Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Wild West

16 days, 8,000 miles and a lot of places later, I'm back home again. And it's a pretty good feeling.

I think my last post left Josh and I in Colorado somewhere headed for CO Springs. We made it there, and Ben and Korlissa, old friends of his (and old acquaintances of mine) were awesome enough to let us stay with them for the weekend. It was definitely relaxing compared to the past week since we'd left Long Beach––but that's not to say we didn't do anything at all adventurous.

Like Pikes Peak.

Sometime the week before, Ben had planted the idea in Josh's head that it would be a great idea to mountain bike down Pikes Peak. Not on the road, mind you. And by the evening we arrived at their house, the decision had already been made that it was to happen.

I'm not a mountain biker, and even if I were, I wouldn't bike down pikes peak. So it fell to me to drive my dare-devil friends to the top of the Mountain and then pick them up in Manitou Springs––where they apparently have flash-floods. Rain, however, was not expected until much later that afternoon, so we figured it would be okay.

Ben and Korlissa had spent enough time the night before warning me how terrible the drive up and down Pikes Peak is that I think by the time I finally did it, it didn't seem too bad. So after arriving at the summit, eating some supposedly famous donuts that they make up there, jogging around to see how light-headed we could get at 14,110ft. altitude, Josh and Ben assembled their bikes and took off down the trail. And I got back in the car and headed for Manitou.

On the way down, about everything that I'd been afraid might happen did happen––well almost anyways.

Despite stopping a quarter of the way down to take a bunch of pictures, keeping the car in 2nd gear most of the time and only using the brakes on switch-backs, they were well over 300° by the mandatory  brake check at the half way point, and they told me to stop for 15 minutes to let them cool. (I tend to think it's more a conspiracy than a safety measure as they have a large gift shop and cafe located right next to where they make you pull off).

No sooner had I gotten back under way than it started raining, which meant there was only one real thought in my mind: Flash-floods. Particularly at the off ramp from 24 to Manitou where a reporter recently filmed himself and his car getting sucked into a torrent of muddy water.

When I reached the off-ramp though, there was no wall of water in sight, and after a few minutes of driving around in search of a parking lot, I was sitting in this amazing little place called Kinfolks Mountain Shop waiting for my friends to show up on their bikes. That ended up being a bit, as they got hit by the same rain storm I did, only at their elevation, it was an ice storm.

They made it though, and we went to a Palestinian restaurant called Heart of Jerusalem, where I had the best shawarma I've tasted since Beirut.

So it all really ended well.

We did some other cool stuff in CO Springs, and I must say my experience there far exceeded my expectations. Albeit, my expectations were formed mainly around the fact that it's the headquarters of Focus on the Family. But seriously, it was great.

Two days later though, we were headed back into the midwest for a drive that seemed like it took forever. No, I don't remember how long it actually was. In fact I remember precious little about it, except that the welcome centers in Kansas have free coffee and tea.

And then I was home, only I wasn't, because the next morning I had to go to Morris for two days to film a horse camp. And now that I'm done with that I'm extremely lazy and unmotivated. Thus the delay in publishing this post, and the complete lack of a unified voice throughout it.

But, problems aside, that wraps up my experiences driving across the wild American West.


Only not, because I just found out I'm driving to Texas in two weeks.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Haunted Mesa

We've been in Navajo country for the last couple mornings. It's beautiful land, although kind of strange because everyone I see reminds me of some friends I used to have.

I've crossed two things of my bucket list - pretty much everything I wanted to see in the southwest. Though I definitely hope I'll be back before I die. It was cool enough to see again. 

The first one was the Grand Canyon. We came down to the less frequented but still breath-taking north rim yesterday morning. It was amazing. 

After driving under some amazing weather and passing through Four Corners, it was almost dark. Because it was the only thing around with camping, we went to Mesa Verde national park. And that was where I saw the second thing I'd always wanted to in the southwest: The cliff dwellings. 

They were super-cool. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of them with my phone, so those will have to wait. It was great to be there though. I can remember looking through this picture book of American Indians (it probably had words too, but they were irrelevant to me then) and spending hours looking at the page about the cliff dwellers. It was probably my favorite one. It seemed out of place in America somehow. 

But this morning, there it was. 

Climbing down into a Kiva made me think of the first Louis L'Amour novel I read. The Haunted Mesa. 

There's undeniably something very spiritual feeling about this part of the world. I'm sure how it looks us part of it. But that could be said of much of North America. Here it's a little different. There's a human history to it. One you can see in those ruins. 

I thought about that as we drove through northern Arizona and New Mexico and southern Colorado. Past little Navajo trailers framed against massive Mesas. I also thought about both of my friends, and how, as far as I know they're buried somewhere out there in that expanse.  

So if it isn't a haunted place for everyone, it seems it at least is for me. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

California - Every Night's a Different Story

California was a blur. So much in so little time that it felt more like a race between points than a visit. I guess I can just think of it as a scouting expedition for places I'll want to come back to.

The night before last we crossed the border from Oregon and [per usual] couldn't find a vacant state park at that hour to camp in. So instead we ended up in a rest stop in the middle of the redwood forest. One of those that looks like all the fixtures caught some kind of degenerative wasting disease that they threaten to pass onto you if you touch anything. 

The next morning we started driving down Highway 1 along the coast. It was beautiful, if kind of slow, and it was easy to imagine you were a character in one of the many movies that's filmed there. 

We reached San Francisco about five, which was a terrible idea in retrospect. Ironically, the nearest fuel shortage disaster we've had so far didn't happen in some God-forsaken desert, but at the Starbucks studded bases of the downtown San Francisco skyscrapers where we got stuck in traffic for an hour on a street where all the gas stations were to the left and no left turns were allowed for two miles. 

By the time we got over the Oakland Bay Bridge we were well behind schedule and didn't get to our reserved campsite in Yosemite National till around 10:30. 

Having hundreds of miles to cover through the desert the next day, we took a precursory drive around the base of the park and then headed for Death Valley. 

Death Valley was awesome to see. And to feel, since Josh feels that AC ruins "the experience". So with windows down and the Knights of Cydonia blaring over the stereo, we plunged from the 9,000ft Tioga Pass to the -250ft floor of Death Valley. 

Hot wind isn't something I've felt in a while. I'd almost forgotten what it was like. But this afternoon I felt it. And I was in the desert again, which in some strange way was a good feeling. 

And then with Joshua trees blurring by on the side and The Joshua Tree by U2 playing, we climbed up into Nevada. 

That's where we are now - driving through some suburb of Los Vegas where I can - God-willing - upload this post over LTE. 

Not sure where we'll end up tonight. Either Zion or the Grand Canyon. I'm kind of hoping for the Canyon, but we'll see what happens. Every night's a different story. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Stuff I Like - The Pacific Northwest

Last Friday we crossed over the mountains into what I guess is classified as the Pacific Northwest. I think I'm in love.

Drinking great coffee, eating seafood, jogging on the beach, drinking great beer, more great coffee, jogging on the beach again, more great beer. I could get used to it. 

The three days we spent there were split between Seattle, WA (which I've wanted to visit since my Dad's CBO made me read "Pour Your Soul Into It", Long Beach, WA (where we visited Josh's sister) and Astoria, OR (which is probably one of the coolest little towns I've been in.)

I could ramble on for awhile about why I like it so much, but the fortune cookie version is I feel like it has the better parts of the East and the West, along with a little something else I can't quite put my finger on. 

At any rate, I was a little sorry to leave this morning.  

Maybe California will be good though. 

Friday, July 05, 2013

Glaciers and Washboards

I think it's funny that when I said I was about to go on a road trip out west several people said something to the effect of: "That's awesome! Take lots of pictures so I can live vicariously through you." I think that's kind of funny, but just in case you were planning on living vicariously through me, stop.

Right now. 

Unless driving on the edge of the US-Canadian border past midnight at six mph for 20 miles over washboard dirt roads with the worst bladder/urinary tract infection of your life sounds like fun. Because that's what I was doing the night before last. 

As I said the other day, everything out here is really spread out. Like, 200 or 300 miles spread out. Either my body doesn't like frequently going six hours without peeing, or something in my body that shouldn't be there does like it, because after our 1st 2000 miles, I suddenly found myself in a good deal of pain.

That reached its worst the night before last - which is also when we entered Glacier International Park after dark and somehow took a turn that put us in the middle of nowhere along the park's north-western edge. 

It wasn't really fun. 

We did finally end up in the park though, at the Bowman Lake campsite. 

When daylight came I didn't feel much better, but the view of the lake was quite spectacular.

While on the shore we met this eccentric little old mountain man who spent an enormously long time telling us about his misadventures photographing grizzly bears. 

Because it was Forth of July, we'd had trouble finding campsites all week but made it to the other side of the park and then back up the middle in time to get the last spot at one of the campgrounds up in the mountains. 

While we were finishing the check in process, a ranger asked how long we were staying. When she heard only for the night, she suggested climbing up the Sunrift Gorge Trail as the best thing we could in that amount of time. Also as something "not many people do." 

She was right. It was beautiful. Not too steep, but a little challenging when crossing some snow packs that are still across the trail. 

I really like Glacier because it's on the edge of several ecological zones and has some diversity of plants and scenery that I'd been missing so far on our trip. That was one of my favorite things about Lebanon and certain parts of Europe, and I'd started to think the US might just not have anything like it. Glacier came pretty close though. 

And I was also beautiful, in a breathtakingly massive way. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Lonesome Gods

After almost 2000 miles of what could all be described as the Midwest, we reached western Nebraska and things started to change, first slowly, and then faster and faster.  

First everything got unbelievably vast. Then it got dry. Then it got rocky and the hills got bigger. And then it was basically the desert as we entered Wyoming. 

I think the biggest change is distances. Everything is so spread out.  It'd be boring if it wasn't so terrifying. 

 I had some time to think about it when we got stopped by a construction worker in the middle of a huge sandy valley for half an hour. I also had time to start that Louis L'Amour novel. 

Ever since entering Wyoming we'd been climbing in elevation, and by the time we reached 6000 feet the land changed again. We were passing through Lander then, and what I think were the painted hills (though that may have only been the name of a development). It was beautiful. But things got even more breath-taking when we climbed higher into the Sheshone National Forest. After hundreds of miles of no trees, we were suddenly surrounded by them. 

And then we saw them: the Grand Tetons. They reminded me a bit of the Dolomites in Austria, but with an even more majestic effect because they rise up out of what seems like a flat basin. 

That's where we ended up staying the night. Actually it was about ten miles on back roads from there because all the campsites were filled up in the park. I'm being reminded for the second time this month I don't care all that much for camping. I think my body is too high-maintenance for it. But then it's an adventure. 

You know it's one when you have to keep reminding yourself that it is. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

That big space between New York and LA

This morning around four we crossed into Nebraska. We'd been planning on going all the way to the line last night but when we realized that would mean stopping in Omaha we pulled off at the last rest area in Iowa and slept for a couple hours. Then a an hour ago we headed out for what will probably be another 1000 mile day.

The Land's different out here, but somehow not as different as I'd imagined. Really if you dropped me anywhere between Western Pennsylvania and Nebraska without any signs I don't think I'd be able to tell the difference. 

It's interesting how interstate highways all look the same. I mean, obviously they're supposed to, but it gives the land that all looks so similar already quite a sense of continuity. In some ways it's comforting. In other ways it's disconcerting.