Beaver Fever, Zombies, and a Shortage of Spare Tires
“Hey Katherine! Do you want to go camping with us next weekend?”
I peered across the table at my brother, shooting my him the look that 17 years of little-sisterhood has allowed me to master all too well.
“What do you want from me, Daniel?” I asked. There had been a brief moment of “oh how sweet, he wants to spend time with me!” but years of experience with older brothers had taught me to be suspicious.
My brother proceeded to tell me that he wanted me to go so that his finance would be allowed to come.
“No,” I said in my most flat, dry, little sister voice.
A week later, however, I broke down and called him to see if they were still going and where I should meet him to be picked up. I decided that saying no to an adventure just to get back at Daniel and his ulterior motives was perhaps more childish than what’s respectable for someone my age.
The next morning Red Ronda (my Ford Focus), and I were jammin’ over the mountains, headed 150 miles into the Central Oregon desert to meet up with my brother and the rest of the farm crew for our camping trip to the Steens Mountains.
By the time we had all met up, three of our fellow adventurers had dropped out, too chicken to travel with Daniel. Daniel’s fiancé had something come up with her work, cutting our crew to five. Our friends Bill and Julia, Daniel, and me, and Bill’s dog Willis.
I couldn’t blame Andrew and the others for not trusting my scatterbrained brother. You see, dear Daniel has a long history with adventures — a history of “backroads,” “shortcuts,” and “oh, it’ll be fine”s that often ended in trouble.
“I’m not going,” my brother Andrew said into the phone. “Daniel never plans things out.” I’d called him to try to convince him to come, but he wasn’t having it.
“He’s an idiot,” Andrew said. And that was the end of the discussion.
This trip was going to be different though. Daniel had thought of everything. He had packed blankets, a phone charger, steaks, and even balsamic vinegar to put on the steaks!
The only things he forgot that I could see were, well, pillows and toilet paper, but that’s hardly anything to complain about—we were camping after all.
A few hours and another 200 miles into the wilderness later, we were bouncing up a steep dirt road into the Steens Mountains, air guitars in hand, with the music blasting and the windows rolled down.
When we got to the top, Julia and I jumped out to go look over a ledge. So far everything we had seen was pretty lame to be honest, so we were assuming that the exciting part was still to come. Surely the real view was just over that ledge…
The exciting part was just about to come, alright.
“Julia! Katherine! Get in the pickup now!”
We turned in our tracks, sprinting back to the pickup. Once safely inside I scanned the area around us for cougars, zombies, and anything else that could warrant such an imperative command from the boys.
You see, it turns out that there were a few more things on the list of forgotten items.
Like a spare tire, for example.
Oh, and we would have called AAA if someone hadn’t forgotten his wallet in the doctor’s office that morning.
We coasted down the mountain on three tires and one rim. Julia and I wanted to stay at the top so we could have at least been stranded with a view, but good ol’ Daniel had other plans.
“I want to go fishing,” his head jerked side to side with his declaration. “If I’m going to be stuck somewhere on my weekend off I am going to be stuck where I can go fishing.”
There was no arguing with him. By the time Daniel had found his precious creek for his fishing, I had managed to get ahold of Andrew (who was about four hours away) through the tiny patches of cell service that existed on our way down. After nine broken calls, we had established that he was going to bring us a spare tire and that he was NOT happy about it.
We set up camp on the side of the dusty road. The only view we had was of sagebrush and mangled juniper trees. Great, I thought, I just drove seven hours so I could camp in the same scenery as my back yard at the farm. Pretty.
That was the Andrew voice surfacing in me, but I decided that since he wasn’t there I wasn’t going to let his pessimistic views influence my ability to have a good time. Instead, I tried to see the situation through Daniel’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Daniel was up to his knees in the creek, one pant leg rolled up, grin on his unshaven face, singing both the Christian death metal song “Bring Me to Life” and the cowboy-folk song “The Coyote” at the same time.
My optimism wore thin, however, when we pulled out the steaks and discovered that to the list that read “pillows, toilet paper, wallet, spare tire, and bug spray,” matches could officially be added.
The four of us sat around the grill we had “borrowed” from my uncle, blinking in silence.
Lucky for us, my aunt has a habit of buying only the finest, and the silence was broken by Bill reaching out to flip a little switch that said “self ignite.”
We all laughed as we ate our steaks around the very illegal, but quite satisfying campfire with a shared knife and our fingers, adding “plates & utensils” to our imaginary list.
A couple hours later we were all tucked into our sleeping bags, pointing out the constellations that we did know, and making up ones that we didn’t.
I was just falling asleep as Andrew’s quiet little car came to a screeching halt beside me in the dirt. Three angry boys stepped out of the car, arms crossed. I’m sure there was eye-rolling involved, but it was dark enough that I couldn’t tell for sure.
Lord knows why it took all three of them to bring one little tire, but I took joy in picturing them gossiping all the way there about how stupid we are as they reminisced about other adventures with Daniel gone wrong.
They stayed long enough to plop the tire on the ground, take a leak, and declare that they were NOT staying. With that they peeled out and headed westward, back to the farm. They had “stuff to do.” Stuff like ping-pong and sleeping. You know, the important stuff.
I fell asleep with Willis licking my face under the desert sky, so laden with stars it was hard to tell where each twinkling light ended and the next one began.
After a morning run with Willis I woke Daniel up to tell him that I’d make him breakfast if he changed the tire so we could go watch the sun come up over the top of the mountains.
I added “oil” to the list as I went to make scrambled eggs. Ok, poached eggs maybe? But we also had no water.
Our list was growing by the minute.
The creek had rapids and ran fairly close to its source, so while Bill and Julia were sleeping I tiptoed down to the creek to get water for poaching the eggs. It was going to be boiled anyways right?
Soon enough the tire had been changed and we were picking at our steak and eggs like cavemen. Willis had eaten my homemade bread in the night, so we settled for stale hotdog buns that had been sandwiched in a seat pocket between to Andrew’s bible and Bill’s gun.
I was feeling very American.
I was also feeling like that would be the last time I ever cuddled with that darned dog. No one steals my homemade bread and stays on my good side.
We didn’t make it up to the top quite at sunrise, but it was still early enough that the arms of the sun stretched up over the cliffs and across the valleys, leaving yellow kisses on everything it touched.
After we had made it all the way up the mountain, we came to cliff that revealed a pyramid-shaped crest that had been carved by weather and time to look like ancient Aztec ruins, with sagebrush and wildflowers spurting from every crevice.
So this was what the Steens Mountains fuss was all about.
Up the road a ways we came to a sprawling landscape of lush sage that was red with indian paintbrush and garnished with other gemstone wildflower varieties.
“I’m going to pick my lady some flowers,” Daniel said, bringing the truck to a stop. Bill,of course, jumped on the bandwagon, taking Julia by the hand to go collect a bouquet for her, too. I knew Willis wouldn't be picking me any flowers, and after the bread incident I probably wouldn’t have accepted them anyways, so I scurried from bloom to bloom, taking pictures and delighting in the sunshine on my neck.
We spent the rest of the morning hiking along the 10-thousand-foot-elevation cliffs and soaking in the morning light that left everything coated in glitter.
Of all the places I’ve seen, from the velvet hills of Edinburgh to the magical city of Paris, these mountains left an impression in my heart that will be hard to compete with.
It was so raw, and clean; unmarred from human influence. It was breathtaking.
We headed back down the mountain in time to make it to Burns for lunch. So far, none of us were displaying signs of Beaver Fever, so I guess my creek-water poached eggs hadn’t done too much damage.
When I crawled in my own bed that night, I thought about the adventure that had just unfolded beneath my feet, and I thought about perspectives and how much they can affect your life.
The trip hadn’t been entirely comfortable, and it would have been easy to focus on the ever-growing list of things we didn’t have and things that were going wrong. It would have been easy to have just gone home with Andrew and the boys out of spite when they had left us with the new tire.
Daniel may be scatterbrained at times, but he’s also one of the most fun guys I know. He wasn’t going to let a tire flatten his camping trip or a lack of proper utensils spoil his steak. He took time out of his morning to pick the girl he loves some wild flowers and even sacrificed that last of his water to keep them alive. He may have forgot to bring pillows, but he was the first to point out the Big Dipper hanging in the sky and the bald eagle above us dripping glitter from his belly.
Ten years from now when I see pictures from this trip, I won’t think of the little things that went wrong. I’ll think of my friends and laughter we shared picking wildflowers and eating steak with our fingers. I’ll rememberat the Steens Mountains and the perfect moments drinking sunshine with Daniel.