Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Return of Pace

And so, finishing with South Dakota, my whirlwind, self directed tour of the west came to a close.

Just kidding. =)

Neither an adventure nor a homecoming are very much complete without the presence of friends and because my very best couldn't be there with me in person for the long haul, it only seemed reasonable that I should show up at her Des Moines doorstep in the middle of the night while on my march back inland.

After the initial yelp of surprise and hugs that followed, we were able to make the decision within 10 minutes flat that we were way too worked up with best-friend-adrenaline to have a night in and so, after her own 14 hour work day and my 10 hour drive into the city, we headed out to the bar to show the world that, without question, we>you.

The next couple of days with her are are a blur of Disney movies, wine, popsicles, building forts and Google-imaging alcoholic celebrities, but every time we're together, it's easy to remember and understand why everyone hates us: We're just better.

Finally, though, I was back at home in my own goddamn bed.
It was strange: it felt more like I was simply coming home after a regular work shift or that I had been out of town for just the weekend instead of a near month's drive into and through nearly every landscape imaginable. Life immediately feels like it may effortlessly pick up right where I had left it.

Shortly before I had left, I was telling an acquaintance about my trip and about the substantial distance I was planning on covering in just my first couple of days in order to quickly get to my first destination. He paused and stared at me with a quizzical look before responding,
"An expedition like yours should not be a sprint, but instead a marathon. Take your time in your explorations rather than rushing into and through them."

Taken a little aback by what I had heard, I had very little to say in reply, but the thought had taken a hold in and lingered in the back of my head throughout the last few weeks.

While I have no regrets about how I spent my time and energy throughout my miniature odyssey, I'm confident, in retrospect, that he was right. Adventure as a whole is no doubt exciting and fast paced, but the capacity to fall in love with the one you've involved yourself in comes from letting it slowly envelop you. A real adventure is a long, drawn out affair of the heart and a slowly formed, warm, appreciative smile just as much as it's a mysterious look from across the room or a wildly intoxicated race through some foreign city.
Lesson learned, I'm hoping I'm already prepared for my next.

For now, though, I have some serious business to attend to:


Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Expanse

I felt like I had gained enough experience and personal insight to fill a couple lifetimes as I had made my way up the western coast in the last couple weeks and so now, finally, it felt time for me to navigate my way back to my starting point. Driving east from Seattle, I had just as many definite plans for my return trip as I had had for the journey westward: zero. Let's see what happens, yeah?

Of course, as to be expected at this point, the scenery was breathtaking. I'm almost legitimately grateful that I live nowhere near most of the places that I passed through simply because I'd hate to become desensitized to the kind of overwhelming, natural beauty that surrounded me.
If only I hadn't broken two cameras along the way already and formally resigned myself to a photoless fate for the entire 1600 mile trek homeward...

Oh wait I totally bought a third =)
That being said, take a closer look the next time you come to the Dunwoody/Lyndale intersection right off of I-94 because I'm sure you'll eventually recognize a lanky, penniless, filthy drifter wearing pseudo-designer labels and clutching a digital camera in his oversized, grimy hands as if it was his child.

Driving east through Washington, it's easy to say that the most scenic area I passed through was near the Wild Horses Monument right off of I-90. It's made to look as though a herd of stallions are stampeding right off the edge of the bluff, and can be seen in the distance from a nearby bridge. The horses have been graffiti'ed over the years but that really does nothing except make them all the more interesting to look at. I can quite possibly say that the best view of my entire trip was given to me as I stood alongside these immense, metallic broncos.

I had initially thought of potentially hitting up both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone if time and funds had permitted but the latter, at this point, was looking a little undernourished. I decided to shoot just for Yellowstone since it wasn't very much at all out of my way, I certainly felt like I needed an adventure that took place in a more native, uncontrolled environment than that of a major metropolis and I felt certain a 3300 sq. mile national park could provide just that.

I successfully managed to spend an entire day in Yellowstone, fording a river à la Oregon Trail and climbing into and through the massive lodgepole pine forests. There was a moment of slight panic when I realized I didn't know where I was, as I had been walking in (what I hoped was) one direction for a couple hours, not bothering to do much other than to stop here and there and take in the view. Somehow, though, with the help of an all-but-useless broken compass and probably some primal ability to smell the trail that my own b.o. was leaving behind, I managed to find my way back to the river, pass back through it and locate my car.

Here's the inner monologue I had as I was heading out of Yellowstone, after about 15-20 minutes of driving:

'Gawwwwsh, this is pretty! I really should stop to take more pictures, or at least take some as I drive by.'

*rummages through backpack as I drive, feeling and looking for camera*
*continues to rummage, slightly alarmed*
*pulls over in a panic and empties backpack onto the driver's side seat*

'You...have got...to be shitting me.'

That's right, folks. I definitely either left my camera sitting somewhere on a mountainside or it had dropped out of my backpack somewhere along the hike back.
This is the moment despair hit me in the same kind of way it hits a fourteen year old girl who can't stay out past 10pm. This was a tantrum that I'm sure all of creation heard:

'Fuck...FUCK!!! GOD DAMN IT! How could I do this?! How could I have something happen to it AGAIN!? This is the WORST TRIP EVAR!!! BAHH LET ME CRAWL UNDER A ROCK RIGHT NOW AND DIE!'

Alright, I had gotten that out of my system and the adult was slowly taking over again.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the 'sane, reasonable, cut-my-losses-and-move-on' adult that probably should have been present, but instead the wild-eyed 'I will NOT stand for this, I will scour every INCH of Yellowstone National Park until I find that missing camera!' crazy-parent kind of adult that grabbed me by the balls and started running.

What did I do? You better bet your grandmother's blood pressure medication that I DEFINITELY turned the fuck around, somehow recognized the turn off on which I had pulled over and started to retrace my goddamn steps through the wilderness as dusk started to break.
I was a man on a mission: I pulled off my hiking boots, charged through the freezing river like a yeti on steroids and started to make my way into the forest on the other side. I brushed past the pines and walked all of 40 feet when something blue caught my eye near the ground....

My gorilla arm camera mount was laying right there near a shrub, with my three day old camera attached to it.
Obviously, I single-handedly saved a houseful of orphans from certain death in a past life and this was God's way of thanking me for that. Luck ain't got nothing on this shit.
I made my way back into and through the river, all the while with the horrifying vision of myself dropping the camera and seeing it being swept away by the current. Just a momentary hallucination, thankfully. I managed to get my camera back into my car and drive away as the sun was setting.

Something else that's of some importance to note is that there is NOTHING in Montana except for the scenery. That includes any semblance of a coffee shop to relax for a bit and recharge my ipod.
My music library and roadtripping playlist was one of the few things that kept me sane throughout my adventure and it wasn't long before it needed to be recharged, which was mirrored with my complete inability to do so.
I decided, then, to see what kinds of radio stations I might be able to pick up in an area like this...

Hm...alright......static....static...static...a preacher bringing me the good word of our Lord Jesus Christ (thankfully) being drowned out by static...and...Hey! Music!
Well, shitty music. But it's something, right?
Suffice to say, the only radio station I could pick up for a good 400 miles was, no shit, 95.1 FM: THE MOOSE. Yikes. Alright, I'm in no position to argue. I'll take what I can get.

I drove into the night while still in Montana onto some small highway that would presumably take me onto the Interstate at some point. Even at night, the panorama was incredible. Faraway lightning storms lit the sky into a fiery orange for seconds at a time and you could see any and every star the universe could possibly grace us with by simply looking upward. I remember passing not a single car, farmhouse, or even road sign for miles and miles at a time. There was a point when I started slamming on my car horn on occasion just to break up the nothing that surrounded me.
The was the prelude to the only moment that I started getting legitimately nervous on my entire trip, and this includes being lost in a forest bigger than most metropolitan areas:
My GPS started to falter. It would start to blink, and eventually the screen started to wash out and it would reset itself, asking me if I wanted to continue my trip, as if it had the advanced stages of some kind of electronic Alzheimer's.
Here, in the middle of the night, in the heart of mountain country, it looked, for a while, like I might have to find my way back to civilization myself.
I managed to turn it off and reset it enough to have it lead me to a small town where I spent the night, but I was still a little unnerved about the rest of my trip.

I pulled myself through South Dakota with minimal help from my GPS. I would see how far I had to travel on a certain road, turn it off, and when that distance approached, turn it back on until I knew how much further I had to travel on the new drag. Rinse and repeat.

Yes, I saw all of the ridiculous sites that I absolutely needed to see while passing through South Dakota: I drove past Rushmore, taking a picture as I sped by (up yours, $11 parking), stopped at Wall Drug to walk through and relive some awkward childhood memories, and briefly stopped in the Badlands National Park before moving on.

Yeah, man: almost home. I may smell like an old woman's foot at this point from not having bathed in four days but ya'll better be waiting with forced smiles and open arms when I get back. I probably missed you a little, too.



Thursday, September 1, 2011


To backtrack a bit, I had a minor breakdown in Portland. It was all due to my (SECOND) camera somehow getting jammed while turned off and in my pocket as I walked through the Portland Art Museum. What the Hell? Suddenly I was looking at my bank account and the amount of miles between myself and Minneapolis and the week that I still had sit through before more money was deposited into my checking and the fact that I hadn't found anyone at whose place I could crash, even for a night. Anxiety quickly built until I was back to a pretty typical state of wide-eyed, nervous self-ramblings as I paced and fidgeted. Please God let the rest of my trip bring me back into a state of calm rather than one of emergency.

If I were asked to compare and contrast Portland with Seattle, though, it'd be all of the latter, none of the former. I arrived in the city near daybreak, set myself up in a local Starbucks (when in Rome, yeah?), and decided I should immediately look for a place to stay or things to see and do while there outside of the usual ("ZOMG IF YOU GO TO SEATTLE YOU HAVE TO GO SEE THE SPACE NEEDLE, PIKE PLACE MARKET, PUGET SOUND ETCETCETCETC").

Well, who has two thumbs and found a total stranger to hang out with within about a half an hour of being in the city? Yeah, this guy right here =)
I had a couple hours leeway before I was supposed to meet up with this guy for dinner and drinks and so I figured, per usual, I'd wander the city to see what I'd stumble across. I managed to park and walk along the piers just as the sun set over the sound and one of the last boats sailing back from Bainbridge Island came into dock. Now, maybe I'm a melo-dromantic, but I'm confident Seattle was meant to be experienced in the evening. I can't overstate the dreamy, poetic charm that she naturally exudes once twilight hits.

I met up with Josh, a transplant into the city of barely two weeks, and we wandered around the area, looking for a place to eat. We eventually decided, after gorging on a slice of greasy pizza the size of my torso, that we'd head out the club that night.
Sounds great, yeah? After all, I didn't even give Portland a chance to show me her nightlife in order to sway my opinion of her because of how much of a big, crusty bitch she was during the daylight, and so maybe a night out is what I needed.
The problem? (I realize, by the way, that I'd make a pretty natural Jewish mother, with the amount of bitching and dissatisfaction I can find in every waking moment) Josh is 20 years old, so we'd have to go to pre-21 bars. That didn't seem like much a problem, as I do it semi-regularly in Minneapolis.
The catch? Ain't no motherfucking pre-21 bars before TWO GODDAMN AM (read: 2 in the motherfucking morning) in Seattle because that's when they stop selling liquor. So they open up the bars to the pre-21 crowd from 2am-4am, when this old man is usually already curled up and passed out fully clothed in a Karkov (don't hate) induced stupor near the bathroom door.
Christ...alright. Let's do this. I can pretend I'm 19 again, just once more.

Well, okay. Twice more. Turns out, it was so much goddamn fun dancing until dawn that we decided we needed an encore the next night.
Even better, we decided we needed a whole day to explore the city together as two people who had no idea where to start, in order to successfully mentally pregame this early morning dance-off.
The result? ADVENTUREAPOLIS! No, yeah, crazy fun. We went to the Pike Place Market, found some super cool art to decorate his empty apartment, managed some bomb-ass photos in a photo booth, colored in the park, and definitely had a little piece of heaven via Cupcake Royale, among plenty of other mini adventures that I'm sure I've already forgotten about because the sheer volume that we were able to create.

Take two at the club was just as flawless as the first and the next day we decided to pay a visit to the Fremont Troll and cook dinner, making the third night a little more chill than the first two, followed by day four at the Pacific Science Center where I was the subject of interest for quite a while to one guy in particular:

Alright, yeah. All of this sounded about right after such a depressing time in Portland. I mentioned to Josh that I could see myself coming back to the city even semi-regularly considering how much I felt she had to offer. He warned me, though, that it was a hard city to break into and to expect The Seattle Freeze with the majority of interactions I would find myself in.
Well, fuck you, Seattle. I ain't scurred. Probably about time The Seattle Freeze got oiled up and had a parking lot brawl with Minnesota Passive-Aggressive, anyhow.

This was my last major city of the trip and I'm happy to say it went out with a such a bang. Now, finally, to wind my way back home through the mountains and plains of Montana and the Dakotas.
Here I come, Midwest.


Friday, August 26, 2011


So, I left San Francisco with the feeling of being on top of the world. While there, I had forged not so much a collection of specific memories as one overarching impression that there was something intangible in the light and sounds and smells of the city that I couldn't help but start to miss long before I was even back on the freeway. I think, on some level, I had fallen in love and still had the vague scent of her deeply trapped in my clothing and skin. It was going to be a long trip northward.

The drive eventually had me surrounded on all sides by long, rolling hills of pines, every shade of green.
I stopped at Lake Shasta in northern Cali to swim and bathe for a while as I hadn't gotten a chance that morning. It's difficult for me to conceptualize scenery more picturesque than that from the shore of the lake.

I couldn't help but imagine that the rest of my trip would easily be as dreamlike as my last week had been. Why wouldn't it? How couldn't it? Things had gone so seamlessly thus far that I conjured up these images of myself single-handedly demolishing any potential future roadblocks and effortlessly brushing past any person or situation that might hamper my adventure like some wild, lanky grizzly bear.

Then Portland happened.
Let me preface this by saying that I didn't hate the city itself, but holymotherfuckshitballs, the traffic and congestion is easily the worst I've ever seen in my life. I'm convinced that it's the only American city that's decided to not only have its roads designed by catatonic, down-syndromed Michelle Bachman lookalikes, but that it's required that half the population is in a similar unsound state of mind (and face). Why, oh WHY, do bicyclists have to ride their bikes down the center of the road, or use an entire lane of traffic for their own sadistic, environmentally sympathetic whims?
My first day had me so overwhelmed in frustration that, by the end of it, I decided I immediately needed a break and so I drove west toward the coast to fall asleep near the beach. I'm happy to report that God had a sense of humor through adding just a bit more spice to my melodramatic overreaction by making certain that there was a light rainstorm hitting the coastline just then and that I pulled up to the ocean's edge just as midnight rolled around. Really, all that was missing was an eyepatch-wearing, long-lost evil twin holding the map to the Pugh family's hidden goldmine.

After sleeping and calming down, I spent my next day meandering through the outskirts of the city and eventually into a state park that is split by the Willamette River. Wandering aimlessly long enough into the river, onto an island and through the brush revealed exactly what I needed to enjoy my second day in Portland after such a disappointing first: a very hidden, very nude beach. Jackpot.

After spending a warm evening sunbathing with my ever present array of homespun cocktails, I decided that I had been too hard on poor Portland. The people weren't ALL awful monsters, and it's not as though I was in a rush to get anywhere in particular, so whether or not the traffic was continually cataclysmic shouldn't be an issue, right?

And then it was time for me to start driving again....Fuck...FU-Gah! Ahhh! BLEERGGHH!! MOTHERFUCK!!! GODDAMN SHITSTORMRANDYNEWMANASSWIPE!!!

Yeah, no. Traffic is disgusting. Ruining my entire day isn't going to difficult for it.
I figured another day and a half tops before I have to move on. The city was going skullfuck my sanity until I broke free from its grasp.

What was left? Powell's City of Books, the largest bookstore in the world, for one. It certainly gave you the feeling of being the most intellectually insignificant piece of flesh walking the earth, anyway. Three floors, encompassing an entire city block and books lining the shelves from the floor to the warehouse-high ceiling. Holy. Shit. It was like walking into the library at Hogwarts. I found and bought a couple books while there and left rendered totally speechless by the massive amount of information that must have lived inside this colossal coliseum.

What else? Well, I definitely stumbled into what is apparently a well known secret to Portlandians (Portlanders? Portlandites? Port-o-Pots?) known as Voodoo Doughnuts. I cannot accurately express the happiness that shot through me following my first bite into a tiny doughnut voodoo doll.

The Portland Art Museum? Surprisingly well rounded, with both classic and modern art spread throughout the building.

Finally, though, I decided it was time to move on, and move on two days early at that. Portland wasn't for me in the long run.

Here's hoping Seattle's legendary rain can wash the hipster smell from my shirt.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hills and Lights

A bumpy start into California: I was definitely required to stop at a California border guard station, open my trunk and hand over my clementines before entering the state. Tried to tell the bastard that I bought them at Trader Joe's and that if the ones I had in my car had pests on them, they were undoubtedly already everywhere else in the state, but to no avail. Fucking eco-friendly Gestapo.

I had set up an account on couchsurfing.org and found a host gracious enough to put up his couch for me to sleep on for four nights in the heart of the Castro district. I couldn't believe my luck!

San Francisco is one of many cities around the world with the claim to have been originally built on seven hills. In that regard, it joins the ranks of Rome, Athens, Jerusalem, Mecca, Prague and (even) St. Paul.

I was surprised at how quickly I became accustomed to an environment that had me walking vertically upwards two thirds of the day, but I'm confident I could crush a child's skull in between my calves at this point and pro.......

Hang on a second. I definitely just rediscovered a short note that I had typed up in a coffee shop a few days ago after getting hopelessly lost and walking around for eight hours in the heart of the city.
I think it probably does a better job of summing up my experience than any regularly scheduled longwinded, gushing, verbose blog post.

...Also, fair warning: substance(s) may have been involved in the creation of this piece. Enjoy!

It was seen as a wonder on a hill. Seven hills, originally. San Francisco.

The city was beautiful and mysterious. She had become complicated by not just age and glamour but the nagging feeling in most of her inhabitants that she had many other lovers than just him or herself.

Again, you have to understand that I didn’t come to San Francisco to visit. I came to her to pretend, instead. I wanted to know what it was like to be a San Franciscan. That’s why I wander the streets and get lost in amongst the burrows and smoke in the park and lay on the hills. I wanted more a glimpse of the life being lived here than to see a tourist attraction.

I think I was looking more for a long romance than a quick fuck.

I had this conversation with my host while I was here. What counts as where you live, he asked. If I am in Germany and I travel to stay in San Francisco for three months, in which would you tell people you lived? The answer, I had responded, is the feeling of the traveler. Do you feel more at home in your native city or in your current? You’re always living at home, I continued, whether you’re spending three months or your life there. I don’t know that everyone finds their home, but there’s certainly no confusion in your head as to where you live if you do find it.

Visitors want a kiss, lovers want the rest. It’s easy to tell who the outsiders are but it isn’t always especially easy to tell which hipster college student or elderly Asian textile store owner is really living in their hometown or is just traveling through. The real lovers and those who only can only hope and pretend are so oftentimes so close in appearance and demeanor. Both the beauty and grief of the situation is that no one ever truly knows whether anyone else they pass on the street is actually having an affair with the city or just dreaming that they are.

Hm. Ever had a waking dream, where reality and surreality blend and swirl together for seconds or minutes at a time? I was left in that state for my entire four day venture. I think, for this particular city, my memories should remain my own =)


Saturday, August 20, 2011

San Francisco.

Today is my last.
Poetry down every drag.
Music surrounds me.

(Something less concise to come)


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Salt Lake City

What a picturesque, cozy city. To be surrounded by mountains day and night and to watch lighting strike them during thunderstorms, clouds scrape past them and snow slowly build up atop them must all be pretty mesmerizing sights.
I decided to only to spend the day here, because I wasn't confident I'd find much for an extended period of time. Really, I figured I just deserved a break after tenderizing my ass in the car seat after however many hundreds of miles of interstate.

Let me preface my mini exploration of the city by saying this: I probably only know as much about SLC as any other layperson (that being that its two claims to fame are a giant salty puddle and that Joseph Smith is liek so kewl, there). So I figured I'd hit up what I knew.

The Lake (as I'm going to assume it's called by the inhabitants there, because why the Hell not?) is about what you'd expect in a mountainous, arid landscape: watery. I guess.
Really, though, the scenery there was pretty spectacular.

The only problem I really had was the actual trek from the end of the beach to the water. This was marked by arduously stepping into and making a scene of pulling out of the mud/muck/sand/what I can only hope isn't biohazard waste with my flip flops for about a half a mile.

"Well, why not just go barefoot, Sean? I mean, it is the beach after all."
You know what? Shut the fuck up. Besides the grime along the way, there were very definitely billions of SWARMS of what I later found out to be brine flies hovering around the giant puddles and sand along the way. Upset one and they literally all moved in one giant, nauseating wave in another direction.

"Well, flies aren't that bad, Sean. Besides, I looked it up and brine flies are tiny and harmless. What are you, a 12 year old girl?"
I SAID TO SHUT THE FUCK UP! Brine flies weren't the only problem, here. There's also the matter of the dead birds. Yeah. Everywhere. From freshly dead to bones-picked-clean, and everything in between. That's right, man. I found out where seagulls go to die: The Marina's beach on The Great Salt Lake. Remember that opening scene in Saving Private Ryan? Yeah, this was the feathered version of that. Ever seen a beak without a face attached? I have, man. I have.

The water was gorgeous and shallow. It's ridiculous that you have to trek through the Seven Layers of Hell to get to it, but it was (almost) worth it. It was as though you could walk on forever and ever into it before you even had to think about actually swimming or staying above water level.

Also, on the way back to my car my flipflop came loose and I cut the bottom of my foot open on some pretty gnarly rock.
Luckily, I come (ridiculously, almost comically) over prepared.
I found one of the bottles of rubbing alcohol I brought and dabbed it with some paper towels and set a bandage over it. But, of course, it being both on the bottom of my foot and bandages in general being super retarded, it wasn't planning on staying put.
Solution? Gorilla tape =)

Cub Scout skills in practice, bitches!

Afterward, I headed to Temple Square, the headquarters of the prophet Joseph Smith's Church of Latter Day Saints and magic underwear ("Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum").

In all truthfulness, I certainly have no problem with any kind of faith (or non-faith) but there were still very definitely parts of the place that made me giggle, just a little.
The most striking were the giant paintings that they had hanging up about the the area depicting different bible portions/verses, in addition to ones depicting part of the Book of Mormon.
Now, I understand that the whole 'Jesus isn't a white dude' thing is sort of a half argument, because who cares? If you want him to look lighter or darker or with a giant goddamn hairy mole on his forehead, then that's whatever. Respect, yah? I guess, though, I never expected him to be portrayed as quite so...well, Aryan. Seriously, he looked like a thinner, paler Fabio. I don't think any one other person in the painting were ever looking at him so much as they were looking at his long, luscious, golden locks of hair and muscley arms. I would have snapped a picture but I wasn't sure the Mormons would have appreciated my chuckling AND snapping photographs as I moved from painting to painting.

Easily the best part of the trip to the Temple, though, my being approached by two LDS missionaries: Sister Somethingoranother from Pakistan and Sister What'sherface from Malaysia. It wasn't so much that they both spoke very broken English, or that the Malaysian missionary very obviously didn't know where either Minneapolis or even Minnesota was when asking where I was visiting from ("MeeeneeeAHpohlus! Ohhhh!"), or even that she asked me if I had seen or visited all of the LDS monuments they had in Minnesota (wtf?), but that they were apparently both dead certain that they were well on the way to my conversion to the point where they offered to walk me around the grounds and through the other visitor centers personally to teach me about about the Wonderful World of Polygamy that made me decide to cut my trip to Crazy Town a little short.

For realz, though? I'd visit again. It's a pretty area and, from what I heard from a non-LDS'er I met there, it apparently has a pretty poppin' nightlife.

Okay, yeah: Your beaches stink a bit and your missionaries are a a little pushy but, Salt Lake City? Totally got your back, man. Maybe I'll see you again.