Saturday, May 29, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Then the next day it was all about train rides and staying out of the rain.
And now that I was finally back in action, I was getting frustrated, almost immediately, that the days I took to rest did almost nothing to relieve the pain in my feet and calves.
I do not know when I became such a monumental wuss. Library softened me like a delicious pastrified Hansel and Gretel I guess. I know that Hansel tricks the witch in the popular version of the story; but in the moron version, where the two kids eat everything in sight and the witch porks out on baby German schnizles all winter long, well that is how I feel after 11 years of working in a public library. Soft. Doughy. Atrophied muscles. Ready to stuff any old part of a life sized chocolatey gingerbread house into my face without a second thought.
I had planned to go about fifteen miles to a "town", according to Google Maps, called Bridal Veil just after Multanomah Falls where a bed and breakfast with a vacancy hopefully awaited me. The foot pain mentioned above began before I got out of Gresham. The pain added with the rain, that was dropping just enough to piss me off, would have had me in a state of misery were it not for my mood being lightened by a group of high schoolers, or college age kids, who were walking down the street ahead of me.
One of them was clowning and goofing as he walked. He had perfected a kind of Jim Carrey/Jerry Lewis half-staggering, half-falling, jelly legged/flailing armed strut. The kind where it looks like his is always about to fall on his face. His friends were cracking up and so was I.
I like that I am not so old that I can not appreciate the humor of teenagers. Although I can no loner tell the difference between college kids and high school kids, I still have some connection to the good parts of that age. Whenever I see kids being themselves and not posing, or trying to act too cool for culinary school, it is always a good sign.
I followed Tony Stark street out of town and along a high cliff looking over a river. I crossed a bridge and finally, after about three hours had reached the road I had planned on traveling along for most of the day.
As soon as I reached the byway I found Dabney Park and I stopped there for half of my sandwich. As I ate the worlds slowest grey squirrel crept up to me like a zombie, looking for a handout.
It was creepy. I had never seen a squirrel move like this. He did not have ADD-jitters or hyper spasmadic disorders like every other squirrel I have ever seen. A combination of fear and free meal expectations energized in the body of rodent with the heart rate of a hummingbird. This squirrel however, moved with a deliberate slowness. Like Snoop Dogg approaching the stage to accept an MTV best rap video award. Awwwwwwww-yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.
He moved to within three feet and stopped, looking up at me with vacant, black baby button eyes. He held his paws in an awkward way. Not like a chipmunck with both paws grasping an invisible picnic basket under his chin; he posed, braced for action like a cage fighter. One paw higher than the other, away from the body, both off center. Freaky Nosferatu half inch long claws, casting shadows in the grass. Freddy Kruger claws. Wolverine claws. This animal could star as a heel in a live action remake of Watership Down for sure.
I tossed a piece of sandwich bread over his head just to get him away from me.
He stared at me for what seemed like a minute, refusing to budge. Eventually,when he realized that I was not going to throw him a piece closer to where he currently stood, he turned around and walked over to the bread and crammed it into his cheeks.
He returned, this time hoping up onto the picnic table, coming to within a foot and a half I tried to scare him away but he only backed off a little ways when I tried to shoo him off. I decided that I would wait to eat the other half of my sandwich in peace, packed up my stuff and d got the hell away from that sinister rodent before he started to haunt my nightmares.
I used the park restroom, climbed back up to the main road through a tangle of blackberries, without getting stuck once and tried to enjoy the view of the Old Scenic Byway from the shoulder that does not exist.
To be continued...
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
For the last few days I wanted to get down to some serious walking. Before I left the hotel in Gresham, I was going to post about how the love I have gained for this blog was really slowing me down. It had become a form of digital masturbation. I am already an expert at self gratification to the extreme, so believe me when I say that thinking about what I am going to write next and getting a charge out of the comments from Youtube, Flickr, Emails, this Blog and now on a scrolling updating map that charts my path, was starting to border on the unhealthy. Alright, I will admit it, I was obsessed.
I know in my heart that not for uniqueness of this trip, which is not happening, because of all the blogging and bedmaking I have been doing, there would not be much interest in what I have to say. I took the truth of these thoughts to heart and I started a blog post stating how I was about to get back to walking and did not intend to post on the blog for a while. Which when I thought about it seemed pretentious and overkill and so much me-Me-ME all the time that I got a little bit queasy... Even for me.
So instead I just decided to head out and not worry about this blog for a few days. That it would be here when I got back. That a few days on the road would provide an excellent opportunity to have something amazing to write about and celebrate once I got back.
Instead I come to you now humbled, worn down, weakened to the core.
Aaron's trip across the country is about to undergo a drastic change. (The first change will be to stop referring to myself in the third person like a pro wrastler) I still have many things I want to share about the last few days. The things I have seen and done. The wonderful people I met, the things I have learned and loved and been frustrated by. Walking up to and peeking over the edge of quitting. One leg dangling over the jagged rocks and splashy waves of total failure below. I even told a few people that I was all done, which I regret doing now, but I think I have figured out a way to continue that actually heals my heart and gives me an opportunity to help people the way I have wanted to since this journey began.
More details coming in the next few posts.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Aaron asked me (Barbie) to post a quick post here and let you know that he's been camping along the Columbia (near The Dalles but don't him I told you) with nary a wi-fi signal in range. (Just one of many reasons for my life long camping boycott.)
He will return here as soon as he can. Please stay tuned and know that he appreciates you checking in.
In the mean time, feel free to go read this:
Or this www.lessisbliss.blogspot.com.
Take care, ~ Barbie
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Being dropped off there after my day of hitchhiking, about three hours before my train left the station, I had a chance to cruise around the city and check things out.
It is an interesting place. Lots of free trains and buses and rail cars. Some guy tried to sell me an already opened can of axe body spray for 5 bucks. I ate lunch at a place called Hillbilly Bento. They had the daily specials up on a board, one for each day of the week. When I asked the couple behind the counter what day it was I could feel them give each other the suspicious eyeball. It's a strange feeling walking around without really knowing what day of the week it is. When they told me it was Thursday I checked the board, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo over dirty rice with a side. It was pretty darn good.
The guy behind the counter asked me if I was traveling and I told him all about the trip. They were both interested and he said that he has always had a similar goal of cruising around the country and visiting all of the MLB baseball stadiums. I thought that was a sweet idea and tried to support him in his enthusiasm, but my support is often met with kind of a strange look. More on this dynamic of trying to nudge people into doing what their hearts tell them to in a later blog post.
Eventually I went back to the station, but not before I stopped off at Ground Kontrol for a couple games of pinball, and waited for the train to arrive. These kids and their playful hijinx kept me entertained for a while as I waited.
Riding back to Washington for the weekend for my second weekend of rest and relaxation with Barbie was the perfect thing. We had a great couple of days together and in all honesty, I was not really looking forward to going back to the walking thing. It is becoming hard and harder to leave when I visit her and we have made an agreement to not come back for this weekend to see how this feels. It feels like a necessity if I am going to get anywhere in any amount of time I am going to have to be away for a while. Which I am also not looking forward to. *sigh* I love you ~B~.
When I returned to Portland to resume the journey I immediately went looking for a four and a half star hostel I had found on the internet. It was a lot closer than I thought it was and I checked in to The Northwest Portland International Hostel and Guesthouse. Here is a picture that reflects exactly what it looks like from the outside.
It was a nice place and staying at a Hostel is another thing I can add to the list of things I had never done before I went on this trip. That list is starting to get looooooong.
So after checking in I was able to leave my things in my room and run around town unencumbered by my big ass backpack. I decided to have dinner at this hole in the wall pub where a pleasant surprise was waiting for me when I got inside.
Seriously, Portland is an awesome pinball town. Even if you take Ground Kontrol out of the equation, just about every bar has at least one machine. Very cool.
After Rocking Monster Bash for over an hour I walked around after my dinner of a cheese sandwich and wrench fries. I found a Tarot Salon and was totally going to go in for a professional Tarot Card reading but alas, when I called the number to set up an appointment an automated messages said that the phone # could no longer receive calls. I guess hard times have fallen on the Tarot card readers same as everyone else.
I wonder if they saw it coming?
The next day I set out with the sun shining and the weather report predicting doom and gloom. I looked out my window and could see the bikers and dog walkers of Portland out in full force. Although to be honest they seem to be out at all times day and night regardless of weather conditions.
Some fun facts about Portlanders.
- Backpacks are required. Everyone, either on foot or on a bike is sporting a backpack. Sometimes two or three. It takes me back to my freshman days at high school when I was cruising around with my pee-chee and everyone else was trending Jansport wanna-bees. Only now I am grateful because with the huge pack on my back, I fit right in.
It did not take long for the weather reports to unleash their wrath. Soon after I left the whole town turned to gray. I hopped onto a rail car while it was still in the free ride zone and got a lift over to the library just as the drops started to fall. I went inside along with all the other homeless people and tried to wait it out.
After about half an hour I grew impatient and I left the library while the rain was still falling and made my way over to the MAX light rail. I climbed aboard the blue line which, if ridden out to its completion goes all the way out to a suburb east of Portland called Gresham.
"Remember Gresham.... Yoooooou... are my number one..... Guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuyyyyyy..."
On the light rail, as the rain continued to pour outside, the train was packed with little kids. Kids are a trip. Little boys dodging cooties. Little girls playing those hundred hand slap games that are just as confusing to me now as when I was 7 years old. But as the train left the city limits and passed through suburbia the grade school class got off and enough room opened up for meadn my backpack covered in black garbage bags to have a seat.
I passed the rest of the train ride counting the stops till the end of the line, wondering what I was going to do once I got off. I wasn't really sure where I was and I did not know where I was going. I said a prayer, looking for guidence and a way forward. Slowly the train emptied its passengers until only a couple of people besides myself were left.
I am not sure why but I asked a woman if there were any hotels near the last couple of stops. She said that there was a Howard Johnson near the last stop which sounded like the nicest place I could have imagined. I asked if she could point me in the right direction and she said that it was on her way and she would show me the way. Her generosity kept me from wandering around in the rain aimlessly, searching for a dry place to crash. Yet another example of a cool person on the road who has given me a hand. For that I am very grateful.
And that is where I sit today. Dry and in the HOJO trying to decide if I should set out tomorrow morning or stay one more night. Bad weather forcasted again for the next couple days. I suppose if worse comes to worse I could let the Tarot Cards decide...
Things look pretty good from this reading. Except for that 17 of footballs Dave Krieg Card. Scares the shit out of me to try and imagine what nightmares that could possibly be eluding to...
Stay classy Portland. Peace.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
1. People love hitchhikers, they just do not seem to love picking them up. Especially young people. Young girls on the way to town or the beach smiled and waived and gave me the peace sign many times. Young men in their Honda's with their loud mufflers and booming bass speakers honked and smiled mischievously and gave me a thumbs up. I waived and smiled and returned the playful gestures each time.
2. Even on a cool day, hitching a ride is thirsty work. Maybe it was all the concrete around me, but it was hard standing in the sun, even with the rushing wind of all the cars that refused to give me a lift trying to cool me down, it was sometimes uncomfortable in the heat. When I finally reached my destination my water containers were getting very low. Makes me wonder about all those times I passed by hitchhikers on a hot summers day or in the rain or at night...
3. Hitchhiking is Fun! I had a blast. It was so cool to do this thing that I had never done before. Meeting and talking to new people I had no idea even existed. People are so interesting. They all have their own little quirks and stories to tell. After a day of hitchhiking, I think that this is probably going to be one of those ways where my "walking" journey evolves into some other kind of journey that includes hitchhiking in more regular intervals.
Stay tuned. :)
Ulysses Everett McGill: Pete, the personal rancor reflected in that remark I don't intend to dignify with comment. But I would like to address your general attitude of hopeless negativism. Consider the lilies of the damn field or... hell! Take at look at Delmar here as your paradigm of hope.
Delmar O'Donnell: Yeah, look at me.
I have picked up hitchhikers before. An accurate estimate would probably come to about ten times my whole life. And always out the Key Peninsula where I grew up. Hitchhiking is illegal in Washington but out in Longbranch and Lakebay and Home the rules have never really applied. I have, in the past, been scolded for this somewhat dubious practice. In my typically defiant ways I would blow these safety concerns away like a child playing parachutes off of a cliff with a dandelion.
Now, having experienced the other half of the equation. I do not think I will be inclined to pass by a hitchhiker on the side of the road ever again.
Not that I had a bad experience during my hitchhiking adventure. My mission was to get from St. Helens to Portland by 6:15 in the P.M. I started after I checked out from the hotel at 11. After walking the rest of the way through St. Helens when the sidewalk was about to end, I stepped of the curb and like polar bear diving on New Years day I just did it. I took the plunge. I thrust my left arm straight out, thumb skyward and began to count the cars pass me by as I trolled for a ride.
After about five minutes and 39 cars later, car number 40, a bright new candy red Pontiac Solstice two-seater convertible, being driven by a 60 year old woman, with long grey and black hair, part hippie, part Native American, part Hells Angel, Janet was her name, swooped onto the shoulder and gave me a lift. It was a peaceful, quiet ride. In Cannery Row, one of my favorite books, Steinbeck when talking about hitchhiking, explains that many people who are given a lift feel like they have to pay for it in conversation. He says that a good hitchhiker is one who knows how to enjoy the ride. It was an easy ride to enjoy. The sun was shinning. The wind was blowing in my face and through my hair with the top down in the convertible. It was too bad that she was only going to the next town over, Scappoose. And before I knew it I was back out on the side of the road again. I thanked Janet, my very first hitchhiker-picker-upper lady and decided that since the first experience was relatively easy and painless I would take a stroll through town before resuming the mission.
I just passed through but I found two cool little shops on the edge of town:
The Bread Place is basically a bread bank. The ladies there were so sweet and kind, even if they had an aversion to dust. I took a loaf of bread, left a donation, dropped off a few adventure cards and left feeling better about Scapoose. The Love Potion Shack looked like fun. Unfortunately they were closed for moving over the next couple weeks. Major bummer.
Outside of Scapoose I walked for a couple miles before sticking my arm out again. I checked the clock and it was 1:07 when I began my second attempt. I started counting cars again as before thinking that it would be as quick as the first time.
When I got to 160 I decided to stop counting.
When I had walked for about two miles with my arm out next to me, without even a sniff of a ride, I decided to stop walking.
I turned and dropped anchor at the top of a hill. With my supplies heaped at my feet it took over forty minutes for someone to stop for me. It was not a hot day, but after walking for a couple of miles, with clothes sweat-wet from the march, it can be frustrating.
The second man who stopped for me was a kind old feller named Zane. He drove and old rusty ford truck, wore a cowboy hat and jeans that were filthy as my old woodcutting pants. He is a Gideon. One of those guys whose specialty is traveling around to the hotels and handing out bibles. He was returning from making a run to the Bread Place and he had past me by going the opposite direction on the way there and decided to give me a lift on the way home. He was a little embarrassed for not having a Bible on his person so we went back to his house where he found a pocket sized copy of the New Testament. He handed it over to me saying that these little bibles are like love letters from God. I couldn't think of a more perfect a thing to say when handing out a tiny bible.
He drove me to a stoplight about a half mile down the highway where he thought I would have better luck finding a ride. We shook hands and parted ways. I took up a position on the other side of a bridge and continued on my quest.
The third ride I got was the charm. I was about thirteen miles away from Portland and after about another half hour, a man in a small blue nameless Toyota Four Door pulled over and gave me a lift. He said he was only heading into downtown Portland which was perfect. Big Jim was his name and he was a talker. He liked Boxing/Sparring at the gym, he liked sandwiches from the 7-Eleven, he had lots of opinions on places all over the country that I should visit. Big Bend in Texas. Montana. Maine and Vermont in the summertime were some of his suggestions. He talked about his criteria for picking up hitchhikers and said that I was putting out a good vibe. Good energy. I liked hearing that for sure.
He stopped at a smoke shop about ten blocks away from the train station. Pointed me in the right direction and sent me on my way. I am so grateful for all of the good souls in the world. I have not traveled very far but so far I have found that this is an amazing country we live in. I can not wait to see more of it and to continue to soak up all of the unknown and miraculous things still out there for me to see and do.
God Bless America!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
That if I do not stop every couple hours to blog, or to take pictures, or to take sandwich breaks, or to videotape every single toilet I pass along the way, I can actually make pretty good time.
I had slept closer to St. Helens than I had previously thought, about 7.5 miles and I burned through that in a couple of hours. Only stopping in Columbia City which had a cool little library sharing building space with a pizza restaurant, with these sweet non-PCL approved hours:
I followed a bike trail for two miles between Columbia City and St. Helens and when I arrived in town I was in the residential district. I moved through old town St. Helens. Classic One way streets, many privately owned businesses before I turned out onto the main thoroughfare. This was much like many of the towns in Washington. Sprawly, strip mallish, fast food restaurants, drive in coffee shops, empty storefronts and buildings for lease.
Bonney Lake, Fredrickson, South Hill.
But I did notice this sandwich sign along the sidewalk:
I stepped inside of Damma's Pastry for a baby cinnamon roll and their specialty, a Jacks Maple Bar. The ladies in the store were freindly and kind. The pastries were delicious. As I ate, another customer came in and the owner talked to her about the stores one year anniversary coming up next Wednesday 5/19. They are going to have ten percent off everything in the store and they are collecting papers, pens, pencils, crayons, chalks, anything that can be used to write or draw for the children of Afghanistan. If you are in the St. Helens area, help battle child illiteracy, which is rampant in Afghanistan. Go to Damma's bakery, pick up some supplies on the way, indulge yourself with some excellently priced and delicious baked goods and donate to a great cause.
I spent the night in St. Helens pondering the mysteries of Oregon towns named after Washington mountains, trying to figure out how I was going to travel the 28 miles to Portland so I could catch the train back to Washington to see Barbie, by 6:15 the next day.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
But I have always been word crazy...
Taking on the enviable disposition of a bridge troll has its advantages. I got to sleep out under the stars for the first time since before I was a teenager. The privacy of a railroad trestle arching over a fish ladder is calm and peaceful for the most part. And my skin began to turn a hazy shade of green as a byproduct of setting up my bed between a hillside of cats tails.
Truth be told, I did not sleep under-under the bridge. I chose the driest and softest piece of land off to the side. A matted patch of grass peppered with rocks that had been blown or knocked of the railroad tracks above. I tossed these away and placed my trash bags and extra clothes underneath my sleeping bag for as much extra padding as I could get. I climbed into the sack and munched a supper of mixed nuts and warm water as I waited for the sky to fade to black.
It was during this time, laying in bed, waiting for darkness to fall, that I started to notice little black specks moving across the top of the sleeping bag.
Ants! Ants! For Crissake ants! How is this possible?
I flicked some off, smashed others, and began to itch inside my bed.
I scanned the ground and there they were, little black bastards. Although to be honest they seemed to be minding their own business. Every once in a while one or two would find their way up onto my sleeping bag and I would dispose of them. I thought about moving down next to the river but the ground was clearly moist down there and besides I was to tired to do anything about it. Plus I had already picked what I considered the best spot. So...
After checking inside my sleeping bag to make sure the itching I felt was purely psychosomatic, I decided to tough it out right there in the middle of a horde of scurrying unsuspecting ants.
I laid on my back under the covers and tried to put the ants out of my mind. I watched the sky darken and listened to the sound of the fish ladder and the wind twisting between the branches and leaves above. The combination of the two teased my mind; contorting into sounds not dissimilar to that of sneaking human voices.
I sat up, looked around to see if my auditory hallucinations were real life people looking to torment a wandering roust-a-bout, when I noticed a large black weighty bulge on top of my sleeping bag.
Apparently, someone thought it would be amusing to invite the fucking black slugs to the party.
Jeez! I would not be not competent enough to purge slugs from a garden with a wheelbarrow full of rock salt and a bucket full of sea water. How the heck am I going to keep these things off of me and my belongings during the night? I middle-finger-paper-football-flicked the squishy invader into the bushes. Then, like before with the ants, I begin to scan the ground for more.
I see another one oozing it's way toward my back pack. Taking a nearby stick I scooped him up and set his sails fluttering down toward the river. I don't see anymore but it is becoming difficult to see anything in the approaching dark. I lay down flat and look up at the sky, searching for answers.
And I happen to catch, just in the nick of time, the Universe being born before my eyes.
First one star, then three, then twenty, then uncountable. In the increasing black the shapes of the constellations began to form. I saw one of the dippers. I saw Orion and his very fine belt. I saw Ursa something and the big W which I think either stands for Wayno or Cassiopeia. Then I saw a new Constellation, The Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future. And I swore I could feel myself travel back in time. To a place where is was not a hair under 40 degrees and I was not sitting outside in a sleeping bag, worried about being covered in black slugs and ants.
Somehow, for an undefinable about of time, in the serenity and darkness of the evening I managed to doze off for a few moments of much sought after sleep.
That is, until the train arrived.
For thirty seconds the Universe is smashed in a flash of light, the Heavens are torn in twain by the tormentuous rumblings of the Sante Fe Rail Co. The air and steel and rust hiss and growl at me like the worlds largest, angriest, most metallic mother raccoon. Afraid that the train is going to knock half fist sized rocks off of the railroad bridge and embed them into my skull, I duck my head into my sleeping bag and cover up with my arms.
Eventually the light fades. The wheels grind away on the rails. The winds of the passing steel die down. Then, as if nothing had happened, the murmur of the fish ladder returns. I pop my head out from under the covers, unscathed by imaginary flying stones. The Universe reappears and reconnects above me. The constellations having slightly repositioned themselves overhead from the reattachment.
I am about to go back to sleep, when I stick a hand out my sleeping bag and feel a dampness all around me. Dampness does not accurately describe what I felt. All over the top of my sleeping bag it felt like someone had snuck up and taken a leak all over my bed.
It did not make sense. I had seen the weather report on the T.V. during breakfast in Rainier. Sunny days till the weekend. I was thrilled because I thought it would be cool to sleep outside without having to set up the tent. Even hoping that maybe I would get a chance to jettison one of the heaviest and most cumbersome pieces of equipment in my backpack.
So what was this dampness I felt in, on, all around me?
You, genius reader, probably guessed already... Dew! Dew! Freakin' Dew. I was soaked. I had not accounted for dew. Dew. Goddamn Dew. Saturating anything that wasn't in contact with the ground. It was a real Charlie Brown moment. Good Grief! AARRRRRRGH! Rats! All rolled into one. Again I lay there and looked up the sky above as a form of inspiration and hope. For something, anything, to lift my spirits.
And in the stillness of the night, I realized that it had been about twenty years since I last slept under the stars. I forgot about the peace and quiet. The thoughts that drift by-and-by as you look for shapes and patterns. Spotting airplanes whose light patterns are shaped like the Defiant from Deep Space Nine. Commie Satellites zooming around, spying on Americans. The flash of a shooting star at the edge of your field of vision. The constant unnoticeable motion of the whole thing spinning and churning forever. The fun of creating your own constellations.
I searched the now distorted sky for my flux capacitor. It was no longer a symmetrical perfectly triangulated Mercedes medallion. Instead it was now off kilter. One end shorter than the other. An uneven lowercase 'Y' shape. If it were a stick it would be in the perfect shape of a water witch, business end pointed right at me and my soaking wet sleeping bag.
I fell asleep off and on for the rest of the night. The water and wind continued to fling hallucinations at me. Another train came and made me feel like the world had ended. But like all worlds that end, this world of ours glued itself back together again. The stars kept readjusting themselves whenever I woke up. My Flux Capacitor kept spinning in its new water witch form, dousing unsuspecting bridge dwellers with a moist, boggy, dose of real life, until a sliver of light appeared in the East, and the smile of morning began to glow on us all.
I did not feel like waiting around for that kind of unpredictable so I followed the tracks until the concrete and houses tapered off and soon there were only columns of rock and trees rising up on either side of me.
I was out of town for about a half hour when rounding a corner dead ahead came the high pitched metal wheels and perfectly streamlined engine of a logging train. It appeared a second later. Massive. Tall. Filthy. Maybe the most indifferent metallergic terror I have ever seen coming right at me. I sidestepped off of the tracks and as the train grew closer, I did not have enough tine to snap a photo or take a video so I smiled and waived.
It was like waiving to an Imperial Star Destroyer from the cockpit of an X-Wing Fighter. Or for the non-Star Wars fan, like an insect waiving at the front window of a big stinky school bus. The train churned past at roughly thirty five miles an hour, five feet away from me not caring one bit if I was in the way or not. Nothing like the charming passenger trains with their playful whistling and engineers who waive to fascinated children down at Titlow Beach, this train has one mission: get as much timber from one location to another, all things that are unfortunate enough to be on the tracks as it passes be damned. It was a sobering experience. I realized then that I would be completely responsible for not getting squished. I reached out and touched the body of one of the cars with the tips of my index and middle finders. Two 6 foot long fingertip streaks of clean now lined one car of the train, leaving little grey rings of grime around the tips of my fingers. I wiped the dirt from my fingers, made a note to check my 6 o'clock every twenty to thirty steps and continued on.
Another half hour passes and I see a man. He about fifty feet below the tracks on the edge of the river tucked in between the beach-wood. The bluish grey smoke of his campfire rises through the branches of nearby trees. He is dressed in army fatigues and has an array of black garbage bags around to keep his things dry. I thought about going down to say hello and see if he has a story to tell but I decide against it. I stay up on the tracks and keep my quick pace.
Eventually I can see picnic tables in the distance along the water and I do decide to descend the rock-wall down to the beach. I take my time and slowly move down the moss covered rocks but I make it to the sand alright. I remove my socks and shoes and ford (not float) a smaller river running into the Columbia. The river was calm and peaceful. I kept my shoes and socks off as I went down in the river to pray.
In contrast to that moment of contrition and solitude, when I reached Prescott Beach State Park I made an amusing discovery that certain individuals who read this blog might enjoy.
I followed the beach detour as far as possible before returning to the train tracks.
On the following portion of the trip I was blessed with the luck of large flying birds. My Dad has this thing he does whenever he sees a pelican, or a crane, or some other bird of prey scanning the waters for a fish to plunge in after. "Ooooh, that's good luck!" He will say. And I believe it. I saw many massive pelicans and cranes take flight as I cruised along the Columbia. Plus many spotted Hawks and Bald Eagles who liked to fly low overhead whenever I passed. It was pretty darn cool. And as a bonus, super lucky too. Yesss!
I entered a stretch of land alternating between bogs and farmland. The tracks stretched on (Blair Witch Shakey Camera Warning) for miles. I did have a moment of amusement when a herd of cattle went on a stampede as I approached. I had no idea cows were so suspicious. I caught only a small portion of it here, but it was much longer and larger in real life. They went rampaging through a river and everything. It was cool and confusing at the same time. What makes these cows so suspicious? Maybe they know that they are most likely destined for the slaughterhouse and they thought I was the Bovine Grim Reaper.
Around 5 o'clock I stopped under a railroad bridge for a break. I explored the rushing river below the bridge and there was a fish ladder under there. After sitting down for twenty minutes I knew that I was not going to be getting back up anytime soon. I accepted my fate and embraced my new role as the antagonist in the Three Billy Goats Gruff and began to make preparations to bed down for the night...
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
But not before I checked into the cheapest motel in town (Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies) before I fell on my face to recover for a couple of days.
And I needed it too. It was nice relaxing even if the place I was staying was a little bit of a dump. Barbie came down to see me which was fantastic. We spent some time together. Went for a drive. Went to REI to get some information on why my backpack was killing me. We met up with my freinds in Oregon and I stayed the night at their place, played some Frisbee golf for the first time ever, stayed an extra night because I did not want to start so late in the day, then was returned to my last pick up place to continue the journey: The Lewis and Clark Bridge connecting the town of Longview Washington to a place near Rainier Oregon.
I spent last night in Rainier and today I am of going to give the railroad tracks another shot. Wish me luck.
Thank you everyone who has been reading and following me along. I am having a blast and I hope you are too.
Be well, stay safe, breathe deep.
Monday, May 10, 2010
I may have compromised the integrity of the mission but I feel like it was the right thing to do. It would have been a supreme act of ingratitude to refuse a ride from this person who I did my best to help. There was no way that I was going to be privy to that kind of energy and neglect of spirit.
I believe that I came along at just the right time to help this man. And he got to return the favor by helping me. This is the ultimate win-win. I keep thinking that if I was still working at the library, this never would have happened. I am so pleased I was out on the road that day, in that perfect spot for this to occur. That I had so many flat tires and dead batteries when I was younger to help this man in his moment of need.
I am still irritated that I had a moment of weakness when he said he could give me a ride and I thought about refusing him to continue walking on some damn moralistic crusade. I am so glad I turned away from that fool-hearty line of thinking.
So thank you Man who's car blew a flat and gave me a ride to town just what I was feeling worn out and in need of help. We both met up at the exact perfect moment in time and this feels like some kind of blessing.
I look forward to many more instances of divine spark and fortunate connection along the path. These are the moments that will make this journey stand out and shine...
The euphoria that I had been feeling from my Yard Sale sign joke had faded away. It was getting downright hot and I was not happy about it. My feet were killing me. My backpack was tearing up my shoulder blades. I was irritated that there had not been a sign telling me how close I was coming to Westport. I had rashes on my love handles that had nothing to do with love. My socks were dirty. I was entertaining the idea of going back down to get my cardboard sign and giving the hitchhiking thing a legitimate shot.
As I came over the crest of the hill, a car was pulled over on my side of the road. The trunk was up and the driver was nowhere to be seen. I picked up my pace and as I approached his spare tire was laying on the ground behind the car.
Now my ability, or inability I should say, to work on cars and machines is legendary. I never took one day of auto shop in school. For years our family mechanic has taken care of our cars when they are in sickness and in health. My basic philosophy when it comes to car care is that someone else smarter than me will take care of it.
But I am not completely and totally ignorant. I can do three basic things regarding car care if I am pressed into action:
- I can change a spare tire.
- I can jump-start a dead battery.
- If I have an hour and a half at my disposal, I can change the oil.
"Hey friend," I said. Already begining to remove the pack from my shoulders as I speak, "Had one come off on ya eh? Need a hand?"
A short, balding man who looks like one of the extra terrorists in any one of the 17 Die Hard movies turns and looks at me. He speaks with the roughened gravelly voice of the Marlbro Man. "Yeah," he says as he down-kicks the ratchet connected to the nuts trying to loosen them up.
Together we make short work of the flat. I loosen the nuts as he starts to raise the jack. He asks me which way I am headed and when I tell him East, he says that when he gets going he will give me a lift. He asks me what I am doing out in the middle of nowhere and I give him the short version of this crossing the country thing I am working on. He doesn't say anything to that but gives me a quick look as if to say, "Why would anybody do this?" then goes back to raising the jack.
We swap out the flat with the spare, twist on the lug nuts and lower the car. We tighten the nuts to completion and the man, who's name I never got by the way, cleared a space for me in his car.
I am just about to sit down when he turns the ignition key to the sound of... nothing.
He laughs to himself and says shaking his head, "This is not my day."
But together we work it out.
He heads over to a mobile home park and I stay with the car. Before he has a chance to knock on a door and ask for help I have flagged down a woman in a big black GMC Truck. I hollar at the man for him to return and we are soon back to tip-top condition. We thank the lady in the truck and I climb into the car and in a flash of speedy imported metal we rush off toward Clatskanie.
YARD SALE it read. All caps.
For a brief instance I thought about continuing with the plan. I pictuered myself standing on the side of the road, backpack at my feet, thumb jutting out at a jaunty angle, holding in my other hand this sign reading Yard Sale. Picturing the strange looks of the people as they pass me by. Me thinking about where someone would take me if I was picked up. "Take me to your nearest yard sale pronto!" Then wondering why nobody is stopping. And the absurdity of the thought hit me like a little kid. Just right. I could not stop laughing for five minutes. The kind of laughter that shoots soda through nasal cavities. That causes accidents in underdrawers. That mends broken wings and bonds families back together.
I left the sign on the side of the road. Chuckling and smiling big as I climbed the next gigantic freakin' hill ahead of me which suddenly looked much smaller. My attitude having transformed from sulky moaner, to jovial yukster in the amount of time it takes to flip that little switch in my head.
On the bright side, once out from under the canopy of forest the falling wetness was much reduced. A little bit of spray from the passing cars and trucks contrasted the blue sky above. But soon even that began to fade. As I walked, I kept tabs on how the streets began to dry up a little bit at a time. In the tire treads, then between the tires, then the dividers between the lanes, then finally the shoulders where my feet were falling...
That, THAT, my friends, is some exciting blogging. A description of watching the roads dry up. My dissertation on the vigor's of paint drying will be in stores in the next few months. Stay tuned!
This was my third day of walking and my feet were starting to feel it. Big time. Not only that but as I continued to move up and down these huge hills between Astoria and Westport (this was the closest town on the last green sign I had past the day before) and even though it was still cool I was starting to sweat it hot in the morning sun.
It gets kind of frustrating when you do not know how far it is to the nearest town or a gas station or any kind of rest stop. So when I crested a hill and found a country store and gas station I was pleased and disappointed at the same time. Pleased that I found a place to refill water and go to the bathroom. Disappointed that the gas station attendant who was nice enough to let me use the bathroom without paying for anything said that Westport was about 10 minutes away by car. Her rough estimation was ten miles on foot. I did not linger and got back out on the road.
A couple hours later I reached a town that was not on the map called Knappa. I would say something snarky about the size and insignificance of this town but I had a wonderful time in the Little Taste of Heaven Coffee Shop. The sweet lady who was running the joint all by herself let me stop and rest on the big comfy couch, gave me a cup of warm water to sip on, let me use the bathroom and most importantly, recharge my telephone for a couple of hours while I talked to Barbie.
If anybody ever is passing through Knappa on the way to Astoria or to the coast, stop at this coffee shop and buy something. I bought a sandwich and it was good. They have coffee, tea, sandwiches, Ice cream, salt water taffy, gift cards, scented candles, hell, jump in the tanning booth for all I care. Bless them with a never ending stream of customers and a river of cash for their kindness. Resting there was so much more pleasant that walking; I did not want to leave.
Tired as I was I have to admit I had a moment of weakness. There was a bus station outside and I asked the nice lady whose name is Sarah if she knew how often the buses came through. She did not know. I asked her how far it was to Westport, and I shit you not, she said it was about ten minutes away by car, roughly ten miles...
"Well aint Westport just a regular geographical oddity... Ten Miles from everywhere."
I was so discouraged. I thought I had come a long ways from my camping spot. But in reality I had not travelled far enough for two different people in two different towns to differentiate between my locations.
Then I thought fortune was about to smile upon me. As I was leaving the coffee shop the bus was pulling in. I stopped to talk to the bus driver and he said that his route goes back to Astoria. Astoria to Knappa all day long. Crud.
Just outside of Knappa, as I resumed the trek, I saw a sign that I thought was going to be my salvation.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I woke up the next morning soaking wet but alive. Pleased that I had not been turned into supper and eaten by bears, badgers, killer B's, wallobys, saber tooth tigers, saber tooth mooses, saber tooth mosquitoes, I sat in my tent and had my breakfast in dampened peace before I had to get up and get to the unpleasant task of packing all my rain soaked gear back into my rain soaked backpack. Even thought the rain never transformed from anything more sinister than the hazy, misty, northwest drizzle that has a knack to seep into everything it touches, I felt lucky that it was not the kind of rain that we are capable of getting. A fusillade of meteorological destruction. The kind that causes car crashes, knocks out power and topples dams and bridges, forcing people to drive rowboats to work. An unending bombardment that they can make billion dollar action movies out of. THE RAIN, a modern day Noahs Ark deathudrama. Starring Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullack, John Malcovich and one unlucky rowboat, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, coming to theaters Summer of 2015.
It was more like 1950's B-Monster Movie rain. Undetectably surrounding you then slowly creeping into all kinds of things with a muted chuckle until the inevitable female shriek splits the night. Then silence. Rising from the ground up, the rain Frankensteins its way into car trunks, basements, garages, baseball mitts, wrapping itself around tents, sleeping bags and backpacks. Squeezing like pythons until all dryness has vanished and all mold has taken hold forever.
The Blob. The Creature. The Thing. The Fog. The Rain...
After breakfast I skulked around in the growing light and packed up my gear with methodical determination. I was not really worried about being discovered. I could only see a tiny section of the road and it there was no way that anyone zipping past that tiny piece of forest at 50 MPH would be looking over in my direction. Even so my need to hunch over as if I was up to no good was inescapable. I so rarely get the opportunity to skulk for reals. To sneak around like a car thief or prowler. Why do criminals skulk? It is perhaps the single most incriminating evidence that something illegal is about to happen. It is absurd. Yet there I was, trying to stay low as I pulled out stake pegs and unfastened poles from grommets. Even alone in a wet survival situation I still goof around and try to make things more fun than they actually are.
I put my rain jacket back on, I am not sure why since everything was already wet, for fun I guess, packed the bags and secured them with my anti-rain garbage bag security system, to assure all that wet stuff inside stays wet, then I put the pack back on. Only about ten percent heavier I would say. Pretty good. A lot better than I thought it would be that is for sure. I made my way through the forest and back out to the logging road, met up with the main highway and with my body much refreshed considering I slept on the ground, continued the journey East.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Not because I hate The Pledge or anything sinister like that. For me The Pledge had very little to do with America but was, and still is, etched in my mind as an inescapable part of every school day. A lesson to be tolerated and endured. Like D.O.L or cursive practice or spelling tests. To my little kid brain it did not make sense why, when the boy scouts were having a meeting out of school, that they would still choose so willingly to do what I clearly considered, schoolwork...
I spent the rest of that one meeting fantasizing about what I would do when I got back home. Maybe watch some non-age appropriate sitcoms with my parents. Have two double heaping bowls of Goo-Goo Cluster Ice Cream. My favorite. Or maybe I had big plans with the Atari 2600. Pitfall Harry was not going to dodge scorpions, swing from vine to vine, leap from alligator to crocodile and gather up those gold bars, silver bars and sparkling jools on his own you know...
Of course this was all approximately 24 years before I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night, alone, soaking wet, in badly pitched tent, trespassing on someone elses private property, surrounded by pitch black on all sides at 1:30 in the A.M., bladder about to burst from needing to take a leak for the last half hour, wondering,"What the fuck am I doing here?"
I was so pleased to not be walking. For that first half hour I simply sat on the ground, my sweat soaked clothes strewn about on the forest floor around me. Naked flesh cooling off in the shade of my impromptu campsite, leaning against a mound of moss and dirt that were as comfortable as any plush couch/feather mattress I had ever laid down upon.
Eventually I got out a little bit of food and had a small dinner of trail mix nuts before I decided to put some dry clothes on and get down to the complicated business of setting up my sleeping arrangements.
I just realized this, almost two days after the fact, but until the evening of this story's construction, I had never camped alone in my life. I had never set up a tent alone before in my life either. I was certainly too tired and sore to think about such mundane statistics at the time. Even with those two self evident truths starting me in the face and me ignoring them both, the assembly of the tent went surprisingly well. The biggest concern I had was when I went to lay down my three black hefty bags, you know, for the extensive extra padding they so obviously would provide and I saw that just as I was about to lay the first bag down, the destination I chose was right on top of the biggest pile of bear dung I had ever seen in my life...
Well it certainly was a night of firsts wasn't it.
I had about two hundredths of a second of pause where I almost thought about maybe entertaining the idea of possibly repacking my bag and looking for another place to set up for the evening. Then I stepped back, moved about three feet away and laid the garbage bags down on as fine a collection of moss and sticks I had seen since I last laid eyes on my Dad's front lawn.
It took me about an hour to set up the tent and sleeping bag. It was actually a little bit easier than I imagined. The trick to setting up a tent, especially if it is the first time, it to throw the tent in the burn barrel and go get a hotel room. Kidding, kidding. The trick is to give yourself at least 4 hours of rainless daylight to make up for any potential problems. Even if, no, ESPECIALLY IF, the marketing bull puckey slogans tell you that it is an easy set up. If it says that assembly is easy as 1-2-3! Or one that can be done in only 15 minutes! Be especially wary. The laughter of marketing bullshit artists can be heard on the moon as they drive their rocket and hamster propelled turdmobiles, all the way to the bank.
Once I got the tent up, it is actually a one-quarter tent but I will refer it it as simply "tent" to try and mask how sorry a sight I must have looked. I stuffed my backpack, my shoes, my plastic bags and myself inside. I zipped up the door and tried to get as comfortable as possible. It was about quarter to 8. Sundown was at least an hour away.
I am not going to lie to you. All hindsight hijnks and wisecracks aside, I was scared as hell.
Laying on the ground, a hundred sticks jamming into my back, staring up at the roof of the tent, bear turds mounded up about a yard from where my head was resting, trees squealing just like the curious Dilophasaurus from Jurassic Park, my mind tried to tap into any force it could to help get me through the night. Talking to Barbie with what little cellular phone power I had left, prayer, the power of positive thought, law of attraction, inspirational quotes, song lyrics, anything, everything I could think of. I needed help and I was asking every force of the Universe to come to my aid on this one...
Then something tapped the top of my tent.
I held perfectly still and waited. I couldn't hear anything hitting the ground or rustling the leaves outside. I thought that maybe it was a pine needle or pine cone.
Two more taps. Raindrops. I think that maybe it is just a sprinkle, a passing fancy. I hold my breath and listen.
The sound of something pitter-pattering the whole forest reaches my ears, faint, like a child's whisper. It grows louder and growlier, like a Pro Wrestlers whisper. I can hear it approaching before it gets to the tent, a demented acid jazz drummer who has fallen in love with his snare. No patterns, no rhythms. It sounds like a trickling waterfall, winding it's way through the forest like a huge wet slippery snake.
The drops start to hit the rain fly and with the light still coming through the mesh of the tent I am transported back to a long forgotten Summer Sunday evening.
Daylight shines bright through my bedroom window. It is just past seven o'clock. Even though the sun will linger around deep into the 9 o'clock hour, my brother and I have been stuffed into our beds in spite of our justifiable objections. This was before the modern era of parenting. Back when it was still okay to tell your kids no. Before it was a requirement to give them every single thing they wanted. If we had had our way, Jason and I would be up watching Ripley's Believe it or Not or Greatest American Hero or Almost Live or riding bikes or anything that does not include laying in bed grumbling about the unfairness and inhumanity of it all.
I can hear Jason storm out of his room and scream that he can hear his friends playing outside while he being tortured in his would be sleep. Mom and Dad are steadfast in their quest for time alone. He is sent back to his room, miserable and skunked once again.
I am laying face up in my bed. Listening to my brothers attempts to scratch out a couple more hours of freedom. Trying to catch little pieces of muffled dialog on the T.V. Even though I would not be able to understand the grown up angles of the program if I were watching it straight away, I still like to try.
My father has set a sprinkler outside. He has one of those old bendy sprinklers that undulate from one side to another. The best kind for running through in my opinion. He thinks he has placed it far enough to keep the water from hitting the house but he is wrong. Every ten seconds a smattering of droplets come knocking on the screen of my bedroom window, searching for a way in.
Each time the drops of water hit my window screen I get closer and closer to The Nightland. They fade and return and my muscles relax and my eyelids close. I can no longer hear the T.V. I am no longer my brothers ally in his hopeless quest. I have let go of the world and the pleasures and struggles of being a little kid. I disappear into the warm embrace of slumber.
Laying in the tent I come out of my soft reverie on the edge of a dream. I stretch and yawn and turn to get as comfortable as possible. I can feel the dampness start to seep in beneath me but I do not care. The rain massages my tent and all worries have faded away. I asked for help from all 4 corners of the Universe and it brought me an answer in the form of a rain shower.
I can live with that.
I made my way back to the road and decided that in order to make up for the time and energy I spent on the tracks I tried to leg it double quick. Zig-zagging between the left and right shoulders depending on which side of the road had more room to breathe.
Moving along highway 30 is a much different experience than the one that I had on the tracks. There is the speed and the cavalcade of swerving cars and the gusty rush of huge logging/shipping trucks. The chaos of all that metallic traffic was something that was hard to get used to compared to the serenity I was soaking up not an hour before.
But it is not the speed or fear or potential for instantaneous death that is the hardest part. For me, the thing I find most frustrating is the noise. On the road I could not even hear the fall of my own footsteps as I trudged up a hill. It was all about going forward, head down, mind cluttered, feet still motoring on, ever forward. It is counter-intuitive to the peace I am hoping to give and get while out on this mission. I liked the thinking I got to do on the tracks. I liked the quiet and the space. The birds, bugs, fallen trees, standing trees, soft breeze, even the bits of trash I saw were better.
Along the road the litter is all plastic bottles, fast food bags, plastic grocery bags, snuff containers, cigarette butts, coffee cups and lids. A never ending stream of trash, tossed out the window by one person, eventually to be picked up by another. Maybe I am being overly romantic but on the tracks the discarded items seemed to become part of the landscape. Faded bits if broken glass, rain beaten shotgun casings, smashed seashells between the rocks, a silver crumpled unidentifiable beer can from some half thought out, less than half successful duck hunting expedition.
You might be wondering: "Instead of waxing and philosophizin' about the piles of trash on the side of the road why not pick some up and do some good while you are already there?" A fair point, I concede. And in truth I had considered picking up garbage as a part of this adventure. Maybe I will get a chance to in the future. But overloaded that I am at the moment with stuff, I can hardly bend over to tie my shoes, let alone stoop down again and again for every cigarette butt I see.
I know, I know. Excuses Ex-Schmuses.
Anyway, with my concentration less in tune with where I am and about 95% on where I am going, I trudged onward. I went about ten more miles and with nothing more interesting than being mooed at by an ornery cow (which was pretty cool actually) and I found myself at about 6 o'clock in the evening nearing exhaustion. No signs for any towns had been seen in all that time I had been walking. I was looking forward to the opportunity to use some of my camping gear I have been carrying around with me so I began to scan the forests along side the road for a nice place to bed down for the night.
By that time my feet and shins were burning like dry ice from going up and down three huge hills. My mania for finding a place to stop was starting to make me panic. After saying a prayer to help me find my way an old private logging road almost immediately appeared on the right. I crossed the street tried to ignore the signs that were shouting at me in big stupid letters: NO CAMPING - NO TRESPASSING - VIOLATORS WILL BE FED TO THE BIG DOG FROM "THE SANDLOT". Too tired to continue, I made my choice, slipped past the gate, up a short hill and collapsed into a dark flat wooded area...