Fairfield to Redding, June 13
Redding to Ashland, June 14
We started the day with a rapid Covid test (negative), and then decided to continue on the trip. I was sucking zinc lozenges, blowing my nose, and generally feeling terrible, but we took the 80 to the good old 505 with the sunflowers by the side of the road to make our way to the I 5. We were both a bit nervous about the 5, but I told Robert that bypassing Sacramento would help. The I 5 above Sacramento is a much calmer place than the I 5 south—all the people going between LA and San Francisco/Silicon Valley/Sacramento are not heading north, and the cars are mainly from Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. Yes, there are trucks, but one thing we have learned driving the Bus is that most trucks understand a slow moving vehicle, especially one with a large magnet that reads “Slow Moving Vehicle,” and this was true on the 5 this time. The 505 dumps you almost at Dunnigan, where we stopped to check the brakes (no leaking!) and take pictures at Bill and Kathy’s.
When I was a child and I lived in Sacramento with my mother, Kathy, my father, Bill, would drive the 293 miles down the 5 from Ashland to see me frequently. He would always stop at Bill and Kathy’s, then a restaurant, to call and say he was almost there. I remember hearing him say “I’m at Bill and Kathy’s, be right there” and my excitement as a child for my father was coming and we would be going somewhere in the Bus. Sometimes he was headed south to pick me up and bring me back to Ashland, but sometimes he was just visiting for the weekend. We spent many of those weekends in the Gold Country, mainly in Jackson and Mokelumne Hill, eating picnic lunches by the giant wheels, finding an old lab where they went through the tailings extracting gold much past the Gold Rush, flying kites. It was on the trips that my father would “coast” the Bus, starting on one of the rolling hills, at the top, at speed, then cutting the engine so that we would fly down—not the safest maneuver, I now realize, but a joy for me as a child. We stayed at the Country Squire Inn or the old hotel in Moke Hill, and we made treasure maps and sang our song: “Beer on the floorboards, no good!”
Bill and Kathy’s has been shuttered for years, and in fact one side of the sign now reads “ill and Kathy’s,” and a strange transformation has taken place—the area is fenced off, with a larger than normal amount of German Shepherds living there, as well as strange art installations, but we saw no sign of human inhabitants as we photographed the sign. While we were there, I told Robert the story of the fly. Once on a trip heading north to Ashland, we made a stop at Bill and Kathy’s coffee shop, and in the parking lot a fly happened to buzz into the back of the Bus. We tried to shoo him out, but apparently he was a hitch hiking fly. All the long way to Ashland, he stayed in the Bus. At every stop we would offer him release, but he seemed content to stay with us. After a time, we got accustomed to having him there, and would solicitously check on him. “How’s the fly?” Dad asked me because I was in the back. “Still here,” I replied, and Dad laughed. We let him out at old 190 Vista Street, a California fly starting a new life in Southern Oregon. We never saw him again (that we knew of—how can you distinguish one fly from another?), but we would often joke about our hitchhiker in the years to come.
After leaving Dunnigan with no fly passenger, we made the journey up the 5 with the place names ticking off like rosary beads on a meditation from my past: Arbuckle, Williams, Willows, Orland, Corning, Red Bluff, Redding: the litany of my childhood. And the song of the counties counting us North: Yolo, Glenn, Tehama, Shasta, Siskiyou, Jackson. We didn’t stop at Granzella’s (best place for a sandwich on I 5) or at Corning (Olive Capital of the World), nor did we stop at the old Blue Gum Motel, but there was something comforting in the places and their fixed nature, uniting present and past. Time is a circle, I thought again, only now the man who was driving the Bus was Robert, and we were driving to see my father. I remember my father steering with his bony knee, Birkenstocked foot working the pedals, his long arms shifting. We had such conversations on the 5 when I was a child, about the land, about farming, about the way the telephone wires seemed to swoop as we drove past, about how to calculate mileage, about what made the road shimmer like water, about his past, about the quality of the sky and air on the 5, the way you can suddenly see the floaters in your eyes against the highway. Driving north on this trip, I saw all these things again, and the oleanders flashing white pink white pink as we passed them. Time is a circle, again. My father used to always say the Bus knew the 5 so well he could drive it alone, telling me that if he pointed the Bus downhill from the Siskiyou Summit the Bus would roll on down the highways and end up at my front door in Sacramento, which seemed true to me as a child because wherever my mother moved, the Bus always found me. This time I hoped it worked in reverse, that the Bus could steer us home to my father.
Pulling into Redding, our destination for the night, I was running a low fever and feeling grumpy. We drove around the town looking for somewhere to stay, finally landing at one of those bland places that dot the highways. After dragging our bags into the room, we watched the sky for a time. The wind was up, and howling around the building, and the clouds were mackerel sky (never long wet, never long dry) mixed with deep bruises indicating rain. After checking the weather forecast (70% chance of rain in Ashland), we considered our options. The Bus was making the brake noise all through travels through Redding, so Robert was achieving a high level of Bus panic. “Call Eric,” I said. Eric, our great mechanic, had just worked on the brakes, but it was Sunday, so that would have to wait until morning. Robert left Eric a series of messages, sounding increasingly panicked and worried and apologetic. I was thinking about the tires: we had planned to replace them in Oregon, but was it really a good idea to drive in rain with old rear tires? And then there was food: we were hungry. We walked to the Chicken Shack for some take out dinner (it was OK), and got a little sense of Redding: a higher than normal number of people standing on street corners talking to themselves, but at least one cool mural. By now I was feeling sick, worrying about feeling sick, so I took Nyquil and went to bed.
In the morning we got up early, headed to Les Schwab for tires, and Robert talked to Eric. We were apparently “breaking in” our new brake shoes, and there was no cause for alarm. The very, very young men at Les Schwab had trouble starting the Bus and driving him, but Robert helped them out. While we waited for the Bus to get new feet, we walked to a VW shop. We were out back taking pictures of their single cab bus ( I think that was about # 8 on our Bus count) when a large man came over. “Can I help you?” he asked. Robert explained that we had a 66’, and the guy relaxed, explaining that he thought we were from the homeless encampment nearby. “No, just VW enthusiasts,” I told him. Robert and I are accustomed to people thinking we are homeless on our trips, but I thought cutting his hair might have helped. We took a picture of the Bus in front of their shop on our way out.
From Redding the highway goes up, then down, then up, then down, taking me through more places and towns that I know from my many, many trips on the 5. It was shocking to see how low Lake Shasta was, lower than I remember even in the droughts of my childhood, and it was strange to not see the familiar white beacon of Mount Shasta rising above us on the highway: the south facing side is not white because there is no snow; there are no glaciers there now. The mountain remains, of course, but I almost didn’t recognize her face in brown and gray. We drove through a terrible burn, too, and by the time we stopped in the town of Mount Shasta, the mountain was swaddled in clouds. I often get overly sentimental and emotional on trips, perhaps exacerbated this time by being sick, and I couldn’t help but think that this was a message from the land—the dry lake, the naked mountain, the terrible scars of the fire all meaning one thing: the earth is speaking to us, but we are not listening.
From Mount Shasta to Weed to Yreka, the Bus was in old home territory. My father’s first job when he moved to Southern Oregon was in Yreka at the Forest Service office there, and Bus commuted over the Siskiyou Summit from Ashland for a few years. We joked that he knew the way home now. I have always had a habit of anthropomorphizing, and the Bus is like a person to me. We joked on this trip that when his doors suddenly pop open, he is flapping his ears with excitement. It is true that he only seems to do this at the start of a trip, as though he were thrilled to be on the road, but it is also true that once Robert puts on the white grease, his “ears” stop flapping a bit. This time as we approached the Siskiyou Summit, the Bus was whistling. The wing windows in the cabin often make a whistling noise, something my father was forever “fixing,” and on this trip towards the pass, his whistle seemed very pronounced, the song of the Bus driving us home.
Robert sailed us through the high winds in the Scott Valley, past a Bus graveyard in Yreka (add 5 to the bus count), and towards the pass. We joked that the Bus wanted to stop in Hilt, the last exit in California, where my father would often stop on his way home from Yreka. “Having a beer in Hilt,” he would call my Mom to say, and she knew he might be a while. Once he brought home a kitten named Posey who I knew as a little girl, and when I was a kid he would often say “Let’s go over to Hilt for a Pilot Rock burger,” and we would climb in the Bus and over the pass to eat in Hilt, so surely the pass wasn’t as fearful as it seemed if he would so casually drive over it. Still, as we approached it, climbing, climbing, climbing, cars whizzing past, the signs grew more ominous: Low visibility ahead! Fog! Reduce speed! It was like driving into a cloud: low, gray, blowing, and wet as we made the summit. We had joked about going over at 20 miles per hour, or even in reverse, but the Bus seemed comfortable with the hill, taking it at a healthy 35-40 MPH. On the downslope we took the old 99 down—no need to battle runaway trucks and speeding cars—slowly winding into the Rogue valley in fog, the sights and smells of my childhood welcoming me (and the Bus) home. The ferns, the trees, the manzanita and madrone and oak and pine, the creek bottom smells and the high tang of wet grass, with wild sweet peas suddenly pink and the stripes of purple vetch—all the things I remembered from the woods behind our old house. And then we were there, Ashland, and all of a sudden our Bus count multiplied! I could barely keep track of them. By the time we made it to my father’s new house, we had crested 20 busses.
The Bus driving through Ashland was so new and yet so familiar to me, all the times my father drove me to and from, picked me up, waited for me, but now we were traveling through the town to see my father, and thankfully, we arrived safely, and there was my father with Paula and Tucker, welcoming us home. I had been worried about seeing my father again after such a long absence—how changed would he be—but he was the same person. Sure, there were some minor differences, but the core of my father was right there in his eyes and his voice and simply the man himself, still exactly who I remembered him to be, and if changed, not in what matters most.