Take the Wrong Way Home

waldoOne of the pure joys in life is getting lost and finding your way back. There are times when it seems you will never find your way.

Gordon dreaded this weekend since the day he put it on his calendar. He and his soon to be ex-wife had signed up to run the the Where’s Waldo 100k relay race. The Waldo 100K Ultramarathon is a challenging 100K loop-type course starting at Willamette Pass Ski Area (70 miles east of Eugene, Oregon) at elevation 5120′, climbing up several mountains including Fuji, The Twins, and Maiden Peak before returning to the ski area. It is an extremely difficult course. They decided to set up camp the night before and it was a beautiful camping site. The stars twinkled with gusto and the fire roared as a gentle breeze picked up from the south. It was idyllic if only he did not have to run the 50k. One plus was that he did not have to spend all that much time with Josephine. They were barely on speaking terms. She would be running her portion of the relay separate from him. He was happy that her cousin Marika, visiting from Germany, would also be there for the weekend. They got along famously. She was a pleasant distraction and always had something pleasant to say. And most of the time it was in English.

The morning of the race was blustery to say the least. The wind whipped over the lake and it was almost cold for the month of August. The starter signaled the start of the race and Josephine was off to start her 50 kilometer portion of the race. He had a good seven hours to hang out with his young kids and get the campsite cleaned up. The time went by slowly. He liked running but hated his life right now despite the ultimate beauty that surrounded him.  He knew he would have to get to the exchange point early as not to miss the passing of the baton. She may run faster than expected and he did not need any drama today.

Waldo Lake glimmered in late summer perfection as he stood at the exchange point waiting for his soon to be his ex-wife’s return from her epic struggle with a cruel mountainous ultra run. Josephine did appear 15 minutes after he expected and it seemed a perfect metaphor for his life with her. He thought to himself that it may be his problem. She simply crossed the exchange point gave him an unemotional high five. Ultra running has its own little nuances however it is mostly based on the honor system.

Josephine flamboyantly announced her finish line entrance and now it was his turn to run 50 km. These were not easy 50 km as he had to summit two major Mountain peaks and found himself running the last few hours alone, under the stars. The dead silence in the night time forest was almost deafening. The miles went by painstakingly slow. He usually ran these races for time however today all he wanted to do was finish. Running on cedar starlit alpine trails has the benefit of giving one ample time to think.  The mind goes on unexpected tangents that serve as a quizzical distraction.  He fell often and simply brushed it off and went on his way. He finished the run with little fanfare at barely a speed above walking. He was dirty, tired and completely alone.

He headed. back to the campsite under a starlit sparkle jet stream.  The warmth of the campfire was reassuring. He kept the camp fire burning brightly. He had just run 31 miles and still felt so alone. His shower for the night was a brisk dip in the glacier fed lake. He was miles from civilization, camping with his soon to be ex-wife and her cousin.

The campfire started to fade and he decided to go to bed. He looked at the flap of the tent and felt a sudden chill. Autumn felt like it was right around the corner.  He squeezed between his children, snug in their sleeping bags. Sleep came easy on this night, as did waking up the following morning.

He was awakened by his his wife’s cousin half screaming and half cackling in part English with a splash of German. Apparently she had locked the only set of car keys in the van which was to take back to Portland that day. They were in the middle of nowhere, however it was a sparkling Sunday morning.

He remembered passing through Oakridge on the way here and by some quirk in the cosmos there would be somebody in town who could break into the van and retrieve the keys. It sounded like a plan albeit, the plan had a few holes in it.  First he needed to make a phone call to AAA for roadside assistance. Yes you guessed it, there was no cell phone service in this neck of the woods. So it looked like he was going to have to take the long way home.

Josephine casually walked over to Gord,  looked him deep in the eyes, and indicated that her friends from a nearby camp site probably would give him a ride into  Oakridge. She said that they met them when he was out running the previous day. She said  she would walk over and see if they would give him a ride to his link back to civilization.

And that is exactly what happened, the Blake family from Wisconsin was more than happy to give him a ride to Oakridge.  Josephine reluctantly stayed at the campsite meekly stating that she would load up the van. Yes, the van that Gord was searching for the one thing that turned it on.

He thought to himself.

“She has the key and she is going to flee without him.”

In retrospect this logic was paranoid perfect for the absurd situation at hand. It was beyond what was possible on this picture perfect paradoxical weekend getaway. The father of the Blake family, gave Gord a ride all the way to Oakridge.  In retrospect the Blakes were really kind people.

Against the run of play, the General Store had a payphone and Gord had a few quarters in his pocket.  Without much fanfare,  he contacted AAA and they said they would send out a tow truck soon.

And there he sat and waited. It was much warmer once out of the mountains. The pace in downtown Oakridge was downright slow. The ice cream store had a few customers. That was the only activity Gord could decipher on this sunny Sunday afternoon. The minutes seemed to go by slowly. He had no watch as his watch lost power almost immediately after crossing the finish line last night.  He couldn’t remember the Blake family leaving, which explains why the Creamery seemed busy.

Gordon was losing faith in the situation. It occurred to him that that he ran thirty plus miles yesterday over two mountain passes.  He did a little quick math in his head. He surmised he had spoken two or three sentences with his soon to be ex-wife.

And out of nowhere appeared a tow-truck driven by a fairly old man. If you are picturing a dusty mountain man of story book lore, you have the set the scene perfectly.

Gord, sat on a beautifully engraved wooden bench, signaled to the fairly old man that yes indeed he was the man who needed to get his keys out his car which was still 35 miles away.

“Gordon right?”

“Yes and you are from Triple A. I am so glad you were available out here in the middle of nowhere.”  Gordon responded with about as much conviction as he could round up today.

And the tow truck driver without visibly reacting to Gord replied,

“I hope you don’t mind I need to make another stop before we rescue the keys from your car. -You said it was a Dodge Caravan.”

Gord’s terse response was something pretty close to this. In a court of law it may or not hold up.

“No I said it was a Dodge Dart.”

The old man smiled and told Gord to hop in. He told him his name was Gus.

They drove through Oakridge and soon hit a bumpy pot hole laden road that led to a well worn light blue house neatly tucked in a clearing. The paint was peeling and the the shutters hung at odd angles around the house. The house had various cars parked in the yard that were in mixed stages of dis-repair.

An overweight man wearing a white t-shirt that was struggling to cover his belly, approached the tow truck.

Gus barked out the window, “Did you crash another truck there Bob?”

“Yes I went over the bank back on the dirt road with all the potholes. I think it is over near Bar B L Ranch Road ”

“Get in Bob, were you drinking last night?”

“Yes Sir” Bob grumbled as he nestled in the front seat next to Gord leaving Gord shoulder to shoulder with Gus.

Luckily Gus had left the window open as Bob still reeked of last night’s bender. Bob was also passing gas giving the the front seat of the tow truck a distinct odor. They drove about four miles and headed down a dirt road with rather large pot-holes. Gus slowed the tow truck to a crawl and the passengers could feel the brunt of road. This did not sit well with big Bob’s already unsettled stomach. Gord’s hamstring ached with each vibration.

Gord tether to reality was wearing thin. He really wanted, actually needed, to get back to his family so they could start the four hour drive home.

Bob recognized the spot where the truck had gone over the bank. The cab of a truck jutting out of the thicket was a pretty decent clue.  The pile of beer cans in the bed of the truck was the clincher.

“Bob you have outdone yourself” , as they walked toward the upended truck. Gus, with the artisan skills of a tow truck driver,  turned around his truck and put a hook to the back bumper of the truck. The beer cans rattled around as  the battered truck slowly lifted from last night’s resting place.

They drove back to Bob’s place in virtual silence with the occasional burp or other manipulation of Bob’s digestive system. Bob appeared oblivious to the rumble and odor. When they got back to his place, Gus asked Bob where he would like to have the truck put down.

Bob said just park it over near those other trucks situated in the corner of the yard. It appeared to the untrained observer, the trucks had met with the same fate as the truck being deposited in the yard. Gord admitted he did not know the local customs and withheld judgement.

“Bob I doubt you will ever learn. tell your Mom I said hello.”  Gus said as he was pulling away.

“You may be right.” Big fat drunken farting Bob replied.

Gus indicated the ride up to the campground would take close to forty minutes.  They mostly rode in silence until Gord asked Gus a question that seemed quite obvious. “Didn’t Bob break a few laws last night? He is going to hurt somebody. I am still confused how he made it home.”

“I have no idea how he made it home. Yeah he broke some laws but they are only broken if you get caught, I have towed Bob out on numerous occasions. He doesn’t even have AAA like you do.”

“Maybe he should.” Gord replied flatly.

On the road back Gord observed there seemed to by many road kill opossums on the side of the road.

He thought to himself, how lucky he was to find a tow truck and even luckier he would drive him all the way back to the campground.   Locking the keys in the the van was unfortunate as well a major inconvenience. In the big picture, if all travel went as planned what interesting stories would we have to tell

Absolutely none.

He felt himself relax as things seemed like they were going to work out fine.

“Hey Gus what is the deal with all the dead opossums along the side of the road.”

Gus sat quiet for a second and seemed to measure his response.

“You know those things are delicious if you cook them. You just boil them. They do smell really bad like you are boiling a carpet.”    He  signaled left and headed back toward the campground.

“Do you know what a boiled carpet smells like?”

“Can’t say that I do.” Gord replied.  “Have you ever unlocked a Dodge Caravan before?”

“Piece of Cake.”

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