Sunday, September 26, 2010
My first stop in California was the musical road in Lancaster, a road that has grooves cut into it so that when you drive over it, the vibrations in your tires produce the William Tell Overture. It was not that exciting, and considering that it is eighty miles from anywhere, I’m not sure it was really worth the effort. But, like many things that I have done on this trip, I can now say that I’ve done it, whether or not I would do it again. It was not long after Lancaster that the 110 degree weather began to subside and the ocean fog began to roll in. I stopped for the night at Refugio Beach just outside of Santa Barbara and camped on the beach. Side note, the California state park system is very much a for profit industry. To car camp in California typically costs $35. To hike or bike into a campsite costs $5-10. Therefore, I have been and will continue to do what many others appear to be doing as well which is to park about a quarter mile away from a campsite and to “hike” into them. The interesting adventure of the night was that I saw a top secret satellite get shot into space from Vanderberg AFB (confirmed in the newspaper the next day). The next two days I spent on highway 1. It took me along rocky cliffs, an Elephant Seal beach, Clint Eastwood’s bar, William Randolph Hearst’s castle, Pebble Beach golf course, the lonely cypress, and four lighthouses. Then, I once again “hiked” into a campground in a redwood grove along the Big Sur river.
My reprieve from camping happened in Santa Cruz, where I stayed with my sister’s brother-in-law (and sister-in-law-in-law?) Scott and Mary. It was a nice break from the road to watch Modern Family, eat non-canned food, sleep not on the ground, and get Forest checked out. While an oil change still only costs $30 here in California, I could see the garage attendants salivating when I brought the ‘89 onto the lot. Apparently, it is standard operating procedure to run up a list of things that a garage can fix for you if you let them, and while the oil change only took fifteen minutes, typing up a list of parts to replace took about an hour. All told, if I want to make it back to Georgia, the Santa Cruz Firestone store believes that it will cost me $2500. Looks like I’ll be hitchhiking home from Iowa I guess.
From Santa Cruz, I headed to Yosemite. I would describe Yosemite Valley almost how I’ve heard the Grand Canyon described a lot--too big. It’s hard to put into perspective. Certainly the famous peaks (El Capitan and Half Dome) are impressive, the waterfalls are staggering, and the meadows are beautiful, but it’s hard to capture in words or photographs unless your Ansel Adams I guess. I camped out near El Cap, and the temperature fell to 40 degrees (not Celsius). I froze my butt off, something I didn’t realize would happen to me before I got to Wyoming. I suppose I should have brought that heavy coat that’s currently sitting on a hook in my closet at home.
After reacquainting myself with the sun and the car heater (which still works), I rolled out, once again bound for the Bay Area and my once upon a time dream school, Stanford. I hung out with Amanda, ran a 10K (still out of shape), did laundry (thank you Stanford and Amanda), watced Mike Bobo lose his job on national tv with Lucas, Amanda, and Jill, and picked up my friend Parag at SFO. We went back to his place in Berkeley, which is not nearly as posh as Amanda’s place at Stanford to say the least. After a couple of days relaxing in the comfort of the bay area, I will once again hit the road tomorrow morning, bound for the Redwoods of Northern California and Oregon.
A few notes on California:
1) The weather is fantastic
2) The prices are strange. It’s really hard to tell what items are going to be strangely jacked up in price. Gas can be 2.75 one place and two blocks up the street it will be 3.15. Market principles seem to have little or no effect in the State of California.
3) I think the people are just as nice and friendly as they are in the South. Everywhere I have gone, I have met really gregarious people from camping on the coast to Yosemite to San Francisco last night.
4) The wealth is in no way evenly spread out here. For instance, comparing Palo Alto and Berkeley is almost laughable--though Berkeley is way cooler I think, I’m a little worried my car might be getting broken into as I write due to the sheer number of homeless people that call Berkeley home.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
1000 ft down
End of Angels Landing
Beginning of Angels Landing
Cedar Breaks Sunset (1)
Cedar Breaks Sunset (2)
I’ve decided that Southern Utah is without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. There are five national parks here (granted I come from Georgia which has none, but still, that’s impressive). I only managed to visit three of the five. Yesterday, I went to Bryce Canyon which basically looks like a bunch of multi-colored fingers sticking out of the ground. It’s amazing that erosion can have so many vastly different effects on the same types of rocks in the same general areas. Bryce Canyon is the only place in the world that has rock formations like this, while Capitol Reef sixty miles down the road can claim the same thing, as can Arches and Zion. You go around a curve in Utah, and you’re in an alien landscape unlike any other place on Earth.
After Bryce, I saw the sunset from Cedar Breaks National Monument and then drove into St. George, Utah, a town made of 90% retired Mormons. Chiego has friends of his family that live here, Dave and Betsy. They are probably two of the more intelligent people I have ever meant. Their living room is filled with hundreds and hundred s of books on anything and everything you can imagine and several hundred jazz and classical CD’s. Dave has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry but taught advanced calculus at Memphis State. Despite a stroke, Dave is still sharper, wittier, more intellectual, and smarter than I have ever been or ever will be. They are truly impressive folks and fantastic hosts.
Chiego and I woke up early today and went to Zion National Park. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. We hiked six miles up 3000 feet to the rim of the canyon and back down, but then I went out to a point called Angels Landing. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. I have no idea how anyone got the Department of the Interior to agree to make this trail, but basically, there is a “trail” out to this promontory 1200 feet above the canyon below. For most of the “trail” you are climbing hand over foot with sheer 1000 foot drop offs to your left and right. Fortunately, the National Park Service provides a chain that you can hang onto in especially dangerous parts of the climb. To give you a better sense of this hike, three people died in one week in April earlier this year--one from a heart attack, but still. Having this knowledge ahead of time, then looking over the cliff face began to sort of freak me out, and I longed to be back on the ground. Then I saw a ten year old kid jumping down the trail. I couldn’t be shown up by a ten year old, even if he was in better shape than I. Eventually I made it to the top, and was rewarded with an absolutely incredible view of the park, but I’m not sure that I would do it again. We’ll see if I can do half dome next week in Yosemite. I have to say that that hike was easily a top five moment of my trip so far.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Surprisingly well maintained road
I can totally commiserate with truckers. In my less than three weeks on the road, I have already surpassed 5,000 miles. I was hoping to cross the country and back in 10,000 miles, but now, it looks like it may be more like 15--poor Forest. After my night in Santa Fe, I journeyed toward Monument Valley via Petrified Forrest and Canyon DeChelly. Petrified Forest was underwhelming as a whole, but I still don’t understand how wood becomes petrified instead of simply decomposing--if you have the energy to google this, let me know. I was at Canyon DeChelly for the sunset which was pretty remarkable, but then it was dark and I had nowhere to stay…in the middle of nowhere. So, I went to a tiny Utah state park that I had seen on the internet the night before. Gooseneck Park between Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods provided me with a place to rest my head. When I pulled onto the Mesa about 10:30 at night another campfire was going, so I set up my tent and went to talk to the folks around the fire. Dave and Dennis were two Canadians on their way across the Western US to see what they could, and there was a guy and a girl traveling from Chicago to San Francisco and back I think. They were already a couple of bottles of Canadian whiskey in, and so we talked for a couple of hours about TV shows, politics, movies, and just about everything else. I went to sleep that night with no rain fly on my tent, looking up at the Milky Way and the clearest night sky I had ever seen.
Yesterday, I went to Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Arches National Park. I made the mile and a half trek up to Delicate Arch for the sunset with about a hundred other people. A couple of other sojourners had rather noticeable Southern accents, Ed and Libby. Ed approached me because I was wearing a UGA hat. Apparently, he had just moved out to Colorado in the past couple of years from Atlanta. Eventually, it came out that I didn’t know where I was going to be spending the night. He told me that there was a campsite next to his about ten miles down the road from Arches on the Colorado River. Ed and Libby had also made friends with their camping neighbors--Mike and Bonita who were in between jobs like a lot of people I have met on this trip so far. Mike is a potter moving to somewhere in Northern California after the trip (he doesn‘t know where); Bonita is a massage therapist. We all ate dinner together, where I learned of the delicacy--peanut butter and horseradish on a cracker (you really need to try it).
The following morning I woke to the sun just barely touching the rim of the canyon above my tent. Ed and Libby took me to an awesome breakfast in Moab where we talked some more, and I hit the road for Mesa Verde National Park where I finally sprung for a National Park pass which gets me in to any park or monument in the country on the free. I feel like that might be useful on this trip. In any case, Mesa Verde is home to a hundred or so abandoned cliff dwellings from the thirteenth century. One of the most impressive ones was Cliff Palace which I toured.
I then went to the really cool gold/ski/college town of Durango for dinner. I met Chiego at a brewery that sort of reminded me of Copper Creek. Tomorrow we are heading to St. George, Utah via Bryce Canyon. Thankfully that will be my last day of intense driving until I get to Northern California. The road is starting to wear me down. I’m going to need the Pacific Coast Highway next week for rest and relaxation. Why is the West so freaking big? And, why are all of the places I want to visit so far apart?
Monday, September 13, 2010
Did I mention that Forest is a 1989 Nissan 240 SX? In 28 hours, Forest and I covered 1000 miles from Houston to Santa Fe. We slept together last night somewhere in the middle of nowhere Texas (the stars really are bigger down here by the way). We sweat through the 100 degree heat without AC together. I began to pick up on his quirks. For instance, keep the heat on defrost to allow some of the heat to escape from the engine. Take at least a fifteen minute break every two hours. Don’t go faster than 75. Draft tractor trailers whenever possible. Ignore the engine light. The coolant reservoir leaks, so bring coolant with you. Oh, and the power steering goes out after you get off the interstate or any straight roads. Two weeks and three thousand miles in, Forest is running strong, but I’m slightly worried.
Sorry that the next three of these were so long in coming. Laziness compounded with a lack of Wifi has severely slowed down my blogging. That being said, my blogs from now on will take on more of the color commentary form rather than play by play, so the post will be shorter and sweeter hopefully. Thanks for reading and any feedback is loved, as I am starting to get lonely here in the middle of New Mexico.
In Oklahoma, I totally mooched off my sister for the apartment suite above her garage and the washing machine and dryer. I slept in late, and then I headed off for the US Cowboy museum. If you ever make it to Oklahoma City, this is pretty much a must see. It’s a combination of a Western art museum, history museum, and a collection of novelties. The art is centered around a Western art competition that the museum hosts every year. It’s apparently a very big deal. All of the winning pieces from past years remain in the museum and have their own special room, they are actually quite impressive. The cool part of the museum though is remarkable for the sheer volume of pieces it contains. There are over 8,000 strands of different types of barbed wire (yeah you read that right). They have a Stetson hat exhibit. A half dozen stirrups exhibits. Boot exhibits. Bit exhibits. Rein exhibits. It’s sort of overkill; I’m not going to lie. Aside from the exhibits, they have a model Western town, regalia from just about every Western film ever (including this sequin suit worn by Robert Redford that looks pretty hilarious), and the actual brands from every big ranch in the Old West--in two words, totally legit. I'm thinking about deferring med school for another few years to be a cowboy,but I'm not sure how my family would feel about that.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Arkansas--The Natural State, a.k.a the Land of Opportunity, Razorback State, Hot Springs State, Bear State, Bowie State, and my personal favorite, the
So I’m writing this on my sister’s porch (I don’t know where she is) in the middle of the remnants of a hurricane, under the most ominous yellow tornado skies I’ve ever seen…I forgot to mention that my sister lives in Oklahoma. If I don’t finish this blog, you’ll know what happened to me.
In any case, I left Baton Rouge very early yesterday morning--which seems like an eternity ago. After the aforementioned Waffle House stop--Forest and I headed to world famous Natchez, MS. The town used to be a thriving economic center on the Mississippi, but ance the Bole Weevil hit in the early 20th century, it caused a tremendous depression in Natchez; this meant that no homes were built in the 1920’s in Natchez because the economy was so depressed. Instead the citizens maintained all of their antebellum homes, and so about 40 of them remain there today, and the town itself is quite charming, in contrast with Vicksburg.
Vicksburg, is the most destitute “city” I’ve seen on my trip so far. The downtown area has next to no charm (1920’s buildings and hotels). If you had about $20 million, I think you could literally buy the entire downtown as there are very few businesses left. The only draws to this place are the interstate rest stop and of course the battlefield (which is pretty impressive as far as battlefields go). It was here that I crossed the mighty Mississippi river for the first time, though I had flirted with it about a dozen times so far that day.
I crossed back into Louisiana and entered an area of the country known as the Louisiana delta. Betsy looked this up for me, apparently you can call a flat, fertile area, a delta, even if it is no such thing. To call the Louisiana delta flat though is almost a misnomer. I stood on top of a levy and could just about see the curve of the earth. Goats are apparently a popular farm animal around these parts, and I saw multiple “door museums” which sell painted doors. I also saw probably a dozen enormous oak lined driveways leading to doublewide trailers--I should have taken a picture of that.
And finally Arkansas. For all the crap I’ve given Arkansas in my life, it has honestly been my favorite state on the trip so far. I got to the state having no real clue where I was going or what I was going to do for 24 hours in the Land of Opportunity. I was thinking the Clinton Museum since he is my boy, but I wasn’t entirely sure about that.
I decided to camp out on Lake Ouachita (WA-chit-AH) in central Eastern Arkansas very near the boyhood home of Mr. Clinton, Hot Springs. On the ride to Ouachita, I listened to about 5 hours of Razorback radio analysis of their home opener against Tennessee Tech. At least ten times, somebody called in and reminded everyone in the state that Tennessee Tech is not Georgia--which I had been confused about the first seven times at least (side note--I was listening to the radio because I am out of Bill Simmons podcasts, excluding the two part one on Beverly Hills 90210 which I actually started listening to I was so bored, and I’m also out of This American Life pod casts--if anyone knows another good pod cast let me know).
Lake Ouachita is absolutely breathtaking. I tested my camping skillz out which are going to need a little bit of help before Yellowstone. I ate beanie weenies, Vienna sausages, and fruit snacks. I was not desperate enough to crack open the spam yet. I went to bed really early and was awoken at about 11 to water dripping on my face. Evidently there was a hurricane? I was not totally unaware that there was a hurricane in South Texas, but in Central Arkansas? Also, evidently, my rain fly on tent leaks--perfect! The leak was not too bad, and I had put my backpack in my car, so only half of my belonging were absolutely drenched.
The morning was overcast and calm. I went fly-fishing and swimming in the lake (it was the most perfect water temperature I have ever felt--Billy you know how picky I am about this, imagine Tate -1.5 degrees). I packed everything up, got in my car and it began pouring, again. This was fortunate though, because it meant that the ranger was too lazy to get out of his cabin to come and get my money.
From Ouachita, I went to breakfast in Norman, Arkansas (take a look at some of the town names in Arkansas, they are all borrowed from other states, Norman, Atlanta, Nashville--it‘s pretty amusing). Norman is a town of 423 people (Wikipedia) nestled between the bustling metropolises of Mt. Ida (2007 AA State Champs in football according to the billboard that welcomes you to the town of 981--begging the question why they were in AA to begin with) and Glenwood (p. 1751). I think it’s safe to say that the place I stopped for breakfast in Norman is the only restaurant in Norman, so it shouldn’t kill the story if I don’t remember the name of it. In any case, it was the greatest breakfast I may have ever eaten with possible exception of Porterhouse brunch--if you ever find yourself in this restaurant, you must order the Norman Omelet. When I walked in, an old timer asked if I was looking to buy a horse. I said that I was not unless it could make it to California. To which he asked how quickly I wanted to get there. I struck up a conversation with the four patrons in the restaurant, and when they heard that I what I was circumnavigating the country, one of them asked if I was doing so on foot. I sort of scoffed at the idea, but then the waitress pointed to a signed picture of some country musician who had indeed walked into their diner one day on his journey by foot to Tennessee. Another picture on the wall was of a patron who had biked from Chicago to Los Angeles camping along the way. Needless to say, I was not the newest thing Norman, Arkansas had seen; I did not get my picture on the wall.
After breakfast, I headed to Murfreesboro, site of the Crater of Diamonds state park, the only public diamond mine in the US. I went in with high hopes of finding a 2 karat diamond and thus being able to avoid having to buy one later on in life, but I soon realized that the people there were just about as interesting as the toil of sifting through buckets of volcanic soot. The people I stood next to while I was seeking my treasure, I’m pretty sure came to the park to talk about their lives to whomever would listen. I grew bored and moved over a few benches to a group of ladies with a dog. They knew what they were doing. They were dressed in knee high rain boots. They came with lunches prepared, and most impressively they came with their own sieves and shovels. One had already found a diamond today, and they hadn’t even looked through their dried rocks yet, which is apparently when the vast majority of diamonds are found. I ended up with a lot of quartz after my two hour attention span gave way, and I went back to the resident expert to see if any of my silica was in fact carbon--it was not. I asked if he had seen any diamonds yet today; he said he had not. I told him that a lady next to me had found one, and he asked if it was the lady with the dog. Evidently, she and her gang come to the park 5 days a week. She had recently been laid off, and her friends were retired. They treated diamond mining as sort of a cross between a quilting bee and a serious bridge game. They didn’t talk a whole lot, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Post script: there is an urban legend that a man paid for his son’s education by diamond hunting at Crater of Diamonds park--whether this is true or not, I don’t know.
From Murfreesboro, I drove to Oklahoma City through torrential rain, and I am now in a posh studio apartment above my sister’s garage. The road’s not for everyone, I must admit. Nights like these in queen beds are especially hard.
Pensacola to Baton Rouge
After Tallahassee, I began to slowly inch my way Westward across the country. My first stop was Pensacola. Though my time there was limited, what I gathered about Pensacola was that it was probably more of a military town than Athens is a college town. They have model blue angels on the columns of overpasses. Luckily I was hanging with eight Air Force officers, and my hair is still pretty short, so I fit in pretty well. My friend Wes lives with Justin from UGA and William from the Citadel in a sort of bachelor pad/Animal House complete with a foosball table, big screen tv, and pool table. Apparently they are in some sort of holding pattern awaiting assignment/the continuance of their training, so basically, they are on perpetual paid vacation until that time comes. Man, the military is tough.
Three other guys from UGA were visiting--Andrew, Anthony, and Jose. In addition Christy is also stationed in Pensacola, so there was a veritable gang to hang out with. We began the night by going to McGuires--a cavernous Irish restaurant that can cater to anyone and everyone. From the 18 cent soup to the $100 filet mignon burger that comes with a magnum of Don Perignon, to the 1946 $20,000 bottle of wine. When you walk in the restaurant, the first thing you notice is that there are supposedly over a million single dollar bills hanging from the rafters. There are also hundreds of signed celebrity photographs on the wall from 1990’s Alexi Lalis to the Smashing Pumpkins. Our waiter was Dean, who at first had trouble dealing with us for a number of reasons. One, we came in at 10:30 at night, two, Justin Bower, and three, he was from South Africa. Once he understood that one of our main goals for the night was to mess with him, he opened up and began regaling us with stories of shark attacks in South Africa and other lighthearted tales. We stayed there till about 12:30 in the morning and then went to a crowded bar--apparently bars in Pensacola are hopping even on a Sunday night.
Monday, I drove to Baton Rouge. I got to hang out with Betsy; we went out and ate red beans and rice, gumbo, po boys, and hush puppies at a Baton Rouge restaurant. Betsy has Watson the Sheltie. I’m pretty sure, Shelties are second in my book of favorite dogs behind Schnoodles. In any case, after playing with Watson, I heard tale of TFA in Baton Rouge, which to surmise, apparently revolves around curious, hormone-crazed 12-year-olds.
Currently I’m in a Waffle House in Baton Rouge sitting across from a guy that looks exactly like Sting but with more tattoos, and there is an extremely angry waitress who’s riling everyone up. Apparently, she just broke up with a golddigger girlfriend, and one of her friends isn’t going to pick her up to give her a ride to her apartment, so she is slamming dishes and bitching at patrons who don’t tip enough as well as the rest of the wait staff who isn’t doing the dishes. Today is my first “spontaneous” day and tonight I don’t know where I am going to crash other than I think some camp ground in Arkansas--my first of many uncertain nights.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
The ride up from Spring Hill was interesting. I didn’t realize how similar to Georgia, North Florida is. The road I rode was an extremely desolate and somewhat depressing stretch of highway. Aside from my first Bald Eagle spotting, the only point of interest was the one stop I made for some boiled peanuts at a shanty set up in the middle of nowhere. Georgia does boiled peanuts so much better than Florida.
First Night: True to form, Jamie took Drew and I to a movie as soon as we got to Tallahassee--once a film student always a film student. The movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I’ve decided that I officially have a man crush on Michael Cera. I think being compared to him might be the most flattering comparison a person can get (Tanya). After the move, the three of us went to the most honkey-tonk bar I have ever been to, under the guidance of Jamie. To get a picture of this bar, it is literally in the middle of nowhere, it is actually made of corrugated steel, and the name of it is “The Pallace Salloon.” The first thing that hits you when you walk in the door is billows and billows of smoke (there’s something to be said for Athens for sure). The next thing you notice is dartboard after dartboard lining the walls. We hung out there for the rest of the night and then Jamie and Drew left me at said bar to play pong with some total strangers in the middle of a sketch part of a town that I‘ve never been to. We then swam for a couple of hours in Jamie’s sketchy apartment complex pool…at 3:30 in the morning.
Day: Drew and I slept together on a futon. When we awoke, college football was mercifully on tv, finally. After about seven hours of watching random games, we decided to go to the pool…again. On the 100 yard walk to the pool, we saw a fight, and a car getting towed despite the owner’s presence. The rest of the day went pretty much like that until we went out. The bar that we went to on the second night was slightly less sketchy than the first. Jamie managed to fall down the stairs and get kicked out--he claims that he was just denied re-entry, but I think that he actually got kicked out. As a result, he called me and Drew eleven times each in twenty minutes, and ran the two miles home to his apartment. Drew and I got a ride.
All in all, Tallahassee is a strangely different place from Athens. It is certainly a college town, but the mix of Florida people makes it a much more diverse campus than UGA’s. As I said before, Jersey Shore could pretty much have been written about most parts of Florida--Tallahassee is no exception. On to Pensacola for some R&R Air Force style.