Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Departure from Browning and YELLOWSTONE



HOREA: After taking a picture and thanking the crew in Browning once they had succesfully installed our new oil pan, we headed straight for Yellowstone. Upon arrival, we saw how popular Yellowstone really was: cars parked at every turnout, general stores and cafeterias full of tourists, and campsites virtually impossible to claim a spot in. This was an initial turnoff, as the tranquility of nature was sacrificed to the multitude of people driving their cars to catch America’s most famous national park. I soon found out why it was so popular. This 60 by 60 mile park is almost a safari; in one day alone we saw a black bear, a grizzly bear, countless bison, deer, and elk. Our first stop was the hot springs near our campsite. We ventured around the springs walking on the sulfurous grounds only to be yelled at yet again,” Get off there! What is wrong with you!?” The young mom’s child mimicked,” Yeah, c’mon” in a whinier voice than Alex Bemis from A Seasonal Effect. We continued admiring the hot springs which were boiling and producing an orange and white color; their odor was putrid but it was well worth it. Driving around the park took a long time, and there were so many places to stop. Next on our agenda were the waterfalls. Hiking down the trails we reached the “brink” of the fall as they call it in Yellowstone, and were able to stand a couple feet away from the breathtaking natural beauty and excessively loud fall. In an instant, just standing around the waterfall I heard what sounded like Romanian from a couple close by. We conversed for a little about the park and told us to go to artists point and that it was his favorite place in the park. Due to the fact that I had not gotten any exercise in weeks, I urged Dunc to run up the trail that led us to the waterfall. This must have been a climb of 200 feet and was much easier said than done. We ran past all the hikers and the Romanian guy uttered words of inspiration on my way up. Stopping a couple of times, we finally made it to the top of the trail feeling lightheaded and dizzy. So much for being in shape for the UCSD tennis team. The artist point was a spot to see all of Yellowstone’s beauty: the crashing waterfall, the vividly colored and jagged canyon, and the vivacious wildlife. We admired, took some quick pictures, and kept on exploring. Driving around the park was awesome. Traffic would be stopped by hordes of bison walking into the road and completely blocking off the intersections. They would just stand there, with their ball sack hanging out looking at you with their deformed face with their tongues out at all times. Not to mention they smelled like shit. Last on our agenda was to see old faithful, the mother of all geysers and the most famous attraction in Yellowstone. We got there past sundown and but still saw the steam rising up to the heavens. We decided we did not want to wait another 90 minutes, I packed a lipper with Dunc, and we headed back to our campsite.  Now I know why Yellowstone is so popular. The park is home to things that will never be seen anywhere else in the US. Poooooooooooooooo. J


Day 2 in Browning

WARNING: THIS POST IS OBSCENELY ROMANTICISED



DUNCAN: Our second day in the town of Browing dawned and entrusted us with a single goal: kill time. This may seem a simple task, but being that we were stuck in a town of no more than one thousand souls it proved difficult and exhausting. We struck out first for Browning’s two main attractions: a native art gallery and a historical museum. Both were thoroughly interesting, and they painted a vivid picture of what life had been like for the Blackfoot Indians before they were defeated and subjugated by the settlers. It seemed that, while these people may not have always been at peace with other tribes, they were at peace with themselves, and with their surroundings; everything about their culture struck a balance between opposites. They were deeply spiritual, but also casual about their religion, they saw themselves as a part of nature, and their way of life seemed simple and full of contentment.
                    After we had finished with the museums, we alternated between lazing/reading in our crippled car and trudging up and down the town’s single main street over and over again, sometimes going to get something to eat, sometimes going to find a bathroom, and sometimes just plain going. As we went about our business, we watched as the native Blackfoot Indians went about theirs. Jim, Jeff, and the other workers at Jim’s Body works, all of whom were at least partially Indian, drove out to tow wrecked cars back to the garage or worked dents out of bumpers. Packs of Indian children ran across roads, sucking down soda and candy from the local gas station as they went, and were followed by stray dogs. Grizzled, homeless Indians sat and smoked on street corners. Drunken Indians stumbled aimlessly through the streets. Indians worked at pawn shops. Indians bagged groceries. Indians flipped burgers. About half of the Blackfeet were obese, and almost all of them had the same sad, slightly vacant look about their faces, like they were grieving but they couldn’t remember for whom or for what. I gradually pieced together an increasingly detailed picture of the reality of these people’s lives, and that picture formed a dark cloud that grew and boiled steadily in the back of my mind. This cloud was made partly of disgust, partly of pity, partly of disbelief, and partly of anger, but it consisted mostly of bitterness.
                In my studies of American history, both recreational and academic, I discovered the white man’s conquest of North America to be nothing but a succession of atrocities, a sick parody of justice, and in my opinion, one of the darkest episodes in all of human history. Thus, I always reserved a particularly acute disgust for the story of the birth of this country. But that was just in theory. In Browning, I experienced it in reality; I experienced it today, in 2011. Sure, I didn’t see any American armed cavalrymen slaughtering innocent women and children, but I did see an entire people deprived of their land, flailing like fish out of water in their attempts to assimilate into a culture that, until 150 years ago, was completely alien to them, a harsh culture that their forbearers were forced to adopt. I saw a people that once enjoyed a level of civic and spiritual freedom that Western culture could never come close to providing, and I saw this same people forced to punch time clocks, to eat processed food, to pay taxes, to sever their time-honored cultural ties with nature, and to live the essentially imprisoned life of the Westerner. 
And so I was forced to accept that this noble, admirable culture was mortally wounded by a savage, primitive one that happened to have better guns. I was forced to accept that this culture is now drawing its final, sputtering breaths and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I was forced to accept that this way of life will soon fade into cold, dead history, and that it will be remembered, but never again felt.
 In a small, seemingly insignificant little town, I came face-to-face with a dark, even embarrassing element in the story of the United States of America that is seldom discussed and almost never appreciated. Needless to say, I left the place with much more than I had arrived with. I will not soon forget Browning, Montana


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just to let anyoner who's interested know, we're no longer in Browning, we've just been too lazy to update. We were only there for like two and a half days, and we're currently in Milwaukee, WI.
--Duncan

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First day in Browning

Horea:
So here we are, at a small worn-down repair shop in the middle of Browning, Montana, desperately trying to call our AAA to cover our accident. As soon as we arrived, everyone at Jim’s body shop (the repair shop) treated us with hospitality: they handed us ice cream bars, and made fun of our accident numerous times. Trying to call different shops for an oil pan was a disaster; the closest shop was one hundred miles away and the fastest time that they could ship it to Browning was in 2 days. Great. We are stuck in the middle of Garberville, Montana, on an Indian reservation, with no car and two days to kill. Did I mention the population of this place was 1006? We then asked Jeff about a good, cheap place to sleep and he pointed at the front of an enormous 18 wheeler. “What?” “Oh yeah, you can sleep behind that truck, that should be good.” We went to investigate. There was about a 8 by 8 foot area of grass behind a couple run-down, broken trucks that was enclosed by a barbed wire fence and a tall shed. Nice. We uttered a “thanks jeff” without much enthusiasm, and realized that it was either this or the shitty motel down the street. Walking around town was quite the experience: there were stray dogs running everywhere, drunk men sitting on the corner of liquor stores slurring nonsensical phrases at us, virtually all the cars were damaged or beaten up in some way, and almost every eatery was closed because the water line broke so the whole city was without water for the day. That meant no bathrooms. We came back after dinner to ask Jeff about the town and what to do and he said the most exciting thing about the town was the 18 and over casino and a couple Indian history museums. That’s when I knew it was my time. By my first spin of the slot machine my dreams of winning a large quantity of money quickly disintegrated. I was clueless about the rules of playing and I felt like a complete outsider. I asked a couple attendants how to play and they were less helpful than Indian motel 6 receptionists. Watching others play, I finally learned how people won some money. I copied their technique and it was actually working! I was up 28 dollars! I decided to keep playing and I soon lost all 28 dollars. “Ahhh its fine, ill just win more money with this next 20 that I put in.” That soon turned into another 20, and I had just lost 60 dollars. My fun was over, and I left the casino with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth. The journey back to Jim’s body shop was not a walk in the park either; most locals would stare at us and shoot us menacing looks. They knew we were outsiders. Back at the junkyard, around midnight, we were greeted by the stare of an old, crazy-looking lady sitting in her truck. Jeff had warned us about her, “There’s gonna be a lady sleeping in her truck. She sleeps at our shop every night, and I’m not sure why, she’s not homeless she just chooses to sleep here.” We got in the golf to plan out where we were going to sleep and were alarmed by the truck parked to the left of us. The mirrors were all fogged up, and there were visible signs of movement in the car. We examined the car some more, and decided it was most likely two people fucking. That’s when we decided to camp behind the truck and try our luck. Tip-toeing behind the cars to act inconspicuous, we quickly set up the tent and tried our best to blend in with all the weirdness around us. While setting up, a cute kitty jumped on to our tent and accompanied us. At first she was seemed like great company, an ally to our forces to conquer Browning, but by the end of the night, she wouldn’t leave and kept scratching and clawing at our heads through the tent. Not only that, but we were awaken in the middle of the night to an obnoxious catfight involving our “friend” a couple feet outside our tent. Not too shabby for our first night in browning.

Montana and Stuff


RAFFI: Before entering Montana, I began this novel called A River Runs Through It by Normal Maclean. It’s actually more of a novella—an autobiographical novella—in which the author describes, in incredibly nostalgic fashion, his experiences fly fishing with his brother and father in 1930s western Montana. I didn’t actually know that much about the book except that it would work as a companion piece to our travels through Montana. And it worked well; actually, there were times while reading when an event would be depicted in an obscure Montana town just as we were driving through that obscure Montana town. But the real reason I’m bringing this book up is because never before have I read something that so perfectly illustrates the feeling that so many individuals, especially those traveling to places like Glacier National Park or Yellowstone, strive for: that feeling of one-ness between man and nature. There are momentary instances of natural beauty that I think we—Horea, Duncan, and I—felt and are still feeling based on the immense power of the natural wonders we have thus far bared witness  to; however, I’m incapable of accurately translating those feelings into words, so I’d like to let the masterful Norman Maclean do it for me. In this passage, he describes his brother’s physical motions while fly fishing on the Blackfoot River in Montana:

"Below him was the multitudinous river, and, where the rock has parted it around him, big-grained vapor rose. The mini-molecules of water left in the wake of his line made momentary lapses of gossamer, disappearing so rapidly in the rising big-grained vapor that they had to be retained in memory to be visualized as loops. The spray emanating from him was a finger-grained still and enclosed him in a halo of himself. The halo of himself was always there and always disappearing, as if he were a candlelight flickering about three inches from himself. The images of himself and his line kept disappearing into the rising vapors of the river, which continually circled to the tops of the cliffs where, after becoming a wreath in the wind, they became rays of the sun."

Damn. You probably wanna go fly fishing, which is wildly popular in Montana, right about now. By this time, I have finished A River Runs Through It, which contains, in addition to the above, some of the most beautiful and moving passages I have ever read. Ironically, am now reading Anthony Kiedis’s autobiographical Scar Tissue, which, set in the dirty metropolis that is L.A., details the singer’s disgustingly selfish descent into heroin addiction. Still, Kiedis may be the most likeable scumbag there ever was.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 11, 8/10: The Crash

DUNCAN: I awoke our second morning in Glacier National Park without the slightest inkling of the ordeal ahead of us. I had no idea that in the blink of an eye, the actuality of our trip would deviate so suddenly and so profoundly from our plans. Life, as it were, was about to throw us a huge fucking curveball.
But I didn’t know that yet, and so I contentedly helped cook some breakfast, break down the tent, and pack everything back into the car. Before long we were ready to head back on the road. I offered to drive, seeing as I hadn’t been behind the wheel for very long the day before. Thus, the three of us set out down the narrow gravel road that led to and from our campsite. Horea rode shotgun, and Raffi sat in the back seat reading. To the left a gentle hill climbed towards a cloudy sky, and to the right a steeper one descended into a thicket of dense scrub and trees. Horea put on some music, and we all sat in quiet anticipation of what the day would bring us.
Suddenly, there was a Jeep in the middle of the road fifty feet in front of us and closing fast. The subsequent events all seemed to happen in a fraction of a second: without time to even think, I swerved to the right, evading the Jeep by inches; I tried to correct myself onto the road once the car had passed; for a sickening instant, the Golf seemed to teeter on the edge of the road; the car started sliding sideways down the hill to our right; I realized we were going to roll; I started to brace myself for the first tumble.
 But just then, everything came to an abrupt stop.
The car lay motionless, almost vertical on the hill, and for a few seconds all any of us did was breathe. Horea, now more below me than to my right, broke the silence first.
 “Dunc, what should we do?” His voice was heavy with tension.
“Don’t get out that side,” I responded after a pause, equally as tense. It was understood that the car might roll any second, that if any of us so much as shifted our weight in the wrong direction, the whole works might go tumbling down the declivity with us inside. “I’ll get out first. Climb over through my door.” I looked to my left to see a man standing on the road looking down on us. He motioned something, but I was too deeply in shock to respond. I opened the driver’s side door and scrambled up the hill, with Horea following. Raffi climbed over our pile stuff on the left passenger’s seat, opened the door, and clawed his way up as well.
The man at the top was the other driver. He had stopped, thankfully. A short, portly, mustachioed man with glasses and a heavy Midwestern accent, he asked us if any of us were hurt. None of us were.”It’s just a miracle that you’re all alright,” he said. “It could’ve been so much worse…”
And he was right. It could have been so much worse. As we surveyed the situation, we realized just how lucky we had been. The car was tilted at a fifty-something degree angle and all that had stopped it from sliding or rolling any farther down the hill was a single small tree. Had we had gone off the road any sooner, nothing would have stopped it from falling all the way down the hill; had we gone off any later, we would have smashed into a thicket of trees. Furthermore, the car seemed to have sustained minimal damage. Discounting the obvious misfortune of the situation as a whole, we were incredibly lucky.
The man introduced himself as _____ Gillespe, gave us water, and put in a call to 911. His hands were shaking. He told us that he just hadn’t seen us coming as we rounded the light curve in the road on which the accident had occurred. The aforementioned thicket of trees had blocked our respective lines of vision, and by the time we did see each other, it was simply too late to do much about it; he had been too far over toward the middle of the road, and both of us had been going too fast.
We ended up waiting over an hour before any help arrived. We told Mr. Gilespe more about our trip, and he told us about his. He had been a software engineer for most of his life, but last year he had decided that enough was enough and taken an early retirement. Since then, he had been travelling around the country with his dog, pursuing his passion of photography with the intention of eventually getting his pictures published. Though this man was overweight, apparently companionless (his dog aside), and had just caused me to crash one of my best friends’ car, I couldn’t help but admire him in a way. After what sounded like a lifetime of drudgery, he was finally striking out to follow his passions. He was trying to live the romantic life all of us wish we lived, wished we were brave enough to live.
A Park Ranger finally showed up, issued an impressed whistle as she surveyed the scene, and gave us accident reports to fill out. She then called in a tow truck, which took another forty minutes to arrive. That’s when we met Jeff.
Jumping out his tow truck (or “wrecker”, as they call them in Montana), Jeff had the looks of a gangly seventeen-year-old. He had the bare minimum of peach fuzz on his face, oil-stained, baggy jeans, a Hurley hat, and a whole lot of spring in his step. We would later find out that he was twenty-two years old, but my first thought when I saw him was “Woah, this kid is younger than me, should we really be putting the fate of Raffi’s car in his hands?” His skills proved more than adequate, however, and he had the Golf back up on the road in forty minutes of cheerily baseball-sliding down the hill, attaching various hooks, working the winch, and joking about the situation. He quickly inspected it once it was on flat ground. The verdict: a cracked oil pan and minor body damage, which was a fairly light toll for so severe a crash. However, nearly all the oil had leaked out, and the car was rendered temporarily undrivable. Jeff would have to haul us and the car back to the garage at which he worked, Jim’s Body Works in the nearby town of Browning, Montana, until the oil pan could be repaired or replaced. We hopped in the truck and drove off, oblivious to the ways in which Browning would change our perspectives on the country in which we lived, ignorant of the lasting memories we would form there in the next two days.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Days 9 & 10, 8/8 - 8/9: Glacier National Park

Duncan: Thus, after an unexpectedly eventful night in the little-known city of Spokane, we ventured for the first time this trip into a state that shares no border with the Pacific. There was a certain sense of unease perched in the back of my mind as we crossed into Idaho; we definitely weren’t "in Kansas anymore". Still, the scenery was pleasant as we drove through the pine-covered mountain passes of the state’s panhandle. We stopped in Kellogg, Idaho to experience the self-proclaimed “longest gondola ride in the world” up to the top of some mountain. At the summit we took a few pictures, climbed on a dormant ski lift, and just hung around for a while. Upon our return to the foot of the mountain we ducked into a restaurant to see if Idaho potatoes really lived up to their hype. They tasted just like any other potato to me, but hey, what do I know? We returned to the car and our long eastward haul.
Small town in western Montana
We passed miles and miles of not much at all as our route turned north toward Montana’s Glacier National Park. There were cows, endless miles of rolling grassland, and very few people. We stopped only briefly to clean the floor of the Golf after our noses alerted us to a monumental spill of laundry detergent under the driver’s seat. Luckily, our first-aid kit was the only casualty of the deluge of sticky blue liquid. We were soon back on our way, and the scenery grew progressively more remarkable. We made stops at bold-looking rock formations and swiftly flowing rivers as the sun steadily descended, and I began to develop and awe and even a love for Montana's vast, untamed landscape. I kept wishing we had more time on our itinerary to stop and hike and explore and enjoy every inch of the wildly beautiful terrain. We arrived in Glacier at around 10 pm. After a quick dinner of frank ‘n’ beans prepared on our propane stove, we put all our food and dishes in the Golf (on account of the park’s population of hungry bears), pitched our tent, and quickly fell asleep.
I awoke the next morning in a puddle of sweat—our tent acts as a sort of greenhouse when the weather is hot—and walked outside to find Raffi whipping up some oatmeal. We ate, packed up our camp, and began our drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road, a mountainous route world-renowned for its stunning views of ancient glaciers and jagged mountain peaks. We cruised past thickening pine forests, meadows carpeted with vivid wildflowers, and crystalline rivers, stopping frequently to walk down to the bank of the stream our road followed and mill around for a while. The water was cold enough to make your bones ache.
As the road climbed higher and higher into the Rockies, the view of the mountains surrounding us and the river valley below us grew preposterously beautiful. Waterfalls would periodically wind their way from the still-frozen heights above downthe cliff faces adjacent to our route. I won’t do it injustice to the place by attempting to describe it any further. What I will do is tell you this: sometime in your life, make the trip to Glacier National Park. I know I'll be making at least one more.
We arrived at the Eastern part of the park around 3:30 p.m., but the campsite at which we had intended to stay was full, so we instead fished for a while in the St. Mary river right above St. Mary Lake. We caught nothing, but I did succeed in losing a lure and somehow breaking my fishing rod. About an hour later we hopped back in the car and headed 20 miles south to another campsite tucked away in some woods along Cutbank Creek. Finding plenty of campsites open, we set up our tent and explored the place a little bit. We decided to hike a nearby trail despite the fact that it had started to drizzle, a decision that I’m glad we made as it soon cleared up and we got to enjoy seven or eight miles of the park's nature in relative solitude. After we returned to camp, we fished in the creek by our campsite for a while, but to no avail. Troutless, we settled for Chef Boyardee ravioli. It started hailing (strangely enough), and soon after we all climbed in our tent and went to sleep. It had been a wonderful day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 8, 8/7: Spokane, WA

HOR: Wuddup my bitches and hoes, it’s your nigga Horea here to update you guys on our little adventure.  We be chillin’ in a motel room just outside of Yellowstone. Word. Anyways, let me catch you guys up. Shiiiiiiiit—where to start? After our two-day stay in Seattle, we headed east for Spokane, the town of Gonzaga. We drove almost all day, and stopped at an incredible sandwich place called Jimmy John's. I really wish they had that in Cali ‘cause that place is the In-N-Out of sandwiches. If you guys see one, go. After our dinner, we started searching for our future campground, a task much harder than expected. We drove around Spokane and went to two different campsites and both were taken. We kept trying to look for other sites but we were stranded. We finally found an open campsite but the gate to the campsite closed at 10. We got there at 10:10. Nice. We decided to try and open the gate by ourselves and we found out it was not locked and a simple push would do the trick. Still unsure of what we were doing, we entered the campground, without seeing a single welcoming campfire. We walked to the camp registration center and out of nowhere a group of slightly overweight 50-something-year-old women shouted at us, “Don’t walk near here anymore.” Quite a menacing first impression. We were quick to explain that we were only searching for a place to stay the night, and their attitudes quickly changed. “If you guys need a place, you can pitch your tent next to ours and pretend to be our nephews.” Pretty weird, but we needed a place to stay so we accepted the offer. We started setting up our shit and they started engaging us in conversation. “Where are you guys from? How old are you guys? Where are you headed?” They even offered us their s’mores. We were all a little taken aback with the recent change in attitude, but still decided to indulge in some s’mores. After a few minutes, the conversation switched to their teenage years, and of their experiences with acid and shrooms. What the hell? These women were old enough to be our moms.  Feeling more comfortable around these women, we started to find out more about them and learn that they were all pretty crazy in their teenage years. They would go to acid and shroom parties, and everybody would be absolutely out of this world high. This would be a birthday party...
 It was only a matter of time before we learned they were under the influence of not only alcohol, but marijuana as well. One of these women (we didn’t get any of their names), would reserve this campsite every year and invite a couple close friends to drink and smoke for a weekend. With all this talk of drugs, it was inevitable that they would offer us some of their narcotics. The pipe started going around the campfire and the s’mores were going faster than ever. They claimed this was their twentieth bowl of the day (I do not believe this at all, but who knows, they were some pretty crazy women). We conversed with them late into the night, discussing everything from arts and culture to the effects of various narcotics. Around 12:30 we decided we had had enough; it was time for bed. Only when we woke up the next morning did we fully realize what had happened: we had been smoked out by 50-year old moms. The next morning, they still treated us with hospitality, offering us their food. We returned the favor by buying them wood and ice, and thanked them for letting us stay with them. My only regret is that we did not get a picture with them.
Hor out.

Seattle

RAFFI: We entered Seattle knowing about as little of the city as we did Portland, which turned out to be a really great and “weird” experience. Our first taste of Seattle was at nighttime to the tune of an extremely annoying song by Owl City, called, not surprisingly, “Hello Seattle.” Once we got that out of the way we checked into our Motel 6, went to sleep, and headed back toward the city the next day. Our first stop was at the Experience Music Project museum, a big steel, oddly-shaped structure designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, to see an exhibit my parents have always talked about called “Experience Hendrix: The Evolution of Sound.” The exhibit was really everything a Hendrix fan could ask for, as it documents Jimi’s youth growing up in Seattle to his beginnings with mid-‘60s R&B acts and finally to his time in London that allowed him to fully realize his potential as a musical innovator. In addition to his well-documented history, the exhibit has on display several of Hendrix’s most famous guitars, including a few of the ones he burned or smashed and the one he played at Woodstock. Even if there is three feet and a glass panel between the surveyor and the guitar, I felt really exhilarated to be so close to something that has had such an incredible impact on the world, the same feeling an appreciator of art might receive standing in front of a Van Gogh. Another great part of the exhibit was this mixer that walks you through each separate audio track (vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, percussion, etc.) of a Hendrix song, allowing you to really understand the complexity of his music and exactly why is he so influential as not only a performer, but as a musician. After the Hendrix exhibit, we walked through another exhibit chronicling the history of Nirvana, almost an afterthought to the coolness of Hendrix; however, the Nirvana showcase turned out to be very great as well and gave me a stronger appreciation for a band that spearheaded an entire musical scene—grunge—and gave life to Seattle. Regardless of the fact that I’ve never really gotten into grunge, it seems like gold by comparison to today’s shit, which, between Li’l Wayne and Katy Perry, sounds like a combination of bad ‘80s music, bad rap music, and, the clincher, techno. Wow—what is our generation thinking? After the museum, we roamed the outdoor/indoor market at Pike’s Place and the streets of Seattle’s downtown. In addition to the original Starbuck’s located at Pike’s, I think we saw at least 10 Starbuck’s in the span of, like, two square blocks. Neat. At the end of the night, we ascended the famed Space Needle to look out over the Seattle cityscape, a fantastic end to an enjoyable day. In summary, Seattle was very cool. I just wish I had had more time to see more of it—less of the commercial, touristy areas and more of the areas where the hip, young urbanites congregate.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Familiar Place

RAFFI: I’m pretty surprised by the frequency of our updates on this blog; I really doubted three eighteen-year old dudes were collectively responsible enough to keep a blog up to date. I hope someone out there is actually reading it. If not, that’s cool, too; we aren’t that interesting.
Anyhow, the trip:
Since the first time my family and I drove its curvy roads to “The City”, driving on the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1, has been my favorite drive. When my brother enrolled at UC Berkeley in 2007, trips by way of the 1 became more frequent, and, as a result, I couldn’t have been happier. But the more I’ve traveled the 1 over the past four years, the more my yearning to drive other scenic highways has grown, especially to drive the 101--seemingly a brother to the 1 because it runs parallel to and continues where the 1 leaves off not far from the Bay Area and still runs beside the Pacific all the way up to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Perhaps this yearning explains the scenic nature of the route of this trip, strategically chosen by three of this country’s finest route planners (if there is such a thing): yours truly, Duncan Conley, and Horea Porutiu.
And… the actual trip (backtracking to day one):
Upon escaping the gorgeous smog-and-trash-infested lanes of L.A.’s world-renowned stretch of the 405, we entered the 101, drove past that weird college in Santa Barbara that Duncan and I are to attend, and in San Luis Obispo, next to that other weird college, we took a turn onto Highway 1. Its two-lane stretch is a sight I’ve seen many times; nevertheless, its presence bears the unique quality never to tire a person. The first stretch of the highway is mostly flat and mostly straight. To our right there was an only-slightly familiar sight: rolling hills—the same ones we are accustomed to at home, only these ones reveal their bare selves—bare and grassy and completely dry, decorated sporadically by a few trees. To our left was the Pacific—another familiar sight—decorated with a variety of weathered black rocks, which are constantly sloshed by the whitewash of a fierce swell. On that day, the climate was foggy and cloudy, which, depending on your mood, can be a good thing, but on a clear, sunny day, this stretch of the 1 is breathtaking in that the vibrant gold of the hills is contrasted with the rich, deep blue of the ocean. Eventually, the hills graduate to mountains, and the 1 ascends, winding and clutching to the periphery of the mountains, composed of rocks and even larger rocks that sit precariously looking down on your car and waiting for the day they’ll fall and hit it. But the hills aren’t the only things that grow as the road ascends, the rocks in the ocean evolve into giant boulders, and, in this way, very small islands. All this continues on until the nice little city of Carmel. I’m probably getting too in detail, but all this is truly a sight to behold every time I see it, and this time was no different.

Day 6: 8/5

Duncan: In one day, I developed a strong affinity for the city of Portland. Its quirks, its people, its places, and its culture created an almost magically unpredictable atmosphere. Horea and I started the day with a quick workout at Portland’s 24 Hour Fitness (infinitely better than Torrance’s) while Raffi walked around the Pearl district, and then we all got delicious Italian food at another cart. We perused record shops, sat down and read a while at Portland’s famous Powell book store (home to over 3 million different titles), went to Buffalo Exchange and bought some discounted yet hip’n’happenin clothes, and just generally soaked in the vibe of the place. I was pleasantly surprised by how lucid and alert strangers on the street seemed; pretty much everyone I met, even store clerks, were completely willing to engage in conversation and seemed genuinely interested in other people. People were accepting of pretty much anything and anyone. They were also incredibly stylish for the most part.
But seriously, in Portland I found a much more open and positive society than I was used to living in PV. I think Palos Verdes could use a little dose of Portland.
In the late afternoon we left north toward Seattle and passed downtown on the freeway just after nightfall. That was definitely a sight to remember, Seattle at night. We passed right through it and checked into a Motel Six five miles outside of the city. I immediately proceeded to break a part of our room’s window off as I was trying to open it. Fearful that it would be charged to the room, I threw it up onto the roof, only to have it slowly unfold and hang from the rain gutter directly above our door. Horea and Raffi were in hysterics. I ended up having to fish it down (haha) after five minutes of trying to capture it with my fishing pole. I threw it in a bush, the lady in the room told us to “shut the fuck up”, and we all three went to sleep dreaming of the what our next day in Seattle might bring us.
Duncan: Let’s see…. There’s so much to recap, but so little time and effort I’m willing to expend. I guess I’ll try to summarize the highlights of these past seven days as briefly as possible, which may be a difficult undertaking given how nuts things have gotten lately.

Day 5: 8/4

DUNCAN: Emerging from our tent in Humbug National Park, we stretched out, cooked up a quick breakfast of oatmeal on our camp stove, packed up, and hit the road, our ultimate goal for the day being the city of Portland. A couple hours after we set out up the 101 along the Oregon coast, I spotted a billboard that advertised a “walk-through safari” coming up in 10 miles and displayed a picture of a tiger. We doubted the place’s legitimacy, but decided to make the stop anyway, even if it was just to check it out. Horea pulled up reviews of the West Coast Game Park on his phone, and we were surprised to find them all extremely positive. One review even claimed that visitors got to pet a baby tiger. Now this was an opportunity we simply could not afford to miss.
We arrived there a little while later and paid the $ 16 entry fee. As we entered the park itself, we were immediately greeted by an exceedingly amiable, curious ring tailed lemur in a cage by the door. It loved human contact and even licked our hands as we pet it. It was like playing with a dog with a person’s hands. We explored the rest of the park (which was really more like a petting zoo) and discovered a plethora of animals. Here’s a list of just some of the park’s animals listed on its website:

African Serval Cat
Baboon
Hamadryas
Barbados Sheep
Bears

Binterong
Black Buck Antelope

Camel
Capybara
Chimpanzees
Caracal
Coati
Chinese Muntijac
Cougar
DeBrazza's Monkeys

Emu
Goats
Lemurs
Leopards
Lions
Llamas
Lynx
Nilgai
Panther
Peccari Boar
Peacocks
Raccoon
South American Rhea

Silver Fox
Snow Leopard
Swans
Tigers
Wallaby
White Skunk
Zebra

And that was only some of them. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience, especially seeing as we were allowed to touch about half of the creatures listed above, and yes, that did include a 15-week-old baby leopard. Highlights included blowing raspberries back and forth with a chimpanzee and getting spit at by a lama. After about an hour, we once again piled in the car and headed north.

The Oregon coast was pretty, but not as breathtaking as California’s. We passed miles and miles of sand dunes and evergreen forests. At one point we stopped to see Oregon’s famous sea-lion caves, but were saddened to find the place egregiously commercialized. You had to pay close to twenty dollars to even go down to the caverns, so, with a collective sigh of disappointment, we got back in the car and left. Our only other stops before Portland were at a scenic beach to check our oil and take some pictures, and then at another beach just outside of Lincoln City to take a farewell dip in the Pacific Ocean before we set out eastward. The water was absolutely freezing.
Portland was something else. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. We checked into a Motel 6 ten miles away from downtown at around 9:30 and, after we had snuck all three of us and our luggage into our two-person room, we left for the city. Upon arrival we searched urgently for something to fill our starving bellies, which proved to be a difficult task seeing as it was already eleven o’clock and, bars excluded, pretty much everything was closed. As we roamed the streets, we got a taste of Portland’s very unique and bustling nightlife. Hoards of attractive young people raged in bars and clubs, and packs of crossfaded hobos smoked joints and partied out on the sidewalks. There were a lot of different sorts of people out that night, but Raffi pointed out that there seemed to be an indefinable factor that unified them all, desolate runaways and shined-up, indie-looking yuppies alike. And he was right. Each in their own way, they all contributed to the unique collection of idiosyncrasies and clashes that make Portland such a weird and wonderful place. They were all there for their own reasons, damn good ones, too, and they wanted to make that crystal clear to everyone around them.
We eventually found a gyro cart that was still open, and after watching the flamboyant Greek guy that ran the place repeatedly wipe his runny nose on the back of his hand as he made our food, we wolfed down our meals and walked around some more. We came across a corner store w.ith a line going out the door, and walked over to investigate what could pull such a crowd at 12 p.m. Turns out it was the world-famous Voodoo Donuts, so we got in line to try some of the renowned pastries. As we waited, we were serenaded by a musical banjo/guitar/accordion trio of post-apocalyptic gypsies. That is, they looked like how I’d imagine post-apocalyptic gypsies would look. We ate some delicious donuts and then headed back to our motel room. Day 5: totally gnarkill.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 4: 8/3

Elk mean business
Tuesday, August 2nd
Departed from: Eureka, CA
Arrived at: Humbug Mountain State Park, OR
DUNC: The three of us woke up at 9 and got the hell out of Eureka and that godforsaken motel as fast as possible. We planned to drive up to Redwood National Park, hike around for a while, and then drive up as far into Oregon as we could and camp on the coast. Thus, we set out again, fueled by a breakfast of Cliff Bars and water. The arid grass-and –shrub patchwork soon gave way to towering forests of thick-trunked redwoods. After a few hours of driving, we pulled over at an elk viewing point and observed a few of the beasts through binoculars from a healthy distance. Just as we were about to leave, I overheard a man in a group of fellow observers say something about a whale trapped up a river. I walked over and inquired further, and sure enough, he confirmed that there was a whale that had wandered up the Klamath river, gotten lost, and was now circling around a bridge located just eighteen miles North of where we were. Raffi, Horea and I all exchanged looks of exhilarated disbelief. We hopped in the car and made a beeline for the Klamath River.
We arrived at an RV park on the bank of the Klamath shortly thereafter. We gathered from our inquiries that the whale was, in fact, still circling the bridge just a quarter mile north of the camp. However, there was no trail from the campsite there, and a couple suggested that to get a more intimate look at the whale we should wade along the river’s edge to the base of the bridge. Horea and I decided to do so, but Raffi didn’t feel like it, so he stayed with the car. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the base of the bridge. We could hardly believe our eyes. The thirty-foot-long titan of the sea swam no more than 40 feet from us, circling the bridge and sending up geysers of mist from its blowhole every so often. The fact that this scene was unfolding in the middle of a redwood forest made it all the more surreal.
I jokingly suggested that we should go swim with it, but Horea didn’t miss the hint of uncertain earnestness that lay under my jest. We slowly gathered up our courage, and before we knew it, we had stripped down to our boxers and jumped in the water, swimming towards the spot we had last seen the whale surface. The crowd of about a hundred people gathered on the bridge to observe the whale erupted in cries. Everyone seemed to be either encouraging us or telling us to get the fuck out of the water, so we decided to listen to the former camp and persisted in our pursuit of the enormous animal. We did so apprehensively, however. I know logically that a whale won’t harm a human, but the primordial fear that arises when you’re in the water with something that big is difficult to overcome. The closest we got was probably about 35 feet. At that point, someone who might have been a park ranger (we couldn’t really tell) shouted at us in a booming, authoritative voice to “get OUT of the water!” We obliged him, snuck up a narrow trail, and hitchhiked back to Raffi and the Golf.
We continued our journey through the redwoods, detouring of the 1 along the 199 with the intention of eventually rejoining the 1 by way of the 197 North. We stopped along the beautiful, powerful Smith River to take pictures. I brought my goggles down as well, and, finding the water surprisingly warm, swam around in its pristinely clear waters. At some points it was over twenty feet deep, but I could still see all the way to the bottom. We got back in the car and I soon fell asleep.
When I awoke, we were lost. We had taken a wrong turn (we stayed on the 199 instead of turning onto the 197 back toward the 1) and ended up well west of where we thought we were going. We figured out that we would have to take a huge detour to get back on track, a detour that would add a full hour and a half to our trip. As it turned out though, making the wrong turn that put us on this detour was an excellent decision. The road climbed through redwood-covered mountains and took us to some unfathomably beautiful views. As Raffi put it shortly after the sun set red over the blue mountains, “That might have been the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

A short stop during our detour
We finally pulled into the Humbug Mountain camp site at around 11 p.m. We set up our tent, cooked some franks and beans on our camp stove, Horea and I packed a lip, and we fell asleep. Day 4: unforgettable.

Day 3: 08/02

DUNC: Hey everybody—
Sorry for the irregularity of our posts. I can imagine it’s probably incredibly frustrating for you hundreds of loyal fans out there to be kept in the dark about the minutia of our daily experiences, but bear with us. Wi-fi is a rare commodity out here on the open road.
I’m writing this having just left the good ol’ 101/Highway 1—and with it, the Pacific Ocean. Horea is driving us along Highway 18 East toward a certain Motel 6 in Portland, Oregon, our final destination for tonight.  The salt is still dried in his hair from our parting plunge into the Pacific just outside of Lincoln City. Boy, is the water cold up here.
 But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start from where we last left all you devoted followers: the morning of day 3.
Monday, August 1st
Departed from: Berkeley, CA
Arrived at: Eureka, CA
DUNC: With nothing but Cliff Bars in our bellies, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and headed North. After about an hour we made a stop at a turnout overlooking a particularly breathtaking section of the 1. We hopped over the guardrail, sliding down cliffs and running through scrub as we narrowed the gap between us and the ocean. Only once we had reached the boulder-laden shore did Horea realize to all three of our respective horrors that his wallet had fallen out of his sweatpants’ pocket on the way down. If we didn’t find it, Horea wouldn’t be able to drive, he’d have no ID, and our trip would be potentially crippled, but by some miracle Hor and Ra found it after a mere twenty minutes of frantic, despairing searching.  
Having averted disaster, we once again struck out North along the 1, detouring at Point Reyes National Seashore to see what we could see. A wonderfully secluded peninsula of rolling hills, sheer cliffs, cattle ranches and pristine beaches, it provided us with scenery enough to keep us there for close to 3 hours. After Raffi snapped some pictures of the place, we chased deer, climbed a ramshackle water tower, and hiked around for a while. Horea and I did our best to sprint back up the three-hundred-seventy-something stairs we walked down to get to the Reyes Point lighthouse. We ate in a nearby town and proceeded with the long haul up the 1, and later, the 101, stopping only briefly to admire the scenery and snap a photo or two.
We finally decided to stop for the night in the city of Eureka, as it was the only place within a reasonable distance that had a Motel 6, but after Horea read an online review of the place that compared staying there to “sleeping in a sewer”, we instead found lodging at a place called The Lamplighter Motel. This proved to be a big mistake. Long story short: the place was shit. The Indian family running it was insane. But the beds were soft and we were tired, so we called it a day and crashed. Day 3: fulfilling

Day 2: 08/01

Departed from: Berkeley, CA
Arrived at: Berkeley, CA

The BART station in Berkeley


HOREA: After waking up past noon, we were ready for a day in San Francisco. I had never been in the city, and was extremely pumped to see what it was like. We took the BART (a subway type thing) that actually runs under the ocean. We took the BART from Berkeley to San Francisco and saw some pretty strange people on the way. A 40-year old white man was wearing a large, incredibly shiny “San Francisco marathon” gold medal around his neck while dressed in short shorts and running shoes. I couldn’t help but chuckle. We started walking around the city and immediately spotted 2 bulldogs sleeping parallel to each other in the exact same position. They were cuter than bunnies nibbling on baby carrots so we had to take a picture with them. Soon after, we went to Chinatown and ate at Sam Wo’s. This authentic and run-down Chinese shop was the epitome of value. The tea was served in a rusted metal tea pot, the water that Duncan ordered came in a crusty plastic jug type thing.  Not to mention that our chow-Mein with duck that we ordered came from the first floor to the second floor on a pulley system that was maneuvered through an old laundry chute. Damn.


Climbing the hill to Coit Tower in SF

We then walked through a random park and saw a group of drunk hobos and decided to walk by. I took a video of us walking by the hobos while the hobos asked us if we were on a bobsledding team. We said no and ignored whatever crazy statements they might have slurred. Randomly walking into an Roman Catholic sermon in an enormous cathedral was our next escapade. We kept walking around the city and enjoyed its company for a couple more hours until it came time for us to return to Raffi’s brothers house for dinner. We had surprisingly tasty chicken quesadillas. Next, Duncan and I got dismantled in a game of beerpong, and then decided to play some smash bros. Levon, Raf’s brother, taught us the rules of drinking smash and we all proceeded to play for a good hour. Every time you die, you have to chug while your character is floating on the platform (no touching the controller of course). After a good hour of this game, we were ready for bed. The two 30’s that Levon had bought were almost gone. Almost…
                Waking up the next morning was great. Beer cans everywhere, plates with greasy avocado and quesadilla remains scattered any open space. It was a beautiful sight to wake up to. Day 2: colorful.