Crossing Back Into the World of Fireflies, Summer Thunderstorms, and Humidity

I’m not sure if it was the 4 years of being away, or if I truly am meant to be here, but something came over me as I crossed over the Mississippi River and re-entered the East. Every single day since I left the Great Plains there has been a physical feeling of comfort swaddling me, telling me this is what the world is supposed to be like. Some may call it humidity, but for me it’s a reminder of where I came from…and where I belong.

But before we go to Kentucky, I need to talk a bit about my last days in South Dakota. After I wrote my last blog post, my two college friends (and soon-to-be newlyweds!!!!) met me in the Black Hills for three days of climbing. They were on their own road trip taking them from New Hampshire to Seattle-where they eventually will live. We all had heard of Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills as a premier rock climbing destination, but we were all shocked as to just how frickin’ amazing it was. Thousands of routes that climb up gently overhanging limestone rock – pockets galore! I think it was a combination of my being in my best climbing shape ever (after my time in Bozeman) and the style of this particular type of climbing, but I had my strongest climbing weekend I’ve ever had in my life. After the three of us had a stellar weekend of climbing and watched the US Women’s soccer match against China, we left Spearfish, SD in opposite directions.

One of the few actual deadlines I have had on this road trip was beckoning me: July 4th – Endicott, NY. That meant I had to book it from South Dakota to Kentucky so as to leave enough time to hang out with my friend who lives there. Those 2 and a half days were a blur of “Stuff You Should Know” podcasts, semi-trucks, and pee/food breaks at highway rest stops. It was a throwback to my college road trip where we made it from San Francisco to New Haven in 50 hours. I did, however, find time to bathe in the Missouri River, check out a Sioux cultural/historical museum, and visit an active quarry where Native Americans have been mining stone used to make ceremonial pipes for thousands of years. But I eventually arrived in Newport, KY (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) with enough time to see my friend for a few days. It was here in Kentucky that I got my first taste of that sticky summer humidity that I had forgotten about…along with the swarms of mosquitoes I’m glad I forgot about. My friend showed me a great time, taking me to bars, his family farm, and a bluegrass concert in the park. I also tasted goetta for my first time; in fact, I never even knew it existed. It’s a breakfast meat that’s in the shape of a hash brown with oats mixed in – apparently a by-product of the area’s large German immigrant influence. It was delicious!

My next stop was Endicott, NY to attend a 4th of July party that doubled as an East Coast wedding celebration for my friends who got married in California. It was a super fun party, and I have to say, Tobii did really well considering all the boisterous strangers wandering around and petting him (present company included). I had him off-leash the whole time and he never left my side except to comb the ground for fallen hot dogs and cole slaw. Because of the bride’s family’s hospitality, I stayed an extra day. It was a day that could only be described as Summer: we lounged by the pool, eating and doing crosswords until we got hot enough to go swimming. We repeated this pattern until it got dark, at which time we walked to get ice cream cones. I can’t stress enough how good this felt. A day like this was not possible in the SF Bay Area. Partly because I didn’t know anyone with pools, but mainly because the weather would not permit it. I’ve realized that I am very sensitive to the climate around me. Not in the sense that when it’s cold and dark I’m sad and when it’s warm and sunny I’m happy. No, I’m happiest when there are changes. The cycles and extremes of the four seasons reflect and shape life in a way that makes sense to me. Call it nostalgia, but I yearn for those hot (sometimes unbearingly) summers and those cold (sometimes unbearingly) winters.

I then moved on to visit yet another friend outside Schenectady, NY. This was the friend I met in Bozeman, MT – he had moved back home a couple weeks after I left Bozeman. After a couple days of more poolside lounging and more hospitality from strangers, I ventured north into the Adirondacks. Now, I never really got into outdoorsy activities until college; and that was just rock climbing. So I was excited to go hiking and exploring the woods and mountains of the Northeast. Like I had written about the Black Hills, this part of the country too was not one of superlatives, but sometimes a gentle walk through the woods can give more enjoyment than a hike along the Grand Canyon. There’s more reward to summitting an Adirondack peak: although the mountains are not nearly as tall as out West (Mt. Marcy, the tallest, is just over 5000 ft.), they are deceivingly very, very steep. The last mile or so of all of the peaks requires you to use all four limbs to scramble up bare rock or hoist yourself up with exposed tree roots. Moreover, because you are hiking through dense forest the whole way, the only way to get a breathtaking view of the surrounding area is by earning it at the summit. But when you do, boy you are in for a pleasant surprise, as you can see by the photos below. And I’ve never been so clean on this road trip as I have been in the Adirondacks; there are so many lakes and ponds that I can afford to take a bath every day.

As for now, I stopped at Middlebury College on my way up to see my parents at our family friend’s cabin on Lake Champlain. As I’m writing this blog post in the college library, I’m getting a little taste of the college life before I start school in the Fall. I hope UMD’s library is this nice…

Dan and Leah in Spearfish Canyon
Dan and Leah in Spearfish Canyon
Dan climbing in Spearfish
Dan climbing in Spearfish
A prairie sunset
A prairie sunset
Cooling off
Cooling off
Horse jumping in Lake Placid. (Note the Olympic ski jumps in the background)
Horse jumping in Lake Placid. (Note the Olympic ski jumps in the background)
A non-superlative creek
A non-superlative creek
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Adirondacks
Adirondacks
Adirondacks
Adirondacks
Adirondacks
An Adirondack sunset
An Adirondack sunset

Paha Sapa

Some of you may be reading this blog and imagining that I’m “roughing it.” On the contrary, I see this road trip as a pretty cushy excursion: I sleep in a bed every night; I’m protected from the elements (except for extreme heat); and I’m still very much connected via cell phone and computer. This becomes especially apparent when I spend three days and two nights hiking in the Black Hills like I have been this past weekend.

The Oglala Sioux call this land Paha Sapa – The Heart of Everything That Is. They hold these hills sacred and even assert that the Wind Cave within the Black Hills was the point from which their people were created. And there’s good reason for the Oglala to deem this place as such: Beginning in the 1500’s, the Sioux pushed westward from modern-day Minnesota. During their westward expansion, their culture shifted to be nomadic buffalo-hunters and their nation fractured into smaller tribes and bands. By the mid-18th century the Oglala band had tracked the buffalo herds all the way to the plains of South Dakota/Nebraska bounded by the Missouri River to the East and the Black Hills to the West. The Black Hills would have literally been the first time that many generations of Oglala would have seen any rise in elevation during their entire lives. With these hills’ dense pine and aspen forests, populations of elk, bear (not anymore) and mountain lion, and granite fins, spires and cones, it’s no wonder the Oglala deemed this place sacred. They took this designation so seriously, in fact, that Chief Red Cloud united multiple bands, tribes and nations of the plains Indians to accomplish something no one has ever done in American history: defeat the United States Army in a war where the Americans were forced to accept peace completely on the enemy’s terms. This meant that the Bozeman Trail was closed, three frontier forts were disbanded, and the Black Hills along with the surrounding area were deemed Sioux territory. (Ten years later gold was discovered in the Black Hills at the same time the US was having a stock market crash and, effectively, all deals were off.)

I felt blessed to walk through these hills that a whole people saw (and still see) as so sacred. Even though helicopters flew overhead every hour on their way to Mt. Rushmore (ugh, so annoying…), I was awarded relative seclusion after hiking into the heart of the Black Hills. Unlike the other hikes I’ve been on during this road trip, this place did not boast grand vistas of snow-capped peaks or huge rivers carving thousand-foot canyons through rock. This forest was not one of superlatives; it was more modest than that. Rather, the best parts of the Black Hills cannot be captured with photos or with someone writing a travel blog (woops!). What I loved about the Black Hills was that you could only catch fleeting glimpses of granite spires through the trees as you rounded a turn. I loved how the creeks trickled over fallen baby pines and between stones rather than roared over cliffs. In reality, it reminded me of the woods of New England, just with Ponderosas instead of maples.

However, it wouldn’t have been a worthwhile backpacking trip without a snafu (i.e. Uncle Neil’s hiking “boots” in the Sierras…). My first night camping the humidity from the day was followed up with a ferocious hailstorm. At about 10pm, the lightening was blinding my field of vision every two seconds and hail the size of golf balls was pelting the tent. I was hit with one in the hand as I was trying to pull Tobii away from the sides of the tent; I still have the bruise. The two of us huddled together in the center of the tent for a good 45 minutes before the storm finally passed. This is what I mean by “roughing it.”

And now for a few Black Hills reflections:

  1. There’s nothing quite as inviting as a beaver pond at about 2pm on a hot and humid summer day. The painstaking amount of time and effort those creatures had to endure in order to construct such a feat of engineering, I’m sure they would want someone else to enjoy the fruits of their labor, right? If nothing else, simply to marvel at their masterpiece. Is it that crazy to imagine the pride of a beaver?
  2. There is no need for towels when living outdoors. Wind and sun wick and bake, while a good book gives both time.
  3. New favorite pastime: napping in the grass, letting all manner of insects crawl over my still body.
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I spy four US presidents…
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Time to wake up!

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Bozeman

This past month in Bozeman I’ve been playing a game of pretend where I have a job and live in one place for longer than a week. It’s an easy game to play when there are rocks to climb, trails to hike, and wildlife to view all in close proximity. (Not to mention, when you are in desperate need of gas money…) It was most definitely a beneficial hiatus from my usual pop-in, pop-out road trip pattern, as well. I even made a friend while living here who joined me some evenings to boulder and assumed the role of my drinking buddy.

To keep in line with my chronological style of writing, I’ll pick up where I left off in my last blog post. That weekend I joined my French friends again. They were WWOOFing in the Bitterroot Valley in western Montana on this tiny little farm. I drove out there to hang out and accompany them on some hikes in the Bitterroot mountains, but I was roped in to working on the farm right alongside the French. I wasn’t taken advantage of by any means; I felt the need to offer after the farmers cooked me two dinners and two breakfasts and let me keep my van on their property. They even invited all of us to their farmer friend’s bonfire. It was a roaringly fun eco-hippy confab, equipped with the requisite slack-line and homemade kombucha. That weekend we also went on a hike into the Bitterroot Mountains, which were the most quintessential example of the Rocky Mountains that I’ve ever seen. If someone were to ask my what the Rocky Mountains look like, I would show them this picture:DSCF0755

After saying “au revoir” to my French friends, I went back to the daily grind, landscaping in Bozeman. In all honesty, I loved that job. I now know how to lay multiple types of irrigation; how to maneuver a boulder into place while someone is lowering it with one of those huge excavator machines; how to cut and chisel stone so that it fits just right (and looks good) to make a patio; and how to fix broken steps made from old railroad ties. But the best part about the landscaping job was the locations it took me to. Unbeknownst to me, western Montana is not too different from Cape Cod or Lake Tahoe. The majority of our clients are millionaires from all over the country who buy thousands of acres on gorgeous land to build their enormous second, third, or possibly fourth homes. But the taxes on these properties are much too expensive for these people, so, naturally, they find a loop-hole. They hire a few locals to run their land as a working ranch so the taxes are lower. Genius! Judgement aside (and to be honest, it sounds pretty nice to be able to do that), it was such a treat to be working in this scenery. Here are a couple photos I took to give you a sense:

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The one on the left was taken at this place called the Yellowstone Club: a millionaire’s mountain playground where Tom Brady and Justin Timberlake have homes right next to their own private ski resort.

Naturally, I checked out all the bouldering the Bozeman area has to offer while living out here too. I bought a guide book and went to all of the areas listed except for one. Although not stellar, it felt really good to have decent bouldering so close that I was able to climb after work most days and every weekend. This month was the most consistently that I’ve ever been able to climb outdoors – a necessary factor if you want to get better at the sport, which I do. Also, my finger calluses were tough as rhino skin because of the landscaping job so I was in prime shape to work on some hard problems in the area. Almost all of the rock around here is gneiss (pronounced “nice), which makes for really interesting movement because of the way it cleaves. (It also makes for really fun climbing puns.)

Yet probably the biggest benefit from being stationary for a month was the time and setting it afforded me to reflect. I reflected a lot because, well, when you only know one person and you’re outside all the time your mind has no choice but to wander through the dense forest of deep thought. Here are a couple of those reflections I’d like to share:

  • It has been a very long time since I’ve spent this much time outside. Unless it’s raining, I’m outside for the entire day save for when I’m sleeping. The effects of this continue to present themselves to me as the road trip goes on. I’ve noticed myself tracking the phases of the moon, which in a roundabout way makes me feel more connected to Judaism (which is based off a lunar calendar). I am much more aware of the minutiae of Nature – the warning sounds from birds if I walk too close to their nests, the pattern of ants marching up and down a cottonwood, the subtle changes in rhythms and melodies that emerge from a seemingly constantly rushing creek.
  • For the first time since my childhood, I’m not afraid to get dirty or cut-up. I’ll slosh through that mucky meadow to reach that rocky bar. I’ll take a nap in that pile of dirt abutting that tree if it looks to have the perfect slope to accommodate my body. And I’ll worry about cleaning my clothes or body later.
  • I really like the silhouettes that emerge at dusk. I can see the details of a mountain range or a gnarled tree much more clearly when its outline is the only thing visible. Sunlight doesn’t always make things more visible.
  • Living out of a van with no job is anything but an uneventful life. Every day I am faced with a plethora of mini-challenges and decisions to make that keep life exciting. Where will I sleep without arousing suspicion? What should I buy at the grocery store that will keep in the van now that the weather is getting hotter? Where do I wash this sweat and dirt off? Challenges are necessary for me to enjoy life; they give me a rewarding sense of “earning it.” For example, the other day I worked 11 hours landscaping then drove 30 minutes to boulder for a few hours. The meal I cooked for myself that night was one of the best I’ve ever had; not because the ingredients were fresh (by an means!) but because I earned it.

If you want to get a better idea as to what my life is like on this road trip, read the poem “Pissing in a Stump” by Maurice Manning, from his book A Companion For Owls. He perfectly (and I really emphasize the perfection of it) describes my experience.

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The farm in the Bitterroot Valley
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Bison nursing in Yellowstone
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Yellowstone thermal
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Yellowstone thermal
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This is Montana
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Sweet campsite in Yankee Jim Canyon
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Setting of my morning and evening walks while working in Bozeman
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Montana traffic jam on the way to work.
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Fun with socks
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My home for the month

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First off, for the few people out there who actually wait for these blogs to come out (just my parents), I apologize for the 20-day wait. I honestly have not had any real opportunity (or, let’s be real, motivation) to sit down with internet and write a blog post. Well, my procrastination is now biting me in the ass because now I have to fill you in on everything that’s happened in the past 20 days. Well, maybe not everything…

My original plans changed when I met some really cool people while in Moab. They were on vacation as well, so I took them to Hunter Creek canyon (see “A Sandstone Kind of Life”) for a dip in the creek. The next day I followed them up to Salt Lake City to hang out for a couple more days while they were in town. It was all for the better because it gave me an excuse to spend more time with my college friend who lives in SLC. I stayed with him for about a week. It’s really refreshing to catch a glimpse of one of your best friend’s new life in a new city (he’s been in SLC for a year now) and learn that he’s truly happy. Naturally, I had a great time with him; we even spent one night playing Risk with his two roommates!

Once I left Utah to travel north via the western edge of Wyoming, I realized that this road trip has really made me crave routine. And not just any routine; it has to be a routine over which I have administrative power. It sounds kind of surprising that a craving from routine has stemmed from a road trip with no plan, no responsibilities; but I realized that I indeed have been keeping a general schedule while on the road. Or, at the very least, I have been solely responsible for making decisions for my daily activities this past 4 months. (I’ve tried following Tobii’s lead, but that day consisted mainly of chasing prairie dogs, napping and skipping lunch.) Anyway, the point of all this is to say that I had tons of fun in Salt Lake City, but once I hit that open road once again I felt a surge of elation, understanding that I was once again on my own schedule.

My schedule was not, however, open ended. I arranged to work a landscaping job in Bozeman, MT that would start May 18 so I had to get there by that date. With that in mind, my first stop in Wyoming was Fossil Butte: the most abundant and well-preserved marine-life fossils from the Eocene Epoch found anywhere in the world! Incredible, I know! In all honesty though, it was amazing. The hike I did led me to the original fossil quarry where you can still-after throngs of tourists visiting-easily find broken shards of limestone that hold perfectly preserved fish and insect fossils. And the visitor center had some crazy fossils, including a fish that clearly died while choking on another fish that was too big to swallow.  It was a great safari day for Tobii and me also. I saw a family of pronghorn antelope (the second-fastest land mammal on Earth), a kestrel swoop down to kill its prey, and Tobii had an unlimited supply of cottontails to chase back into their burrows.

Moving on, I stopped in the Wind River Range for a hike. Definitely one of the most gorgeous hikes I’ve ever been on. It circled around a lake until the stream that feeds the lake blocked the path. I then followed that stream for a few more miles. I ended up turning back because I ran into this slow-talkin’, moccasin-wearin’, crazy-eyed yokel who looked like he has been living in those woods for 40 years. If I had to compare him to anyone, it would be Peter Pettigrew; when he’s in full-rat form. Anyway, he told me that just a couple hundred yards ahead he spotted very fresh bear tracks. I was not one to test his knowledge of these woods, so I turned back also. I literally spent all day in those woods; there was no rocky outcropping or tributary creek that didn’t look enticing enough to explore off-trail for a bit. Wyoming is beautiful. I know I said that about Utah, but I can say it about Wyoming too, right? There are fast-running creeks bisecting the low grasslands where ranchers let their cattle graze. Surrounding these wet prairies are rolling hills covered in grass and sagebrush – a nice green addition to the strictly sand and sagebrush Colorado Plateau. These hills then give way to dense pine forests, which all seem to eventually submit to the towering precipices of sheer snow-capped rock.

I finally made it to Bozeman after ambling through Wyoming for a few days. My first night in town I caught a bluegrass band playing at a bar. While there, I met a group of French road-trippers who invited me to hot springs an hour outside of town the next day. I obliged of course and had a great weekend with them deciphering their broken English. It’s always fun being the only American in a group of foreigners who are visiting and enjoying themselves. It makes me feel proud to be an American, which I normally think is a feeling designated strictly for country music singers. One of them even said that she assumed she wouldn’t like the US before this trip, but now she has seen that it is such a beautiful country and there are actually really nice, hospitable people here.

I’m now a working-man. I started working a landscaping job in Bozeman on Monday and I’m loving it. It’s by far the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had, but at the end of the day I feel so accomplished. Jobs like these, that have visual projects to complete, let you really track your progress. It just feels really good to spend all day digging trenches, laying irrigation pipes, and burying it all back up again. You can look back at the end of the day and literally see everything you did. How do I plan to live out of my van in Bozeman for one month, you ask? Well, I just so happened to scope out the perfect set-up: I joined the local climbing gym, which allows me to access their WiFi anytime I want and to take showers any time I want – not to mention I can climb and do yoga there too. So I bought my own lock and hijacked one of their lockers to put all of my toiletries in. As for a place to sleep, there’s a part of town that has all these new housing developments, including some areas that are still undeveloped or underr construction. In this area I found a small spur road off the main road that dead-ends into a big park (dog-friendly, of course). The closest house is about a quarter-mile so I figured I’m not bothering anybody if I just park my van there overnight. And finally, there is a 24-hour rest stop with bathrooms halfway between where I sleep and where I work, so I can easily stop there on my way to work if need be. Flawless!

Wind River Range hike
Wind River Range hike
Gnarly tree overlooking Half Moon Lake, Wind River Range.
Gnarly tree overlooking Half Moon Lake, Wind River Range.
Osprey in his nest.
Osprey in his nest.
Ground squirrel making sure Tobii doesn't eat him.
Ground squirrel making sure Tobii doesn’t eat him.
Lake in the Wind River Range. Those are the Tetons at the horizon.
Lake in the Wind River Range. Those are the Tetons at the horizon.
Sunrise near Moab
Sunrise near Moab

A Sandstone Kind of Life

Utah is beautiful.

Sandstone takes multiple different forms, depending on how the grains were originally deposited and subsequently eroded. Utah doesn’t just contain all these different forms; it puts them all on a pedestal – the “Sandstone Showroom State.” That’s what it should say on the license plates.

I’m in Moab now, but I spent 2 weeks in Joe’s Valley prior to driving down here. If you couldn’t tell already, this post is mostly going to be about rocks and rock climbing. Joe’s Valley is a world-class bouldering destination in central Utah’s coal mining country (Carbon County is close by). The landscape is thus: 20 minutes northwest of Orangeville, UT, the two forks of Cottonwood Creek flow downhill cutting two narrow and fairly steep valleys. These two valleys are littered with thousands of boulders that have ripped loose from their ancient cliff dwellings and tumbled down as far as gravity and inertia would take them. What you are left with is a climber’s playground of boulders of all different shapes and sizes, and almost all having that iconic Joe’s Valley black and white streaks. Here are some pictures to get yourself acquainted.DSCF0512 DSCF0507

Awesome, right?? My first three days there were spent with my two friends, Nick and Karthik. Nick flew into Salt Lake City-where Karthik lives-and the three of us caravan’d south to Joe’s. This was my third time travelling to Joe’s with these two guys and the same collective hysteria of psyche came over us. We took turns working on classics we wanted do and all the while were cheering each other on. The excitement of the day carried over into the night as we passed the whiskey bottle around the huge campfires we made (maybe a little too big…). Our last day together we explored boulders that have yet to be climbed on (or at least if someone did, they didn’t put any evidence up on social media) and found a beautiful boulder in the shape of South America that was really solid (meaning, a hold won’t crumble in your hands as you pull hard on it – something to look out for while climbing sandstone). After scoping out a line and working the moves, Nick and Karthik both climbed this boulder – the first people to ever do so (we’re pretty sure). The process of finding a line that is climbable is really remarkable. The fact that there’s this boulder out there that just so happened to have eroded in such a way that a human being can contort his body and strain his muscles to climb up it. And that we happened upon it in it’s long geological lifespan at just the right time so that all the conditions are right. That’s really mind-blowing to me.

Once Nick and Karthik left I spent the next four days resting. It was a much needed respite for my fingers, which were peeling and bleeding at this point. The highlight of this rest period came, not surprisingly, while spending a Friday night in the only bar in town. I was quickly invited to play pool with this guy who just retired from 37 years working in the coal mine – that day was his last day. Needless to say, he was drunk, his friends were drunk, and soon enough I was drunk. Wade was his name, and he was quite a presence. Big and burly in appearance, he was so welcoming and warm at heart. He did, however, regale me with stories of fights he’s won and lost in that very bar when he was younger. But he’s a family man now, and is looking forward to his retirement to spend every day with his grandkids.

Karthik joined me again for another day of climbing, and then I met a group of Canadians who were climbing there for about a month. Instead of climbing by myself the next three days, they invited me to join their group and it was the best decision I ever made. The four of them truly adopted me into their group, letting me join their campfires and campsite. It was great climbing with them because they were more at my level so we could work on problems together, all the while getting each other psyched up. As a personal accomplishment, I sent my first V5 boulder problem (grading system increasing in difficulty with V16 being the hardest grade ever climbed so far). It was the hardest I’ve ever strained my body to get up something and the feeling once I was at the top was pure elation. All of that adrenaline let itself out in a whole-body holler. I’m still replaying each move in my mind.

After saying goodbye to my new Canadian friends, I drove down to Arches National Park. As I knew already, national parks are not dog friendly, so I was forced to tour the park like those old farts in their RVs: drive to a pull out, step outside, take a picture, get back in the car and repeat. The rock formations were truly breathtaking. I learned about the process that took place for all these arches to form, and it made their beauty all the more real. I highly recommend looking up this process and how it happened specifically in Arches National Park. Yet I felt like I couldn’t really get everything out of them unless I can hike around them, be in their presence. So I quickly drove to BLM land outside of Moab to look for dog-friendly hikes. Lo and behold, I spent a whole day exploring Hunter Creek Canyon and it was awe-inspiring. The canyon walls twisted and turned mimicking the creek that bisected its center. It was a hot day so Tobii and I jumped in a couple pools to cool off. There was even an arch of sandstone high up on one of the canyon walls! Who needs the national park, anyway?!

So I’ll be in Moab for maybe one more day before I head west to check out more of southern Utah. Although I’ve been toying with the idea of cutting north early to meet up with the Canadians and climb some more….

Camp Site
Camp Site
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Me on The Angler
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Arches NP
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Arches NP
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Arches NP
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Arches NP
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Hunter Creek Canyon
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Hunter Creek Canyon
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Hunter Creek Canyon
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Swimming hole at Hunter Creek Canyon

The Great Northwest Push, 2015

From Portland, my next destination was the Olympic Peninsula. On the way, however, I stopped in Astoria, OR. I really liked it there. It’s a blue collar town (logging and fishing are the two main industries), but still has nice cafes, restaurants, book stores, etc; everyone says “hello” while walking down the street; they have a couple microbreweries; beautiful vistas overlooking the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean; and there’s history there too! (The Lewis and Clark expedition ended there.) Plus, if you need a big city, just drive a couple hours to Portland. One of my desires for this road trip was to explore towns across the country. I’ve become quite adept at taking in all the people, the landscape, the economy, the general feel of a town, and extrapolating all that to get a pretty good sense of what it would be like to live there. I tend to do this everywhere I go; to really imagine myself as a long-term resident in all of the places I encounter. I suppose I’m still searching for a place I can turn that imagination into a reality.

But for now, I forge ahead because there is still so much more to see!

That night I slept in an amazing campsite on Willapa Bay, WA to witness my first sunset in the state of Washington. I was the only one there so I got to know the campground host couple pretty well; especially after I had to ask him to winch my van out of a patch of wet moss I got myself stuck in – damn 2-wheel drive…

The next day I drove north and it was obvious once I entered the Olympic Peninsula: all the grass turned into ferns, all the cows turned into giant red cedars, and all the sun turned into buckets of rain. Lots and lots of rain. But, the temperate rainforests wouldn’t exist without all that rain; and after getting into them to go on a few hikes over a few days, I was praising the rain with all my soul. Every plant and mineral are soaked with moisture and dripping with moss. The only reason the birds and animals within the rainforest aren’t covered in moss is that they move just a bit too fast. The sheer mass of life in those forests sent shockwaves of energy through me so at one point I found myself running along the trail, through the mud with Tobii in tow.

My last night in the area, I went to a bar in the small town of Forks, WA. I was first just talking with the bartender and a couple fly fishing guides sitting next to me, but once the Friday night crowd started coming in I was invited by a father/son duo to play pool. The son worked at a local pizza place, but the father made a living collecting ferns from the forest and selling them to floral arrangement businesses. He explained funerals have the highest demand for his services, and began regaling me with tales of “ferns that grew to have twenty fronds on one plant!” As the night went on I met more and more of the local Forksians: everyone knew each other since grade school and almost everyone worked in logging. It turned out to be a great night where even a bar fight broke out.

I pressed on to Seattle, but as I rounded around Mt. Olympus’s north side, the weather miraculously cleared and I was able to see the enormous peak that causes all the rain to fall on its western flanks and hardly any on its east. I took the ferry to Seattle and, thanks to my wonderful parents (love you!), I checked into a dog-friendly La Quinta in Seattle. Van-life isn’t really well-suited for visiting large cities: there’s nowhere to park, let alone sleep in your parked car. So I was very thankful to have a hotel while touring Seattle. I had a great time being a tourist at Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. The architecture was very modern and I was really impressed by the urban landscaping of the city: lots of small public spaces with fountains between skyscrapers.

After a couple days in Seattle, I drove into Canada to tour Vancouver. I had some trouble at the border because apparently it looks quite suspicious trying to cross into another country when you are living out of your van and have no address or job to go back to in your own country. Who woulda thunk it? After grilling me with questions and searching my van, the border patrolman let me pass, but made sure to tell me that he does have grounds to deny my entry. I cruised on through to Vancouver around 5pm and drove around for an hour or so trying to find a good place to call home for a couple nights. I found it in the more residential southern part of the city in a park called Locarno Beach. This city is absolutely beautiful. The downtown is very densely packed into this little peninsula while enormous white-capped mountains surround the city’s north and east. I probably saw about ten bald eagles during the two days I spent there and the sunsets were always magnificent. I never actually ventured into the downtown area; I spent my time walking around UBC campus, jogging in the Pacific Spirit Regional Park, and visiting UBC’s Museum of Anthropology. It focused on the native people’s cultures of that area and I attended a story-telling hour where an Inuit man told stories of his childhood growing up in the Arctic Circle and ancient Inuit folklore. He was the most captivating storyteller I’ve ever heard in my life.

I had exactly three days to meet my friends in Salt Lake City. It was a gorgeous drive: crossing the Canadian Cascade mountains, dipping into eastern Washington, having lunch with a friend I haven’t seen since college, seeing more stars than I’ve ever seen while sleeping outside a cattle ranch in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, and then finally driving down the Wasatch range into Salt Lake. It was quite a long drive, however, so I’m glad to be settled in Joe’s Valley Utah for a couple weeks of climbing. I’ve already climbed the past three days with my two friends, but I’ll cover that in my next blog entry.

Olympic Peninsula temperate rainforest
Olympic Peninsula temperate rainforest
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Taking the ferry into Seattle
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Bald Eagles with Vancouver in background
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A new nap position
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Canadian Cascade Mts.
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The Snake River cutting through southern Idaho

From the Rogue to the Columbia

Every time I sit down to write another blog post, I feel overwhelmed with just how much I did and saw since the last blog post. Consequently, I leave out quite a bit with each blog post, leaving the juicy stuff for my own personal journal. This time, however, I’m going to attempt to include everything I’ve done since my hike along the Rogue River (March 25th). Here we go!

After hiking the Rogue River, I began making my way up the Oregon coast for a couple hours before finding a place to dock my rig for an overnight stay (this night it was in a turnout on a stretch of road with no houses). The next day was a long haul to Eugene. Tobii and I stopped in a couple coastal towns to stretch all 6 of our legs and make some lunch. Heading east from Reedsport, we took route 38 inland. It was a beautiful drive following the Umpqua River. I am still new to these vast rivers in the West, so I was in high spirits the whole drive. I finally arrived in Eugene to hang out with my two friends for the weekend. It was amazing to see them before they move to Norway to finish their PhD’s in neuroscience…yes, they are both quite smart. We lived the Eugene life the weekend I was there: went for a hike, ate at some amazing restaurants, went wine tasting, rode our bikes around OU campus and slugged whiskey in the van between walking to dive bars. It was a super fun weekend and I learned that Tobii seems to get confused about his feelings toward people depending on the context (either in his van or not).

After parting ways with my dear friends, I took the whole day driving to Bend. Oregon is just lousy with gorgeous stretches of driving: the 2.5 hour drive took me through wine country, thick ponderosa pine forest, past snow-capped mountains and finally into high-elevation desert. I was blown away by how different the landscape of Oregon gets. Just two hours ago I was in lush, green, wet Eugene; and then I arrived in dry, sunny, sage brush-y Bend. My real destination in this part of Oregon was Smith Rock – a rock climber’s mecca – but my dad got me in touch with the daughter of a golf pro in Oregon (he’s a schmoozer) so I decided to give her a call and see if she could give some cool places to go and see while not climbing. I drove straight to her place and she immediately invited me to join her to a weekly potluck her friends have. I instantly and so easily connected with everyone there (I later learned most of them were east-coasters…figures) that I knew I would be back in Bend after I went climbing. But first things first! I drove to Smith Rock the next morning (it’s just 30 minutes outside Bend!) and climbed for the next three days. I met some guy who was also on a road trip by himself so we climbed and hung out for the next three days. The climbing was insane! The scale of the place was breathtaking (see photos) and the weather was out of control. One day, it actually hailed on me while I was climbing shirtless because it was so hot just 5 minutes before. It had been a while since I sport-climbed so it was a good re-introduction into the head game that is leading. Especially at Smith Rock where the routes are a bit runout and the first bolt is pretty high. I’d say my favorite climb was this 5.10c called 9 gallon buckets: it starts by jungle-gyming through huge huecos and then finishing on super-thin pockets and a really sketchy move out left above a bolt. (Sorry, I had to nerd out on climbing real quick there.) My belay partner was super nice and let me use his RV to cook dinner and stay warm. He was on a 6 month road trip in the US after living in Hong Kong for a couple years, and it sounded like he was finally going to settle in Bend.

After three days of climbing, my finger tips were telling me I needed to take a break. My gracious host in Bend and her boyfriend hooked me up from head to toe with snowboard gear, snowboard and a discounted pass to Mt. Bachelor. I went with the boyfriend and a few of his friends and had an unbelievable day on the slopes. Although a drought year overall, they just received some good powder the night before. Rock climbing one day, snowboarding the next??; can’t get any better than that! I decided to stay the weekend because I was having so much fun with these guys. I explored the town and attended a birthday party. Bend was the first place I’ve hit so far on my road trip that I could most definitely see myself moving to some day.

Even though I could have stayed in Bend for a while longer (mostly to climb more), it was time to mosey. Per my uncle’s suggestion, my next destination was the John Day Fossil Beds. Thanks Uncle Paul! The fossil center and all of the plaques along the trails met all of my geology/paleontology needs. The current beauty of the area was made even more beautiful by knowing exactly how it got so beautiful. The next day I took my time driving from the fossil beds to Hood River, OR. Again…wow! Route 19 between Kimberly and Arlington was the Oak Creek Canyon of Oregon. The drive from the high desert to the Columbia River gorge made me really feel like I was in America. There were ranches framed by large mountains and rolling hills; there were cowboy hats and friendly roadside diners. Then of course, the Columbia River gorge was breathtaking. If anyone has never been there, please do. I seemed to have visit Oregon at the right time because the whole state was hemorrhaging water from all cracks and valleys. The waterfalls crashing into the Columbia River were in full force. All that water flowing in, no wonder the Columbia River is so massive. Hood River was a really cool town. Tobii and I parked the car and walked around, getting a feel for the place. He seemed to enjoy his time there; there were plenty of nice bushes to pee on. After cooking my dinner out of the van, I walked into a local brewery and just so happened to sit next to the co-founder. He recommended me their best beer and gave me a slice of their pizza, WHICH, I might add, says right there on the menu that they adopted their brick oven cooking technique from New Haven. Not New York; New Haven!

So then, I drove the rest of the way to Portland, got lunch with one of the guys I met in Bend who was visiting from Portland, and here I am now. Later that day I took a walking tour that focused on the seedy past of the city. Today I spent 4 hours walking through Forest Park and the arboretum; both were amazing.

And there it is. Everything worth writing (and appropriate for writing) that I’ve done since the Rogue River. To learn more about my deeper experience while living life on the road, you’ll just have to give me a call!

Straight Chillin'
Straight Chillin’
Smith Rock
Smith Rock
Smith Rock, Morning Glory Wall
Smith Rock, Morning Glory Wall
Highlining in Smith Rock (not for me!)
Highlining in Smith Rock (not for me!)
John Day Fossil Beds
John Day Fossil Beds
John Day Fossil Beds (It's hard to tell, but that rock was an eerie blue/green/grey)
John Day Fossil Beds (It’s hard to tell, but that rock was an eerie blue/green/grey)
Splashin' in the Columbia
Splashin’ in the Columbia
Columbia River GORGE-ous!
Columbia River GORGE-ous!
Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge
Horsetail Falls, Columbia River Gorge
Tobii stickin' his nose WAY in there
Tobii stickin’ his nose WAY in there