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Friday, 18 October 2013

On the Road Again, Part 2 - West Is Best

After a week of hiking all around the amazing red landscape of Utah, it was time to change gears. The west coast sprinkled a little bit of moisture on my dry face and added some colour to my red palette. I gave myself up to vulnerability and spontaneity, trademarks of my holistic approach when I was backpacking through Europe.
Words of wisdom - bench, Eugene, OR
After a 10 hour drive, blistering through the Nevada desert at the legal speed limit of 80 mph (128 km/hr), I arrived just outside of San Francisco. I was welcomed in Oakland by my friend, Courtney, who I met in Berlin in March, and with a hearty home cooked meal.

For the subsequent few nights in the Bay Area I found, through Couchsurfing, a six-person commune in which lived a nudist, and at the time hosted five Couchsurfers. Interesting place, to say the least.
Gogol Bordello at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Golden State Warriors NBA preseason game, Oakland
All too soon, it was time to leave San Fran, and so I wound my way up the scenic Pacific Coast of California. Car sleeping on a highway turnout by the ocean, I let the waves lull me to sleep.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg - glass beads made from landfill bottles worn down by the ocean 
The following morning, finally, I arrived in the state of Oregon, which I had been yearning to visit since an unlikely encounter with a very interesting person from here, who I met while traveling through Italy last October. In maybe the hippiest city in North America, Eugene, I had an unforgettable time, fitting in snugly with the strong culture of bike lovers, vegans, backyard farmers, and craft beer swiggers.
Gate at a collective house made from old bicycle parts
Upon leaving Eugene, I shot back towards the Pacific coast to awe at the mighty yet steadying presence of ocean waves crashing into jagged rocks, towering cliffs, and beige beaches.
Seal Rock Beach, Newport, Oregon
And then there was Portland. What I really came to the west coast to see: Portland is a larger and more well known version of sleepy Eugene; it is the self-proclaimed bicycle capital of North America, rejecting highway building since the 80's; its slogan is "Keep Portland Weird" and it is home of the unsurprisingly weird show Portlandia, which is a pretty good indication of what it's like to live there.
Portland Farmer's Market - high standards and integrity market offering great local food 
Portland has been in my dreams since the idea of it first planted itself in my brain and it was exciting to finally be there in person. Not only that, but I arrived on the weekend where the city comes alive, and found the perfect Couchsurfing host, Ben, who took me on a day trip along the Columbia River gorge with its myriad waterfalls.
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
I left Oregon with such a favourable impression that I think I will live here someday. It is the true epitomy of the cultural and natural mosaic of the west coast.

After a quick stop in Seattle's Georgetown neighbourhood, I rounded out my trip by spending 4 days in Vancouver, visiting my best friend, Henry, before he departs on his sabbatical of self-discovery in India. As per usual, our conversations were what bonded us; we continue to philosophically challenge each other with our differing perspectives in life.

Going for a run in Stanley Park, Vancouver
Over the course of 3 weeks, my faithful Toyota Yaris took me 6,500 km around the western United States and back on just $420 of gas. But I also gained kilometres of experience and wisdom.

This trip reaffirmed my desire for the purest form of travel - staying in hostels or with Couchsurfers to get the local perspective, and walking or biking around a city to get a feel for its character. While nature stunned me and culture impressed me, what defined the trip were the inspiring people I met and the amazing conversations I had.
While driving is nice, it's always nicer getting around a new city by bike!
Especially bike friendly cities like San Francisco, Eugene, Portland and Vancouver.
The one big difference in this trip with my Europe travels was that I drove the whole time. While having that freedom was really nice, there is something about taking buses and trains that I missed. Something about having that large expanse of time to fill how you like - by watching the landscape roll by, reading, or writing in a journal. Oh, and also not having to deal with traffic in big cities!

My recent experience has also helped to redraw the North American borders in my mind. Sorry Toronto: in North America, west is best.
Mt Hood reminds Portland of how powerful and timeless nature is
Because while oceans calm us, mountains alter us - they ground us, humble us, make us forget about life's insignificant problems and remember how simple and happy it can be; they can make us bow down with respect and love for nature in all its beauty.

Flickr link:

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

On The Road Again, Part 1 - 127 Hours in Utah

With 10 months of backpacking still freshly imprinted on my memory, my vacation meter seemed filled up, if not still bubbling over the top. I was perfectly content to continue reestablishing roots in Calgary.

This doesn't explain why I suddenly embarked on a 3 week road trip, looping down the western United States and up to Vancouver, my current location. The explanation is not in the brain but in the heart: my heart is fueled by adrenaline, beats to the rhythm of new footsteps, pumps with spontaneity and fills the arteries with a vigor for life and new experiences.
Quick pit stop in Butte, Montana - discovered she's a beaut 
A few opportunities came together, and so on the last Friday of September I found myself driving out of town, south for the border. Past the prairies of Alberta and Montana I sped, eventually into darkness. After car sleeping, I woke up to pretty rolling hills smiling down at me, renewing my vigor. I drove on through Montana's better half, past Idaho's lava rocks, and braved Salt Lake City's rush hour traffic.
Three and a half men - in a condo in Moab, Utah
Finally, after 18 hours on the long road, I arrived in Moab, Utah, joining three guys each around 60 years old, already asleep in our rented townhouse, preparing for the upcoming physically demanding week.

Utah is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world. Its rock formations are like nothing I have ever seen. The morning after our first sleep we tackled the Negro Bill Trail which took us to the Morning Glory Natural Bridge, then later on hiked up another trail to see the Corona Arch.
Morning Glory Natural Bridge - tough to see, but it actually
stands on its own, separate from the large wall behind it
Corona Arch - tallest of all the arches in Utah
On Day 2 we checked out one of the slot canyons, made famous by the movie 127 Hours, Wild Horse Canyon. Later on, we dropped in on the goblins (though more mushroom-like in my opinion) of Goblin Valley State Park.
In the slot canyon, wading through knee high muddy water
Goblin Valley State Park
On Day 3 we decided to tackle Mt. Peale, the second highest summit in Utah, nearly 13,000 ft, offering us an escape from the low heat into chilling alpine winds and breathtaking views of fall colours and vast expanses of desert red rock in the distance.
12,700 ft above sea level, it's a long way down from Mt. Peale
On Day 4 we awoke to an impotent US government and locked gates at our most anticipated attractions - Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Undeterred, we found a wonderful alternative - one of the most impressive and imposing rock formations I'd ever seen, Fisher Towers.
Fisher Towers - jutting slivers of rock that are truly unbelievable
Looking straight up, we saw rock climbers taking on one of the many steep tower's faces
On Day 5 we went to Dead Horse Point State Park, with views down to the valley floor, breathtaking, and into the distance, endless.
The view of the famous bend in the Colorado River, and a big pointy rock
It's a good day to be alive
Moab is the self proclaimed mountain biking mecca of the world. After 5 days of amazing hiking, I decided to take on the famous Slickrock Trail.
Taking a break from a grueling 3.5 hour teeth-grinding mountain biking trail
Some mountain biking enthusiasts rumbling down the steep hills of Slickrock
Despite the national parks being closed as a result of the greatest blunder of democracy, and being stuck in a house with 3 old guys, I was still able to experience some breathtaking places unrestricted by quasi-martial law. Over 6 days, I hiked around 60 km, gained nearly 2 km of elevation and got my tail kicked mountain biking. I left Moab drained but feeling fantastic.

And on the drive out of Utah, I managed to dip my feet into the Great Salt Lake, then take my car off the highway onto the salt flats, which stretch into the jagged horizon.
Just off the interstate, salt flats seem to go on forever and ever. And ever
The west coast is up next, and it's time to trade in the comforts of a townhouse for my old school ways of hostels and Couchsurfing. The road will take me from the dry heat of magnificent red rocky deserts into wet and wondrous blue coastlines, snow capped grand vistas of volcanoes and vibrant cities teeming with down-to-earth people in the hip west.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

The rest of my Utah photos can be seen here: