Crater Lake

When one think of travel perhaps the feeling of letting go, freeing up your mind and the ultimate temporary relief of stress. Unless you travel for business, of course. But I'm talking about vacation. It's vacation time that stirs wanderlust in the minds of most of us. For some this might be umbrella drinks on some tropical beach, for others it might be hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, mountain climbing or fishing. No matter your escape, it should give you peace from the speed of everyday life.

Unless you lose your wallet.

I woke up in Grants Pass and followed my continually improving process of packing my stuff, loading the bike and moving on to the next destination. Before leaving my room I run through my list like an airline pilot preparing to take off: chain lube ready, tie-down straps, luggage compartmentalized, GPS ready, camera, phone, dummy wallet… but wait. “Where's my wallet.” I race through my room looking under the beds, in drawers, in the bathroom. Then I panic. I look in the shower, the trash cans and behind the dresser. Panic more. I empty out all of my luggage when fear sends a cold chill through my body. I feared the wallet fell out of my riding jacket after I paid for take out food the night before. I even pull my laptop out of the pannier and log into my bank fearing someone on Grants Pass Wal-Mart shopping spree.

Then I pulled back the bed spread. Sitting still and smiling in its full glory was my wallet.

Winding along the Rogue River the road to Crater Lake gently winds and climbs toward the five mile lake that sits inside a crater left by the tremendous volcanic eruption that sent the top of Mount Mazuma soaring into the sky nearly 8,000 years ago.

In many places the road is under construction. Rather, the road is gone. I humor myself as I skirt along the sand and gravel sucking the dust from some SUV with kids watching DVDs in the back seat thinking that I've got 400 miles of this type of road from North of Fairbanks, Alaska to Prudhoe Bay — except the road even as dirt won't be in this good shape. In a quarter mile I'm back on pavement. This happens several times as I climb to 7,000 feet to Rim Village.

It costs automobiles $10 to enter this National Park. As I approach the entrance station I contemplate the annual park pass. AT $50 it gives you unlimited access to every national park in the country. So I do the math. Olympia, Denali, Glacier, Zion, Bryce and the others I can't remember. Perhaps I should get it. My thumb clicks the red switch on the handlebars and the 650cc engine comes to a numbing stop.

[base “]That'll be $5 please.”

I'm thrown for a loop. What? My math goes haywire, I don't have time to think and as I pull an Abe out of my wallet I ask here “Is it $5 for motorcycles.” She nods. “Is that the same for all National Parks?”

“I know it's for this one,” as she hands me leaflets and a newsletter that I can't really take, “I don't know about other parks.” The engine rumbles to a start and I pull away confused.

“Sure you can swim,” quipped the woman Ranger with the gold tooth, “it's 38 degrees.” And if the temperature doesn't scare you the climb down to the lake will. Peering over the edge of crater you watch the caldera drop 1,900 feet steep and fast. There's only one trail down to the lake. “Every year someone has a problem. So know your physical condition and take it easy.”

“And if you like to fish,” she asserts as her long fingers fix the brim of her hat to shade the sun from her brown eyes, “we encourage you to do so. Fish all the fish out of this lake. They're not indigenous you know.” She explains that the Park Service stocked the lake before they knew anything about managing parks. Today they know better. So she says.

A crowd gathers near my motorcycle. Some bikers. Others merely quenching their curiosity. “How much fuel does it carry?” “How long you been traveling?” “Where you going now?”

I spend 20 minutes chatting with friendly people from Maryland to Vancouver and many places in between. I guess I ask for it. The WorldRider decals on my panniers hint to my ambitious endeavor.

I've been to Crater Lake once before when 20 foot high snow drifts blocked views to the lake. I had to walk down a 30 foot snow tunnel and pear through a small window to get a glimpse of this incredible sight.

This time I get to ride around the rim of the volcano. What amazes me the most is how many pull offs at this park that are unencumbered by unsightly guard rails or ill placed rocks. I pull over at one wayside and the pavement ends abruptly like a horizon pool at some high end resort. I peer down the cliff when rush of vertigo takes over and I think to myself, Gee… horizon pool or Crater Lake? Looks like Crater Lake wins.

A couple hours later after a ride through the high desert I land in Bend, Oregon. Tomorrow? Sisters, Mt. Bachelor or ??? We'll see.