Leaving #6 at Crater Lake had finality to it — her and my trip together was over. Seventy-two hours had passed between us without me touching my bicycle but, while I had forgotten it, it had not forgotten me. #6 and I both had our obligations. She had left hers in Seattle and I had left mine chained to a bear box covered with a tarp where it would have remained had Ben not casually reminded me of our departure by pulling it out and loading up my gear Monday morning and placing it the middle of the path to the bathroom where I was forced to acknowledge it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t, just a few times, take some of the items he had packed out of the panniers and put them back on the table again. As far as I was concerned, I could have stayed in Crater Lake forever — never mind the mosquitoes and the heat and the lack of an easy way to get food. I had my best buddy and I had #6 and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
And yet we all had to leave Crater Lake. When everything was packed we all rode down to the Goodbye Picnic Area where we did not hesitate to say our goodbyes; #6 looked at me and, without blinking, said: I have to go and I don’t want to say goodbye. Then she kissed me, rose from the picnic table, got into her car and shut the door. For a moment she paused, with her brake lights calling to me and I almost stood to run to her again but then they went out and she pulled away. As I sat at the picnic table where Ben and I had first waited for her that Friday morning under the shadow of the majestic trees, I could only catch one final glimpse of her in the front seat of her car, driving up the windy roads we had recently ridden together. I could see her face, and her hair; the way her eyes shifted both casually and intently, taking in everything and nothing. I could see her turn up the music and look out the window. I could see her there, in the car, but I couldn’t see her next to me anymore.
She was gone.
As I watched her car disappear with her in it for the third time in two weeks I felt different than I had the previously. No more opportunities for her to visit remained — this had been it. Seven hours was as far as anyone could be asked to drive (let alone fourteen) and Ben and I would soon be in California. My ship, the Lady Issaquah, had run its course. Her previous departures had left me anxious, mulling over how I would see her again, but in that moment I was left only with the knowledge that she was gone.
I have been known to put up a rather brave front when surrounded by my friends and family. I don’t like them to see me down. I don’t want to dwell on the inevitable. I like to keep up the smile, throw in a joke or two, keep things lithe and bonnie. When my father, mother, and I had returned from the hospital after my then to be youngest sister had died at birth they commented on how strong I had been — how I had been like a pillar in an otherwise shapeless world. What I couldn’t tell them was that every time I excused myself to use the bathroom I fell onto the floor and cried with the cold toilet pressed against my cheek until I couldn’t breathe or think. But I always came out smiling.
I smiled at Ben there at the Goodbye Picnic Area and said:
“Well: let’s go.”