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.