The road ahead stretches for miles and miles, bending gently past cedars, pines, and firs. It's an empty ribbon in both directions as we head into Shasta, Siskiyou, and other isolated counties of northeastern California.
I've been driving all morning and, since leaving the roar of Burney Falls, 62 miles northeast of Redding, my mother and I haven't seen anyone else.
"It's amazing to think we're still in California," I say. My mom grunts; she's not interested in waxing poetic about this beautiful landscape. She just wants to catch some fish.
We've made some effort in that vein already. Over the past few days, we've spent a lovely morning at the edge of Lassen Volcanic National Park, in the dappled shade along Hot Springs Creek.
We bobbed on Dream Lake in a canoe with a view of snow-topped mountains. I snoozed against pines at the edge of Manzanita Lake while my mom cast, and cast, and cast some more.
But so far, no fish.
We stop to explore Lava Beds National Monument, flashlights in hand as we wander in a cool, deep cave, home to bats and year-round ice patches. We hike in the sunshine to see pictographs painted by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.
But my mom wants to hit the road. She wants to hook something. I think we've got a sure thing when we arrive at Medicine Lake in Modoc National Forest. But my mother has smashed her thumb in the car door ― a true road-trip injury ― and this messes up her casting. No luck.
As we approach the town of McCloud, we start to see more cars on the road. Dunsmuir is split by what my mom calls "the Upper Sac," the upper fork of the Sacramento River. We go to the Brown Trout Café, Gallery & Gifts, a cute shop and resting spot for fishing folk. And then we drive to the edge of the river in Dunsmuir City Park.
We've almost reached the end of the 5-day road trip. This is my mom's last chance. She yanks out her rod, fly, and boots from the car. I wander toward the neighboring arboretum. Runoff flows down a wall of alders, maples, and ferns as if gently weeping into the stream below.
I hear a cry ― of excitement, then another of dismay. A tug, but it got away, my mom says. Even here, she gets nothing. She's dejected as we walk along Dunsmuir's main street.
We're surprised by the liveliness of the scene: Groups of people are out strolling as the sun sets; musicians unload equipment for a bluegrass gig at Sengthong's Blue Sky Room. We pop into the club owners' eatery next door, Sengthong's Restaurant, with a sophisticated Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian menu.
My mom orders a Thai seafood chowder. It's delicious. She grins.
At last she gets her fish.