Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 13: Jasper, A.B., Banff, A.B.

Day 13

We awoke in Jasper to a morning not quite as cold as the night before in Kamloops, but it was close. I was pleased to have purchased my wonderful red flannel lumberjack jacket, because I would have been a popsicle that morning. We lit a fire, and huddled around it to get warm (my feet seem to always go numb during night up in the mountains). Still slightly heartbroken over my shattered French Press from the morning in Kamloops, I turned to the campfire espresso machine my mom gave me before I left with skepticism. I was, however, very impressed. Using coffee from Café Crema in Vancouver, I made some “espresso” that tasted actually quite good. I was excited to say the least. We broke camp and headed back towards the trail, which seemed much shorter now that we were traveling downhill. It was about a 45 minute hike back to the car, but the walk was excellent. It was still early in the morning, and it seemed that we were the only living things in miles. The forest and lake surrounding it were filled with a silence that seemed both thick and apprehensive. We packed up the car and jumped in, ready to be off on our next adventure.
The drive to Banff was not too long, and filled with visual stimulation. This part of the country is absolutely stunning, pocketed with indigo colored lakes reflecting towering snowcapped mountains on their surfaces. We even saw a few bears along the way too, a mother walking with her cub along the side of the road. There was a gang of bighorn sheep too, milling about on a hillside. I felt almost rushed in a way though, attempting to fill up my memory with as much of the landscape as I could, trying to remember what it looked like to be on the road in the middle of the Rockies.
We stopped for lunch in Lake Louise where we got a few overpriced wraps and some bad coffee amidst a flurry of Germans, Swedes, and Japanese tourists filling their pockets with trinkets and “Check Me Out, I’ve Been to Lake Louise!” tee shirts.
It was only about a 45 minute drive to Banff from Lake Louise, so we arrived pretty early. Parking on the Northeast part of town, we walked down the main street and eventually stopped in an outdoors store to ask about a hostel in town (we wanted to shower up tonight before we had to go near a week without one). We were informed it was on the far Southwest part of Banff, so we just decided to make the 20 minute walk down there and book three beds. This one was much nicer than the Samesun Hostel in Vancouver (although I actually enjoy the sort of world-traveler grit that came with the Samesun Hostel), and consisted of two buildings. We got our rooms, then walked all the way back to town hoping the overcast sky above us would hold off for a bit. We hopped in the Juggernaut and made a considerably shorter trip to the hostel and unloaded our things into our room. We were staying with a French-Canadian couple from Quebec who were nice if a bit antisocial. I grabbed my computer and went downstairs to a common area and tried to write a bit on the blog. I also brought a book which of course I never opened. I was joined by Matt and David after a bit, after about my second gourd into my Maté tea. Matt and I passed the Maté, and three of us talked of mundane things: life, philosophy, the nature of our course in the universe, and how hungry we were. I packed up my things and we walked over to the Hostel’s restaurant to have a burger, which was incredible. It also so happens that the drinking age in Alberta is 18, so my burger was accompanied by an India Pale Ale. This was really the first time I’ve been able to just have a beer with dinner, and it was curiously liberating. Teenagers are granted the privilege to binge drink behind closed doors, but not the ability to casually have a beer with dinner, which seems to me a curious social stigma.
After dinner we walked downstairs to enjoy a Jam Night where everyone in the hostel who knew how to play an instrument got onstage and rocked the house. We had a good time, and got to meet a musician who would be coming to St. Louis in July. Although we didn’t spend the night amidst the stars and the dark night sky, the TBA boys still managed to have some fun.


Day 12: Kamloops, B.C., to Jasper, A.B.

Day 12
Sleeping in Kamloops was a bit of a hassle. We woke up especially early because it was so cold outside and we did not expect it. I was shivering in my sleeping bag all night. Andrew got the fire started quickly, which was good and we just sat by that for a while and warmed up. Then after a little driving we reached this awesome little ski town called Jasper. This place was amazing, probably the most scenic place that we have been. At first when we showed up, we were a little ticked off because we had to pay $40 just to stay there for 2 days, which didn’t even include camping. We stopped off in the ski town to get some lunch. We stopped at A and W and got some burgers which I think was the first time that we actually stopped off and got fast food so good for us. But about the park, the most amazing thing that we saw was the water. The water looked so calm that it looked like a thin piece of glass, it was awesome. The whole park is just amazing, there was just so much to see between the water and all of the trees that surrounds you. After sight seeing, we went down closer to another part of the water, which was the river and we just kind of played around there for a little bit. We threw rocks in river, which was pretty fun. That is what we do for fun on the trip, we throw rocks. After this we went to go find a trail, we saw one that had a couple of cars parked around it so we decided to go up that one. We got all of our stuff ready to go and headed up. As we were walking, we were joined by two other guys who were going up the trail to rock climb. They were avid rock climbers and they said they loved the park. After that we found a little campsite, which was really cool. We set up camp and then had some ramen, yum. At this point, eating dinner just doesn’t even matter anymore, it’s just always ramen. Then we had desert. Andrew set up this little rock over the fire and it was like a little stove and we made quesadillas with peanut butter and nutella, it was really good. The night was a really nice night. I love the mountains because when your camping there and it gets dark, it is completely quiet. The whole day and night was amazing. Two thumbs up Jasper.


-Photographer’s note: there’s no photoshop hanky panky in these photos–the sky is mindblowingly blue out here, sort of a deep indigo.

Day 11: Vancouver, B.C. to Kamloops, B.C.

Day 11

In the morning we woke up and ate a cheap breakfast at the Samesun hostel. . Staying at the hostel was an interesting experience because everybody had something in common. Everyone was new to the city and nobody wanted to spend any money seeing it. The food was pretty much what you would expect for two dollars. We had soggy hash browns, a few small sausages, and some toast with a glass of watered down orange juice or coffee to drink. It wasn’t like the big country breakfasts that we’d had in Wyoming or Idaho but for a toonie I wasn’t about to complain.
We brought our sheets and keys down to the front desk to check out and we were on our way. The original plan was to stay with my uncle Donald and in Kelowna. A few days before we reached the city my mother informed me that he and his fiancé Connie were not going to be there when we were. I’d have like to stay with them but it wasn’t tragic news. We rerouted to Kamloops: about the same distance as Kelowna but more north. The plan was to take an extra day going up to Jasper National Park and then swing down to Banff the next day.
On the way to Kamloops, one of the brilliant young associates traveling with me managed to break the tape player that allowed us to play music. We had to wait until we reached Kamloops to buy another adapter. It was a frustrating drive and we each took a turn tampering with broken wires to get sound on one side of the car.
When we finally reached the city we replaced the tape and searched for some shops worthy of the TBA boys. Andrew wanted a cowboy hat but decided the store that we went into was much too touristy and expensive. Instead we headed over to Cowboy Coffee. We had talked to a barista in Vancouver the day before and he told us that the coffee was pretty good. I trusted him because he had worked there a year earlier, that, and he rocked some insane art on my cappuccino. The verdict on the java at Cowboy Coffee: mediocre. It was slightly disappointing that they didn’t put their Synesso to good use, but not really a surprise.
After that small outing we thought it’d be best to mosey along. We headed north to find a camping spot and wound up about an hour outside of Kamploops around Clearwater. We got off the highway and onto some smaller roads to get away from any type of passer-by. There weren’t too many options on the road that we picked but eventually we found a path that branched off. We parked the car, packed our bags once again, and started to hike up the trail. At the beginning of the trail we stepped over a dark pile of fecal matter. We were a bit worried, but got over it and continued into the heavy shrubbery. I tried to picture Lewis and Clark or some other early explorers trying to trailblaze through the wilderness. We were having difficulty with branches and logs and were only on an old trail. The trees broke and we found a clearing to set up our hammocks and build a fire. When I was searching for rocks to make a fire pit I came across a second pile of feces. Not good. By this time we already had our spot set up and the sun was going down so we couldn’t very well pack up and move. Andrew and I discussed the situation as David was about to go to sleep. We decided not to tell David about the second pile because he was already about to have a mental lapse about the whole backcountry camping thing. Andrew asked me, “Dude, what if a bear comes?...” I looked at him earnestly for a moment, then cracked a smile and said, “It won’t.”


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 10: Victoria, B.C. to Vancouver, B.C.

Day 10

The three of us got up at 6:30, ready to leave Victoria, and be on with our travels. Matt’s grandma, perpetually generous and extremely nice, gave us a bag filled to the brim with chips, hardboiled eggs, soda, crackers, and other munchies. After saying our goodbyes, we piled into the Juggernaut and headed north, with Willie Nelson’s voice crooning us along the highway (“On the Road Again”). This ferry was far bigger than the one that got us into Victoria. We parked the car in the belly of the ferry and got ourselves a seat, munching away on various snacks from Matt’s grandmother.
We arrived in Vancouver early, about 10 A.M. Obviously, the first place we headed was Caffé Artigiano, a world renowned coffee shop famous for housing the Canadian Barista champion from 2003-2008. We went to one of their many locations and sat down, faced by a powerful setup: a La Marzocco GS3, a La Marzocco Swift grinder, 2 Mazzer ginders, and most importantly, a Clover (only the second one I’ve ever seen). Pictures of absolutely astounding latté art covered the walls, and I was giddy. Matt ordered a Columbia microlot off the Clover for $8, and I got a traditional cappuccino. The coffee was… awful. The Clover tasted barely better than a French Press (nothing like the Vacuum Pot from Barista! in Portland), and my cappuccino was on par with the Starbucks variety. The froth was spooned on, and jiggled like awkward jello. And there was no Wi-Fi. But enough of my complaints; the rest of the city was incredible. I was reminded sharply of my stay in Italy, and the city of Florence. Vancouver had a much more international feel (especially European), and it was vast. We were able to take a 20 minute walk down the oceanfront to the city aquarium, where we saw a Beluga whale giving birth (the rest of the aquarium was excellent too).
Looking for a cheap room and shower (its almost impossible to find camping near the city; suburbs stretch forever), we booked 3 beds in a great hostel downtown: Samesun Hostel. With our rooms good to go, we went to get therapy for our visit to Caffé Artigiano at Café Crema. This shop was across the river, in what we presumed to be the “nice” part of town. The café was spotless, and they were rockin a Synesso Hydra. My cappuccino was amazing, enough to make up for the traumatizing experience earlier. Back at the hostel, we hung out in a common room and posted on the blog. We met a bunch of really interesting people: Joe from Israel, a group of 3 friends from Switzerland, even a few girls who were taking an even more epic road trip than ours (Florida to Alaska). The hostel was also hosting a movie night, so we watched Back to the Future before bed. Ultimately, a good day exploring a great city. The next night we would be back under the stars, and I was excited. Civilization can only hold my attention for so long, you know?


Day 9: Victoria, B.C.

Day 9
In Victoria, probably my favorite place on the trip. This place is so perfect and we are getting treated like kings. The weather was perfect and most everything was taken care of for us. Matt’s Grandmother was unbelievable to us, we were spoiled. On day 9 it was about to get better. We wake up to here “were going on a boat ride today.” This was great. We got cooked a Hungarian breakfast which had these vegetables and sausages, it was awesome. Then off to the boat. This boat was a yacht. If you have ever seen the Saturday Night Live digital short with t pain where they are on a boat, that is pretty much how we felt. We got to see a lot of the bay from the boat including my favorite, seals. These seals were hilarious. As soon as we passed by, Wayne (the owner of the boat) honked the horn and at the same time you see all these seals poke their heads up. It was quite funny. Then we got treated again with lunch at one of the lunch places right on the water, it was delicious. Then we caught a glimpse of these jellyfishes that were actually pretty big, we got pictures of the epic event. The boat ride was extra fun. When we got back at the condo, we just chilled working on the blog, making some hemp. Later, We did get treated again to another dinner in town though. It was this awesome Chinese restaurant. The food was great. We were joking the whole night about the boot on the car that we got the last day because Matt’s grandmother was having trouble finding a free parking spot. That was so upsetting when we got the boot.


Day 8: Victoria, B.C.

Day 8

Grandma is already over the top with making us feel comfortable. She cooked us a “Hungarian breakfast” with peppers, onion, pepperjack cheese, eggs and a variety of sausages. It was delicious and I was almost as full as the night before when she took us out to fish and chips. We discussed all of the things that we could do with the day in Victoria. We decided to kayak around the islands off the coast. It was bizarre to think that we were floating in the Pacific Ocean. We paddled into an inlet and swam for a short while. There were jellyfish undulating around our waists and we cupped some small ones into our hands. Andrew proceeded to throw one home to deeper waters. I remember our late jelly friend fondly. After his apparent death, we braved the jellyfish ridden waters back to the dock.
Later in the day we took the 20-minute drive from Brentwood Bay to downtown Victoria. We parked the car in the parking lot of a Volvo dealership, locked up and headed down the closest street. We walked around and searched for a coffee shop in which to purchase a caffeinated beverage. According to Andrew’s selective memory they had 2 Mazzer grinders, a Rancillio grinder, and a three group La Cimbali espresso machine. Naturally, I ignored what he said and made fun of him with curt sarcasm. This has been a common occurrence on this trip. We’ve coined the phrase, “You’re still talking aren’t you?” in order to let the speaker, Andrew or David (rarely myself), know that the listener is tired of either the conversation or the sound of their voice.
Anyway Victoria turned out to be a much larger and cooler city than I thought it would be. The demographics were really interesting. The old folks had retired to the outskirts of town while a very active and prevalent youth culture hung around downtown. The architecture and layout of the city reminded me of a European city, and there were certainly a lot of languages to be heard whilst walking around. People from all over the world seemed to come to vacation or liver there, yet downtown didn’t have a touristy feel.
After meandering for a while we headed back to the car. We reached the dealership’s lot and I made a joke about having a broken window and missing valuables. Andrew responded with a, “No… but um… shit.” Parking patrol had put a boot on our driver side wheel. As we complained for a minute or two a drunkard rode up on his bike and put in his two cents about the situation. He was an eloquent speaker and presented his argument in a well-organized manner. Droplets of saliva and liquor hit the pavement as he observed our plight as “fucking bullshit.” This is Andrew’s recollection of the man’s take on things:
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the fuck?” He came off his bike next to the tire and went to his knees so as to examine the large yellow boot closer: “This, this is like, this is bullshit. The man’s got you by the balls. Just fucking tear this shit off! There’s like only–“ he slowly counted the lug nuts–“one, two, three, four, five, six things here.” He stood up shakily and put his face close to mine, so I could see his dilated, watery eyes: “Do you guys have, like the tool thing? Do you have it? I’ll fucking tear it off for you, just take this shit to the streets man, I’ll help you. This is fucking bullshit from the man!” and so on…
We called the number on the piece of paper rather than taking the drunk’s advice of trying to rip the wire off of my axle. The parking guy showed up and we talked to him for a while about our road trip, the city, and our car situation. I almost convinced him to give us a break by pulling the ignorant foreigner card. It pained me that even the guy responsible for making us pay $80 was nice. In fact, despite having a few loose screws the drunkard was nice too; just trying to help us out and stick it to the man. As a general whole I’d like to comment on the character of the human race. Refuting Locke, with the experiences I’ve had with others on this trip as evidence, I would say the vast majority of people are very welcoming and kind. People just try to get by, and you can’t blame them can you? So at the end of the day we came away with a great life lesson: park in the street.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 7: Olympic National Park, WA to Vancouver Island, CA

Day 7
We woke up early at our campsite after a great night’s sleep. Or at least I had a great night’s sleep, because I strung up my hammock while the other two TBA boys slept on the rocky ground. We brewed up the last of our Ethiopia Yirgacheffe in the French press, and got our site ready. We hiked about a mile on the trial, and when we finally emerged and saw the car, I knew something was wrong. The back left tire was out, completely blown. Luckily, Matt had a full size spare with him, so we were able to jack up the car, get the lug nuts off, and were ready to get the spare on in record time when we hit another problem. The tire would not come off; it was glued on by mud and grime that surrounded the hub, and would not come off. We have acknowledged of course, that none of us are remotely mechanically inclined in the area of automobiles, so we decided it would not be a great idea to beat on the wheel to try and get it loose. Matt and I did what we do best and took off our shirts, set up some chairs, chilled out got some snacks while we waited for a car to come up the trail, so we could try and ask them for help to call into town for an auto shop. David, on the other hand, was new to this whole TBA thing and was a little worried about the situation. He was running back and forth, actually trying to fix our predicament, attempting to get a signal while Matt and I had a rock throwing competition into the spare wheel (1 point for getting the rock to stay in, 2 points for behind the back). Eventually, a man drove up in a beat up Toyota truck and pulled off next to us. He was an older man, with white full hair, but certainly he had an air of youthfulness to him. His name was Ed, and he was extremely nice to us. He told us that he was climbing up the upper trail, and it would take him about an hour, but he would be back for us if we hadn’t succeeded by then. Obviously better versed in the area of automobiles than the three of us, he gave us advice on what to do: scrape around the hub with a knife to get rid of the dirt, then beat on the back of the wheel (from underneath the car) while another person pulled on the wheel from outside. We had to brace the car first though, so it wouldn’t fall on one of us if it came off the jack. We did as he said, and after a lot of sweat and four letter words, we got the tire off. It was a feeling of liberation probably only matched by Columbus finding America, or Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. We felt indebted to Ed, but we gladly drove down the switchbacks of the mountain, with Willie Nelson blasting.
We were on our way to Port Angeles to catch a ferry to Victoria, but now we were behind schedule. Even while a little rushed to get to the ferry, we had time to take the scenic road there, which was beautiful.
We got the last ferry of the day at 5:15, and were on our way to a welcome reprieve from camping (we really needed a shower). Matt’s Grandmother picked us up in downtown Victoria, and took us to get some fish and chips, which were undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had. Tired from a trying day, we collapsed on beds for the first time in over a week. Even though I was happy to be pampered with blankets and pillows, some part of me was still rearing to get back into the wilderness as I dropped off into a deep sleep.


Day 6: Portland, OR to Olympic National Park, WA

Day 6
Getting off that airplane felt awesome. I was about to go on an incredible adventure and I was excited. This was my first day on the trip and you could imagine how excited I was. I was the lucky one who had to stay home for the 6 days but it wasn’t too bad. The two drove up in the airport pickup area and I waved them down. You should have seen this car. Dirt was everywhere I couldn’t believe it. They are both not wearing shirts which was pretty gay and they look around to put something on so that they look presentable. I was just excited to get going but we couldn’t till we cleaned out the car. There was crap everywhere I actually wasn’t upset I was quite impressed. I wanted to here all about what they have done. We finally clean up the car and we are off going to this little coffee shop called Zoka. From what I here, this coffee shop was top notch. They have had baristas win national championships in coffee making or what ever they do. I’m not a huge coffee fanatic like the other two but what ever, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about anyway. We go into this place and it is a really nice coffee shop. The latte that I had tasted like any other latte that I’ve had, but it had a good atmosphere which I liked a lot. I got caught up with all the stuff that has happened on the trip and I was kind of bummed I had to miss it, like the whole rattle snake incident, that was funny. We then leave the place and at this point I’m just really happy to be on it. We start driving and we get a little lost, no big deal, and then we drive by the city. The city looked awesome, I was sort of upset I didn’t really get to see it but we were on a mission. We drive for hours when we come to a bridge that we have to cross in order to get to our camp ground. We then find out that the bridge that we had to cross was of course blocked off. We were all mad and we just had to go back the way we came and find an alternative route. At this point I had no idea where we were going until Andrew takes out the map and asks me to read out the name of this big green area. It said Olympic national park. I was so excited because this was the one place that I wanted to go and I thought I was going to miss. I was supper excited yet also sort of nervous because this was my first camping trip and I had no idea what to expect. So we are traveling up this dirt road to get to our camp ground and it is a long drive up to our destination. We finally reach a trail and then park our cars and get ready. We get the bags and the food all ready to go and head out. The trees in this place were fantastic. This is supposed to be the only rain forest in the united states and the trees were just huge. We set up camp and made a fire and I was really tired, it could have been from jet lag but whatever. I was sitting at the campfire literally falling asleep on my hand. It was a pretty sweet first day.


Day 5: Hell's Canyon, OR to Portland, OR

Day 5
I woke up to the sound of the river rushing by below our camp spot. Andrew had gone down to snap some pictures of the stream and I relieved myself in the meantime. We ate some Nature Valley™ bars, packed up the hammock and sleeping bags and whatnot, and headed on the dangerous trail back to the car.
On the trail we encountered various species of wildlife. We photographed flowers and the endless trees that blanketed the mountains in either direction. The trail had been made with sticks of dynamite, leaving loose chunks of rock to step on. As we made our way downhill we ran into some snakes that looked like garter snakes. They slithered away in a hurry when we came within a few yards, too fast for a picture. We saw five of these little guys as we hiked along the trail. Soon we came about a small uphill and Andrew flew up the small hill. Before I continued up the hill after him I noticed another little reptile that presented a slightly bigger hazard than the other snakes that we had seen. A rattlesnake was coiled up in striking position, rattle behind it, head in front, staring me down. Frankly, I was scared. A snakebite out there was bad news, probably worse news than a group of bears telling you that your car was stolen. Anyway, Andrew had a solution to avoid the whole snakebite thing, “Ok, I’m gonna throw rocks really close to it and see if it moves.” It didn’t. It kept its eyes plastered on mine. So I threw the rock that was in my hand. The projectile hit the dangerous creature in the face. He went from sunbathing on a nice trail, to having two seemingly mentally challenged humans throwing rocks at his head. Obviously, his morning had been ruined; it was evident from the way he rattled his tail and fired in Andrew’s general direction down the hill. Neither Andrew nor I knew where it went so Andrew threw more rocks into the bushes and I did my best to sprint uphill and around the area. In the end, tragedy was avoided.
When we reached the end of the trail we were rewarded with an ice cold bath in the pool of water near the road. We jumped in, washed our hair with Garnier, and lathered up as quickly as possible with hippie hemp soap. We mustered up the courage to take a second plunge to rinse off the suds and got out of the frigid water as soon as we could. As soon as we got out of the water, a state patrol official came around with his truck and an extraordinarily long awkward moment ensued.
Hitting the ol’ dusty trail was first on the list of priorities and we were on the move as soon as the guy turned his back. We stopped for an amazing breakfast at Annie’s in a rural little town along the way to Portland. Our first stop in Portland was Stumptown. Best Espresso I Will Ever Have. Andrew teared up as he sipped a double shot of espresso, and my mind coated the walls as the heart of a cappuccino hit my tastebuds. The legitimacy of the coffee shop outweighed any previous experience with fine dining or the likes. The barista that served us was an attractive young woman who suggested a cupping at the roaster the next day. Unfortunately we didn’t have time, although it would have been an incredible experience. We left Stumptown to go to Barista!, Billy Wilson’s new shop in the Pearl district of Portland. We came a bit too early to see Billy but the two girls working there were really good too. One of the girls had some cool tattoos and explained to us the vacuum pot that was being performed in front of us. It was an insanely delicious cup of coffee. I was impressed with Portland’s coffee scene no doubt.
The rest of the city had a lot to offer too. We walked around downtown and there were dozens of shops that were worth taking the extra time to check out. Powell’s Book Store was really cool. Everybody raved about the place and said it was a must see, but when we walked up to the entrance it looked like any other used bookstore. Little did we know that it was 5 stories high and had over a million books in it. I ended up buying Ewan McGreggor’s memoir about taking a massive road trip. I figured it was fitting, maybe a roadmap of our next trip across Europe/Asia…


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 4: Bruneau, ID to Hells Canyon, OR

Day 4

We woke up from our dune hike early in the morning (we placed our sleeping bags facing east for an alarm clock), and got our gear packed up quickly. We hiked the mile back to the car quickly, although hiking over dune after dune somewhat impeded our progress, so as to avoid the park rangers who would hopefully be awaking later than us. After packing up the car hurriedly, I led the Juggernaut out of the park and into the nearest town. We ate breakfast in Oregon Trail Café, the local breakfast place. As we walked in, there were 6 big men dressed in dirtied jeans and rubber boots with suspenders. They talked loudly and excitedly over their coffee about potatoes, cattle, and John Deere. I was wearing a red Ché Guevera shirt, fast drying camping shorts, Chaco sandals, and a hemp anklet. Matt had on a lacrosse shirt and new balance shoes. We were obviously not from around there.
After our delicious breakfast (eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and coffee), we were on the road again. We were heading for Hell’s Canyon just over the border in Oregon. It was a shorter drive than most of our other days, so we took our time and meandered around on small highways, stopping in towns like Baker city (whose coffee shop had one of the only automated roasters I’ve ever seen. I don’t recommend their beans though…). Once we got to the road leading into Hell’s Canyon, we knew we chose the right place to go. The road leading in was absolutely gorgeous, and increasingly so as we neared the actual Canyon. The foothills that had led us into the canyon suddenly transformed into huge rock bluffs, with a fast moving river cleaving them in two. We drove along a tiny swerving road on the east bluff. Matt was driving, so I had my head outside the car for most of the drive, shooting as many photos as I could. The bluffs looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. The river eventually reached a hydroelectric dam (which absolutely blew my mind as we crossed the bridge which was the top of the dam-there was water almost even with the car on our left, and then water about 100 feet down from us on our right. After many miles on this amazing road, we decided it was about time to find a campsite before the sun went down. We had become accustomed to not paying for campsites, but rather roughing it in the backcountry, so we decided to park the car near a trail which looked as if it had not been used in years. We spent time picking out everything we would need for our campsite, packed our backpacks, and started out on the trail into the mountains.
The trail led us straight through the middle of two mountains, and then began to snake up one of the mountains. It became clear as we went on that the people who created this trial were obviously insane. The “trail” was simply about a 10 inch wide section of rocks that were relatively flat as we climbed switchback after switchback, going hundreds of feet up the mountain. The sides of the trail fell at about a 75 degree angle, and while carrying about 60 pounds of gear each, this was a legitimate worry. But lets be honest, we’re not talking about the Hardy Boys here, these are the TBA boys. Therefore, not a problem. We set up camp in a tiny little clearing with an ideal spot for a firepit. I strung up my travelers hammock between two trees near the fire, and we got the party started. I created possibly the most tasty snack of the trip so far by slathering up a hot dog bun with peanut butter, adding M&M’s, and melting it all above the embers on a marshmellow poker. We had some Ramen, too, of course. I laid down, suspended around the pine trees and under the stars in Oregon, and thought of how happy I was to be 2200 miles from home. And then I slept like you would expect after a 4 mile hike straight up a mountain.


Day 3: Somewhere in Wyoming to Bruneau, ID

Day 3

We disassembled our campsite at the beginning of the day and reorganized the trunk to make everything fit more soundly. The car was still in 4-wheel drive as we bounced and skidded down the dirt trail that we had driven up the day before. We reached the gravel road and 30 miles after that we reached the paved highway once again. We drove for a while and noticed the car was still in 4-wheel drive and after a brief discussion with my dad on the phone, figured out how to get the auto-lock something-or-other system off.
The whole state of Wyoming lay in front of us and we had a car that was now ready to cooperate. Our destination for the night was Rockbridge, Idaho, or at least a place to camp somewhere in eastern Idaho. My grandmother suggested Craters of the Moon, but it turns out its just a big igneous rock plain with nowhere to camp. Instead we continued on to Bruneau, ID and went south to the Bruneau Sand Dunes.
We arrived in the afternoon, and after missing the exit to the park and talking to a very nice Mexican gentleman, we paid the $4.00 entrance fee to check out the state park. The dunes and a small lake sat awkwardly together between a butte to the north and south, and plains/farmland to the east and west. After testing the sand dunes for legitimacy we decided that it would indeed be fun to camp on them. Three huge problems were presented to two stubborn boys. One: we were on the smallest of three huge dunes, and we needed to be on the biggest one. Two: the campsites in the park sucked. Three: we didn’t want to cough up the extra 8 dollars.
To remedy the situation we left the park in search of the nice Mexican gentleman or any of his hardworking neighbors. We drove around the crop fields that we had seen earlier looking for anyone to ask for a secret route around to the big dune. Everyone had checked in for the night and we decided to take the road less traveled, or rather, the road never traveled. The Juggernaut (my silver Xterra) earned the name that we had christened it at the beginning of the trip. Its 4-wheel capabilities proved incredibly useful; we trail-blazed through a prairie and thanked our powerful machinery by cooling it down with a mud bath. Unfortunately, the Juggernaut’s hard work was for naught. We didn’t find a route behind the dunes, so we were forced to return to the dreadful organization of the state park campsites.
We did, however, manage to dodge problem #3, we just parked in the visitor’s spot and never ended up having to pay the extra eight dollars. We decided to take our equipment and hike around the first dune and get to the largest dune. On the way we were attacked by a hoard of moths that distracted us from the true predators, mosquitoes. Andrew was hit hard, I didn’t know if he was going to pull through. I nearly dragged him to the top of the hill. It was a close call… not really, it was just kind of itchy from then on.
We picked a campsite on the side of a dune and started to cook dinner and admire the setting sun that cast a pinkish silhouette on the hills. Again, we sipped Ramen and chewed on perfectly burnt hotdogs. Afterward we crawled into our sleeping bag at the top of the dune and said goodnight. Within ten minutes we felt raindrops and Andrew asked the brilliant question of “Hey Matt… what are we gonna do if it rains?” and then answered himself with a confident, “It won’t.” Good enough for me.


Day 2: Limon, CO to Somewhere in Wyoming

Day 2
We woke up from our cow pasture adventure to a bright morning and groggily packed up our bags and got into the car. We drove all the way to Denver, where we decided to stop off for a bit and snag some java. We stopped at Stella’s Coffee shop, which was right off of Pearl street, in a great artsy neighborhood. Stella’s was great, it had an awesome atmosphere and bottomless mugs. The coffee, admittedly, was west coast style, with pretty much everything roasted dark except for a Guatemalan coffee they happened to be serving that day. We hung outside for a while and pored over various state maps, figuring out our route for the next few days-We would go to Rock Bridge, Wyoming that night. We finished our coffees and headed down the road to a local breakfast joint that served some tasty bagel sandwiches.
With coffee and bagels in our stomachs, we got back into the Juggernaut and Headed for Wyoming. The countryside was amazing along our drive, mountains, foothills and buttes all mixed together and fading in and out along Interstate 84. Most of what we said was “Wow. It’s really pretty,” or “Whoa, look over there, that’s crazy.” We had truly escaped the midwest now-we were about to be immersed in the west.
At Rock Bridge, we were confused. We couldn’t find any campsites, we hadn’t had much to eat, and we were tired of driving. We were, at this point, also unsure of how far into the unknown the TBA boys were willing to go. After my chat with the gas attendant, I decided we would drive south, to try and get to the Flaming Gorge, apparently a beautiful place with lots of campgrounds. So south we went on a tiny two lane highway which was in bad shape and looked as if not many people frequented it. After about 35 miles south, we decided to take a dirt road into the buttes (we had lost track of where the Flaming Gorge was at this point). We drove about 15 miles along this road, which was the Juggernaut’s first experience with backroads. The two of us were busy sticking our heads out the window and feeling the fresh air and yelling over blaring 60’s and 70’s rock music about how awesome this was. After a ways down, we decided it was about time to set up shop, so I guided the car off the dirt road and onto a “trail”-which is to say it was two lines of tire tracks going into the mysterious buttes. I popped the car into 4-wheel drive while Matt turned up the volume on Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” and we bumped along over rocks and sticks, looking like we were in an ad for the car. The small trail eventually dead-ended in a small clearing-a valley in between the massive buttes. We set up camp, started a fire in a makeshift firepit and got our Ramen and baked beans cookin’ away.
After all was said and done, we rolled out our bags under the stars in the grass, cocooned by massive silhouettes of the buttes. I felt like a cowboy, unfettered by billboards and McDonald’s, peaceful in the quiet, heavy night. It was a feeling quite unlike what I have felt before, this feeling of freedom. We were alone, without parents, without teachers, without authority. Here we were free to create our own meaning under the twinkling, massive expanse of the night sky, and it felt beautiful.