Originally Published in my column for RoadRUNNER Magazine on: 8/21/2014 as Trans America Trail: Craters and Underground Rivers
Waking up on an empty stomach leaves both Luke and I seriously ready for breakfast. The fact that the recommended Dinner Bell Café is “way on the other side of town” according to some locals does not deter us from gearing up and making the trip.
Four minutes and one mile later we are seated at the café. Apparently, “way on the other side of town” is a relative term here in Lakeview, OR. Be forewarned; if you find yourself in the here, bring an appetite. Even as hungry as we are, neither of us can finish our breakfasts. It’s clear splitting something would have been more appropriate, but the environment didn’t quite have a two forks, one-plate type of vibe.
We finish what we can and pack up the rest for later. Our wheels are pointed toward Crater Lake Highway and today’s detour. If you have never been to Crater Lake, you simply cannot be this close and not stop. I’ve been before and was so moved by it that I feel compelled to share it with Luke.
The Crater does not disappoint as we approach from the South Entrance and make our way up and around. Watching our speed is a priority, but difficult, because the turns are numerous and inviting. But the quantity of police patrolling keeps us honest. We would gladly have paid extra for admission to be able to more thoroughly enjoy the turns, but we would rather avoid the fee in the form of a ticket. As we walk around the rim and look down into the deep blue lake we express how it feels more like somewhere in Hawaii as opposed to the middle of Oregon. We ride around and take in the sites from various locations, but stop short of walking down the side. If inspired, you can hike to the bottom and take a boat ride along the inner rim. My foot continues to be held together by the boot, so the thought of scaling down and back up the steep incline does not appeal to me today.
As Luke scrambles about the rim, taking pictures and soaking in the vistas, I feel a bit like an old man. I wonder to myself if my dad felt this way at times watching my daring approach to sightseeing. But now I am hobbled and more reserved. The injured foot and lack of overall “in-shapeness” is holding me back. I make a mental note to regain control of my health when I get back home.
As we leave the lake we are held up by construction. However, the delay is fortuitous as we meet “Flag Guy Mike” who recommends a place where he and most of the crew are staying. We accept the suggestion and consider it as we ride on.
As we continue along the Umpqua Scenic Byway, we are once again tempted to detour toward the Lava Tube and Natural Bridge. Its creation is a geologic phenomenon that was formed millions of years ago as part of the tectonic forces that helped to shape the state of Oregon. As we walk along the path beside the river, we watch it play hide and seek. The water dives in and out of the underground lava tubes and reappears many feet downstream. It is beautiful and dangerous, as a human being sucked into the tube would have little chance of re-emerging downstream as easily as the water makes it look.
Just before dark we arrive in Shady Cove and check into the Royal Coachmen recommend by Mike. Moments later he and several members of the road crew roll in as well; including Sarge and the aptly named Big John. They unload some beer from their pickup truck and generously load them into our grateful hands. We spend the next hour or so sitting around listening to their tales of partial truths and the life of a road crew. Entertainment at its finest!
Tonight we are savvier about dinner and eventually head out in search of a recommended Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons it has closed early and we end up at the Eagles Nest Saloon for fantastic burgers and fries. Hanging out with the owner results in inexpensive libations and endless people watching as they play pool for money. We are smart enough to remain spectators before heading out for some much needed sleep.