Saturday, September 20, 2008

Day 50: Tripping on the last bit of road

I arrived in San Francisco Tuesday night and made my way to Devin's place, which is really his girlfriend Jasmine's place as he is just staying there until he moves back to Oregon to start school. He all ate some pizza and caught up whats been going on in life since the last time we hung out (which was two years ago, during the last roadtrip).

In the morning after waking up and showering (not necessarily in that order), Jasmine's roommates cooked up some loco moco; this amazing breakfast feast consisted of rice topped with a couple of ground meat patties, two fried eggs, and covered with some brown gravy. The proper way to eat it is to mash it all into a big ol' mess, cover it with your choice of topping (ketchup apparently being a Hawaiian favorite, I used hot sauce), and dig in. It was, to say the least, a very fulfilling meal.

After breakfast, Devin and I headed out to tour around the town. The first stop we made was a place called twin peaks, which is really just a hill in the middle of the city. However, from that vantage point you are able to get an amazing view of nearly the entire downtown and surrounding areas. The weather didn't want to cooperate, unfortunately, so it was a bit hazy and overcast, so subsequently photos don't quite do the view justice.

From there we drove down and parked near Haight street. We wandered around for a bit, brushing off pleas and songs for change from street folk, imagining that had we been the type that enjoyed shopping we would garner more pleasure from the district. Even without spending money, it was fun to just walk Haight and imagine what kind of crazy hippy activities had taken place there thirty or forty years earlier.

From the fields of Denmark
The rest of the day was we bummed around, doing a lot of mostly free things; hanging out in Delores park (normally a very popular place for the apathetic young twenty somethings of the city, but was emptier than usual due to the overcast skies), eating delicious ice cream, checking out a windmill, scaring seagulls at the beach, and finally getting a beer at an amazingly dive-y bar called Zeitgeist.

After resting a bit at the apartment, we went to pick up Jasmine from work and get some lamb schwarma for dinner, after which we promptly dropped her off again for class.

That night Devin's dad Frank came into town, and Devin, Frank, Jasmine, and I went to this jazz club called Yoshi's to see a performance by Vieux Farka Touré. Touré is from Mali, and plays a mix of traditional, jazz, blues, and rock guitar. The show was absolutely fantastic, really a treat to see such an artist perform live. For part of the show, a guest slide guitarist came out and the two of them played amazingly off one another.

The next morning I headed out, back on the road. My plan was to get all the way to Ashland that day, which at first seems completely reasonable. However, my chosen route would be a combination of highway 1, US-101, and some windy freaking road connecting Eureka to I-5. But if I had to drive I-5 between San Francisco and Oregon one more time I would have stabbed myself in the eye.

The requisite cliche photo of the Golden Gate bridge
The drive, as always, was beautiful. I also was able to continue my tradition of being able to find the most expensive place to eat in a given stretch of 100 miles of highway; I was starving (having not had much for breakfast, I was hoping to get a bagel or something at a Safeway I never passed), and decided that the next little town I come to along the way with a diner or restaurant of some sort I would eat at. Unfortunately, the next thing I found was the Sea Ranch. The food was decent, and really not much more than your typical establishment. I was, however, the youngest patron by a good thirty years, and felt that my scruffy look and attire didn't go over all too well with the wait staff. No worries; I ate my panini, paid, and was on my way.

Cloud formations make sunsets ridiculously better.
I finally arrived in Ashland a little after 10pm, where I met up with Crystal Gero who is back in Ashland to continue her education (lets hear it for the second bachelors club!). We got some drinks and caught up at my favorite bar, the Oak Tree. In the morning, breakfast was provided by Morning Glory cafe. If you've never been there, or heard of it, you are missing out. It is a local favorite for a reason; they have interesting food combinations and a nice friendly atmosphere. Personally, I had the bacon filled waffle with almond butter (mmm delicious), as mentioned in the LA Weekly.

Now finished with breakfast, we walked across the street to the Southern Oregon University campus so I could obtain a transcript, and subsequently have them unlock my online account (which will make my transition to PSU immensely easier). I tried to stop in the photo lab and apply for a job as a lab monitor, but unfortunately my old photo professor Erika was no where to be found (not unusual for a Friday afternoon).

After a quick stop at 7-11, I said goodbye to Crystal and headed north to Medford, where, after wasting a couple of hours at Starbucks, I met up with another friend from Ashland, Crystal Hess. Again, there were drinks and catchings up. A couple of hours later, I began one of the last legs of my journey.

My original plan called for me to return to US-101 and make the trek up Oregon on the coast. By this time, however, I was over it and really just wanted to get on with the good times. I-5 ended up being good enough for me, and I rolled into Corvallis around 10pm on Friday. I called up my old roommates Jeff Briggs and Brian McFarlane and warned them they had 20 minutes to prepare for debauchery. We gathered, and walked down to McMenamins for pool, beer, and cajun fries. The times, they were good.

I crashed at Brian's apartment last night (as someone had already claimed Briggs' couch), and ate breakfast with him this morning before he had to run off and work on his impending thesis presentation for this week (good luck Brian, and don't worry about it). After meandering around the town and lunch with Briggs, I once again waved goodbye and turned onto highway 99, heading home.

Blog status: This is the last day of the trip. However, don't stop reading yet. Look for the upcoming three part epilogue:
Epilogue Part I: If we could only see us now
Epilogue Part II: Roadtrip through the lens
Epilogue Parth III: Thank you's and No thanks to's
Miles: Over 13,000. Exact figure for the final trip will come in the epilogue.
Sounds of the end:
Thrice - Vheissu

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 46 pt II: Pacifica

While on my way up highway 1, I passed through a small town by the name of Pacifica, just north of the famous Half Moon Bay. In Pacifica, there resides the most interesting of Taco Bells I have had the fortune to encounter. It is constructed on the edge of the beach in a style that is reminiscent of 70's beach culture, with a "walk thru" window in the back on the beach itself. It is quite the site to behold. Astute followers of my previous roadtrips will recognize the structure as one I previously visited on my 2003 journey from Santa Cruz to Oregon with Graham and Moose.

Obviously Graham had to fly out to meet me here, but the cost was well worth the repeated experience.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 46: City on a Hill

I arrived at Scott and Rachel's Saturday evening. Scott cooked an awesome dinner of chicken with a cashew sauce over rice for the three of us, plus Rachel's friend Rebbecca. After dinner, the consensus was to find dessert somewhere and possibly some brews for Scott and myself. There were a couple of shady dive bars Scott had in mind we could try depending on how adventurous we were feeling later on.

We headed to downtown Claremont and wandered a bit, deciding where to indulge at. We settled on the Press, a fairly upscale looking establishment that probably charges too much for its beer and other drinks without even offering an amazing selection. I had a slice of cheesecake, which was extremely average at best; the girls split some cake and ice cream, Scott had a beer. Afterwards, we decided to try our luck at a bar more focused on beer. It turned out to be almost exclusively imported draught beer, which in itself is not a bad thing at all, but as a consequence was far too expensive and trendy for us.

Not so easily defeated, we had the girls drop us off at one of the suspect bars on the way back; we were close enough to Scott's apartment to walk back when we had had our fill. The pub was called something like the Black Watch something something. I forget. It's not terribly important anyway, as the place turned out to be pretty tame. We bought a pitcher of Boddington's, sat down away from the bar to chat whilst drinking, and were almost immediately drowned out by the live band playing that night. It wasn't a complete shame, though; they turned out to be alright. The drummer had an amazing mullet going on, complete with 80's style 'stache, and the older gentleman on lead guitar was pretty fantastic. We finished off the pitcher, chalked another one up to experience, and walked back.

Back at the apartment we cracked into some Dublin Dr Peppers. The glass bottle makes this drink about a million times more delicious.

On Sunday Rachel had a job being an assistant for some old artist downtown, so I tagged along with Scott to drop her off so we could bum around the beaches all day. First we explored Santa Monica. Down 3rd street on either side of Santa Monica Blvd for a couple of blocks is the promenade, which amounts to an outdoor shopping mall with a handful of street performers attempting to get discovered. We walked about half of the promenade before making our way to the pier. Like many piers or boardwalks in California, the pier at Santa Monica has a perpetual carnival going on. On the beach itself, adjacent to the pier, is a monument maintained by Veterans for Peace called "Arlington West". In the sand, they have a cross for each solider who has died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The view is quite sobering and a reminder that even in a place of perpetual fun like the beach of Santa Monica, you can't escape the consequences of war.

We walked along the water for a bit, making sure to avoid any needles in the sand, before heading back inland (across the widest beach I have ever see, by the way). By now we were getting a bit peckish, so we stopped on the promenade again to grab some mediocre pizza by the slice.

Not really being much for shopping, Santa Monica wasn't really impressing us. We decided to head south to Venice beach, since we still had a good two hours at least to kill before Rachel had to be picked up. We drove down, parked in a lot where the fee machine was broken (free parking!), and walked the boardwalk. That place is brilliant; the pavement is lined with street vendors peddling art, crafts, political messages, sub-par entertainment, amazing entertainment, and just about anything else you can imagine. The day had started off overcast, but was beginning to clear up as we walked down Venice. We stopped for a while to watch some guy attempt to perform comedy and stunts at the same time, but moved on pretty quickly when we found out he was extremely lame. However, further down the boardwalk our craving for excitement was satisfied. For a good 20 or 30 minutes, we watched a group of break dancers. They were a group from LA and Chicago, and not only were they fantastic dancers, they were also very good entertainers when speaking to the crowd. They also claimed to be followers of true hip-hop: Healthy independent people, helping other people. For the finale, one of the members did a flying leap/flip over about five audience members who where kind of bent over. Very impressive.

After the show, it was time to go. We navigated traffic (ugh), picked up Rachel, and now exhausted, headed home. We decompressed for a while watching some classics (Old School and Wedding Crashers was on TNT). Before sunset, we drove over to the Claremont colleges to experience one of James Turrell's skyspace sculptures. You sit in an outdoor space under a white ceiling with a large square cut out of the middle. The show begins when the sun sets. Color changing LEDs light up the ceiling, gently changing the color through a wide array of colors. As the color of the ceiling changes, the way you percieve the color of the sky through the square changes too. A sky that appeared a deep purple one moment will suddenly seem as blue as the midday sky. The experience is amazing, one that I would highly recommend to anyone in the area. I'm not sure if his other skyspaces have similar light shows. As a side note, I have actually unknowingly seen a Turrell skyspace before. While in England this last spring, we visited the Yorkshire sculpture park where he has another skyspace installed in the side of a hill.

After the skyspace, we came home to scrumptious gumbo. Mmm. Scott, I'm going to visit more often.

The next day was Monday, so Scott had to take off early to make the hour and a half commute of 30 miles into work. Unfortunately, when he left, he locked one of their cats in the same room I was sleeping in. This usually wouldn't be much of a problem; I'm not allergic to cats or anything silly of that nature. It seems, though, that this cat has a particular habit I was unaware of: when he gets hungry he will chew on your fingers and toes. Needless to say, I was awoken to the feeling of a cat first rubbing his head against, and subsequently gnawing at my feet.

I got the the hint and got up. After breakfast and packing, I said goodbye to Rachel and drove into Altadena to meet Scott for lunch. After some good Japanese, I said goodbye to him as well and headed out on the 134 to the 101. The plan from here on out was to stick to the coastal highways all the way through Oregon. I love this drive, and when I have the time I will choose to do it ten times out of ten rather than taking the mind-numbingly boring I-5. The views are spectacular, and the landscape varied and interesting. Obviously weaving in and out of coastal cliffs a hundred feet above crashing waves takes a bit longer to navigate, but the experience is more than worth it.

I still don't care if it is kitsch
I spent the rest of the day and a good portion of the night heading up highway 1. I arrived in the Monterey Bay around 11pm and decided to grab a motel for the night. I had been hoping to simply camp on the side of the road somewhere over looking the ocean, but the condition of my back coupled with the fact that I knew my air mat would offer absolutely no support led me to decide against that. It should be the last room I have to pay for on this trip, anyway.

In the morning I headed around the bay into Santa Cruz. I'm pretty familiar with Santa Cruz, having spent my first year of university here. I drove up to the UCSC campus, parked, and walked around. It was great to see the place again, it brought back a lot of good memories. I went by the bookstore up to my old dorm building (College 10: The college with no soul!), down across the Science library bridge, and around some of my old lecture buildings. I wondered what life would have been like had I stayed. The campus is definitely beautiful, and amazing to walk around (although kind of a pain because of the hill it is on). Things would have been pretty different; I most likely wouldn't be on this trip, living who knows where. But, had I not gone to Southern I would never have gotten as heavily into photography, and probably not math either. Its hard to say, and really there is no use dwelling on past decisions. Learn and move forward, make the most of where you are.

After coming down from the campus (it is located on a hill overlooking the city), I parked downtown and strolled the street. I couldn't resist eating lunch at my favorite pizza place, Pizza My Heart.

Now, I'm on my way up to San Francisco for a day or two to see my friend from back in the old swimming days, Devin. I'm nearly finished with the trip, but there are some good times that need to be had before I'm done.

Weather: Mostly cloudy north of Santa Cruz.
Total miles gathered: Exactly 12200.
Sea Wolf - Leaves in the River (I didn't realize how good this was, I would have listened to it earlier had I known)
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
Chevelle - This Kind of Thinking (Could Do Us In)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 45: Holiday from the real

On Thursday during the day I was on a mission do get some work done, and do some old fashion 'sploring of the area around Toluca Lake/North Hollywood/Burbank. I drove around for half an hour or so looking for some breakfast; I was hoping for a bagel shop. No such luck (I ended up at one of the many Starbucks in the area). After pretending to look important with my laptop reading Slashdot for about an hour, I didn't feel like I could justify taking up their space anymore (I had only bought a muffin or something), so my mission continued. Laura had provided me with directions to the local Burbank Public Library, which I followed more or less (meaning I missed the intersection the first two or three times I drove by it, but found it eventually).

Not pictured: my eyes burning from cutting
up chilies.
The library was amazingly productive. I spent a good couple of hours working and blogging, only interrupted for an hour or so for me to hit up In-n-Out for lunch and read the LA Times.

I met Laura back at her apartment after work, where we planned the evenings itinerary of debauchery. First, dinner; we hit up a Thai grocery store and Ralph's for some ingredients, Twinkies, and Tequila. The plan was to cook up some fried chicken and rice with chili pepper infused soy sauce. The Twinkies were bought on a whim; with the oil ready to fry the chicken we thought "Hey, why not try and deep fry a Twinkie or two before we much it up with chicken and batter! It has always sounded like a delicious and absolutely not a nutritious treat!" As the oil came up to temperature, I looked up the actual Twinkie frying recipe on Laura's phone. Reading Wikipedia, I realized the consequences we would unleash were we to continue our plan of just dropping the Twinkies in hot oil.

"STOP! This will be a horrible error!!" I yelled.

Apparently, to properly deep fry a Twinkie, you must first freeze them for at least a day, then batter them in some sort of egg based batter. Otherwise, the cream filling will melt and the whole thing will fall apart in a gooey, bready mess. We were not prepared.

Chicken and rice were sufficient, in the end, with normal slightly cold Twinkies for dessert.

We now had been fueled for the main event: a night at a karaoke room. Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a karaoke room, like I was, let me elaborate. A karaoke room is an establishment which is really just a collection of rooms (this one had about 10 or so probably), each one has its own TV, karaoke machine, pair of microphones, pair of tambourines, and apparently sometimes a fog machine.

"This is just a tribute"
We met up with Laura's friend Pam, her sister Jenny, and Jenny's boyfriend, who I had been led to believe hated everyone and was extremely infatuated with Jenny. This turned out to be not entirely true, the guy was actually pretty nice; although for most of the evening the rest of us were just background to the couple as he swooned over her, implicitly dedicating every song he, or anyone else for that matter, sang. He did kind of look like a member of the Aryan nation, though, and he completely threw me off everytime I sang with him. Not that I am any kind of an amazing singer or can even keep a pitch, but come on, give me something to work with.

For four hours, we sang our hearts (and voices) out. Rest assured I sang the crap out of the likes of Tenacious D, Radiohead, 80's butt rock, and many R&B/pop songs that I don't actually know. However, don't assume that this is some sort of indication of future forays into the world of karaoke...

Friday rolled around, and the day itself was much like Thursday; Starbucks for breakfast and the library to pretend to work.

For dinner that night, Laura and I went to Pam's mom's Thai restaurant. Needless to say, it was fantastic; Thai Orchid eat your heart out. After stuffing ourselves, we hung around drinking the free-refills of Thai ice tea while waiting to be able to move again.

We finally got moving again after a good hour at least, heading to a bar called Bar One to meet up with some ex-coworkers for drinks. The bar was a neat hole in the wall kind of place, specializing more in wine than beer but still having a fairly decent selection of brews. There was a live DJ, although we didn't really notice the fact that it wasn't just a jukebox until actually seeing him (in other words, not so impressive).

The last stop for the night was a birthday party for Laura's roommate's boyfriend. So I don't have to type that ridiculous identifier anymore, here is a reference list of names to people so I can just use names.

LauraMy friend from Santa Cruz
DreLaura's roommate
AaronDre's boyfriend, the birthday boy
ChadFriend of Aaron's. His real name wasn't Chad, but thats what everyone called him. I think it was Dan.
RenaldoAnother friend of Aaron's. May or may not have eaten some soup when he wasn't supposed to.
JoeThe last friend of Aaron's, his real name isn't Joe but for the life of me I can't remember now what it was. Sorry Joe.

The birthday party was quite fun, filled with some Santa Cruz beer (almost all of us there had gone to UC Santa Cruz), sopa, funfetti cake (which Dre had made the night before while we were cooking dinner; it took all of our will power not to eat it in its entirety when Dre left), and a game of Taboo. I was on Aaron and Joe's team, with Laura, Dre, and Chad on the other; I think Renaldo had passed out on the floor by this time. Taboo, apparently, is not Aaron's strength, a fact I found out while playing and which was later confirmed by Laura later with an amazing anecdote. We lost, but not badly.

Interesting side story: It seems the guys living in this house (Aaron, Joe, and another who wasn't present) either don't believe in washing their hands after using the bathroom, or they don't believe in using towels for this purpose. Despite which it is, I found myself with wet hands and nothing to dry them on while there. Looking around I realized I had three viable options.
  1. Use my own clothes, a popular trick among males but one not taken to lightly
  2. Use the shower curtain, it seemed to be made out of some kind of cotton product; should be absorbant enough
  3. Use the floor mat, I'm not sure why I thought this might be a viable option

I ended up deciding on option 2.

We eventually ended up back at Laura and Dre's studio around 4 am. Saturday morning came, and went; we arose around noon. That day we had to head out to Santa Monica to pick up Meghan, then down to Redondo Beach to meet Scott for lunch.

We arrived in Santa Monica and quickly found absolutely no place to park. Meghan was having tea with her boss, but said she'd be good to go when we got there. Circling the block, Laura dropped me off in front of the Tudor House, instructing me to be charming to Meghan's boss, flashing my biggest smile, and then retrieve Meghan. I walked in what turned out to be a side door, and stood for a good couple of minutes looking around. I must have looked quite the creep, bearded and scruffy, scoping out the scene. I finally spotted Meghan chatting with her boss. For some reason, it seemed to me that the conversation looked quite important and uninterruptable, so after fidgeting for a few minutes hoping to catch her eye, I just kind of wandered back out. This made for a humorous story the rest of the day.

Luckily they finished soon and departed of their own accord, and we were able to pick up Meghan and book it down the coast to Redondo Beach.

The spines were still moving...
The three of us met up with Scott who was already waiting there (sorry Scott), and headed down the pier to the fresh fish market. This place was amazing; every kind of shellfish, fish, and even strange edible sea creatures you could imagine were ready to be bought and cooked (most were still alive). I was strongly advised to get the crab, as the experience was pretty phenomenal, not to mention the taste. Laura and Meghan split a smaller crab, Scott was more adventurous and purchased a sea urchin, and we all shared about three dozen oysters.

Now, I have never been one for shellfish, or really sea food in general. I had certainly never had freshly steamed dungeness crab which not 30 minutes ago had been alive and kicking. Setting my thoughts and preconceived biases aside, I dug in; tearing limbs and claws from the de-shelled body (I received helpful advice from Laura and Meghan on the proper techniques, and Laura kindly ripped the things top shell off for me). My conclusion for crab: not too bad of a taste, extremely messy, not convinced it was worth the cost (well, maybe the first time for the experience as well).

Removing bits of crab and "ancient Chinese secret"
Scott had to head back to downtown LA to pick up a painting for Rachel, so he left us to finish off lunch. Also, to get the full Redondo Beach experience, I still had to do three more things: win a plate with a roster on it, win a mystery box, and eat a churro. We headed to the arcade that Scott had described as "very scary, I felt like I would get an STD from a child there", and played the easiest game to win prize tokens. In the end, we had enough for 13 plates and a mystery box. We purchased the box and went to get churros. These boxes are notorious for containing completely random crap, used or new. Previously, Meghan and Laura had received such prizes as used makeup, broken toys, trinkets with bits missing, and other such gems. Before opening, we registered our predictions about what ours would contain. After shaking the box, I guessed an article of clothing and a pencil sharpener. The actual contents:
  • A small fake Christmas wreath to hang in your car, complete with cigarette lighter power cord
  • A half bandana
  • A bottle of nail polish (seemingly unopened)
  • An American flag with suction cup to attach to a window
  • A bracelet with the name "Angie" on it
  • One of those wooden ducks you hang up and the wings spin in circles with the wind, except one of the wings was completely rusted and wouldn't spin.
  • Two plastic coasters
  • An unidentifiable round bottle
It was like Christmas in September. After finishing our churros, we headed back to the arcade to purchase the cock plates, then headed out. Back at Laura's, I packed my stuff, said goodbye to Laura and Meghan, and drove on over to my last LA destination: Upland, to stay for a few days with Scott and Rachel.

Back status: It hurts, I think I tweaked it this morning. Good thing I'm just going to be mostly driving today.
Miles: Somewhere around 12000.
Jack's Mannequin - Everything In Transit

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 44: Too tired to be creative

So just enjoy this picture of me enjoying Redondo Beach and crab. Update coming tomorrow, I promise.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 42: Out of Fire and Death, into the City of Angels

As darkness fell over Death Valley, I was beginning the journey from the south edge towards my campground. When I say darkness, I really should note that it was never total. The moon was out, and just over half full, which cast an eerie glow over everything; and the lightning storms, which had yet to let up, continually flashed in front and behind me.

Like most National Parks, Death Valley has an entrance fee to drive through. However, unlike most other parks, there was no range booth on the edge of the park from the direction I came. Rather, you were required to stop at one of the kiosks along the route and purchase a pass from an automated machine. I finally arrived at the first of these machines nearly an hour after turning from the highway. Up until this point, I had yet to leave the confines of my car inside of the valley; I had no idea what to expect from the atmosphere. I arrived at the completely unlit Bad Water kiosk and parked my car so that my headlights could provide illumination. I refrained from turning off the engine, however; I didn't anticipate a long stay.

I opened the car door, and was immediately hit with a blast of 106 degree wind. The storms raging around the mountains were causing a ferocious wind to gust from more than one direction, blowing sand and hot air into my face in an unpredictable manor. I ran over to the ticket kiosk, quickly read the instructions, inserted my $20, and waited for my pass to print. Suddenly, an enormous gust came blowing down from the north, hurling dirt and dust at me. In order to save my poor contacts from further abuse, I turned my back and hunched over to shield myself. At that exact moment, my ticket finished printing and before I could react was blown from the machine and off into the rocky bed below the parking lot. I stood there for a few seconds, trying to comprehend what had just happened. The little piece of paper, which had cost me $20, had just gone flying off into the dark unknown, on the back of a gust of wind which probably measured 40 or 50 mph.

You have got to be kidding me, I said out loud. You have got to be freaking kidding.

I snapped out of my intense disbelief and ran to my car to get a flashlight. I went around the back of the pit toilets (which smelled horrendous, let me tell you what; just imagine the effect of all that waste sitting in 115 degree heat all day, and then having the stench blown at you in hot waves; not pleasant), and began searching frantically for my little receipt. Winding my hand crank flashlight, furiously trying to increase its area of illumination, I continued my futile searched for about 5 minutes. Every now and then, I would stop and listen, hoping to catch the sound of rustling paper. Unfortunately, I had to give up. The wind could have carried it any of at least 5 directions, and by this time far away. I would have to just pony up the cash and buy another one.

This time, I covered the opening with my hand while waiting.

I got back in my car and blasted the A/C for a good 5 minutes cooling off. I eventually arrived at the main village in Death Valley, Indian Village (over 70 miles from the entrance). Luckily, they had a gas station so I could stop worrying so much about saving fuel to be able to leave in the morning. My campground (and the only one in the park open at this time of year) was just up the road and had the charming name of Furnace Creek.

I pulled in, paid my camping fee (again making sure to place my hand over the opening to prevent losing another $12), and began driving around looking for a decent camp site. Furnace Creek is quite large with over 100 campsites, although many of them are place right next to one another in typical "camping out of a car" fashion. I finally settled on one far enough away from others, with a decent view of the eastern mountain range and thunderstorm still in progress.

What followed was an exercise in frustration as I attempted to set up my tent in high winds, while being blinded by sand being thrown into my eyes. When I finally was able to get the tent up (using rocks on each of the corners to weigh it down), a sudden gust of wind essentially turned it into a big kite. For a few minutes, I desperately held on as the tent rose about six feet into the air and pulled me forward. I prayed the straps holding the posts wouldn't rip from their stitching, or that the posts themselves wouldn't break. Finally, I wrestled the tent to the ground and was able to sit on it, preventing it from becoming airborne again. I sat there contemplating my next move. I took the tent apart, shoved it back into my car, and gave my eyes much needed rest and lubrication.

My next idea was again to weigh down the tent as I erected it, but this time from within rather than without. The theory was that once the poles had been connected, the weight would still be inside the tent holding it down and it wouldn't lose anchor like it previously had. I rummaged through my trunk, searching for items to use as ballast. While still in my backseat, I stuff the tent with anything I could find with substantial weight. With faith in myself, I brought it back out to try again.

This is how I lost my tripod, shovel, sleeping bag, pillow, sleeping mat, and extra blanket all at once.

Just kidding. It actually ended up working out fairly well (especially when I used four large rocks to anchor each of the corners inside). I finally set the tent up, threw my water bottle inside, and dove in to escape the pelting winds. After setting up my sleeping arrangements, I stripped down to my boxers and laid on top of it all. The temperature was still over 100, and my gallon of water was quickly running low. Between tent cave-ins, lightning flashes, and the oppressive heat, I spent the longest night of my trip. Oh, and my rudimentary fixes for my leaking sleeping mat failed.

Death Valley 2, Colin 1
I arose just before sunrise to the proverbial calm after the storm. The sky was mostly clear, the wind gone, and even the heat was down to an acceptable 85 or so. I packed up my belongings, got dressed, watched the sun rise, and headed back into the village for overpriced breakfast buffet.

I left Death Valley partially conquered, but partially victorious.

For most of the rest of Tuesday, I crossed the barren wasteland that is south-eastern California. After hours on the road, I descended the San Bernardino mountains and into the smog filled valley. For those who haven't driven into LA by car, the change is very visible; a think layer of brown haze permeates the view into the distance. My first stop in LA was to be with a friend from Santa Cruz, Laura Kim; I'd be staying with her for a few days and getting exposed to some lesser seen parts of life in the Valley. I arrived in Pasadena around 2pm, which meant I had a few hours to kill before she got off work. I bummed around, bought a CD from a used record store, and settled down in a coffee shop to read a local news paper.

That night, we met up with two of Laura's friends for happy hour at Bar Celona, a fairly fancy bar in old town Pasadena. The happy hour menu consisted of a selection of food items such as shrimp, buffalo wings, meatballs, and other such finger food for $5 each. Not too bad, we thought. That's when we found out that for $5, you get four meatballs, or four shrimp, or four wings. We ate a couple of plates between us, drank down some pints, and headed over to King Taco for more substantial food. Another bar (where they had Stone IPA on tap!), then some delicious frozen yogurt from a self-serve yogurt bar. This place was very interesting; you chose the size of dish you want, pour as much yogurt of varying flavors, then top with fresh fruit! Very tasty and in fact quite healthy. I imagine places like this will begin popping up in Portland within a year or two (behind LA as we usually are in these kinds of things).

Wednesday morning, I got up around 9am so I could navigate the interstate traffic down to Disneyland to meet up with my sister Kirsten and her daughter Natalie, as well as her friend Kari and her son Rowan, who just so happened to be vacationing at the same time I arrived in the area. Talk about good timing. Amazingly, the park wasn't all that busy (being after Labor Day, and the middle of the week); we never had to wait more than 5 or 10 minutes for even the busiest rides.

Contemplating my situation.
I spent the day with them wandering around the park, getting shown around Minnie Mouse's house by Natalie, and getting completely saturated on Splash Mountain. In reference to that last point, let me tell you, I think the ride seater was conspiring against Kirsten and myself, as he sat us in the front (myself in the very front), with a smaller child behind. We obviously weighed down the nose of the boat, so any and all declines caused the nose to dip lower than usual into the water, resulting in more pronounced waves invading the sides. I was soaked before we even went down the last drop. I thought about how best to shield my poor backpack (with camera inside) while plunging down the last free fall. Good thing it was a nice day (although I still didn't dry off before going to bed that night).

We parted ways in the evening and I headed back to North Hollywood to meet up with Laura and Meghan, another friend from Santa Cruz. I met them at Porto's, a delicious bakery restaurant and ate some leftover scraps of food they had ordered (well more than scraps really, but that's what it felt like; I had a good portion of a beef sandwich, two potato balls, and half of a cheese and jam filled danish thing). That night, the three of us went bowling at an amazingly hip and "indie" kind of bowling alley. With complete modesty, I can say that Moobs dominated. Okay, dominated is a bit of a strong word, and in fact quite incorrect. But we had fun.

Thursday rolled around, and set in motion events that would culminate in an amazing trip to a Korean karaoke establishment...

Beard status: getting quite full and fluffy. White hairs becoming more pronounced, though.
Total trip miles: 11652. Unbelievable.
Listening to recently:
Eye Alaska - Yellow & Elephant

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 41: Daylightning

When last I posted I was setting off from Utah on an adventure that would bring me through the corners of Arizona and Nevada, into the barren wasteland that is south-eastern California.

After passing through the little bit of Arizona and back into my beloved Pacific Time Zone, I made my first stop of the day. It is here that I discovered two amazing things:
  1. Red Bull Cola
  2. Valley of Fire State Park
First, the cola. I've been more or less a fan of Red Bull since my early days of drumming; it (along with the sadly absent Surge) fueled many a long jam sessions with various friends over the years. I find the taste to be far superior to any imitators that have come after (I'm looking at you Rockstar), and its smaller can size much more manageable. Other than a sugar free version, Red Bull has up until now offered no other variations on its product line. To say the least, I was surprised to now see a cola alternative. My initial thoughts were tempered with memories of the rather vile Rockstar Cola, but my curiosity won out in the end and I purchased a can. I cracked it open, drank it down, and came to the conclusion that I couldn't form a decisive opinion one way or the other about it. It was deliciously Red Bull in flavor, with a nice kick of cola; and yet at the same time just as horrid in flavor as previous energy/cola offerings. Quite the contradiction in a can. Further tests are necessary.

Every park needs an arch.
Either way, I didn't let the Red Bull Cola uncertainty distract me from the second amazing thing I discovered in Nevada; Valley of Fire State Park. On a recommendation from my friend Devin Saez, a former resident of Las Vegas, I took a detour from the interstate to check out this park. The day was beginning to become a scorcher, and time was not something I had in abundance, so I regulated myself to simply driving through the park. Even so, I was able to experience much of the fantastic sights the park has to offer. The site of an ancient inland sea, plate movements have forced enormous amounts of jagged, fire-red rock formations through the surface. The visitor center offered an extremely informational time line explaining how exactly the valley was formed over millions of years, and the processes which caused the brilliant landscape.

One area of particularly amazing formations was the Painted Valley (or something to that effect). Here, different compositions of stone had been pressed together and exposed in such a way that contrasting colors come together, giving a kind of rainbow or painted effect. It was all quite stunning and very fun to drive through.

On my drive into the park, I had noticed a gathering storm off to the east over much of the Lake Mead area. It looked pretty nasty, even to the point of becoming a thunderstorm (as a side note, lightning during the daytime is fun to experience, albeit still a little unnerving when it gets closer). After a while in Valley of Fire, I realized that this storm was heading directly my way. Time to boogie, I thought, not really wanting to get caught up in a nasty storm. I stopped just outside the park to photograph the entrance sign, and was nearly blown over by the powerful winds preceding the storm. I felt sorry for the wedding party that was just beginning to arrive for their afternoon ceremony.

Once back on the highway, I discovered that while running away from one storm, I was heading straight into a second. It seemed the weather systems had conspired to surround me, opening up the sky and letting fly crazy thunderstorm rain right as I pulled into Las Vegas. The storm was pretty nuts, to say the least.

The deceptive beauty of Death.
After stopping to get food and get lost in the suburbs of Las Vegas, I continued on my way to Death Valley. I wasn't sure exactly where the campground I was to sleep at was located within the park, and really wanted to arrive around or right before sunset to ensure I could get a spot. It turns out Death Valley is a bit further from Las Vegas than I had initially suspected. After driving for a couple of hours, I finally crossed the border into California and began the ascent over the mountains bordering the valley on the south-eastern edge. While still on the eastern face, the sun began to set over the western range, the temperature outside a pleasant 85 or so. I crossed the summit and began to descend into the park. It was around this point that a series of facts, once connected, began to worry me.
  1. All of the elevation gain for the last 20 miles or so had not been kind on my fuel efficiency.
  2. My odometer I use for my current tank of gas was just below 300 miles (I usually average at or just below 400 when I fill up), and my fuel reading was quite a bit lower than I expected it to be.
  3. I was enter Death Valley from the south. It is a large park, with the main village close to the center. Also, there aren't really many towns of appreciable size close by.
  4. The temperature was rising. Quickly.
I went into extreme fuel saving mode. Despite the fact that the outside temperature was now over 100 degrees, I turned off my air conditioning. Now that I was descending the slopes of the mountains, potential energy became my friend; I put the car into neutral and used gravity to take me down to below sea level, performing what amounted to a controlled "free-fall".

Needless to say, it got hot in the car; every 15 minutes or so I would turn on the A/C for a few minutes to cool off. Due to these fuel saving measure, I was able to travel quite far into the park without affecting my level of fuel much at all. Around 100 feet below sea level, the road more or less leveled off. I was well into the park now, and losing light. No turning back...

This story to be continued (its time for karaoke).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Day 38: Into the Valley of Death

Fast Food Report
Blakes Lotaburger - I first thought this was just a local one-off, having the look of an old burger joint/drive in. However, when I started to see these cropping up all over the place in northern New Mexico, I began to become suspicious. The name, obviously, is very similar to my previously mentioned Whataburger, and unfortunately the food wasn't much better. Although score one for having such burger names as the "LOTA burger" and the "ITSA burger" (guess which one is bigger). As an aside, I also found a place called "Thatsaburger", although I didn't eat there. Interesting...

In-n-Out Burger - Known as the best for a reason. All fresh ingredients guarantee a delicious burger experience. A lack of frilly options means they do what they do, and do it very well (your choices are burger, cheeseburger, or double cheeseburger). Really not much has to be said about In-n-Out; if you haven't yet partaken in this pinnacle of fast food achievement, get yourself to a more enlightened state and treat yourself.

The last few days have consisted of a lot of driving, mostly. I left Santa Fe Saturday morning and began my journey north. My first destination was Four-Corners national monument. Unfortunately, there was no real direct way to get there from Santa Fe; I had to first drive nearly to the northern border, then west. In the end though, I'm glad I was forced to drive that route because the scenery of northwestern New Mexico is quite amazing. I suppose you can call it "high desert", although it is far from barren. Unfortunately, like a dope, I neglected to stop and take any pictures, and I'm having a hard time describing it. Just take my word for it.

As I got closer to Arizona, the landscape began to change into a more typical desert. Interesting but not quite as beautiful.

Four-Corners is an interesting place. I don't think I was expecting much, so I can't call it a let down. It sits on the Navajo Reservation, and has a selection of merchant booths around the monument selling jewelery, crafts, and souvenir t-shirts. The monument itself is a plaque in the ground marking the actual corner set in a concrete deck with the seal of each state in its respective section. There is an elevated deck where you can get a better view of the corner. The best part was the Navajo Frybread I ate while looking at the corner. Think elephant ear, with honey instead of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Yum.

From that exciting adventure I drove northeast through the lower bit of Colorado. I had thought about stopping at the Canyons of the Ancients national park there, but my time was beginning to grow short if I was to make it to Arches before sunset, so I settled for simply driving by it. Unfortunately there wasn't much to see from the road.

I arrived in Moab, UT right around Sunset on Saturday. I had no idea, but this town just outside of Arches is quite the outdoor adventure town. It reminded me a bit of Whitefish, MT in its size and popularity with tourists. When I finally reached the entrance to Arches, I saw the following sign in the ranger station window:

Campground Full

Drat. Figures, though; I hadn't really thought about the fact that it was a Saturday. Driving back through town, I stopped at motel after motel only to find them all completely booked. Double drat. I talked to a man outside of one motel who told me that unless I wanted to pay $150 for a room (not unless I'm in Canada), I was probably out of luck. Nothing I can do about it then, I thought to myself, and decided to get some grub and drink at the Moab Brewery I had passed on the way in. The food was pretty good, the beer was nothing too special (at least the one I had). I bummed around the town for a bit, wasting time on the internet, reading, wandering the grocery store, until I felt tired enough to attempt the car-nap. I must say, I'm getting better at this sleeping in my car business. It's still not the best nights sleep, but it's more than adequate to get me through the next day.

I woke a little after the sun rose, ate a banana, and headed into Arches. Being early into the park had two major advantages:
  1. Beat the heat
  2. Beat the rush
The only named arch I wanted to ensure I saw was the famous Delicate Arch; everything else was just bonus. The trail leading to the arch is about 1.5 miles each way, and rises about 500 feet. It doesn't sound so bad, except that the altitude rise is almost all encompassed in one stretch of the trail that goes up an exposed rock face at a nasty angle. Add to that the fact that my calves were still recovering from Carlsbad, and you get one gnarly hike. Thankfully it wasn't over 80 degrees yet.

The famous delicate arch...just kidding, click for the real photo.
At the end of the trail, you round a corner carved out of a rock face with a rather steep drop off to your left, and there in front of you is Delicate Arch, set in a natural amphitheater area. The view is more than worth the hike to get to it. I sat around enjoying the view for a while, then walked around the arch itself before heading back down the trail.

The rest of the park was truly fantastic. There is a lot to see and explore, I spent more than an hour simply driving around and doing short hikes to other lesser known arches. As the day wore on, however, the crowds began to irritate me. I think a late fall return to the park could be well worth the trip; less heat, less crowds, and hopefully a camping spot.

I left Arches behind in the early afternoon, and began my long drive down to St. George, UT. Although quite lengthy, the drive was made interesting due to the landscape. The southeastern quarter of Utah has amazing views; canyons, mountains, jagged rock formations pushed at odd angles out of the earth. It's also mostly empty (there was a stretch on I-70 that had no services for over 100 miles). If I have to spend six of seven hours driving, I'll take that kind of a drive.

When it was time to head south, I took US-89 instead of I-15 for two reasons. First, I've been trying to conserve fuel so I don't usually drive faster than 65 or 70 (no need for the interstate speed limits of 75+); and second I-15 is pretty boring, having driven it on my last roadtrip with Scott. My plan was to head through Zion National Park, but not to actually stop in it this time. However, as I found out, it costs $25 just to drive through. Forget that, I thought. Unfortunately, the next passage between US-89 and I-15 was about 20 miles back the way I came.

I finally arrived in St. George around 8pm. I checked into my $26 motel (new record!) and realized I'd better do laundry so I don't offend my hosts in California. As you can probably guess, it was an exciting night.

Today, I'm off to Death Valley, via Las Vegas. I'm not anticipating a problem getting a campsite this time (being Monday, and the fact that there are over 100 sites at this particular campground), although it may be a bit on the warm side. I'd better pick up some water.

Reason for the short blog: I need to get on the road and put off writing this
Odometer reading: ~1000 (it rolled over after 9999).
The Honorary Title - Anything Else But the Truth (pretty decent album, thanks Lynsey)
Pink Floyd - A Momentary Lapse of Reason and Wish You Were Here (the former being quite good, I'd never really listened to it before)
Coldplay - Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head

Friday, September 5, 2008

Day 35: Beer has food value, but food has no beer value

On Thursday, I woke up fairly early so I could head back to Carlsbad Caverns. Being after Labor Day, the park was mostly quiet. I purchased my ticket (only $6, what a deal) and walked over to the "natural entrance" to the caverns, which is the large hole in the ground the first explorer of the caves used to get in and out. Luckily, visitors these days don't need to scale down a wire and wood ladder into total darkness; there is a convenient paved path (albeit a winding one) that leads you into the depths. Once you're eyes adjust to the darkness, the few lights on the path and strategically placed to emphasis points of interest are more than enough to feel comfortable with.

The caverns themselves are amazing. As with Glacier, I feel any words I could write would be unable to truly do justice to the magnificence of the place. The sheer size of some of the caves is unbelievable, as are the many (many) formations decorating the floor and ceilings. I felt like I was walking through a Disneyland exhibit, nothing this amazing could be natural. But of course it is, and is really a testament to the power and beauty of nature. Anyway, I'll stop trying to butcher Carlsbad with words; instead I'll use pictures.

It took me about two and a half hours in all to complete the self guided tours available. In the future, I think I'd like to come back and participate in one of the caving tours; one where you get a helmet and headlamp and scale yourself into one of the undeveloped caves.

Also, after Labor Day is the perfect time to come (at least to this national park, but I imagine the story is similar at most places). One ranger I met on my way down told me I was only the seventh person he had seen that day (almost two hours after the park opened).

Don't believe the lies...I'm not sure which lies not to believe, though
Leaving Carlsbad, I headed north again to a little town called Roswell (you may have heard of it). Let me tell you, that is one goofy place. Of course, I had to go to the International UFO Museum and Research Center (yes, research center). Now, I'm a skeptic by nature, but my natural inclination is to believe that there must be something somewhere out in the big ol' universe other just ourselves. I also wouldn't necessarily rule out the possibility that some of these outsiders have visited Earth, and even that our own military has some secret cover up concerning the whole matter. However, that being said, the UFO museum is just certifiably wacky. Maybe it's just that aliens conscientiously choose redneck hillbillies to visit because they know their credibility is lacking, to say the least. Or perhaps it's just that these are the only people willing to speak out about their encounters. Either way, I must say that the "evidence" that the museum puts forth is far from convincing, even to one like myself who is not a disbeliever. They seem to take themselves quite seriously, though. Just the same, I'm taking away 20 points for lack of an organized flow and an unprofessional display of evidence.

I left Roswell and headed west-ish with little plan for the rest of the day. It was still fairly early (mid-afternoon), and I hadn't put down a lot of miles for the day yet. My goal was to get to Whitesands National Monument that day, and then find a place to sleep somewhere west of there.

Not pictured: missiles exploding on the
range to my right
The drive from Roswell was very nice, heading up into the mountains, eventually coming down towards Whitesands and the Whitesands missile range. As luck would have it, I arrived in the valley just as the sun was setting over the western mountains. After watching a beautiful sunset, I pulled into Whitesands about an hour before the gate closes for the night. Since I had so little time left, the ranger didn't charge me for entrance (thank you). Whitesands is exactly what you would think it to be from its name; namely, dunes of white sand. The sand itself is very fine grained and quite pleasant to the touch. I stayed out on the dunes for as long as I could stand the bugs (even with the bug spray this time...). The sky was completely clear all around, but as I was leaving I noticed some clouds probably twenty miles or so to the south. To my surprise they suddenly lit up from within with lightning. I was able to watch this show for a good twenty minutes on my drive through the missile range.

I crossed the western mountain range, hit Las Cruces, and began heading north up the interstate. Curiously, I had to pass through a border control inspection point (seemed a bit far north to me for that).

First try at the Milky Way. More to come.
Further up the road, I decided to start looking for a place to sleep for the night. Around 10pm I pulled into Truth or Consequences, NM (I kid you not). I drove the strip, but finding nothing too promising instead stopped for a bit to eat at a diner. To tell you the truth, the consequences of that meal and coffee were that I was able to continue driving for another hour or so to Socorro (see what I did there??).

In Socorro I found a Motel 6 for thirty bucks; the cheapest of this trip so far.

Friday morning I had breakfast at a local restaurant, which consisted of huevos rancheros. I'd never had this delicacy before, but my experience has left me a changed man. Think scrambled eggs with cheese on a corn tortilla, smothered in red and green chili sauce; with pinto beans, hashbrowns, and covered with lettuce, tomatoes, and black olives. Perfection on a plate.

After breakfast I checked the trusty internets to decide if Albuquerque or Santa Fe had much in the way of points of interest to offer. It seems my streak of serendipity was continuing. This weekend in Santa Fe is the Fiesta de Santa Fe (or simply "La Fiesta"). I booked a motel in Santa Fe for the night and set off.

Remind me later to go on a rant about traffic and driving habits that contribute to worsening conditions. I'm still too bitter about it to relate the tale of my drive this afternoon.

After checking into my motel in Santa Fe, I headed downtown to the Plaza, where La Fiesta was being held. Parking was at least 27 different kinds of frustrating, but I eventually found a place out in a residential area.

La Fiesta was really fun, I walked around for a while soaking in the atmosphere. For dinner I had a Navajo Taco (oh man, so very delicious). There was a stage with music, on which was playing a mariachi band whilst I ate.

The downtown of Santa Fe is really nice; there are no high rises or obtrusive buildings. Being one of the oldest towns in America (founded in the early 17th century), much of the architecture and design of the city is reminiscent of early Spanish, Native American, and Mexican ideas. It is also at an elevation of over 7000 feet above sea level.

Following La Fiesta, I drove out of the city to watch the sun set again. I'll never grow tired of that.

Once again the mosquitoes determined that it was time to go (although I think this time the bug spray helped a bit more). Before turning in for the night, I headed over to the Second Street Brewery. I had a couple pints of their IPA (while writing the majority of this blog, I must say, so I apologize if it quickly deteriorates in quality) while listening to a jazzy kind of band (I'm not sure how to classify them). The IPA was actually quite good, nice and hoppy with a hint of citrus.

Tomorrow I hope to get to or near Arches National Park. We'll see how things develop. Either way, I'll most likely be out of wifi options for the next few days. Wish me luck.

Outside temperature: 66 F
Exact number of miles: 9942
Norah Jones - Not Too Late, Feels Like Home, Come Away With Me, Stay With Me
Thrice - The Alchemy Index I-IV, Identity Crisis, The Illusion of Safety
Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Day 33 pt III: Last post I swear

An analysis of my blogs to date:

Wordle = awesome.

Day 33 pt II: Revenge of the Blog

After stretching and putting on a fresh layer of deodorant, I drove to an IHOP I had seen earlier that morning. Normally I would look for a local alternative, but having had only two hours of what can only be very loosely called sleep, I wasn't in the mood to hunt.

I had coffee and some food, the more important part of the meal being the coffee. As a side, I have noticed a definite hierarchy in the world of 24 hour diners. It usually runs something like this: local diner, Shari's, IHOP, Denny's, Waffle House. I do what I can to avoid the bottom half of that scale. I've at least learned my lesson about Waffle House. Yeesh.

By the time I finished eating and had my fill of coffee, there was still approximately two and a half hours until I could check into my motel. My plan was to check in, take a nap, then head out again for the evening/night. But I still had some time to kill. I drove around a little longer, ending up at another mega store; Super Target. Super indeed. I spent an hour or so reading Sports Illustrated about the Olympics, and generally bumming about.

I'm starting to think that this blog entry may be becoming a bit on the boring side, so I'll speed things up.

At noon I headed over to the Motel 6, only to discover that they were still cleaning rooms. I was to return at or after two, the clerk informed me. More time to kill. Fortunately breakfast had done me well, and I was feeling well enough without a nap. When coming to Austin, I decided that I was pretty finished with doing the touristy thing, finished seeing monuments and historic buildings and other such riff raff. I just wanted to get a feel for the city. So I headed back to the university district. I bought a book from a local bookstore (Flatland by Edwin Abbott, I'm stoked to read it), and ate a delicious calzone at a neat restaurant called Mellow Mushroom. The atmosphere was pleasant, staff friendly, and food more than adequate.

Somewhere in this timeline I also visited an amazing beer and wine store to pick up some of the original Keep Austin Weird stickers, plus some Texas beer. It's kinda fuzzy when this actually occurred, though.

By the time I got back to the motel, I was allowed to get my key. By this point, I was tired and smelly and sleepy and grimy. I took a shower, and promptly did nothing else for a long time (although I did watch Fur, a fictitious story about the photographer Diane Arbus, on HBO; it was pretty good). Around eight I thought I'd go find some internet so as to download more work. On the way to Starbucks, however, I was distracted by the sunset and ended up getting myself nearly lost driving around a lake for two hours. Fun with exploration.

At my poetic best.
The next morning I had big plans. First on the list was Prairie Chapel Ranch, aka the Bush Ranch in Crawford, Texas. I had a bit of a tough time finding the place at first; there are obviously no large signs pointing you in the right direction. But eventually, I was finding the intersection you take to get to the ranch. Unfortunately, that's as far as I was able to get, as there was a checkpoint blocking the road to the ranch itself. Big surprise. No worries, however, as I was still able to perform my democratic duty of expressing my disagreement with the administration's positions and policies, as seen in the photograph.

In all honesty, I can understand why the Bushes like the ranch, the landscape is fairly beautiful (for Texas), with gently rolling hills and various streams running through the area. Also, the house next to the ranch with the white SUVs, locked gate, property of US government signs, and giant antennas adds a nice ambiance .

What kind of doctor is Mr. Pepper anyways? Doctor of
awesome beverages, probably. With a masters in delicious.
From Austin, it was a short jaunt to my next destination: Dublin, Texas. But Colin, you may be asking yourself, what could you possibly find interesting in such a small town in the middle of Texas? Certainly your time would have been better spent in a more well known city? On the contrary, I say. Let me introduce you to Dublin Dr Pepper; only bottled in the town of Dublin, Texas. And, the only bottler of Dr Pepper that still uses real sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup. I bought a 24 case (of glass bottles, naturally). Bids start at $5 per bottle when I get back.

I finished the day in San Angelo. After driving quite a long ways that day, I felt like kicking back. So I went to the grocery store and picked up a six pack of Broken Halo! Touche Texas, touche. Your selection of beers has far surpassed my expectations. It was a nice taste of home.

This morning after getting up, I spent some time at Schlotzky's (or as Matt would call it, Not Quiznos) eating a delicious sandwich and, more importantly, posting today's first blog. Free wifi for the win.

Today's drive was mostly uneventful, other than almost getting hit by a car merging into my lane. I had passed into the western Texas deserts and oil fields, so the landscape was quite desolate. I did, however, see the largest wind turbine farm I've seen since Europe. And a roadrunner (I think). Oh yeah, and a zebra.

I passed into New Mexico around 4:30, which promptly became 3:30. I must say traveling west across timezones is far superior to the other way around. I tried to go to the Carlsbad Caverns, but unfortunately I missed the last opportunity for the day, so that's first on the agenda for tomorrow.

Oh yeah, one last thing. I had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, which was good in and of itself. However, after my meal I was served sopaipillas. If you are ever offered sopaipillas, the correct answer is always "yes please" (or "si por favor" if you prefer). Trust me.

Vegeta, what does the scouter say about his mileage level?? OVER 9000!!!!
Other things I have been listening to:
Fiona Apple - Tidal
Staind - Dysfunction
Linkin Park - Reanimation
Anberlin - Cities
Alice in Chains - Jar of Flies
Cold War Kids - Robbers & Cowards
Mae - The Everglow
Jurassic 5 - Power In Numbers

Day 33: Lone Star

When I rolled into Austin, I had about 20 hours before I could check into my motel. I made the decision that rather than trying to sleep in my car somewhere, I'd just stay awake until Monday afternoon when I could check into my room and take a nap then. For the last few weeks I'd been getting plenty of good sleep, shouldn't be a problem to pull an all nighter once in a while right? I'd done it before in college, I could do it again.

I parked near the downtown area near the University of Texas campus. While I still had daylight I took a stroll around. The campus is pretty large and quite beautiful, I was only able to see a small portion of it but what I did see was pleasant. Even the squirrels are very friendly, one nearly climbed up my leg while I watched it (insert requisite joke about gathering nuts). I also learned that carrying around a backpack with my laptop and camera on my back in 90+ degree heat and humidity 1) makes me very thirsty and 2) results in my back being completely saturated. Time for some water.

It seems once again I proved my ability to show up in the right place at the right time, for some given random event. While trying to cross the street from the campus to a CVS, I found my path blocked by a stream of red. To be more specific, a stream of red shirts. To be slightly more specific, thousands of participants in what I later found out to be the Nike Humanrace 10k. I waited for a few minutes for a break in the crowd, and when none came I performed a diagonal run across the street, trying to match their speed with a lateral vector included.

Members of the Humanrace.
Since both I and the human stream of red were heading towards downtown, I walked parallel to the race for a while. In many ways, it seemed similar to the Nike 10k that Scott and I did a couple of summers ago; particularly with respect to having bands perform at spots along the course. I stopped to watch one of these bands in the downtown area. I think they were local (and maybe not even "officially" invited to play there), they had all of their equipment set up in a bank parking lot with a couple of speakers hooked up to mics. They sounded a bit Muse-ish, but a little more indie leaning; they were quite good actually. I felt sorry for the runners, since they couldn't really enjoy much more than 30 seconds of the music before they were round the corner.

I followed the race until it turned east, running parallel to the river which I was heading towards. I didn't have much of a plan yet for the evening; I had read a bit about Austin and what to do, but had yet to decide what I was going to do next. Sixth street was mentioned as a good place to hear music, having a decent bar scene. As I passed Sixth, I looked up and down. Seemed a bit quiet, but then again it was still pretty early (not yet 8 pm). I walked past and eventually ended up at the river. This is when I remembered another fact about Austin: under the Congress Street bridge lives a colony of 1.5 million bats, and at dusk each night they come out. Brilliant. I'll watch bats, I thought. Well, being a Sunday on Labor Day weekend, it seems I wasn't the only one with this idea, as there were literally hundreds (thousands?) of people lining the bridge and the waterfront waiting for dusk. I took my place on the bank and waited.

Lots of dark.
Here's the thing about dusk: it's dark, and getting darker fairly fast. And the thing about bats is that they are black, and pretty small. As a consequence, when the bats did actually begin coming out, I had a pretty hard time seeing anything. The best place to see them, it seems, is on one of the boats or kayaks that crowded the river near the bridge. Note taken for the next time I'm in Austin.

I now had about 15 hours until check in time, so I started to think of ways I could spend this time to a) see what Austin had to offer and b) stay awake. I headed up Congress street (which, fittingly enough, heads straight to the capitol building). A little ways up I realized that the finish line for the 10k was up in front of me, and that there was a giant stage with some kind of concert happening. Being the curios type, I walked with the stragglers towards the finish.

Down in front!
After threading my way through the throngs of runners, family members, volunteers, and various city folk, I got close enough to the stage to actually see the performers. The setting was pretty stunning; the stage had been set up right at the intersection in front of the capitol building, which was lighted and provided an amazing backdrop to the events below. I didn't recognize the band, but I had a suspicion they were famous since quite a lot of people seemed to know the lyrics and were singing along. Later, I found a schedule of events for the run and discovered that I had seen Ben Harper perform. Neat.

I'd been walking around for the better part of six hours or so, in ungodly heat and and humidity, with a heavy backpack. It was well past beer thirty. I found Sixth street again, and chose a direction to walk (west, for those interested). I eventually happened upon what I took to be the "scene", and wandered into a bar that seemed pretty laid back and had a sufficient number of beers on tap. Bonus: Sunday is cheap beer night, every pint is $2.50, with the exception of the Texas lager "Lone Star", which is $2.

Now, remember that my overall goal for the night was to stay awake. Unfortunately, drinking three pints of beer after walking around all day DNE a good way to not be sleepy. In fact, it produces quite the opposite effect of what I intended. But I wanted to try me some Texas beer. A breakdown:
  1. Lone Star Lager: your typical lager, probably a bit better than the mass produced American classics, but in the end it is what it is. Fairly refreshing, though, on a hot day (which I'm led to believe happens in Texas on a mostly regular basis).
  2. Shiner Bock: per Graham's suggestion. Impressive, I'm not usually one for Bocks, but this one was very flavorful and tasty, but without being heavy.
  3. Austin Amber: my least favorite, although this may be due to the fact that it is a heavier beer (after I'd been drinking lighter varieties), and I'm not really much of an amber fan in general anymore. Still, I think in the future I'll avoid this one.

I left having spent $7 on three pints of beer (not including tip); not half bad.

The walk back towards the campus was a bit brutal: I hadn't noticed the slight hill I had walked down while following the race, and even though it was 11pm the temperature was still in the upper 80s. I needed caffeine if I was to stay awake, and I realized I hadn't really eaten since the drive from Houston to Austin. The solution: Kerbey Lane Cafe, a 24 hour diner located in the University district. The place was packed, mostly with runners and students. I sat at the counter (the advantage of going to a restaurant by yourself, you usually don't have to wait for a table). The food was good; I had a turkey and avocado sandwich with what they called home fries, but anyone else would call quarters of baby potatoes. I read the Onion, trying to take my time and enjoy the air conditioning as long as possible. I was never asked to leave, but I could tell from the crowd waiting to get in that the staff would prefer if I didn't loiter and take up valuable seating space.

I left and walked back to where I had parked my car. Luckily, I had parked next to a bakery with wifi, so I sat in my car for an hour or so using the internet for what it's best at: wasting time. Around 1am I packed up the laptop, and took a drive around Austin. The city has a pretty large suburban area surrounding it. The interesting thing is that it is all considered Austin, and not separate cities (think if Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, and Gresham were all instead just Portland). I stopped in a deserted parking lot to play guitar for a while, but the mosquitoes are still determined to ruin my trip. After accumulating approximately ten bites on my arms, three on my back, and one on my right cafe, I'd had enough. I think from now on, as part of my morning routine, I am going to cover myself in bug spray just in case I ever head outside.

I still had nine hours or so to go. I needed something to do. I found a 24-hour Wal-Mart. If played right, you can spend hours in a 24 hour mega-store without spending a dime.

Sidenote: I discovered a way to extend the time between needing to do laundry on this trip. While in the Wal-Mart, I purchased a pack of boxers and white undershirts. That's an extra week of clean clothes! Genius.

Unfortunately, I wasn't going to make it. I realized this around 4:30, and decided that I could afford just a couple hours of sleep before the sun rose. I parked again next to the wifi bakery, kicked my seat back, and failed miserably to get any kind of restful sleep. It was too hot, and too humid, as well as being too uncomfortable to start with.

Around 7:30, I gave up and headed to IHOP for breakfast and coffee.

I'll have to finish this tale tonight. I need to get on the road if I have any hope of seeing Carlsbad Caverns today. More to follow...

Car status: nothing terribly bad has happened since Montana. I've noticed one or two new scratches I never used to have, and I have an ever growing collection of plastic bottles in the back seat (I refuse to just throw them out, I need to recycle!), but all in all it is holding up well.
Miles on the trip: nearly 9000.
Recent music:
Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company
Damien Rice - O and 9
Green Day - Insomniac
The Early November The Room's Too Cold and the other album I can't remember the name of
Punk Goes 90's and the Spawn Soundtrack
The Crystal Method - Vegas