Thursday, October 7, 2010

South Dakota

Aside from listening to the last two innings of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter live on the radio, the drive to South Dakota from Colorado was as boring as you might imagine it was. I found the campground that my friend from Rocky told me to go to, and wow, had he undersold it. From my tent, I saw three bison and two dozen deer, and heard elk, coyotes and mountain lions. The stars were more incredible than I have seen on this trip so far. They were so bright that you couldn’t make out any constellations after about nine o’clock because all of the other stars were just as bright. The Milky Way looked like a solid white ribbon in the middle of it all.

This morning I woke up in time to see the sunrise and headed for the various National Monuments in the area (I want to make it to a sports bar to watch the Braves game tonight). My first stop was the not so famous, largest sculpture/carving in the world…the Crazy Horse monument. To give you some perspective, the head, which took fifty years to carve is larger than the entirety of Mt. Rushmore. The statue, when completed will be taller than the Washington Monument. If it is ever completed (the only revenue for the project comes from visitors to the carving and only about two dozen people are working on it), it will be the center for a Native American cultural center, which will boast a Native American university and medical center. Although, Crazy Horse was Lakota, the park stresses that it wants this to be a universal symbol for all American Indians. I hope but am not optimistic that it will be completed in my lifetime.

The second stop today was Mt. Rushmore. I was disappointed to find that the cafeteria from North by Northwest was bulldozed about fifteen years ago. Other than that, it was Mt. Rushmore…pretty cool I guess.

My final stop was Devil’s Tower Wyoming from Close Encounters of a Third Kind fame. You can see it from probably twenty miles down the road. It is way cool. Apparently it used to be the cone of a volcano, who knew? In any case, I’m headed back to South Dakota to watch the game and find a place to lay my head for the night, and then off to the UP. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Real Mountain State

My first night in Colorado was spent dominating Billy and his dad at pool. We went to what is apparently the best burger joint in Denver, and despite my better judgment, Harvey convinced me to try the peanut butter burger which was indeed excellent. I spent two nights at one of Billy’s dad’s swim coach pals “man cave” in Denver, while the three of us went to watch Georgia lose yet another game. Boulder and the CU campus are pretty awesome. Boulder has a pedestrian mall down the center of the downtown off of which you’ll find most of the typical downtown establishments--bars, restaurants, shops, and as Billy pointed out though, there are probably a couple hundred coffee shops sprinkled in.

I spent my third night in Colorado, excluding the one three weeks a go, at Brooke’s house north of Boulder where we watched five or six episodes of “The City,” a remarkably easy show to make fun of and ate probably not cooked entirely funfetti cake. The following day I went to Rocky National Park.
I decided to camp out for a couple of nights in Rocky, and in the day in between, hike to the top of Long’s Peak (14,250 ft). I got up at five in the morning, in order to hit the trail by six. As I was about to head onto the trail, I meet another lone hiker, and we decided to head up together. He too was from Georgia and had been to the Colorado game--small world. We made it 7 of the 7.2 miles to the summit until we came to the realization that the last .2 miles was 800 feet up a 70% incline of loose rocks aptly named “the trough” for the shape it took and I guess the fact that you get fed to the wildlife when you can’t climb back out of it. We turned back and made the 7 mile journey down the mountain. In the meantime I developed altitude sickness, which manifested itself as an intense headache and an intense desire to not walk anymore. I guess the 13,600 feet I made it up to was the highest I had ever been. When we finally made it back to base camp, Dylan and I had walked 14.5 miles and climbed 4500 vertical feet. Needless to say, my body hated me for several hours afterward.

Camping in Rocky was quite an experience. The elk bugle the entire night--which if you’ve never heard it sounds halfway between an eerie wail and a whistle. By the way, I saw probably two dozen elk here including to bulls locking horns in a lake and one sleeping in the middle of yard in the town down the road with about twenty people crowded around him taking pictures. Aside from the elk, I had some neighbors who were either methheads or had voice immodulation like Will Ferrell from the SNL skit. The yelled at each other probably 22 hours a day, and when I glanced over at them, they yelled at me. Finally, the fighting was broken up when I guess the man swung an ax at the girl and drove away which prompted a ranger to come to the sight and give the two of them a stern reprimand. My other neighbors and I bonded over our mutual disdain for these people though, and I became fast friends with a couple moving to San Francisco for a tour in the Coast Guard, incidentally the guy was from Heritage in Conyers and we knew probably a dozen of the same people. I also met a man who had driven straight from Dayton, Ohio (24 hours no stopping). He advised me on what to do in South Dakota. This morning I met a guy who had fallen off of the trough in Long’s Peak a couple of years ago and had been medevaced out (apparently a similar fate killed somebody last week--I’m really glad I decided not to summit).

Last night was a particularly exhilarating camping experience for a number of reasons. 1) I treated myself to steak and baked potatoes. 2) A black bear came to within about twenty feet of me. 3) It sleet thunder stormed for about an hour. All in all, a memorable stop. Onto South Dakota.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Northwest Passage

The greatest thing about the West coast, and there are many, is that I am currently watching the Ryder Cup, and it‘s only 12:30 AM. Sports happen three hours earlier, which honestly makes my life immeasurably better. It has come to my attention that my numerous readers are becoming antsy at the gaps that have been occurring between posts. I have been doing this intentionally to build suspense, much like JK Rowling literally ruined every June for me as I waited for the next Harry Potter to come out. Actually, I’m just really lazy, but I am flattered that people actually want me to keep posting about my travels; thus, I will attempt to be more punctual.

After spending time with Parag at Berkeley, I began to sort of miss academia for the first time in a long time. I think that this trip has definitely cleared my mind of any resentments I once held against schools for morphing my precious youth into a huge ball of stress. Eleven more months till I get to go back though, I think I’ll survive.

After leaving Berkeley, I headed back up highway 1 toward Oregon. I honestly think that the coast is even more breathtaking north of San Francisco than it is south, and Mendocino is probably the crown jewel of the whole road. It is a really unassuming town that juts out on a promontory in the midst of rocky islands and surfing beaches. I camped out on a state beach near Eureka, and that’s where I met the most interesting person on my trip to this point.

I think his name was Dan. He was hitchhiker, who from my count had been to forty different countries. He had owned at least ten different luxury cars, some at the same time. He had been a roadie for Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in the early ’90’s. He had two kids, one was a 12-year-old who was still at home in Washington. He currently is the sound effects guy for powows in Washington state, and was hitchhiking his way down to San Francisco to retrieve a guitar that he had hocked a couple of months ago. I think that if you only bought 5% of his stories, he was still pretty interesting…

The next day, I arrived in Eugene, Oregon (Tracktown, USA). My friend Beth put me up for a couple of nights. The first night we played trivia where the final questions came down to 1) name all of the metalloids 2) name the most populous commonwealth countries 3) name all of the states that have a six flags. Yes, that’s right all three of my subjects, geography, chemistry, and theme parks. We dominated it and won, two board games, some wrist bands, ten bucks, an orange hacky sack, a dictionary, and Oregon Duck key chains that recorded the date of our triumph.

My last day in Eugene was spent basking in its Pre-ness. For those of you who don’t know, probably the most famous American runner ever was Steve Prefonataine who attended the University of Oregon. He finished fourth in the 1976 Munich Olympics 5000 m, won every single NCAA championship he competed in, never lost a race at the Oregon Track--Hayward Field which he made famous, was the first athlete to wear Nike shoes, and was responsible for the US beginning to allow professional athletes to compete in the Olympics. He died far too young when he crashed his car into a rock in Eugene, and most people think he stood a chance to win the 5000 in Montreal in 1976. I ran on Pre’s trail which goes from the U of O football stadium to the rock where he died, and I also tried unsuccessfully to sneak onto Hayward Field.

Finally, it was time for the drive I had been dreading since day one--Eugene to Boulder. The trip is 1226 miles. To put that in perspective, Athens to Boulder is 1449 miles. It took Lewis and Clark six and a half months to cover what I drove today in longitude (Eugene to Evanston, WY), and I couldn‘t even see the blue turf at Boise State because the stadium is entirely fenced off. I went through three This American Life pod casts, two B.S. Report pod casts, seven Yale med pod casts, and my entire purchased music play list on my iPhone (55 songs). Only six hours left to drive in the morning and at least the Ryder Cup is on.

RIP Frances Wallis, you will be missed.