I ditched the map after breakfast, and the voices broke their silence. I had learned their personalities and their voice streams, so they don’t sound like a garbled studio mix. We had two more hours of driving time ahead of us, and it wasn’t long before my mind reflected on the life I had left in Portland.
There’s no question that the intervention by a Good Samaritan, who had found me slouched against a dumpster in a darkened alley with a needle stuck in my left arm, pulled me from the depths of despair that would have ended in tragedy. In one short year, I had made the transition from principle research analyst to a homeless junkie. I had spent the next two years in a private rehabilitation facility, where I healed physically, mentally and spiritually. I never met my generous benefactor at rehab but knew someday our paths would cross.
There was a job offer waiting for me after rehab, as a research analyst in a think tank. My benefactor had remained anonymous, and ten years later, I had internalized that my destiny remained incomplete, and that’s when the voices revealed themselves to me, inside my head.
I’m now moving to a new life in Augustus Oregon, a life emboldened with opportunities to acquire knowledge and discover enlightenment beyond my comfort zone. A blanket of warmth and security enveloped me as the voices empathized with my quiet ruminations.
My reverie was interrupted by familiar road signage that read, “Augustus Oregon—10 miles.” I’ve passed through Augustus Oregon hundreds of times during road trips to the Oregon coast, but the familiar voices guided me to leave the highway at the next road junction on the right. Given the posted speed limit of 55 mph, it’s par for a driver not to notice the sketchy turnoff that looks like an entrance to an old forestry and maintenance road. The absence of a proper off-ramp forces the driver to slow down to a crawl to merge into a turnoff lane that’s too short.
Set back by a hundred yards from the maintenance road, between October and April, it’s unexceptional to notice two skip loaders, a snow plow, and a sanding truck positioned next to a one-story mound of engineered sand. We drove past the equipment and sand pile stationed to our right and followed the rough gravel road for another half mile, which then terminated before a military-grade security gate that spanned the width of the entrance. A large sign to the right of the gate read,
“CAUTION: PRIVATE PROPERTY.
Law prohibits trespassing.”
Flanking each side of the entryway, two 25-foot-tall steel radio towers, anchored in sunken cement foundations, hosted an assortment of surveillance technology, including security cameras and sensor arrays. I conducted a mental inventory of the security equipment, when greenish sheets of vertical light oscillated from side to side, canvassing my truck in a glittering light show. The scan lasted about five seconds, and then the gate opened. Fifty feet of steel grating separated the maintenance road from the forestry road, and beyond the grating, the forestry road meandered and disappeared into the forest.
The truck automatically shifted into four-wheel drive for added traction after a few slips on the compacted gravel road. The automated security checkpoint faded in the rearview mirror as we crept forward, minding depressions and forest debris. The navigation screen went blank, and radio static replaced the music. The high beam headlights turned on, illuminating the passage that levels out ahead, while the truck’s suspension negotiated the dips and potholes like a mountain goat. The gate was now five miles behind us as we approached the entrance to a covered bridge that crossed the South Fork Nehalem River.
Exiting the covered bridge on the opposite side, I became disoriented and nauseous, hallucinating tiny cracks in the air. The surrounding air was full of them; they swirled and glistened in gradients of the visible light spectrum; and the spectacle looked as if shards of frozen rainbows, shattered by wrecking ball strikes, streamed into a vortex of nebulous gas and dust. Calmed by the voices I carried, I felt my consciousness slip away into nothingness.