Day Four: Wednesday, May 23rd, Crater Lake continued…

Crater Lake, and a few Ottingers

It’s 8:30. I’ve been up for an hour. Everyone else is still out cold in the tents behind me. I am overlooking Lost Creek Reservoir and surrounded by rhododendrons and all manner of exotic flora. It is peaceful here and I am doing my best to mirror that sentiment.

Thank God we’re here for three nights.

Yes, it’s magnificent here. Fabulous.

Rachel in her new element

Yes, I am thrilled to see the girl again, and to spend a few days with her on her new turf.


But also, I am thankful beyond measure that we have some extra days and an extra car to get around in while the van gets back on its wheels.

Yep. Because now we’re on vacation…

The rest of the trip up to Crater Lake was, as ordered, uneventful.

Mt. Thielsen, sans cheesy photo-bombers

There were mountain peaks popping up in the distance (I presume these are all part of the Cascades. I have no idea.) and endless miles of mind-numbing terrain between us and them. There were gas stations and ice refills and finally a blown-top volcano in sight. Crater Lake, here we come. Once we were on the scent, we only stopped once to take pictures of Mt. Thielsen (just outside the park) with all the shameless Asian tourists. We chose not to strike the same embarrassing poses, but we wanted to deep inside.


We’d arranged to meet Rachel at the Rim at 4:45, just after she got off work. She’d be camping with us for our sojourn, but 1) we thought a Rim-side reunion would be fun, and 2) the next two days looked like rain. Given that Crater Lake is invisible under clouds for seemingly half of its life, we didn’t want to take our chances passing by the clear afternoon.

Goombahs: Scott, Rachel, Krista, Sarah, and Emily

It was good to see the kiddo. I haven’t seen her since she dropped me off at the Medford airport after the drive out here last month. Once again, she appears to be growing up. Not so much in the way of height (she’d get a gene transplant if she thought she’d keep growing) or girth, but in that mysterious adulting way. How the heck does that happen?

But I digress. Back to the tales of woe…

We spent the better part of an hour walking around and hugging and gazing down into the blue depths of Crater Lake, and then returned to our respective cars and headed down, us to Joseph H. Stewart State Park, our campground an hour down the mountain, and Rachel back to her dorm to finish packing up her gear.

Switchback numero uno
(maybe dos),
right there at the top,
we lost all gears.

Well, OK. Not all gears. We appeared to still have first gear, but the column was dead in the water, and there would be no more leaving first gear. I guess if you’re going to drive down a mountain, and you only get to pick one gear, first is not such a bad one, but if you want to make that descent in any sort of a respectable time, first is most assuredly not the one you want to be stuck in.


If you are going to lose all gears at all, then the only place better to drop ’em than your own driveway would have to be once you have fully arrived at your cross-country destination, and also when your fully-grown and responsible daughter is 94 seconds behind you in a Honda that perfectly fits all members of your family. When they exhale.

It took us 4 hours to get down to our campground.

Always an adventure

At this point I am obliged to give thanks to the Colfax Public Library for cycling their inventory and offering up their discards for quarters, to my kids for snapping up Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat CDs, and to Jim G. himself for soothing the nerves and lightening the mood on the way down the mountain. Serendipity.

Somewhere along the way (let’s not talk about how many hours it took), brilliance struck, and the girls and I all jumped out and stuffed as much gear as we could into Rachel’s car. We raced (at a whopping 50 MPH) down and got everything setup just as Scott rolled in at his quite persistently constant 15 MPH.

We unloaded every scrap of personal belongings from the Rolling Ottinger Barge (in case we were never to see it again), filled the new tunnel tent to bursting, and began the remaining 4 hours down to civilization, where we would beach the whale on the shores of the only mechanic we had a reference for in the area, and then call him in the morning with our sob story.

When the dubious rangers came to check in on us (as we were chucking baggage through tent flaps like whitefish) and inquire as to why we disregarded their check-in policies, and also, why-are-you-idling-in-the-middle-of-the-road-you-fool, they were quick to forgive and share their mechanic of choice, just 15 minutes down the road. Or an hour, depending on how you like to drive.

The kids all opted for the Honda Caboose, and Scott and I led the slow parade to Shady Cove.

By this time we had managed cell service, and drug my sainted father back home (and two hours later) out of bed to run our plight through the archives of his brain.

“Sounds a lot like the Ford I used to have… linkage’d always pop off. I think I drove all the way to the Dells once to pick up Chad, and all I had to do was pop that bas**** back on. ”

Well, alright.

Once we got to Rogue Valley Auto, and dared to turn off the vehicle for the first time in many hours (for if you didn’t know it, you do now: your car ain’t never gonna’ turn on again if she ain’t in park, and if she’s stuck in first, she darn-tootin’ ain’t in park).

At this point, Scott, foot still on the brake, triumphantly produced the giant orange wheel chock that he had scavenged from the tall grasses of Itch-Kep-Pe Park back in Montana and insisted on jamming under his seat. He raised his eyebrows–rather violently I thought–in my direction and suggested I chock up the wheel so he could get out. Sometimes you eat crow.

The dream was that he would reach through the engine compartment and pop that ball and socket back together, and we would be off, floating on clouds all the way back to camp, as though it were all a dream.  The reality was that that engine had been running hot for the past five hours. Really more like 18 hours, only with a break there at the top. And no salvaged RV paraphernelia was going to cool that baby down enough for Scott to shove his arm down in there.

There was, however, enough fiddling to confirm that this was indeed the same problem that plagued my dad all those years ago, but no opportunity on the near horizon to see if the dilemma would be as easily solved.

And so, dinner. The Honda was boarded, and the now-native Rachel took us on down the rest of her mountain in search of food.

Standing by…

A couple of hours later, after enduring the painful and continual disagreements between our lovely Apple Peddler waitress and her late-night cook who was clearly a shining example of Oregon’s legal weed laws, we trucked’er back up to Shady Cove and stood aside as the man battled the beast.

We were in bed by 2am. Our van remained chocked.

And here I am, listening to exotic birds under a Ponderosa Pine, wondering how long it might take the experts to put Humpty Dumpty and her busted linkage coupling back together again.

The answer was: All day. There were parts to be ordered and an entire cable to be re-linkaged. After the fine gentleman, Cody, gave me the diagnosis, and the rest of the tribe drug themselves out of bed, we chuckled a bit more at our hiccups and set off for our Honda-borne adventures.

We returned to the Rim to visit the lake and hike to Discovery Point, one of the only places beyond Rim Village that are actually plowed at this point in the season.

So Crater lake is a volcanic crater. It is arguably round. And the National Park’s main destinations all lie along Rim Drive, the 33-mile road that circumnavigates the crater. The thing about Crater Lake is that is is up there a ways. The Rim heaves itself up between 7 and 8,000 feet above sea level, and between 1 and 2,000 feet above the surface of the lake. There is snowfall in every month of the year.

When I drove out with R, there were six-and-a-half feet of snow on the ground. We drove through tunnels. On April 15th. And 2017-18 ran at a measly 40% of normal.

Crater Lake, from Rim Village

They had already started plowing out Rim Drive back then–back when we’d first arrived, Rachel and I–and on a normal year, they’d make it through to complete the circuit around early July. As of today, they’ve plowed out four miles, and you can only drive one of them. There is not a whole heap of sights that we can see without snowshoes. So, Discovery Point it was.


I am not really complaining. While we can only see a skim fraction of what there is to see, it is still spectacular. Beyond words gorgeous. Breathtaking. Literally. Makes you well up a little just to approach.

A wee bit of Rim Drive

So we wandered the plowed portion of Rim Drive long enough to see the cool flowing shale formations and for Scott to pitch a snowball into a melt-hole in the bank. It was chilly and almost raining. Kind of raining. Wet. But the clouds stayed up where they belonged, and we still had a fantabulous view of the lake.

Can you see it?

When we were too cold to go any further in our shorts, we started down the hour-forty-five to hit Vespers at Rachel’s new church, Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church, in Phoenix. Where it was hot. Because that is how you live when you live on the side of a mountain.

Sidebar: You’ll notice that the one who lives here is wearing pants, and a removable layer up top. For she is a wise one.

Further Sidebar: It should be noted that wile St. Gabriel’s is a warm, welcoming, and beautiful parish, it is temporary, for she is coming back home in November. For the record.

IMG_20180523_132245.jpgWe soaked in the incense (heavenly), took the kiddo out for her belated birthday (New Tin Tin Buffet, where I swear the dangerous woman from Freaky Friday lurks and waits for someone to mess with), picked up the van mid-ascent (with a full complement of gears), and made it to the tents well-before midnight, and a little lighter in the wallet.

One Additional Addendum: The wallet was not too much lighter. This could have been a disaster. When those gears first disappeared, we were not at all ignorant of the fact that we might be buying a new van on day four of our vacation. But the $900 van is not yet out of lives. She. Will. Roll. On!

Now that that’s out of the way,

The Whole Enchilada:

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