the road down south
Meredith was a 1986 Chevy Bluebird bus. Twenty-three feet long and in her prime could transport thirty-two kids to and from school on a daily basis. Since her graduation from school, she found work in Whistler. Transporting adrenaline junkies going CAT skiing in winter, and in the summertime, she hauled rafters to various rapids across British Columbia. After retiring from the action sports career Meredith became a pleasure craft. She was driven around the United States for months on end, acting as a mobile motorbike workshop and a temporary home.
Upon her return to Whistler, my friend Evan and I decided to buy her. Twenty-nine years, many lives and coats of paint later, Meredith stood before us. She was glorious, she was blue and she was ours.
We packed up and headed south on the Sea to Sky highway towards the US border. The sharp, white glaciers of the Tantalus range faded to the cyan blue of the Howe Sound and eventually, the grey metropolis of Vancouver was upon us. A surprisingly quick visit to US customs had Officer Keene sending us on our way to the land of the free. “I feel so free right now”, joked Evan as we turned onto the I-5 and continued south.
Hypnotized by the monotony of the I-5, we soon found ourselves turning east at Portland onto the Columbia River Gorge. This was starting to look more like the USA I had hoped to see. Driving along the historic Lewis Clark highway I began to imagine what Lewis and Clark felt when they discovered this area back in the early 1800s. The deep blues of the flowing Columbia river were separated from the green hills of Monoluth Falls by our four-lane tarmacked road. I felt that we were starting to pick through the landscape. We were no longer the dominant force, nature was the alpha male here.
We headed south for The Painted Hills in Oregon. Turning South at The Dalles the lush riparian landscape turned to a burnt yellow. The road narrowed to two lanes and snaked its way through interlocking hills. Vast vistas of nothingness. We were smack bang in the middle of downtown nowhere. We pulled over and I climbed out of Meredith and chose to simply do nothing. I stood there, basked in the silence, closed my eyes and felt the warm wind curl around me. In doing this I felt a great sense of accomplishment. With months of planning and days of traveling, I could finally, in the shadows of Cottonwood Canyon State Park, relax.
We passed through Mitchell, a one-horse town that at night time had an eerie feel to it. All hopes of finding fuel rested on Prineville, some 50 miles away, but for the night we were sleeping somewhere near Mitchell. Bats flew overhead as toads croaked in the creek, not another living soul was seen. We drove out of town and camped out by The Painted Hills. A mixture of shale, lignite, and laterite gives the hills in this area large, thick strips of red, yellow, green and black. It was like walking onto Mars, I have never seen a landscape as foreign to Earth like this. The contrast between our morning in Northern Washington to our peaceful night in Northern Oregon was amazing. Even at this early point in our trip, we had already come a long way.