Coming up with a fresh reason for walking across Oregon

By Jayson Jacoby May 11, 2010 06:24 am

Ted Carlin intends to walk clear across Oregon this month, and I’m jealous.

He also plans to spend a couple nights at the Sky Hook motel in Mitchell.

This guy is really trying to goad me.

Not intentionally, perhaps, seeing as how we’ve not met.

But I don’t care about that.

The Sky Hook is my favorite motel.

At least it’s my favorite motel that I’ve never stayed in.

There is, most obviously, that name.

I’ve driven past the Sky Hook probably half a hundred times, and whenever I see that neon sign I think briefly of Kareem, flicking the ball softly, just high enough to foil Walton or Gilmore or Lanier.


The design is compelling, too, and nostalgic even for me, who was born after the period it epitomizes. The Sky Hook is a classic motor lodge from the pre-interstate era, the sort of place the Griswolds would patronize because it’s a mere five hours’ drive from the third-largest ball of twine in America.

But what really fascinates me is the motel’s location.

It was built on a narrow bench carved out of basalt rimrock, 50 feet or so above Highway 26. The setting reminds me of nothing so much as a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas.

The driveway is so steep that if the Sky Hook had valet parking the valet probably would need a rig with a winch to get through winter.

Probably you could use the driveway for one of those four-wheeler hill climbs they show on triple-digit cable channels, the ones where people are milling about, drinking beer and waiting for somebody to roll his Jeep.

The Sky Hook, suffice it to say, stands a far better chance of starring in a remake of “Psycho” than does, say, your standard Holiday Inn.

Anyway, Carlin, who lives in Terrebonne, put the Sky Hook on the itinerary for his cross-state walk. He planned to leave Newport on May 3, and dip his toe in the Snake River on June 11 (I hope he watches out for snakes). He figures he’ll get to Mitchell on May 22.

Carlin grew up in Oregon but he only recently returned to the state after living in Europe for 25 years. He taught the kids of American military personnel stationed in Germany and Italy.

When I opened the letter he mailed to the newspaper — Carlin offers himself up for an interview, noting that he has friends in Baker City — my initial inclination was to toss it into the wastebasket.

You’ll pardon my cynicism, but after almost two decades in this business I’ve become, well, a trifle fatigued by the annual cavalcade of people who travel vast distances under their own power for some cause.

And they always have a cause.

Good ones, too, like bicycling from the Pacific to the Atlantic to raise money for cancer research.

Such noble intentions notwithstanding, I have over the years struggled to muster much enthusiasm for these sojourners whose stories carry the stale odor of predictability.

Alas, my desire remains unfilled to break the story of the do-gooder who pogo-sticks across the nation to encourage middle-aged men to make an appointment with a proctologist.

Fortunately, Carlin printed one paragraph of his letter in bold font, and that attracted my eye before I could discard the thing.

“Since no one should walk that far (456 miles) without a cause,” he wrote, “my cause is ‘Raising the Speed Limit in Oregon’ on our highways, not freeways. ‘Say No to 55 M.P.H.’ is my slogan.”

Unorthodox, to be sure.

But I like it. Even accounting for the Sky Hook issue, I like it.

Carlin goes on to explain that last spring he got a speeding ticket.

This prompted him to start setting his cruise control at 55 mph — “or just above,” he allows.

The effect of this stubborn adherence to the letter (or rather the number) of the law troubled him.

“I would soon have 4-5 cars stacked up behind me,” Carlin wrote. “The cars would then attempt to pass in dangerous areas becoming much more of a hazard than a fast-moving auto. Also 55 mph sure seems slow when traveling the wide open spaces of Eastern Oregon.”

I don’t know whether Carlin’s assessment of the relative danger of passing on a two-lane compared with exceeding the speed limit to keep pace with traffic is accurate.

I do know you’re more apt to collide with an oncoming car if you’re in the oncoming car’s lane, which is required for passing unless you try to get around on the right shoulder, which presents a whole other set of hazards.

Cliffs and ditches, for instance.

Passing on the right is not exactly healthy either for bicyclists, who tend to tool along in the narrow strip reserved for them to the right of the white fog stripe.

Of course, crashing at 65 mph is proportionately a more violent experience than doing so at 55.

Physics aside, though, I appreciate that Carlin has supplied jaded journalists with a fresh angle for the inevitable low-speed promotional tours that proliferate each summer.

Maybe I can persuade him to procure a pogo stick.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.