“So where ya guys headed,” I said making eye contact with Grace casually while Tim gave me the evil eye.
She smiled with her long brown curly hair draped over her flannel and in a chipper tone said, “I dunno…Tim knows of these hot springs…what’s it called babe?”
“Umpqua Hot Springs…been comin’ here for many years since I got ta hitchin’…locals told me about it…it’s a ways past Crater Lake, but we can drop ya off there if ya want?”
“hmmm….uh….nah man….ya know….if it’s cool with you guys….I’m down to check out the hot springs…I don’t start work for another 12 days…no rush in gettin’ there.”
“Aight then…guess I get to show another person then…It was gonna be just me n Grace,” groaned Tim in slight annoyance.
I felt a bit awkward inviting myself to the hot springs. I did not want Tim to get the wrong idea. He seemed a bit overprotective of Grace in the presence of another man. So I tried to ease the tension.
“Nice boots ya got there…what kind are they” I nodded approvingly?
“They’re off a dead man,” proclaimed Tim with a bitter voice.
I paused, completely speechless, reaching for words. My mouth opened, but only faint inaudible noises released and after a few moments of silence I only mustered up the words, “I’m sorry…”
He shrugged, unfazed by my comment or the man’s death, I was not sure. I just sat there, slightly slumped over, staring at the trippy patterns on the rug adorning Grace’s van. Tim broke the silence in the air mumbling a string of words together.
“Huh,” I said trying to articulate his whispers.
“Ahh…nothin’ really…he had it comin’ anyways…man drank imself ta death…it’s a whole nother story…I’ll tell ya later Grace,” stuttered Tim.
I kept my mouth zipped afraid of upsetting Tim any further. He held back a lump of pain wedged in his throat as he slouched with squinty eyes watching the landscape roll by drifting to distant memories of his past.
I left him alone to wander around in his own thoughts for a bit and scrutinized the van. I noticed a 5-gallon gas jug bungeed to the frame.
“You guys rubber trampin’? Noticed the jug…guessin’ yer gas juggin’?”
Grace cut in overzealously before Tim even opened his mouth. He still moped, in a daze, glaring out the windshield.
“Yep…I am anyway…comin’ from Florida…started travelin’ four months ago…and Tim here…well I picked him up two days ago…we met in Missoula.”
“Yeah man…made preeeetty good time hitchin’ up there from La-e-z-anna,” smiled Tim proudly tipping his cap with his eyes glued to Grace.
“Right babe…came up ta see you,” he boasted puffing his chest out.
Her lips puckered at first holding back her feelings, but the corners of her mouth curled, showing her pearly white teeth. They both smiled ecstatically under the spell of love, interlocking hands as we cruised past Crater Lake.
I watched as his toughness succumbed to beauty as he tenderly rubbed her thigh with his hand. He finally relaxed for the first time since I entered the van. I saw beneath the face tats, prickly beard and macho persona depicted on his round face. Deep down his lost soul blew with the wind in search of love while running from heartache. I liked him. He reminded me very much of myself, a loner, but an intellect, an eccentric friend, whom I’d soon forget, rambling on down the road.
My eyes wandered about the van eyeing every little intricacy. Surprisingly, for a female van owner, her living space maintained a simplicity, a minimalist abode with the bare minimum, the necessities. To my left, stood a small wooden book shelf with little knicknacks. In front of the shelf I saw a plastic tub of canned foods, pastas among kitchen utensils, such as, pans, spatulas, forks, spoons and propane canisters. She embellished her mattress with a set of hippie tapestries embracing the culture of the rubber tramps I met along the 101, gas jugging their way to Oroville. The bed sat on a home-made loft with just enough room for plastic tubs to fit underneath. Each tub stored an array of clothing and other miscellaneous items optimizing space. But, from the average outsider looking in, it looked like an ordinary white work van, perfectly disguised, incognito to Big Brother. She executed the construction quite well for a 20-year old greenhorn, new to the open road.
My butt bounced on the bed as she cut the wheel turning into Tokeetee National Forest.
“Wer here,” yelled Tim with a bit more pep in his voice.
“That there is the Umpqua River wer passin’, itsa mighty low for this time-a year…babe keep yer eyes on the road…itsa bit bumpy round them turns and theresa loose gravel…slow n steady…will all get there,” said Tim with concern in his voice.
I refrained from chuckling. He sounded like me verbatim when my wife drives the car around and I’m a passenger, without the southern draw of course.
We meandered down the windy roads. Pebbles shot out from under the wheels in every direction like a pinball machine. Through the rear windows clouds of dust festered along the road. Through the windshield drooped a dreary haze of forest smouldering in the distance, leaving the essence of burnt oak and pine needles in our nostrils.
“93 people…90 fuckin’ 3 man…this place gonna be packed…fuck…I knew once they put that sign up last time I was round these parts more people’d come…but daym…93,” roared Tim in an outrage.
“Who told ya that,” I said with a perplexed look on my brow?
“The dude back at that road closure…said there’s 93 people in the Tokeetee National Forest…place is gonna be packed…fuck…,” cried Tim in a disgruntled tone.
“Well let’s cheg it out anyways,” I said.
“Uhhhhh…guys…fork? Which way do I go?”
“Right and slow er down babe…people cruise round them turns…” squawked Tim.
It felt like an eternity as I bobbed back-and-forth on the bumpy gravel roads, trying to keep from whacking my head on the side window, but we finally made it.
“Six miles down the road my ass…this was like-a 40 mile drive past Crater Lake…oh well…I got time to kill,” I thought to myself.
“Daym…there’s no one here at all…like less than usual,” bellowed Tim with glee.
“Maybe they’re all at the campground…ya know evacuees from the wildfires,” I exclaimed?
“Who knows,” they said.
We hopped out of Grace’s van, roaming over the pedestrian bridge, following the hiking trail to the hot springs. The Umpqua River roared below, its rapids thrashing and sloshing around. I watched the white water bamboozle the rocks on the surface, making them smooth, slippery and rounded. Beneath it cascaded; a frigid dark blue serpent, like a winter morning’s breath, rushing violently.
“Yer jumpin’ in that Tim,” I said stupefied.
“Well not there, but yeah…theresa spot with a cave at the bottom of the hot springs…I like ta jump right in butt-nekked and then get in the springs,” he said seriously.
“Hahaha,” Grace and I giggled glaring at him. He was a mad-man.
Not just the polar bear plunge stunt, but the whole time we hiked the narrow slopes of dirt trail he dashed about like a maniac. He darted up rotten logs and back down them. He tiptoed far out on the trunks of fallen trees. He juked, jived, bounced, skipped, scrambled, and spun like a free-running “Dirty Kid” ninja.
We reached the top and it reminded me of McCandless’ experience at “Oh My God Hot Springs” from the story, “Into the Wild.” A group of hippies and stoners mellowed out in the steamy water. Plumes of marijuana smoke exhumed from their mouths as people of all ages and race passed blunts, joints and pipes. They looked the part of your typical dead-head Oregon kids, dreaded out, glazed eyes, the whole yoooo-dooood vibe like a modernized version of, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Some tucked their man buns up for a more sophisticated look, but overall it screamed, “LIBERAL” and no one cared about anything, but that serene moment of relaxation, soaking their bones in the springs.
Tim, of all people, shortly became that person who took it to the next level.
“Well guess I gotta be that person guys…sorry ta do this to y’all,” smirked Tim. Then he dropped his pants and off came his boxers.
I turned away as I stood inches from his penis while he stretched his arms, legs and pumped his chest.
“Dude…what are you doin’…hahahaha,” I chuckled.
“I told y’all I was jumpin’ in down there then comin’ back up here…pretty sure I mentioned the nekked part…I wasn’t kiddin’…ya should know me by now Brian.
“We just met,” I thought.
Suddenly one naked man with a penis jumbling around slowly escalated into multiple penises joining the parade as if to declare eptitude. Me? No, I did not get naked. I don’t think my wife would have appreciated that. I only do that when I’m drunk around great buddies of mine or on other ocassions involving my wife, but we won’t get into that.
The domino effect crossed the gender barrier and shortly tops to bras and bikinis came off with erect nipples of all kinds. I tried exuberantly hard not to look, as hard as a straight man can, anyway.
Grace, the first of the ladies to untie her top looked awkwardly tall like an hourglass stringbean, flat-chested with mosquito-bite nipples. Then I accidentally witnessed the old, saggy tits from an elderly woman, flapping loosely down to her belly button, yuck. A young tanned woman around my age slipped off her bikini and she won the supermodel award. I watched as all the guy’s tried their hardest not to stalk her voluptuous tatas. After all, can you imagine the embarrassment of concealing a boner without sweatpants on, let alone any pants?
The atmosphere felt like a replica of “Oh My God Hot Springs” if I ever knew one. Here I basked in a turquoise pool of warming sensation and around me casually lurked the genitalia of far too many strangers for my liking.
The hottest spring started at the top and as they trickled down, descending the side of the mountain, each tier of springs became slightly cooler.
Tim pranced up the slope, nude and barefoot, after his cannonball antics into the near-freezing river. Without even the slightest shiver he smoothly slid right into the first spring, the hottest. I tried dipping in just my leg and it nearly singed all my hairs off, shooting sharp pain through my body like molten lava.
“Dude…yer somethin’ else…,” I chuckled shaking my head in amazement.
“How on Earth are you not melting in there…it must be over 120 degrees…,” I roared.
“I dunno…it’s not that hot when ya get in the cold first…it’s science…,” he said nonchalantly.
In the midst of skunky weed, canines roaming freely about, jiggling tits and floundering dicks, I wondered what shenanigans the night offered? I hoped they involved fully clothed strangers, amass of cooked food and an endless quantity of booze.