Alvin, Butte Falls

[ Day 14 – June 26, 2012 ]

It was a cold, wet morning in the hills of Jackson County. My ten-mile descent from Little Butte Creek was both literally and figuratively chilling; it didn’t spoil the ride, but it proved that I had not prepared for such weather. I put on all the layers I’d brought with me, and still the damp air and easy downhill riding slowly robbed me of my body heat. I stopped more than once to warm my extremities, sticking my hands under my armpits and then sticking my toes—shoes off—between my hands. This looked ridiculous and I was grateful for the privacy of roads less traveled.

I hit the bottom of Fish Lake Road at its junction with Butte Falls Highway. My route followed the latter, heading north towards Crater Lake. Fish Lake Road continued another mile west into the small town of Butte Falls. It would be another twenty miles before the route passed through a town; the one-mile detour into Butte Falls was a no-brainer.

For whatever reason, the Butte Falls Cafe had an obvious, natural feeling to it—of course it was there, of course I would find it in my moment of need. I walked in and immediately found comfort in the warmth of no-frills American dining, the kind of reassuring environment that restaurant chains spend millions of dollars to emulate, often without success. The walls were lined with old photographs and ephemera, an honest tribute to time and place. A counter separated the dining area from a modest kitchen, where an attractive brunette in her mid-twenties ran the entire show, playing waitress, cook, and cashier. A few older men sat on either side of the dining area; all three looked comfortable and at home, as if I might find them stationed at the exact same seats any other day of the week.

I took a seat at an empty table in the corner, hoping not to claim the post of another regular. The waitress handed me a hot cup of coffee almost before I could ask for one, and I had my entire order in about the time it takes to get on the waiting list at a crowded breakfast spot back home. I polished off my second breakfast in short order and idly nursed my coffee, in no particular rush to go back outside.

Image Credit: Mark H. Anbinder (Flickr)

Image Credit: Mark H. Anbinder (Flickr)

The man nearest to me was hunched over a coffee and a newspaper. He looked up and nodded my way.

“Cold out there today,” he said dryly.
“Sure is,” I nodded, cupping my mug with both hands.
“Where you riding from?”
“I spent the night up by Fish Lake. I’m doing a month-long loop through northern California and southern Oregon. I’m glad I came into town, though. You live around here?”
“Just outside of town. Been here since ’58.”
“No kidding?”
“Lived all over California and Oregon when I was kid. My folks came up here for work, didn’t have any trouble getting us kids into school, and we just settled in. The town spoke our language, which helped.”
“The language?”
“Well, we were poor, but so were all the other families, so it didn’t really matter. Boys went hunting after school each day and that suited me just fine.”
“I’ll bet. You retired?”
“Sure am. I was a logger by trade. What’s your story? Most people can’t take a month off to ride a bicycle. You rich or something?”
“Not rich, just lucky. I’m a teacher, so I get the summers off.”

I’d told this lie a time or two before, without compunction. The truth—that I’d left a job in strategy consulting and planned to coast off of savings through the final months of my twenties—was far less accessible for any number of reasons. I was enjoying the conversation; I gave an answer that wouldn’t get in the way.

“Sounds pretty lucky, alright”
“Yeah. I’m young. I’m single. I figure I might as well do this sort of thing while I can.”

The man nodded in thoughtful agreement, then said something that I will never forget:

“A trip is something no one can ever take away from you.”

I introduced myself and Alvin did the same in return. We chatted until I was ready to get back on the road; I bid him and the other diners farewell and returned to my bike. Buoyed by warm coffee and good conversation, I rode all the way up to Mazama Village, just below the rim of Crater Lake.

[ Daily Miles: 73 ] [ Total Miles: 749 ]

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