Cross Country, For No Reason

I crave the road.

And not as a metaphor.  I mean that I crave the dusty American highway.  I crave the chase of a sunset over the horizon as I cross yet another state border.  I crave climbing into my truck amongst the red-rocked Arizona deserts of home, taking off in any which direction I desire….tonight’s bedroom could be anywhere from the boulders of Joshua Tree to the high mountains of the Rockies to lightening bugs in Missouri to the open fields of North Dakota.  I crave the idealistic adventures perpetuated by Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan and J.D.Salinger, infused into my consciousness since I was eleven years old.  I crave not knowing where I will watch the sun rise over a steaming cup of tea tomorrow morning — adventure, the unknown, the uninhabited, and a taste of the ideals of a previous generation.  Those ideals may not exist in the way they did twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago, yet they are firmly cemented in the way I see the world.  In spite of a time defined by modernity, knowing what I yearn for has been lost to an increasingly changing world, I nonetheless crave that intangible, probably gone “open road”–and have set out in search of it.

I think as Americans we all identify with this kind of freedom on some level.  The Pioneer Sprit, The Wild West, Manifest Destiny–all those americana keywords we grew up studying in text books, and to some degree carry with us into adulthood.  But how to do so in today’s ever shrinking world?  Where wilderness includes cell service and once pristine, untouched places are rife with discarded coca-cola cans and plastic bottles?

Without any real answers, at least for me, we just get out there anyway.

Thankfully, for now, this country is still home to a lot of open land.  Get a map (a real one, not on your phone), and look at all that green……that is all open, public land.  And most of it is still just that……open. This summer, I found myself (and simultaneously lost myself) in these lands–by loading up my little dog, a cooler full of wine and avocados, a stack of books and antiquated ideas, and driving crosscountry–I became the cliche of my 1950’s books.  Below is my trip in a few snapshots.

And for those with the time, the energy, the booze, the nostalgia, and the need for a semi-unplanned drive across our still beautiful country–do it.  As you follow the black pavement and dashed yellow lines running seemingly endless, tantalizing and encouraging you to join in their journey into the depths of that fading evening light, you will find both answers and questions.  And there is nowhere else to find them, but the open road.

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New Mexico–>East Texas
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Texas–>MissouriIMG_6173IMG_6174

 

Missouri–>IndianaIMG_1628IMG_1658IMG_1647

 

New York–>Pittsburgh
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Minnesota
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South Dakota
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And so this summer, from west to east and back again, I spent the majority of my time alone (apart from the pup).  I had held the notion that such a trip would be not only a journey of place but also of people–however I came to realize that either that idea is wrong, or gone, or I am as inward of a person as I always thought.  Romantic (perhaps childish?) ideas of simply venturing into the unknown and jostling into people and experiences along the away is not the reality–at least not anymore or not for me.  We are no longer forced to interact with strangers; never once did I need to stop and ask for directions, nor stop to ask for a good place to sleep or park my car for the night, nor ask for the nearest grocery store or best place to grab a midday drink.  The trip was both easy and disappointing because of an overarching, intruding sense of disconnected-connectedness.

I was never truly lost, never felt truly scared, never felt completely unsure.  And isn’t that part of the allure?  Isn’t the unknown supposed to be just that, unknown?  I realized with a sharp tinge of loss that the strong-held beliefs of every preceding century, the notion that “adventure is out there,” is largely lost.  Where to find that sense of wonder, sense of nervousness, the rush of adrenaline, in an age that allows for wifi from my tent?  We are now forced to find it in, and for, ourselves– to make a commitment to disconnect and to get completely lost, which by our nature is hard to do.  We now must chose the harder path, and seek out the challenge in a way that our parents, grandparents, and ancestors did not have to chose because that was just life.

 

However, although I feel this loss deeply, I did end up finding truth on the road.  I think now, more than ever, that the past will always seem as the better, more wild, more real times–but it is simply progress, and the way every generation has and will always feel.

And in actuality, I did find what I sought; all the angst, the love, the beauty, the confusion, the simplicity, the challenge, and the life. I did get lost, and I did feel scared, and I wasn’t always so sure…..just not in the way I had envisioned.  The challenge will forever be out there, we just have to decide for ourselves–decide to follow those dashed yellow lines as they disappear beyond the horizon into yet another day, another day on the uncertain and still open road.

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Fruit Forever!

This post is solely devoted to the gluttony of the scrumptious, never ending fruit of the Big Island of Hawaii.  The bounty is unreal in a true, living paradise.  I ate and ate and ate on papaya, coconut, cocao, soursop, jackfruit, mango, lilikoi, guava, pineapple, avocado, banana, rambutan, lychee, the amazing noni……..the list goes ON AND ON!  I am one happy, healthy vegan, and I owe it’s roots to living here.

All of my thanks and honor to Pele, the Lava Goddess of the Island, for continuing to bless this place with beauty and amazing energy!

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Rollinia

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The amazing Cocoa Fruit! Aka real, raw Chocolate

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Papayas at the Market

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Soursop

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Picking Coffee –you can eat coffee cherry, or the red part, right off the tree…it is so sweet and delicious

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Macadamia Nuts

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The incredible (and pungent) Noni Fruit

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More freshly harvested Cocoa pods

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Suriname Cherry –if eaten green they are often rolled and salt and a common Hawai’ian snack – when ripe they have a floral flavor

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Living Out of My 4WD in Hawaii

IMG_2407.jpgThe Big Island of Hawaii is hands down, the best of the Hawaiian Islands.

Snow topped mountains, the ‘Valley of Eden’ that is Waipio Valley, fresh caught tropical fish by nomad-living locals, and a true, deep respect for the land and the power of an active volcano that dictates life here.

And the best way to see it, is living out of a 4Runner.  Which is exactly what I did this summer.  Please, just look below…………..(and I bet you’ll be doing the same soon).

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Chinlé, Canyon de Chelley, & Clouds

Thanksgiving among The Diné

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A mix of oddly appropriate and also intrusive, I spent the Thanksgiving holiday driving through the Navajo country of Arizona.  It was expansive, dramatic, thought-provoking, sad, and inspiring.

On the one hand, the tribe still inhabits a vast amount of land throughout the Southwest, and it is in fact the largest of the tribal lands established in the US.  Therefore there are grandiose landscapes with nothing but scattered scrubs and distant mesas, not a house or creature to the eye for what seems hundreds of miles.  You are taken back to how the land was for The People before the pioneers “settled” here…….and then on the other hand, the harsh fact that it was swiftly and painfully taken away.

The melancholy nature of visiting the tribes is the harsh reality of what has been stripped from them.  There is no escaping it, nor really any value in dwelling on it.  It is the reality of today.  I find perhaps the best way to honor the history, the plants, the creatures, and most importantly the people and the land is to simply know it is there and preserves it the best we can.  To thank the Navajo and support them in keeping their traditions which so worship the beauty of this land alive.  Let us visit when we can, and tell others of the wonder that continues to exist here.

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The Dine are The People here, and this Thanksgiving I am but a humbled and thankful visitor.

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Amongst the Anglers of Alaska

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There is something in the air in Alaska.  Or perhaps more appropriately on the Kenai Peninsula, there is something in the water.  Having just returned from a week on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, I have gained an incredible education in what a love for one of nature’s creatures can do for an area. I sit now yearning for Kenai in the early morning, where I sat sipping my cup of coffee as I watched my uncle preparing his boat and tackle box.  Seagulls and eagles shimmied for their spots along the bank’s high grasses, as the other early-rising anglers head out with their nets and fishing poles, hopeful and anxious over what the river may hold for them today.  Each mind’s eye focused on one thing as the tide rises on Alaska’s Kenai River: The Alaskan King.

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The Plight of the Kings

For all of its beauty and small town charm, just one thing drives this towns popularity and notoriety every summer.  Nothing happens here that is not tied to the river and more importantly, what the river holds: salmon.  And not just any salmon (as I quickly learned), but a vast array of some the most delicious and highly regarded fish in the world.  Every year, thousands of people descend upon the Peninsula to witness the yearly runs of Dog Salmon, Reds, Silvers, and every other year, a run of Pinks, not to mention the bottom-feeding Halibut.  But there is one fish that is most prized, most anticipated, and most talked about on the banks of the Kenai, and that is the Alaskan King Salmon.  Aptly named, this king of fish has a reign far reaching beyond that of the river.  Anglers the world over flock to this little town 200 miles south of Anchorage every July in the hopes of reeling in royalty.

Why is this one fish so regarded?  What about this salmon could cause such an obsession with fisherman, such a lust for fish that the state has to control the amount of fish each person can catch?  For one, the King Salmon, or Chinook Salmon as its official name, is the largest of the Pacific variety and is native to the Pacific from California to Alaska.   It’s flesh is known to be the most delicious of all salmon, and has been celebrated throughout history for its nutritional qualities.  The first Chinook catch each season is celebrated by the Native American tribes of the Peninsula and the Pacific Northwest, as well as by the sportfishing industry and amateur anglers alike.  Its imagery is everywhere, so much so that the Kings are even the state fish of Alaska and of Oregon.  The King truly does rule this cold, beautiful country.

But with some much cultural and spiritual importance, it seems inevitable that these fish would be in danger.  And that is exactly what has happened.  Overfishing of the Alaska King has lead to devastating drops in populations throughout the Pacific.  Commercial fisherman and sportfishing alike has been to blame, but thankfully conservation groups have come to the rescue.  The King’s popularity has actually proven to be both a blessing and a curse, as its popularity led to its steep decline, it has also garnished enormous attention and uproar from those who spend their lives on the river’s banks and cannot picture a life in which the yearly king salmon run does not exist.

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A prime example of such a group in the Kenai Sportfishing Association, which holds both a love of these fish and also a respect for them.  The group has been an advocate for conservation efforts including habitat restoration and commercial fishing restrictions for more than 20 years, and now Alaska King salmon populations are recovering and even considered healthy by many.

As with any conservation effort, it takes time, energy, and awareness to save a species, but most importantly it takes a love and respect for nature and what she provides.  The fisherman of the Kenai have such a respect for their Kings.  Yes, they fish them.  But all the talk I heard while on the river and in the town was focused on how beautiful and special these creatures are.  There was love and admiration in the voices of the fisherman when they described the yearly runs of the salmon, and the stamina and courage it takes for these fish to return each year.  Every time the conversation turned to the King (as most conversations inevitably did), the tone was one of amazement and honor of what the fish accomplish and the beauty they embody.  Each fisherman I met revered the fish as if it was truly royalty, bowing down to the King’s strength and majesty.  The Kenai is the kingdom of the King, in which its image graces every home and business, and its name is spoken with honor and pride.  Such a population will not obliterate its ruler, and this is why I have confidence in the King’s return and security.

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All in all, Kenai left me feeling hopeful.  Such passion for an animal I have rarely seen these days outside of my vegan friends and animal rights groups.  It was encouraging to witness what a love for one of nature’s unique creatures can do in its preservation.  If such commitment can be put towards other fishing populations or endangered species, I have no doubt their populations can be restored as well.

Also, and perhaps surprisingly, I walked away humbled.  I entered as a vegan who did not want to partake in any fishing activities.  I was ready to judge and be upset by what I imagined as a hopeless disregard for the life of the fish by those who hunted them.  What I found was just the opposite.  I found people who love these fish, but more importantly respect them.  The anglers of Alaska are like the tribes of old, who worshiped the animals that their lives depended on and lived with the animals instead of against them.  I am proud of my uncle, Ron Rainey, as president of the Kenai Sportfishing Association, for he embodies this love of the King and passion for its conservation.  Turns out, you don’t have to be vegan to be an honorable animal lover.  And I am happy to have been proven wrong.

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Reflections from the Road: Rediscovering the Southwest

It is easy as a traveler to forget where you are from, or more importantly to forget the beauty of your homeland. We become jaded to its loveliness in pursuit of what we perceive as the ever lovelier exotic landscapes. I admit I have the grass-is-always greener syndrome that affects many constant travelers. Therefore, I have taken a step back recently to truly look and appreciate my homeland, for it really is something magical.

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The Southwestern United States is a land of the imagination. Visions of a cowboy riding into the distance, purple orange skies throwing his outline into the horizon as he heads into the desert’s seemingly endless vastness. Tales of rowdy mining towns, where vigilantes and sheriffs sit side by side at the darkened local bar, heads hung over as they cheers each others’ whiskey glasses, a pistol on their hips and a toothpick in their mouths. Images of Native American elders draped in traditional blankets and intricate turquoise adornments, gathering the tribes’ youth around them to tell the tales of their ancestors through a cloud of smoke from burning sage and sweetgrass.

In truth, these images still live in today’s Southwest. There is still a rugged and undiscovered edge to the Southwestern region. There are still the cowboys, still the vigilantes and vagrants (indeed with a pistol in the bar, legal as it is here), and still the sacred traditions of the Tribes.

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And there is still the land. An increasingly important part of traveling is seeing places yet untouched by human civilization. Appreciating the way the Earth wants to be and how, hopefully, we can preserve her for the future. The Southwest is a pristine example of the importance of nature preserves. Luckily, although it is tragic the ancient Tribes were confined to such small spaces and deprived of their true nature and lands, the reservations of the Navajo and Hopi (to name just a few) have allowed for large expanses of the region to remain largely untouched.

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I recommend this roadtrip to anyone with that same sense of adventure that brought the first of us to this area. Although it is tinged in the sadness of greed and insensitivity, this area has evolved into a shared space between the conquerers and the native inhabitants, and we all now call this home.

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Take advantage of this while we can. Humans are still explorers and Americans are still manifest-destiny-ers. Drastic measures need to be taken to preserve what we have for our children. In the meantime, experience these amazing lands. I hope the above mementos through this region will inspire others to love this land as I do, as the cowboys do, as the Tribes do, and as the plants and animals do… and help keep it for the generations to come.

Memorias del Viejo San Juan

Puerto Rico may be an island, but it is a big and diverse island.  And San Juan is also a big and diverse city.  As I’ve expressed before, I travel slowly, so when I only have a few days in a place, I want to get to know its locals and corner stores, its bodegas and quirks.  Therefore, in San Juan I stuck only to the hood of Old San Juan, or San Juan Viejo.

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El Viejo reminded me of living in Quito in a way, or of my time Lima or Valparaiso, where the old Spanish colonial has morphed with the newer colored paint and modern bustle of latin american life.  However, San Juan is indeed unique and even somewhat confusing.  It took me awhile to get my bearings –to realize that to use Spanish or to use English is up to my discretion –to realize just how friendly puerto-riqueños are –to realize people are more than willing to talk about issues ranging from the USA-Puerto Rico territorial debate to the emerging prevalence of gay rights and activism on the island (yay!) — finally, to realize this place is not like any I’ve been before, and yet I feel very comfortable.

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My stay was along the waterfront cobblestone roads, which was a treat in itself.  Waking up from a mid-afternoon seista to the sound of waves crashing against the old Spanish fort out my window seemed to promise that the each evening would always be a lively one.

Indeed, never did they fail.   Just two minutes out the door on my first night, I came across a dance party that had quite literally taken to the the streets.   Encouragments of “Baile! Baile!” found me in the middle of a swarming body of dancing men, women, young, old, foreign and local, all swaying and clapping as the sun set just beyond us over the spanish-built wall into the Atlantic.

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The following days were a blur of delicious mofongo (a fried plantain-based dish typically made with fried green plantains mashed together in a pilón), stuffed avocados, concha and crab salads, and Don Q rum out of plastic cups;  afternoons climbing dizzying staircases and taking in massive vistas atop spanish fortresses; art galleries and shops stuffed with anything from cheesy tourist magnets to traditional island wares to original works by local artists.

My final day in El Viejo served as a perfect reflection of the confusing beauty of the neighborhood and of my experiences here.  Whilst eating helado de coco (coconut ice cream), I spent an aimless afternoon wandering throughout the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, Old San Juan’s coastal graveyard.  This idealic, slightly melancholy scene was punctuated by the sounds of children playing soccer, just feet from the stark white angles residing over their ancestors graves.

IMG_1058IMG_1050IMG_1032IMG_1033IMG_0928IMG_0837 I don’t have much more to say for San Juan, because it was such a brief and simply pleasant experience.  What sticks with me is the feeling of warmth and communication that buzzed the street of Old San Juan.  People ready to talk and share and question.  People ready to dance and eat and probably drink a little, too.

The last night walking home in the rain, looking toward the Spanish fort and listening to the fading sounds of yet another nightly dance party, I felt just as confused and yet comfortable as I had the first day arriving.  It was a nice feeling, really.  And one I encourage you all to pursue…..perhaps even here in El Viejo.

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Culebra Bonita

Ahhhhh, Culebra.  Just thinking about it right now, I feel more relaxed.

When I decided to spend time in Puerto Rico, I have to say I had some apprehension.  Whenever I think of the Caribbean islands, I have visions of huge cruise ships, tropical shirts barely covering protruding bellies, swarms of tourists loudly complaining there are no signs in English, and a general annoyance.  Hey, I’m an American, I shouldn’t be so judgmental.  But man, we can sure be annoying.

That being said, I set up an itinerary that gave me space from the tourist scenes.  I only had a little over a week, so I decided to split that into just two places, with the majority of my time being spent on the small island of Culebra.

For those who like rustic but funky accommodations, leisurely schedules, drinking before noon, and general casualness, I’d recommend this island.  It is not fancy.  It is not luxurious.  But it is beautiful, and friendly, and lively, and slightly odd, and did I mention beautiful?

My suggested Culebra lifestyle is as follows:

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Take the flight from the mainland.  Air Flamenco has flights from Isla Grande multiple times a day that run about USD $70/roundtrip.  It’s a bargain considering the fabulous view from the little eight seater plane that jets you over the sparkling Caribbean waters and lush palm beaches.

When you arrive in Culebra, walk down the road from the airport to the Carlos Jeep Rentals and get yourself a golf cart.  It’s super cheap (about USD $25/day) and is all you need to get around the island.  It is also SO MUCH DANG FUN!

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Next, head to your little home for the week.  I used my favorite way to find affordable local accommodations, the peer-to-peer rental website Airbnb.  Our house, named Casa SuMarco, was absolutely picturesque and cheaper than any hotel.  Plus, look at the view that welcomes you…

Okay, get settled, then get back in your golf cart….it is BEACH TIME!  Beaches not to be missed include Flamenco Beach, Tamarindo Beach, Zoni Beach, and Manques Beach.

Flamenco was my favorite, which I did not think it would be.  It is the most popular, although even on busy weekend days it is hardly full.  Flamenco tops my list not only because it is lively and spacious, but it has food kiosks featuring delicious stuffed mofongos (mashed and friend plantain balls), ensaladas de pulpo (octopus), and ensaldas de concha (conch).  And honestly, the best beach drinks I have ever had.  Four rum punches later, Flamenco and I were quite good friends.

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Zoni is an untouched sanctuary.  Don’t plan on swimming or snorkeling, as the tides are strong.  Simply walk along the beach and pick a spot to sit and enjoy the view.

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Tamarindo wins for its snorkeling opportunities.  There were only three other people there the whole day we snorkeled.  For USD $12 for a whole day of snorkeling equipment, you can see sea turtles and tropical fish in water the temperature of a soothing bath.  Seriously, heaven.

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Finish that last rum punch, throw on your sunglasses, and head back for a much “deserved” nap.  Bonus points if that nap includes a hammock…

Shower.  Back into the golf cart.  Dinner.  For me, nothing beats the Dinghy Dock for happy hour, salty expat converstaions, chill music, and delicious food.  There are definitley some other good options including Zako’s Tacos and Amy’s, but for the best vibe and most memoriable characters, Dinghy Dock has ’em all beat.

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Cruise around in that little golf cart a bit more, sit on your porch with a good book, and fall into a sound sleep amidst frogs and the occasional mesquito buzzing.

Wake up.  Repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat…….

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Two Cousins Meet in a Toyota Corolla…..

Sleeping in Reststops, Meeting Deformed Deers, and Couchsurfing a Carnival

Best story of my cousin (and first one I tell if I get the chance) involves my sister thinking he is the cutest of all the cousins (which is saying something as there are like 30 of us or something).  She lays on her back, holds him over her head, and tells him this fact.  His reaction?  He throws up directly into her mouth.

That story gets me every time.

So that and a handful of other childhood memories are pretty much all us two kids have of each other.  Therefore, when I got the news from my aunt that Patrick has just sold all his belongings, stuffed the rest in his Corolla, and set off up the California coast to “find himself”, I knew we needed to talk.

Let’s keep it brief.  June was a rough one for me.  My dad died, I quit my job, left my belongings in San Fran, and am just….floating in the pool all day, crying, and wondering what to do next.  All of sudden Patrick and I have this amazing conversation about his journey and equally about mine, and we realize, we need to be together for this.  Fast forward two weeks, and we are sitting in a Denny’s outside of Sacramento, downing cup after cup of cheap coffee, and chatting so fast and so excitedly it’s as if the world knew we needed this.

To follow is a photo (and caption) journey of our month being Bummin’ Cousins’ from California to Washington to rest stops to tree houses.  It was rad, it was weird, and it was very very needed.  For both of us.

Denny’s in Sacramento –> Apartment in San Francisco

Jived on too much bottomless coffee, we say fuck it and head to my apartment in SF that I’m currently subletting.  Two fuzzy days in the Mission later….

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ohhh how I miss my apartment on Clarion Alley

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the symphony playing at Dolores Park, because, why not???

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cousin telling a tale….something about lima beans and our grandfather….

San Francisco –> Mount Shasta

We need to camp.  Get us out of the city.  Unfortunately, we don’t dig paying 20 bucks for camping, so Shasta lasts for all of two days….

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Shasta –> Ashland, Oregon

Sometimes I forget how much of a hippie I have become, and my cousin is quickly becoming.  Then we hit Ashland, and find the mecca of clean, pretty, happy hippies.  It becomes clear immediately we just may belong here, and are both having a hard time leaving this place.  I mean, we both walked into the natural grocery store and separately met eyes with our potential future mates.  So…..yes, it was hard to leave.

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Ashland –> Eugene –> Huckleberry

In true roadtrippin/cheapo/hippie/awesome fashion, it is time to ‘Rest Stop It’.  Really, pretty comfortable, with clean bathrooms and a warm sleeping bag.  Oh, and a bottle of rum to drift off to sleep with.  From there, we end up camping in a free and remote drive-in campsite outside of Crater Lake called Huckleberry.  Beyond the greatness already mentioned, this is also where we meet Larry the Deer (aka our deer/dear friend Larry).  He’s one of God’s very special creatures…

IMG_0489 IMG_0498 IMG_0504Crater Lake –> Portland

We part ways with Larry after cracking some pretty great jokes at his expense, and severely hurting his feelings and already faltering self-confidence.  After leaving the poor dear in a state of depression, we enjoy the beauty of Crater Lake.  From there, it is time to surf some couches, and perfectly we have plans to meet up with a fun sounding mandolin player up in Portland.

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Heaven.  Our couchsurfer literally leaves his door open, welcomes a rotating door of international travelers, and compliments us by hosting us as his first domestic CSers.  Our whirlwind of Portland includes tree houses in the backyard, beers at a river hangout for two days, the city’s international beer festival, and learning dutch words in the presence of a handmade pirate carnival bar.  Feel free to read that sentence again….

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We somehow loose an immeasurable amount of time in Portland, and after swearing we will be back one day, head to the remote and serene San Juan Islands up at the top of the Washington/Canada border.  After splurging on a seafood dinner and a foggy ferry ride, we are welcomed by a beautiful hike-in campground to detox and reflect, and just be in nature…..

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IMG_0607 IMG_0614 San Juan Islands –> Seattle –> Home

I shall be flying out of Seattle.  We eat oysters, take a spin on the ferris wheel, and laugh about Larry some more (he has now become my cousin’s Spirit Guide, dubbed thusly in Portland)…

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IMG_0630 IMG_0636And from there I depart.  My cousin has decided to move to Portland, and ends up living with our Couchsurfing host and continue carnival life.  I have decided to return to Arizona to enjoy life there and plot slowly my next move.  And who knows?  Larry, my cousin, and carnival couchsurfing may be part of my life again sooner than we all know….

Life can be rough, but it sure does know what it’s doing.  One minute you can be crying in a pool in Arizona, the next telling a deer to get a life, followed by highfiving 10 new friends in a treehouse.

From there….?