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More tales from the road

It is hard to pick up from where I left off the last time I could actually sit down to write.  So much has happened, and I have been overwhelmed at the kindness and graciousness of the people I have met along the way – many of them strangers – who have helped my companions and me continue our roadtrip.

After camping the night in Missouri, we spent the day driving through Oklahoma headed towards Santa Fe.  Halfway through Oklahoma in pretty sparse country, the tire that had been repaired in Cleveland ruptured, completely destroyed.  We got AAA to send us a tow truck but it took over an hour of waiting in humid, 114 degree weather before it arrived.  And then when the driver was loading up the car, he told us the blown tire was the least of our worries, because our fuel tank was askew, the straps holding it place having completely rusted through.  One strap had snapped already.

Wonderful.  20 miles later at the tire place, the mechanics used a bit of coat hanger to hold the pieces of strap together until we could get to a real auto repair place.  Unfortunately it was already too late in the day to really look for a mechanic, not to mention we were still in the middle of nowhere.  We decided to risk driving with the fuel tank held up by a rusty strap and a coat hanger to get to Santa Fe.

As we passed through the panhandle of Texas, it was getting later in the evening and we hadn’t been able to eat dinner.  We stopped at Amarillo and decided to cook dinner on a bit of grass outside a gas station.  That alone is pretty epic, and our campstove-cooked meal was all the more delicious for the long day we’d endured.  Stopped by some auto parts stores asking about my car, and had the manager of one place look at our car himself and tell us what we needed to get.  We didn’t buy the parts there, but were thankful all the same that he’d taken the time to actually look at the car.  Ended up camping at (what we thought was) a national park near Santa Fe, but it was 1am by the time we stumbled, dead tired, onto a side road and put down our sleeping bags on a hill nearby, and we really didn’t care where we were.

Only to be awoken by repeated car honking the next morning, followed by a heavily accented voice yelling at us to get off of private propery.  Oops!  We got out of there quickly and drove the rest of the way into Santa Fe.  This was Saturday, July 11th.  Being Saturday, most auto places would be closed early, so we drove around quickly looking for autoparts stores, junkyards, and dealers.  Having gotten information from the Autozone manager the previous day about what had now become a series of car issues, we had more direction and information to help us.  At this point, we needed new fuel tank straps, a new oxygen sensor, a new spare tire, and to find out why my power steering fluid kept getting used up.

Well, to make a long, all-too lengthy story short, we found straps and a donut at a junkyard, but no mechanic to install the straps.  Figuring that we’d made it this far, we took the chance to drive all the way to Colorado Springs and find a mechanic there.

We made it, luckily, and spent the next couple of days in Colorado Springs at Guy 2’s old house, where he had to figure out how to package his belongings to get it out to Portland and stuff the rest into my car.  In the meantime, we cooked delicious meals, hung out, jammed with guitars, banjos, hand drums, and harmonicas, and played disc golf.  It was nice and relaxing to be in one place for so long and get to know the people there.  But once we’d finally gotten the car more or less fixed, I at least was ready to hit the road again.  Guy 2 still had personal belongings to package and ship, and Guy 1 had a friend in Denver he wanted to visit, so I went to Denver with him to spend the night with his friend and to give Guy 2 more time to pack.

Denver was fun and beautiful, though I was sad not to have made it to Boulder as well.  We just had no time.  It was also in Denver that I fell out of a tree.  Yes, folks, gravity works and getting down a tree is always more difficult than climbing up one.  Guy 1 and I saw this magnificent old willow tree at a park we’d gone to to hang out a bit, and neither of us could resist clambering up.  It had a perfect, practically flat nesting area from which three enormous branches reached out.  Unfortunately, while trying to get down without hitting the asphalt or the tree roots with my bare feet, I instead landed on my hip and leg on hard-packed sand.

Graceful, I know.  I limped for quite a while after that, and it still twinges now and then.

Anyway, we stopped in Colorado Springs to pick Guy 2 and his bags up, then headed to Aspen to meet up with another of Guy 1’s friends.  This one was in Aspen working tech for a science forum, and could get us in on some free receptions and an amazing hotel suite.  It was all so lavish.  I would never have expected to have been able to eat the kind of food I had and sleep at such a hotel on this trip.  The dinner reception had steak cooked to order, shrimp appetizers, and a free open bar of beer and wine.

After that surreal stop, we headed west, to the Canyonlands in Utah.  It was a spectacular stop, and we camped the night at a designated campground and woke up at 4am to hike out to an outlook for the sunrise.  I was reminded once again of why I’d fallen in love with the desert, back in high school during a summer camp spent in Arizona.  The landscape is awe-inspiring and terrifying in its vastness.  Among the canyons, you at once feel on top of the world and an impossibly tiny speck of a place so much grander and vaster than can possibly be comprehended fully.  At least, that is how I feel when I see these canyons.  Pictures do it poor justice in comparison.

After sunrise we drove to another trailhead and hiked out to another outlook.  Along the way we saw many little lizards scuttling across our paths, and Guy 1 and I both tried so hard to catch one.  I finally did on the hike back, but it quickly squirmed out of my hand and fled.

By this time our food stores had been depleted somewhat, so that our breakfast before the hike consisted of peanuts, peanut butter, limes, and fruit leathers.  So we stopped on the way to Salt Lake City at Moab to buy groceries.  There I saw a family coasting down Main Street on Segways.  Fascinating.  We got to Salt Lake City early in the afternoon, to another of Guy 1’s friend’s houses.  Guy 1’s connections provided a lot of the stops we took along the way after Chicago, giving us amazing company and a roof over our heads many a night.

One commonality I’ve noticed about the families we’ve stayed with along the way is the incredible “green-ness” of their lifestyles.  At Salt Lake City the family grew a bunch of their own food, always bought from local farmers, and had recently redone their water system to use less water.

Anyway, we attended a free concert that night, then we stopped at a hookah bar before going to bed.  I opted to sleep on the porch as it was dry and warm, but woke up with fresh mosquito bites all along my legs.  In the morning we cooked a quick breakfast, packed up, and headed out for Yellowstone!  We were all pretty excited and eager to get there, so of course we ended up blowing another tire, this time truly in the middle of nowhere in the Southeastern corner of Utah, on an unpaved road with no cell phone reception.  The donut we’d bought at the junkyard that we thought would fit my car didn’t fit, and we had no way of getting a call to AAA.

On the plus side, we’re pretty sure we saw a pair of golden eagles overhead, and then lo and behold, a car came up the road where we were stranded.  After he stopped and assessed the situation, the driver offered to take us back to his cabin not 2 miles on down the road, so that we could use his landline to call AAA.  As it turned out, he and his family were staying at a family-owned cabin for the weekend to celebrate his daughter’s birthday, so the atmosphere inside was festive and cheerful.  When we finally got through to AAA, we decided it wouldn’t make sense to get towed then, as it was late and there would be no autorepair stores open.  Instead, the family invited us to stay the night in extra rooms in the very well-equipped cabin and have the tow truck pick us up in the morning.

Throughout the evening and morning, we experienced some of the best hospitality, all from these strangers, who fed us, took us out in the evening on a drive around the area, and made us feel like old friends come back after a long trip.  I can never forget those two days, with their extreme contrast of desperate circumstance and amazing generosity.

The next couple of days continued the trend.  But first there was Yellowstone.  After finally getting the car towed, the tow driver took us back to where he is stationed, which meant a no-charge tow, and at long last we rolled into Yellowstone, only to be told it was too late to apply for a backcountry permit at 3:45pm.  We ended up camping in campgrounds between Yellowstone and the Tetons, and it worked out in the end.  The scenery is gorgeous and breathtaking, as expected.  And when we did get to a backcountry site the next day, there are thermal springs and small geysers everywhere, and a nearby cold creek for taking refreshing dips.

What we failed to realize, however, was that 1) we’d pitched our tent over an underground thermal spring, so the ground was more than toasty, and we could hear faint bubbling when we laid down to sleep; and 2) Yellowstone mosquitoes are frighteningly aggressive and numerous.  Between the three of us, we used up a can of Deep Woods bugspray that didn’t seem to faze the mosquitoes one bit.  Guy 2, damn him, seemed nonplussed as he barely got a reaction from mosquito bites, but between me and Guy1 we had over 100 bites by the time we left the Park.  I was actually in tears on the 5-mile hike out of our campsite.

Yes, it was that bad.  Imagine the air literally humming with a hundred mosquitoes.  Imagine waving your arms and hitting 10 mosquitoes with each swat.  Imagine sitting in a tent and seeing mosquitoes darkening the tent walls outside.  It was something out of a horror film.

Dear reader, it is with complete, heartfelt compassion that I say, you camp in Firehole Spring, campsite OA3, at your own risk.  I swear I was lightheaded from bloodloss by the time we left that god-awful place.

(Ok, it wasn’t all that bad, at night when it was cold the mosquitoes left us alone, and we hiked down to Shoshone Lake, which would’ve been refreshing if the sun had been out.  The geysers were wonderful.)

Anyway, having finally left, we stopped to see Old Faithful, making a quick lunch of ramen and PB&J in the parking lot while we awaited for the scheduled time for Old Faithful to blow.  This simple act of sustenance would end up setting us back a day.  We all agreed that the ramen tasted off, but ate it anyway. As we headed towards our next crashing place in Montana, I started feeling sick, and by the time we got there I just headed for the bathroom to empty my stomach.  Not having learned my lesson, I tried to join everyone for dinner as though nothing had happened and tried to eat a burger.

Yeah, that also went into the toilet.  Having decided that maybe something wasn’t quite right with my stomach, I admitted that I’m feeling queasy and can’t keep food down to the host.  His mom quickly took charge, telling me not to down anything for at least 4 hours and preparing Pedialyte and Gatorade for later.  She set up an empty bedroom for me to lie down in, and I immediately fell asleep.

Whew.  Ok, this is insanely long already, and we’re only at July 20th.  Both me and my computer need a break from this Portland heat and humidity, so I’ll try and catch up to current status a little later.  Time to jump in a bucket of ice (or something).

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Categories: travelog
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  1. July 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm

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