Travelogue - Transcontinental drive from San Francisco to the north eastern most part of North America, St. Johns, Newfoundland, and back via the Burning Man.
[Trip Photos Gallery] [CHS '87 Class reunion]
[Burning Man '97] [other burning]
Prologue -- Pre Departure
The contents of my life, the possessions of my existence, the material acquisitions that Ive so healthily attempted to avoid, lie amass my room. I long for the natural, the clean, the empty.
My simple dinner tonight; a glass of water, a banana, and a few scoops of cereal, symbolic of my motivation. These words, polished, precise, and innocent.
Soon Ill load my car with the bare essentials. Soon Ill drive out of California. Soon Ill begin the Zen vacation of simple enjoyment. Slow. Easy. Gentle. Long summer days of relaxation.
As I sit on my humble sofa in my grand room my mind finds that place. My soul soars to the easy days of play. My feelings and my fingers find the familiar mystical space.
Kick off San Diego
Jen and I flew to San Diego to kick off my summer vacation tour. My sister Rachel and her husband Wally picked us up in their rented convertible at the airport. They had a week of vacation so we met them for a few days.
We spent 48 hours together exploring the warm southern California coast with the sun on our face and the wind in our hair. We sipped traditional margaritas in Old Town one night and sampled micro brews in the hip beach towns the next.
In the morning pioneer gold rush towns kept their secret history as we wandered between broken crumbling buildings. While in the afternoon, surfers demonstrated their ability as we relaxed on the beaches.
We shoveled down giant breakfasts at the Potato Shack for brunch and southwestern enchiladas at Mexican dive restaurants for dinner.
It was a slow, gentle, easy transition from working for a living, into summer vacation living & discovery. I might as well start the summer with a good tan and a full tummy. Let the games begin!
Leaving Las Vegas
Actually it was leaving San Francisco.
And I just couldnt. After getting back to the Bay Area Late Monday night, I packed the Subaru for the adventure on Tuesday. Tuesday night I stopped in Berkeley to say goodbye to Jen. I guess I hate short good-byes. She had Wednesday off. We got sun, a picnic, and a hike up Diablo.
It finally took early Thursday morning just after she went to clinic for the final farewell kiss. Oh well, now I have a tan, a fully belly, and a happy heart. Let the Games Begin! (This time fore sure)
Oh Boy-Zee! r.6.19.97
The sun is setting outside tonight on my private Idaho. Inside Dreamwalker, a café on main street, Im using the last hours of the day to begin the travelogue. The evening is warm like summer evenings from my youth. I've exchanged San Francisco's strange reverse summer climate. Now my summer is green, warm, sunny, and familiar.
I drove over six hundred miles today. Tahoe's light snow patches were eagerly melting. The fresh water was running down the mountains. Schools out! Let's play! I heard it yell. I drove down the mountains with them.
Tahoe was green and lush and smelled Sierra pine wonderful. A welcome midday relief from the central valley's 88 degrees at ten o'clock am and still climbing. It was supposed to reach 98 by noon. But by then, I was in Truckee's high Sierras relaxing.
I drove through Nevada's brown open dust bowls dodging tumbleweeds, under the vast open skies, counting telephone poles on her deserted highways. Hundreds of miles of barren land. All the while radio station ghosts mixed with static and faded in and out from far away stations.
Winnemucaa, Nevada. Human family ties must form immensely strong bonds to sustain a population of any size here. This junction of roads is surrounded by treeless dusty brown mountains then barren moonscape until the earth curves away out of sight. Wow! I saw less than 50 houses.
Hwy 95 turns dead north toward Oregon cutting alone through the midday desert wind. Only sand dunes live a few minutes out of town. Mixed in with broken down farm machinery, abandoned homes wrecked by incessant desert blasts, with withered paint from the Nixon years, slowly, rotting, back into the land. Finally the dunes fade away to nothingness.
Just me, a deserted two lane crumbling highway, and another radio station withering away.
I grip the steering wheel and fight the semi gusts that blow my Subaru from side to side. As I record these thoughts I'm reminded of how my pen and paper feel so good while I write. Yes I'd forgotten just how good. How familiar. Again.
Almost at the Oregon border the dusty sand and brown dirt fields shift to light green grass gently swaying in the calming wind. Trees sprout up on their own - not just planted ones around occasional houses.
An hour into Oregon - green prairies, white puffy clouds, purple flowers, gentle grassy hills, absolutely no traffic, and miles and miles of spring time meadows are everywhere. Beautiful, peaceful late afternoon.
Clean gentle wind blows cool. Gone is the brown and the dust. Gone are my worries hundreds of miles behind. In front of me are months of vacation. In front of me are thousands of miles of discovery. Deep breathes of clean empty air fill my lungs. Snow capped giants rise up to greet me. Welcome to the Idaho! Welcome to summer.
Craters of the Moon
I woke up to a bird's song in a farmer's field in Idaho Friday. My car was parked in the shade of the only tree for miles. The sun was just awake and smiling over the mountaintops that surrounded the beautiful valley. The air was cool and clean and ohh so green. Idaho is Heaven on Earth.
Then, only a hundred miles away, I was on the Moon.
I stood alone on the silent lunar plain. Windswept black lava rock contorted, twisted, and haggard out the formations in Craters of the Moon National Monument. The park was empty early that weekday morning probably much like when astronauts once trained here. I had the craters all to myself as the cool 70 degree wind blew over the land.
Underneath in caves, there was no wind. I hiked through pitch blackness in ice caves under the surface of the moon. In Teva's with a flashlight, I explored the dark depths of several caves where no light, no sound, no life, no change in temperature, nothing, existed -- except me. Unearthly indeed.
Back on Earth's surface, I continued north to Sun Valley.
Ketchum Idaho is nestled next to the Sawtooth mountain range. A fast blue river cuts through the land where Papa Hemingway lived, wrote, and died. It reminded him of Spain. I paid homage to his grave and asked the tombstone why he never wrote about this land. It is truly magnificent.
On the way over the pass I picked up a hitchhiker named Garrot. He worked in the construction business building million dollar celebrities homes. People like Errol Flynn to Arnold Swartziniger (who picked up Garrot's roommate in his hummer earlier in the season) lend a dualistic spirit to the natural, rugged, Sun Valley.
Garrot pointed out the sights; from Papa's house, now the natural conservatory's headquarters, to Native American Buffalo Jumps. We drove through the Sawtooth mountains and 3/4 of a million acres of untouched land surrounded by four national forests. The panoramic view of the Salmon River Valley was almost surreal.
He said that today was the first sunshine all month. Perfect timing. The flooding rains, the governor was surveying from an air tour even as we rode, had turned the valley into an Ireland color green. A raging white water river rushed next to the road as we twisted up and down the valley. The Sawtooth range was to our left, the Rockies to our right. And in-between were birds, deer, fish, inflatable rafts, wildflowers, and puffy white clouds four hours and hours.
I dropped off Garrot and continued up the highway towards Canada.
Beep, beep, beep the radar detector yelled! I hit the accelerator. Faster and faster the beeps belled as my speedometer climbed swiftly. The beeps grew louder, quicker, and in a frenzy of noise and velocity, my car started to shake. As I approached top speed, I rocketed past the highway patrol car in broad day light. The policeman waved. Unfortunately, my car can't even do a hundred.
Welcome to Montana - the land of no speed limits!
After the novelty wore off, I slowed down and continued next to Flathead lake all the way to Whitefish. The long, long, golden rays of summer's dusk turned the green grass amber in the fields like the world had on a pair of Vuarnet sunglasses. As the sun went down, the full moon rose over flathead lake. It was majestic. I made it to Todd Scott's just before midnight.
The longest day of the year in Whitefish means one thing; Seize the day. And when the weather is sunny and perfect, it was destine to be great.
Todd and I loaded his Subaru with boats, bikes, boots, and skies. We had a long day of perfect weather and wanted to do it all.
First we put the kayaks in the middle fork of the Flathead river. The record snow season and raining spring had the rivers running at full summer flood levels. The white water was exploding.
Todd guides inflatable rafting trips but prefers hard boat Kayaking. On a rafting trip a guide plots one's course and a crew of people help paddle. In a kayak it is just you.
I took an inflatable kayak. It had the benefits of being more buoyant like a raft and not as tipsy as a kayak. I wouldn't have to exercise an Eskimo Roll (right siding a flipped over boat in a pool or calm lake) or a Combat Roll (doing the same thing, in fast, rapid whitewater while you can't breath, in the dark, underwater where you can't see, as you feel your head being dragged across streambed rock bottoms, locked into a hard boat you can't easily get out of..) Yaow! I could just fall out and climb back in the inflatable.
But I was still alone. No raft full of people. It was me and the river. We floated the first section of the river approaching the rapids as Todd and a few other boaters practiced isolated Eskimo Rolls. The river was high and fast it would be a quick ride. We prepared. I wanted to follow close behind Todd.
As we hit the whitewater, we of course got separated. I crashed through the rapids remember the pointers Todd had given me. We regrouped in-between sections. The water was cold and fast. I know because in one section I exploded through a wave just as another smashed into me and I flipped out of my boat.
I held onto my paddle, and when I came up for air, I grabbed my boat and climbed back in. It all happened so fast, Todd didn't even see it.
The cold river seeped into me, but the warm day kept me happy. We pulled out down river and dried out on the sunny rocks watching the other boaters paddle by.
I was tired, but a peanut butter sandwich, and a drive through Glacier National Park later, we were pulling off the skies from the Thule rack.
Still in my San Diego surf trunks and a T-shirt, we hiked up the continental divide over the snow. On the top of Logan Pass, we changed from hiking boots into ski boots. We pulled the heavy skies from our back in the thin air. The sun was bright, the snow was deep, and it must have been 65 degrees. We had worked up a sweat hiking the gear up the mountain in shorts and T-shirts. But next it was time for a cool run and a few photos.
We shushed back to the car high above the valley where we had just played in the whitewater. It was huge skiing at the end of June! We twisted back down the Road to the Sun, past the weeping walls and raging waterfalls. Glacier National Park is extraordinarily impressive.
Back at camp we changed into Mt Biking attire and hit the trails. The thick green forests of Glacier's back door was our playground. We attacked a singetrack with some serious elevation. We peddled and peddled. The mosquitoes and steep washed out grade beat on us for about an hour before we traded the bikes in for beers.
The raft company summer solstice BBQ party was warming up. On the way to the party we were discussing how next year we would include a trail run in our long day of play. We joked how the only thing missing was a glimpse of a grizzly bear.
Almost on command, we came up on a "bear jam" (where motorists touring the park stop to photograph wildlife). We quickly saw the attraction. A young brown grizzly was tearing apart a fallen tree. Perfect. I don't think you can buy a day this good.
We cooked up some kabobs on the grill. We toasted to the sun in the zenith at the topics of Cancer, as the last rays of the day fell on the Frisbee game in the back yard. Inside, it was keg stands and drum circles. And as the big Montana moon shone down on whitefish last night it found me tired, and happy, and full of life. Carpa Diem!
Resting in Fargo
Sunday night we found a flat field behind a school which was a stark contrast to the jagged steep mountains of West Glacier. There on the even neatly cut grass (the only I saw), a good portion of the area's raft guides, their dogs, Subarus, fleece, Frisbees, and left over keg, gathered.
The day on the river was done, a game of Ultimate Frisbee had begun The sun set yesterday on 15 people running and yelling and laughing in peaceful bliss high in the Rocky Mountains.
Monday I started the day in the Whitefish Times Coffee House. A room with a giant budget. It had a complete coffee and tea selection, brown leather oversized sofas and chairs for giants, beautiful antique reading lamps, all next to a roaring fire.
It newly stood next door to those tiny, sparsely decorated, barely surviving, authentic Montana depressed economy storefronts. This place was pure philanthropy. Displaced, wealthy, charity to the community. Someone with serious money owned the place. Its' excellent art, attention to detail, grandiose Big Sky hunting lodge feel is perfect. Just how one thinks the ultra rich would live in Montana.
Far from the Zen lifestyle Todd enjoys in a tent on the river. He pays for a month what I pay for a night in San Francisco. And he has a better view!
I started Monday 1,500 miles into my trip. (120502). I drove on Montana state 83 south as heavy gray cloud soup brewed overhead. Rain sprinkled on the windshield in 45 degrees weather. The windows were up. It was cool inside the Subaru cruising an easy 75mph down past swan lake valley. Outside there was no traffic.
I stopped. I stood by the side of the road in complete quite except for my engine idling warmly. Only the wind moved through the thick forests that stretch deep and back adjacent to the mountains forever.
I stopped only for gas and bathroom breaks, and at 9:30 at night, 12 hours later, I was still driving through Montana. Montana is huge!
Clouds, black & blue, the color of a purple bruise, hovered above me. At the end of the day the fields were a bright disagreement. Gold light occasionally slide under the lighter clouds from the sunset side of the sky. Then a huge rainbow appeared as I pulled back on the highway from the last gas break. I was in awe.
The weather in the Great Plains was a nonstop show. An hour or two later lightening bolts ten times the size of a skyscraper grabbed a partner and started disco dancing across the sky. The rain was the size of grapes and came fast and hard in the heartland.
It's a challenge to describe the emptiness of eastern Montana and North Dakota. I drove alone in my car, alone on the dark road, alone in the massive empty state where an hour can go by and there are no exits, no towns, no farms. Just barren grassland, rain, nightfall, and me driving through it all. Listening to faded music and ghosts. What do they whisper in the wide open lands?
But before I could answer, just before 11pm, outside the F.D.R. National Park, fireworks exploded at the end of the straight highway. Real fireworks. Red, green, gold, giant, fast, slow, bright, dim, everything!
I drove and drove, the only car on the road, towards them for 15 minutes. But before I got there, I saw the grand finale, and suddenly they were gone.
Like an alien dream, I was abruptly transported back to black isolation nothingness. Hand anyone else seen them? I couldn't ask -- no one was around. Was I hallucinating? Was it aliens? What was gong on? I never passed a town, a parking lot, anything. Who was the show for if not just me? I decided it was time to pull over. 16 hours of driving was enough. I fell asleep wrapped up in the rain storm and wonderment.
Tuesday I woke up in an ocean of grassland. I spent the day sailing the meadows like in the big water. Like sailing, there was almost no visual stimulus, and tons of inward personal reflective time and relaxation. Also like sailing it takes all day to get anywhere.
Days and days of traveling back to the state of my birth. Like those travelers that have gone before me - my journey has moments of grueling boredom and monotony. In those times, I wonder what horseman who rode these paths before me, back to their homes thought about. Anticipation? Why they had left? Why now, do they return?
Or back even farther, when it was days travel by foot. How they would know when it was time to stop for the night? And did they fear the lightening as they fell asleep? And what did they think when they rose in the grasslands and embraced another day's journey like me?
Humankind's history is full of travel, conquest, and discovery. After thousands of years, it should be.
And for as long as there are paths and roads, there will be men and people, who will ponder life and travel upon them.
The Great Lake State!
Late Tuesday night, I drove through a huge field full of fireflies. Alone in the dark night they swirled neon yellowish green all around me. I had been beamed into outer space. I drove through a shower of falling stars. And when they would fly into the windshield bright day-glow ooze and light would linger, as if I'd just killed a shooting star.
After I left Fargo, I continued past Minnesota's' prairie home companion radio on NPR. I watched as the Great Plains slowly changed into the northern Midwest with it tens of thousands of inland lakes, deep green forests, and wildlife galore . I saw wild peacocks, and swerved to miss countless deer.
As I crossed into Michigan's Upper Peninsula (U.P.), which is still west of St. Lois on the Mississippi, I continued for hours and hours along the northern shore of the Great Lake Michigan (who the state was named for, not the other way around). Just before crossing the Mackinaw Bridge into the lower Peninsula, (the largest suspension bridge in the country (five times longer than the Golden Gate)) I thought about what a pain in the butt it would be if every state in the union only allowed people passage into the top or the bottom. Can you image having to drive into California only through the Oregon or Mexico border? Who ever setup Michigan wanted to keep out the people.
Touch down Michigan ends the first phase of the trip. I landed in Cadillac Wednesday morning after driving all night. I'll stay here for two weeks. I'll have my 10 year high school class reunion on Friday. Then the 4th of July on the inland lakes around Cadillac. A family reunion in honor of my 94 year hold grandma who still lives alone and drives (luckily only during the day). Next I'll stand up in one of my best friend's wedding, then Jen flies into Traverse City and we begin the Eastern Leg toward the shore.
Did you know that Maine's coast is just over 200 miles long as a bird flies, but with all the curves and points and bays it is over three thousand? That is like NYC to LA all along the water! It's going to be great!
Class of '87
Soft wind blows through my parents screened in porch this warm afternoon. A tall cool glass of lemonade sweats on the table nearby. The pink roses in the walled garden are in full bloom as puffy white clouds stretch out and relax in the summertime sky.
I sit in a soft wicker chair thinking and writing and wondering if I could possibly be any more content. My body sore and tired. My heart full of memories and promise.
This weekend was nonstop activity. My classmates from our small town high school starting arriving for our ten year class re-union early Friday. We collected on the lake of our youth and water skied, jet skied, tanned, drank, swam, laughed, and began the strange process of catching up after all these years. We exercised our bodies and our recollection.
That night over half of our graduation class of several hundred met at the bowling alley. Well, actually, the banquet room in the resort, better known for its snowmobile hotel rooms and winter community bowling leagues.
Nevertheless, I conversed with ghosts from long ago. I caught up with jocks and burn-outs and geeks and nerds, who are now, doctors and lawyers and IS staffers & business owners. I spoke with playmates of my youth, who together we would adamantly try to deceive their parents, who in turn are now parents themselves. My old juvenile delinquent friends now have their own children.
Over the last couple of days I found myself in rooms with as many babies as moms. After ten years my old hellion friends that remained in the Midwest are now sober, somber, and suburban. Living and realizing their version of the American dream.
It was equally interesting catching up with those ex-hot-coal-fire-walker facilitators and world travelers that have lived abroad in third world countries for years. I spoke with those that have seen the light, and those forever caught in life's daze and wonder.
Perhaps these ten years, these first years of adulthood, these early years of defining ones life and making decisions that will stretch far into the next decades, are the most volatile and exciting years of our lives. And sharing in those exciting times with each other was an absolute delight.
The next days were full of lakes, boats, and golf during the days; pubs and bar laughter late into the night. A homecoming of schoolmates. A re-alliance of companions. And a reunion of souls.
Long live Cadillac's class of '87.
Graveyard Tour 7/5/97
On the edge of town, down deserted dirt back roads, behind boarded up churches, under giant overgrown shady trees, tiny township cemeteries decay. The grave stones date back to the early 1800's. Some are in Swedish.
My great uncle is buried there in an unmarked grave. It was near the far edge of the postage stamp churchyard. My grandmother remembered where. A dozen of my relatives, mostly over 60, cautiously meandered around the grass reminiscing about their youth. My 94 year old grandmother told stories about her mother and grandmother and generations long ago. I snapped black and white photos and listened.
She spoke of a time before televisions, cars, computers, or airplanes. She stood on ground above her dead cousins, parents, and friends. We listened to living history told by someone who remembered.
My family reunion this holiday weekend included golf & picnics & introductions to distant relatives from far away places. Some people were total strangers to one another. Some had lifestyles that couldn't begin to understand each other. But we ate and drank and tried to come together. Yet in the little church back yards, as we spent the afternoon touring these little cemeteries and listening to my relatives stories, a strange thing happened.
We stood at a marker, a little shady spot, and saw two names chiseled in stone; Sven Gohan Peterson born 1829 & Stinna Lena Peterson born 1834. These were my great, great, grandparents. When we touched the marble's coarseness, and felt the monument's tangible existence, I could picture the young husband and wife who married, loved, and had children. Everyone I stood with descended from them. All these people. Some familiar, some I'd never meet. We all existed and could stand in the grass that sunny afternoon only for them. And we knew it. And for a moment, there in the silence, the same blood, in all our bodies, flowed in harmony.
With the contents of my life, the possessions of my existence, the material acquisitions that I had so healthily attempted to avoid lying amass my room, I wrote this entry the eve of my summer vacation a month ago;
"Soon Ill load my car with the bare essentials. Soon Ill drive out of California. Soon Ill begin a Zen vacation of simple enjoyment. Slow. Easy. Gentle. Long summer days of relaxation. And as I sit on my humble sofa now in my big room, my mind finds that place. My soul soars to the easy days of play. My feelings and my fingers find the familiar mystical space."
Now several weeks into my vacation sitting at my parents table, the middle of another warm sunny summer afternoon, I have found those long hours. I sit in anticipation of a pizza pocket for lunch, and another late afternoon golf game. I enjoy the early morning bike rides, paddling on the Pine River, or the time for writing on rainy days.
Tomorrow I head to northern Michigan to participate in my childhood friend's wedding. Jen flies in Saturday. This weekend will be spend with toasts and reunions and showing off Michigan to Jen.
But now, sipping a Coke, typing and relaxing, I'm content. The perfect, long, lazy, summertime days filled with sitting in the sun, reading novels, staying up late laughing and talking with old friends, or sleeping the mornings away. Whatever I choose, the captain of my lazy destiny. I love a vacation. And it loves me.
Northern Michigan Tour 7.16.97
The family nickname for Pete's grandfather that Tom sang about was known only to family and close friends. Perhaps that is why the rest of the people at my good friend's wedding, in the beautiful Charlevoix harbor restaurant, weren't really paying attention.
Tom's song filled with remembrance and reverence for their now dead grandfather was rich with love, emotion, and compassion. It shone with harmony through the room by way of his six string guitar, an U of M classically trained opera voice (which now sounded like an acoustic Neil Young) and a lifetime of heartfelt memories.
People dinned, drank, and socialized at the rehearsal dinner on the eve of Pete's wedding. Meanwhile, his brother Tom sang lyrics of emotional reverence through the night and into anyone's heart that was listening. It was beautifully touching.
As wedding bells rang the next day, I stood in the front of the church. As Pete and Carrie exchanged vows, my eyes kept searching the exit in the back. For it was there that I hoped Jen would soon appear. After a delayed flight, I anticipated she would make the end of the ceremony. And just as the priest gave his final blessing, I saw her beautiful smiling face in the back row.
I walked back down the aisle as the wedding party departed, around the back of the church, and into her arms. We embraced warmly and all the weeks without her suddenly vanished.
Everyone loaded a remodeled bus resembling a San Francisco cable car, packed it with beer and food, and began the slow, three hour drive to the reception 20 miles up the Lake Michigan coast in nearby Petoskey. It was a wonderful afternoon with a sparkling blue sky, crashing lake waves, and fresh love in the air.
The reception was a mini class reunion of last week. All my Michigan friends came together, again, toasted Pete and Carrie, met Jen, and danced the night away. Except the bride and groom, who still in proper wedding attire, rolled into the reception hall, and around the wood floors, on their new roller blades.
Jen and I woke up the next day in Petoskey and started our drive north. Over the next few days I promised to show her the best Michigan had to offer.
We drove along the northwest shore through tiny villages with big old house behind huge porches. Whose windows were thrown open to the warm summer days. We twisted past beautiful lake Michigan harbors filled with polished sail boats in picturesque marinas. We wound along bluffs and beaches and forests and rocks all greener and bluer and more beautiful then Jen ever imaged. Complete with turquoise colored water over pure white sand, many thought reserved only for Caribbean islands, sparkling clean and deep in almost every lake in Northern Michigan.
When we reached the top of the land mass and could go no farther in the mitten, we boarded a ferry and floated under the longest suspension bridge in the US, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron come together, and out to Mackinaw Island. There, among the bikes and horse drawn carriages, we transported a hundred years back in time to an exclusive resort without automobiles. We lunched on the water with Chris and Katie, and toured the old military forts, historic homes, and Grand Hotel. We sat in rocking chairs on the World's Largest porch (660 feet long) and snapped some photos.
Back on the Peninsula, we continued around the horn and down the Eastern coast to Mullet Lake. Just in time for a late dinner and drinks, we stopped to visit my Aunt Cay and Uncle Dick. Their beautiful lake cottage and annex came complete with boats and jet skies. We roared across the lake on a jet ski, cooled off in the lake, and relaxed above it with a drink inside their screened in porch. A perfect summer vacation home. Jen was fast falling in love with Michigan.
From there we drove south a few hours to Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. Native American Legend claims a mother and two baby black bears, escaping a forest fire in Wisconsin, swam across Lake Michigan. The mother first made it to land and forever waited atop a hill for her babies to join her. Indian Gods created two sandy islands off the coast (North and South Manitou Islands) where the babies perished in the swim. Then created the Midwest's tallest sand dune were the mother died forever waiting. From atop the Sleeping Bear Dunes, we could see the islands, and paid our respects to the lost baby bears.
Down Michigan we continued. Past Lake Missaukee to Paulie's hunting cabin on the river. Some Cadillac friends joined us for a BBQ, which to my surprise, included as many veggieburgers and hamburgers. We went for jeep rides on their property, ate, drank, and played pool before spending the night in the cool wooded lodge.
The next day we finally made it Cadillac. Jen had been in Michigan for days and still hadn't seen the town where I grew up; until yesterday. We spent the whole day enjoying my little town America. We rode our bikes along the lake, went water skiing, and then hung out in the town watering holes last night.
The Falls m7.21.97
This week we left Cadillac and stopped first in Oxford Michigan at my sister's. We saw my new nephew, grabbed a bite for dinner in trendy Royal Oak, and drank a motor city favorite beer, (shorts spelled backwards) overlooking Detroit's river from the world's largest revolving restaurant on top of the Renaissance Center. Our plans to breath deep at a local Oxygen Bar ran out of air early.
Next we crossed into Canada over the Blue Water Bridge and stopped at Niagara Falls. The afternoon thunder storm let up on command as soon as we pulled into the parking lot and slammed the car door. We wandered down to the spectacular overlook from the Canadian side and took pictures of a fresh giant rainbow. The raw power of one of the seven wonders of the world took our breath away.
We spent the night at Peck Lake in upstate New York's Adirondack Mountains. We pulled into an open field and fell asleep as the full moon glistened across the water.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast in Gloverville, (named for the thriving leather glove business) the Subaru decided the timing was perfect for a new timing belt.
We spent most of the next day getting to know the car salesman whose lot we broke down in front of. Larry was a retired NY state policeman. In 1992 he made full detective, solved a homicide, and found the body. But even then, his passion, was buying and selling cars. He told us that he put his three children through college without ever having to go to the bank for a loan. A real life "Cadillac Man." And in our broken down time of need, a hell of a nice guy. He called his buddies and arranged for everything we needed.
After a quick tow to Zaps, (the only guy for miles who had even seen " one of them foreign jobs "), we spent a few hours in the only sit down place around; a 7-11 with one booth. We plugged in the laptop, ordered some soda's, bribed the guy for an internet connection, and set up camp.
But only a few hours later we were on the road again. Turns out the mechanic happened to find a left over Subaru timing belt from 10 years ago stuck way back in his storage (either that, or god himself, or perfect Zen, put one there) so what started as a wait and see job, where's the nearest motel, on a Saturday, come back Monday morning, turned into only a couple of hours and soon we were zooming back down the road toward Woodstock.
We toasted our Karma at the Woodstock brew pub and relaxed and reflected on the strange day beginnings. We sipped our lagers and checked our map. We were only an hour from Fairfield CT where my aunt and uncle live. They had no idea we were coming, but if one can't impose on family, what good are they?
So a few hours later we were watching the moon rise over the purple horizon and water on block sound beach a half a block from their house. A clean bed and fresh shower were a welcome sight.
The next morning Mike sent us on our way with directions to the Newport mansions and a full breakfast in our stomachs. That afternoon we toured The Breakers mansion on beautiful Newport's Atlantic cliffs. We jumped into a cliff walk tour and learned about some of the five hundred mansions that make their home on the tiny island.
Built from the steamship and railroad fortune that a struggling new country needed at the turn of the century, Vanderbelt's pad, a mere nine hundred million in today's dollars, was one the island crown jewels. The rooms, the architecture, the views, were magnificent.
Per my roommate's recommendation, we sipped a few drinks on castle hill Sunday afternoon and watched the yachts, giant colorful spinnakers flying, sail into port under a heavy down wind.
We grabbed a thoroughly filling dinner with beers at the Red Parrot in downtown Newport before heading into Massachusetts. Last night we camped on Cap Cod and now I'm sitting in a little port town where the ferries leave for Nantucket. Jen took the photos down to the one hour place and I'm sipping a coffee at the tiny seaside café.
Today we sail hours out into the Atlantic to the farther, smaller, Massachusetts island for the night.
Good People: USA
David the owner operator of The Prodigal Son coffeehouse and bar in Hyannis, Massachusetts, is just another one of the wonderful people that allow me a few moments on their phone line (this one a long distance call) to connect to the Internet and keep me connected. We chatted for awhile and he gave me directions and information about Nantucket. I gave out another WWW card.
People like David, Larry in New York who helped with my Subaru, and many other great Americans, their community, and generosity, directly contradict all the negative information we hear from the nightly news. Every night instead of focusing on all the horrible acts that the media beams into our living rooms, I meet people who confirm my basic belief that people are good and will help those around them. I see it. Everyday. And it is good. From Cap Cod, to Fargo, to Hell-ena, and back.
A Boat, a Berry, and Ben & Jerry.
Sweat was running down the locksmith's brow. Across the parking lot we both heard the ferry's 'all aboard' horn bellow. We knew that if he didn't "jimmy" my Subaru lock in the next minute, we would miss the boat to Nantucket. We pretended not to notice the whistle. As I watched him scramble and swear, I thought back to the mechanic in the Adirondacks.
How could he have done such a wonderful job with the car AND removed my magnetic key tuck that I kept affixed to (what else?) but the timing belt's metal case. I kept it there for just such a lock-one's-keys-in-the-car kind of emergency. Shit.
From across the huge parking lot I saw Jen motion to her watch - it was now or never. I looked back at the guy from the other side of the car. I kept my eyes focused on the lock through the window. I used all the force a young Jedi can muster and a second later - I saw him raise his strange tool and heard the cherished click.
I paid him as fast as a I could and waved off the receipt as I took long strides, my backpack bouncing on my back in a now almost sprint, and accelerated down the hill to the ferry.
Once aboard the boat to Nantucket
We ordered a tall beer bucket
We cursed the key tuck
And toasted our luck
And hoped we would not up-chuck-it!
Once on the island, we spent the day exploring her early colonial architecture and settlements. We wandered down the cobble stone streets past cape cod homes hundreds of years old. It was a warm day and we took refuge in the local water holes.
We sailed back to Cape Cod on the last boat, leisurely popped the hood on the Subaru, and discovered the key tuck hadn't been removed, only moved, to the other side of the engine hidden from an underside view. Ahhhh! Oh well; now we know.
The next day we drove to Plymouth. But in addition to checking out the Mayflower and its' famous rock (1620), we discovered the cranberry. The Cranberry?
Yes. Ocean Spray's Cranberry world hosts a berry tour similar to a brewery tour. So we learned about the red fruit, how it is grown, cultivated, and harvested. We sampled its' nectars (and I suggested an alcoholic cranberry drink sampling option .(i.e. The vodka Cosmopolitan, Tequila Sunrise, etc..) but were instead directed across the street to the other fermentation option; The cranberry winery and sampling room.
With berries on the brain we hit the beaches of Boston for the afternoon. We phoned up Pam Daghlian and on a minuets notice, met her at her bookstore. She directed us to Harvard Square where we toured the campus and grabbed a bite to eat waiting for her to get out of work and watching the sunset. The next day she gave us a Boston tour including Cheers, the back bay, the downtown, the strange Hancock building's secret, Beacon Hill, and Boston Commons. So far our favorite New England city.
On the way out of Mass something pulled me toward the coast. Something was in the air. Perhaps it was magic, perhaps it was supernatural, perhaps it was witchcraft. But soon enough my car spontaneously deviated from it's path and toward Salem, where we stopped for a spell.
We toured the witch museum which documents the 1692 Salem witch trials. We walked through one of the early settlements of the east and learned about how a slave woman and several young girls, telling stories to pass a cold winter night, ignited one of the nation's largest and most feared witch hunts.
Once free of Salem's curse, we headed north into New Hampshire. We toured the windy, gently rolling hills and farms of the beautiful state. We crossed into Vermont and past the eastern mountains. On Church St. in Burlington Vermont, (a mini version of Boulder's bricked potpourri of street cafés and shops), we lunched in the sunshine. Our next stop was the famous cow spotted land of rich ice cream.
Ben and Jerry's Vermont ice cream paradise and factory tour was bustling. Our tour guide related a story about when he worked on the factory floor. Once the "chubby hubby" carton filler, plugged with excessive super chunks, pressurized, and exploded.. The sensation of being sprayed with several cold tons of ice cream left him "sticky, smiley, drippy, stunned, and a little scared."
As luck would have it, we sampled ours the old fashion way.
Last night we camped just outside New Hampshire's Mt Washington in the White Mountains. We got the last campsite next to river Outside Magazine mentioned as one of the 10 coolest spots this summer. And today we drove to Portland Maine and showed up at Tracey Thompson's hospital. She offered us the fold out sofa and a shower at her condo.
The Lobster State -- 7.27.97
Not long ago Old Port was the only section of Portland Maine that survived a fire started by a 12 year old that didn't end until nearly all of the city burnt to the ground. Tracy Thompson, Lynn, Jen, and I, had dinner and drinks there Friday night. Old Port's mature architecture was a sharp contrast to the rest of the contemporary seaport. Yet the bars, restaurants, and cafés thrive among the old archways, cobblestone alleys, and uneven wooden wharf.
The next day we drove up the Maine coast to Desert Island and Arcadia National Park. We spent the early evening in Baaaar Haaaaarbor. We stopped at a local watering hole to enjoy the strange accents and discovered one of Bar Harbor's offbeat attractions; The Reel Café.
The movie theater appends a pub, café, and pizza joint to its' big screen. It was showing a British political movie called Brassed Off -- so we went to the show. We sat down on a sofa instead of an optional lazy boy, futon, traditional theater seat, diner table, or bean bag chair. In Digital Dolby Surround Sound we watched the show with our pizza and beer resting in front on our coffee table. Very cool!
The next day we woke with the sun, had breakfast, and wiggled into our sea kayak all before 8am. As the sun burned brighter in the blue sky, we paddled through the saltwater. We spent the morning and early afternoon paddling from tiny uninhabited island to island off the Maine coast. We floated next to an osprey nest over 100 years old. On another island we spotted a baby bald eagle (brown but not small) fly from tree to tree. We discovered a village of starfish playing in the rocks on different one. Off another, we saw a hundred lobster trap buoys. So we paddled over, but couldnt see if dinner was waiting at the bottom.
Later that night, it was. We ordered two fresh Maine lobster tails and the fixings for an early dinner that night. The crustaceans may have only traveled a block or two on dry land to our plates.
After dinner we headed up Cadillac Mt. The 1,500 feet high mountain is the first place in the US the sun shines every morning. (St. John's Beach, Newfoundland is the first place in North America) So we went up for in the early evening to survey the four islands we had paddled around earlier that day. They looked few and far between from that elevation. The wind blew across the rocks, the tides had come in, and the sun was shining. My arms felt a little burn from all the strokes, and my belly was full of lobster. It had been a good day.
We watched the day roll over on its' back from a tiny campground next to the sound. Sitting in the thermal loungers, we talked back in the tent until bedtime.
The next day we drove off Desert Island and out of Maine. We crossed into New Brunswick and began our tour of Canada. We stopped in St John, NB, not to be confused with St. John, NF, or the recently renamed island of Prince Edward that had previously also been named St. John Island. (not too original?)
We drove past the Moosehead Brewery. Having just missed the final day's brewery tour, we were in just in time for the magic show about to start at The Reversing Waterfalls.
Dense fog added to the mystical, dreamy, aura of nature's magic show. We watched the river from several stories above while standing on the 100 meter long bridge. Right below us the show begun.
We watched high slack as the water from a fairly large river slowly ceased its' down river flow, suddenly flattened, and then reversed direction over the course of about a half hour. The largest tides in the world rushed into Fudy Bay, and literally pushed the river back into New Brunswick. The applause however, was in French.
The only other visitors were forty French grandparents from a bus tour. I'm sure they enjoyed the ten minute movie explanation provided by the national park in French. Of course I think that is what the old guy was yelling at me as we were walking down the exit stairs; either that or he did in fact mind me stepping on his feet.
Several hours north, our only motel of the trip wasn't exactly. Instead it was a tiny log cabin, high on a hill, overlooking a small mowed lawn, beyond a deep green forest, that gently sloped down to the Bay of Fundy during flood tide. It was beautiful. We woke up there today.
Now I'm sitting in a tiny pizza joint just before crossing into Nova Scotia. We checked out high tide at Cape Hopewell where some of the worlds highest tides (over 40 feet) were in flood. I snapped a "before" photo, and we'll return in an hour or two (around 3pm AST) to snap the "after" photo. There over a kilometer of ocean floor will be visible and we'll be able to walk around and explore what is under four stories of ocean.
Ocean's Floor, Voyage, & Sunrise.
I stood at the edge of the ocean. Only it wasn't there. Looking down four stories, I saw a recently visible staircase that hours earlier was underwater. At the bottom, strange arches, caves, coves, new rock beaches, a whole other world, emerged. We descended the stairs and explored several kilometers of new ocean floor where the sea had parted, and the bay of Fundy receded. We only had a few hours before the tides came back. So we hurried. It was cool.
Back on land we crossed Nova Scotia's length in an all day marathon drive reaching the northern tip around 10pm. As luck would have it, a ferry was boarding for Newfoundland in an hour. And as luck wouldn't have it, it was full.
The toll booth woman told us that not only was this boat full, but every boat for the next 7 days was booked. And that was for the short six hour trip. The only other option was twice as long, expensive, and booked up twice as long.
Time for a quick prayer.
Our car idled in the stand-by line as the cars who had made reservations loaded in front of us. I chatted with another standby driver. He said he couldn't even confirm passage a month into the summer. He wasn't sure if we would make this boat, but we had a chance. However, he warned, getting back to this port standby would be nearly impossible on the farther, less frequent, ferry.
Standing at a crossroads, Jen needed to catch her flight in Montreal for her national boards next week. The only boat back two days prior was full. We didn't have a good chance of catching it standby anyway. So our only real option was going over without the car, hitchhiking to St. John, camping, and coming back on the easier to book passenger only fare.
So we thanked him, and drove out of standby line.
I drove back to the reservation clerk, explained our dilemma, and asked to get our tickets switched to passenger only. I related our story to her; how we really didn't have any other choice and that we had driven for weeks from California to watch the sun come up on her providence's most eastern beach. Now we were denied only a day or two journeys away.
A tear came to her seasoned eye. She asked to see my ticket.
She ripped it up! She booked me a confirmed ticket complete with auto on this ferry. She over-rode the return trip and overbooked another passage complete with auto ferry returning in two days. She wrote a confirmation number on my ticket, handed it back, winked, and held her finger to her shushed lips.
Relived and rejuvenated, I dashed out of the building. I drove past the line of standby autos. Past my spot in it. Past our friend, the other driver. Past the cut off point where they would take no more. And up the ramp and onto the boat.
Yes I believe in Karma. Yes I believe in Angles.
Shortly thereafter we were steaming out into the North Atlantic night, snuggled into our seats, wondering how long our luck would last.
The next morning after our last time zone change (another half an hour to adjust to Newfoundland time). We steamed into port on the treeless, barren, side of the island at sunrise.
We drove off the boat and started the six hundred mile drive to St. Johns. Our gas needled said nearly empty. I didn't know then, that my karma was running on fumes too.
An hour into the drive the car began to rattle. Another hour and we were barely limping down the road at under 25 mph. Luckily there were few people or cars on the road. So we continued slowly, cautiously, certainly a bit concerned, into a tiny village only 1/5 of the way to St John's.
The mechanic shook his head. When he saw the car, he warned us that there were no Subaru parts on the island.
So we waited. We waited for him to do a once over. We waited for him to consult the expert Subaru guy in St. John's by phone. We waited, as the hours melted, as our limited time on the island vanished.
But when he finally came back, he had good news. It was not the $600 U-joint that would take 7-10 days to be brought to the island. It was not the bearings. It was only the tires. All we needed was new tires, a balance, and an alignment. Whew.
After a few hundred Canadian dollars, we were back on the only highway in Newfoundland and pressing on toward the northern peninsula.
That night we watched the sunset over the north Atlantic looking toward mainland Labrador. The blue cold ocean was a dark sharp contrast to the long golden light that illuminated the small fishing village named after twilight. Gorgeous.
Several hundred miles fell easily the next day. Soon it was dinner time and we found ourselves wandering down the main drag in St. John's; The oldest city in North America. We had made it. And just getting under way was a week long festival celebrating John Cabot's discovery of the "new found land". The bars and restaurants were packed. A band was warming up on a newly erected stage.
We grabbed a festive dinner and then wandered into a wooden paneled bar full of windows. Long sun streaked across the pool table as we knocked balls around the green expanse. Our challengers were Maurice & Brian; both Newfoundlanders.
We got to talking and discovered Maurice and I were both computer systems guys. Yet Maurice wasn't a typical geek. He was a six time national judo champion who just missed the Olympics. Still, he was the Newfoundlander who ran the Olympic torch in the run for Calgary. Later at his house, we listened to other stories over a few glasses of his delicious homemade wine.
From there we made our way to the far east of the western world. Cape spear lighthouse was perched out on lands end. We napped the few hours until sunrise.
Before our alarm clock sounded. Before the dark night slowly warmed into pale blue twilight. Before the dawn broke on the most eastern piece of land on the continent, our eyes blinked opened.
And for the next hour, we watched the sky turn light, pink, orange, yellow, then gold, before we saw it. Then the clouds turned a deep gold, the water seemed to boil on the horizon, and we knew it was almost time. So when that sliver of gold, that first glimpse of sol, that huge gold sun, slowly, delicately, slipped over the edge of the Atlantic, we were there to bare witness.
We welcomed the day. We welcomed the sun.
We squeezed hands and felt the climax of weeks of travel, hundreds of cities, and thousands of miles.
With the sun's first rays, a new day begun in the first spot in all of North America.
St. John's Newfoundland is the far east of the western world
Where the new world begins, the dawn breaks earliest, the new year comes soonest, Marconi took the first transatlantic call, and the oldest city in North America.
The southern coast of NF is where ten thousand year old icebergs drift south and where humpbacks migrate north. They say you can't see the icebergs for the whales where their paths cross. Unless, that is, you can't see anything for the fog. And that day, we couldn't even see the water.
So we spent the longest day of the trip waiting for the fog to lift, and the last boat off the island to arrive. We drove through the mist, explored fishing villages, and stopped at a nature park to see moose, deer, and a fox. It looked more like a zoo, but they called it a national park. Jen had never seen a moose before.
The ferry port was in one of the most remote, barren, wind swept ports I'd ever seen. The ferry terminal was the only building with any life. A few miles away an abandoned military port complex decayed next to gigantic rocks and tremendous waves in a land of giants.
We boarded the boat at 11:00pm one night, and arrived back on the mainland at 3 pm the next day. We spent fourteen long hours steaming through the north Atlantic. Yet we were grateful for the passage. Next we drove a few hours to catch our last ferry, this one for Prince Edward Island. A short 1 hour float ride.
PEI is rural. Rolling farms nestle gently along the island's ocean boarder. A sleepily little capitol, Charlottetown, has only a few blocks of downtown along a harbor. It makes Vermont look like the NYC. Jen and I pulled in late and shared a bottle of wine over looking the yachts anchored in the harbor.
We woke up the next morning to revelry from a ferocious squadron of mosquitoes. We car-camped in a field of wildflowers with a pine forest border, after a rain. Perfect breeding ground for the airforce of blood sucking bombers. Although our windows were rolled up, they infiltrated somehow. So we began the days drive swatting bugs -- up before the sun -- again. This time with bites!
We circumnavigated the island. Past its' north shore dune beaches. Through the New Hampshire style farm country. And over the longest piled bridge in the Western Hemisphere (12k) that had opened only the month before just in time for us.
Back on mainland, we temporarily passed out of Canada, crossing back into Maine. Road weary, and with only two days left in Jen's vacation, we found a nice hotel room in Bangor. We rested.
The next day we drove to Montreal. Once in the French speaking part of Canada, (80%) we truly felt as if we were in another land. We stopped to ask directions, but the construction worker didn't speak our language. Eventually we found another hotel room by the airport to help make Jen's departure the next day effortless.
So that night we wandered through the three hundred year old city. We found old town's ancient architecture spilling cafés out onto the narrow cobblestone streets. We sat down in a bustling intimate restaurant. The historic cosmopolitan crowds gave the streets an European feel. We ordered a hearty last meal with a bottle of wine.
And in that foreign land, sitting among strangers, as pigeons flew up from the streets, and as the sun set over our last day, we toasted to three solid weeks of success.
Jen flew to Sacramento the next day for a week of study before she takes her national boards. I'll pick her up in 10 days.
Pit Stop - Michigan
My vision was blurry. I could barely hold the car on the road. I had been driving alone for 12 hours. I still had hours to go. The leisurely travel pace Jen and I enjoyed had flown off into the clouds, with her, on a plane out of Montreal. I had been driving through Quebec all day. The only hour of rest was lunching in Canada's capitol; Ottawa.
At the Sunset Grill, I sipped a beer and gobbled up a sandwich in the afternoon sunshine across from the summer market. It stood near the river, barely out of the shadows of the cities' beautiful parliament architecture.
I was road weary. I had driven around Lake Huron, over the Sue Locks, (the locks that allow Great Lake super-tankers to navigate the uneven straits where the lake level from Lake Superior drops to the more shallow Lake Huron), through Michigan's upper peninsula, across the longest suspension bridge in world, (Mackinaw Bridge).
And I still had a few more hours to go.
But finally I crested the hill and arrived in Cadillac. There I spend a couple days resting. I saw friends and family, lunched and golfed, relaxed and restored. But soon enough I was back on the road again. I drove another two days, another thousand miles, to Boulder. And on the way the strangest thing happened.
Strong wind blew across the Great Plains. I had been driving through the Heartland for days. There were more bright yellow crop-dusting planes wobbling above the oceans of straight green Iowa cornfields, then cars. The interstate traffic was non existent on the flat freeway. It was midday. I was alone.
Back in Michigan and Quebec, driving conditions were much busier. Other cars kept me company on the roads. Now I felt like the only living thing for miles. I pulled off in Nowhere Nebraska. An interstate exit with nothing except two gas stations. Beyond, flat two-lane road disappeared into the world's breadbasket.
At the end of the ramp, my Subaru's right-blinker was the only movement anywhere. Wind howled around the closed car windows. I continued into one of the run down stations and filled up. Only the sun watched.
Nowhere Nebraska. The middle of North America. Far from the four corners of the continent I'd recently been.
I was just in Newfoundland. The far top right.
Winters in the Caribbean. The far bottom right.
Cabo in the fall; The far bottom left.
And Alaska two summers ago. The far top left.
I fought the wind to pull open the gas station door. Once inside, the door closed behind me to silence. I smiled at the bored clerk cracking her gum. I asked directions to the rest room. But as soon as the words left my mouth, I realized, I already knew the answer.
Insert Twilight Zone Music
Was it déjà vu? Or had I really been here before?
I hadn't taken Interstate 80 across America for years. Partially because I drove it so often from Michigan to Colorado after graduation. Now once again on I80 after tens of thousands of miles exploring alternative roads, it seemed enjoyably new again. New again; except this last stop gas station.
I walked around the corner and saw the familiar hallway.
This stop was a full days travel from anywhere I'd ever lived. How did I know it? On a four hundred mile stretch of Nebraska's great plains I should feel lost in the hugeness of it all. Yet this tiny service station somehow seemed familiar. The United States grew a little smaller that day.
I stood in that narrow restroom and thought about my summer trip. How long, how far, how random this stop.
Then I had a realization. I had doubled back on myself.
Here. Just now. In this tiny gas station. I had been here before. I had covered every square inch of this country and here I was at the beginning again. It was a sudden insight. I was through. I was done.
In that bathroom, I flushed away my desire for road trip exploration. I washed my hands of this countries interstate system that had taken me to all her states. By doubling back on myself, I suddenly felt finished. Complete back in the middle of it all.
I reached for the door handle. I pushed myself through the doorway, and through a feeling, from where I will never return.
Rocky Mountain High / Greenpeace Low
My wipers pushed light rain off the sides of my windshield. Through the blurry glass I could barely see Boulder's Flatirons, or the rest of the Rockies, as I drove into town. Clouds hung over the foothills for days. But the weather couldn't dampen my spirits.
I was returning to the first place I ever lived on my own. I was returning to my past. I was returning to one of the most beautiful cites I've ever known.
I finally pulled into Reed's tiny apartment on 8th street.
From Denver one can see the mountains. (On a clear day) And as one drives from Denver, the count down is in miles. Once in Boulder, the count down changes to blocks.
50th street, 40th street, etc. And when one hits 1st street, the world goes vertical. 1,ooo miles of plains meet the Great Rocky Mountains, that eventually change to other mountains, that stretch another thousand miles to the Pacific Ocean. All on Boulder's 1st street. Our huge country's diverse geography introduces itself and shakes hands -- eight blocks from Reed's house.
We hung out in the rain catching up for days. From his flat, or through a coffee shop's windows, we watched the rain & fog & clouds roll over the backyard mountains. Real, jagged, huge, famous, rocky mountains, all in his backyard. It is no wonder Boulder is so well loved.
When the rain would pause, we played Frisbee, rode our Mt. bikes up Flagstaff, hit golf balls, and hiked around the city.
I meet some of his friends. One who is a professional female mountain biker. Another who is planning a May summit mountain climbing in Denali. (I gave him my address) But then we saw our old friends from long ago.
We stumbled back on our former employer, the place where Reed and I met, where we became life friends, our anchor in Boulder, and the largest, most successful, global environment movement in the world. Greenpeace.
Yet we couldn't have picked a darker day for the homecoming. This week Greenpeace USA decided to close all of its offices around the country except a headquarters in Washington D.C. Lock up shop -- even in environment capitol Boulder.
Greenpeace closed offices from shore to shore. Over a dozen. By the end of the month they will end local grass roots fund raising, lobbying, and education nationwide. Gone are the local chapters protesting local environmental issues.
Gone is the Arizona chapter who breaths the air when they fight toxic and hazard waste storage in the southwest. Gone is the Seattle office, who hikes in the clear cut as they fought Oregon and Washington timber sale. And gone are my friends, the Colorado people protesting Aspen cutting and Rocky Flat's Nuclear weapon and plutonium manufacturing and hap hazard cleanup.
Gone are the people knocking on the doors of the American people sharing global challenges. Except for one spot; known for its' huge environment conscious; Washington DC. (cough, sputter, wheeze) DC isn't known for bad stuff like pay offs, corruption, and stalemates. Nah, I'm sure that is where environmental awareness will surely blossom. (shutter)
Click, crack, pop! The photographers camera's snapped. Local newspapers were featuring articles the next day about Rocky Mountain Greenpeace closing her doors after fifteen years in the area. We watched.
The director and dear friend joked that the political carton should show a bunch of activists chained to the front door of their office. "If they can't save their own office, how will they save the whales, the forests, the environment?" the caption could read.
Greenpeace International, and Greenpeace USA claim the move won't finish environmentalism , it was not to conclude the work, it was instead to reshape, rethink, and reorganize. They definitely need to rethink.
Jack, in one of his last gestures as Director, gave Reed and I some of the last environmental T-shirts that office would ever own. We also picked up some of the literature that will no doubt be headed straight to the city recycle center without ever having been read.
On my way out of Boulder, my last day, it wasn't the environment's tears I shared as they rained on my car's windshield. It wasn't her precipitation that made me sad, it was the non-participation of a changing organization, originally chartered to protect her.
The Loneliest Road in America
US highway 50 west runs across California to Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley, and surrounding mountains. It isn't lonely there.
US highway 50 runs across southern Colorado through the Rocky Mountains, to Crested Butte, the largest and arguably most extreme skiing in the nation. It isn't lonely there either.
But in-between, all the way across southern desert Utah and the entire width of the most remote Nevada landscape, the only signs along all those hundreds and hundreds of detached miles, say only one thing. And it's not gas. And it's not cities. It is, "Highway 50 -- The Loneliest Road in America." And now I know why.
It is amazing that still there are places so close to the 21st century, in our high speed, technology driven society, where if you run out of gas, you die in the desert heat. Even the Interstate that runs north, full four lane limited access interstate, has signs that read, "No services next 110 miles." And for almost two hours, you don't see another gas station, house, or person that isn't in a car. Truly bizarre.
Late, late, afternoon. On Nevada's highway 50, only the sun kept me company. There were no other motorists. I whizzed down the flat high desert road as fast as my car would go. My CD player sung loud over all the wind blowing in the windows. I drove down a flat plain miles and miles across with mountains jetting up on all my horizons. No other automobiles for hours. America can feel very lonely and giant out there.
No shirt. I drove barefoot. The wind streamed through my hair, sunglasses covered my eyes. I sang loudly over it all. In the early evening the wind was hot, but comfortable. There, one feels as free as a soul can feel.
I drove alone, say the sun, the wind, and my thoughts.
And my thoughts were soon I'll cross over the Sierra Nevadas and down into California's Central Valley. I'll pick up Jen and we'll head to Oregon. Soon my drive with all my windows open, and the world streaming past in a brown treeless blur, will only be a memory.
But the experiences and memories I build today, will be with me, for the rest of my life.
Half Dome, Yosemite. m.8.18.97
Warm white granite baked in the high sierra sun under my thick hiking boots. The famous wall of rock stood proud and defiant despite hikers and climbers trying to reach her top. Jen and I stood at the summit. We also felt proud. On top of Half Dome, on top of Yosemite, on top of the Sierras late Saturday afternoon.
We had just negotiated the guide wire cable that was bolted into the steep, vertical, pitch for the last 30 minutes. The final several hundred feet of the climb was the most technical. If we let go of that wire, the pitch was so steep; no one could stand without it. And the height was so high, death or serious injury was certain.
I was extremely surprised the park service doesn't regulate the people ascending that dangerous section. I guess perhaps because they figure if you can stomach all the grueling hours and vertical feet it takes to reach it, you deserve a chance at the summit.
The long 15 mile hike that gained and lost 5,000 vertical feet was only half over. And we didn't know then, that we wouldn't make it off the mountain until after dark. Nonetheless we snapped photos and ate our packed lunch. We sipped water and chatted with our hiking partners; Jen's sister & boyfriend.
He and I laid down on our stomachs on a diving board section of the rock that stuck out over the valley abyss. Beneath our rock outcropping was several thousand feet of nothing. All of Yosemite Valley lay below us. The wind blew gently. We crawled over to the edge, let our arms and face hand over, and our fear swell.
Physically it was like lying in your bedroom with most of your body on the mattress, just your head peaking over the edge toward the floor. I've read novels that way for years. I have never fallen off my bed.
Yet lying there, in the same position, I felt thousands and thousands of vertical feet, and miles and miles of open air all around me, forcefully, sucking, and trying to tear me free of the rock and pull me off my ledge. My heart was racing. My legs were shaking with fear.
Intellectually I knew I was safe, but my body wasn't convinced -- it was scared for its' life. We crawled a little closer. I could see the flat, straight, vertical face that so many romantic rock climbers ascend. We could see the tiny bodies bivouacked to the side of the wall's face. I wondered what it must feel like to hold the rope of your life in your own hands down there. Alone. Where no one would hear you scream if you fell.
I laid there another moment, as long as I could stand the adrenaline, before it started to make me a little sick. Then we cautiously, carefully, slid back until we felt it was safe to stand. When we stood I felt light-headed and drained, a little scared and excited.
Later that night, we sat around the fire back in camp four. We were safely on the valley floor. We talked with other hikers and climbers. We meet guys who had ascended Half Dome and El Capitan faces. It took them days and days. Others had only attempted a pitch or two, but shared the vision. All the stories were the same. Everyone spoke with passion about the wonderful and scary feeling of balancing life's fine line, and living to talk about it.
Adventuring is a strange sport. When not on adventure it is all I think about. And yet when I'm on an adventure, when my muscles are sore, when my body is dirty, and when my safety is compromised, then the comfort and warmth of fire, a shower, and a safe shelter, plague my conscious. Up on those rocks, deep in their camps, they think of us. While in the valley, we think of them.
Our campfire smoke billowed up, beyond the tops of the trees, up the walls of rock that surround the scenic valley. Up to the climbers, still on the mountain, sleeping on the narrow hammocks lashed to rock walls. They would smell the campfire smoke of safety. They would see the light from our valley floor blaze. And they would take comfort as the flames danced all night the acknowledgement of the shared dream in the moonlight valley.
The final curtain fell on Pentecost in the Elizabethan theatre in Ashland Oregon last week. Jen and I were in attendance. As the night's play drew to a close at the summer Shakespeare festival, so did our trip.
Our last week of summer vacation was full. We camped in Lassen Volcanic Park in Northern California along a deserted beautiful high alpine lake. There were no people there because we poached the campsite. We narrowly talked our way out of a illegal camp ticket with a Park Ranger the next morning.
We continued north past Mt. Shasta, the high snow capped peak I summited last fall. In Oregon we spent a night at the youth hostel trying to get last minute theatre tickets.
Drinking Starbucks, we stood in line taking shelter from the rain two hours before the box office opened early the next morning. The day's performance last minute tickets however were sold out. I knew the end was near when my luck didn't get us into the day's show. So we booked for the next night and drove north.
We toured Bend Oregon. A youthful, energetic, beautiful city on the dry side of the cascade range. Over the rainy mountain from Portland and Seattle, the climate was almost California valley dry. It was a pleasant change in the weather.
The next day we saw the show. We had a wonderful pasta dinner and split a bottle of local wine on the bricked sidewalk across the plaza from the theatre.
The play was about a pre-Renaissance fresco discovered in a church in post communist Europe. Its' possible historic value sparked a political drama about art, history, and religion. It was good.
The next day we drove through the northern California coastal redwoods back to Sacramento. At Jen's parents house we spend the weekend resting, hot tubing, and relaxing. We arrived in San Francisco Sunday night.
It's good to be back. I'm glad it's over. It was a monumental trip. Full of wonder, adventure, new places, challenges, and discovery. I'm glad for it, and equally glad to be finished. From June 13th, to just after Labor day, over 11 weeks of vacation, I traveled ten thousands miles, through countless cities, and the last few states and provinces in North America I'd yet to visit. It was great way to spend a summer. I'm glad for it, and glad to be finished.
Next year, the Pan-Am Highway to South America?
Epilogue: Burning Man
Just after dusk the ancient drums began. They beat on every side us, although we didnt see them. The cadence was rhythmic and non-direction. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Primal feelings pulsed through the air.
A glowing neon man, fifty feet high, towed above the dry desert floor. Around him a perfect ring of people gathered fifteen thousand strong. For weeks they had been amassing for tonights climax in nearby art camps.
A thin open round area buffered the massive crowd from the actual structure. The sacred inner circle was reserved for processional patrons and pagans. They marched down the parade path as we squashed near the front.
About a hundred people promenaded through the chanting crowd. Most carried flaming torches. Nearly all were nude except for a splash of mud or slight costume. The nighttime air was still over 100 degrees. In the center of the parade, a dragon queen rode high above the crowd on her royal serpent chair.
Smaller bonfires blazed randomly around the desert floor. The sky was filled with smoke, drums, chanting, and firelight licking the dark skies. We stood amidst something unlike anything I had ever seen.
The procession surged forward, the drums beat faster, the chatting grew louder, and all of a sudden, we were separated, and sucked into the parade. Before I knew what had happened, we had crossed into the heavily guarded private circle.
The display continued round and round the circle. And we with it. The outer crowd cheered when the dragon queen slithered by. Bare men spun batons of fire faster and faster. Exposed women performed mystical dances enthusiastically. People yelled, calling for the burn to begin. The intensity and excitement were building to near frenzy proportions.
In the inner circle, no one else wore T-shirts or carried a camera. So when we passed too close the outer circle, the spectators pulled us from the pageant. We ended up in the front row just before the effigy ignited, just before the spectator crowd surged forward, just before the huge neon man exploded.
We were front row for the Burning of the Burning Man. It was amazing. In the next several minutes, the five story tall glass and wood structure exploded, fire works flared, flames erupted and blazed into a light that burned visible from everywhere in the black rock desert, before imploding and collapsing onto itself to the cheers of the spectators.
The mounting heat and periodic aftershock explosions occasionally forced the people back. But the drums beat on. The dance continued. And the chanting endured. All as the searing heat remained and the tremendous desert fire burned late into the night.
The Burning Man may have gone up in flames, but the energy and emotion would never burn out.
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