THEY HAVE ASSISTED SUICIDE in Oregon and apparently, Wendy, the waitress at the bar and café in Lakeview, Oregon thought it was among her duties to be the assistant. A group of ten state economic development staffers from Salem had preceded me by, perhaps, ten minutes. When I placed my order for a New York steak, medium rare, a wave of laughs and rolled through their number. “You have any idea what you’re in for?” “Good luck, stranger.” “Nice knowin’ ya, pal.” “You from California? Don’t do it! We need your money!”
The steak was preceded by a green salad slathered with bleu cheese and then some homemade soup that I hadn’t counted upon. By the time the entrée arrived, I was registering full. The New York stretched across both ends of a rather large oval-shaped plate and it was nearly buried in slippery, salty, hot deep-fried potatoes and onions. One of the state workers hummed “Taps” and others joined in.
I decided that tomorrow, I’d skip breakfast and take off with only a cup of motel coffee to amp me up and sustain me. I carved into the steak.
THE LAST DAY of an extended road trip is a mixture of excitement and melancholy. To be in Candi’s embrace was the reward at the end of a long trail, but the road’s siren song never really goes away. There is so much to see. So many places. And, as they say, so little time.
The entire trip had been pleasant. The only rain had been on a layover day in Jackson. Riding temperatures ranged from the fifties to the mid-eighties. Today, however, I’d need to craft a route home that would avoid the Sacramento Valley where the thermometer was expected to eclipse 100. Stay to the high country.
California’s route 89 is one of the most beautiful rides anywhere in creation. To the north, it starts at Mount Shasta, one of California’s most singular gems. As it courses along the spine of the Sierra, it passes through pastures, across fly-fishing streams, past Lassen Peak, and through towns rich with lumbering or mining heritage. It winds up on 395 just north of Bridgeport. Outside of the traffic around Lake Tahoe, this route is superlative.
I plotted a course down CA 299 to Bieber, a place I’d always wanted to visit. (The former publisher of Rider Magazine now grows wheat on ninety acres up in those parts and I was curious about the attraction.) Then I choose CA 89 through Lassen Park, down CA 32 along Deer Creek to Chico for a visit with mom, and home from there. But snow – in late June – still closed 89 through the park, so I detoured across the high grass lands of Lassen County on CA 44, took a forest service road through standing pines to Westwood, catching 89 below Lake Almanor.
It was around 12:30 when I rumbled into Greenville. Last night’s steak had run its course and I absolutely needed something light to hold me for the final three hours of the journey. Kathy’s Corner Café is a favorite spot. I parked out front, stretched my crushed backbone and butt-weary muscles and went in looking for some pie and a cup of coffee.
“Got pie?” I asked as I sat at the counter.
“Got cheesecake,” the young woman answered.
“No pie,” she said. “But have a piece of pumpkin cheesecake. It’ll save me eating it at the end of my shift as I always do.”
A geography major and student of topography, I eyed the young woman up and down. Didn’t look to me as if she’d had too many pieces of pumpkin cheesecake in her time, I thought with appreciation, but said, “Okay, and coffee.”
Like ordering a Coca Cola but being asked if a Pepsi is okay, I hadn’t wanted cheesecake. I wanted pie. And while the cheesecake was good, it wasn’t pie and a scoop of ice cream.
I reached atop a rounded glass and chrome pastry unit and fetched a copy of the Indian Valley newspaper. Having lived in the region 15 years prior, I wanted to see if any names I recognized had made the blotter. I was bones-played-out tired from three solid days of riding a thousand miles of high sun roadway. The newsprint did not come into focus. I folded the rag and placed it atop the pastry container, readying myself for the last bite of cheesecake when I looked through the glass and chrome countertop display.
There: inside. Coiled. Lightly tan with reddish-brown edges under a creamy glaze of sweet whiteness, like a high-country snowfield on a distant summit. Big. Round. Eye level to me. I stared through the glass. The cinnamon roll had been fresh within the last hour or two. They didn’t ship them in from anywhere because anywhere was just too far away from Greenville. Sometime, during this period of reverie, my cup was refilled. I don’t think I blinked. I don’t think I thought. I just knew that the perfect cinnamon roll rested within inches – INCHES – of my waiting fork, and I’d just polished off a chunk of pumpkin cheesecake that now sat in my belly like a barrowful of wet, heavy concrete.
You okay, sir?” The pretty girl asked and I flushed.
“Yeah. Yeah. Check please.”
I RODE HOME through the Feather River Canyon. A great finale even though temperatures near Oroville and down the Sacramento Valley rose to over 100 degrees. But the familiar route gave me time to contemplate the great contrasts of the west. Beautiful mountains. Vast prairies. Mysterious and inviting roads coursing through canyons, over passes and across plains. Captivating history, geology, flora and fauna. Small towns that harkened back to times far less complex than present. Times before cell phone towers and internet access. And the people, both happy and challenged – wide with diversity – the people I met along the way.
I arrived home only one perfect cinnamon roll from complete satisfaction. But now, at least, I knew where to find it.
One cannot indulge in breakfast pastries after 10:00 AM and not be thought a glutton any more than one can have whiskey prior to 4:00 and not be thought a lush.