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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Midnight at the Oasis

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/22/2024
Occurred: 2/6/2003
Page Views: 2236
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
Sometimes you see weird things after sending your camel to bed.

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Some people might dismiss this as a spooky, campfire story.

My load was taking me to Salem, Oregon, from California; naturally, I wanted to go by way of Oregon State Road 58 and to soak at McCredie Hot Springs on the way. But would the road be clear? I didn't want to be stuck in the snow or ice and it was February, after all. I could imagine skidding as I tried to climb an ice-covered grade, and sliding right off the road into a ditch or, worse, off a cliff. I tried checking with without success; I checked with other weather sites as well, but none of them gave detailed information on scenic byways. Finally I thought to call my friend Tim Anderson. I knew he'd traveled that route many times before.

There's no snow there, he assured me. It's been too warm. Go for it!

I was still a little apprehensive. But, as I keep telling others, life is about facing our fears. And so I did. That meant leaving I-5 at Weed, California; heading north on US 97 to Chemult, and finally cutting west on Oregon 58. In good weather, this combination of roads is actually easier driving than I-5, and even prettier (though the Interstate route, passing west of Mt. Shasta, is also spectacular). US 97 passes the less familiar north face of Mt. Shasta, and then alongside exquisite Diamond Peak; on Oregon 58 you've got more views of Diamond Peak and even a small ski lodge. The lodge, however, was not doing turn-away business; Tim was right. There was no snow on the road and not much on the slopes.

I pulled into the parking area at McCredie Springs about 8 PM. I had the place to myself, as I suspected I might on a winter weekday's evening. After closing out the day's logbook entries, I slipped into a bathing suit and light jacket, grabbed a towel, and entered the night. Anyone watching might have thought I was crazy, as the temperature had dropped below 30°F. But I was still warm from riding in the truck, and I knew I'd be even warmer in the hot springs.

The moon, just a day or so past new, was a sliver hovering in the western sky, casting eerie shards of light through the pine trees on the far side of the rushing stream on whose banks the springs erupt. The stars, as always, were uncannily bright in the clear, crisp air of the higher elevations, the fainter stars so bright as to wash out the usual constellations. Still, I could make out Orion, the Pleiades, and Cassiopeia, three of my favorites.

Why would a person have favorite constellations? I have no idea, but I have loved these three since I was ten years old. Then, I had no idea that they were constellations, much less than that the groupings had names. But they stood out for me in the sky each fall and winter night, and they became comforting and familiar, especially as we moved from town to town and state to state; yet there they were in the night sky, waiting patiently for me, no matter where I went.

After taking the short trail to the water's edge, I slipped out of my bathing suit (worn only for modesty on the off-chance that someone showed up) and jacket and lowered myself into the bath-warm water. The contrast from sub-freezing night air to hot water was exquisite. I rested my head against a comfortably-shaped rock and allowed myself to float in the water, just enough of me submerged to keep me warm; just enough of me exposed to keep me from getting too warm. I lay there, listening to the rush of the stream and the wind blowing through the pines on the bluff and gazing at the stars glistening and whirling, slowly, above.

There was only now. I wasn't thinking about the cares of the day or the month, neither past nor future. I felt myself begin to ascend into a higher state of consciousness, such as happens in meditation. In that state, things merge into a Oneness. Self and non-self seem irrelevant.

I was very still for a long time that seemed instantaneous. The water's surface became still. The stars reflected in it, almost as brilliantly as they shown above, as if I were floating in a sea of stars.

I was roused slightly when the water began to ripple, as if someone were entering or leaving the spring. I thought someone had come to join me; but when I looked, I saw, through the steam that gathered in wisps and tendrils over the hot springs in the cold air, a figure rising from the water. It rose with almost unnatural fluidity, stepping to the edge of the pool opposite me and out, water dripping from its body and splashing back into the pool. I was surprised; it was hard to imagine that someone had entered the water without my knowledge. But what happened next was even more surprising. The figure stood on a rock at the edge of the pool and turned, so that I could see by the light of the stars that it was a man: slim, nude. He looked in my direction, his dark eyes seeming to lock with mine…and then he evaporated.

Disappeared. Vanished, as if he'd been made of steam. I stared at the darkness where he'd been. It was as empty as a politician's promise.

Who had I seen? What had I seen? The ghost of some Indian who'd died there centuries before? A manly wood sprite? A UFO alien come to enjoy the hot springs? I have seen enough high strangeness in my life to not question that I had seen something. I knew it was not a dream or a freak formation of the steam. It had been real, solid—for a moment. So it didn't bother me that I had seen the apparition—just that I couldn't identify it.

Friday, February 7, 2003

I delivered my load in Salem, and was sent south to Eugene to pick up another. That was annoying. I was supposed to go to Portland to get the Eric Idle's starter replaced; but apparently, Trip Planning had something else in mind for me.

It was hardwood lumber. While my truck was being loaded, I strolled over to another Schneider driver in his cabover, parked in the yard. How's it going? I asked in a friendly tone.

Okay, he answered. I'm a little apprehensive.

Oh? About what?

I've only been driving for a week, he said. I've only been over the mountains once, and not with anything near this heavy. I'm sure I can do it, he added, doubtfully.

Of course you can, I assured him. Where do you have to go?

Chula Vista, he replied, naming the town on the Mexican border, just south of San Diego.

Really? That's where I'm going! I exclaimed. Have you considered taking Oregon 58 and US 97? I just came that way, it's clear and there're fewer grades to navigate. It's also a mile and a half shorter than taking I-5.

Show me, he requested, grabbing his copy of the Rand McNally Road Atlas. I did, and he jotted down notes. Say, he said, as if the thought had just occurred to him, if you're going that way—why don't I just follow you? That way, if I have a serious problem…

If he had a serious problem, all I could do would be to call 911. But I said, I don't mind—but I will be stopping by the hot springs on the way. I don't want to miss any chance there I can get.

So he waited with me for the loading of my truck to complete, and we chatted about truck driving and the beauty of the Northwest. He was from the Midwest, working out of the Des Moines operating center that had so recently screwed up my truck when they performed a planned maintenance on it. He was in an ancient cabover, a tractor whose cab is located over the engine instead of just behind it. Not only was it in dreadful mechanical condition, but the driver's seat listed to the right, resulting in physical pain after a few hours' driving. Sounds like you need the hot springs, I observed.

When the loading was complete and I had sent in my Qualcomm message to that effect, I pulled out of the lot and my new friend, whose name I still didn't know, followed me. It was my first convoy. We got back on I-5, first making a run north to get our loads weighed. I was a little heavy on my tandems and slid them one hole forward to make them legal. He was all right the way he was, but we were both close to our maximum legal weight and knew that running uphill was going to be a challenge.

Companies like Schneider, who pay for fuel and pay the drivers by the mile (rather than by the hour) do not benefit from buying trucks with powerful engines that can make uphill grades quickly. Rather, they purchase tractors that will optimize fuel consumption even though that means scrimping on horsepower. And that means that, under heavy load, we creep up the hillsides at 35 mph or less while the independent owner-operators who've bought more powerful machines roll past us as if we were standing still. In my new friend's case, his cabover was weaker than the Eric Idle, even chugging up the entrance ramp to I-5 so slowly that I was forced to leave him behind. He caught up soon enough on the level highway, though; and soon we turned off onto Oregon state road 58, a scenic two-lane highway that runs past lakes, emerald green fields and pastures, and picturesque farmhouses, before it begins to climb into the mountains.

My friend and I had set our CBs to channel 39 so we could chat without interfering with the traffic from other trucks. I found out his name was Bill and told him mine. I pointed out the sights, fearing he would miss them in his newbie's panic of first time on a two-lane highway.

What was that big white mountain I passed on the way north? he asked.

That was Mount Shasta, I chuckled. It wasn't that long ago I, myself, had seen it for the first time. Now it seemed like an old friend. We'll get an even more spectacular view of it tomorrow, from US 97.

It was still light when we arrived at the parking area adjacent to the hot springs. Bill did a decent job of backing, to park alongside Eric as if we were in a truck stop. It being Friday night, I expected a few more visitors than had been there the night before; but as yet no one else had arrived.

I closed out my log book, then slipped into my walking-to-the-springs garb of bathing suit and jacket and stepped out of my truck. Bill looked at me and gasped. You're really going through with it? he asked.

Soaking in the hot springs? Of course! That's why we stopped here!

But it's so cold! He was wearing a sweater under his parka and over his sweatshirt.

It's not cold in the water, I said. More like a warm bath.

But you'll freeze on the way back!

Nope; you soak until you're warm enough that the idea of cool air for a few minutes sounds appealing.

Bill just shook his head as if he were trying to reason with a lunatic. I continued down the short trail to the pools. A few visitors did show up and soaked for an hour or so before leaving. There are any number of Day Use Only signs which I ignore, but I suppose most people take seriously.

When I returned to the truck for dinner, I found that another truck had joined ours at the parking area. I ate the smoked turkey sandwich I had purchased at the truck stop where I weighed my load, and decided a little more soaking was in order before bed. It was dark, now, and I took my flashlight. In some places the trail was steep and more than a little muddy, so taking the light seemed a prudent thing to do.

Again, I had the place to myself and sank into that comfortable, meditative state that seems easier to achieve each time one tries. Shortly, though, my attention was drawn to a man walking the trail above the pools. He didn't have a flashlight and was walking in the dark, his jeans and pullover barely visible in the shadows. I thought he might be a hiker, though his being a ranger was a possibility. I knew from previous visits that rangers do check to make sure no one is causing problems in the hot springs. I'd been told they didn't really mind people being there at night as long as they weren't drinking or getting rowdy.

The man stopped by the pool I was in and looked over the water, but didn't seem to see me, even though I was in plain view. The moon had not yet set and my body glowed in the shallow water, outlined by the dark mud beneath me. In a moment, the man resumed walking and continued up the trail towards the parking lot.

Finally, I was ready to crawl into my bunk. I left the water, toweled off, and slipped back into my bathing suit and jacket for the return walk. I was deliciously warm and the cool air against my skin felt terrific. I strolled back to the parking area, inhaling deeply of the brisk, pine-scented air. When I got there, the door of the third truck opened and its driver hopped out and approached me.

Good evening, I said, aiming my flashlight at the ground so it wouldn't blind him.

Howdy, he responded. You sure were taking a chance.


State troopers enforce that 'day use only' crap. They hide over there, he added, pointing at the entrance to a side road on the other side of the highway.

Troopers? Rangers watch the place, I know. It shouldn't be in state troopers' jurisdiction, I wouldn't think.

The driver shook his head. Don't know, but they go down and bust people there. Busted me, once. Luckily there was a nekkid lady there, too. They didn't pay much attention to me, kept their flashlights on her while she dressed. Embarrassed the hell outta her. I got the hell in my truck and stayed there. Don't go down there at night no more.

Too bad, I said. You can't see the stars in the daytime.

I told your drivin' buddy, there, about it, the man continued. He almost went down to warn you. But I guess he was scared he might get busted if he did. So he said you were a big boy and could watch out for yourself.

Someone was down there, I said. But it wasn't Bill. I thought it might be a ranger or a hiker.

Oh, that was me, the driver explained. I was gonna warn you myself, but when I couldn't find you, I left.

What do you mean, couldn't find me? You were looking right at me!

I was? he said, puzzled. I didn't see you.

How could you not see me? Pale skin against mud in the moonlight—I should have been hard to miss.

He shrugged. Didn't see you. But you're back now, and I tol' you 'bout them troopers. Stay away from the springs at night. 'Specially on weekends. He grunted and added, I got me a six-pack in Oakridge. Gonna down that and then hit the sack. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, February 8, 2003

But I didn't stay away. By 3 in the morning the temperature had dropped so that I awoke shivering in the truck. I started the engine but knew from experience that it would be nearly an hour before the cab warmed enough to be comfortable. It occurred to me that I could get warm now by simply jumping back into the hot pool. I did so, shivering as I ran down the increasingly-familiar trail.

The water was wonderful, warming me immediately. I rolled in it, letting the warmth soothe my gooseflesh. And then I tried to put together the odd events of the previous days. The figure I had seen that vanished, and the fact that the police-fearing driver couldn't see me at all when I was right in front of him. These two events somehow seemed related to me. Seeing someone who shouldn't be visible, and not seeing someone who should.

In his book The Search For Shambala: The Eleventh Insight, James Redfield proposes that when a person meditates, his or her quantum frequency rises. If it rises high enough, he speculates, then the meditator might be able to perceive angels or other high-frequency, spiritual beings. At the same time, he or she might become invisible to those whose frequencies are at the usual run of earth-level, fear-based values. Is that what happened to me when I meditated in the hot springs? Had the figure I had seen that first night been an angel? Maybe even my angel, if individuals actually have such a being assigned to them?

And had I thus left the range of perception available to the frightened driver, whose fears so filled him he required a six-pack of beer just to put them aside long enough to go to sleep?

In the morning, I got Bill's side of the story. The driver had, indeed, warned him of state troopers. However, when he told the story to Bill, it was another man who'd been in the springs with the "nekkid" woman. Apparently he had decided to enhance the drama of the story before repeating it to me—that's how important it was to the driver that I take seriously his warning to avoid the springs at night.

Some people take their fears very seriously, and feel threatened when someone else demonstrates that they are unfounded.

We continued along Oregon 58, and then US 97. Bill was blown away by the northern vantage of Mt. Shasta, as I'd known he'd be. We have nothing like this in Iowa, he kept exclaiming over the CB. SNI drivers whose home operating centers are located in the East and Midwest do not specialize in a region; they get to drive the whole country. So I knew Bill would have plenty more opportunity to see the volcanoes of Oregon.

Bill followed me all the way to Chula Vista, and even up to the Fontana operating center, where I encouraged him to seek repairs to his tractor—especially his seat. Ralph, the afternoon guy at the fuel desk, agreed. I hope this means Bill's ride will be a little easier in the future.

There's a lot more for him to see in his new career as truck driver, if he can overcome his fears.