Monday, December 27, 2010

Treehouse, California

“I’ve missed you, Dead Man’s Curve!” Honk, Honk, HOOOOOOOOONK. “YEEAAAHHHH Sundown Falls,” we shout as we whip around sharp curves along the Kern Canyon. I’m sure all other drivers think we’re smoking crack, which makes us yell louder and honk longer. We drive to the guide house first, a flop house where most guides hang their hats (and kayaks) for the summer. Finding only empty PBR cans and random pieces of clothing strewn about, we peel out to look for friends at a notorious hangout, our boathouse. We pull up as two friends sand brand new, wooden boxes for our overnight camp while several others stand around in board shorts, drinking Busch Light. “Welcome home,” I say to myself, face beaming. We knock back a few stouts at the Kern River Brewing Company, my summertime home away from tree-home and I’m thrilled because tomorrow I get to move in!

A staircase leads to a room 12 feet above the ground, with skylights, tree branches shooting through the floor and ceiling, a balcony with a sliding glass door, wi-fi, electricity and many, many spider webs. My immediate reaction to having spiders as roommates is unnerving, but realizing that it’s bad karma and downright rude to destroy every home they’ve built over the years, I spend a good fifteen minutes deliberating which webs to leave intact. One that’s stretched perfectly in the crux of branches near the ceiling, two cozily tucked between rafters and The Plaza of spider webs are the chosen few. “Time to shack-up, dudes,” I whisper.

I hang lamps from the backpack suspended between tree limbs, arrange my books and clothes, makeshift a desk from a sawhorse and sweep my balcony, all the while singing along to Patty Griffin and Imogen Heap. My landlords, Emma, age 12 and Megan, age 10, have already done some sweeping and de-cluttering to make my transition from convertible to treehouse flawless. They continue to help throughout the day by fetching extension cords, sweeping small piles of dirt but most importantly, keeping me company in my new home. At the end of the day I say goodnight to the girls, pour a glass of wine from a glorious $6 bottle, lay back on my air mattress and admire my cozy home, spiders and all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Over The Hoover

Leaving the Grand Canyon is only exciting because after we experience the Hoover Dam, we’re heading straight to the Kern River where we work as whitewater rafting guides in the summer time.

We enter the Hoover Dam via a 5 mph zone crawling with officials scanning vehicles for bombs, illegal immigrants, errant agricultural items and God knows what else. I’m finding it comical that our officer is paying special attention to us, as if beneath our yoga mats we’ve concealed ten kilos of cocaine and three Mexican slaves. After a benign drilling by the pudgy man, he lets us through with a crooked smile and we speed up ever so slightly toward the parking lot before shooting a ridiculous amount of photos. I remember visiting the Dam as a little girl and seeing it as a man-made miracle, genius really. However, as an adult I have adopted a more environmentally motivated perspective, and while the massive amount of concrete alone is astounding, I can’t help but wonder what incredible pieces of canyon we have swallowed beneath Lake Mead.

Crossing into Nevada, our 19th state, we decide to circumnavigate Vegas and keep a quick clip directly to the Kern, stopping only for pee breaks. I am ready to be in my tree house (OMG!!!) and Bridget is anxious to see Matt. As we have been nearing the end of our trip, despite my desire to be a sponge for each experience, I have been needing stillness. This road trip has been challenging my communicative ability as well teaching me humility. Given the amount of time we have been on the road, it isn’t surprising that annoyances occur on an hourly basis, reciprocally. But what am I going to do? Hike out? Give up? Take a bus? The small things that occasionally annoy me (and there are probably double the amount that annoy Brij) are inconsequential in comparison to the stake I have in our friendship. When I find myself quieting the petulant child in my head, I simultaneously delve into a deeper level of friendship with this free-spirit in the driver’s seat.

... And It Opened Up My Eyes

Some of the better signs had to be documented....
(click on the photo to enlarge)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Canyon Marvels: Bryce, Zion, and Grand

After waking to chatty tourists snapping cameras around us, we blast the heat on our way to the trailhead, still wearing our sleeping bags. Bryce Canyon National Park boasts complex formations called hoodoos. They are created by the freezing, melting and refreezing of snow and ice on limestone-covered sandstone rock. They are mesmerizing. Ab-so-lute-ly mesmerizing. We must have at least 150 photos of Bryce alone because each time I capture a view ten more follow requiring immediate finger-triggering. We hike into the canyon, the crispness of pines permeate the air. Being at a higher elevation, there are smatterings of snow still visible between the hoodoos, and of course the cool temperatures make for a nicer hike.

Zion National Park is beckoning and being only a little over an hour away from Bryce, we zoom over to get a free campsite for the night. These treasures are all over the U.S. but they’re tucked away and travelers must know whom to ask. Independent, local coffee shop baristas are usually a wealth of information about life off-the-grid. We splurge on a bottle of red zinfandel to drink by the Virgin River while dialoguing the many gifts we’re grateful for, our sentiments intensifying the closer the bottle comes to empty. The next day, Bridget ventures into the red cliffs of Zion for hiking bliss while I zen-out at CafĂ© Soleil working on this blog. We each have only till noon to do our own thing since we want to make it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon by nightfall… or midnight.

Our late night arrival to the Grand Canyon National Park with the temperature pushing 30, we opt to spend another night in the car instead of entering our not-so-united states of irritability. Upon waking, we choose a hike for the day and begin our descent into the crevasse of billions of years of geologic history written into layers of rock. My most humbling experience on this trip is hiking back up to the South Rim after a two-hour walk down. I consume the wonder with every step. Each plant demands my respect while the defined layers of evolution in the rock whisper that I have much to learn. Although the man-made stairs continue to revert my focus to the task at hand, returning to civilization is not my priority. Incredible, breathtaking, spectacular and magnificent all combined together and intensified to their greatest degree of splendor, can still not adequately describe the glory that is the Grand Canyon.

National Park-ing Day

Our day, beginning with the Arches argument, is packed with multiple National Parks spanning from Utah to Colorado to Arizona and back to Utah. A banquette of canyon blanketed with cacti and sagebrush ushers us to Mesa Verde National Park where we commune with ruins the Anasazi left behind in their mysterious disappearance 700 years ago. We lunch on our staple wrap of avocado, cilantro, spinach, hummus, and cucumber as the wind whips our faces on a cliff overlooking the four surrounding states, though we can’t decipher where one begins and another ends.

It’s just a short drive to Four Corners National Monument where we find a “closed” sign. Since there’s controversy over whether the monument is actually on the four corners, we figure our presence counts. Just for good measure we perform headstands for the other disappointed travelers and flip off the gated institution for wasting our gas. We peel out, meeting more high winds that attempt to rob us of valuables from the backseat as offerings to the desert gods. I unbuckle to adjust the load in perfect time for a state trooper, from which state I couldn’t tell you, to witness my heroic efforts. Anxiety ensues as his lights flash behind us, but thankfully the sweet officer takes pity on two organizationally challenged east coasters and offers us a warning.

We drive over Glen Canyon Dam, watching sand being swept into wave-patterns along the highway as we weave toward Bryce Canyon National Park. Around nine pm and 8,000 feet, we embark on a steep, winding road anticipating a campground twelve miles and 1500 vertical feet away…
Still Anticipating…
Where is that damn campground?!
It seems that the scale on Rand McNally’s Atlas is slightly off; or maybe we are just exhausted. After an hour and a half search for the fabled campground at Bryce, we bag the idea for a 30-degree-night in the convertible.

Warning: Driving Causes Emotional Carnage

It’s 5:30 am on day… oh… 40 of our road trip and we are waking to catch the rising sun peep through the Arches outside Moab, Utah.
“Can you please roll that yoga mat a little tighter,” I squeeze through my cranky lips.
The roll of Bridget’s eyes is not invisible under her head lamp patched with hot pink duct tape.
“Why is she packing the car like that? Why is this taking so long? How does she expect me to know where her things are… why should I?” I realize my emotions are hi-jacking my brain and that means one thing: I need time alone.
Departing from Windows Arches after the sun’s performance, I reveal my emotional state to Bridget.
“Yes. You do,” she replies, sparing no candor.
Now, anyone who knows me can already sense the heat of anger bursting through my body. “Abbie, you’re losing it. Don’t blow up. Calm down,” grown-up Abbie attempts to assuage child-Abbie’s tantrum.
“Bridget, when I tell you what I need, how about you just say ‘okay’ instead of telling me what YOU think I need!”
“Well, I don’t like that you take your morning grumpiness out on me,” Bridget retorts.
“Well, I don’t like that you lose your things and then ask me about them in an accusatory tone!” My eyes are growing to be the size of saucers from one of my childhood cartoons.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Bridget deflects.
“Oh, great. Well, I’ll point it out next time you do it,” I offer, ever so graciously.
“Fine. I don’t agree with you. Stop trying to get me to agree with you!!!”

We tether frustrations for a half hour, driving further into Arches National Park and trying desperately to enjoy millions-of-years-old geologic formations despite our highway-induced blowout. Let me reiterate that it’s six am, only days away from the end of a five-week-long road trip. Bridget is one of my favorite friends to fight with because both of us want it to be over as fast and healthily as possible. By eight, we are sipping Starbucks on our way to Mesa Verde, already laughing, anticipating this to be one of the funniest stories from our trip.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trivia Answers

1. What is the greatest number of parks and monuments visited in one day?
b. 4
***Arches, Mesa Verde, Four Corners and Bryce Canyon (technicality… we were on the premises)

2. Which animal(s) did we almost hit at 60 mph in Utah?
a. deer
***The thing leaped from a ditch and came within a foot from being road kill.

3. In which states did we NOT get pulled over?
e. none of the above (pulled over in all three: Alabama, Louisiana and Arizona)
***Note to all out of state drivers: be paranoid. Be very, very paranoid.

4. What is the correct number of consecutive drinking hours in Nashville?
d. 14
***Hey… at least it wasn’t 16!

5. What is the greatest stretch of days without a shower?
b. 6
***So disgusting, I know…

6. What is our favorite stretch of road?
e. all of the above
***Don’t travel on interstates… you’ll miss the country.

7. Which rivers did we almost raft? (Had gear on and ready to go…)
d. Nolichucky and Arkansas
***Stories for another day.

8. Which tree did we not see on our trip?
c. Birch
***Anyone know where to find a Birch tree?

9. What was the most unique instrument we saw being played?
e. all of the above (washtub, hand saw, washboard and accordion)

10. How many states (by the end) will we have gone through?
b. 20
***New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California. (21 if you count New York!)