The Great John Day Adventure - Baker City, Oregon

July 6, 2014 - Sometimes vacation adventures come in entirely unexpected ways.  
Always am I on the lookout for wildlife.  As I began to compose this, a cow moose and
its calf strolled within twenty-five feet of my parked car before wandering off into the
thick undergrowth, leaving me appreciative of the close encounter.  But close encounters
are not always so fortuitous.  I include this account of my encounter with a large mule
deer with my other adventures because the narrative fits well with the rest.

In all my years of driving I have avoided even grazing a deer, skirting around seemingly
hundreds, probably more out of luck than skill.  Once I unavoidably hit a small lamb that
darted in front of me on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, but that merely punched out a
parking light on my yellow hippie van.  Driving across the broad expanse of emptiness in
western Oregon called John Day country, my luck seemingly ran out.  I was completing 
an all-day venture from Moab in Utah and aiming to reach national forest lands in which
to stop and make camp for the evening.  The setting sun was low and in my face, but
I could see fine otherwise with my lowered visor... until I drove into the first shadow
across the road where visibility went to zero instantly. Probably standing on the road
inside the shadow stood a large mule deer waiting for me to explode into her.  

A huge thud was the first indication that I hit something, followed by the deer's head
whipped around over the center of my hood where our eyes met, frozen in an instant
before she was thrown around the right side of the car and gone.  My usual firm grip
of the steering wheel enabled me to drive right through it without changing momentum
or direction.  The collision did not startle me, despite its suddenness.  I maintained
my course quickly back into the sunlight, slowed a bit, and determined that the car
was driving normally except for the changed sound of the air passing through damaged
parts.  I never looked into the mirrors as my immediate concern was maintaining control.

I continued to drive for about a mile until I could safely pull over onto the shoulder to get
out and take inventory of the damage.  The front end, hood, and right quarter panel with
headlamp were destroyed, but the radiator was not punctured.  I cut some of the plastic
liner away from the right fromt tire before continuing another fifteen miles to the national
forest where I readily found a place to park back in the woods to further assess my
situation and rest for the night.

Not the kind of thing you hope to have happen while on vacation three thousand miles 
from home.  Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge of dealing with it.  Using my GPS
I was able to identify a collision repair shop over sixty miles away.  Without cellular
phone service, being so far from civilization, I had no choice but to drive my illegal
vehicle the hour and a half on back roads to reach the shop I chose in Baker City.  That
would be the first step.  That being resolved I kicked back and actually had a good night
of sleep.  What was done was done; it was pointless to worry about the unknowns that 
were ahead of me.

By 0530 I was up and rolling toward Baker City with designs on getting to my destination
before the local gendarmes were done with their donuts and coffee.  Reaching Eagle
Valley Collision and Repair by 0700 without incident, after driving some gorgeous back
country roads, I awaited its proprietor to arrive for business; the owner Mike greeted me
with a remark "looks like you hit a deer".  I trust the universe to lead me to the right
people in my life, and Mike was just that - someone who would appreciate my situation
and take care of me.

After putting my insurance company together with the collision shop my next challenge
was figuring out what to use as a vehicle for the balance of my planned seven-week
vacation.  Using GPS I quickly determined that there wasn't a car rental company within
one hundred miles of Baker City.  Baker City is a fair-sized town on Interstate 84 about
half way between Boise, Idaho, and Pendleton, Oregon, but they didn't have a single
car rental company there.  So I started calling until I found a reasonable rate at an
Enterprise location outside of Boise in Caldwell.  I reserved a car for that day and 
explained I was a hundred plus miles away and would have to pick it up later.  Enterprise
is always advertising that they will pick you up, but generally for no greater a distance 
than ten miles, certainly not for one hundred miles. 

So not having a ride, I drew from my skill set and hiked up over the hill from the collision
shop, crossed I-84, and stuck out my thumb at the end of the ramp by 0900 that same
morning.  I'm sure Mike was skeptical when I said I would be back in a few hours; even
the Enterprise people were fairly surprised when I showed up, but I have always had
faith that the universe will provide with a little bit of trust.

It actually felt good being out on the highway once again, thumb held high in the air.  I
am fairly fearless and was not going to let an incident like this dampen my vacation
plans.  The morning was sunny and the air fresh and I was confident some generous
person would come along and offer me a lift to where I was going.  Both the interstate
and the ramp were extremely slow, with sometimes five minutes passing before a
vehicle would come by.  When you hitch you know 99% of the people are going to go by,
so you don't get your hopes up.  It is always a numbers game, a game of patience and
faith.  So I relaxed and waited for the universe to deliver.

After forty minutes my opportunity arrived in the guise of a nineteen-year old kid named
Jeremy in a old beater Ford pickup truck whose suspension bounced up and down as I sat
down in the passenger seat, after clearing off the garbage that had found a home there.
Most importantly, he was going where I was going, so the accomodations were just fine.
Jeremy was returning from boating up at Lake Chelan in Washington, heading back to
go-for work in Boise where he lived.  Dressed in a colorful moto-cross racing jersey he was
a strikingly good-looking young man, but very light on conversation.  No matter, I can 
always carry the day with small talk so conversation never lagged.

Jeremy picked me up at 0940 and we covered over one hundred miles by 1045.  While the
speed limit in Oregon is mostly 75 mph, Jeremy never dipped under 90 in that old beater.
We had to pass through a tight canyon for about fifteen miles or so along the Snake River,
where the speed limit dropped to 45.  I watched his speedometer hit 110 as he took those
45 mph corners time and time again.  While my seatbelt was fastened, there wasn't a thing
that would have saved either one of us had he rolled that truck.  For a moment I thought
"Great", but quickly reverted to trusting that the universe had put me and this kid together
for a reason and that everything would be all right.  Such wicked driving didn't upset me,
one might be surprised to hear.  I just hung on and kept the conversation mild, though I
did look at him once and amusingly tell him I thought he was a little bit crazy.  I am still
impressed that that old truck held the road around those corners, shimming as much as any
I had ever felt.  I wouldn't have the nerve to do what he did unless I was in my friend 
Marv's Viper, which I would drive a couple weeks later.  The kid had grit.

I thanked him profusely and even tipped him, with a suggestion to be careful out there as
he delivered me to where I was going in Caldwell.  It took awhile for Enterprise to get me a
car, a 2014 VW Beetle - a bit undersized, but it was all they had for me on a busy day, and
it would have to do.  I retraced my wild ride back to Baker City and pulled in by 1400, to
the surprise of Mike, to unload my stuff from my wrecked Toyota, cram it into the VW, and
proceed on my journey and vacation as if nothing eventful had happened.  Everybody had
everyone else's phone numbers; there was nothing more I could do about it.  I bid Mike
adieu and thanked him in advance for taking care of me and told him I would be back when
all was complete.

And so it was.  After picking up Annie at the airport in Seattle and a couple great weeks of
vacation together I saw her off in Denver before returning to Oregon to pick up the car
three weeks and two days later.  But that's not the end of the story.  While the car was
finished in Baker City after $7600 of repairs, I still had to return the rental to Calwell, and
the hundred or so miles between them still stood in my way of continuing the last three 
weeks of my vacation.

I decided to unload the VW back into my brand new shiny repaired Camry first before taking
the VW back to Caldwell.  I was excited to see what a great job Mike had done and anxious
to clear this last hurdle.  After returning the Beetle and getting a ride up to I-84 to hitch,
this time I made sure I was positioned at a busy ramp, with probably twenty cars a minute
on average entering the highway.  More traffic, better odds.  A very hot morning with temps
already in the nineties found me looking into the sun with my thumb in the air.  I had a
half gallon of Gatorade which didn't take me long to gulp down.  In the first hour I had two
offers for short rides, which I turned down to stay at the busier ramp in hopes for a longer
ride.  I also had some road crew workers offer me a bag of lunch, which I thanked them for
but turned down.  My hopes were up, but were beginning to wain after the second hour
passed without a single offer.

I was heading up the ramp to go over to the local truck stop to get more to drink when a
big white Chrysler 300 stopped.  It's eighty-some-year-old driver Dave Duhr said he was 
heading to Baker City.  Thank you, universe.  Thank you, guardian angels.  Faith and 
Patience still work.  My old hippie thumb still works.

Dave was a buffalo rancher up near Hell's Canyon with about 600 acres that he and his son 
took care of.  And he was a fellow Marine, having served in the Korean War about the time 
I was born.  The trip was filled with animated stories and went all too fast.  Dave was
deployed to go into combat and was on a ship when the Armistice was signed.  He was
fond of saying that the Koreans had been reluctant to yield to a peace agreement until
they heard that Dave Duhr was coming... then they signed.  He was a lot of fun and I
kind of hated to say good-bye when he delivered me right to my car at the shop.  We parted
with Semper Fi's, a great handshake, and smiles.  The universe put us together and for that
I am grateful for more than just the ride.