Wednesday, March 7, 2012

State Two: Oregon

When I was a junior in high school, I read Ken Kesey's first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The movie had just come out so our English teacher assigned it, but even though I had to read it for school, I really liked it. Kesey's writing style always meshed with me -- his rhythms are excellent -- and the subject matter is just the kind of thing that will resonate with a 17-year-old.

It made me want more.

So, I read Ken Kesey's second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion. This one is not as well-known, and the movie version was not as good ... there's probably a causal relationship flowing both ways here. The story is much-more complex, with sub-plots and archetypes and subtle dynamics with turbulent riffs, but it's ultimately about family and relationships and the love and hate that binds it all together.

For me, the test of a good book is whether you are willing to re-read it. The test of a great book is whether you re-read it after time has passed and you've grown some, and you get something new. Sometimes, that something new is so good that it makes the book better than the last time that you read it. I've read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest probably three times, but I've read Sometimes a Great Notion at least half a dozen times. The last time was about 10 years ago.

All of this is leading up to why I am so looking forward to the second week of my Pacific Coast bike trip. (Details of the first week were in the previous post.)

You see, most of Sometimes a Great Notion takes place on the Oregon coast, near a town called Wakonda on the Wakonda-Auga River. The Stamper family owns a small lumber operation there, cutting trees in the rich land between the coast and the mountains, and running them down the river to sell.

Of course, there is no Wakonda, or a Wakonda-Auga River flowing past it. But there is a Wakonda Beach, and we were on Stamper Road for a few miles in Washington. There are a lot of real places mentioned in the book that we will pass through this week, and other places that sound like the model for Wakonda. We may even meet a Hank Stamper or two.

  • Astoria to Barview Jetty County Park. After a nice break in Astoria, we should be well-rested, our clothes all clean, and (thanks to the bike shop there) our equipment and supplies should be in good shape. Today's route is less than 60 miles, mostly rolling, with four little climbs (between 400 and 600 feet). Mostly, we're on the coast, passing through Seaside and Cannon Beach, then Oswald West State Park to see the Devil's Cauldron. Then we sweep around Nahalem Bay and roll through a series of beach towns to camp at the park.
  • Barview Jetty County Park to Lincoln City. This is a longer, tougher day. It's still pretty flat, staying along the coast, but almost 75 miles and there are two climbs up to 800 feet and a couple of earlier bumps around 400 feet. We should be able to grab breakfast in Garibaldi as we circle Tillamook Bay, and then get off 101 at Tillamook to see Cape Meares, Cape Lookout, and Cape Kiwanda. We're back on 101 through Neskowin, then off again for our last climb in Cascade Head. From there, it's mostly downhill to our campsite in Devil's Lake State Park.
  • Lincoln City to Florence. Today is another 75-mile day, but flatter that the last one. Plus, we sleep at a hotel tonight. We're on the coast most of the day, going around Siletz Bay, past Pirate Cove, Depoe Bay, and Whale Cove to Otter Rock. Most of this is on 101 again, but we get off in Newport to loop through Yaquina Bay State Recreation Area. Then we're back on 101 again through Ona Beach State Park and Seal Rock, then through Waldport for a quick stop to look at Wakonda Beach. Then it's back on the bikes to Yachats before passing through the Siuslaw National Forest to Florence, and a sumptuous Comfort Inn.
  • Florence to Bandon. This may be the toughest day of the week. It's 75 miles again, but with more climbing than we've had so far this trip. We cross the Siuslaw River and skirt the edge of state parks until we cross the Umpqua River into Reedsport for a second breakfast. Then it's back along the edge of various state parks to the Coos River, where we hit North Bend. We get off 101 again a bit here to move closer to the coast, and find a couple of climbs. We return to 101 for the last few miles to our campsite in Bullard's Beach State Park, just across the Coquille River from Bandon.
  • Bandon to Gold Beach. The good news is that today is shorter -- only 62 miles. The bad news is that it's really rolling. We'll grab breakfast in Bandon, then get back on 101 and stay more inland until Port Orford. From there, we stay on the coast down to Humbug Mountain, climb Sister's Rock, and get off 101 to do a long climb up Squaw Valley Road. There's a nice-looking descent then to the Rogue River, which we follow to Gold Beach. We camp tonight at an RV Park north of town, just past a Motel 6 (a touch of temptation).
  • Gold Beach to Crescent City, CA. An easy day today, with just 62 miles and a few big bumps early in the route. We stay on 101 south to climb 700 feet in three miles up to Cape Sebastian State Park. We then skirt various state parks with more hills and no towns to Brookings where we cross the Chetco River and leave 101 for a bit. We're back on 101 to the state line, and then mostly off it as we pass through various small inland towns to Crescent City. Here we take a break, staying at a hotel, doing laundry, and availing ourselves of any needed help at the local bike shop, thus getting ready for the last week of the tour.

Kesey grew up in Oregon, and if you read any of his books you can tell that he loved this land. If he had not, he would never have been able to describe the beauty and wildness of it so well. The images of Kesey's prose have been with me for 35 years, since the first time I read Sometimes a Great Notion, and I am ecstatic at the thought that I will finally get to see it.

No ... that's not enough. I could see it from a car. As I've often pointed out, you don't just see a place when you ride a bicycle through it ... particularly when riding a laden touring bicycle through it. No, the second week of my trip I hope to finally get to experience the coast of Oregon.

It's possible -- maybe even likely -- that the reality will not live up to what Kesey brought into my imagination. It's been 50 years since he wrote it, and writers usually have to cherry-pick the highlights. I also must consider the bias that the reader brings, and that I have tainted Kesey's description based on my own meager experiences. Either way, I am looking forward to this week, and then I'm looking forward to reading Sometimes a Great Notion again afterwards, armed with knowledge that should make so much of the book new to me yet again.

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