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Showing posts from June, 2010

Day 24: Denali National Park

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Caught the 5:30am shuttle bus to Wonder Lake, and for once I was happy to be with tourists and not driving. Having an extra thirty pairs of eyes makes it a lot easier to spot wildlife, and I could also do a little napping to rest up for hiking.After 15 miles the road into the park is unpaved with few facilities, and only park vehicles, plus the few people who managed to get permits for private vehicles. Snowshoe hares sunning themselves in the road would scatter to the banks when they heard the bus. A huge mother moose was walking up the road with her much smaller baby calf. Near the Polychrome Overlook there were foxes along the road. We saw two young grizzly bear siblings just sent out on their own from their mother playing together in a field. At one point the driver stopped the bus so we could watch several wolves stalk and size up a small herd of caribou. I've finally seen wolves in the wild! Of all the national parks I've been to, Denali has been best for wildlife viewin…

Day 23: Lands Of The Midnight Sun

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Took it slow this morning, hanging around the cabins, and getting to know our couchsurf host better. Turns out Dave has also worked as a raft guide on the Salmon River in Idaho. Looks like I might have found something to do on my first visit to that fair state. Went back into Fairbanks around noon, and got a lot of info on Alaska at the info center.

I finally figured out how to book my return ferry trip on the Alaska Marine Highway. Not including a couple days layover in Juneau mid-trip, my car and I will be on a boat for about six days. It will be the longest time I've ever been at sea. So excited!

The drive south to Denali National Park was very pretty. At my first glimpse of the mountains, my spirits immediately lifted in a great rush. We managed to get a very affordable campsite even though it was late in the day, because we were willing to walk all our gear in a mile. I also got the last ticket for the first shuttle to Wonder Lake tomorrow. No private vehicles are allowed mo…

Day 22: We're At The Top Of The World

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Long drive today, probably the longest I've ever done. Including a few short stops it took about fourteen hours to get from Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska in the USA. While it wasn't the roughest road I've ever driven, it was probably the longest stretch of rough road I've ever driven. From a little west of Whitehorse to a little west of the border vast sections of the road was gravel, and the paved sections had potholes and ditches big enough to snap an axel. There were a lot of astounding sights, though. Fireweed in the height of bloom grew in brilliant bunches along the entire stretch we drove today. Near Haines Junction the road ran parallel to the most impressive mountain range I've seen yet, the St. Elias Mountains. At one point a young grizzly bear crossed right in front of us, and we also saw a huge bull moose in a lake. We passed Kluane Lake, a massive shining diamond in the rough of high desert mountains. It was by far the most challengi…

Day 21: Whitehorse

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Slept in, washed up, and took it easy like Sunday morning before heading back to city center. Whitehorse is large enough to feel like a real town, but small and remote enough to still feel like an outpost. Many of the people who live here come just for the summer, making true locals scarce. In that sense it's still kind of a modern boomtown, but seasonal. Old, boarded up, rough built cabins stand next to a state-of-the-art visitor center and a Walmart. Met up with our couchsurf hosts downtown, and got to know them better too. They are nice, interesting, and adventurous, definitely the kind of people I'd want to be better friends with. They came up north for a change of scenery from Vancouver, and are saving for a lengthy trip to New Zealand. Dan likes to talk about big ideas, traveling, and national parks. Amy is quieter with excellent taste in music, and majored in communications like me. In the late afternoon, Amy went to work, and Dan took us to a local park with brilliant …

Day 20: Yukon, HO!

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Slept in the car outside Fort Nelson. It was already starting to get lighter around 4am, but we slept in a few more hours. Headed into town to find the info center. There a very nice, little old lady, who had been living in a log cabin with no electricity or running water for the last twenty years and found the southern city folk especially odd, let us wash up and use the internet. It rained from Fort Nelson to a little south of the Yukon border. For the most part the road followed a shallow, rushing river at the bottom of a wide canyon. Water coursed down the sandy slopes, leaving large patches of loose gravel in an already poorly maintained road. A few construction crews were clearly trying to control the damage, but orange warning signs were everywhere. The mountains above were cloaked in clouds that made them look softer and smaller. Occasionally, the river would slow and widen into long, narrow alpine lakes illuminated by turquoise shores. I finally saw my first moose today, one …

Day 19: O Camerado!

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Spent the night in Prince George with a couchsurf host my brother had contacted and set up. Autumn was absolutely fascinating and sweet. It turned out we had both lived in Huntington Beach, California before, and she had been married at the Unitarian church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where I had attended youth group conferences. In fact, her husband and I probably have mutual friends. It never ceases to amaze me how small the world can be.

Unfortunately, my brother had trouble getting a ride west of Jasper, and ended up taking an over-night bus to Prince George. I picked him up in the morning, and we ran some errands to prepare for the trip north, and got underway around lunch time. By 3pm we made Dawson Creek, and officially began the Alaska Highway.

This area is all logging and mining country. Exceptionally rural, and the few and far between wayside towns are full of burly, blue collar men in hard hats and coveralls. The steep foothills roll on for miles, covered in pines so dense yo…

Day 18: Country Roads

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Said my goodbyes to the aunts this morning and headed north laden with snacks and garden fresh veggies they so generously pressed upon me.

Took Route 99, and went through Whistler about six months too late for Olympic festivities. That mountain area seems like tons of fun though. All the little towns along the way had kayaks, snowboards, and climbing gear for sale. All the buildings are new with beautiful exposed wood, and built to be more environmentally friendly. The scenery reminded me of Colorado: towering snow capped mountains and crystalline lakes. Wild lupines lined the road for miles. Further along the land got more arid, and sharp granite peaks gave way to ruddy brown, dusty slopes flecked with patches of silvery sage brush and dark stubby pines that recalled Wyoming.

I'm bad with my metric conversions, and sometimes it's hard to figure distances from kilometers to miles, but eventually I turned on to Route 97, which past Dawson Creek will become the Alaska Highway. T…

Day 17: O Canada

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Another night of the nap and drive method put me in Olympia, Washington around breakfast. An additional benefit of having a Blackberry on this trip is that I've been able to easily find independent local spots. I got coffee and a scone at Sizizis, a little 24-hour shop that looked like an ancient used book store. The girl out the counter pointed me in the direction of the only independent record store in town, Rainy Day Records. There I picked up a copy of the EP from Lissie, which I've been wanting for awhile.

With a belly full of delicious caffeine and pastry, and ears full of new tunes, I set out around 11am confident that I would miss Seattle traffic. Oh to be ever hopeful! Thankfully, I got to spend my time in stop and go limbo catching up on the phone with my hometown friend Emily. Took my time heading to the border with frequent trips to scope the seaside towns. In Bellingham, I went to the Alaska Marine Highway port, and picked up info on taking the ferry back. It is t…

Day 16: Goonies Never Say Die

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Actually slept in for once. Is it possible that my insomnia is subsiding? Somehow I've already put 5,000 miles on my car since Memorial Day, so once I got rolling today I found the closest Toyota service center. They passed my car Sal with a clean bill of health, and prepared him to take on the wilds of Alaska.

Said my goodbyes to Josh, mailed some postcards, and set out to cut back to the Pacific Coast Highway from Eugene on the 5. Aside from the occasional beach resort town, most of the scenery involved pastured cows and rugged coastline. Only north western coastlines ever seem to have lands where farms meet the sea. I kept looking for cowboys to my right and pirates to my left on classic climbs and bends of the PCH. Such fun!

I've been too sad on this trip. I need to remember my mantra to get happy. I'm moving, singing, loving, and living with more integrity than before. Besides a good man, what more could I want? This is my greatest adventure to date. Sure the uncertain…

Day 15: Crater Lake National Park

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When I got to Crater Lake I discovered that over half the park was still shut down due to snow. That made camping extremely limited, so I had to descend to a national forest on the north side of the park. It all ended up being for the best. The sites were much cheaper, and they had a really nice shower for the grounds. Made a leisurely breakfast over a fire, and took my time getting back into the park.The only trail not covered in twenty-foot snow drifts was the one that descends 700 feet from the rim of the extinct volcano to the over 1,000 feet deep lake that now fills it. It feels a little odd to hike down to a destination, most often you're hiking up to see something. A lot of times when I hike I fall into a meditative state, like the methodical motion of my body is a wordless mantra. It effects me the most when I'm moving upward, so the clarity is usually felt at the destination. Hiking down to something means my realizations came at the end of the trail. It felt backward…

Day 14: The Pacific, Redwoods, and Me

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When I picture sinking my toes into the Pacific, I specifically imaged doing it a Patrick's Point state park. A little north of Eureka, it's near where my friend Dan grew up, and the last time I was in NorCal he took me there. It's probably the most beautiful state park I've ever been two, and it's been on my mind ever since the first time I went there a year and a half ago.The Pacific Coast Highway is a very dangerous road to drive tired, so I had to take a lot of naps on the way up, and didn't reach the park until 3am. The campgrounds were full, but no rangers were on duty. I went in, parked, and napped in my car until morning when I could pay the standard entrance fee. Walked out to the point, and ate breakfast on top a rocky cliff overlooking the jagged coastline, a hundred feet above the foamy sea spray. Then I went down to Agate Beach, and achieved the simple goal I had set out for. I waded and wandered through the Pacific for over an hour. The water was …

Day 13: Greater Grace

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Another day taking it easy in Sacramento, tagging along with Zach. We've been doing an awful lot of talking about music and people, but surprisingly mostly the latter. I find him to be such a suspicious pessimist, but contrasted with my grand humanist ideals it at least makes for stellar debate material. He says I look at the big picture too much, and forget the details, which is all he is concerned about. There is some truth to that.I met Zach about four years ago when I was interning at Victory Records in Chicago. The band he had just started tour managing was staying at a fellow intern's dorm, and had been kicked out by security. She asked me if they could stay with me, since I was renting a room in a large house. I had never heard of the band before, but my music scene honor code compelled me to oblige. They were great. We all hit it off and had a memorable dance party in my small kitchen with only a few people and a jug of wine. Ever since then I tend to run into them ser…

Day 12: Singing In Sacramento

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Woke to bad news this morning. My best friend Heather called me from the hospital to say that her brother had been accidentally shot, and died. George was a good guy. I used to play soccer with him at church camp. My youth group circle of friends has been rather scattered and distant in recent years, but today we came together for Heather. Luckily it was a down day in a populated somewhere, and I was available for constant contact. Still, I'm not sure it's really hit me yet that he's gone.As I've mentioned on here before, last October an incredible lady, Ines, who had been my best friend in high school died accidentally. Her death was the great shock I needed to reevaluate the direction, actions, and values of my life. I was not happy, and have spent the time since her funeral doing something about it. She's always and forever inspired my life for the better.Death is a natural part of life. Seasons pass. Waters ebb and flow. Mountains rise and fall. All good things…

Day 11: Yosemite National Park

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I felt a lot better after spending sometime with a real bed and unlimited hot water. Stuck around the hotel long enough to take advantage of their continental breakfast, and then headed back into the park. The ride in was deliciously leisurely. Everything was lit with the misty sunshine of a new day. The road was dappled with the deep, cool shade of trees that were trying their hardest to reach as high as the mountains, and the air was rich with the scent of loam and pine needles. When I reached Yosemite Village I could feel that I was still more tired than usual thanks to yesterday's excitement, do I decide to try and take it a little easier. Yosemite Village is very pretty, but at this time of year it's a lot like EMS meets Audubon Society meets Disney World. It was way too much for me to handle in an unpleasant way. The only thing I enjoyed was their Ansel Adams Gallery, which had an impressive collection of prints.Picked out a day hike less strenuous than the one to Half D…

Day 10: Darker Days

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I made really good time on my night drive through the desert. Left Moab around 8pm, and got to Yosemite National Park at 10am: ten hours driving, three hours napping, and an hour time zone change. Driving through the desert at night is usually a surreal experience. It's hard to judge distances in the dark with little identifying markers. Still, last night's drive was one of the weirdest I've done. It included the entire length of the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada. Didn't see any aliens or ufos, but it did go through over a hundred miles of open longhorn cattle pasture land. Luckily, I got to that stretch after dawn otherwise I could have easily hit a cow. Before dawn the road was hairpin turns through washes and foothills. Jack rabbits kept darting across the road, and the sky was clear enough to see the milky way. I drove for hours and never saw a house or car.At the California border the road started to climb steeply into the Sierras. Past Mono Lake, I entered Y…

Day 9: Colorado River and Canyonlands

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After I posted yesterday, I drove up to Canyonlands National Park in hopes of catching the sunset. The roads in the north section of the park seem to run mostly along the top of a huge mesa. The state road to the park climbs steeply before running through high, windy pasture land not more than a couple miles wide to the park entrance. at least from what I saw the park is mostly around 5,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation, but next door Moab is only at 4,000. Turns out the 1,000 means drastically different weather. It was raining up there, and I couldn't see a thing. I was disappointed, tired, and still didn't have a place to sleep. It was so cold and windy I didn't want to pitch a tent. The campgrounds didn't have running water, and the fire rings didn't have grills. I just couldn't figure out what I be paying for, if I got a spot. I drove around for over an hour, and never saw a ranger, so I decided to try sleeping in my car on the side of the road. I fully expect…

Day 8: Arches National Park

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Slept a couple hours in my car on the side of the road, but decided any longer wouldn't be safe. Headed in to Moab where the only thing open at 3am was Denny's. For the cost of an endless cup of coffee Mark, a waiter with all the niceties of a good Texan boy gone hippie, let me hole up for a few hours while I read up on guide books and cleaned up in the bathroom.Headed into Arches National Park an hour before dawn. It was still dark when I got to the Delicate Arch trail head, so I took another nap. Woke up shortly after sunrise and set out to hike. The trail was about a mile and a half one way with around a 500 foot gain, not bad for a morning workout. For the most part it headed upwards and due east, so it felt like I was climbing to meet the sun. When I reached Delicate Arch it was deserted and perfect. I got right up underneath it for some sweet photos like the one above. Hiked back down to my car, and hightailed it to the Devil's Garden area in hopes of beating the cro…

Day 7: Rocky Mountain National Park

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Camped at around 9,000 feet, and when I woak up it was only a few degrees above freezing and still raining. I could see my breath, ao I decide clean, warm, dry clothes and some hot coffee was imperative before anything else. After I made a fine brew with my camping stove and french press, I packed everything up wet, and headed out.Planned to drive the main road through the park, and stop at the visitors center near the highest pass to ask for recommendations. But as the road climbed up past 10,000 feet, it started snowing. About eight miles in the road turned to grooved gravel, and the snow started sticking. I couldn't see more than 50 feet, but I could tell the road was still sloping upwards along a narrow ridge. On either side there was a steep drop into alpine tundra. The road peaked at over 12,000 feet right before I reached the visitors center, which had been closed due to the weather. At that point there was nothing to do except start driving behind one of the plows, and get…

Day 6: Purple Mountains Majesty

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Woke up in Boulder after another good couch surfing experience. I stayed with Justin, a chill climber and frisbee enthusiast, who recommend The Mountain Sun Pub, a great local brewery for dinner. I supposed Boulder is a nice place to live, but I kind of found it too suburban, polished, and planned to especially enjoy visiting it.Left town after finding an excellent local coffee shop for breakfast called The Cup, and stocking up at the grocery store for a week of camp cooking. The drive to Rocky Mountain National park was stunning, hairpin turns through a narrow canyon of red rock and pines next to a gushing creek. I was so buzzing with excitement by the time I got to the main entrance, I made the rangers smile. Today marks an important event I've been looking forward to. Today I bought my first annual NPS pass. For a measly $80 I can now enter any national park without paying an entrance fee for the next year. Completely worth it. Decide to pay for the convenience of camping in th…

Day 5: For Amber Waves of Grain

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Forget preconceived notions, I thought Kansas was pretty awesome. I got to Lawrence over an hour before I was supposed to meet my couch surfing host, so I wandered around the main downtown street. There were a lot of well maintained vintage buildings, music shops, boutiques, flower pots, and people on bikes. Everything seemed clean, eclectic, sunny, and smelled of fresh mowed grass. When I stopped in the local record store, Love Garden Sounds, to check the new releases, I was greeted by its two resident cats. They convinced me to spend my meager funds on the new album from Delorean, Subzia, which came out this week. No regrets. The dynamite beats these Spaniards crafted sent me flying through the first two hundred miles of Kansas freeway. I met my couch surf host at the biweekly get together of Lawrence Couch Surfers. We convened at The Bourgeois Pig, ‎a cafe that specialized in espresso, infused liquors, and the combination of the two. Delightful. This second couch surfing experienc…

Day 4: Mississippi Blues

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Things got a little too weird even for me last night after I posted. Nothing bad happened, but I wish my first couch surfing experience had been better. My host was obliterated, and I was thankfully dead sober. I don't think he had any comprehension of the situation, and proceeded to say some really inappropriate things while acting somewhat bizarrely. Just to be extra careful and safe I slept fully clothed and packed with my Leatherman in hand. I woke before dawn, texted my goodbye, and bounced. Chalk that up as yet another travel story involving crazy people, who all too frequently are from Indiana. That whole experience combined with a couple other incidents already on this trip, have really stiffened some resolutions I had been forming. First, I'm taking a vow of celibacy. In the immortal words of Kerouac and Bell Biv Devoe respectively, "pretty girls make graves" and "never trust a big butt and a smile". Second, unless I'm at a home-away-from-home…

Day 3: Indianapolis House Show

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Got breakfast at my favorite place near where we raft, Cathedral Cafe in Fayetteville WV. Figured I had some time to kill, since it would only take six hours or so to get to Indianapolis. So, I ate leisurely, mailed some postcards, and headed to the bridge and canyon overlook. That particular section of the New River Gorge is a National River and Scenic Drive. At the visitors center, I realized I had never really done the drive. The rangers supplied me with a free map and audio tour CD, and I set off. It was one of those completely great, random ideas. I got to see my favorite rapid on the New River from the shore for the first time. The photo doesn't really capture the scope, but it's got a huge wave train that's nothing but good wet fun. I also took a side hike past some breathtaking no-name waterfalls to an abandoned mining town. There was a constant, eerie breeze coming from the barred up shafts, like the mountain was breathing memories. The entire four mile trail was …

Day 2: The Gauley River

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Rafted the Gauley River today in West Virginia with Class IV and Rivermen. It was only round 800cfs, so they put us out in inflatable kayaks that they call duckies. Most of the people had never handled a craft like that, and the crash 'n burn carnage was considerable. Entertaining, but I ran a lot of cleanup. I continue to find myself out of shape, and resolving to do something about it. I used to know this guy that would bring weights when he toured with his band, and would run 'round this hotel several times in the morning. I'm rather sure a similar plan adapted for camping could only do me good. Once again it was suggested I come out for raft guide training in April, but I was kind of winded after the second time I pulled a man into his boat today. Gotta get more fit, before I can live the dream.The weather was all sorts of wonderful, and I just drank in the gorge, at least while we floated through pools. Took a swim at Chainsaw rapid, as I often do (the margin of error…

Day 1: Getting Gone

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Late start today caused by an amazing last evening in town thanks to a few key people, a hardcore show at the local skate shop, and an after hours dip in a neighborhood pool. I'll admit I found it all a little overwhelming. The air was electric with the vibe of hometown humanity and my own tense anticipation. Still, it was memorable, one of those moments that will gleam complete through the blur of my mind, a story forever ripe for picking and sharing. Every time I retell it, I'll take a big bite of my life and savor it. Much thanks to any and all who made an appearance in last night's festivities.

I went to church for the first time since the winter solstice this morning. It was the only local community that's felt like home to me I hadn't said goodbye to yet. Going to church almost always works out remarkably well for me. Today they read an egyptian fable about how confronting your fears can show you how small they really are. A large part of this trip is about ov…

The Pink Spot

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So I've been posting photos from my local music scene, and while I love music, I also have a fascination with any local independent scene. A couple week ago I went with my friend Tom to check out The Pink Spot, a DIY effort from the local skate kids to build a space for themselves. I was completely impressed. Nothing but respect for these guys.