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American Walkabout

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The Return Trip Part 3: Glacier Nat. Park & East

9/7/19-9/22/19

Anuk and I left bright and early Saturday morning. I sipped on the remnants of my day-old ice coffee as we wound around the cold foggy mountains heading north-west towards Glacier National Park. I stopped at a gas station to refuel and decided to treat myself to a fresh cup of coffee and a donut. This was the first time in who knows how long that I had eaten a donut. When I went to the register she said it was $1.56. I asked her to repeat the amount, shocked at how cheap it was. And she explained that she thought it should be only $1.50 for a small cup of coffee and a donut. I laughed and said I had clearly been paying too much for my coffee all this time. By the way, it was an excellent cup of French vanilla (black, no sugar), and the sugary-glazed delight barely made it to the car. It was exactly the jolt I needed for the long day of driving ahead.

I took the winding scenic route along Flathead Lake which is in the north western part of the state, south of Whitefish. The warm sun was shining on the glistening blue water and all the people gathered to enjoy the late summer day on the lake. I was jealous of them savoring the beauty there amongst their friends. Summer has a special affect in the northern states. People go outside as much as possible to enjoy the lovely warm days while they last before the onslaught of winter. We hide away inside away from the oppressive heat and humidity of Florida; I wasn’t missing the summer there at all. I stopped for lunch at a cute little café for a veggie sandwich where Anuk and I enjoyed the shaded patio and a brief walk. We still had a ways to go.

We arrived in the afternoon as things were really humming around Western park entrance of Glacier National Park. I bought a few items from the store before we headed into the park. I looked into camping options, and found out that all the campgrounds nearby in the park were full. There was a one still open on the Eastern side of the park, but there was no way to reserve it. The chances of it still being vacant by the time I got there was very slim; it was the weekend after all. So I decided that we would drive East across the park anyway and see what was available outside of the park. The park ranger gave me a list of campgrounds.

We set out on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The campers I met in Helena said the road was nerve-racking for people scared of heights. I’m far from comfortable with heights, but I was going to check it out anyway, besides, this was the only way across the park. We stopped along the way to admire Lake McDonald and its rocky shoreline. I some bear scat, but thankfully we didn’t see any bears; I hoped that they wouldn’t explore so close to the road during the day. The view across the lake was staggeringly beautiful. Heavens Peak stands out in the distance at the northernmost part of the lake with an elevation of 8987 ft. Our path led us up that way and beyond.

We encountered a little bit of traffic. There were sections of road where they only permit one lane of cars at a time. The speed limits were generally slow, and they had places all along for people to pull over and take photos. I didn’t mind the delays or going slowly at all. It was hard to choose the best places to stop for photos, but I also didn’t want to delay too long; there were only so many hours in the day.

We made it to the top of the pass where cars were parked all along the road just before the parking area, so I was amazed when we found a parking spot. I had been told about a 2.8 mile moderate trail called Hidden Lake Overlook that started from there, but sadly no dogs are allowed on the trail. Thankfully Anuk was passed out in the car which was comfortably warm despite the cool air. I left a window open, and made food and water accessible to her and set off.

I tied my hair up as I was walking across the parking lot when my laces on my left hiking boot caught on the hook on my right boot and down I went. I got my hands out just in time as I fell hard on the concrete. A small pebble punctured a hole in the palm of my hand, and my left knee was definitely bruised. I looked around to see if anyone saw my awkward fumble, but despite all the people at the mountain pass, there wasn’t a single soul on this side of the parking lot. I brush myself off, checked my camera which was hanging around my neck, collected what was left of my pride and made my way to the bathroom. Sadly there was no running water, so there was no chance of rinsing off my wound.

So I opted to hustle and get the hike underway. I practically ran up the mountain, no wait, I definitely ran up the mountain. The trail was heavily trafficked and they even had wooden stairs leading up some of the way. I heard other tourists grumble about how long the trail was. I warmed up quickly and shed some of my layers. The high altitude trail running was a challenge, but it felt really good to engage every part of my lungs and stretch my legs after being in the car for so long.

Melting glacier water formed sweet little creaks that ran across the trail and down the mountain. I rinsed my hand off in one of them; it was nice and cold. If it weren’t for all the people, this place was truly magical, like being on top of the world. The hidden lake was picturesque and totally worth the hike, and a family of white mountain goats hung out nearby. The trail continued on down to the lake itself, but I knew I needed to get back. I returned the same way at a fast-paced walk and running down the stair portion carefully. When I returned to my car, Anuk was exactly as I left her, curled up and cozier than ever. I chomped down some trail mix and guzzled some water, and we could continued on our way.

The sunlight was wanning by the time we finally arrived at the easternmost campground in Glacier National Park; it was full of course. So we left the park. I pulled over to find the other campgrounds in the area. My phone had no signal, so I couldn’t call any of them, and I had no data, so my map wasn’t working either, so I followed the road North to Babb where I saw signs for campgrounds. Entering Babb (part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation), I knew immediately that I needed to turn around as that eerie feeling of being in the wrong neighborhood set in. I only felt it a couple times on this whole trip. When I doubled back, I saw a sign for a campground that I had missed on my way north. I followed it off the the main road heading east only about a quarter of a mile before I found the Leaning Tree campground.

They had sites open and it was $20 to camp and only $5 more to take a shower. My last real shower had been in Yellowstone (five days ago) so I was eager for a hot shower. Bathing with hot water also made it easier to pick the pebbles out of my wounded hand. I picked the campsite with a fake looking tree (this must have been the “leaning tree”) and made camp. Someone had left a welcome mat here which I placed just outside of my tent, and left it there in the morning when I packed up.

The next morning was cold and gray, and it felt like I took forever to break camp. My expectations usually exceed the pace at which my limbs are actually capable of. Fog hung heavily on the ground which made limited visibility for driving; at the most I could maybe see 100 meters ahead. I continued east on the same road I came in on. I drove through endless, treeless gray cattle pastures past cows that looked like dark silhouettes.

Suddenly I caught sight of a cow in the middle of the road, and I slammed on my brakes. I went from 60pmh to a dead stop with just enough time to break ten feet in front of a cow. It stood there and looked at me casually, and then it sauntered slowly across the street. I waited to see if her friend on the side of the road would follow, but she did not. So I continued on more carefully, thanked the good Lord for working brakes. I knew I would have died otherwise. And then I began to cry, I think I was in shock or just feeling fragile. Neither would surprise me.

The gray weather followed me all of the rest of my way through Montana, except for a small patch of sun I found in Great Falls. I stopped there at a park to give Anuk a good walk, and she got to see geese for the first time. I also picked up some more provisions from Walmart (only the third one I had been to on my entire trip). The need to buy food is pretty constant when my cooler is small and my car space is limited. It makes stocking up not an option; I only bought what I needed that could fit in one large grocery bag plus a 2 gallon jug of water.

It was a long day of driving as we covered most of the state of Montana arriving at Red Shale Campgrounds just after the sun had set, which is just east of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in south eastern Montana. The campgrounds are free and nestled comfortably in amongst pine trees and the grass was about four feet tall. This was the first time I stopped to camp and felt totally uncomfortable. Maybe it was because it was later in the day, maybe it was the way the grasses near our site had been pressed down by something very large, or maybe it was because everyone else staying there was in a camper or van. I opted for us to sleep in the car, which was a first for us. The temperature was just right, chilly even, so we snuggled in for the night. It wasn’t a comfortable sleep sitting up partially with limited leg room, and Anuk kept readjusting her position, but we made it through the night. I reasoned that I probably only got a few hours less sleep than I normally got while camping.

In the morning, I met a very nice lady who was also camping there in her converted van with her playful dog. They were coming from the east coast and heading to Oregon. She was surprised by the lack of water at state and national park campgrounds, and I told her that trend would continue for the rest of her trip west. And I gave her some pointers on how to take an alternative bath. We said our farewells and Anuk and I headed out.

We continued on the 212 down through a tiny sliver of Wyoming before entering South Dakota. I had heard such good things about Sturgis and the surrounding beauty that I included it into my return route. It was a lovely drive through the Black Hills National Forest. We went through Deadwood, but didn’t stop at any of the sights; parking seemed complicated. And we arrived mid afternoon at the Wind Cave National Park campground. It had been recommend to me by one of the women I met at the Crazy Creek campground back in Wyoming. After all the time driving, this spot was an oasis.

After I set up camp, I laid my blanket out in the sun so I could sit and paint. Anuk thoroughly enjoyed romping and rolling around in the green grass. I was tempted to go check out the park itself, but sometimes its just better to do less. We both needed this break.

I enjoyed the sunset while I cooked a delicious hot meal. I could do my washing in their facilities (restrooms with running water, and a sink for washing up dishes with hot water). I didn’t see a shower though. It was okay, the weather was warm during the day, but cooling off nicely at night (low 50’s) and there was very little humidity in the air.

I got up early the next day and we continued our journey east. As we were leaving the park we passed a couple of bison who were just off the road. One was only about five feet from my car using a sturdy brick sign post as a scratching board. I laughed at all the silly tourists squinting to see the heards of bison in the distance at Yellowstone. Here in South Dakota, they were right next to the road and practically no one around to see them. I love catching unexpected sightings like this in nature; its so much more special, like all the times is saw dolphins while surfing in the Atlantic.

We took a route that I created through google maps that would take me into the ‘back’ entrance of the Badlands. This meant that we traveled through miles and miles of farmland on fairly decent gravel roads. They were the kind of roads that go in straight lines up and down hills past fields and more fields with no other soul in sight.

The Badlands were a beautiful sight to see with the multicolored mounds of earth rising up all around and accented by the ominous clouds that built up in the east. I stopped as many times as I could to take photos before the rain poured down. This was our first rain since Oregon, and man did it come down. We stopped at the gift shop on the way out, and I bought a few souvenirs. I realized that this would be the last national park that I would be visiting on my walkabout, so its only fitting that it was raining when we left the park. It was sad for me to realize my trip was coming closer to its end.

The rest of my trip east was full of long days of driving and listening to lots of audio books as I crept back into the humid, rainy summer weather I knew so well. I stayed at a hipcamp in Nebraska where I set up late in the dark, and broke camp in the rain the following morning. I stopped in Arkansas briefly for a short but sweet visit with Greg and the Cross family. Then I bee-lined it straight for Houston, Texas to visit my best friend and her family for a couple days. These end of summer days were hot, and I was thankful for air conditioning and a roof overhead as the rain continued to follow along with me.

I attempted to do some sight-seeing in New Orleans, but instead found myself in a sketchy, rundown neighborhood. After many wrong turns and finding traffic everywhere I just gave up and left. I could see where new construction was being done, but also where many buildings were still in ruin. I’ve heard many great things about New Orleans, but sadly I didn’t get to see or experience any of them. So I continued on.

I camped that night in the DeSoto National Forest in Mississippi. By the time I had set up camp I was drenched entirely in sweat. I hadn’t missed the humidity at all, so I was very thankful for a shower that night. But it didn’t do much good because I just lay there sweating all night. Its one of the many times I wished I could have explained to Anuk what was going on. She whined and cried most of the night, clearly she was just as uncomfortable as I was.

The next day I woke up pretty stiff. I had gotten used to sleeping on the ground, and I found that the lower back pain I used to get from sleeping in a bed was long gone. But something that night was off. Maybe it was all of the driving, lack of exercise and proper stretching that did it. When I broke camp, I moved a bag from the driver side into the passenger side, and I pulled something in my lower back. It was my sciatic nerve. The pain was excruciating. I did my best to finish packing up and get in my car; I could still move my legs (barely) and my feet and therefore I could drive. It was very difficult to use the clutch, but near impossible to reach over to the passenger seat where I kept food, water and such.

I had booked a hipcamp at a farm in Tallahassee, but I knew that it would be impossible to set up camp in my condition. So I canceled my booking and called my massage therapist in New Smyrna. If I drove straight through, I could get there by 8pm or so. He said he could help me out. I called my friend Michelle and asked if she could watch Anuk for that hour, and I called Kat to see if Anuk and I could stay with her that night. Both friends willingly agreed to help me out. At this point the pain was so intense that talking was more like crying and wincing as I tried to breath through the pain. I probably sounded like someone caught underneath a fallen tree.

So I headed straight toward New Smyrna Beach. I stopped at the Florida welcome center to use the bathroom, slowly inched my way out of the car and hobbled over to the building. I suddenly felt the pain of every person who struggles to walk and move around like a healthy person. When I saw my face in the bathroom mirror, I cringed. My face was wrenched and twisted in pain with fresh tears clinging to my eyes. There was no mistaking that I was in total agony. Its a miracle that I was able to walk Anuk and lean over to pick up her business. I cried trying to hold back the screams of pain as I leaned over the slowest I have ever leaned over in my entire life. Then I took four minutes or so to carefully get back in the car and on our way again.

I am thankful for the seat heater in my car; I kept it on high all day. I picked up some ibuprofen at a gas station. I had some in my car topper, but there was no way I was going to be able to maneuver myself to get up in there. I phoned friends and family and asked for prayer, and as the day went on I was able to manage as best as I could.

Thanks to GPS I was able to predict my arrival time in New Smyrna and set up my appointments accordingly. Henrik attended to my broken body, he worked mostly on my hips. Everything was still pretty tight when I left, but he performed nothing shy of a miracle. All of the driving I had done (with so few breaks) had done a number on my body. By the end of the next day I was able to move about more normally with significantly less pain. He said that it would get better as the days went on, and it did. In a couple days, I was a normal functioning human again, and I was back amongst my friends. It was so great to be welcomed back to New Smyrna Beach, even if it was only for a brief time.

After a few days I headed further south to Indialantic where my parent live. I sit here now in their garage apartment reflecting on my life-changing American Walkabout. Its hard to resurface from a trip like this, and the question that continually haunts me is, “Now what?” I was hoping for some clarity on my trip, for something to really grab me. I loved lots of the places I visited, and lots of the people I met. There are plenty of reasons to return, but there wasn’t a job to give me a reason to stay somewhere permanently. So I still wrestle with, “Now what?”

What I do know is that this trip has drastically shifted my priorities. I do not want a career, a house in the suburbs, a garage full of toys or a closet full of clothes. There are so many other ways to live; I’ve seen different and wonderful examples on the farms I visited across America. I can’t fit myself into a cubicle to work for a paycheck for a job that is meaningless to fill a box full of stuff and ever be happy. I was never made for that kind of life. My goal is to figure out how I can grow a life outside of society’s confining box. This is a life that beckons me forward into more than just surviving, a life that is thriving, and this will be a life worth living.

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The Return Trip Part 2: Wyoming & Montana

9/3/19-9/7/19

Anuk and I left Jackson Hole and headed for a campsite I found about an hour away in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. It was off the beaten track, just a few campsites widely spread out, no amenities, and totally free, but the best part was that it was in full view of the Tetons. Coco scrambled up the rocky road, and we found an empty campsite in a dirt clearing nestled between the sage brush and the quiet road with the forest growing up on the far side. There was a sign pointing out that this was indeed a campsite and a firm reminder to practice bear safety. I wondered again if I would see a bear, and prayed that I wouldn’t. I set up camp and we settled in for the night.

The sun set over the Tetons shamelessly boasting the glory of the natural earth; the simple combination of rock and sunlight turned into beauty beyond words. I took a couple photos, but I knew that they wouldn’t do this place any justice. I sat in my camp chair and attempted to absorb the moment in that quiet nook of Wyoming. I was thankful more than ever to be alone with Anuk with the freedom to chose our next steps. I ate a simple warm dinner as the temperature started to creep down into the forties, and I considered our options as we settled in for the night. I had grown accustomed to taking this trip one day at a time, open to the opportunities that arose and the suggestions of locals and fellow travelers. This made every day a new adventure to discover. I had little to no reception here so I needed to follow road signs to get back north through the Tetons and Yellowstone the next day, Google Maps was no longer of any help without data reception. I studied my road atlas and kept it open to the state of Wyoming on my dashboard.

The new day warmed quickly as the sun rose, and I pealed off layers as I broke camp. I was surprised to be greeted by cowboys who led horseback tours on a nearby trail in the sage brush. The first horse scared Anuk, and she did her best to leap into my arms and then hid in the car. I guess I wasn’t so far off the beaten track after all. The wild is getting smaller and smaller.It seemed that in Wyoming the wild is packaged and sold to tourists on horseback. I was a tourist too; I paid for the “Gold Roughing-It” package with a loose plan that I figured out moment by moment. It was worth every sacrifice and every penny!

We headed back north on almost the same route through Grand Tetons and Yellowstone as the day before. We hiked around a lake in the Tetons to capture the still reflection of the mountains in the water, and I found a chapel for a much needed pause. It reminded me of the time I found solace and protection from the rain next to a statue of Mary outside of a Catholic church when I wandered the streets of Singapore. Both moments were the result of searching and finding a place of security, an oasis of stillness in this life of constant motion, where a single prayer is answered with, “Yes.” Both moments were overwhelming in a way where words are useless, and all I could do was cry.

When we continued north through the Tetons, we ran into bumper to bumper traffic; thankfully the view was nice. I guess a crew was painting new lines on the road. What a contrast of nature and civilization colliding for the low low price of $35. We finally started moving again and made our way back into Yellowstone. It was an erie déjà vu seeing the same spots again now tainted. Even now, I still get nauseous when I think of Yellowstone and the man I hope to never see again. But we stopped at new spots along the way to hike around and take photos where there weren’t any people. The weather was a perfect 60-70 degrees, sunny with a pleasant breeze.

There was a waterfall along the way which I thought could be a good stop. I saw a couple walking their dog and presumed that I could bring Anuk along. But the signs leading to the paved trail said otherwise. I talked to the couple about it, and they said that the took turns looking at the sites in Yellowstone while one would watch the dog. Yellowstone isn’t a dog friendly place. The husband was gracious enough to also watch Anuk while the wife and I walked the short distance to the falls, waited our turn to get a clear view of it, and took a photo. What a waste of digital space; the waterfall was totally anticlimactic. I thanked the couple and retrieved Anuk. We made our way through the crowd eating ice cream, pausing several times to let children and their parents say ‘hello’ to Anuk, and then we hopped back in the car and continued on our way.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief when we finally exited the North-East entrance to the park. We were greeted by ‘Welcome to Montana’ signs, and then the road brought us back into Wyoming. I found a campground in Shoshone National Forest in a place called Crazy Creek. I picked a campsite with a view of the BearTooth Mountains, and I watched the sun set red over them looking both formidable and amazing. There was a ranch in the creek valley below. It looked like a slice of real Wyoming, picturesque and inviting to the rural life. The night was chilly, in the 40s for sure, my fingers tingled and started to go numb. I met several of my fellow campers who were intrigued by my Florida plates and puppy companion (she makes friends everywhere). They gave me recommendations of places visit and which to avoid in Montana. I drew stars next to cities and a line along a route to get me there. I found a tiny red squiggle of a road that led north into a town called Red Lodge. My plan was to drive there the following day, find a coffee shop, research/download maps for the road ahead (it was tough reading a road atlas while driving) and pick up some food provisions.

That little red squiggle of a road (the 212) turned out to be one of the most jaw-dropping, breath-taking drives and highlights to my whole trip. Its called Beartooth Pass, and it led up into the snow-capped mountains that I saw in the distance. There were impossibly blue mountain lakes, edged with rich evergreen trees and lush grass attempted to cover the flecks of white rock all around. The sturdy mountains reached up to touch the bright blue sky. I saw dozens of places I wanted to stop and explore. One place I saw had many tiny pools leading one to another with water so clear I could see the rocks on the bottom. My one regret in life is that I didn’t stop there; it was a place from a dream I wish I had. The two-lane road wound tightly around S-turns hugging sheer drop-offs that made for slow driving and there was little room to pull off anywhere, so stopping was rarely an option. And it continued to get better as the road wound higher and higher until I was actually face to face with the snow I had seen below. It was unmelted in the sunny 50-something degree weather at 10,947 feet. I wondered how cold it got there at night in the middle of summer.

Winding down the Montana side was grayer, drier and rockier. There was less to see and more steep cliffs to avoid certain death, so I kept my eyes glued to the road. I found out later that snow storms sometimes hit Beartooth Pass in the summer, making the road impassable, and one had even hit in 2019 on the first day of summer. It was hard to imagine a snow storm on such a beautiful sunny day.

I made small talk with locals at the coffee shop and found my best route to Helena, MO. The men I met and saw were friendly and generally and very easy on the eyes; Montana had its appeal. The women however were rarely friendly. The young woman at the grocery store checkout was very friendly to the man in front of me but wouldn’t even acknowledge me. I thought it was just her. Then later I stopped to use a bathroom at a small grocery store where a sign said “Restroom for customers only.” I figured I could easily buy a bag of ice, a constant need for preserving my food. When I asked the older lady at the counter for the key, she very rudely reiterated the sign. I told her I would indeed be buying something but needed the restroom first. When I returned the key she glared at me. She rang me up for several items and attempted to be nice, but her kindness was useless at this point.

The afternoon was gray and chilly and I took Anuk for a walk across the street where there was a tiny fenced in ‘run’ for dogs to do their business. I walked her around it; I had no intentions of subjecting her to that sad patch of dirt. There are many places of staggering beauty in the United States, and there are some that are just downright depressing; I left this one far behind.

Time was always biting at my ankles, driving me onward to keep going so I could make camp before dark. I pulled into Moose Creek Campgrounds in Helena National Forest ($5/night), and I found a spot in front of a rock face and paid for two nights. There were toilets here, no running water, but there was a little river. I gathered water from the river for a bucket bath and for washing my dishes; it was ideal! I was told later that drug deals went on near the entrance of the campgrounds, but luckily I was set up near others at the ‘nice’ side of the campgrounds.

The next day I found a road that was the rockiest most dangerous mountain road I have ever driven on in my Mini Cooper to hike to a trail head with Anuk that we never found. Every driver we passed on the way back down engaged me in friendly conversation. I guess these men were curious what I was doing out there in the middle of nowhere. I think women might be in short supply in this part of the country? Back at camp, I took a cold bucket shower using my car doors as ‘privacy’ and ate an early dinner (a peanut butter and bagel sandwich) before the rain came at 6pm. It turns out my propane tank had a leak and it ran out of gas, so I couldn’t warm water for my bath, cook dinner or make coffee the next day. But I did have leftover coffee from the coffee shop in Red Lodge which would be enough for a few sips in the morning. It didn’t bother me too much me at this point in the trip. I settled into my tent when the rain came and began to journal.

When I came out to use the restroom, I met some of my camping neighbors who’s dog Ruby was eager to say hello. They invited me to join them for some beers out of the rain in their camp trailer. I accepted and brought over some Montana craft beers, and they shared their Bud Lights. Anuk and Ruby played together marvelously in and out of the rain, even cuddling up together at one point. My neighbors were three guys who were camping there for the weekend to hunt nearby. Two of them were brothers from Minnesota, one lived in Helena and the other had just driven in from Minnesota. They definitely had the iconic Minnesota accent. And the third guy was born and raised in Montana.

They introduced me to butt darts, sheepishly ate their giant hunks of smoked meat and kept referring to themselves as the Clampetts. I guess they were a bit self-conscious being around a vegan from Florida, not that my life was any fancier than theirs. They did not change my opinion of guys from Montana (even if two were really from Minnesota). They were polite, friendly, and kept handing me drinks even before I finished what I had. They were perfect gentlemen and made what could have been a dreary night in the rain into one of my best nights camping. Sadly I can’t remember their names, I should have taken better notes, and the only photo I took was of Anuk and Ruby curled up together, but I would thank them for their hospitality if I could.

I declined the Minnesota brother’s invitation to carry a quarter of the deer they would be hunting the next day, and made my way instead north to Glacier National Park where they assured me was the most likely place to get attacked by a bear. I would just have to take my chances.

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Exploring Oregon & The Return Trip Part 1

8/28/19- 9/4/19

I’m sitting here in my tent as the rain trickles down pattering loudly against the rain fly here in Helena National Park, Montana. I had no plans to be here a week ago when I left Oregon/Washington area, but plans took an unexpected turn. One thing I learned from this trip is to always stay light on my feet, ready to shift because plans aren’t ever etched in stone. Flexibility is key. Allow me to elaborate.

The plan from early on was to make the return trip east with Jef. I picked him up from the airport in Portland, Or on the evening of August 28th. We stayed in a tent on someones lovely property outside of Washougal, Washington which is just north of Portland on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It was a cute spot that I found on hipcamp.com. We took a day trip from here to explore the Oregon coast and surf in Ecola State Park. Yes, the water was cold (50 something degrees), but even in a 4/3 ill-fitted rental wetsuit with booties it was tremendous fun. Of course the fact that the air was in the 70’s on a particularly sunny day, didn’t hurt at all. Being used to Florida windy slosh, less than ideal conditions elsewhere are a-okay in my book, and we got a few fun rides. From the water I could admire the wild landscape, steep mountains were adorned with lush green forest, their rocky feet reached down to the sandy cove flecked with the debris of fallen trees left to become the forest’s skeletons in the sun. A small mountain stream trickled out from the thick forest to meet the crashing waves. I couldn’t picture being anywhere more beautiful.

After returning our rental surf gear and grabbing a bite to eat, Jef, Anuk and I drove south a ways to Oswald West State Park and found a trail down to Short Sand Beach. It was very similar to the many trails I passed on my way north that I wanted to hike but didn’t have the time. So I finally got to explore one! This hike took us through mossy green forest to a hidden cove along the Oregon coast. There were tide pools to explore and the dark rocks along the water were flecked with all sorts of bright colors, lime green, orange, white. Crabs scurried out of cracks in the rock. Did these small caves lead anywhere? The waves looked clean and fun, worth a return trip with a board, and there were several surfers coming and going, making the scenic hike in their wetsuits. I thought I could easily live in Oregon, and what excuse could I make to return? Cold winters aside Oregon was winning me over. Dogs are allowed most everywhere too, so Anuk could join us for all the hiking, beach excursions, and dining out. They even have ‘hitching posts’ outside of some of the grocery stores so you can tie up your dog while you go grocery shopping.

On the following day the three of us explored Hamilton Mountain in Beacon Rock State Park in Washington, not far from where we were staying. The trail wound past a couple waterfalls and many viewpoints until we were just hiking along the top with a clear view of the Columbia River gorge and Oregon beyond. Some parts of the trail branched off into treacherous terrain along a narrow path with a killer drop off, which were more than I could handle with a slight fear of heights and a brave puppy on a leash. Thankfully we realized that the actual trail continued for many miles in away from the dangerous drop offs. We kept thinking we had reached the top of Hamilton Mountain, but found that the path continued upward around each bend, and eventually we just turned around and hiked back down. Anuk managed the eight mile hike really well at three months old needing extra breaks and to be carried up some of bigger rocks that she just wasn’t big enough to get up, but she hiked most of the way on her own. I have noticed that when she gets bored she misbehaves, but when we hike, she rarely acts out. She runs at the chance of a steep incline or decline and I have to hold her back from the ones that are just too steep.

While we hiked Jef and I talked about our relationship and how we both concluded that we just didn’t have a future together. It was an amicable resolution and we decided that we could still be friends and have a great journey back to Florida together. The hike together was uplifting. The scenery was gorgeous, and the exercise was much needed.

The following day we headed out early east along the Evergreen Highway which winds along the Washington side of the Columbia River. Jef had made reservations for us in Old Faithful at a cabin in Yellowstone for Sunday night and camping reservations in Canyon Village on Monday night. We had two days to get there, so we took an easy pace driving to Boise, Idaho on Saturday. There was a campgrounds east of Boise called Macks Creek Park which was right along the river.

When we arrived there early evening, the camp host told us that they were fully booked, but she told us about another spot further down the road beyond the Arrowrock Dam. We traveled down the dusty gravel road a few miles (its hard to tell how far when you’re driving so slow) to the river basin where a bunch of other people had set up camp. It was tricky finding a spot down to the water that wouldn’t totally kill my car, then we later realized there was a road that led right down. The area around the river was huge, it must have been a while since they had decent rain because the water level was pretty low. The mud close to the waters edge was the sticky kind that makes it hard to walk. I’m sure I still have mud stuck into the deepest crevasses of my sandals, a souvenir from Idaho. We picked a spot that was further from the water, it was covered with thin grass and dipped slightly so there was privacy. I imaged this would be the worse place to be if there had been a flash flood in the night, this was clearly the spot the water ran into the river basin. But thankfully we were safe for our short stay. We set up camp, and I made some curry for dinner.

Despite the multitude of cars, campers, trucks and tents set up there was relatively little noise and plenty of privacy. It felt like we were in the middle of a crater, the area was so vast and empty with little vegetation and no trees in sight. We slept with the rain fly off so we could admire the stars. It got chilly, but it was worth it. At this point I had built up some tolerance to the colder weather and didn’t even mind the numbness in my fingers while I took down camp in the morning.

We headed for Yellowstone National Park which stretches from the eastern edge of Idaho into Wyoming and brushes the southern border of Montana. Old Faithful is in the western portion of the park, named after the notorious geyser. So much is built around it and the many other gassy and colorful geysers. Actually there seemed to be steam coming up from all over the place in the park both on and off the beaten track, and the smell of sulfur wafted through the air. Old Faithful is also one of the most popular parts of the park and sadly it was thick with tourists. Jef picked this area because he used to work at the park when he was younger, and he had some glory days to revisit.

It was here, only four days after picking up Jef, that things really unraveled between us. We couldn’t stop arguing, and it became abundantly clear to me that it was foolish to think we would make this trip back together. I know now I had been crazy to think otherwise. That night and following day were about as uncomfortable as you could imagine, but we tried to be civil. We went for an early morning hike; dogs aren’t allowed anywhere in the park outside of lodging, so we left Anuk in the cabin while we took a short hike, then came back and checked out. We headed north to the campsite in Canyon Village stopping at places along the way to take pictures of some of the sights. We got along okay.

The campsite center had laundry facilities and showers. Jef and I took turns showering and moving our laundry through the cycles while setting up camp and getting dinner made. When I returned freshly showered with all of our laundry folded and bagged, Jef tried to kiss me. When I refused him, he flew off the handle saying all sorts of things. I finally stopped arguing back. I had finally learned that if I just agreed with him I would stop stoking the fire, and he would finally run out of things to say. Then all I could do was stand by my car and cry; it didn’t matter to me anymore if anyone saw me in this closely populated campsite. In retrospect, it was funny to watch him try to say what a horrible person and in the same breath thank me for folding all of his clothes.

The overnight low was predicted to be in the 30’s. The bathrooms were gloriously heated. I spent an extra long time getting ready the next morning. I met another camper in there; we talked about her rented camper van and about my recently ended relationship with Jef. She worried about my physical safety, but I assured her that I wasn’t in that kind of danger. It was nice to find compassion from a stranger and a much-needed friendly face that morning.

When I returned to camp, Jef had all of his things packed up and ready and claimed he was wanted to go to the nearest place to rent a car. That place was Jackson Hole airport, and I agreed to take him there. He was scheduled to be at his friend’s wedding in Colorado in a few days.

After we left camp, we actually had a pretty civil day. We stopped at many beautiful spots along the way. The road south leads straight through Grand Teton National Park, one of the most breath-taking mountain ranges I’ve ever seen. Everywhere looked like a postcard; I had to keep saying that this was the real thing, not a painting.

By late afternoon we pulled into the tiny Jackson Hole airport and we parted ways on good enough terms, and I made my way into town to get some provisions. Of course I bumped into him in the parking lot of the only grocery store in town. At that point it seemed like we could be friends. I used the signal in town to look up a campground in the area, and headed back north. Now that it was just Anuk and I, the road opened back up with nearly endless possibilities, and this freedom lifted my spirits. Where would we head next? I’ve always wanted to check out Montana.

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Portland At Last

(Photo: Dry Creek Falls)

8/18-8/28

I arrived in Corbett, Oregon on Sunday evening; its a picturesque sleepy farm town about twenty minutes west of Portland right off the Columbia River. Its part of the Columbia River Gorge which has endless hiking trails, waterfalls, the Pacific Crest Trail and Bridge of the Gods, which was featured in the movie Wild. Its an outdoor mecca flocked by many Portland residents each weekend. And it was my privilege to stay at the Kadinky farm for my last woofing destination before heading back east. It wasn’t’ the largest farm I stayed on, but they did have the largest cultivated acreage to maintain in comparison to the other homestead farms I worked on. Its been said that the work is never done on a farm, but I would add that the work is rewarding giving a farmer renewed purpose every day.

When I arrived, I was welcomed by Susan, Janet and their son Jude. They gave me the tour of the farm which included a barn with a kitchen attached (for me to use), a fenced in chicken coop (the ladies weren’t laying eggs just yet) and three patches of garden. The main one was on the hill below the barn and used to be full of produce for Janette’s restaurant. While I was there only a portion of it was being used for personal consumption and the rest of the plot was fallow. They had kale, swiss chard, cucumbers, zucchini and other veggies along with dill growing next to giant sunflowers. The second garden was a decent sized pumpkin patch further down the hill. The third garden contained rows of beautiful flowers; Susan collected and dried flowers for decorating wreaths. They also had a sizable green house with more edible plants, a lush garden next to their house with grapes, roses and apples, and a patch of Oregon (non edible) natives. The untouched areas of the farm were full of blackberries just coming into season, ripe and ready for the picking. I was encouraged to eat as many as I wanted and to harvest and eat anything I’d like from the garden. It was a vegan dream!

They showed me the area on the far side of the farm where I could set up camp in a clearing near the outdoor bathroom. I picked a spot under a tree mostly surrounded by blackberry bushes. I ate some every day, and they are by far the best I have ever had! The outdoor bathroom was still a work in progress as the sink didn’t function yet and I think they had plans for a roof which wasn’t on it yet. It had barnyard wood walls and rubber mats on the floor, which kept most of the dirt off. And it had a compost-able toilet for solids only; I was given permission to pee anywhere I found privacy (I had my spots). The shower had black hoses leading to it which were coiled in full sun, so the water was supposed to be warm. But the reality was that it was cold for the first two seconds before it was completely freezing. They offered for me to shower inside as an alternative; but I only took them up on it twice, once was on a rainy cold day, and the other was when they hosted a group of campers on the property. Otherwise I showered in the late afternoon when the sun was beaming right onto me. The cold water was still shocking, but glorious. Have I mentioned that I love outdoor showers? I could see Mt. Hood from the bathroom and gaze out onto the neighboring flowering fields in absolute privacy.

Janet and Susan worked in Portland most days. Janet’s restaurant is in really cool part of North East Portland on Alberta St., and Susan is a school teacher. Jude was four and went to preschool. I worked most days with Charlie who also lived on the property. Our first project was to create extra insulation for his A-frame house against the heavy winter winds that blow up through his floor boards. With Charlie’s father’s help and direction we positioned twenty-eight cement blocks along the structure, filled them with earth, sealed up the cracks with insulation and laid grasses over top.

We also worked on projects in the garden. We spent several days weeding in the main garden and the native patch. We harvested and blanched broccoli for freezing. We prepped the soil of another bed clearing it of weeds and planted root vegetables. We also cleared out a portion of an old chicken run full of wild growth more than six feet high. Thats where I got burdock in my hair, right at the top of my head! Even with some help, I still needed to rip out a whole clump of hair to get rid of those nasty buggers. Now I have bangs, and I opted to wear a hat each day after that.

Charlie taught me about different plant families and new techniques for mulching, harvesting and planting. He was a delight to work with; he’s a gentle soul, a hard worker and an artist. We exchanged life stories over glove-fulls of weeds and hoisted heavy wheel-barrels full up and down the hill. It was daily exercise just going up that hill to the kitchen barn. It was exhausting at times, but I loved it.

On the weekend, Charlie joined Anuk and I on a hike to Dry Creek Falls which weaves along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Sadly many of the trails in the area were still closed from the devastating fire that destroyed much of the wilderness two years prior and even forced the Kadinky Farm to evacuate. Jude still spoke fearfully about fires. Anuk handled the the five or so miles like a pro! Then we grabbed lunch at a brewery in Hood River which is a cute dog friendly town along the Columbia River.

My days flew by, and my evenings were quiet. One of my goals for this trip was to finally visit Portland, which I did a few times. I spent time on Alberta Street and Mississippi Avenue, both great areas for shopping, dining and walking around. I even went to the REI downtown which was a nightmare in traffic, but Anuk had popped my air pillow so I made the heroic journey into the most crowded REI I had ever seen! Then that night Anuk popped my air pad; I was frustrated to say the least. I ended up sleeping on the ground for a few nights before I ordered a mat that she couldn’t pop, which I picked up from an REI south of Portland. Portland is a great city, full of clever and creative people, who are open-minded and chill, with amazing food, stellar breweries and friendly people. And before I knew it, it was time to leave again.

Highlights:
Fresh blackberries and produce every day
Outdoor shower
The time and space to play with Anuk each day
Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge
Great vegan options in Portland
How green everything is

Lowlights:
Anuk popping my camping gear

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Finding Endor & Oregon

Aug 16-18

Anuk and I left early the next morning, and found that my car had been cleaned. One of Adam’s neighbors really likes to clean, and my car was in the perfect state of filth. So thank you stranger for cleaning my car!

After we left the Bay area we continued up the 101, and diverted only a little to take the Avenue of the Giants. This narrow road winds through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Northern California, where massive trees hug the side of the road. It is hard to describe what I felt while I was there. It was like stepping into a place of dreams or fantasy. I could feel the very energy of the place. I was both humbled and filled with reverence, what I would expect to feel in a holy place. This holy place was not built and contaminated by human hands, but grown forever ago, and still here to experience. I could have paused there for years. The air is almost heavy and rich with the smell of Christmas trees. The trees are so big that you need to include a person or a car to show the scale. But you have to stand way back to take the picture, and even then you can only get a small portion of the whole tree. This was hard to do on my own, but I propped up my phone on some rocks to take a selfie using the timer function on my phone. I could see myself on the planet Endor running through the woods amongst the ferns and ancient giants building humble structures out of fallen trees and living off the land. Instead I was merely passing through, a tourist to nature’s beauty.

We stopped at a few places and found our way down to the river. Anuk ran across the rocks while I tossed pebbles around for her to chase. It felt like we were the only ones around, and in some places I’m sure that we were. I didn’t have any set plans for the night, so thankfully we found a state park camp ground along the road which had campsites available. I found the best ever campsite there. I picked the one with a cluster of six or so trees growing in a tight circle with a space in the middle big enough for my tent. There was an entry way between the tress with roots that acted like steps leading down. It was perfect!

I understand that trees can communicate with each other, and I asked for permission to set up my tent in their midst. Of course they could have said ‘no’, but I felt peace here and joy like being a kid again with a vast imagination. I used to make hideouts in the bushes around our house, and being here took me right back. The ground was so soft with fallen leaves that I didn’t need more padding than my sleeping bag on the ground. I don’t remember the dreams I had that night, but it was a peaceful nights rest, and I was sorry to leave in the morning. I had some noisy neighbors though that woke me from this dreamlike state of mind. So as usual, it was time to press on.

I spent the next day winding north up the 101 and into Oregon. The coast there is magical, sand dunes in some places, rocks jutting out of the water in others. Giant structures of nature and soft grasses hounded by the wind. I stopped at viewpoints along the way expecting to see beautiful cliff overlooks, but found thick forest instead. Steep trails led into the trees and wound down to hidden coves which I could not see from above. I wished that I had time to explore them all, but I had to drive on. Move on, keeping moving on.

In the evening I stopped at a state park campground that I found along the way. The host said that they were fully booked and he was doubtful I would find a place with openings nearby because it was the weekend. This is the downside to being in an area where folks love to camp; the weekends are just busier. By this point week day or weekends all felt the same to me, they were just days that flowed from one into the next.

I drove on as the day was waining reasoning that I could sleep in my car somewhere if I needed to, but all the parking along the coast had giant signs that said there was no camping or overnight parking anywhere. So I pressed on, hopeful to find something. I made it north of Port Orford and found a sign for an RV park. The attendant there said they had tent camping sites, all of them were empty, and I could take my pick of the bunch. She even offered for me to check them out first. They had free wifi near the office and free showers all for $20. I paid her without needing to see the campsites. This seemed like a luxury by this point, and I didn’t care what ground I camped on at this point.

The campsites turned out to be pretty plush. I picked the one on the far side of a small grove of pine trees with a beat up picnic table a good distance away from all the RV’s. It was actually quite pretty nestled between the trees and a wild field with plenty of privacy and space to throw the ball for Anuk. The sun was just sinking down in the sky as I set up camp (by this point my setup only took about 20 minutes) and I cooked my dinner by flashlight. The temperature was dropping, and I was exhausted as usual, so I opted to pass on a hot shower and went to bed early instead.

I visited the facilities first thing in the morning taking Anuk for a walk. I had just enough time to do my thing when a cat waltzed into the bathroom and got Anuk into a frenzy and I needed to leave before she woke everyone up. I opted to pass on the shower yet again, reasoning that it was only a couple days since my last shower and I would have one at the farm later that day. I packed up our gear and we headed out on the road getting an early-ish start. Packing up always takes longer than setup (roughly an hour) especially if I make coffee and breakfast (peanut butter and bread sandwich + fruit). Sometimes I help myself by making my breakfast sandwich when I make my dinner, then I have less to do in the morning. But I wasn’t in a huge rush this morning.

The drive no longer hugged the coast but carved inland where it was enveloped by thick green forest. We continued north on the 101 for a bit and visited a state park to stop and play. I found it totally necessary for Anuk and a wonderful treat for myself. Then we headed east through more scenic countryside and quaint towns to Eugene where we stopped for a late lunch. I found a brilliant vegan (all day) breakfast place with outdoor seating where everyone asked to pet Anuk. And she relished their attention as if she had known them all forever. I was told by a woman in a a coffee shop in Colorado that just seeing my puppy had brightened her day, and that everyone needs a little puppy in their life sometimes. I found this to be true everywhere I went. Anuk would make people’s faces light up everywhere, and this was my delight to witness. What a wonderful way to start life, seeing happy faces everywhere one goes. Its no wonder that Anuk loves people so much and she wants to meet everyone. What a perfect companion for a traveling introvert.

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San Franciso Treat

Saying goodbye was difficult when I left Freedog Farms. It was a reminder and the tough reality of my American Walkabout, making great friends and having to leave them. But thankfully the drive up the Pacific coast highway was good for my soul. The chilly morning fog hid the ocean from view. The road rose high into the mountains and looked out onto a sea of puffy clouds. Then it descended slowly into the gray gradually revealing the rocky coastline hidden below. I have always loved fog for hiding and revealing the landscape as it pleases.

After getting through some slow going traffic Anuk and I arrived in the Bay area in the early evening. I figured out to add two hours to whatever google maps says the travel time is and that was a closer estimate of my actual driving time. It felt like summer in when we met Adam and his wife Lejla at their cute apartment on the edge of Palo Alto. We took a lovely suburban walk to the local grocery store where we picked out ingredients to make my version of buddha bowls, a combo of roasted vegetables, pasta, beans, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and seasoning. Anuk and I were very grateful for being able to stretch our legs, and I discovered that she absolutely loves acorns! So I grabbed her one for later.

Sadly Lejla was called into work so she couldn’t join us the next day. Adam drove Anuk and I to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a bit foggy here and the air was brisk so my jacket came in handy. Adam had already explained that the temperature varies greatly in the bay area. It could be 80 something where they lived, and 50 something by the water, and somewhere in-between in the city. We parked and walked halfway across the bridge. It was slow-going; Anuk was distracted by everything. The cars were loud, the people traffic was heavy, and the bicyclists were barely able to fit in between, and to top it all off Anuk ate something that didn’t agree with her. I carried her most of the way and set her down about every 100 feet or so she could throw up. By the time we made it back to where the car, she had cleared it all out, and she was happy to trot along again away from all the chaos. Despite the puppy challenge, I’m glad we went. I generally try to limit my visitation of the most touristy spots, but the golden gate bridge was worth it. It is an impressive masterpiece of architecture, giant and staggeringly high up and free to visit (other than paying to park).

Our next stop was Haight-Ashbury, the birthplace of the hippie movement in the 60s. The street was an interesting mix of shops, restaurants and San Francisco style architecture. The people milling about seemed punk, musician, homeless, employed, shoppers, or possibly some combination of these. One asked us for money. I had joked that now I had a dog, I could officially be homeless, but only if I used a rope for a leash. I was only a rope away.

We grabbed lunch at Vegan Burg. They had the impossible burger which Adam had been talking about, so of course he had to try it. Its is a vegan burger that is supposed to be the closest thing to real meat. He said it tasted like a whopper, and funny enough I have seen that they are selling them at Burger King now. I got an Avocado Beetroot Burger (a vegan burger with beets and other healthy deliciousness) I don’t want my veggies to taste like any kind of meat, thank you very much.

We walked around the street and grabbed some espresso. Adam is a true coffee connoisseur; he has a real espresso machine at his place. It was no surprise there is a store on the street that sells everything tie-dyed. But I passed on the tie-dyed velour jumpsuit and found clothing more my style in second-hand stores like Buffalo Exchange. There was also a great vintage store that I would have explored more, but by then we were feeling done in the summer heat. I was carrying a heater around, Anuk had tired of walking and now sat in her puppy papoose, but the heat was making her squirmy, so we headed out.

We picked up one of Adam’s friends on the way back. They had camping plans for the weekend; his friend I had also met in Zion was having a bachelor party, and they needed to buy supplies. They dropped Anuk and I off at the apartment on their way to Cost-co. And I spent the evening working on artwork for Adam. He was putting together a podcast that he needed a graphic for. I came up with a rough portrait of Adam with ideas that bounced around his head in various colors showing the impact of ideas on the mind. I left the mouth space open so he could easily insert the title of the podcast, which at that point was still to be determined. Lajla came home, and she and I had dinner and hung out. I was pleased to find we had a bunch in common, just another reminder of how like minded people can find each other in so many places outside of our normal worn and beaten paths.

Highlights:
New friends
Fresh home-made espresso for the road
A clean car

Lowlights:
Construction traffic on the 101
& being passed by at least a dozen ferraris

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Freedog Farms at Cactus Flower Ranch

(Photo of highway 101 heading north to San Francisco)

8/2-8/13

My next farm stay was in California, just a hint north of Santa Barbara directly off of the 101. I saw my temperature gauge drop to a comfortable 70 something degrees when I neared the Pacific coast, and I immediately opened my windows. The fresh air filled my car carrying the wonderful sweet smell of the sea. It raised my spirits immediately; I was on the coast again! I could even see the ocean from parts of the 101, and I couldn’t wait to get my feet in the sand again. Anuk was also in better spirits because we had the chance to stop at a park along the way with actual grass, trees and shade. I told her about the beach, and she just stared at me the same way she always does oblivious to what I’m actually saying, yet she enjoyed being talked to all the same.

After a bit of traffic coming through Santa Barbara, and getting a little turned around we found Freedog Farms. Sierra met us at the gate and led us onto their comfortable homestead. Bandit, the great pyrenees puppy excitedly greeted Anuk. They were face to face, Anuk with her head bobbing out of the car window while she stood on my lap, and Bandit tall enough to easily stick his head in my Mini’s window. He was only seven months old and already 90 pounds of fluffy white farm dog. I had been introduced to this breed on the farm in Tennessee, so I already knew what excellent farm dogs they are.

Anuk shied away trying to hide from Bandit, being only about 10 pounds at this point, but she eventually warmed up to him. The two were playing together soon enough, unequally matched in size, but equally matched in eagerness to play, and neither knew when to stop. Thankfully Sierra had an adjustable fence that we put up so Anuk could be penned up for her safety and so everyone could get a break from their loud, rambunctious and often yelp-highlighted play. Bandit after all didn’t know his own size and would step on her occasionally or try to carry her off by her collar. And when Anuk gets excited she barks very loudly. It was amusing to watch, but also stressful being unsure if at some point Anuk would be trampled.

After we arrived Sierra gave us the grand tour on their UTV (utility terrain vehicle) of their 43 acre property. We weaved our way all over the property on worn-in paths and new ones carved by her husband Darin, until we arrived at the very top of the nearly treeless hill. It was a magnificent view, and we could survey the property and surrounding area. The 101 cut through the middle of the landscape with sloping hills rising up on the other side of the highway. The dry yellow grass stretched out to meet clusters of rich green trees and the occasional farm building. The hills rose up tall enough to hide the ocean that lay beyond, but the fog rolling in almost daily reminded me that the sea was not all that far away. I decided then that I would walk/run up that hill every morning with Anuk, which we did with Kate Bush’s song “Running up that hill” in my head.

We stayed in their large tee pee style tent set up on a partially shaded area a little ways away from the main barn house. It had two cots set up inside; I slept on one and put my stuff on the other. There was plenty of room inside to set up my camping chair and stand-up fully to move around. I was very appreciative of these accommodations after sleeping on the ground in a small two-man tent with a puppy. It was very hot inside during the day and melted any toiletries I mistakenly left inside, but it was pleasantly cool at night, hovering around 50 degrees. I had access to the bathroom, kitchen and living area downstairs in the house. So I could make breakfast and lunch on my own schedule, and relax on the couch during down time. I usually shared dinner with Darin and Sierra.

Darin and Sierra were new owners with many ideas of what to do on their farm. So I was there in time to help start on projects. One of the first projects that Sierra had me work on was painting some signs for vegetable and herb labels; white paint on rustic barn wood. And then I worked on their Freedog Farms sign; acrylic paint on a giant re purposed canvas. It was great work. I also helped Sierra with various building projects, like setting up their raised beds and building a fence to keep deer out of their plant nursery. When they purchased the farm, it came with loads of tools, tractors and a fully-equipped workshop. Many projects didn’t even require a trip to Home Depot. And I tell you it was so fun to watch Sierra work; there wasn’t anything she backed down from. She clearly had a knack for building and knew her way around power tools, no instructions required. I would watch her drive by on the 4-wheeler pulling a trailer full of wire mesh, wooden frames and other various parts with the biggest grin on her face. When I offered to help, she would occasionally accept, but mostly she wanted me to continue with the painting projects.

Darin and Sierra were great hosts, showing me around town, introducing me to the best places in town: farmers markets, breweries, restaurants, and even the Apiary (which specializes in mead, cider and hard kombucha). Darin is skilled in the art of beer and wine, and he loves to share his knowledge and expertise. They really took me in and invited me to stay with them at their place in Carpenteria for a few days. Anuk became one of the pack. In addition to Bandit, they also have an American dingo named Reno and a yellow lab name Titan Dan. There are also three additional dogs in the mix at their place in Carpenteria, but Anuk spent most of her time following Bandit around.

While I was with them at Carpenteria, Darin invited me along to pick out a new surfboard at Channel Islands in Santa Barbara. I’m sure a lot of big names pass through those doors, and it was a pretty big deal to get a tour of their facility and warehouse. I also got to tag along to the Surf N’ Suds beer festival, sampling beers from all over. Anuk was mostly happy to sleep through this event, so I just carried her from one spot of shade to another while people stopped me constantly to pet her. Everyone loves a puppy!

Darin took Anuk and I to Jalama beach and Santa Claus beach. Anuk loved being able to run free on the beach, dig in the sand and play with the children. The California kids were so cute with their beach hair and their loose-fitting wetsuits. They were drawn like a magnet to the puppy, and they ran circles around her always keeping her pounces away from the youngest one of them. Anuk attempted to chase the lab Titan down the beach, but he was too fast. Once Titan was on the chase for his ball, that was his only focus, so that kept Darin pretty busy. He would throw the ball for him out into the ocean. Titan would bound right into the water swimming out through the waves to retrieve it. Anuk didn’t even like to get her feet wet in the chilly water. I was happy to swim briefly. The cold water was refreshing on those warm sunny days, and the air was dry enough that after I got out, I dried off in no time.

On one of my free days in Carpenteria, I borrowed a beach cruiser bike. I settled Anuk into a shoulder pouch that I had made and took her out for a ride. We made it all the way to the beach and back. It was cool enough for a sweater, but warm enough for shorts. She was scared at first because of all the loud motorists, but she eventually settled in against me with her head tucked into the bag. Most people didn’t pay any attention until she popped her head up. I got quite a few smiles on that ride. To my chagrin I realized the way back was all uphill. I made it all the way to the entrance of the avocado farm (where their place is) and then the hill rose steeply. Then I had to get off and walk the rest of the way. It was quite the workout!

Back at Freedog Farms, they got their water tanks tested. We knew that the water wasn’t up to par for drinking, but they got good news that they had more water than they previously thought. Water is such a precious commodity out west, and we were conserving everywhere we could: turning the water on only to wet and rinse while showering, flushing the toilets only about once a day and being thrifty while washing dishes. They also have a wonderful device that pulls the humidity from the air and filters it, and that was the water we drank. Its interesting that there is such a drastic difference between east and west coast in relation to water. Though of course it would be in everyone’s interest to be good stewards of water everywhere on our planet. “Agua es vida” (water is life), is what they said on the farm in New Mexico.

While I was still here, I received word from Adam, one of the guys I met camping in Zion. He was looking for some artwork for his podcast. He asked if I would be willing to exchange some artwork for a place to stay in the Bay area with he and his wife. He also offered to show Anuk and I around the dog friendly places in town. I accepted his offer and made arrangements to leave.

Highlights:

Darin & Sierra
Driving a 4-wheeler
A wonderful introduction to the Santa Barbara area
The Apiary
Anuk and Bandit

Lowlights:

The struggle with drought and fear of fires
Having to leave

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adminFreedog Farms at Cactus Flower Ranch
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Joshua Tree, California

8/1-8/2

After we left Zion and Utah, the plan was to head to a campground in Nevada just outside of Las Vegas. It turns out it was in a state park, and when we got to the gate about 4ish the temperature outside was over 100 degrees. I quickly realized that there was no way that we could camp there and that we should just keep heading west, hoping that we could make it to California, hoping that it would be cooler there.

As we drove on through the desert heat, each pit stop proved just how uninhabitable the area was. Climbing out of the car felt like stepping into an oven, and neither the dog nor I could manage it for very long. As soon as I found enough reception I searched airbnb for a room to rent. It would be a necessary splurge. I found a reasonably priced room that allowed dogs just outside of Joshua Tree National Park. The trouble was that it would be nearly 10pm by the time that we got there.

As we drove on through Nevada I watched the temperature gauge increase as we headed west going all the way up to 107 well after the sun went down. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could live around there. (My apologies if you do.)

When we made it to our airbnb, I was exhausted and I tip-toed into our room and proceeded to get ready for bed. Anuk however was overdone from being stuck in the car for so long without any exercise or play. She started to play and bark and bite out her frustration. I tried my best to quiet her, but she refused to be settled. Still being a new ‘mom’ I didn’t really know what to do to stop her from barking. The ‘neighbor’ in the next room angrily told me to quiet the dog up, that everyone was trying to sleep.

I took the dog out for a walk. The neighborhood road was under construction and covered by packed dirt. The ‘yards’ were also mostly dirt and had very little vegetation that I could see with my head lamp. I walked Anuk up and down the street reasoning that she was as miserable as I walking through the dirt, tired and frustrated from the road. And I hoped that I could walk her enough that she would also be ready for sleep. It was either that or the two of us would be sleeping in the car that night, which at that point seemed a more welcome option than sleeping next to our angry ‘neighbors’. Finally she settle down and we went to bed. I scarcely slept, thinking that she would make noise and get us kicked out at any moment. So I woke early the next morning and took her outside before grabbing a quick shower. This airbnb required that the guests wash and dry their sheets and towels before remaking the beds before leaving. So I began doing laundry as I packed us up to leave. I wanted to leave before anyone else was awake in the house.

Then the door bell rang, The work crew that were re-doing the roads said the red car outside needed to be moved into the driveway. I explained that it wasn’t my car but possibly someone else staying there, but everyone else was asleep. He asked if I could please wake them and have them move their car. Now I had to purposely wake my angry neighbor. How dreadfully fitting! I knocked on the angry woman’s door first. Of course she grumbled that it wasn’t her car.

Then I knocked on the door across the hall. There was no response. I knocked again. Still no response, but I heard a little movement. I paused for a few minutes and then knocked again. There was a slow amount of movement and then a young man came to the door. He owned the red car out front. I apologized for waking him, but explained the situation. He was nice enough about it, and went out to move his car.

I packed our things up in the car and remade the bed with clean sheets. Then got Anuk and I back in the car and on the road by about 7 am. The further I drove away, the better I felt. It was by far my worse air bnb experience so far.

I found a lovely coffee shop that had just opened, ordered some coffee and a vegan cookie while we enjoyed their patio and waited for Joshua Tree National Park to open. We had a long drive ahead that day, but I am thankful that we drove around the park a little bit to take some photos, and ease my nerves from the night before. I must say that God continually brings me to beautiful places to refresh my soul on this journey.

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Utah

7/30-7/31

I came across a campground in Zion National Park in the highest and least visited part of the park. The six campsites here are on a first come first serve and basis here and FREE. I prayed desperately to be one of the six as we found the campground later in the evening just before dark. There was one site left! A lone camp chair made it look like the site was taken, but another camper assured me that the chair was just left behind.

The campground was nestled into an aspen grove perfectly surrounded by wild flower fields and fearless grazing deer at almost 8thousand feet in altitude. The part of the park most people know and visit is filled with rocky colorful pinnacles and impressive cliffs, and a glimpse of this can be seen at a nearby overlook. I found the better part, quiet and mostly untouched. We stayed here two nights.

Our full day there was a rainy one, and Anuk and I had a napping, reading, relaxing day in the tent. It was my last real day of rest until later in California, and much needed! All of my in-between days were full of driving, then setting up and taking down camp, which get exhausting. And my days on the farms were usually busy and productive, with down time used to take care of things needing to be done (like writing this blog). As you can see I have been a bit behind on my writing!

On our first night there thanks to Anuk, we met our campground neighbors, two guys from California. They loved Anuk and shared their fire and stories with us. They are business partners and were excited to spend some time in the wilderness. Adam later invited the two of us to stay with he and his wife in the Bay area and do some site-seeing in exchange for some artwork for his podcast. I will share more about this when I get to my California post.

We drove into the main section of the park before leaving Utah through Springdale. It was mega crowded and traffic was backed up all over, and the day was heating up. I for one was eager to move on. Anuk didn’t like walking at all in the heat or sun, and they have only ONE trail that is pet friendly. So we didn’t stay long.

Highlights:

Puppies make you friends
North Zion beauty and free camping
Anuk proved her hiking skills already
Aspen trees

Lowlights:

Crowded Zion
The head of the desert in the summer

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Colorado and a New Companion

7/20-728

On my way back east and north to Colorado I went through Canyon De Chelly, Arizona. It came highly recommended. It may not be as popular and grand as the Grand Canyon, but it was a wonderful stop. There were very few tourists on the same route, but many native Americans who make a living by selling their goods at each of the canyon’s overlooks. It was actually so quiet there that it was a bit unnerving. And there are multiple signs to warn visitors not to leave their valuables in their car due to theft. I made each stop relatively quick for photos. Then I headed into San Juan National Forest near Durango, CO to camp for the night.

I took the scenic route on the next day through Ouray, CO. It is a gorgeous drive with scenic overlooks and trail heads I wished I could have stopped to hike. It was barely safe to enjoy the views while driving and staying on the hair-pin turns. Coco got her work out on all the steep inclines at staggering altitudes. It was a long day of driving as everyone else in Colorado seemed to be out enjoying the weekend and heading home on the same road. I was in bumper to bumper traffic through the infamous South Park. But the scenery was beautiful during the pause, and there was even a magnificent rainbow to enjoy.

When I arrived in Bailey, CO I was immediately introduced to the puppies. My friends that hosted me have a border collie mix who bred with their Aussie Shepperd mix, and the result was thirteen puppies! They weren’t expecting so many puppies and thus were on the hunt to find new homes for them all. Two had already been sent off with family members, and 11 were left to be watered, fed, played with, corralled and cared for each day. It was a tough job, but I managed to help as much as I could. When Joy asked if I wanted one, it was a hard thing to turn down. I think the selling moment was when she said I ought to pick one out before they were all spoken for. Good job with your sale tactics, Joy! I knew that I wanted a female, and there was only one left. She happened to have a blue eye and a brown eye. She reminded me so much of a dog we had when I was little, so it was an easy choice. I still thought the idea of bringing a puppy along my journey was border-line crazy. But then again my whole trip IS border-line crazy. And this was one of those moments when I was reminded of my goal to be open. It was so hard not to be open to a cute little puppy. When I saw her play tug of war with at least 5 of her siblings and winning by pulling the rope around a tree, I knew she was the right dog for me, strong, smart, independent female. That’s my girl!

So I left Bailey on July 29th with a puppy as my companion. I named her Anuk after the daughter in the movie Chocolat. The mother and daughter wandered the countryside together, so I felt the name was suitable. She also calls her daughter Anuska in the movie, which is Russian for Ann (my middle name) and means Grace. Anuk means polar bear in Innuit, and she is most definitely fierce like a polar bear and sweet like grace. I also joke that her blue eye is her fierce and crazy side, and her brown eye is her sweet side. Beware of the blue eye that she never closes, or her teeth that she chomps audibly like a shark! It has been an interesting challenge to add training a puppy along with my day to day driving, camping and farming. As I write this she is sleeping contently under the rain fly of the tent in the shade. She is most excellent at finding shade and a cool spot to sleep, even if she digs layers away to find it.

7/29

Our first camping together was in Grand Mesa at Little Bear campground in the National Park. Words fall utterly short of the beauty of this place. The campsite was next to a mountain lake with crystal clear water hemmed in with trees and wild flowers. I really felt like I had seen a glimpse of heaven here. If it weren’t for the hoards of mosquitoes, I would have really thought it was heaven. Anuk was a wonderful camping companion sleeping soundly on the picnic table wrapped up for warmth while I made dinner. And she slept soundly snuggled in for warmth that night. She sleeps on me or very close to me on the cooler nights (most nights camping have been in the 50’s or low 60’s). And she insists on stealing my spot before I get in bed (aka my sleeping bag) or if I get up in the middle of the night, which means she jumps right in with her head on my pillow. When I am in bed, she likes to snuggle her head in so she can rest on my neck. She’s still small enough that she fits, but eventually she will be way to big for this to work. Hopefully by then I wont be living in a tent 🙂

Highlights:

Anuk, my new puppy companion
Getting to hang out with the author of One Million Amelias
Surrounded by puppies each day
Grand Mesa’s beauty
Leash training in Pinella Pass, CO

Lowlights:

high altitude mosquitoes
Colorado is so great everyone else loves it too (crowded)

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