The Floor is Lava (USA Day 96)


From now on, let all farewells from WarmShowers hosts be measured by the quality of their ukulele solo. As the three of us (our host, Parker, joined us for McKenzie pass) kitted up, we were treated to a quick tune from his dad: a jaunty number dealing with the touchy subject of a barista who could make froth art that danced a ballet. I can’t really do it justice, but it was a heck of a way to leave.

McKenzie pass rose from Sisters through sweetly-scented forest roads that barely revealed their false flats. After a few a miles of not-really-climbing, the gradient kicked up we pushed on, trying to keep up with Parker’s excellent pace, while trying to wipe enough sweat from our eyes to enjoy the burgeoning view of the cascades. The peaks of this incredible range are sharp, snow-capped and very volcanic in appearance, which is fitting because the whole thing has had massive volcanic activity in the not-too-distant past. Once forest gave way to charred trees from a recent wildfire, then once that thinned out to nothing at all, we were faced with the oddest sight: a lava field.

It looks like a scree of black porous rock, stretching for miles up the hillside. But nothing grows there, and apart from scattered chipmunks searching the cracks for tasty morsels, there’s no life at all. At the top of the hill we wound up a viewpoint made of lava rocks, to look through the perfectly-placed windows at each Cascade peak. In the window marked ‘Mount Hood’ was only sky. Perhaps the tallest and grandest of the hills has moved house. We’ll find out in two days, I guess, because we’ll be skirting the base of it on our way up to the Columbia.

We bid Parker goodbye, played a quick game of ‘The Floor is Literally Lava’ and got ready for the descent, which was quite frankly hilarious. Now we all enjoy switchbacks, especially on the way down. Freewheel, brake like mad, 180 degree turn, freewheel back on yourself, rinse, repeat. But the switchbacks on this downhill came so thick and fast that we barely had time to release the brakes before it was time to slam them on again. All the while, the forest returned with a whole new character. Now that there are no mountains remaining between us and the Pacific, here was lush green firs and dense undergrowth, pops of blue and purple flowers that we’ve not seen before and foliage that’s altogether more green. Take green, turn it up so hard the knob falls off, then add a little green. That’s what we’re contending with.

At the bottom of the hill, the TAT forked left towards Eugene, but as planned, we forked right. There’s no turning back now: we’ve gone and changed course. The road was busy, with a narrow shoulder and enough RVs and trucks to ruin anyone’s day, but we consoled ourselves in the knowledge that we only had nineteen miles of it in this direction, which is far less than the seventy-or-so along this road to Eugene. The road took us into Willamette National Forest, with torrential waterfalls and a crystal-clear lake (named Clear Lake, which fits) just metres from the main road. We’ve camped up by the lake, on the flat bit of an earthy slope by the bank. If we and our tent all roll into the water at some point, my laptop will fry and you’ll probably never read this blog, so assume we’re OK.