It’s been a dream to travel North America in a small RV, much like I’ve done in Japan, Australia, and Europe. The flexibility of the RV life is just too appealing to me. Gone is the need to search for restaurants, to keep rigid hotel booking schedules and itineraries. Wherever you find yourself, you find yourself with all the comforts of home – your bed, a bathroom, and a kitchen.
I haven’t managed to purchase a new RV here yet (mostly due to the difficulties/expenses/safety of parking something like that in San Francisco). And, with there being a few options out here to affordably rent something, it makes the decision to purchase something just that tiny bit harder to make. Much like the California Road Trip I took in 2019, I rented an RV from Cruise America. This time though, instead of an 8m whale, I opted for a small camper mounted on the back of a 4×4 pickup truck. Unlike last time though, the rental depot was on the other side of the bay – and there were two bicycles to transport, too.
Also unlike last time, the pickup was horribly unprepared. It was nearly two-hours from arrival to departure, waiting for crews to clean the vehicle, and then dealing with broken warning lights – even though the actual pickup date was the day before. This meant that there was less time in the day for driving, and the first night would need to be a little closer to home than hoped.
Arriving in Shasta was a little bittersweet. Mount Shasta was a beautiful sight, standing as a sentinel over the area, but sad that Grinduro (a bike race set here) was cancelled for 2020 – though, I was able to snag entry for the 2021 event later this year!
We’d received a recommendation for a place to free camp, and it didn’t disappoint. It also wasn’t a secret, with many other RVs, vans and tents also squeezed into this panoramic viewpoint.
The sun set, the skies turned warm peachy shades, and then darkness enveloped the campsite.
We might have been parked on the shoulder of a road, but thankfully it was not a through road, and there was not much traffic post sunset.
Eager to get the day started, we drove a little further up the road to Castle Lake, which was the end of the road we were camped on. Breakfast was down by the water, looking across the mirrored expanse at well worn granite shores. It was sunny, calm, warm, and for a while it was magical. That was until a large church group arrived and started belting out hymns across the lake, echoing off those same granite walls we were just admiring. Their stamina was impressive, though our perseverance made us the eventual victor.
With a big day scheduled, we packed up and continued onwards towards Crater Lake. As we drove north, beyond Mount Shasta, I couldn’t help admiring the sheltered snowy northern slopes that somehow felt out of place with the heat on the ground.
I finally crossed California’s northern border into Oregon. It had been a long time coming, and was exciting for me to tick-off another US state – only 45 to go now…
Crater Lake is a lake inside the crater of a very large, and thankfully dormant, volcano. It sounds obvious when written, but, understanding it helps to visualise it.
While it is entirely possible to drive around the lake, instead I thought it would be a good idea to cycle around, allowing more time and freedom to take in the sights. Of course, I forgot that the lake is at around 2000m above sea level, with several of the peaks above 2400m – and the effects this elevation has on the body, albeit mild at this elevation.
There were also the motorists, though thankfully it wasn’t too busy/stressful of a ride – except for when I chose to go off and race up hills. I think it was my first experience of attempting hard efforts at altitude, and I wasn’t quite expecting to feel so weak.
Anyway, enough about bikes, the lake was exceptionally beautiful, with deep, deep blue water, and the ring of the crater was clear to see. It was somewhat disappointing that I didn’t have my real camera with me on the bike, but it’s just too large to comfortably carry on a ride of this size. The small island in the center of the lake made me think about Lake Toya in Hokkaido – which unsurprisingly is also a lake in a volcanic crater.
We returned back to the car later in the day, and I was able to grab my real camera. But now the sun was much lower (surprise), which meant that the vibrant colours of the lake and sky were beginning to change into darker muted tones.
It was fortunately quite warm while riding, though now that the sun was starting to set, the temperatures were plummeting rather rapidly. It was time to make a move and attempt to find a campsite.
Fortunately Oregon has a lot of BLM (not that BLM – Bureau of Land Management) areas that are open to ‘dispersed camping’. We took off up a forestry road, and found a small clearing in the trees, and parked up for the evening.
Following a quiet and uneventful evening in the woods of southern Oregon, we set off on another bike ride – though much smaller and less ambitious. It followed a trail that more-or-less (mostly less) followed Paulina Creek up to Paulina Lake, with several small waterfalls and swimming holes along the way.
The first few waterfalls were rammed – or at least they felt rammed for a time when people were meant to be socially distancing.
Eventually the trail was far enough from the campgrounds and trailheads that only the most motivated hikers remained. This allowed me to enjoy a small set of cascading rapids to myself. The water was almost as cold as the waters in San Francisco – the only difference was the ambient temperature, even at just under 2000m, was still warm enough to enjoy the dip.
There was just a little bit more climbing until Paulina Lake, which had a vague European Alps feel to it – other than the Jeeps with Trump flags… Anyway, the lake was beautiful, calm, and ringed by beautiful woodland and rocky peaks.
Even though it hadn’t been a particularly hard ride to the lake, it was still difficult to get up after lazing in the sunshine by the lake shore. At least the ride back to the van was all (mostly) downhill.
I had been really curious about Bend for some time. I kept hearing stories about it being an ‘Outdoor Lover’s Paradise’, with all sorts of outdoor adventures surrounding the city – and unlike the coastal parts of Oregon, it is warm, sunny, and dry.
I was actually supposed to visit Bend for a work offsite – but, of course, 2020 happened, and all of that was cancelled. Sadly I couldn’t get this trip to Bend funded by work.
We were too late booking a site for an RV, and the dispersed camping options were a little inconvenient for spending time around town, so we ended up staying in a simple BnB.
It was quite surreal walking around in Bend. I’ve been in San Francisco (and London before that) for so long, that the sight of suburbia – houses with green lawns, footpaths with trees, and no rubbish/graffiti/homeless to be seen felt so foreign. It almost felt too easy, or too comfortable – it’s hard to articulate, and is maybe a sign that I’m getting old, and inner-city living is losing its lustre.
Downtown Bend consisted of a few blocks with shops, restaurants, and a few bars. It was small, condensed, and as you could imagine – clean. I put my name down for a table at the Bend Brewing Company, and with a 30-minute wait until a table was going to be available, there was time for a quick lap around the Deschutes River, which lazily flows through this part of town.
The riverbank was luscious and green, and lined with willows and pine trees. Walking along the banks almost felt like walking besides some of the lakes in Hyde Park in London – at least in the late afternoon, now that the sun was starting to lose some of its intensity. And yes, I know there are no pine trees in Hyde Park.
So far meals on the trip had been quite basic, consisting of In-n-Out, or easy meals in the RV. So, it was a treat to myself to have a big juicy burger. And, since it was a brewery, a flight of their beers – and only picking six to try was a challenge in itself.
After sitting and relaxing in the beer garden, enjoying the warm afternoon air, and in a food coma from a big juicy burger (and all the potato gems), I started to notice the music was playing. It was Nickleback, Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth, and other ‘rock’ artists from the early 2000s. It was amusing, but I just assumed it was the music style in this beer garden. But, as we walked back to the BnB, I couldn’t help noticing similar music playing in other bars/restaurants. And again at breakfast in the BnB. I genuinely wondered if Bend was in a timewarp, where popular music is twenty years behind. Was this the tradeoff for living in a warm, sunny, clean, affordable city, surrounded by outdoor adventure?
The other slight concern I had was about the kind of political situation here. I can’t vote, so my opinion on it is a little moot. But, I’d come to enjoy the liberal bubble I’ve found myself in San Francisco, and couldn’t imagine living in less progressive parts of the country. Just out of curiosity as I have been writing this and I went and checked the NY Times 2020 election results. While large swathes of Oregon (and the US in general) were Republican leaning, Bend, like many of the cities, was a small island of Democratic leaning populace.