Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mission: Impossible*

*where the mission is: "visit Niagra Falls without spending any money."

I made the trip to Niagra yesterday, to see what all the fuss was about. Before I got to the falls, I realized something important: this place was going to be expensive. Pay-to-park lots dominated the landscape. That, and boarded-up buildings. The city of Niagra Falls, apparently, is horribly, cripplingly economically depressed. I could tell, because the Canadian side of the falls looked great. They had ferris wheels, and waterslides, and big hotels, and even a little CN-Tower-looking thing. Based on my experiences of Toronto and now Canadian Niagra Falls, I have determined that every city in Canada has a big space-needle sort of tower.

Back to the story at hand. Tourism appears to be the sole source of income for people working in Niagra Falls, and they don't mess around. This was going to be a tough one. I found a more-or-less free lot after a bit, several miles downriver. Luckily, when it comes to tourist places, I like two things:
1. I like to hike.
2. I like to not pay money.*

*this is the reason why I did not actually see Mount Rushmore, despite driving right up to the damn thing. After rolling up the hill and catching glimpses of the monument, I was notified that it would cost $10 to park. Ten dollars. To spend a couple minutes looking at some big stone heads. I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

So I got walking, up to the falls. And now that I've seen it --

It's nice. The falls are really big, and there's lots of water whooshing down making a cool sort of DOOOOOOOOOOOOM sound as it throws up massive clouds of mist. There were big crowds of friendly-looking Canadians on the other side of the gorge, and there was a boat down at the bottom of the falls, its engines running at full power just to hold in place in the current. There were also massive crowds of people everywhere, including a particularly foolish-looking group wearing bright yellow plastic parkas and sandals waiting in line to take an elevator to the base of the falls. I walked around, I saw the sights, and i stayed away from places that cost money. I left with the same amount of cash in my pocket as when I showed up, and that's a victory in my book.

Take that, Niagra Falls tourism industry!

I've been in Rochester, NY, the last few days, after driving over from Indiana on Sunday. What did I discover on Sunday? That Indiana is boring. I also found a real, live national park, just south of Cleveland. Cuyahoga is a pleasant park of tallgrass prairies interspersed among hardwood forests in the rolling hills of the Cuyahoga valley. It was a perfect place to get out of the car and hike around for a few hours to break up the monotony of driving from South Bend to Rochester. So that's good. The weather was also kind to me, waiting until I was done hiking to open the skies and dump massive rainstorms upon me.

Today was a "Dave discovers Rochester" day. I drove by the Kodak campus, an absolutely massive affair covering what has to be thousands of acres in Rochester. I discovered Rochester's contribution to world cuisine: the garbage plate (a collection fries, macaroni, cheese, and no fewer than two kinds of meat (hot dogs, cheeseburgers) thrown in for good measure. Said ingredients are then tossed unceremoniously into a massive pile on a plate. Or, as was the case last night, on a pizza. Delicious). And I visited the Rochester Museum.

Well, sort of. I got off to a good start, doing all sort of museum things like looking at exhibits and reading signs. Then I saw K*nex zone. It had massive bins filled with little snappy plastic pieces and wheels and gears and all sorts of fun things. Then I looked at the sign, and realized that the age limit was 3, so I couldn't go in. Then I looked at the sign more closely, and realized that 3 was the minimum age.


I spent the next two hours building a massive sort of semi-truck-looking-sort-of-thing. It was clearly more impressive than anything the 8-year olds near me could construct.

Score again.

Then I realized that I had spent the better part of the afternoon not seeing the museum, and decided the remedy this within the remaining 60 minutes I had before the museum closed. This plan worked for a few minutes, before I discovered the climbing wall. Presumably, it was an exhibit of the Taconic orogeny, showcasing the rock formations of the Rochester area. Realistically, it was a rock climbing wall. Once again, I was far superior on the climbing wall to any of the 8-year olds in the museum.

Score once more.

So, it was good fun, and I clearly established my dominance over the children of Rochester. Good times.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Time (Zone) On My Mind

Eastern Time Zone, bitches!

...The Road Trip is almost over. I passed the line sometime last night in the featureless nothing of Western Indiana. I'll be making this one short, because I've got five hours of driving until the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Let's Do This!

1. Olympics on the Tee Vee. Soccer. The Netherlands took an early 1-0 lead, but Team USA struck back in the 2nd half, scoring two big goals. They're got the lead with 5 minutes to play, and if the US can hold on this will be something of an upset. U! S! A! U! S! A!

2. Yesterday was a good day. I started off with a tasty breakfast at the Blackstone Family Diner in Green Bay, and had an extended conversation with my breakfast buddy, Jim. I hadn't meant for it to be an extended conversation, but Jim is the sort of person who will not stop talking long enough for you to make a polite exit out of the conversation. He's also apparently not too fond of black people (which unfortunately, I've found is a fairly common failing among most of the otherwise-admirable, honest folks of Small Town, America). Jim's claim to fame is that at 4'-11", he was the shortest locomotive engineer (he worked for the Green Bay Railroad) in America. So, a celebrity, I guess. I'll take what I can get.

3. Speaking of celebrities, after finally getting some internet access, I found out who signed my football! My two new favorite football players (non-New England Patriot division) are #26, Safety/Speacial Teamer Charlie Peprah, and #44, rookie Tight End Evan Moore. Both are fine, upstanding young men (largely by merit of signing my football), and-

Netherlands just tied the game in stoppage time. the final result will be a tie. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I hate the fucking Dutch. Bunch of clog-wearing, tulip-snorting windmill huggers.

-Evan, a graduate of Stamford University, was even nice enough to have a conversation with me. It's a long one, but I'll include the transcript in its entirety below:

Evan (to some little kid who kept whoring out for an autograph by yelling, among other things, that he had came all the way from Maryland to get an autograph): "You know, I'm from California"
Me (holding out football and sharpie): "Hey, I'm from California"
Evan (signing my football): "Really?"
Me: "Yeah, San Francisco"
Evan (handing back now-signed ball): "Cool."

Ladies and gentleman, my new best friend, Evan Moore.

So Charlie is a third-year backup player, and Evan is a rookie free agent, so as you football fans know it's practically GUARANTEED that both will go on to become massive superstars. Probably. Or they were just nice enough to sign my crap because everyone else was busy screaming at Donald Driver and Ryan Grant for autographs. Either way, I'm happy.

4. In Manitowoc, Wisconsin, I visited the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. Turns out the city has been a historic center of shipbuilding on the Great Lakes, among other things turning out a number of submarines that fought in the Pacific during WWII. The museum features a perfectly-maintained sub, the USS Cobia, which was built in the Electric Boat Yards in Groton, Connecticut (REPRESENT!), but otherwise is pretty much exactly the same type of sub that was built in Manitowoc. The museum features a full tour of the sub, so you can see first-hand just how cramped, claustrophobic, hot, and stinky these subs were. Those of us on the tour were in for a treat as one of the surviving veterans of the sub told us about his experience on the ship (he was a torpedo loader in the aft torpedo room), including a harrowing recounting of sitting in the completely quiet, darkened sub on the muddy floor of the sea as a Japanese destroyer rained down depth charges around the Cobia.

There's more to come here, but I want to get to the Hall of Fame before it closes tonight. So here's a quick outline of what you'll have to wait to read about:

*EDIT* I've finally gotten around to writing about the fun stuff from a few days ago. Here we go:

1. Indiana has some rather oddly-named roads. First up is an instant classic, "FANGBONER RD." But no matter how much fang or boner that can provide, it can't beat the elegant simplcity of "FAIL RD." Both are located somewhere west of South Bend along Route 20. I have decided that I need to own the "FAIL RD" sign. The next step: find a way to acquire it without doing anything illegal, Or without getting caught. Whichever is easier.

2. Indiana is a cripplingly boring state. I seriously think that the state was deliberately trying to get me out be being so horribly uninteresting. The only thing in the entire state that could even conceivably be considered an attraction would be its many fireworks stores, in particular "Krazy Kaplan's." Mr. Kaplan is so "krazy," apparently, that he offers an unprecedented "6-for-1" deal on select fireworks at his stores. And that's just special.

I found myself in Indiana because I was running from some particularly scary-looking thunderstorms, and didn't find a motel worth stopping at until I'd made it to South Bend. By this point, I had passed into the Eastern Time Zone (without knowing it; every other time I had passed to a new time zone on this trip a friendly sign was there to notify me. Not in Indiana. Yet one more way the state tried to make my trip as boring as possible), which is good. I'd been getting tired of having to do "time zone math" whenever I decided to call someone on the east coast. In any case, I had been running from the thunderstorms since I was in the state of Illinois, where I got to see the beautiful skyline of...

3. Chicago. I timed my drive perfectly, catching the Sears Tower, the Hancock Tower, and countless other skyscrapers against a backdrop of towering thunderheads, all illuminated by the setting sun. I found myself driving by (Whatever The Hell They Call It Now That It's Not Comiskey Park Anymore) Park, wondering who could be playing the White Sox that night. Turns out it was the Red Sox, as I learned when I got to a TV. Damn. At the very least, I drove past Chicago while playing Sufjan Steven's "Come on Feel the Illinoise" album, so I got to feel clever about something.

4. What time is it? MILLER TIME. While in Milwaukee, I made a point to visit the Miller brewery. I would like to stress before I continue that the brewery tour Miller offers is *FREE*, and includes free fair-sized tastings of their fine selection of beers. Emphasis here in "FREE." As opposed to "fine." But still -- "FREE." I got to see part of the Miller bottling facility, a magnificent state-of-the art conglomeration of equipment that spits out some half a million cases of beer every day. I also learned that Miller ships out forty rail cars full of beer each day, with a single rail car containing enough beer that if I were to drink one six pack of beer a day, would last me for 43 years. Clearly, I need to figure out how to get a rail car full of beer. The tour starts out with a wonderfully cheesy introductory movie, which takes every opportunity to remind you that the current time is Miller Time. My favorite scene:

(a happening-looking bar. Some dude is sitting there, enjoying a frosty bottle of Miller Lite)
Announcer: "There's a time that we like to call 'Miller Time.'"
(the guy looks over, and the camera pans to a beautiful woman, also enjoying a Miller Lite)
Announcer: "A time when the day goes from good..."
(the woman smiles at the dude)
Announcer: "...to great"
(the camera pans down to her cleavage)



Lambeau Leap

(A quick one from a couple days ago (8/8/08). Another one coming later this morning, once I get some coffee in me.

So I’m sitting here plugged into an RV electric box, and I figured it was time to get a little journal writin’ in. I’ll figure out how to get this bad boy onto the internet later. “Later” may come sooner than expected, as I’m not entirely sure if I’m allowed to be camping here in the Brown country fairgrounds just south of that hallowed football ground, Lambeau Field.

I’ve missed out on a few tourism opportunities while driving through Wisconsin; three of them passed me by in quick succession yesterday:

1. “The House On The Rock.” Apparently, it’s just what it sounds like. In any case, it featured prominently in Neil Gaiman’s excellent novel, “American Gods,” so it would have been nice to see what the real thing looked like. So it goes.
2. The Mustard Museum. This had the potential to be incredibly awesome, or hopelessly lame. Probably the latter. Still, I have to tip my hat to the man (or woman) who made their way to Wisconsin, built their museum, and said: “Fuck it. Let’s make the whole thing about mustard.”
3. I don’t know what it was, but what I did manage to read on the billboard proclaimed “60 KINDS OF CHEESE.” It doesn’t take much more than that to get me interested.

Today was a Lambeau Field day, in every possible sense. I showed up a little after 1pm and hopped on the stadium tour, which featured among other things a chance to walk down the tunnel from the locker room to the field. The very same tunnel that the players walk down before every game. The tour guide even arranged to pipe in a recording of a crowd cheering as an announcer introduced “…the GREEN BAY PACKERS!” Even in an empty stadium, it was an amazing experience. I can only imagine how it feels for a rookie to walk down that hallway as he prepares to play his first home game.

After the tour, I hit up the Packers Hall of Fame and learned all about the history of the storied franchise. What did I learn? Vince Lombardi was a badass. I also had a beer at “Curly’s Pub,” a sports bar in the stadium, and had a sandwich called the “Lambeau Leap.” It was a reuben.

And finally, because I hadn’t had enough Lambeau already, I walked over to the practice field to watch the team’s afternoon practice. Apparently, when the players make the way down to the field from the locker room, they each ride a bike provided by a local child. The kid gets to carry their helmet and run alongside the player down to the field. It’s a beautiful sight to watch these massive athletes slowly roll down the path on bikes barely capable of keeping unbroken under the weight, as very young (obvious) Packer fan runs behind them, helmet in hand, every tiny aspect of their body language screaming, “this is the greatest honor of my life!”
Not to miss out on the opportunity, I joined the kids by the field, and sharpie and hand, tried to get my football autographed. Two gentlemen were kind enough to oblige, and they may even have been players on the team! I would like to thank Mr. #26 and Mr. #44, and I’ll thank them by actual name once I actually figure out who they are. But seriously. Thanks for the autographs.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve gotten to see NFL players up so close (if ever), and one thing struck me: I’m old. At 26, I felt like damn Methuselah looking at these kids. The Packers have one of the younger teams in the league, and considering that most of the players riding my were either rookies or in their first few years, I’d bet that the average age of the bike riders was 22. Young. But *jacked. They may have had baby faces, but these guys had guns like an NRA convention. It was an abrupt departure from the downright skinny-looking players from the 1920’s and 30’s featured in the Hall of Fame.

Well, time for some sleep. It’s an early morning tomorrow, my first taste of Lake Michigan, and quite possible a tour of the Milwaukee breweries, followed by a Milwaukee Brewers game. I hear Ben Sheets is pitching!


Friday, August 08, 2008

"Is this heaven?" "No, it's Iowa"

Another more-or-less quick one. As has become the norm on this trip, I'm harried by motel check-out deadlines whenever journal-writing time comes around.

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin, getting ready to make my way north up to Green Bay for my pilgrimage to visit Lambeau Field. From what I gather, I might even get to watch some training camp practice (minus Brett Favre, of course, but so it goes. I'm just glad that this charade is finally over and I'll have some small chance of seeing actual football news instead of the "What will Brett Favre do" circle-jerk that's taken over sports news for the past month). So that's good.

I made my way to Lucky’s Tavern in Madison last night, in wishful anticipation of watching the Patriots-Ravens preseason game. Football season, beautiful, wonderful football season, has finally returned. Unfortunately, the NFL and its television affiliates have no love for traveling preseason football devotees such as myself – although Lucky’s has one of the more advanced sports bar TV setups known to man, they weren't able to get the Pats game. As such, I had to make do with Cardinals-Saints to satisfy my football cravings, and let Mr. Internet keep me up-to-date on the Patriots.

Or not. Mr. Internet decided that it wasn't worth his time to show up at Lucky's, so I cut my losses and turned to Mr. $1 PBR draft beers for my mental, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment. I attempted a little live blogging though, which lasted about ten minutes before my pizza arrived (tasty). A sampling:

Brett Favre looks freaking *weird* in a NY Jets cap. He’s not playing, but he’s on the sidelines. I’m not sure what to make of all this, but so long as the Jets lose a high draft pick for him, I’ll be happy.

…And the Browns have already hit the endzone against the Jets. A nice little out from Derek Anderson. Too bad Favre can’t play defense.

Update from my dad: Jerod Mayo is a BEAST. A man against boys out on the football field. I can't wait to see him play when I'm back in New England.

...And that's enough of that. No one wants to hear your dumb story about what happened while you were at the sports bar. This includes the other people at the sports bar. Let's move on...

...to the title of this post. After a few days visiting my friend Becca in Iowa City (city motto: "It's surprisingly pleasant!"), I got on the road heading for Madison. With little else in the landscape besides cornfields and the occasional combine harvester chugging down the road (they are awesome), I found myself reading every sign I saw on the side of the road in a desperate attempt to break up the monotony. One such sign: "Field of Dreams Movie Site."

Well, I'd already gambled at Kevin Costner's casino back in South Dakota, so I figured I had to check this out. A few miles outside of Dyersville, Iowa, I found it. The red clay of the infield, the perfect green of the outfield, and an endless field of corn stretching out behind it. A father had brought his young children and was throwing them batting practice on the field. I watched the scene for a moment, and was struck by the greatest urge to play baseball I have ever felt. Finally, after crossing more than half the country, I had found a reason for lugging my baseball glove around in my car the entire trip. I waved to the dad, asked if he'd mind if I shagged fly balls in the outfield, and went out to play some baseball.

Other people arrived and left over the next few hours -- young children with gloves at bats, mothers and fathers with baseball caps for teams all over the country, even full-grown men with no gloves, no hats, and no shoes, running around in the soft outfield grass chasing down the hits. I spent the better part of the afternoon on that field, flashing the leather, running down flies, taking some swings, even pitching to a suite of children barely big enough to swing a bat. There were no teams, no score kept, no winners or losers. It was just a collection of strangers brought together by a common love of the simple pleasure of playing baseball.

I've played in championship games (ok, little league, but give me a break here), I've seen incredible professional games, and I've even gotten to see a superbowl live. And yet, I think the hours I spent on that field in Iowa will be the best sports memory I will have. There was none of the importance, none of the drama, none of the life-or-death excitement, and certainly none of the talent that I have seen in professional sports. But it had a pure, innocent joy in simply playing that I've never felt before.

And it was beautiful.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Good Ol'-Fashioned Americana

It's been all about AMERICA these last few days. Let's recap:

I hit up what may be my last national parks for this trip, Wind Cave and Badlands. After making my way through a number of cave-parks earlier in my road trips, wind cave was unlike anything else I had seen. This is mostly due to geology. I'll spare you my clumsy attempt at an explanation.

Badlands also featured large amounts of geology, with a special bonus ranger presentation on Friday night. The presentation was little more than a simple presentation showing the constellations of the night sky, but in a place like Badlands the stars take on an entirely different form. In the dark sky of rural South Dakota, the milky way makes an impossibly bright white band across the a field of millions of visible stars in the sky.

It was beautiful, etc, etc. Let's move on to something that might actually be entertaining.

Other things to see in South Dakota:

1. Minuteman National Historic landmark. During the Cold War, the US had as many as a thousand Minuteman ICBM's in launch tubes spread out across the country. A single missile could be launched within a matter of minutes, fly to just about any possible target in Russia, and vaporize a large city. South Dakota had several hundred missiles at the ready, sitting in unmarked launch stations surrounded by grazing sheep. While various ungulates were chewing their cud above, teams of air force missile technicians were sitting in underground bunkers performing the most stressful job possible and dreading receiving the coded message that could mean full-blown nuclear war. You can take a tour of the now-empty (the missiles were decommissioned in '91) silos if you so desire -- it's humbling to walk around a place that once housed the most destructive weapons ever known to man.

2. Wall Drug. It may not have thermonuclear warheads, but it does have a hell of a lot of billboards. Anyone approaching along the highway will have seen several hundred signs advertising the store, and will be forced to pull in to visit just to satisfy their curiousity, or more likely, because South Dakota is *very* flat and they're dying to do *anything* to break up the monotony of the drive. Wall Drug is the size of a Walmart, but it has grown organically -- it's clear that it was a single store downtown that bought up the adjacent buildings as it expanded and just cut doorways through the walls, creating a strange amalgamation of dozens of smaller stores that combine, Voltron-like, into the wonder and majesty that is WALL DRUG. Coffee is 5 cents, too, so that's good. Although I fear I may have overpaid, given the quality. Still... 5 cents!

3. The Corn Palace of Mitchell, SD. The city of Mitchell built the corn palace way back in 1892, the thinking being, it will be a tourist trap and put our little burg on the map, and besides, what else are we going to do with all this corn. The outer walls of the brick building (inside is a large auditorium that can serve as a theater or basketball arena) are decorated with massive, 40-foot high murals composed entirely from different-colored dried corn plants. Inside, the corn palace features photographs of the corn murals from previous years -- every year, the town commissions a local artist to design the mural and volunteers create the corn-art. The pictures provide a great picture of American history as viewed through the eyes of a small town in
the center of America.

4. The Song of Hiawatha Pageant. This isn't actually in South Dakota, but instead in Pipestone, Minnesota (which is about 5 miles from the Dakota border, so close enough). I had stopped by to see the Pipestone National Monument (having no idea of what it was, other than hey, it's along my route), and upon arriving was corraled into a field where volunteers were directing cars to park. Turns out I had showed up, less than an hour before it was set to begin, the final performance of the summer of the Song of Hiawatha Pageant. Every summer since 1948, this small town had put on the pageant, in which a narrator read of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha" as a cast of hundreds of actors pantomimed the actions of the story. The "stage" encompassed a small lake and the surrounding ground, featuring fights ending with the loser being thrown into the lake, lots of bonfires, and assorted pyrotechnics including a fire-breathing snake. The cadence of the poem is beautiful, and the colors of the performance are fantastic, but the ending pissed me off. The poem tells the legend of Hiawatha, a great hero of Native American folklore and mythology, and after he performs countless quests and brings wisdom to his people, the poem ends with a couple Christian Missionaries showing up and Hiawatha telling his people to follow their teachings. The idea that this is the final and greatest act of Hiawatha struck me as, well, insultingly racist, and after the entire poem focusing entirely on purely native legends, the ending seemed tacked-on and out-of-place. Apparently it is from the original poem, however, so it looks like Longfellow was the racist dick who couldn't help telling indian legends without cramming on some schlock about how european religion and culture was better and "saved" the natives. Nice job there, Henry.

I've also now gotten the full tour of Minneapolis and St Paul, the Twin Cities of Minnesota. My tour included all the sights: the new I-35 bridge being built over the Mississippi River to replace the one that collapsed last year (reinforced concrete box girder design -- it's a real beaut!), the Mall of America (it's really, really, really big. Also, they have a rollercoaster inside. And considering that weather in Minnesota is either *balls cold in the winter* or *crazy humid in the summer,* I can see how the climate-controlled mall is such a draw), the Hubert H. Humprey Metrodome (I got to see a Twins game, and after watching him make a couple of beautiful stops up the middle and banging out a triple up the right-field line, I have decided that Nick Punto is my new Favorite Second Baseman Who Is Not Dustin Pedroia), and the SCIENCE MUSEUM (because I do love my science. Among other things, it features the "Museum of Questionable Medical Devices," a sort of tribute to quackery, and a mummy (unidentified) from ancient Egypt that, according to the museum, was purchased by a St Paul couple in 1925 during a vacation in Egypt. Ah, those were better days -- back when you could take a cruise over to Egypt, see the pyramids, ride a camel, and then go to the bazaar and buy yourself a mummy). I also got my first taste of Ethiopian cuisine, which is delicious and is eaten entirely with your hands. I don't even think they have a single fork in the entire building. Also, Ethiopian beer is tasty.

Time now to head back out on the road, get my oil changed, and visit Iowa and Wisconsin. There's some Milwaukee brewery tours in my future, you can bet on that.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Dances With Aces

A quick one this morning, before I head south ti Wind Caves NP and a little hiking in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I'm in Deadwood, SD this morning -- I crashed here yesterday for some well-needed hotel time, and now I'm rested and ready to go. Deadwood is a classic wild west mining boomtown from the last century, and the city council has made sure to keep it that way (or more accurately, to keep it looking that way while making it as tourist- and family- friendly as possible). I'm pretty sure I drove through a gunfight yesterday afternoon by accident. whoops.

So as a "wild west" town, Deadwood has GAMBLING. Obviously. I made my way downtown last night to grab some dinner and see the sights, and wandered into a door marked "sports bar* - upstairs."

*"Sports Bar" in Deadwood here means "a bar that's still covered in slot machines like every other bar here, but we're got more than one TV. We have two TV's, although the screen on one of them is pretty funny. Also, we only have basic cable, so don't expect to get to see your favorite team play. You're going to watch whatever the hell we can pick up, and you're going to like it." Deadwood could use a little work on the concept.

Turns out, the place - "Midnight Star" - was owned by Kevin Costner. I figured this out after a couple beers, noting that the walls were coated in pictures of Kevin and various costumes from his movies, and the fact that the menu said in huge letters "KEVIN COSTNER'S." I pick up on things quick like that.

After a couple beers and a steak (note to Kevin: improve your presentation. It's steak. Don't just plop a little chunk on a big empty white plate. Spill some juices around there. And who the hell are you to not have mashed potatoes as an option on the side?), I decided, hey, Kevin has made a big investment here -- I should hep him out. So I bought some chips and tried my hand at the blackjack table. Because Kevin needs the money.

I managed to crawl my way back to break even, left a couple chips to tip the dealer, and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. Enjoy your money, Kevin -- you earned it.

(I really, really, wanted to fill this post with bad puns involving Kevin Costner's movies. But I'm in a hurry here, and I'm not feeling the magic this morning. Waterworld.)



Thursday, July 31, 2008

Farewell to the Rockies

*Note: this is more or less a post composed from my notes of the past week. The last notes were frantically made as I watched my laptop battery creep down to a mere 3% after transferring the latest batch of photos from my camera. Let's see how good my memory is, shall we?

But first, a couple items from yesterday:

I crossed the continental divide a while back in Glacier NP. Then in Yellowstone, I apparently crossed back. Then back again. Then back. The ridges were pretty small, and it was difficult to tell precisely what was going on, but the net effect placed me back on the Pacific side of the divide. So yesterday, driving east on US Route 26 from Grand Teton NP, I crossed the divide for one grand, final time. To celebrate the occasion, I took a whiz behind a tree. On the western side of the divide, of course; this would be my last opportunity to mark my territory west of the continental divide for a long time. So if you happen to live west of the divide, just a little reminder: you're on my property now. I tagged it.

No tag-backs.

Ok, let's start running through these. There's a lot to get in.

1. Milk was a bad choice: I needed some snaxx for quick energy on my hikes. I thought, how about one of those big party bags of milk chocolate mini snickers bars? Guess what happens when you leave chocolate in a black car parked in the hot freaking sun. Exactly. Luckily, I used *science* to help out. Melted candy bar + pot of cold water = non-melted, albeit Dali-esque tasty candy bar. I takes what I can gets. But note to self: no more chocolate.

2. A fair trade: fire for beer. Back in Montana, I met a nice family from Oakland in the campsite next to me. They had the full-on super camp setup, but they weren't very good at making a campfire. Also, their firewood was pretty wet. I waved hi, they invited me over for a beer, and I got their fire going (pyromania does have its benefits. sometimes). As a bonus, I got to talk football with my new buddy Chris. It was good to get some serious sports talk in. Did I mention that this was at the headwaters of the Missouri? See last week's post. I'm still history buddies with Clark. And he would not have made me his bitch. So don't even think about it.

3. Why do I keep saying Yosemite when I mean Yellowstone, and vice versa? I've been doing it like crazy. No idea why.

4. Yellowstone: crowded as fuck. It was bad, really bad. This is what I get for visiting during peak tourist season. Every single pullout on the road had packed parking lots, and I had to elbow my way past fat Americans and bundles of Chinese tourists on every trail. I prefer the Chinese. They have a more polite culture, and tend to defer to my elbow-throwing. Also, they're not quite as wide, so it's easier to slide by.

5. The adventures of Bad Brad. I'm going to mix it up with a little fiction here. Despite any evidence to the contrary, this is not a real story about me. Fiction. So Bad Brad wanted to hike along the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but the rim road was closed for construction. Closed to vehicles *and* pedestrians. Bad Brad decided this was a foolish restriction, especially on a Sunday. He had worked as a civil engineer, and knew that road crews never worked on Sunday if they could help it. So Bad Brad jumped a couple fences, ignored a few "no entry" signs, and found himself completely alone on an abandoned road. A road especially abandoned by construction equipment (ha!). Then Brad went for a lovely hike along the rim of the canyon, enjoying a the peace and solitude that you can only get by keeping everyone else out. It was a perfect afternoon, and he couldn't have experienced it without breaking a little pointless rule. Then he smoked a doobie to celebrate.

Not bad, eh? I'm considering writing further adventures, like: Bad Brad foils a bank heist by jaywalking. The kindly old Irish cop chides him, but we know that he doesn’t mean it. Like a modern-day delinquent Hardy boy, Bad Brad will capture the imaginations of a generation.

6. Animals. There's a good deal of wildlife in Yellowstone. Whenever animals stray near the road, all the tourists stop to take pictures, creating a unique Yellowstone phenomenon: the bison traffic jam. I also got to “fight” two bears at once. (here, “fight” is taken to mean “observed from a distance"). A momma bear and her cub. She was teaching it how to forage, digging at particularly rich grubs and such. When the cub strayed to far, she'd call and it would come running back on little cub legs. Painfully cute.

7. I get freaking sick of geothermal features. Yellowstone has something like two thirds of all the geysers in the entire freaking world. This is an amazing occurence, but after a while all those fumaroles and mudpots and boiling springs tend to run together. It took me a solid morning to reach my fill, until noon, when I decided...

8. Ok, maybe geothermal features are kinda cool. Geysers! Old Faithful was better than I expected (I'd like to thank my brother for bringing my hopes down: "there's nobody, then like five minutes before it is supposed to blow, thousands of people show up out of nowhere. Maybe they were drinking martinis in the lodge. Then there's a little muddy fountain, and everyone takes pictures then leaves"), and as the first geyser I've ever seen live, it was pretty sweet. As a bonus, Castle Geyser blew about fifteen minutes later, so I got the ol' two-for-one deal on geysers. Value!

9. On to the Tetons: because “Big Titty Mountains” sounds better in French. Grand Tetons. Think about it. The mountains really are spectacular. I highly recommend seeing them.

10. Jackson Lake, or why do all my best memories of this trip involve getting clean? It's been damn hot for the past few weeks, and all this hiking gets me dirty and overheated. A dip in the lake was just what I needed. I've discovered a pattern: All my road tripping now has been during mid-summer, when the heat is at its hottest and the swimming is at its swimmingest. There are few pleasures as great as diving into a mountain lake after a day trudging up and down dusty mountain trails in the hot sun.

11. Did I just get zinged by an old dude? I tend to use poles when I hike. It makes the downhill a hell of a lot easier on my knees, and it allows me to go faster. I get in some serious miles (on average, about 10 a day), so this is a good thing. So I'm hiking down the trail from Mt Washburn, and a pass this old man and his wife. “Goin skiin down the trail, are ya?” he said as I hiked past. I replied something like, “It beats destroying my knees,” and he shot right back with “well why don’t ya get some of them kneepads?”

Zinged. damn.

BONUS: This dude was *old*. We're talking older than the park old. He was likely hiking these trails before cars. With dinosaurs and such. old.

Time to add on items for the 29th as well, while I let my camera photos download. I hope this shit can finish before my battery dies…

12. Again, the Tetons are beautiful. I put in my biggest hike to date, a 20-mile ordeal up Paintbrush Canyon and around Solitude Lake. As the Tetons were my last chance to get in a serious big hike, I figured I might as well go out with a bang. It was perfect -- the weather, the sun, the snow, everything. Impossible to take a bad picture. A monkey with a disposable camera could have developed some Ansel-Adams level prints on that hike.

13. Dave's Law of Hikers: The greater the frequency of encounters with other hikers, the worse my mood becomes. If I pass other people, say, once an hour -- I'll give them a friendly smileand say hello, maybe even throwing in a “how are ya”. Once every ten five minutes or so, and I'll dispose with the pleasantries altogether, possibly even avoiding eye contact. One every two minutes, and I'll start brushing by people with the sort of body language that says "who the fuck are you to get in my way, you worthless pile if shit." Elbows may be thrown. Once a minute: I will stab you with my fucking hiking poles.

14. I do some zinging of my own: On the same hike, getting into the more frequent encounter stage, a woman passes me in the other direction. Without indicating a specific peak, she asks me, “do you know the names of these mountains?” Without missing a beat, I reply: “Grand Tetons.”

Zing, baby. Zing.

15. 20 miles is a long hike. I’m not in TFC shape these days. I must be getting old.

There's probably more, but it's been a busy week and I've been typing here for over an hour now. I've got the Devil's Tower to visit, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"-style.

Adventures to follow


Home at Teapot Dome

There's been an ass-load of stuffs going on this past week. I'm going to hit up the last couple days in this post, and then draw on my notes for adventures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Let's do this. In reverse chronological order.

I spent last night camped out under the stars beneath Teapot Dome. This was not my plan. My plan had been, after driving clear across the state of Wyoming, to get a motel room in Casper for some well-needed shower and internet time. I went to a motel. No rooms. I went to a second motel. No rooms. I went to a third motel...

I'll say this much: never again will I underestimate the fantastic drawing power of the mighty metropolis that is CASPER, WYOMING. Apparently this city had not one but TWO conventions starting up today, and the demand was so great that every motel within a couple hour's drive of the city was booked. So no motel for Dave.

I got back on the road heading north, and reviewed my situation:
Been driving for over 8 hours? check.
Sun is going down? check.
Crazy lots of deer near the highway? check.

...Which brings us to why I found myself sleeping under the stars near Teapot Dome. And I learned some things last night:

1. When you are in a remote place like Teapot Dome, miles away from any towns, the stars are brilliant. Countless stars shone down on my little tent, and the broad sweep of the milky way made a bright white arch across the night sky.
2. When you are in a remote place like Teapot Dome, where the speed limit is 65, you learn something: Semi trucks are freaking LOUD. Like end-of-the-world, better-get-religion-fast LOUD.
3. I cannot stress this enough; Casper Wyoming is crazy popular! Also: people who go to conventions are dicks. Dicks who take up hotel rooms.
4. There's something eerie about oil drilling rigs in the light of dusk. The collection of bright lights alone surrounded by perfectly dark prairie...the unnerving scent of refining gases...the slow oscillations of the sawhorse pumps...well, I'm just glad that I'm moving on. An oil field is a sad, lonely place at night.

Other highlights from yesterday:

1. I see the National Bighorn Sheep Center. Apparently, Dubois, Wyoming, is home to the largest herd of Bighorns in the entire country...maybe even in the world. They live on and around the slopes of "Whiskey Mountain" south of the town. Sounds like a good place. Also: one of the natural predators of the Bighorn Sheep is the Golden Eagle. Seriously. This bird can pick up a freaking sheep. I'm all for the Bald Eagle; it's totally cool, and it looks really good on currency. But until it starts picking up livestock, I'm going to have to award the title of "Most Badass Bird" to the Golden Eagle.

2. Jackson Hole is too damn crowded. It's largely my fault for checking the city out during peak tourist season (late July), but still. It's as if you were to take North Conway, make it twice as big, and then smothered the whole thing in a big schmeer of fake cowboy. Not my cup of tea. The mountains nearby look like the skiing is freaking awesome, but I'm not sure if I'd be able to put up with the apres-ski scene there. Or I'd just need to have another beer.

3. The Grand Tetons are absolutely beautiful. More to come on this in my next post. These things were incredible.

4. I've finally managed to find the place where gas is at or below the national average. This morning's fill-up: $3.69/gallon (though it was 85 octane, which sort of concerns me now that I've double-checked my manual and discovered that I shouldn't put anything less than 87 in. "Regular" gas out here is 85 or 85.5 octane, and you need to pay "Plus" prices to get 87. 87 is "Regular" where I'm from. what's up with that? Why do you hate high octane gasoline, Wyoming and possibly also Montana?). Now I just need a year or so of these prices to make up for all the screwjobs I got at the pump in California (note: I fully support increased gas prices, because I see them as the only sure way to force people to start conserving gas. I just feel that I should get a discount because, well, I'm doing a road trip here. Also, I deserve special treatment. Let's go hypocrisy!)

5. There is no #5.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana today. As if you hadn't figured that out already. I'm sitting in the Rockford Coffee shop, taking advantage of some free wifi and electric outlets to charge up my camera battery. My camera started flashin' the ol' red-light-of-death at me this morning, so I decided it was time for some caffeinated chargin-time.

The next stop on my grand tour is the most famous national park of them all, Yellowstone. This morning is my stocking-up time for the park, collecting food and gas and batteries and such. I picked up some fancy new hiking pants the other day in Helena, so now I can hike about without fear of my naughty bits popping out, scaring women and children and the like. So that's good.

To be honest, I'm paranoid as hell about heading into Yellowstone -- I've heard about the crowds and I'm none too confident of getting a camping spot by showing up on a Saturday. But this trip is all about not planning things in advance, so I'll have to do what I've done for the rest of the trip: fly by the seat of my pants. This could explain why my pants always develop holes in the crotch.

Enough about pants. Time for adventures. I was making my way south from Helena yesterday when I noticed a sign for "Lewis and Clark Caverns." Intrigued, I followed the winding road up to the visitor center, where I discovered a limestone cave system that rivaled what I had seen in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The caves are over 300' deep, and a trail over a mile long winds through the caverns and tunnels until exiting out a tunnel excavated by the CCC in the 30's. I have to assume that whoever was in charge of the project at the time had a hard-on for blasting, because the exit tunnel is over 500 feet long and took 18 months of continuous dynamite blasting to excavate. It's long enough that the cave requires a 2-door simple airlock at the entrance, because otherwise the pressure difference of the cave and the outdoor air would create 40-mph winds blasting down the tunnel. All in all, the CCC used a massive amount of dynamite and concrete to build the trail through the caves, and they did a damn good job. it even includes the "Beaver Slide," a short little slide carved in the rock that you slip down on the tour, the brilliant limestone rock of the slide polished to a brilliant sheen from the collective ass-polishing by countless visitors. It leaves a beautiful finish, but I get the feeling that it would be difficult to sell limestone countertops advertised as being "ass-polished."


Where was I? Oh yes, the caves. I'm not very good at describing caves, but as caves go, these were very subterranean. There were stalactites and stalagmites, columns and pools, and formations called "cave popcorn" and "cave bacon." I would recommend the tour. It's impressive enough that Teddy Roosevelt had originally protected the caves as the country's 12th National Monument, but years later it was transferred to Montana to be a state park, the reasoning being, well, we've already got one National Park cave, and two would just be silly.

Sweet -- my camera battery is charged. Let's wrap this up. Other adventures yesterday: walking around downtown Helena (an entirely pleasant little city, with a nice history museum across the street from the state Capitol building, and a place downtown that makes some damn good burritos*), and visiting Headwaters State Park.

*So I went to this taco place downtown, and it being 11am, I thought, "let's have a beer." My goal while traveling is to only drink beers brewed locally, if possible, and asked the server if she knew if the "Blackfoot Brewery" was local. She had to check. She checked. Turns out they're in Helena. Seemed local enough for me, so I gave it a go. A nice hoppy lager, nothing particularly special, but just the thing to wash down my late-morning burrito. I'm walking down the downtown pedestrian plaza after lunch, and what to I see? "Blackfoot Brewery." Three blocks away from the restaurant. Definitely qualifies as "local." My question is: how can you serve a beer that's brewed LESS THAN HALF A MILE FROM YOU and not know that it's a local beer?

Headwaters park is located at the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers -- the headwaters of the mighty Missouri River. It's a small park, mostly populated by mosquitoes, but it's a big place in the history and hydrology departments. I went for a short little hike this morning to see the source of the Missouri, the longest river in the continent, and after reading the various interpretive signs, realized that I have awesome timing.

July 25, 1805: William Clark, a few days ahead of Meriwether Lewis and the rest of the Corps of Discovery, arrives at Three Forks, the headwaters of the Missouri.

July 25, 2008: Dave, a few hundred years behind Clark, arrives at the exact same place.

I love coincidences. I couldn't have planned shit like this out if I tried. Two Hundred and Three years to the freaking day. Me and William Clark: history buddies.

So now I continue south to Yellowstone and more fun with the grizzly bears. It should be fun.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Damn this laptop is slow

Seriously, this thing is slow. It can barely handle downloading and viewing my digital camera pictures, let alone posting them to the internets. Hell, it freezes up if I type too fast. I suppose that it should be expected, considering that the little guy is almost 8 years old by now. It gets me internets, and for that I should be thankful. Just don't go expecting any fancy multimedia whatevers on this site while I'm updating on the road. Just long, rambling posts. That's what Bears In Cars is all about.

I'm in Helena today, the capital of the great state of Montana. Today is a town day, as I regroup from Glacier National Park and prepare for Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Laundry, shower, haircut, shave, checking the AL East standings -- and of course, a little journal-writin. Check out time is in 2 hours and 9 minutes. Let's see how much I can get in before the deadline.

When I left off, I was two states over in Yakima, WA. I've put some serious miles down since. From Yakima, I drove north along the eastern ramparts of the Cascade Mountains, making my way to the little town of Leavenworth, Washington. Now, for some reason, the entire town has been constructed in the style of a "Bavarian Village." It's like a sort of "quaint" European-Alps-Chalet style with lots of elaborate woodwork and frescoes of stuff on building walls -- like what people in western Washington state would think a village in Bavaria would look like.

Here's the thing:

1. The town doesn't appear to have a significant Bavarian population, and even if it did I'm not sure if they'd want to make their entire town look like a place where the gingerbread man would live.

2. The town is called "Leavenworth." If you're going for the full-on German-Alpen sort of thing, you'd think that they'd at least give the town a German -sounding name, like Dussel-Strassel-Alpen-Burgen-Steiner-Schnitzel. Now THAT's German! Instead, they have one road labeled "Strasse" instead of "Street." Big woop.

3. The Safeway has some sort of facade to keep up the "Bavarian Village" theme. So does the McDonald's. It's...well, words can't capture the resulting crime against architecture. This is what happens when town councils have too much time on their hands, people.

Leavenworth was also crowded as hell. It took me more than 2 minutes to find a parking space for lunch, which means that it wasn't worth it. I headed east, had a picnic lunch, and crossed the Columbia River. And then I was in....

Eastern Washington. It's a big freaking plateau that should be desert, except that one of the more ambitious mass-irrigation projects in the country (thanks, Bureau of Recalamation!) has turned it into a giant wheat field. It is big. And flat. And hot. We're talking 90+. I visited Dry Falls, a lovely bit of geology in the Grand Coulee (I won't bore you with the details. If you're interested, go look it up). And then it was time for some fun.

Background: I'm an engineer. I get nerdy about it. I like to see dams. Big ones. I've seen a number of them on my road trip: Glen Canyon (2 years ago), Trinity, Shasta, The Dalles, and Bonnevile. At every single one of them, I managed to show up just a few minutes after the last tour of the dam had left for the day (if they offered a tour. Most of them did. Also, I keep typing "damn" by mistake. I should look into this). I started to suspect that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers had conspired together in an unheard-of collaboration for the sole goal of screwing me out of getting a dam tour. "Let's tell him that that last tour left 10 minutes ago every time," they'd snicker. "It'll be great."

So I resolved that I was going to see the dam tour of Shasta. I planned shit out. I camped along nearby Banks Lake and showed up at the dam visitor center the minute they opened in the morning. I would stay all day if I had to.

Luckily, I didn't. That would have been a long day. Grand Coulee Dam is pretty spectacular -- it's the biggest dam in the continent, and the most powerful -- but I can only look at a great mass of concrete and admire how big it is for so long. I got in on the first tour of the day. Finally, I would see the inside of the dam -- the powerplant.

Let's get this out of the way now: Grand Coulee Dam is the kind of dam that gives engineers boners. Everything about it is bigger, or heavier, or more powerful, or more groundbreaking, than any other dam in the country. An individual generator is powered by a water flow greater than most rivers, produces enough electricity to power Seattle, and has moving parts that weigh over 5 million pounds. And there are six of them. In one of three powerplants.

Dude. It. Was. Awesome.

The entire building vibrates from the force of water flowing through the turbines. The powerplant has a crane rated to 2,000 TONS, a custom job larger than anything else in the world, and they still have to break the turbines into parts so they aren't too heavy for the crane. The entire building, a full quarter-mile long, buzzes with the overwhelming sense of primal, all-encompassing, POWER.

This is what happens when you give a civil engineer an unlimited budget. It's pretty sweet.

Ok, enough dam-love. Let's move on.

The remainder of Eastern Washington passed with little fanfare. I drove through some mountains, visited a "grotto" (I learned that "grotto" is a fancy name for "little cave." It was ok, I guess), drove through the Pend Oreille valley, and then I was in Idaho.

Things I did in Idaho:

1. Got gas.
2. Peed.
3. Drove down a dirt road for five miles before I concluded that it was the wrong road.
4. Visited Moyie Falls.
5. Peed.
6. Left Idaho.

I spent nearly two full hours in the state. I passed through the panhandle, the narrowest part of the state, and well, there wasn't a whole lot to see up there. Although whenever I hear the state name, all I can think of is "Idaho? No, YOU da ho!"

I don't think I could have handled that for more than a few hours, anyway.

So then I was in Montana. Big Sky Country. A big state. I visited Glacier National Park, a beautiful place, and got some serious hiking in. It was cloudy for the majority of my visit, but I sitll managed to get some serious scenery in. Glacier is dominated by impossibly steep sandstone cliffs towering about greenish-blue glacier-fed lakes. The "Glacier" part is pretty small, though. The park used to have over 150 glaciers, but after a century of global warming, they've melted down to just a few dozen small glaciers. It's expected that the last of the glaciers will be gone by 2030. So it goes.

The best hike in Glacier? Triple Divide Pass. A seven-plus mile trek up the Cut Bank Creek valley and up the ever-steeper glacier-carved valley walls up to the pass, just a few hundred feet below the bare rock of Triple Divide Peak. From there, you can look down across two majestic glacial valleys, with impossibly blue alpine lakes and waterfalls cascading down 1,000-foot tall cliffs, as clouds break over towering sandstone peaks. Triple Divide Peak is named so because it marks the dividing point between three watersheds: the Columbia, the Saskatchewan, and the Missouri. Three ridges radiate out from the summit, setting the fate of any raindrops that fall near the peak. To the west, everything flows out to the Pacific; to the northeast, everything flows to Hudson Bay, and to the southeast, everything flows to the Gulf of Mexico. It's hard to find another place where a difference of a few inches can mean water flowing to destinations thousands of miles apart.

I say that the hike is "Triple Divide PASS" for a reason. The trail runs to the pass just east of the peak, along the ridge that means the difference between flowing to the Arctic Ocean -- and flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. The ridge then rises nearly 600 feet to the peak -- straight up. I had been dead-set in my goal of climbing to the very peak, the dividing point of drainage basins that covers the entire continent -- but I wasn't prepared to risk my life to do so. The ridge was a near-vertical wall of crumbling sandstone blocks, with equally imposing cliffs branching off to the north and south to discourage any traverse to an easier ridge ascent.

So I'll have to put off my dream of standing on the crown of the continent for a little while, at least. But someday...

Glacier Park is also prime Grizzly Bear country. I'm an accomplished bear-fighter when it comes to black bears, but grizzlies are another thing altogether. Grizzlies are BIG, and they are MEAN. And I sure as hell don't want to spook one.

So as I hiked through dense forest and bushes, the sort of places bears love to hide in as they dig for their grubs and berries, I had to make noise to announce my presence to any potential bears. Now, I'm not the sort to hike around with bells on like some damned hiking clown, so I needed an alternate sound source. Like singing. When I hike alone through potential bear habitats, I sing out loud. Badly.

Problem is, there's a lot of bear habitat in Glacier, and I ran through my catalog of songs pretty quickly. It goes by extra-quick when I only know the chorus of most songs, and even then I'm singing "Do-doo-DOO" because I don't know the words. So on my third day of hiking, I was heading up to Triple Divide with no songs left and about five miles of prime bear country ahead of me. So what did I do?

I got nerdy.

Real nerdy.

I started doing math in my head. Out loud. Distance and velocity problems, trying to calculate my average hiking speed and estimated arrival times based on the time and distance to go. Now, five miles, even at my average rate of 3.6 miles per hour (I told you I got real nerdy), is going to take over an hour and a half. That's a lot of math. I was doing long division. With decimals.

And nothing scares bears away like long division.

Even still, it gets pretty boring after a while calculating out hiking velocities. So maybe I'll get myself some damn bells after all. I suppose it beats having my spleen ripped out by a grizzly.


keepin it real


Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Should Have Brought My Skis

Ok, now we're getting somewhere. I'm rested, breakfasted, and over-coffeed. Time for some journal writin'.

I'm in Yakima, Washington, which apparently has a lot of wineries. Good thing. For a moment there, I was afraid that I might go the entire day sober. It is hot as balls out here in central Washington, and I'm going to need a way to cope. I also may have a mild sunburn. You know what doesn't give you sunburns? Drinking wine.

Think about it.

What does give you sunburns, however, is spending the day hiking around the snowfields of Mount Rainier. I pulled up to Paradise (elevation: 5400') yesterday morning, saw the towering mass of the mountain above me, and thought: let's do this.

Problem is, the summit of Rainier is over 14,000 feet above sea level, and is surrounded by pointy rocks and glaciers and crevasses and avalanches and very little oxygen. It's not the sort of thing to take on alone, without mountaineering equipment, after a late morning start. So I toned down my plans for the day, and just went halfway up to Muir Camp, a collection of squat stone shelters and overloaded outhouses that serves as a base camp for summit ascents. I was told it would take four to five hours to make it up to the 10,000-foot camp. I did it in three.

Did I mention that I'm a fast hiker? I am. I hike at a rapid pace. I'm proud of this. You should bring this up next time you see me. "Dave, I've noticed that you are a very fast hiker," you can say. "I get it. You walk fast. Now shut up about it."

I'll try. Getting back on track, I made it up to Muir Camp, where I could see the beauty of the Cascade Mountains spread across the horizon under a perfectly clear azure sky. It also smelled strongly of pee. Now, there's a lot of snow up on the slopes of Rainier. Hiking up (fast!) I could see a number of people with skis strapped to their packs, and immediately wished that I had brought my skis along with me. 4,500' down wide-open snowfields in perfect spring-skiing conditions? It would have been sweet. As it was, I had to make do glissading down on my boots. Glissading is fun as hell. Especially when I could get in a groove where someone had gone down on a sled earlier, creating a chute of slick, slushy snow that I could glide down, on the brink of lising control and falling on my face the entire time. It was perfect.

It also was very sunny. And I was in a massive snowfield. Above the treeline. So despite massive applications of sunblock, I picked up a bit of a sunburn. I'll take that trade.

It wasn't all fun and games, though -- I had to cope with loss. The loss of my pants.

In Memoriam
Dave's Pants - 2005-2008

I bought the pants back in (I'm pretty sure?) 2005, when I was visiting friends in NYC. We were walking through Greenwich Village, and came across one of those shops that sells highly fashionable clothes at insultingly high prices. It was going out of business. I found a pair of pants (Dunderon? something like that. They're made in Sweeden) that looked good and cost under 30 bucks. They were lightweight and allowed full movement, like running or hiking. Over the years, my pants lost various buttons and developed various holes, and my wallet pocket ripped. So I relegated them to hiking duty. They had a hole in the crotch, but it had only become mildly scandalous. Until yesterday.

I was sitting down at Muir Camp, and happened to glance down. And guess who poked his head out to say hello to the world? My penis. Now, I can deal with some pretty good-sized crotch holes, but when Little* Dave starts flopping out in the breeze, throwing off my aerodynamics, exposing himself to sunburn, prickly underbrush, and hungry birds -- well, it's time for new pants. You can look forward to an exciting upcoming post, "Dave buys new hiking pants."

*"Little" only in relation to the overall size of my body. I cannot stress this enough. I am Dave, he is Little Dave. He's damn big enough for when he's needed, and don't you dare say otherwise.

So yesterday, I did my big hike (halfway) up Rainier. The day before that, I did an equally big hike up Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park. Don't let the name fool you -- It may just be a "hill," but it's 5,700' and it's right near the ocean, so the trail up it climbs just under a solid vertical mile. That's a lot of vertical. It was a beautiful hike, through lush, dense forests at the base to wide-open alpine meadows at the summit. Unfortunately, you can also get to the summit by driving most of the way up along a road on the other side of the hill, and then hiking a piddly little mile or so to the summit. So after six miles of solitary hiking, I ran into mobs of car-tourists up at the top. I turned right around and made my way a bit down the trail to get a bit of quiet for my lunch. I was taking a nice post-lunch nap in the sun, when I heard what I call

"The Most Inane Conversation Ever"

I can't remember it exactly, because my brain is trying its hardest to repress the memory. But it went something like this:

"Wow, look at all these wildflowers"
"Yes, there are a lot of wildflowers"
"There are a lot of flowers over here"
"Yes, and over here there is a different flower"
"That is a different flower. There are a lot of them"
"Yes, there are so many wildflowers"
"Really. There are more wildflowers than last time"
"Yes, there weren't as many flowers last time"

And so on. The actual conversation may not have been so intellectually stimulating. But it was longer. And it was LOUD. Seriously, it was like these people had built-in microphones. I swear I could hear them half a mile away, waxing idiotic about every single thing they saw.

The experience led me to develop Dave's Law of Conversation Volume, which is as follows: the volume of any given conversation is inversely proportional to the intellectual content of the conversation. Under this law, a couple of philosophers discussing the nature of a man in some bohemian coffeehouse will speak in reserved, hushed tones; and the flower-lovers disturbing my nap will speak at volumes rivaling jet engines. My theory is that the node of the brain responsible for moderating thoughts before they are spoken out loud is located directly above the mouth. People with a well-developed node will have a smaller mouth, and people with a tiny little node will have a massive mouth that has grown to fill the gap.

So after such a wonderful day, I was hunting for a campground. I found one, but it was full. At least, that's what the host told me. It was actually less than half full, but every empty site had a "reserved" tag on it. Bastards. So I had to do a little hobo-camping in a small gravel pit off the road in the national forest. It didn't have a toilet or a firepit or a water source or a picnic table, but it did have a space where I could put my tent and a flat spot for my stove. I cooked up some ramen and opened up a tin of tuna with secret hobo spices (cilantro-lime. Those hobos know their spices). This is what I get for planning my route only a few hours in advance and trying to find a campsite on a friday night. It is also the reason why I made damn sure to get a hotel room and a big freaking dinner at "Smokin Bones BBQ" last night. That was some damn good BBQ. And the chef/owner made a point of making the rounds of the restaurant, greeting each table and asking them how their meal was. I appreciate that kind of service. I also appreciate the "BBQ Combo," a mass of beef ribs, smoked kielbasa, and half a freaking chicken piled onto a plate and drowned in barbecue sauce.

Good times.

I also got to relax in the sulfur hot pools at Sol Duc hot springs several days ago in Olympic, and I got to see the Hoh rainforest. Both experiences were enjoyable. I'd write more, but it's time to get moving and check out of my room. More to come soon.

"I start with the best part of the chicken -- the neck! Then I add secret hobo spices"
-Moe Syslak

Bears in Cars BONUS!
See into the mind of the creator, with this exclusive late-night journal post outline!

It's getting late, I'm tired, and I've got about ten pounds of barbecue sloshing around in my stomach. I'm just getting a quick outline up so I don't forget what's been up for Dave. I'll fill in the details later.

In more-or-less reverse chronological order:

1. glissading is fun as shit. Especially on Mount Rainier. I wish I'd brought my skis.
2. In Memoriam: my old pants.
2a. Little* Dave pops out. *"Little" is only compared to my entire body. I cannot stress this enough.
3. Hobo Camping: the key is adding secret hobo spices.
4. Hurricane Hill: a mile of excitement. 10k vertical in 2 days.
5. Hot springs are hot.
6. The most inane conversation ever is also the loudest conversation ever. Fucking wildflowers.
6a. Dave's Law of Conversation Volume.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Oyster Capital of the World

I've been in in South Bend, Washington these last few days, visiting some family friends. South Bend advertises itself as the "Oyster Capital of the World," and for good reason -- more oysters are farmed in nearby Willapa Bay than any other place in the country. I got to learn this first hand, as I found myself hauling oyster bags out of the low-tide muck at 7am this morning. There were a lot of oysters.

I've been helping out here and there with the oyster farming, which helps me to not feel guilty about crashing in the guest room for a long weekend and eating all of my hosts' food. And drinking their beer. I'm doing that too.

The weather out here has been beautiful and sunny for the past few days, which is not normal. I know this because every single person who lives here has made a point to tell me, every single time I talk to them. "Normal" weather here is a combination of clouds, unending rain, and tsunamis. Apparently. Personally, I'm starting to suspect that the weather really is wonderful out here, and the locals just made up the "it rains all the time" myth to keep people away. I can't blame them; nobody wants to wind up like California.

Sunny weather is good for recreation. I've been taking full advantage of it. Saturday was my first attempt at wakeboarding, kneeling on a little rubber-plastic board as a fast boat pulls me along behind it. I decided that this would be a lot of fun, until I tried it myself and realized the physics of the sport:

1) You can't get on the board until the boat starts moving.

2) You can't get on the board without using your hands.

3) You need your hands to hold the rope attached to the boat.

All this resulted in a sort of rock-paper-scissors struggle as I attempted to manoeuvre my body onto the board. I would get a hold of the rope while laying down on the board, then attempt to pull myself up. This just slid me to the side of the board. I tried to hold the rope with one hand, while holding the board with my other hand. This made me go sideways. I tried to switch hands on the rope. This made the board spin around. Finally, with a sudden spastic motion (I still have no idea what I did), I was kneeling on the board. I was holding onto the rope. I was not upside-down. This was good. Unfortunately, my arms were tired as hell from the extended attempt, which made things difficult because I still had to hold onto the rope. I did manage some "tricks," however, ranging from (1) don't fall off the board to (2) look tired to (3) fall off the board while attempting a trick more advanced than (1) or (2). I'm pretty sure I managed to get some slalom turns in there, but my ride was pretty much all about trick (2).

So wakeboarding was fun. What was more fun was shooting stuff. I got my first taste of trap and skeet shooting with a 20 gauge shotgun, and I excelled at it. In that I hit the skeet once. After about thirty tries. So really, my only accomplishments were (1) litter skeets all over the place and (2) make a lot of noise. I'm pretty proud of (2). I was a little better at target practice with the .22, largely because the targets didn't move. It's slightly easier to hit a stationary skeet 25 feet away than one flying away from you at 50. But the gun is still just as loud, and the target explodes into little pieces when you hit it. I have decided that if it weren't for the whole having-to-fight-in-unjust-wars and getting-shot-and-killed-or-gruesomely-wounded things, I could have a lot of fun in the army. As illustrated in the following short play:

"Dave In The Army"
dramatis personae
Drill Sargent

Drill Sargent: "Hey Dave, would you like to shoot target practice with the grenade launcher?"
Dave: "Yes. Yes I would."
Grenades: "Boom."

And so on.

I've also gotten to help out with various chores here, including my all-time favorite, splitting firewood. If any of you out there have a bunch of wood that needs splitting, my services are always available. I will require as payment a large dinner (note: dinner must include some form of meat. Vegetarian alternatives will not be accepted. If I'm going to spend the day swinging a big heavy axe around, bean salad just isn't going to cut it) and plenty of cold beer. In fact, you can get a lot out of me in return for a steak dinner and lots of cold beer. This includes chores like "watching the football game" and "falling asleep on the couch." I am very good at those chores, too.

Coming up on DaveTrip '08:

Olympia National Park!
Mounts Ranier and Saint Helens, The Twin Towers of the Pacific Northwest volcanic world!
Not Seattle!


Friday, July 11, 2008

SLC Punk'd

Dave's back, babies!

I'm in Salt Lake City this morning, although I hadn't planned on it (this is, has been, and will always be the case when I am in SLC. The only times I find myself in this town are 1) to catch a connecting flight, because there was no other option for my air travel; 2) to drive up to the Wasatch and get some skiing in sweet sweet Utah Powder; or 3) because I've decided that you know what, I don't feel like having fun today. I don't have any particular axe to grind with Salt Lake City; it's just that this town was not designed with fun in mind.

To wit:

1) SLC is centrally located in the middle western United States. This makes it an excellent location for a Delta hub. Unfortunately, "centrally located" does not improve a town's fun rating. SLC relatively close mountains with incredible skiing, desert canyons with incredible vistas, and Las Vegas with incredible immorality. These are all fun. SLC is strategically located in the empty region between them.

2) SLC was founded by mormons. These people have historically been anti-fun, especially in the underwear department. They also rank very low on the fun scale when it comes to...

3) Beer. If there's one thing SLC hates, it's beer with a decent alcohol content. This means that the biggest side effect of drinking in SLC is having to pee a lot. I like to pee as much as the next guy, but there are better reasons to drink. For example, pointless vandalism.

4) The Great Salt Lake. SLC's big attraction is a chunk of water so salty that almost nothing can live in it. The salt content is so high that you can float in it easily. "Easy Floating" does not help SLC's fun rating. Especially if you can't drink a decent beer while you're floating.).

So why am I in Salt Lake City? A misfunctioning altimeter, that's why. Mr. Altimeter decided on the Boston tarmac that he wasn't going to work properly. So the pilot taxied the plane back to the gate to fix him. Apparently, rolling around at 1 mile an hour is the most fuel-intensive activity a jet can do, because after returning to the gate the plane needed to re-balance its fuel tanks for take-off due to all the fuel it had burned sitting on the tarmac. Apparently, moving fuel from one part of the fuel tanks to another part of the fuel tanks WITHIN THE SAME PLANE requires written approval from the control tower.

Now, the Boston-Logan control tower HATES when flights get delayed. They absolutely despise it. So when a plane does get delayed like ours, the control tower punishes them by taking as long as possible to approve their fuel re-balancing. The control tower is tough but fair.

The net effect on Dave was keeping me crammed in my tiny little plane seat for over two hours while this comedy of errors was taking place. Time being linear, it also meant that my flight didn't get into Salt Lake City until after 11pm (local time), long after the last plane had left for Salem for the night.

So I got stuck in SLC. I had not planned on it.

The nice people at Delta booked me on the next day's (i.e., today's) flight, and put me up in the airport radisson for the night. And they gave me $14 in food vouchers, which at airport/hotel food vendors is almost enough to buy half a sandwich. So that's nice of them.

What does this mean for you, good readers? It means that the road trip ("Vision Quest II: Electric Boogaloo") has been delayed by a little over half a day. Assuming no further altimeter hijinx today, I'll be back in the saddle this afternoon. You can look forward to exciting upcoming posts like "Dave gets the oil changed in his car" and "Dave finds out just how bad his car smells after baking in the sun for two weeks with a dirty sleeping bag inside." I might even regale you with tales of my July 4th break -- tales of lobsters, fireworks, sheep, fire trucks, and laundry. It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Return To The Sea

About damn time I found a place where I could get some breakfast and hop on the internet. I would like to wholeheartedly recommend the Morning Star Cafe in Seaside, Oregon, to all you peoples who like breakfast and wi-fi. They just got some fresh-picked strawberries in here from down the road and damn but those things are good. I somehow managed to wake up at 4:55am this morning, and took advantage of my unfortunately early rise by going for a dawn hike through the woods in Stub Stewart State Park (this being the home of my campground last night). The advantage to hiking so early in the day is that the woods are filled with birdsong,* and when I got to a vantage point I could see the rising sun painting the drifting fog banks as they crept through the coastal hills. The downside is that it left me damn hungry before most normal people have even woken up. Hence my happiness at finding a breakfast place.

*There is a certain type of bird -- I'm pretty sure it's the Grouse -- that has a consistent history of scaring the shit out of me when I'm hiking. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I hike fast, and I don't make much sound. This means that I often get to see wildlife that ordinarily would flee long before a slower, louder hiker would see it. The general reaction of said wildlife is to let out a surprised squeak and rush off into the underbrush. Usually, I get to catch a glimpse of the animal first, and then can watch it as it runs away. The grouse, however, is different. I have never seen one standing still. They are perfectly camouflaged beside the trail, and I am certain that I would walk past one completely unaware if the damn thing would stay still. This does not happen. What does happen is that the damn bird waits until I am about two feet away, and then EXPLODES out of its hiding place in a flurry of surprisingly loud flapping wings. This shocks the hell out of me. Every damn time it happens. Stupid bird.

The weather on the coast today is a dreary cloudy-fog, so I'm in no hurry to get out hiking. Today might wind up being a museum day. I need to start planning out my trip more than four hours in advance now, because I'm flying back to Boston on Friday. I'll be leaving my car parked at the airport while I'm in New England. In some airport garage. My car. That's full of hiking crap. I'll be taking my laptop and items of actual value with me, but I'm always paranoid about leaving Oki all alone in a garage somewhere. I plan to strategically arrange items in the backseat of the car so as to make them appear as inexpensive as possible. As opposed to hanging a sign in the window that reads "THERE IS $1,000 IN CASH HIDDEN SOMEWHERE IN THIS VEHICLE. CAN YOU FIND IT?"**

**I discussed this strategem with Jared. He agreed that the sign would be a bad idea. In fact, the sign would likely lead to someone ransacking my car, taking anything of value, and then taking a big dump in my glove-box. What would lead a person to pinch one off inside someone's glove-box is beyond my understanding, let alone how they could arrange their body to drop said deuce in such an awkward location. Regardless, the lesson is clear: don't make your car look like it contains valuables. And more importantly, don't take a dump in my car. For this reason, I will be keeping the location of my vehicle secret. For its protection.

It looks like there's an air and space museum in Tillamook. And more importantly, I'm pretty sure I've had beer made by a "Tillamook Brewery." I hope that this is not a coincidence. I want to be rip-snortin' drunk when I roll into that air and space museum, wearing a shirt that says "I SHOT DOWN AMELIA EARHART," acting belligerent in general, and when approached demanding to speak to Chuck Yeager. Yes. This is a good plan.


"I am the Lindberg Baby!"
-Abe Simpson

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fair Columbia

Here in Troutdale, Oregon, enjoying a cup of coffee at some random truckstop. Today I was hiking around the waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge, and the weather was nice enough to cooperate with some perfect blue skies. There's more to come, but right now I'm looking at some chicken wings that are just begging to be eaten. And seeing as how I haven't mastered the art of typing without the use of my hands, that's how it's gonna be. Anyway, here's yesterday's post:

Getting My Money’s Worth (Journal Entry, 6/23/08)

I’m in Ainsworth State Park, on the southern side of the Columbia Gorge. Tomorrow I’ll head a few miles west to hike among the waterfalls, but for the moment I’m taking it easy. For reasons that I still cannot completely comprehend, every campground I have visited will charge either the same amount or a trivial larger amount for campsites with full RV hookups. I’m a pretty basic camper – all I need is a place to park my car, a relatively flat spot for my tent, and a secnd, smaller, flat spot to put my campstove. If I feel like spoiling myself, I might even want a picnic table. Besides that, I might need a bit of water from a faucet somewhere in the campground, and a proper receptacle for that water once I’ve processed it. Or if I need to drop a deuce.*

*One of my favorite expressions of all time. To this day, I consider the phrase “drop a deuce” to be the most important single thing that I learned during my four years at Bishop Hendricken High School. This says more about my relative maturity than it does about the quality of education I received.

So that’s it: maybe 200 square feet of space, a water source, and a hole in the ground. This is why I was getting so frustrated with the “great state” of California** charging upwards of $25 a night for a little flat patch of dirt.

**California is a beautiful state. It really is. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that beauty because it is also the most populous state, and all those people (1) get in the way and (2) drive up the cost of everything to comically high levels. As a New Englander, it causes me great pain to pay more for something than I feel is the fair price. I felt this great pain on a regular basis living in CA.

Now, with an RV hookup site, you get an electrical jack, a water faucet, and a sewer clean-out, without having to walk even a few feet. That’s infrastructure, and I know a thing or two about how much it costs to build and maintain infrastructure. It’s what they pay me to do. I’ll tell you this much: it costs more than two bucks. This means that as a primitive camper in a campground with RV’s, I’m subsidizing those road-clogging leviathans. This causes me great pain (see **).

So how do I bring balance back to creation? By helping myself. I have resolved to use the hell out of my electric jack. I’ll be charging cell phones, cameras, and GPS units all night, and I’ll be typing away drivel like the last few paragraphs long into the night. This isn’t about me, people; it’s about Justice.

On to business. Today was a museum-and-visitor-center day, which for some reason leaves me feeling more tired than after a long day of hiking. I suspect the coffee.***

***the cheap-ass motel I stayed at last night advertised “FREE COFFEE” along with their other complimentary amenities, like wireless internet that drifts in and out as the signal attempts to make its way through the cinder-block walls of the building. And like the wi-fi, the coffee left much to be desired. First off, it wasn’t a proper coffee-brown. It was more of a deep red. And it tasted like shit. No, scratch that; if you went through the trouble of taking a dump, drying it out, grinding it up, and percolating hot water through it, I can pretty much guarantee that it would taste better than the substance I attempted to drink this morning. Maybe have a nutty sort of flavor. The best explanation I can think of is that the motel manager failed to either place fresh beans in the coffee maker or to clean out the grounds from previous nights. Or from previous years, for that matter. Maybe they pissed in it too, for good measure.

I couldn’t even swallow the stuff. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my coffee standards are low. But I still wanted coffee. So I walked down the block to a little espresso shack, and stood waiting in the drive-thru line among the cars, and got some real coffee. They even put too much cream and sugar in it, Dunkin’-Donuts-style. I still think that that first aborted sip of “coffee” got to me, though. This was coffee so bad that it actually had the opposite effect of coffee, and left me feeling sleepy and lethargic throughout the day, no matter how many cups of real coffee I consumed.

Right. On to the road trip. Today was very much and inside day, first visiting the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum in the morning, and then Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery in the afternoon.

The museum was fantastic. A beautiful building with bare cedar columns on the inside and xeriscaped wildflower blooms outside. The museum covered the natural and cultural history of the gorge, with exhibits on the last great Ice Age, the Lake Missoula super-flood, the Native American history of the area, the Columbia River dams and fish migrations, and everything that I ever could have wanted to learn about Lewis and Clark (like the well-concealed (at the time) fact that the expedition went seriously over budget. Like 2000% over budget. This, of course, began the proud American tradition of government cost overruns).

After lunch, I drove by Bonneville Dam below the Bridge of the Gods and the Cascade Locks. It was a big dam. That meant that I had to go look at it. I like visiting big dams – regardless of how ill-advised, unnecessary, or devastating to river ecology some of them may be, they still stand as a testament to the incredible potential of modern engineering. Like a modern-day Archimedes, give me a slide-rule and a near-unlimited federal budget, and I can tame the mightiest river on earth.

Arriving at the visitor center, I inquired if there were any tours offered of the dam. Yes, said the receptionist, but the last tour of the day left ten minutes ago.

I’ve been to three damns now that are significant enough to merit offering a guided tour of the powerhouse: Glen Canyon in Arizona, Shasta in California, and now Bonnevile in Oregon. At every single one, when I arrive, “the last tour of the day left ten minutes ago.” I’m calling bullshit. There is a massive federal conspiracy to prevent me from seeing the inside of a dam. This goes up all the way to the very top, with Cheney cackling gleefully as he watches my hopes dashed through his homeland security video screen. Bastards.

Right. Time for some dinner. More to come.


“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a dam.”
-Gone With The Wind-

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Tour-egon of Oregon

Sorry; couldn't help myself.

I've made it to the northern border of Oregon, but I'm not finished with this state yet.

I'm in a motel room. The room has a TV. The TV has Iron Chef on. I like food -- I like learning about it, cooking it, sharing it, seeing it, smelling it, and eating it. And because I'm on my road trip I'm hiking nearly every day, and with all that calorie-burning my appetite has increased accordingly.

What this means is that I can only write this blog during ad breaks, because whenever Iron Chef comes on the TV I wind up staring, slack-jawed, in a food-watching trance. And the ingredient is Parmesan-Reggiano. Damn that looks good.

Also: Alton Brown knows a shit-ton lot about food.

I've only taken care of Central Oregon so far, driving US 97 almost the entire length of the state. The Cascade Range has been my constant companion, and the snow-covered peaks have towered above to the west, from Crater Lake above Klamath Falls to Mount Hood now above The Dalles. Every place I have been shows the signs of volcanic origin -- lava beds, craters, talus slopes of pumice, even the towering dormant volcano peaks of the Cascades.

Crater Lakes was beautiful -- a perfect deep blue lake below a still snow-covered crater rim. Half of the roads in the park were still closed due to snows, and I had to make my way over snowfields to climb Garfield Peak above the crater rim village. It was my favorite hike so far -- only a few miles in length, but the snowfields made it feel like a mountaineering trip. Minus, of course, all the preparation and time and equipment and dangers.

Heading north to Newberry Volcanic Monument, I drove down one of the straighter roads I've been on -- fifteen straight miles through unyielding pine forest. I'm probably not going to do very well through the great plains if I have trouble with a mere fifteen miles straight.

Highlights of Central Oregon:

Newberry. A dormant volcanic crater four miles across, so massive that I couldn't tell until I reached Paulina Peak, the highest point in the park. There are two small lakes in the middle of the crater, and I camped by the larger one, Paulina Lake (notice the naming pattern yet?). I was met with a familiar sound -- peepers! Thousands of tiny little frogs serenaded me to sleep with their high-pitched peeping. I made a cooking fire entirely out of kindling (after spending a solid half hour collecting three massive armloads of downed wood nearby). I saw a movie that explained in great detail how a massive earthquake of never-before-seen devastation WILL strike the Pacific Northwest sometime in the next few hundred years.

Madras. Well, not so much. It's a little city with the Cascades in the background. But it's Jacoby Ellsbury's hometown, and that's good enough for me.

The Dalles Dam. It's freaking huge. Along with about a dozen other similarly massive dams, it's made the Columbia River navigable straight to Idaho, where Lewiston, Idaho is considered a sea port.

White River Falls. About half an hour south of The Dalles, hidden in a sleepy little farming valley. A perfect swimming hole at the base, except for the hidden rocks and very strong current (leading to more pointy rocks in the rapids downstream). A sunny little sand beach at the bottom of a lava-cliff canyon. A much better swimming hole than:

Smith Rock State Park. Which actually has some great little hikes, and what looked to be some prime rock-climbing. I was set to hop into the Crooked River for a dip after my hike there, when I saw:

A snake.

And it was swimming.

Now, I don't know much about snakes. I especially don't know much about poisonous snakes. If I were to draw a Venn Diagram, I would draw a large circle named "Snakes." Then, entirely inside that first circle, I would draw a smaller circle, named "Snakes That Are Poisonous." Then, completely outside of both circles and far away, like on a separate sheet of paper, a circle named "Snakes That I Know If They Are Poisonous Or Not."

I was pretty hot from my hike, but I wasn't going to take my chances with this snake. He had already demonstrated his ability to swim, and was slithering onto the shore. Poisonous or not, this snake was amphibious. That made him like the Navy SEAL of snakes. And I did not want to mess with that.

You don't mess with that kind of snake.


"I have had enough of these motherfucking snakes on my motherfucking plane!"
-Samuel L. Jackson

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Oregon Trail

Ladies and gentlemen, I did it: I finally got to a different state! California is too damn big. I miss New England, where you could choose a direction at random, drive for an hour, and chances would be damn good that you'd be in a new state (or the Atlantic. Or CANADA! eh?). I left Lassen Volcanic National Park just after noon today, but when I found myself in Weed (more on that later) late in the afternoon and realized that the Oregon border was only an hour's drive away...well, I had to go for it.

And does it ever feel good. I love Oregon. Here's a list:

1. Oregon is more beautiful than California. I attribute this to a phenomena called "rain," which means that the landscape is a beautiful emerald green. As opposed to a hellish, burnt brown.
2. Oregon is more affordable than California. Gas is easily $0.50/gal less, and food/lodging ain't too bad, neither.
3. Oregon has free wireless access at their rest stops. I showed up after the place had closed, so I didn't get to use it, but still...well, it's nice. California rest stops are lucky if they have toilet seats.
4. Oregon grows a hell of a lot of potatoes. I learned this at the rest stop information booth. You know what they make from potatoes? French fries. You know what you can make from french fries? Poutine. Enough said.
5. When I drove into Klamath Falls this evening, everyone was out in the streets dancing and partying. There was a blues band playing for free on the city steps. And apparently there's a rodeo somewhere around here. It was the best possible way to enter the state, especially after over two weeks road tripping in California -- damn, I had gotten tired of that state.

So here I am: on the Oregon Trail.* I had planned to camp out tonight and then take care of my internet needs tomorrow morning in Klamath Falls, but any potential campgrounds would have been about an hour out of my way. So here we are, motel-style. So far, I regret nothing. I'll be up at Crater Lake tomorrow, and I can't wait. It also works out well, because I had a good day and I want to share.

*I loved that game, especially back in grade school when you could actually play it on the library computer because it was educational, or something. The key, of course, was to not buy any food and invest all your money in bullets. I must have killed half the buffalo in the great plains playing that game (but you can only carry 40 pounds of meat!), although everyone on my wagons always seemed to die of dysentery (I am proud to announce that I have not died of dysentery. I did rip a pretty loud fart earlier, though). Maybe it was the all-buffalo meat diet.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a beautiful little park. I got in the little hikes yesterday, visiting King's Creek Falls and Bumpass Hell (this is a series of volcanic steam vents, mudpots, and boiling hot springs. Although most of the ground in the area is still covered in snow, this particular spot is bare of all snow, exposing orange, yellow, and green-tinged soil. Steam vents reeking of sulfur pour into the air, and boiling springs send gray-green muddy streams running through the sulfur domes. It was other-worldly), finding a nice campground that allowed using nearby fallen wood for firewood (I like making fires. But not in a criminal sort of way. Thanks for reading, Department of Homeland Security!). This morning I hiked up Lassen Peak, the now-dormant volcano that dominates the center of the park. It was a beautiful mountain, and had my favorite sign at the trailhead: "DANGEROUS TERRAIN. HIKING NOT RECOMMENDED."

Good times.

North of the park, in the adjacent Lassen National Forest, lies a curious geological feature: the lava tubes. Called "Subway Caves," the site features a 1300-foot long natural rock pipe formed by a chance lava flow eons ago. A trail allows visitors to walk through the entire length of the tube. It gets dark in there -- really dark. How do I know? My flashlight died almost halfway in. I was able to slowly make my way back out and get some fresh batteries, but the fact remains: it gets damn dark in the Subway Caves.

Driving north, I noticed the town of "Weed, California" on my road atlas. And no, it's not what you think. Apparently, the down was founded by a Mr. Abner Weed (of Penobscot county, Maine) in the late 19th century, when he started the lumber mill that would be the towns primary (if not only) industry. I learned this at the "Weed Logging Museum," where the curator (Sal? I'll just call him Sal. I'm pretty sure that's what he said. I have the rare ability to forget people's names the moment they introduce themselves, and this was no exception) said to me what I like to call, "the best quote ever."

We were discussing the current depressed local economy (the lumber mill had significantly reduced production over the past few decades), and we agreed that the country could use a serious change in the upcoming election -- such as an Obama presidency. Sal mentioned that he liked Obama, but he was concerned that residual racism in the country would prevent him from being elected. I can't remember precisely what he said, but this is damn close:

"You younger kids get it, but I'm afraid the older folks won't vote for him because he's black. They don't see like you do that it doesn't matter what color his skin is. And it's a shame, because I think if he doesn't get elected, those damn slant-eyes are gonna own everything."

Sal continued on a bit on his mistrust of China and its many denizens. I make a noncomittal remark about the significant difference between Chinese and "Western" cultures, while furiously making a mental note to remember this moment. Sal has introduced me to an entirely new form of racism: nationalist racism, where the color of someone's skin doesn't matter...unless they're from another country. Then they become a bunch of shifty slant-eyed bastards.

I don't want to disparage Sal in any way -- this is a man who fought in WWII and lived through the entire Cold War -- a man who spent a lifetime being told that you can't trust Red China. And considering their abominable history in the Human Rights and Envinronmental departments, I would say Sal is dead on to not trust the Chinese government. But if he had specified that, instead of calling them "a bunch of damn slant-eyes," well, it wouldn't have been the best quote ever.