Way back in May of 2000 my son and I took a long cross country trip in a rented RV. We camped in some awesome national and state parks and took in a lot of tourist sites along our trek from Austin all the way up to southern Oregon. As in all great vacations there was one moment that stuck most in my memory. It was an awe-inspiring scene, but not in the photo taking sense like Yosemite. In fact, relatively few people have ever seen this sharp blind curve where inches from the edge of a one lane road the mountainside drops away for thousands of feet. There was no guard rail and the worn asphalt actually sunk down toward the drop off. As I eased the 25 foot long RV around the curve, I was convinced we had made a serious mistake in taking this route through the Siskyou National Forest between Galice and Gold Beach, Oregon. It was hard not to vividly imagine what would happen if we couldn’t make that turn. What if I met an oncoming vehicle or something blocked the way in the middle of the curve?
If you have read my novel, Carpet Ride, you will recognize this situation as the opening scene of the murder mystery. All those years ago, this is where I got the initial idea for the plot. It was a real place and inspired real fear. We made it safely down to the coast, but I have always had a clear image of that remote spot in my mind.
A couple of weeks ago I took another RV trip in Oregon, this time with my brother. Older and maybe a bit wiser, we flew to Portland where we rented an RV and a small car for sight-seeing. This was a much better arrangement than having to drive the big gas-guzzling camper everywhere we went. So when I suggested we take a day trip over the wilderness road to the coast, I was actually thinking that the route would seem very different, maybe even a little disappointing. After thirteen years, the road had probably been drastically improved and the steep curves wouldn’t be challenging at all for a small car. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.
As before, we started out on a nice two-lane paved road through the tiny town of Galice. My GPS, which was something I didn’t have back in 2000, reported that we were quickly gaining altitude. By the time we were breathing thinner air at over 5,000 feet above sea level, the road had changed dramatically. Just as I remembered, the route rapidly deteriorated to a one lane, occasionally dirt, road. For me it was like stepping back in time. The only improvement I could see was the existence of a few warning signs along the way. At the highest elevations, the road literally sagged down toward the edge on one side and those drop-offs seemed even more spectacular than I remembered. Or perhaps my view just wasn’t as limited by the tunnel vision I suffered while steering an RV with overheating brakes. According to the GPS the entire white knuckled journey was only 46 miles as it roughly followed the Wild Rogue River through the mountain range. Averaging only 15-20 miles per hour much of the time, it took us well over two hours to reach Gold Beach, a seaside town on the Pacific Coast. I was only able to take a few photos along that beautiful stretch of rocky coast, which actually had been my main goal. The sun was quickly sinking and we had to turn around and do that whole drive again to get back east to our camp. Who knows, maybe traversing it in the dark would have inspired another story. I didn’t choose to find out. Luckily, the July sun sets pretty late in Oregon.
Somewhere along that trek, I guided the car through the exact curve that was seen through the eyes of the main character in Carpet Ride. But there were so many, each scarier than the last. I couldn’t point it out. As we came back down toward civilization, my brother, who just recently read the book, said, “You weren’t exaggerating, were you?” You know, before this return to the actual scene, I sort of thought I had.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.