travelog 30

At the back of beyond - Fossil, Oregon

At the entrance of the village a sign magnificently draws the visitors' attraction to the fact that he's at the 45th parallel, right in the middle between the Aquator and the North Pole. The next stoplight is at least 100 miles away. A bumper sticker tells you all: "Hug a Farmer"!

We are in Eastern Oregon, in the land of the "rolling hills", gentle hills that drag on for umpteen miles until the horizon. The few roads lead uphill, downhill, through a little valley, onto the next hill, past a lonely farm, along a small river, again onto the next hill. This goes on and on as far as the eye can see and when you reach the horizon the game starts all over again.

This is virgin territory for us and as long as we can chug comfortably in our heated vehicle through the freezing cold landscape, we're very happy. In the small villages we stop for a hot coffee which costs $1 for two persons. At night we always find a comfortable place a little away from the road where we wake up the next morning in the middle of a frosty landscape. Our heating works very well, that's why we don't care very much about the freezing temperatures. PocoLoco is less happy about the fact that he's still so far away from the warmth of Mexico at this time of the year. At any rate, one morning he surprises us with a lot of air in the clutch. This morning we barely manage to drive seven miles - to Fossil.

Fossil is a small village with a phone boot and two garages. The owner of one garage who drives and repairs his own truck, is currently in Reno to get married. At the "Oldsmobile Chevrolet" opposite the first garage a yellow Corvette is on display in the shop window (we really don't know why they display this kind of vehicle in the land of the mud splattered 4-Wheel-Drive-Pick-Ups). Of course, PocoLoco steals the Corvette the show. Admittedly all the mechanics are very much interested in our vehicle but nobody wants to lend a hand. That's why we stay for one day in Fossil and explore the area on foot in sharp frost.

Fossil, founded 1876, pays tribute to its name. The area is a treasure house for petrified plants and animals. Right behind the football field you can try your luck and dig for some fossils. The best pieces are long gone but nevertheless we discover a little rock with a petrified fern and another rock falls apart lenghtways and unveils a leaf with all its small veins. There is a barred gun shop next to the post office (the deers don't seem to be very impressed by the hunters, we see them wandering through the village at noon), a grocery store which also sells clothes, stationery, household appliances, and Christmas decoration. There is a bank, a library, and some museums. As far as culinary we have the choice between the smoke filled "Shamrock Club" and the "Fossil Café & Hole in the Wall Bar". The latter serves the usual hamburgers and fries. The cook does not recommend the "Shamrock Club" at all - "we cook better" is the advertising slogan. That's why we get stuck in the Café. In the dimly lit and smoky Bar the TV broadcasts the latest news about the presidential election (no, we don't want to bore you with the details!). The coffee machine is adorned with a "Bush/Cheney" sticker - btw., in many front yards flutter little flags for the Republican presidenial team. You can spend the night at a Motel or stay at a Bed & Breakfast dated from 1905. At the sinners disposal are five different churches: First Baptist Church, St. Catherine Catholic Church, Fossil Bible Fellowship, Fossil United Methodist Church and the Kingdom Hall of Jehova's Witnesses.

Soon enough we're the talk of the town. When we sit in the Café we have many people at our table asking about our strange vehicle. From time to time somebody wonders how the hell we got strayed into Fossil. Nobody really believes us that this happened accidentally on our way from Portland (Oregon) to Prescott (Arizona). In their opinion we should have stayed on the fast freeways to reach our destination very quickly instead of trailing along from one little place to another. Our way of traveling is not exactly the American one.

Since we don't trust our clutch too much we park PocoLoco in a wide side street and let the curious inhabitants wash over ourselves very patiently. Partly they stroll around the vehicle but leave us in peace. Partly they roll along at a snail's pace with their clattering diesel pickups and don't give a sh.. that they get on our nerves with the noise they produce. A typical American bad practice.

On Sunday after breakfast the newly wed couple already waits for our appearance at the garage. PocoLoco fits exactly into the garage. That's a little more comfortable because outside we would lose our hands by frostbite. Obviously this guy already worked on his truck but our Unimog with the big Mercedes emblem in the front scares him. Besides he knows that Fossil is at the back of beyond and that we would have to wait endlessly for parts if something went wrong. However, the biggest problem is that he only carries American parts wich of course don't match with the European metric measures. Finally we decide to simply bleed the clutch and to travel on trusting to luck. Of course our man then realizes that he does not have the necessary tool handy in this garage (he has more tools and stuff in another garage - about 60 miles away).

That's why he troubles the mechanic from the neighbouring garage to come over. Never mind it's Sunday! We're in a little place where everybody knows everybody. Ten minutes later we have the desired tool at hand but we realize that the connection never matches with the container for our clutch oil. So there's nothing we can do but to manually bleed the clutch. Martin has to push the clutch three times, he builds up the pressure, holds the pedal pushed while the mechanic quickly opens the screw to bleed the clutch at the housing. In the usual mechanics manner the guy lets the (very aggressive and poisonous) brake oil splash all over the place. Then he confesses that, at this point, there's nothing else he can do for us. After a payment of $50 - and admittedly an unpleasant feeling in the pit of the stomach - we set off.

With the instructions for the fastest way to Bend we go on our way. Since we now know where and how to bleed the clutch we prefer to see more unknown territory and head southeastwards instead of westwards to Bend and into the snow. However, we decide to come back in the distant future - naturally at a different, warmer time of the year - and to take a closer look at this lonely and beautiful landscape.

October 2000

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen