Day 50 – Melita’s
My phone doesn’t like me.
I have one of those high-tech smart phones that can do just about everything except for make coffee. Or, in the case of my phone, everything except make or receive phone calls.
With a bit of tinkering, I was able to get it functioning—at least partially—by morning, so after an early breakfast at Melita’s Restaurant, I went back to my Melita’s Hotel room and gave the deputies a call.
“For the movie. You said you wanted to be played by Ben Affleck.”
We went over the options for getting my pickup pulled out of the snow. The snowmobile club owned a machine called a snowcat, which they used for maintaining the trails. The snowcat could easily pull me out, except for the fact that it was missing a fuel tank. They could get it fixed, but it might not be that day. He liked my idea of using a logging skidder, and gave me the number for a forest ranger named Tiff. Shawn would talk with Tiff first, and he instructed me to wait a while before giving Tiff a call.
When I did call Tiff—Tiff is a man, by the way—I was told that he was checking with the logging companies to find out where the closest skidder was located. He said that there would be a charge, which I had expected, and that the going rate for skidder rentals was $70 per hour. That included any transport time to and from wherever the skidder was located. I said I was fine with that, but I hoped it would not take more than a couple of hours.
Tiff promised to get back with me if he ever found anything. He did warn that there was a possibility that all of the skidders would already be at work sites for the day, and that they might not be able to pull them off the jobs until the next morning.
I had already decided to cross southern Idaho off my list of places to visit, due to time constraints. Now it looked like I would have to skip Crater Lake, as well, unless a miracle happened and I managed to get back on the road before noon. This was despite being so close to what Shawn had described as “one of the wonders of the world”, and a place everyone should see at some point. But, I had wanted to be in Elko, Nevada, by the next morning. If that was not possible, I hoped to at least get there by the next night. There was an annual event in Elko that I did not want to miss, which made it the one stop on my western trip where I needed to be at a certain place at a certain time. I also had relatives expecting me there, and willing to let me stay with them.
The hotel’s check-out time was late morning. Though I had yet to hear anything back from Tiff, I still hoped to get out of Chiloquin soon and not have to spend another night there. I grabbed my backpack, checked out of the hotel, and went back inside the restaurant.
The waitress was the same one who had served me breakfast. I asked her if I could hang out there for a while, and wait until at least noon to order lunch. She cheerfully obliged, and even brought me some iced tea while I waited.
I set up office in a corner booth, chosen primarily because it also had an electrical outlet under the table. Only one outlet, since the other one was used to plug in the neon “Open” sign in the window. My phone needed charged, so I plugged it in while I ran my laptop on battery, and vice versa.
The “bare essentials” I had packed for the snowmobile ride included my computer, phone, camera, toothbrush, toothpaste, and one change of clothes (along with the 3 or 4 layers I was wearing at the time). That’s it. It had not included my razor or comb, simply because I forgot them. On top of that, I rather needed a haircut, so I was feeling rather scruffy sitting there in a public place. Thank goodness the hotel room had included little shampoo bottles and soap, so at least I was a clean scruffy person.
I sat there in my mobile office and worked on editing photos and trying to keep the faith that I would be able to get out soon. And I waited. After an hour and a half, I ordered lunch, and then after lunch I continued to wait. And wait. And wait.
I probably drank enough iced tea to kill a horse. I didn’t even know that iced tea could kill a horse, but you learn some new made-up fact every day.
At one point, I watched as a man in blue-collar clothes hurriedly walked inside, talked to the waitress, and then walked over to my corner.
“Are you the guy who is stuck?”
“Yeah,” I replied, somewhat hesitantly. Did he have a problem with that?
“Call Bob at the tow company,” the unnamed man replied, and gave me the phone number. “He wants to talk with you.”
I called Bob at Chiloquin Towing. Bob was the owner, and, in contrast to what I had feared, was a very soft-spoken and nice guy. He wanted to make sure I was all right, and he thought he could arrange getting a skidder out there to pull me out. He would make some calls and get back with me.
Before he could, though, my phone rang. It was Joe, one of the snowmobile volunteers from the night before.
“I’ve talked with Tiff,” he said, “and we really would rather not have a skidder on the trails. It would not get stuck, but it would really tear the trails up, and it would take a whole lot of work with the snowcat to get them smooth again. So, we’re going to put the snowcat back together, and use it to pull you out. I know you were quoted $70 an hour for a skidder, so we’ll do it for that price.”
I had no arguments. Finally, a plan! And, he thought they would have me out that afternoon.
“I’ll come by the restaurant to get your keys, and I’ll have a guy with me to drive your vehicle out. And then Tiff will come and pick you up to take you to the beginning of the trail, where we’ll bring your vehicle.”
Relieved, I thanked Joe for his help, and called Bob back with the update. Bob asked that I call him back to let him know how it all turned out.
It was an hour or two later that Joe showed up to get the keys, and a couple of hours after that Tiff came by to pick me up.
It was now almost dark. It had been about 30 hours since I first got stuck, and I had spent about 7 hours sitting in a booth at Melita’s.
As Tiff drove me the 30 or so miles up to the rendezvous point, we talked about his home in Klamath Falls, and Klamath County in general. I asked him about Chiloquin, the town I had yet to officially set foot in.
“Shawn told me that Chiloquin was ‘a rough town’,” I said, “though I imagine he was joking.”
“No, he probably wasn’t joking,” Tiff replied. “Chiloquin is a rough town.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s just filled with some less-than-desirable folks. There is an Indian tribe there that used to own all this land. They sold it all a few decades ago, fair and square, but now they want it back. They are kind of ticked off about it.”
Tiff also explained the seemingly slow speed limits I had seen across Oregon.
“You notice how the signs say ‘speed’, but they don’t use the word ‘limit’? Well, that’s because 55 is not the speed limit. It’s just a...” he searched for the correct word “…a suggestion.”
“A speed suggestion?”
“I didn’t believe it myself, when I moved here a couple of years ago. I was riding with a co-worker, though, and I got on to him for his driving. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘we’re in a marked vehicle. An official government vehicle. Let’s at least drive the speed limit.’ He said no, it’s fine, it’s not really the speed limit. He said I could call the OSP, and they would tell me the same thing.”
“So, one day, I actually did call the OSP. And they said, yeah, it’s not a limit. It’s just a…suggestion, or a good idea to drive that fast. I asked them if they would pull people over for going faster than that, and they said no, unless you were driving quite a bit over, and it wasn’t safe.”
Tiff asked me what had brought me to the area, and I told him I had been trying to get to Crater Lake. “Eh, it’s just a big pond,” he said.
“Really? Shawn spoke pretty highly of it, and said it was ‘one of the wonders of the world’.”
“It’s a big pond. It’s supposed to be a certain number of miles across, and a certain number of feet deep, and have so many airplanes and helicopters sitting on the bottom…but it, well, looks a whole lot like water.”
I suppose there are different ways of looking at things. At least this made me feel a bit better about not getting to see the lake.
We parked at the head of the trail, at the point where I made the decision to drive on the snow. I was able to confirm that, in fact, there were no signs of any kind announcing the end of the road and the start of the snowmobile trail.
After 10 or 15 minutes, some headlights appeared down the trail.
“Must not be the snowcat,” Tiff commented. “It’s going too fast. The snowcat only goes a couple of miles an hour.”
A few minutes later, it reached our position and pulled off the snow. It was my pickup, back out under its own power.
“I’m surprised you were able to make it that far,” the unnamed driver commented. “I had to keep it above 30 to keep from getting stuck again.”
I appreciated the semi-complement. I did not keep track of the speedometer when I was driving it the day before, but I am sure I was easily going faster than 30 mph. What, was I supposed to drive slower?
We waited around for the snowcat to catch up with us. The snowcat was a 4-wheel-drive tractor with caterpillar tracks in place of each wheel, and various blades and rollers attached to the front and back to smooth out the snow and fill in any tracks.
“If you’ve seen the movie National Treasure, you’ve seen one,” said Joe, with almost a hint of pride.
Joe started to add up the billable hours for the job—and included the time spent transporting it, driving up the trail from the south end (the long way), and the time it would take to drive it back down the entire length of the trail, while they bladed and graded the snow the entire way. It added up to a lot more than I had expected, but Joe said they normally bill the snowcat out at $250 per hour—they just matched the price of $70 per hour because they did not want a skidder tearing up the trail.
I didn’t have much choice, and really, it was worth it to me. So, I gave him a check.
I also called up Bob at the towing company, to let him know that I had made it back onto the road. He asked if I had towing insurance, and when I said no, sheepishly said that there is a $100 charge for sending the tow truck out, even if it did not end up giving me a tow. I told him that I understood that, that I had halfway expected it, and that if he would mail a bill to my home address, I would pay him for it.
I can travel pretty cheaply, except when I can’t, which is often. If I could avoid the accidents and the getting stuck and the losing valuable items, I would cut my travel expenses considerably. Maybe Shawn is right, and it will all be worth it when someone makes a movie about it. I hear my part will be played by cousin Matt.
© 2007 by Kevin McConaghy. All rights reserved.