Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Redwoods, Monastery and San Francisco/Bay Area, according to Amber

Hello again!

It feels like weeks since we've seen the internet! Every day has been filled with so many moments, so much growth and so much emotion. This journey has been getting more incredible with every point on the map. My life feels like it's on fire.

So we have entered California. California drivers are like Honey Badgers-They don't give a crap, the do what they want! I wonder what percentage of CA drivers are aware of blinkers? But then you use a blinker and 4 people behind you speed up to make sure you don't merge in front of them, and so you, too, become a crazy turn-the-turn-signal-on-as-you-turn drivers. Anyways, first up was the Redwoods, as John has told you below. My first hike into the Redwoods was a 12 mile round trip hike in the coastal Redwoods near Crescent City. The awe that Redwood trees inspire in every cell in your body is something that must be experienced. We could tell you all about them, post every picture and video we took, and you still have no idea. I thought I had an idea before, but holy moly I sure didn't. I was meandering down the path, marvelling at the smaller Redwood trees, thinking how even the smaller ones must be hundreds of years old, when BAM! Suddenly I'm standing underneath a tree so huge I can't see the top of it. The hike near Crescent Beach was one of the most magical experiences of my life. And it wasn't nearly as magical as the one I would take a few days later. (Which I also thought I had an idea about, but holy moly was I wrong again!)
(A sillier version of a face the trees inspire)

After the grueling 12 mile hike I returned home (aka the van :) ) and John made us dinner. As we were sitting down in the front seats getting ready to eat, a car pulled up in front of us. I felt immediately that the two girls were about to do something shady, despite the boy in the back seat (maybe 6 or 7 years old.) A few moments later another car pulls up next to us with 2 more girls. A girl gets out from each car and approached each other. The driver from car 1 pulls out a camcorder and the girls just start tearing into each other! Total cat fight, scratches and hair pulling, etc. With the 3 giant boulders surrounding them, and the seclusion of this parking spot, I thought things could get ugly fast. Plus there was a child watching, so I didn't hesitate to jump out and approach them. "Excuse me! Ladies! Is this appropriate with a child present?" --OMG I giggle a little to myself whenever I remember the words I chose. When did I become such an adult? They stopped fighting and retreated to their cars. Camcorder girl was eyeballing me, I think debating whether or not to give me the evil eye. I just hiked 12 miles so I felt badass. Honestly I don't care if trashy girls beat each other up, but when your kid or nephew is watching, I'm gonna get a no bullshit stance. So they left and we went back to eating. And I felt like a badass adult.

The next 3 days for me were days of rest. I ran up and down the beach with Seymour, we ran into the ocean and felt the waves on our bodies. I grew up near the ocean, and so I felt like a kid again, being purely sensory and enjoying the feel, smell and sights of the sand, ocean, sun and sky. It was almost as incredible as the Redwoods to feel that joy again.
(Take 40-50 or so small steps in a circle and you'll get an idea of the size of the base of these trees)

I went on the Trillium Falls hike the day after John did. He came back with magic in his eyes. "You know how majestic and incredible the coastal trail was the other day? Multiply that by 2. At least." No exageration, no joke. This trail was amazing, every moment of it. Again, the trees are indescribable. If you ever have the opportunity to go, please go. They look pretty in pictures, but...my... Plus if you think about how trees give us the oxygen that we breath, which our bodies then put into our cells, I am currently made up with some of the Redwoods-literally and figuratively. The Redwoods have stolen my heart. During this hike I took my time, meandering along with my jaw dropped, neck bent back as far as possible. I sat at one of the benches and started journaling. I found myself open, vulnerable and raw. I ended up crying and laying down some emotional baggage I didn't even realize I had at their roots. I'm kind of a crier, so don't feel uncomfortable or sad for me, it was beautiful. I was proud to be exposing myself to the trees in that way, and I somehow felt safe and vulnerable at the same time. I came back to the car lighter, freer, happier and more alive. The Redwoods will affect you in whatever way they will affect you. I can't tell you what you will feel, think or experience. You must go and see for yourself.

Ah! So after the experience of the great trees, we went to John's mother's monastery. I unfortunately never had the chance to meet Laura. It felt good to be surrounded by the imagery and words and most importantly, the people that meant so much to her. John showed me the icons that she wrote/painted and introduced me to the first monks I've ever met. As a non-religious person who has very little experience with churches, it was a very new experience for me. Their service is about 2.5 hours and standing. Dave and Dorris and all the monks treated us very well, and while we had had the intention to stay one night and one morning, we ended up staying from Friday evening until after the Sunday lunch. It is a beautiful place, and it should not be rushed. I felt very silent and peaceful.

(Our pretty good sleep spot for San Fran)

After all this peaceful silence of trees and temples, we head out to the chaos of San Francisco, which I had been very excited to see. My only experience had been short chunks of time before and after taking a Green Tortoise tour in 2007, and I had loved the little bit I had seen. However, San Francisco failed us on all fronts. We spent the first evening searching for a rest area that apparently only existed on the map. We ended up parking on a street near the Golden Gate Bridge that had a pretty decent view of the city and the bridge. That's where the decency ended. The next morning we head to downtown and end up wandering a business area looking for a coffee shop. The first maybe 6 we pass don't have power outlets. We finally find one and tie Seymour up outside. Some rich bitch (excuse my language, there is no other way to describe her) comes into Starbucks with a bleeding heart to the manager of how this poor dog is tied up outside. After getting so many dirty looks as we walked down the street (do we really look that much like bums already?!) I was sick of the higher than thou attitudes we were receiving and told her to back off, stop judging, the damn dog is fine. Soon after we wrapped up the computer and headed back to the car. We drove around trying to find a park to hang out at and gave up after all the deceptive streets and false maps. We spent about 4 crappy hours in San Francisco before heading on.

As John mentioned, we drove down HWY 130 for about 2 hours last night before we realized we were only a 5th of the way down. It was dark, the road was windy without ceasing, and we were running low on gas. "Highway to Hell" comes on the radio and we decide to cut our losses and turn around. We find an oasis by the name of In and Out and find our way to a rest area, about 3 hours after our normal bedtime.

(It was about 2-3 hours of driving, with a sheer drop on the side and this view of San Jose and a clear night sky.)

Today we prepare the car and our cooler for 6 days in Yosemite. So far so good on this trip. There have been days and moments of stress and terror like yesterday, but for the most part everything has been beautiful. I feel alive, and I'm purging myself of bad mental, emotional and health habits. John and I have always been cheesey in love, but if you saw us now you may vomit in your mouth a little. Our love is good, and it's such a blessing to be able to fall more in love with all these majestic backdrops.

I also want to take a moment to thank all of you for still paying attention to us! We miss everyone a lot, and I wish we had more times with internet connection and cell phone ranges to talk to everyone. I can't wait for face-to-face and heart-to-heart connections with everyone. Don't forget us! We sure aren't forgetting you guys. We often fantasize about seeing people again, like we used to fantasize about the trip.

Love love love to everyone!

Redwoods: Great Sages of the West, according to John

Oh wow, it's been a little while since the last post.  In that time we've encountered the some of the largest and oldest beings on the planet, worshipped with one of the oldest traditions of Christianity and cursed the name of San Francisco.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  The Redwoods are the first place to start.  Our time with these ancient beings began along the coast near Crescent City.  Just south of the city is a small beach called Crecent Beach and there is a nearby trail that lead into a nice old growth area.  Because the trail is not dog friendly, this worked very well for us because while one of us took the trail, the other could beach-bum it with Seymour all day.  The first day was Amber's, and I'll let her tell you about that.  My first day was on the beach and it was the picture of relaxation.  I spent my time wandering the beach with Seymour, taking in beauty and basking in the sun.  Throw in a nice book and a shady van to escape the sun and I was happy as a clam.  I met Amber at the trailhead at around 6:30 and we had a nice dinner looking out across the ocean.  By the look in Amber's eye and the tired limbs she had, I knew I was in for a treat the next day.
(a smaller Redwood)

And a treat I got!  After a bit of an uphill climb along the coast, with it's wind shaped trees and vast community of spiders I made my way to a little bit of a wider path and all around me were giant trees.  It is hard to describe the effect seeing these trees has and pictures certainly don't do it justice.  Suffice it to say that when I entered this magical place, all I could think to do was sing every sacred song that I knew (and being that I was a Catholic seminarian, I know a few ;) ).  These great trees, who have lived longer than my human mind can really imagine give a sense of endurance and security in life unlike anything I've experienced.  They fill the heart with song and the still the wandering mind with their stability and incredible stillness.

The next day was spent relaxing and making our way down to our second trailhead.  We had meant to go to Gold Bluff Beach, because we had read that it was another haven for the puchums dog, but found that the road leading there was very steep and that the park charged an eight dollar entry fee.  We would have none of that so we settled on the nearby Elk Meadow.  And what a fortunate choice that was!  Unlike the Crescent Beach Trail, the Trillium Falls Trail heading out from Elk Meadow did not require an arduous hike through spiders and dense growth to get the wowing effect of the Redwoods.  The wow started right away.  As soon as you enter the trail you are faced with a gorgeous waterfall and many Redwoods.  The trail had recently been renovated by a local youth group, so it was very cleared of overgrowth and freshly paved with new dirt.  Along it were several benches dedicated to various contributors to the park overlooking stunning groves of Redwoods similarly dedicated.  Although the trail is only about 2 1/2 miles, one can easily spend several hours meandering through in amazement.  And that's just what I did.  I made sure to take full advantage of the benches so as to take in the beauty as fully as possible. Again, it is hard to describe, but if you take the time to still yourself, the trees can speak to your heart and open it in ways that were perhaps scary or inaccessible before.  Their patient endurance and persistent growth throughout the ages are truely inspiring.  I felt a joy on this trail unlike anything I had experience prior.  The next day was Amber's turn and as you will see in her account, the Redwoods are truely great.

Our next stop was Mount Tabor Monastery near Ukiah, CA.  This had been a place of retreat and much spiritual growth for my mother before she passed away in 2007.  Hidden away down a long dirt road, I found it to be just as I remembered.  We were greeted heartily by my mother's friends Dorris and Dave who live in a house just outside the monastery.  Dave immediately fed us a fresh salad and corn on the cob (yum!) and Brother Andrew (the smiliest man you'll every see) set us up with a couple of rooms in the retreat house.  The next day we attended Matins and Divine Liturgy early in the morning with the monks.  Although a long service, it was very refreshing to encounter the mysteries with the forms and symbols which had been so close to my mother's heart.  After a modest breakfast, Father Joseph, my mother's best friend in her last days took us around the monastery, catching us up on old times and gave me a copy of my the book my mother had written on death and dying he had editted and gotten published.  That evening we were treated by Dorris and Dave to a feast of barbequed chicken, salad, potato salad and french bread (a welcome change of pace from our trail mixes and ramen noodles!).  Being that everyone was so hospitible, we decided to stay another night and after attending Sunday Liturgy and eating so many berries we thought we'd explode we headed out on the road again.
(After driving in circles through confusing detours, the only place we seemed to find to see the bridge from was this cemetary. Given the negative experience we had, it seems appropriate.)
This is where things took wayward turn.  Amber will tell a fuller telling the nightmare that was San Francisco, but I will give some highlights.  For one, we had many difficulties with our map and the actual streets and rest areas which seemed nonsensical and sometimes nonexistent.  Add to that the psychological shock of suddenly being surrounded by thousands of busy people and busy noises after weeks of silent contemplation of nature and already I had a bad taste in my mouth.  But it did not stop there! Soon we had bits of Seymour poop all over the van, a rest stop that wouldn't work, and a seemingly endless drive down Hwy 130, a ridiculously winding road about as wide as my forearm  along steeply dropping hills I have dubbed "The Road of Butt Clenching Terror". 

Yet, we made it out alive and after getting some In and Out in our bellies, we finally made it to our rest stop and got to sleep surrounded by bunny rabbits. 

Today is a new day and we are making some final preparations for Yosemite.  We should be there by the end of the day if all goes well!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Oregon Coast

(Seymour loooves eating cars.)

After the grueling hikes of Mount Rainier, Amber and I needed some serious R&R.  As our last entry indicated, we arrived in Astoria, Oregon, Tuesday night.  We found a very pleasant little coffee house and a beautiful paved path that ran along the coastline facing the state we had just left.  With each step away from home, the trip grows in intensity and seeing our homeland as a barely visible coastline made our wings feel that much bigger.  Tuesday night was also the first night we spent sleeping in a town.  It was a little bit of an adventure finding a suitable spot to sleep, private enough to feel safe and not be in anyone’s way and flat enough to manage to sleep without rolling all over each other during the night.  After a little searching we found the perfect spot nestled in a corner of bushes outside a church. 

The next morning we wandered back to our newfound coffeehouse and hung out for a good couple hours.  We were greeted by a local named Sam Coffey (at a coffee house no less!) and chatted with him while I played the guitar they had available for patrons.  Once caffeinated thoroughly, we hit the road again to find our next place to stay for the night. 
(Warning: not as many free samples as you dream of.)

At this point we hit our first “bump in the road”.  Not only were the Oregon speed limit signs obnoxiously fickle down Hwy 101 (it was not unusual to see a 55mph sign followed 200 feet later by a 35mph sign and then followed another couple hundred yards later by a 45mph sign and then a 55mph sign again), but because it was so hilly and most turn offs had clear postings saying No Overnight Parking, it was very hard to find a place to park.  The hours rolled on and on and it was approaching 7:30 when we finally came to the perfect little oasis for car-bound travelers in the little town of Depoe Bay, Oregon, which boasted the world’s smallest harbor. 

Here we found excellent flat parking facing a beautiful rocky shore.  And there were even picnic tables to cook on and a public bathroom nearby!  We cooked ourselves up some noodles with a red sauce and TVP (textured vegetable protein) and with a half a bottle of wine each we forgot all our cares. 

The next day (Thursday) we hit the road again, this time with the resolve to find a sandy beach and live like bums.  And that we did, only a few miles later in Southbeach.  Although very windy that day, we managed to find a little spot next to some bushes that was protected from the wind.  Together with a blanket and some sunscreen, we laid our bodies out for a good couple of hours and soaked up the sun.  Feeling adequately saturated in the goodness of the heavens we looked for a place to settle down for the night. 

Unlike the previous night, we found an excellent spot almost right away overlooking a beautiful sandy beach.  Feeling satisfied, we lounged around until sunset when we went for a nice walk on the beach with Seymour dog, who found the largest pieces of driftwood possible and attempted to drag it across the sand.  End the night with some freezing toes in the Pacific Ocean and the day is a success!

-          John

So we’re 13 days into living in the car, about 8 days of the actual trip part of it all, and I already feel haggard. The days are filled with more survival-type tasks than I expected. The morning ritual of taking down the bed, setting up the car for the day, making breakfast and getting ourselves and Seymour ready for the day is about 3 hours. I’ve never been a morning person, poor John.

The last couple days have been spent hanging out on the beach, hanging out in the car, or just driving, usually looking for a spot on the side of the road. Sleeping on the side of the road is taking some getting used to. I wonder if and when I will get used to sleeping on streets and shoulders of highways. The first couple of nights, every time a pair of headlights would drive by I would feel sure that they were about to stop and knock on our window or slash our tires. Now it’s only every 3rd car or so that I feel that way, so I’m already feeling more comfortable with it.

The evenings are the best. When our spot is already picked, the dinner has already been made and eaten with everything put away. Our bed is set up and waiting for us and Seymour Dog has tuckered himself out. John and I watch the sunset together, sharing tea or wine or popcorn or just a conversation from the front seat of Luna Van. These are my favorite moments, the moments we’ve worked so hard for, saving and planning for the last year and a half, and then spent the day building towards. This is MY life! And this amazing man next to me is MY man! These are the days.

-          Amber
(there were Grey Whales in there too.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mount Rainier

Hey y'all!

It's a few days into the trip and already we have seen some spectacular sites. On Saturday we rolled out of our friend Kecia Doolittle's apartment and headed form Mt. Rainier National Park. It was a bit of a drive but as we climbed through the mountains, but we were greeted by a snowcovered Rainier standing tall and proud. We hit the Pacific Crest Trail (the only dog friendly trail in the park). After about an hour of walking we hit some snow and the path became unclear. We were all pretty tired, so we headed back and made some dinner at Tipsoo Lake which overlooks the mountain. After getting some food in the belly we found a nice spot on the side of the road in the nearby Snoqualmie National Forest and called it a night.

The next two days were filled with many hikes around the park. Because most of the good trails are not dog friendly we split up, one of us choosing a trail in the park and one of us taking the Pacific Crest with Seymour.  I'll leave it to Amber to describe her exprerience.

My first day was with the doggywog, Seymour Butts (thusly named because he compulsively lickes all the hair of his butt).  We took the Pacific Crest down the side of the mountains and then into the woods.  Like before we hit a bunch of snow and I wasn't too sure where to go.  Behind me another couple had been walking and I turned to see if they knew where to go.  They told me "We'd been following you".  Nuts.  So I decided to climb my way up the creek nearby and besides being a bunch of fun, led me straight to the trail.  After that it was more of a walk inward toward the nearby lake.  We kicked it there for a while and headed back.

My second day was much different.  I decided to take part of the Wonderland Trail, known for its intimidating climbs and epic views.  I headed over the the White River Campgrounds where I knew the trail split off and started climbing.  Oh boy, did was I in for a treat: an hour and a half of grueling uphill climb with little else to look at but a bunch of trees.  Just before my spirit was starting to wain, however, I came across a huge waterfall, probably close to 120 tall that crossed trail.  After spashing my face with water to refresh my heart, I plodded on.  After just a short journey I hit a fantastic view of the mountain and knew that I couldn't give up the journey.  After about another half hour of hiking up hill the ground became pretty flat and before I knew it, I was in this "Wonderland" which up until this point I had honestly been "wondering" about.  View after view of the mountains and Rainier filled my vision and creek after creek, meadow after meadow, and flower after flower filled my imagination.  I completed the journey at the top of the Bourough Mountain Trail where I was gifted an almost surreal view of Rainier and the surrounding landscapes.  Words are simply not enough for it.  You'll have to see it for yourself ;) After that I was a pretty easy climb down the mountain and a comfy dinner with my love. 

It is now Tuesday and we are sitting in a cafe in Astoria, Oregon, ready for some relaxation in the sun for the next few days.


Well, John has basically told you our tale of Mount Rainier. My hike on day two was not as epic as John's solo hike, but the solitude and silence was epic for my heart. At one point on the hike I realized I had only seen a couple people, and that had been quite awhile ago. It only delighted me for a second, then I remembered hearing the ranger tell some people the day before that there was an agressive bear they were trying to find and put down. So I disturbed the silence by clapping and yelling, hoping to let the animals know I was there.
On my hike I saw several small waterfalls, and one epic huge one. In an attempt to get a better view of the huge, powerful waterfall, I stepped off the trail and fell, getting myself our first battle wound of the trip-several scrapes on the side of my right leg with a solid bruise underneath. It doesn't hurt enough to outweigh how badass I feel about it. The trail was supposed to lead to a Owywich lake, however the snow eventually became too deep and the trail was impassable. I turned back and sat on a log, soaked my feet in my favorite little waterfall and read.
We slept on shoulders on the road the winding road through the National Forest. The first night we freaked ourselves out, determined that every headlight that passed by was either a ranger about to stop and tell us we couldn't sleep there, or some drunk jerks ready to screw with us. On the third and last night we were finally starting to get used to it and feel safe when a car did stop, headlights pointed at us. They never got out, they were probably just checking their maps or peeing on the side of the road, but we must have held our breath the entire time. I wonder at what point I'll get used to sleeping on the side of the road, if I ever will.
The van is holding up, the dog is loving every minute of every hike and car ride, and the bed set-up is everything we dreamed of.
Unfortunately, as sturdy as old Luna is, we've made a mess of her, and the camera's cords have been lost of misplaced. (better than my wallet, which we spent 20 furried minutes at the Safeway gas station searching for.) We will update this post with our pictures of making burritos in front of Mount Rainier and all those waterfalls.
My first sight of Mount Rainier made my heart cry a little bit. I look forward to all the other landscapes we'll see trying to top it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Trip is On!

After many days of cleaning, getting rid of stuff, more cleaning, moving, packing and dropping off our extra belongings to our friends, the trip has actually started!  I suppose you could say it started when we left our keys in our apartment and said goodbye to the walls which gave us a home for the last year, but there is another sense of readiness and setting out now that the van is filled only with our trip supplies and we have waved goodbye to the friends who have been our home in the grand state of Washington. 
(a sideways tree growing in Washington Park in Anacortes, WA)

Our first stop has been my home town of Anactores, WA.  It is located in the San Juan Islands and is home to some of the most beautiful scenes this country has to offer.  The hypnotic motions of the Puget Sound, the regal poise of Cap Sante and the gorgeous clear skies speckled with clouds that only an archipelago can produce. 
We met with my brother, Mark Richcreek, late last night and after a cup of coffee and some oatmeal we headed out for a hike aroud Deception Pass, know for its misleading sailors who thought it went straight through.  To me it has always been known for it's curved beaches and epic views.  We then went for a nice dinner over at Washington Park and after a few minutes of messing with the stove, managed to get some quesadillas in our bellies while enjoying a nice beach breeze and a lovely sunset.  After that, Amber and I headed over to Cap Sante and chilled out watching the rest of the sunset give way to an incredibly clear crecent moon. 

(the moon was much bigger and more epic in person.. Still figuring out landscape pictures.)

(Also, a paypal donation button has been created. Not out of an assumption that anyone would want to contribute to our adventure, but because of the urging of others to post it.)