The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume VIII, Number 2-3, Pages 2-20
J. William T. Youngs is a Professor of History at Eastern Washington University and an editor of the Pacific Northwest Forum. This article is based on a journal he wrote during the summer of 1962, when he rode a motor scooter (nicknamed Gnaw Bone) across the United States. At the time he was 21 and a student at Harvard College.
When I awoke this morning I was in Yellowstone National Park. I visited Old Faithful and several of the geyser pools. Then I drove on north.
I stopped by a broad stream in a campground just above Karst's Camp. It was cold and the tall trees were bending slightly under the dark sky. It was a good, lovely place. I rested there for a while and probably should have camped for the night. But I felt the damnable need to move on and did.
It was a green land all through there. There were many fine farms – these too were touched with green. The wheat was green, and the buildings were a drab color. Even the horses in the fields seemed to melt into the green. I liked that land, and I liked the rain too that was now falling.
Coming onto Route 10 heading toward Butte I pulled up short as a shrill-whistling train went rushing over the road. On the flat road I had the wind behind me and kept the train in sight. Then it slowed for town. I caught up, passed the waving caboose man, and gained on the engine. I felt a fine open freedom riding beside that clattering train, rushing across the damp green prairie. We kept pace for a long time, and then it pulled ahead again.
Later in the afternoon I drove off the main road to a point which Lewis and Clark called the headwaters of the Missouri. It was a fertile valley with rugged abutments rising above it in several places. Three streams joined there, and in that quiet place amongst trees and bushes, silent and still wet with the rains, I sensed something which lay beyond the physical presence of the place. I don't know that this sense was related to the destiny of those waters, but it was appropriate at what Lewis and Clark called the "essential point" of a river which becomes a part of the mighty Mississippi.
After a while I rode back to the main road and then on north beyond Helena. The hills were shaded yellow in the wild grasses and formed a handsome rolling carpet for the low, scattered pines. I found a place off the road among the thick pine needles where I made camp for the night. The loveliness of the place made my heart feel full in me, and made a banquet of my simple meal.
After supper I went onto the top of a high knoll and looked at the valley below. It is a great shallow valley, sloping gently into Helena and then rising easily into hills again far beyond. The earth was musky in the early moments of nightfall. There was something wondrous in the widespread lights of Helena far away across the night.
I stood there looking for a long while. It was a good place for contemplation. The near-trembling silence of the land below was nourishing and refreshing to the spirit. It was a fine and friendly earth I saw there before I went to bed in the good pines.
Author, his worried mother, and Gnaw Bone just before his departure from home in Bloomington, Indiana.
(Gnaw Bone was named after a small town outside of Bloomington.)
Today I completed my journey to Glacier Park. The day began well. I had a good breakfast and then I rode on north. There were more of those fine rolling yellow hills and I felt fine on the scooter. I waved a good full wave at a cowboy across the plain, and his wave was as full of the good morning.
But as the day wore on that spirit passed away. I think it was too much forced back upon itself. Now I was simply riding to somewhere not reading; not thinking. Something was missing. So now I have trouble remembering even the look of the country, I know that there was a lot of fine pretty farmland, but there was something wanting in my perception.
I reached Glacier and went up over that high pass to Lake MacDonald. Those are fine rugged mountains, but somehow I took no pleasure in them. I came into a camp by the lake and found a good grassy spot. I didn't feel bad, just not good.
But after dinner I had a couple of fine visits. First I met Mr. Clarence Dunn. He's a very pleasant man, a mild man, but with the meekness which I think is called blessed. Damn, but I wish I could fit the words to people. I'd like to be able to do a much better portrait of him.
Later Mr. Hutson from the next campground invited me over for "sodi pop." I accepted gladly and spent three hours at the Hutson's fireside. I think he's a classic example of the good Hoosier - somewhat ungainly looking, a sense of humor, friendly, and earthy. (All during our visit he spat tobacco juice!) Mrs. Hutson is like her husband. Their daughter, Tiersa, seems shy but would occasionally come forth with some piece of humor which she seemed to have been nourishing in her mind.
We hit on half a dozen things which gave us a good laugh. For some reason I particularly remember Mr. Hutson telling a story about a bull that had broken out of one field and started on down to fight a bull in the next field, "bellerin" the whole way. But then a big ole moose took up the call and stood in his way, eyeing him down.
"The bull weren't havin' none of that moose," said Mr. Hutson,
I went to bed at about midnight feeling good about the place where I was camping.
Today I began by sewing up some holes in my pants. Mrs. Hutson urged me to let her do it, but I reckoned I needed the "practice."
From the campground I went on down the mountain to the west. For lunch I made a detour to the Crazy Horse dam, partly because I'd seen it before with Mum and Dad. I got in the elevator for a tour of the dam with three other people. They had been inside when I pushed the button and were confused to be on the top level - having thought they were at the bottom.
They asked me about the dam, and I told them I didn't know anything about it. I couldn't tell whether the three of them were together. One was a thin man with a meek face and a short growth of dark whiskers, He had wide eyes. He seemed to talk most. With him was a woman who had a plain face and a trim figure.
Her clothes were neat but a little shabby. The third person was a stockier man, fairly brown and wearing an open shirt. These two seemed mainly to follow the sporadic questions of the first.
I went through the tour alone, impressed by the mechanical power of the dam. It is certainly a structure which by its mechanical precision, its great force, and its echoing corridors could make one speculate as to the place of spirit in a technological world,
I saw a woman walking on the polished floor beside the huge generators, and felt that sex and emotion would seem alien in these vaults.
Back in the elevator I met the three again. By now it was evident that they were traveling together. The thin man asked me a question and then corrected himself, "Oh, that's right, you haven't been here before."
On top they asked me about my trip on the scooter. The 5,000 miles I'd come seemed very far, "Oh, my," the mild one said, "We've come a thousand and that seemed a long ways." They were from Canada.
Later they passed me on the road in their old, beat up Studebaker. They all looked back and waved.
I don't know what there was about them. Partly it was the strangeness. I'd never met people like them. They were meek and friendly and shy and enquiring, but you couldn't put your finger on anything - say they were just so, I feel slightly now the urge to protect them. But I can just wonder at them - what do they do, how did they come together, why are they traveling? I can hardly even conceive the final question, "how do they think?"
Back on the main roads I was soon in the land just North of Flathead Lake. I think it is the loveliest country I have seen yet. It is farm land. The beauty's hard to get at. It was an open, lovely beauty. I think now of the yellow wheat as glistening in the sun. Many colored fields were set on the slopes alongside each other - yellows, greens, browns. The farms were handsome, sturdy structures.
The houses had neat green lawns and were surrounded by tall green trees and bright flower beds. They made me think of the gingerbread house and of fairy tale lands. My gosh, it was pretty. It made me feel very full. It was a land that man had cared for. I stopped in a little town on the north of the lake. Bigfork, I think it was.
I felt friendly, but I disliked a conversation I had with one woman who had been looking at the scooter. She told me that she was from Connecticut and that her husband taught at the University of Connecticut. Then I said that my father was a professor too. I hate that. Hell, it's a pleasure to tell a friend about my schooling and my family, but in this case it was more like, "who do you know?"
I've let myself get sucked into these things several times - sometimes when I talk about the speed and mileage of the scooter. This is the main reason that I don't usually mention my college. Too often this sort of thing just becomes a point system - how fast does your machine go, where do you go to college? Even when you can get some points, it's really lousy,
It skirts what's really important – what are you learning from your trip, what are you becoming with your education? I felt a little ashamed when I left the town.
Pretty soon though I was drawn out of myself and into the country. On the lakeside the trees were much thicker than to the north. But this now was the cherry country. There were five stands to the mile.
In a while I chose one "U Pick" spot that seemed good, I drove down a gravel road between two orchards and into the Hancock's drive. There was a little house there behind the cherry trees. It was half hidden by the trees.
In the back I saw an old woman and walked towards her. In the shaded half-court yard stood a long table with towels, paper sacks, and a box of cherries. There was a high crib in the yard too with a tiny baby asleep in it, shaded by the trees from the afternoon sun.
I called to the woman and asked about picking cherries, She looked firm for a moment - I think she thought I was asking for a job.
"Is this the place where I can pick some cherries for twenty cents?" I asked.
"Oh yes," she said.
Then she handed me a harness. I had to ask her what it was, and she showed me how to put it on myself and hooked on the cherry bucket.
Then she took me to a nearby tree and showed me where to pick. The cherries were massed on each limb, so that I picked all that I needed off the end of a single branch. The dust was thick under my heavy boots. I dropped a couple of cherries and picked them up.
Soon I thought I had enough and went back to the house. Through the screen door I could see a young woman in the kitchen working at the sink. The old woman came out and took the cherries to weigh them. I had almost exactly a pound. It was a good estimate, she said.
"You'll have to hire me," I laughed.
She smiled. She had fine white hair and a strong friendly face. We talked for a while about the orchard and about her family.
She had six grandchildren, Four of them were there visiting and helping pick and eat the cherries. One of them, a little girl, came from around the house on a tricycle. Her whole mouth and nose were stained with red juice from the cherries.
"They'll be eating up all your profits," I said.
She laughed, "Oh, the children get them and the birds get them. But we don't mind."
It was a fine thing. That lazy afternoon. The good old woman. And the abundance around them in the orchards.
"Maybe I'll be back sometime picking for you," I said as I left.
"We'll look for you," she said.
I started my machine, turned it around, and started out the gravel road. And then I turned to wave. The old woman, the little girl, and the young mother all stood there waving goodbye.
Then I rode out on to the highway that ran beside the lake. I stopped once at a country store for food. In the parking lot a girl smiled amusedly at me from a car. Standing at the door was a plump, jolly-faced farmer.
"How are you doing?" I said smiling.
"Now you be careful, young fellow," said he.
"I will," said I, and pulled out onto the road.
I spent that night at Yellow Bay campground on Flathead Lake. The next day I drove 250 miles - a long pull on a motor scooter - to Pend Oreille campground in Northern Idaho. It was a depressing day because I didn't allow myself time to absorb the landscape or to write in my journal. I felt that "I was just someone rushing across space, "
But there were some good moments that day:
I had a talk which cheered me with an old man in a filling station, He had worked many years in Vancouver, Washington as an electrical inspector. He loved his new home; its fish, its back country - he called it a "quiet land." He told me that at times he will come out of his house early in the morning and see a little brown bear sniffing the air, looking for food.
Later in Sandpoint I talked to a young grocery boy who had been fascinated by my machine and come out to see it. He was a naive sort of lad, I told him how I was using the motor scooter for travel. "Oh," he said, "I never thought of that."
From Sandpoint it was another forty or fifty miles to Pend Oreille Park, where I spent the night. It cost me a buck, which I didn't like. But I was too tired to care.
After I'd eaten and had set to work on my journal, it began to rain. At first I didn't realize it was falling because my table was sheltered. I just heard it and wondered what the sound was. Then I went to my neatly-set-out sleeping bag and found it was sopping wet.
I sat under my pancho, drying the bag by the fire for a half hour or so. Then as it was still drizzling, I put the pancho and waterproof cover over me and settled in for the night.
I drove on into Spokane, where I had a bizarre confrontation in a grocery store parking lot, While I was in the store my scooter fell over and slightly scratched the door of a nearby car. The woman who owned the car was enraged. I offered to touch up the paint on the car, which was old and beat-up anyway, but the owner seemed more eager to berate me than to settle on the damage. "You motorcycle fellows, " she said, "'you never care where you leave your bikes." An old man came along and took my part: "It was an act of God," he said. Finally the woman simply drove off.
I had a pretty good chat with the fellow who had defended me. He had a cycle himself. The chat ended when his wife came out of the store and shouted shrilly at him to come load the groceries: "You come and help," she said. I hope she isn't as bad as she sounded in that instance, The old man was a pretty nice guy.
From Spokane I headed west. From then on I was involved with fighting the weather. It can be pretty dismal traveling when the sky's bad. I'd watch each cloud formation, seeing where the rain was, seeking which direction the clouds moved, hoping for blue sky, ducking from the rain. A couple of showers this afternoon were the hardest I've seen.
But I saw some pretty country anyway. The wheat land in Lincoln County is lovely. It was fresh and thick growing, planted up and down hillsides, shining bright and yellow in patches of sun, and waving under the rain-laden wind.
There were good farms too, little oases in the grain. Safely nestled among tall, wind-beaten trees, they made me think of the America of the New World Symphony.
That night I camped beside Lake Roosevelt about five miles from Coulee Dam. The next morning I observed the spillway from the top, where 1 had a "sense of going over" with the water. After touring the dam I rode on through rough scablands to the southwest until I came to the Columbia River and the apple orchards near Wenatchee. I visited the Ohme Gardens -"one of the loveliest things I've ever seen" and pushed on up the Cascade Mountains to a campground in a thick forest on Blewett Pass.
Today I left early and headed for Seattle, It was damp and quite cold. I needed both pairs of gloves. I went through many thick forests, but my consciousness was so involved in shivering and moving on that I missed most of the land.
In a few hours I reached the outskirts of Seattle. I was impressed by the beauty of the shores of Lake Washington. There were fine houses by the water. All the trees and lawns were a deep green.
Then I was in the city itself. I followed the highway until I could see the docks. I dropped down a series of very steep hills, brakes on the whole way, and was on the waterfront. There was a real thrill in being so near the sea again. I hadn't expected such a feeling, but there it was.
I rode by some docks and thought about the many distant lands the water touched. These moments on the shore were the most exciting in Seattle. Afterwards I went up into the city and to the World's Fair. I just had a couple of hours and decided to see all I could. So with hair disheveled, clothes ragged, knees and tail-end protruding from holes in my jeans - the latter covered by a shirt tied around my waist - I did the rounds.
I saw a lot of exhibits and took in a free water show. The waterskiing was the most fun. But it was all a far different world from that I was becoming used to. I think the fair would have been a lot of fun if I'd had two or three days to see it and some good friend along. But as it was, I was glad to be on the road again.
I rode north towards Whidbey Island. Off the main road the country became green and fertile again, and it was good to be out of the bustling city.
Waiting for the ferry I first met Bill Permenter. He told his wife and me later that he looked at the scooter with interest. Then he saw me going into one of the saddle bags. I brought out some eggs and some paper towels. Then I took out a box that appeared to have some cake in it, and he thought it must have been sent to me because I took it out of some mailing paper. When I was picking up little pieces to nibble on they were actually cookies that had long since disintegrated into crumbs - he had thought, "Gee, I wish he had a spoon." And he reckoned, "That must be a pretty good fella!" It tickled me to hear him tell it, When someone can look at Gnaw Bone and me and say, "That must be a pretty good fella," I can sort of step back, detached, and look at myself with the same pleasant amusement.
We rode over to Whidbey together talking the whole while. And Mr, Permenter invited me out to his place for the night. I was glad to go as it would have been a long push to the state park, and I looked forward to seeing more of him.
I spent that night with Bill Permenter and his wife and two children. We talked until 12:30 when 1 retired to my sleeping bag on the lawn under a tree. They invited me to stay inside, but 1 wanted to travel the 5,000 miles from Albuquerque, where 1 had last slept inside, to Los Angeles, without sleeping under a roof.
I left the Permenters a little before 2:00. Then I rode through green countryside to the north. There were tall thick bushes beside the road speckled with small, fluffy red blooms.
At the Fort Casey crossroads I turned left and dropped down towards the sea once more. I rode beside a small bay and then up into the hills. Soon I came out of the forest to Fort Casey. There were rows of wooden barracks there, painted in bright, but faded blue, red, and yellow. These weather-worn but sturdy buildings had a fascinating atmosphere. They seemed part of another world, lost in the recent, but distant, past.
I followed a small road up a hill above these buildings. At the top on a broad plateau stood the old cement fortifications, These faced out on the sea in a narrow semi-circle. They were time and weather-beaten, and the tall grasses were closing in around them.
But they were still solid works. I walked up cement stairways and descended into austere rooms and passageways, wondering what men had ever lived here and why. Then I walked through the thick grass at the outside of the walls to the outermost works.
Here I stood on a balcony which had been a gun placement. It hung out over the side of the hill above the sea. The day was overcast, but I could see for miles around. Over the broad flat sea, shaded darkly by the low clouds, I saw many shores lifting slightly above the water. In one harbor smoke was rising, blending with the dark skys.
I felt an excitement then, which was greater than the thrill of great mountains or even of beautiful fields. How shall I say it?
It was a perception of the openness of the world, a deep sense that out there truly do lie India and China and Tahiti. All those places that I have thought about or imagined are out there touched by these same open waters. And in that perception there is a wonderful excitement, a sense that there is so much in the world that can be greeted by man with awe, and thus with reverence.
I don't know what this perception means in action - in living. But it is a good thing to feel, and I think that despite all the advantages of modern life, this excitement is harder to find than in the frontier days. But to me these feelings are at the core of life, and without feeling wonder I am sometimes like a record whose needle is stuck in a couple of repetitious grooves so that the melody is lost.
From Fort Casey I rode to Deception Pass and on to Anacortes, where I took a ferry to San Juan Island. I disembarked at Friday Harbor and rode out past American Camp.
I wanted to camp by the sea and was angry at all the "No Trespassing" signs I saw. They were an ugly thing. I was angry that anyone would try to prevent me from camping by the ocean even so detachedly as by sign, Then I came out at the end of a gravel road into broad harbor. I found a spot among some rocks where I could camp,
Everywhere on shore were deep piles of driftwood. But it was all too damp to build a fire. So I cooked over my tiny stove. It drizzled off and on, and I felt a bit annoyed at the luck which had given me 15 day of rain in the last 16. But I built a little shelter using my poncho supported by the scooter and two sticks in the ground.
After supper I began to feel a good deal better. My camping spot grew in loveliness with the rain and the dusk. I sat for a while on a rock watching fishing boats cruising just a few hundred yards off shore.
Then with my poncho protecting me from a light drizzle I walked through the damp grassy slope above the beach toward the setting sun. I passed two small coves that were filled with great clumsy drift logs. Then I watched the sun fading in the dark cloudy sky.
Gnaw Bone at campsite on San Juan Island. Notice clothes drying on fence.
Back at my scooter I watched night come on, sitting under my poncho on my canteen, leaning back against my machine. Then I went to bed. I propped myself up on my elbows and looked from my bag at the lights of the tiny fishing boats out on the smooth water. Sometimes I could hear men's voices.
I wondered at the living out there, at men doing a job, perhaps finding a being in their work. And I wondered at the being who lay there wondering.
I spent all day hiking in the hills and along the shore near my campsite on San Juan Island. I was determined to go through a whole day without speaking to another human being - partly as an experiment and partly to indulge in an introspective search for what I called "Meaning." In my journal I wrote "1 must be able to partake naturally of living ... To me the great thing seemed to be to behold the world continually with wonder. A sense of adventure and meaning "must be the core of anything I am able to create, of any tale I can tell Alan. Here is the meaning to which I must bind the conscious work of my life."
I finally returned to camp at 9 p.m. just in time for a quiet meal before sunset. "I read for a while and then went to sleep under a broad, star-filled sky."
This morning I awoke and decided to head for Vancouver Island. I hadn't seen half of San Juan, but I felt that my day on the beach had fulfilled my best anticipations of the island. I packed and ate quickly, having only a can of apricot juice left for food.
On the gravel road I passed a couple of wood frame farmhouses. One was very pretty, It was of rude brown board and stood out in the morning against the flat seaside land. I stopped for a moment at American Camp, a small series of earthworks, now covered in grass. At the top of a hill whisps of mist hung over the flat earth, A cock crowed in the distance, and I could hear drums beaten in crisp unison somewhere beyond the fog.
In Friday Harbor I started to get some gas, then decided to hustle for the ferry, I thought it was about to leave and sped down the little gravel road to the pier to ask if there was room for me.
But they were just beginning to load. The mate was a touch short with me. On board I spread out my sleeping bag to dry on my windscreen.
The mate, who was passing down another row of cars, asked, "Looking for local color?"
"Something like that," I said. Upstairs I was impressed by the luxury of the boat. There were rows of soft padded seats and a fair sized cafeteria.
I got my soap and towel and planned to wash in a basin when a fine thing happened. A fellow addressed me saying the mate had sent him to offer me the use of a shower. I followed him back onto the car deck and through a steel door marked "no admittance" into a bathroom and shower.
I really got a kick out of that – damn me, I enjoyed that shower! It felt good to be there in the hidden parts of the ship. I felt more like I belonged to the sea, (Got clean too!)
When I got ready to leave, the mate was his stern old self. But as I pulled out, I said, "That felt mighty good." His face broke into a smile then, and he shrugged his shoulders.
From Sydney on Vancouver Island I rode out towards Victoria, feeling good to be in Canada. I stopped at a roadside stand for eggs. The man who sold them was just selling eggs at first, but we talked a bit about the island, and he opened up. Then his wife appeared, and he told her I was from Boston, She had a bright rosy face, "Welcome to Canada," she said.
I am now in a roadside park by a little lake, and I enjoy the people here, Families were sitting at most of the picnic tables when I arrived. They were all eating their lunches and talking, It wasn't much, but it just warmed me to see them. There's something fine about a family at a picnic.
It's a simple place, as I say. The people make it. A lifeguard in a big white hat rowing an oversized boat over the tiny lake, kids swimming and talking aimlessly, people at their picnics. At one table a foreign sounding family with a little girl, looking silly in a big blousy sailor's suit, a big silly grin on her curious face. At another, an old guy with a Scots brogue and a tweed cap telling some wide eyed kids: "Ever heard of Davy Jones' locker? Well Davy Jones has got a locker down there. You can go down and look. But there's some that don't come up."
A woman with a gentle English accent. Voices mingled to a murmur across a gentle breeze on a fine summer afternoon. I think what I love is all the natural humanity of it.
I rode on into Victoria, past the Empress Hotel. and up Beacon Hill, where I parked the scooter and walked down a hillside to a broad plateau above the ocean, where a crowd was gathering.
I wasn't sure what to expect. But the crowd was waiting for something. They were lined in a three-sided square around a band and a podium. On the open side an old cannon faced out on the sea, manned by a dozen sailors in old costumes.
I enjoyed the crowd. There were old men in tweed suits and little children with inquisitive faces. Then a dignified looking party of naval and civilian ladies and gentlemen came through the crowd and sat on the review stand.
First an admiral spoke the greetings of the navy to Victoria and then a civilian spoke Victoria's thanks. They were good speeches about a town's and a fleet's growth.
Then came a review, The band played softly - first Greensleeves, then the Skyboat song, and finally Greensleeves again. There were nearly tears in my eyes as I stood at a corner of the crowd. It all seemed so fine somehow. All a gesture from the past, but good and enobling.
Hearing the soft murmur of Greensleeves and watching a dignified troop inspection. I was moved by a sense of the gestures men make to a noble ideal, frail and delicate really, but strong and good withal.
After the ceremony I watched several other demonstrations including a bagpipe parade. Hearing the pipes I thought, "By God, I could take on ten men with that music playing behind me!"
Little by little the crowd broke up, each segment seeking its own course, and I left the city again, moving west. I wondered then at a mystery. I had been filled during the review to the point of confusion with fine images, most of which reminded me of tradition, of the past, of lands we pilgrims left behind us over the seas, and I wondered, why is it that these images draw me to England and the past, while I feel closer to America lying solitary on the prairie, down in the grass, touched only by a light breeze and the murmur of singing grasses - pensive.
This morning I read for a while and then went into Victoria to see the sights. I walked around some of the shopping areas and through the Empress Hotel gardens. In the gardens I felt that some things are better seen by two. So I did not linger.
I returned to Gnaw Bone and set out on a tour route of Victoria. But I only got as far as Beacon Hill Park when I saw a cricket match and ended the tour there.
As I sat with a number of Victorian families watching the match I speculated that one can see a city as well by seeing its people leisurely at a park or a fair as by rushing from one sight to the next. At least I think I enjoyed the cricket match as much as I would have enjoyed the 15-mile tour.
Several of the people sitting near me showed me another side of tradition. They were a bit too "English," I suspected, using their Englishness as a kind of crutch for snobbery, and, ultimately, a vapid character. Against this I'll take the roughest, hardest American any time. But I think somewhere there may be a good combination of the dignity and responsibility of tradition and the vitality and openness of the "frontier. "
In the late afternoon I boarded a ferry for Port Angeles. On board I met a lad who really made me feel, "There but for the grace of God..."and a good deal of respect as well.
After the boat left dock, I went to the rear to watch us sail. There was a young lad there whose face had been badly mangled. Both his ears were entirely gone, and his face was terribly scarred. I stood near him and his father and began to talk to them. What impressed me at the very start was simply the tone of his voice. There was no trace of defeat in it, not even of self-consciousness. It was completely natural. His manner too showed no traces of the wound.
We talked for a while then and later again at the front of the boat. There he mentioned having lost a year at school because of an accident. That was all either of us said about the injury.
When I think over my trip, there are three men who impressed me as having extraordinary guts. One was a fellow in Rocky Mountain Park who had been crippled by polio, One was an old man I saw in the Grand Teton's who was very lame, perhaps spastic, who worked his way along into the chapel there and had a wonderful serene face. The third is Paul Hany, whom I met on the boat.
It is almost weakening to try to think one's way into the shoes of one of these men - I can't entirely by a long shot - but, my God, what trivia they make of our half-assed problems.
I spent that night in a city park. The next morning I rode from Port Angeles to Neah Bay along one of my favorite roads of the whole trip - "a little fella, winding all over the place" through thick forests and beside the sea, I was heading for Cape Flattery in the Makah Indian Reservation, the westernmost point in the contiguous United States.
The Cape road was marked only by small signs and several times I lost my way in the dark as I followed one road after another through the forest, searching for the extreme point of the Cape. Then I drove over a deep pothole and damaged my accelerator so that I could only slow down by turning off the motor.
The next five miles were quite an adventure.
The clouds were hanging low and looking mean. A heavy mist cloaked the moss-laden trees and shrubbery alongside the road. Sometimes the road was nearly enclosed under trees or where the rocks rose sheer on each side, damp and mossy. It was a fantasy land.
The fantasy was increased by my not really knowing where I was going, by the fact that it was Indian land, and by my stuck accelerator. At one point when the accelerator first stuck I was ripping along, expecting the road to dump over the edge at any moment. I fought with my pocket trying to get my keys. Finally I freed them and drove on mile after mile, killing the engine when I had to slow down for curves or potholes.
Eventually I came to a road, where a path led into the forest. On a small board someone had written, "Cape Flattery." The path was paved in deep oozing mud and wound through a real jungle of shrubbery. Finally it passed through some bowers of shrubbery and came out on a point.
There she was, Cape Flattery. The path led to the end of a spit of land, and that was it. On three sides the rock dropped off right underneath the land. The coastline you could see on each side was sheer cliff too. The waves surged into deep caverns in the rock.
The surf was not pounding. But the whole sea seemed to flux with tremendous momentum into the holes. I decided it wasn't a site I could take in in ten minutes. So I walked back to the scooter trying to devise a way to get it near the water.
For the next hour I searched for a road that would get Gnaw Bone to the sea's edge, But finding none, I decided to eat immediately and walk back to the Cape with my sleeping bag.
I spent a good deal of time chosing a campsite, wanting a good view but not wanting to slip into the ocean. (At one point I decided I'd better sleep on my air mattress so that if I fell off the 70-foot cliff, I'd have a float with me!) Then I sat for a while, dry under my poncho, looking at the sea,
The remoteness of the place was limited by a big offshore island with a complex of buildings. But that added to the fantasy as a big lighthouse brightened my camp every four seconds all night. There's a loud fog signal too. Once I looked through the fog at a huge rock beside the island, and it looked like a gigantic frog. The rain was now coming down fairly hard, and I decided I'd better rig up my tent cover and go to bed.
Campsite at Cape Flattery, the western most point in the 48 states.
This I attempted with little success. I did manage to read a short time, but rain was coming down too hard and penetrating everything. So I gave it up and withdrew into my bag.
At about 8 that night I pulled the waterproof top over my bag and sought sleep. It's hard trying to sleep that way. The rain begins to seep in, and the dry area is reduced bit by bit till you're huddled in one small patch avoiding the damp. To make matters worse you sweat, and it becomes stuffy as hell. So pretty much oblivious to all but the persistent rain and the inner state of my bag I dozed away.
Despite the rain which must have continued a good five hours, I did get about eight hours of sleep in the ten I was in the bag. I was lucky too in that when I got up the rain had stopped, and I wasn't too cold,
I collected my sopping goods and walked back to the scooter.
I had a quick breakfast of cereal and Tang and rode on through the rain. After a few hours the sky had cleared and I came to a pleasant beach at La Push, Washington. I set out my clothes and my sleeping bag on a rock to dry and built a driftwood fire to warm myself.
While the fire popped away in the hot sun, I watched people swimming in the flat surf. A man who was camping nearby struck up a conversation. His name was Klein. He was a big, tall man with a heavy voice. He was just approaching middle age. During the next hour or so we chatted off and on.
Eventually he and his wife invited me to join their family for some marshmallows, She was a plain nice woman. Our meeting was simple and natural.
But I felt a sense of not wanting to know too many people. It seemed it was becoming a game - meeting someone new every day. I felt this way just when Mrs.
Klein said kindly, "You'll have to take our address and drop us a card to tell us how you're getting along."
I should have agreed, but I didn't answer. I guess I didn't want to feign enthusiasm.
I think she felt cut by my reticence. She said little thereafter. The sad thing is that a few words like that are a tentative gesture, a kind of hello. And I crushed this hello.
I feel badly about it because I was thinking only of myself, Even when I don't want to increase my number of casual acquaintances for my own sake, I should remember others. I should remember others in a lot of ways.
From La Push I rode back to the main highway and then south, The road reached the sea again at Ruby Beach, and from then on I was looking for a good campsite.
Soon I reached Kalaloch campground. I didn't feel that I really wanted to be among so many people, but I rode around the campground anyway.
In a beach campsite I saw a fine looking woman standing behind a table facing the road. As I passed, a girl walked with gentle steps to the opposite side of the table and faced the woman. There seemed to be a nice relationship between the two, and I liked something about them.
I stopped at an overlook just beyond the camp. I'd intended to go on, but an old man pointed out to me a possible site next to the woman and the girl. I wasn't going to take it at first because I half felt I wanted to be alone.
But I stayed. As I set up camp the woman smiled across her clothesline. She had a handsome face and her smile was open and warm. I waved and set up my camp.
Later I met her on the beach and passed a few words. Her son was in Europe on a bicycle, and so my scooter interested her.
Her daughter wasn't with her then, but about an hour later I met them both coming down to the beach with cups of tea in their hands. We talked longer then. It was a good natural conversation, yet I felt a little self-conscious with the girl, whose name was Anna. She had a nice face. But I felt then something was hidden in it. I think I may have felt that Anna was measuring me by some mysterious standard. She said very little.
When we walked up to the camp Mrs. Meigs asked me if I'd like to cook my food with them. (I had no table or fireplace.) I said I would do my own, but would enjoy paying a visit later. But then somehow I ended up eating with them anyway.
They had a pretty campsite on a low bluff over the beach, which was broad and flat, its sands stretching far off to the north and south. The sunset over it was lovely. As we were fixing the meal, Anna went down to look at it. She stood tiny and alone for a long time in the flat surf. Later when I went down to look at the sunset, she told me to watch for the way the sun glistened through the foam. I felt in this advice the first real communication between us.
The dinner went well, We all talked and joked easily together, sitting side-by-side on the picnic table, looking out over the sea.
Later we took a walk by the sea. The moon was up and the beach and the sky were lovely in the full moon. We walked and ran on up the beach for a long time.
Sometimes we walked together. Sometimes Anna and I ran on ahead in and out of the waves with the moon in our faces.
Once we found a wooden raft and tried to ride it. We both got completely wet.
We all felt a great freeness of spirit, I think, in the night. I found I could run as hard as I'd ever run in my life. I felt at times like walking on out deeper and deeper into the fascinating night surf.
After we said goodnight, I stayed up until about 2,00 drying my wet clothes over a fire, I went to bed glad of these new friends.
I awoke long after sunrise and saw dozens of clam diggers on the beach, As I ate breakfast, I could see Anna and her mother through the trees, moving about in their campsite. They were shy about intruding on me, and I was equally shy about approaching them. But we soon found our way into one another's company. I suggested a walk along the beach and a picnic, Mrs. Meigs said she had work to do around camp; so I found myself alone with Anna.
As we walked, neither of us seemed at a loss for words. We eventually found some rocks that projected out into the ocean and made a good picnic place.
After we ate, Anna took a nap on the rocks, and I spent a long time studying a little tidal pool in the rocks, I lay with my head just above the pool and saw a whole world beneath me, I watched a shelled creature that I first thought dead. But sporadically its hard shell opened, and out would come a brush that fanned the water and withdrew.
After a while Anna joined me, and we both observed that little world. Then we walked back to the campsite.
In the evening I made "Hobo Specials" on a beach fire for Anna and her mother. They consisted of hamburger, tomatoes, sliced potatoes, mushrooms, peas, and seasonings wrapped in aluminum foil. When they had cooked long enough we peeled back the aluminum foil on our individual servings, and a thick aromatic cloud of steam arose. We ate with a good fire in front of us and the moon full above.
At last Anna and Mrs. Meigs returned to their tent, and I spent the night wrapped in a blanket sleeping by the fire.
I agreed to join the Meigses on a trip up to the Hoh Campground in the nearby Olympic Mountains, where they would meet Anna's sister, who had been on a pack trip. I was somewhat inclined to "Get on by myself and think some," but I was happy for the excuse to spend extra time with my new friends.
At the campground we met some thirty hikers who had spent two rainy weeks in the Olympics. By an evening campfire each told what the experience has meant personally. One man, who had never slept without a roof before, said he had only realized on the last day that he hadn't even missed the comforts of home. Another "spoke simply but sincerely of the chance to take stock of his life - of the good the woods had done him.”
Through this Anna stuck close to me, sensing I think, my slight awkwardness at being a stranger there.
Later I told Anna I was going to take a walk and asked her if she'd like to come, Again I'd been shy and wasn't sure she'd feel half the excitement of the forest that I did. But when we set out, I knew all was well, We walked through rows of campers and on into the thick woods.
I led, barely distinguishing the path among the black trees, It was a good path and a good woods. The trees were thick, but the fern and needle laden forest floor beneath seemed soft and spacious. The night too was fine and you could hear a stream in the trees.
My imagination was full with the excitement of it, and we two skulked like two scouts through the forest that Anna named well. "It seems a friendly forest," she said.
But more than to the woods or the paths or the stars the evening was to Anna, We talked for a long while.
That was a good thing, I have often thought that perhaps a failing in this trip is that it is all man-without-woman. I like the solitude, but there is a goodness too in communication.
It wasn't perfect. The saying of things still lacked something. I can still feel that the fullest quality of my search lies in solitude, Even with Anna and that forest I didn't feel quite the wonder of the Wyoming prairie or the Laramie hillside. My true spirit still lies somewhere unexpressed, seldom ever seen,
But by the very urge to make this reservation I also show the depth of my attachment to Anna. There was a wonder there that we both felt, and part of it, for me anyway, was for the other.
The next morning the Meigses and I hiked down to the parking lot and drove back to camp, where I'd left my scooter, Mrs. Meigs bought us all a big breakfast first, and then I took my leave.
"I don't like saying goodbye," said Anna, "so we'll just skip that."
"See you," said I.
"See you," said she.
Alone again I rode on down the coast. I realized that my summer was near to its end. It has been a good summer, It has had many truly excellent moments, But I feel that I have not really discovered the answers I was after. I have many fine fragments, but they are all fragments.
I camped on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Soon after supper the damn rain began again, and I went to bed,
This morning I awoke feeling fully rested, but wet. It had rained quite a bit, and the bag was soaked. But I think I had about twelve hours of sleep.
It was a pretty morning despite the rain, Clouds of mist hung in the air in all directions. There was the slightest warmth in the breeze and a suggestion of clearer weather.
Coming off the hillside, I rode for the Astoria Ferry, Once I ran out of gas and had to empty my lantern into the tank. That got me there.
I had about a quarter of an hour wait in Megler and looked out over the wide estuary. It was a fascinating scene. There was the light choppy water, green hills far away on the other side, a town set wooden on the side of a hill.
When the ferry arrived and a dozen wind blown passengers walked quickly to the shore, I felt like a spectator in a crazy world where there were no real people, I thought then for a moment, "This is all I can do. I must wander forever."
I stood on the bow of the ferry as we worked our way past dozens of small, long-prowed fishing boats. The ferry cut its engines whenever it had to pass over a fishing net. The men in the boats watched us, They wore big thick suspenders and moved confidently on the face of that broad, wind-swept expanse of water.
I rode on down the Oregon Coast and had lunch on a pull-out spot above Nehalem, The road was near the sea, but on a high, high bluff. The hill was green and the ocean far below was a deep blue. A thin cloud of mist had just risen from the sea and clung beneath the hill. You could see a town on the beach down below through the mist.
Several times as I ate my lunch there people spoke to me. One fellow I particularly liked, He was a heavy man, and his wife an ugly woman. But they were nice as heck. They were very interested in my trip. "Wonderful, wonderful" the man would say, rubbing two large hands together, as I told them about my adventures. They were glad I was at college and were anxious to tell their children all about me. They wanted the kids to go to school, but the boys weren't enthusiastic, thinking that meant just books. I was to be the antidote to that impression!
I rode on south mile after mile along the Oregon Coast until at last 1 came to a fruit inspection station at the California border and left the Pacific Northwest behind. It had rained on 21 of my 26 days in the region, but there had always been enough sun to dry out my clothes and sleeping bag for another day.
My trip ended a few days later in Los Angeles, where my brother met me with our family car, a big Chrysler Imperial with room enough to carry the scooter. So after 8,000 miles of travel Gnaw Bone was at least a passenger on the return trip.
Now, more than twenty years later, I read my adolescent journal with a sense of the great distance between my current life and my youth. I had hoped then to perceive all of life with a feeling of perpetual wonder. I am more accepting now of the often prosaic nature of daily life and the elusiveness and fragmentary character of our finest moments of thought and experience. For better or worse~ that seems to be part of "growing up." But I still like a good conversation and a good scene, and now and then, I still experience these things with wonder.
I took some of my Northwestern experience back to Cambridge with me that fall, for by a wonderful coincidence Anna Meigs was a student at Wellesley College, just 16 miles away from Harvard. On Gnaw Bone, that was no distance at all.