During my 2014 visit to Eugene, I took a day trip in the Tracker up to the McKenzie River area. I was instantly enamored by the gorgeous clear river cascading through the scenic densely wooded forest. I wrote a blog post about the agonizing choice of how to spend my limited time with so many things to do in one location. I wanted to stay longer, but couldn’t due to my need to be near a strong, steady connection for work.
This is truly an outdoor lover’s playground. There is the 26 mile hike and bike McKenzie River Trail that parallels the river, as well as hiking “spurs” leading off in all directions through lava flows, around lakes, and deep into the Sisters Wilderness. So it seems like the perfect retreat to get me over my divine discontent from too much fog, fleece, and fish & chips along the Oregon coast.
Once again, I am headed into a heavily touristed area with no reservations, hoping for either a cancellation or a crack at a first come/first serve space. There are five Forest Service campgrounds that line the McKenzie River, all but one of them requiring reservations according to the Forest Service website. But after a stop at the McKenzie River Ranger Station, I learn that each of these “Reserved” campgrounds also saves back about one third of its sites for first come/first serve. The perfect combination to accommodate the planners and non-planners!
My first choice is Coldwater Cove, overlooking Clear Lake. I ask him what my chances are to find availability, and he says “Well, I usually tell people ‘Arrive on a Tuesday if you want to get a spot. And this is Tuesday, so I would say they are pret-ty GOOD!”
When I arrive at Coldwater Cove, I am met by a very friendly camp host making the rounds in her golf cart. She tells me, “I’ve got three spots left where you might fit. Pull over and park it, and hop in. We’ll go take a look!” After driving around, I have narrowed it down to two spaces, as one is too shady for my solar. I ask her which one she would choose. She responds enthusiastically, “Number 1! Why? KIDS!! Too many kids….ill-behaved kids down at the other end!” SOLD!
Site Number 1 turns out to be about the most idyllic spot I have had in months. Plenty of space. Plenty of sun for the solar. Ten yards from the lake and the McKenzie River Trail. It’s at 3,000 ft elevation so it’s cooler here than most inland campgrounds. No bugs. No noise. No kids. No neighbors. No campfire smoke………
And…NO SIGNAL! (gut check!)
I need to stay put through the weekend. I have an appointment in Eugene on Monday to get my tail lights fixed. I’ll need to use my Valley Center Mall two night maximum on Sunday and Monday nights. I don’t want to be looking for a place to stay on a Saturday night. Can I make it five straight nights with no internet? Well, I said I needed a “retreat.” I’ll just look at it as a “silent retreat!”
So five straight days of silence (okay, so I did drive in 20 miles mid-stay for provisions. Had nothing to do with checking emails!) I spend my five day retreat kayaking the gloriously clear Clear Lake. I hike every day through the woods or alongside waterfalls on the McKenzie River Trail; one day a 13-miler. I have a picnic lunch at the indescribable Blue Pool, a phenomena that occurs where the McKenzie River goes below ground through lava for a stretch, then emerges into a Windex-colored frigid pool before tumbling back into a river. I soak in the hot springs. Paddle across the lake for marionberry pie at the rustic Clear Lake Lodge. And sleep like a dead person.
Come Sunday, my head is as clear as Clear Lake. As I am driving back to Eugene, I think that being without a signal was not such a bad thing. I read. I cooked and cleaned. I wrote. And enjoyed the entire experience. I congratulate myself for breaking my addiction…for finding ways to occupy my mind and entertain myself with no internet. I tell myself maybe it would be good to disconnect like this more often.
And then, like Pavlov’s dog, I hear it. “PING!”