of wine I rolled out my pad and had a nice nap despite the chill. A few hours later I was jolted awake by the horn of an approaching train and the fact that I had rolled off my pad and was freezing on the bare concrete. The train pulled up and stopped a few tracks away and after a brief perusal I found a suitable boxcar and 5 minutes later we'd changed crews and were out of town at noon.

I wanted to get a picture of Klamath Lake with the rim of Crater Lake in the background but, as is often the case, whichever side of the tracks has the best scenery is the side that has the telephone poles! Actually, the scenic spots between Klamath Lake and the summit are rather few and far between, unless one is truly "moved" by zillions of scrawny pine trees everywhere you look, so I used this portion of the journey to finish off the wine and continue my nap.

We stopped at Crescent Lake to meet a southbound and were truly in the "snow zone". There had been a foot or so down by Chemult but here, not much higher but close up against the Cascade crest, there was over three feet, making it rather bright outside when we went around a curve on the sunny side.

I had mixed luck wearing my sunglasses because of all the snow that was swirling through the doors of the car, but reaching the summit at Odell Lake (lotsa lakes around here...) we slowed down for the descent and I took up position in the doorway to relish in the beautiful ride down the west side.

The ride down the hill was worth the whole trip - now with 5 or 6 feet of snow and much higher drifts, we seemed to float along on frozen clouds. Clear skies above the western sunset promised at least a brief visit to Eugene without the customary rain. As the light faded and a fresh bottle of wine was produced from my pack, another "nap" filled the long stretch through the foothills. Awakened by the unpleasant odor of a pulp mill, I packed up my gear and bailed off just as we slowed to enter the receiving yard in Eugene.

An hour's walk brought me back to the east end of town where I flopped at the 66 Motel, who's only saving grace (besides its cheap price) was the fact that it was right next to the tracks, which would afford me the opportunity of estimating the frequency of passing trains. The next day, Friday, was to be an official "rest" day, and I spent it checking out used clothing and book stores, coupled with the obligatory bus ride out to Fred Meyers to stock up on wine. Eugene, like a number of other cities and states I've ridden through, found it necessary to "cleanse" its downtown areas of "fortified" wines, causing me to endure endless wild goose chases to obtain the noble beverage based upon lame directions by well-meaning locals. After another in a series of "naps", I awoke in the early evening and set out to see what passed for entertainment on a Friday night in a college town. It soon became apparent that unless I was either a hardcore skateboarder or flaming yuppie, the opportunities were somewhat limited. Strange sights and sounds greeted my innocent eyes and ears - every car, it seemed, was less than three years old, and was dutifully locked securely if the owner had to do so much as roll the window down. At one parking lot outside of a trendy restaurant, there was a veritable symphony of beeps and squeals as dozens of arriving diners emerged from their vehicles and locked them, turning as they walked away to point something on their keyring at the car to activate some security system. The whole process was repeated as they went in search of their car after eating, with the little beepers providing a means of locating their prized possession amidst a sea of clones.

There was the smell of perfume, a hint of garlic, a cloud of cigar smoke, the wonderful aroma of fancy food - and I, in my own way, tried to contribute to this olfactory salad through the smell of my train riding clothes, which were going on their third day... Quickly growing bored with the fashion show being played out in front of me, I retreated to my motel room and went to bed early, hoping for pleasant weather on Saturday for the train trip back.

Arising early, I treated myself to a breakfast at IHOP before leaving "civilization" behind and subjecting myself to the whims of Union Pacific again. Caught the #50 bus out to the yard and parked myself under the bridge over the south end of the departure yard, where I'd hoped to meet up with K-Line on her way down from Portland. After reading what passed for the Eugene newspaper and quenching my thirst, I turned my cell phone on and settled down for the usual "wait". The plan was for K-Line to try to catch a morning train out of Portland and, if that failed, take a bus down to Eugene. In the midst of a delicious mid-day slumber I was awakened by the phone in my pack, and after a moment or two of trying to remember which pocket I'd put the durned thing in, I found out that K-Line had missed the morning train and was going to take the bus, which would get her into Eugene a little after 3:00 pm. Rolling up my gear once again I took the #50 back into town and spent a few more hours poking around obscure areas of book stores until 3:00.

The city buses were running on the hour and our return bus out to the yard was leaving just 10 minutes after K-Line's bus was supposed to arrive, so in order to bypass yet another hour spent in downtown Eugene I waited anxiously for the arriving Portland bus. In a distinct departure from the railroad schedules I was used to, her bus arrived "on the advertised" and even though we hadn't seen each other in over a year I whisked us off to catch the city bus before we started gabbing. Minutes after getting to the now-familiar bus stop the venerable #50 pulled up and once again brought eager travelers to the train yard. A 15 minute walk and we were happily ensconced under the bridge as the rain began to fall.

As is often the case in the early afternoon, there were a few southbound-looking strings of cars in the yard but none with power on them, so we used the next few hours to catch up on various and sundry topics. When it was beginning to get dark and with the rain picking up a bit I embarked on another stroll along the top of the overpass to see if anything was going on in the yard. Squinting into the wind-driven rain, I thought I saw what might have been a boxcar with an open door at the very end of a string of cars. Elated at the prospect of riding over the Cascades at night (with rain in the valley, snow on the mountains and freezing cold on the other side) in something a bit more protective than a gondola or grainer, we quickly packed up and headed down the embankment. Sure enough, after walking the rear half of a string in the middle of the yard we found a nice dry boxcar near the end of the train and quickly climbed aboard.

By now it was almost 7:00 pm and the rain, if anything, was increasing. Faced with the choice of staying where we were and possibly having another train leave first or wandering around the yard at night in the rain, we decided that we really weren't in a big hurry to get anywhere and this boxcar would do just fine. The only drawback I could find with the car was that appeared to have carried, at some earlier time, a goodly amount of paper trash, most of which seemed to consist of the little circular cut-outs that I imagined were an unavoidable byproduct of manufacturing those notebooks that have the pages held together with a spiral-shaped coil of wire. Indeed several days after returning home from the trip I was still discovering small groups of the little buggers around the house, in my truck and mixed in here and there with my train riding gear.

Fortunately a scooter guy came by in a little while and we found out that our train had been called and should be leaving in a few hours. After setting up housekeeping and rolling out our gear we heard the air come up and not too long afterward we slowly pulled down through the yard, leaving town around 9:00 pm.

I woke up at 5:00 am as we stopped in Klamath, noticing an inch or two of new snow since I passed through a few days before. Snow had blown in the doorway during the night and covered a good part of the floor, which made a middle-of-the-night pee at 50 mph a real "event". Now we were stopped directly across from the yard office with the only open door on that side, so back to sleep we went, hoping for a quick crew change. Such was not the case, however, and we doodled are in the yard for 3 hours before continuing on our way. Naturally, our one door was open on the "shady" side of the train and we cursed our luck as the morning sun bathed opposite hills with its warmth while we ran around in circles, stomping our feet in the swirling clouds of circular minutia.

Cresting the summit of Grass Lake we turned briefly to the east, giving a nice view of where Mt. Shasta would have been if it hadn't been covered in clouds. Curving in and out around the lava-covered base we stayed glued to the doorway, grooving on the scenery and wishing I'd brought along just one more bottle of wine. Thankfully going non-stop, we bailed off just outside of Dunsmuir at a little after 1:00 pm. The first stop was to be some of Eric's great coffee at the Nutglade, but some unseen force detoured me into Thriftway for a bottle on the way.

We chatted with Eric and slurped down coffee for awhile, then got in my truck and drove down to the yard, where I gave K-Line the two-bit tour of the jungle area. There were no northbounds in the yard so we hung out and were finally able to talk without shouting now that we weren't in a moving train. Finally a train pulled in and K-Line found a boxcar for the return trip back to Portland. We shared another sip of wine and I drove off for home as K-Line settled in for the ride.