Friday, June 29, 2001

Thu June 28, 6:30PM. (Paul)
Today is my birthday. We hit the road at the end of the day in the thick of rush hour. Melisa drives while I sniffle from my cold. My hopes carry us back to San Francisco Saturday for Carol’s wedding, but I’m not sure we will allow ourselves to return North. Even Yosemite seems out of bounds. I’m pushing us South and East.

At Los Angeles, we have a difficult decision. We can head into the national wilderness or keep a southern bearing into Baja California, Mexico. At the tip of this peninsula we would ferry across to the Mexican mainland and drive back North into New Mexico. By this route we would miss Death Valley, The Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. This is an American journey, prompted by a concern that we will leave the States and move to Europe. Now, it seems more likely that we will relocate to California, possibly the bay area. To baja or not to baja?

20:51 We are at the SF side of the bay bridge looking West to the hills. Every day the fog rolls off the ocean and slams against the western edge of San Francisco, almost but not quite spilling down into the city. We will head into this fog to begin the second stage of our trip at Route 1.

21:47 The moon is half-full and we sleep in Half Moon Bay Cypress Inn. The sound of the mighty Pacific lulls us to sleep.
Day 7 - 11 (Sunday, June 24 – Wednesday, June 27)
Mill Valley and Oakland with a bit of San Francisco thrown in the middle. We spent time with dear friends, new and old, Andrew & Sheila, Hebs, Randy & Pam, Gabrielle & James, Noah and Isa, and of course, Lyzzie & Mugsy. The lure of moving our here is strong. The green, the views the explosions of flowers and all these warm and wonderful people, happily ensconced.

We drive around the hills, check out neighborhoods and real estate prices. Eat good meals and sleep in.

Paul catches a summer cold so we stay an extra day so he can rest. I go shopping in Chinatown with Lyz – her mom is getting married Saturday and she needs a dress! We wander into an elevator near the street and are suddenly transported to a green wooden room with yet another bay view – a treasure of a restaurant in the middle of Chinatown. Uniformed waiters wheel carts by with silver domes and cloth napkins. The restaurant is quiet, elegant and delicious. I forgot wonton soup could be this exquisite.
[Ed. More thoughts out of sequence, sorry folks. For those who haven't seen the pictures, scroll down and follow the link to tripod.]
Day 6 (Saturday, June 23)
Last night was something else. We had been rushing to get to California because our friend Andrew had invited us to “a thing” on Friday that was going to be “really cool” (Californians…). As the evening approaches, Andrew tells us that actually it’s a fundraiser. For a charity. He’s on the board. Our faces sag a little and we look at each other thinking, “we rushed all the way out here for this?” But we put on our best clothes and happy faces and climb into the car.

We follow Andrew’s car deep up into the hills of Mill Valley. The road becomes tiny and we burrow in a nest of giant Redwoods. We arrive at someone’s home, golden lights in the darkness, and park on the very edge of the road, nearly dipping into the yard below. The night is dark, misty and smells of earth. A man and a woman stand nearby chatting, her calves thick and veined, her toes splayed, a dancer if ever there was one. We meet them and so begins an enchanted evening.

The “fundraiser” is a dinner party for which there is admittedly a charge that goes to Bandaloup, a dance troupe who performs while rock climbing. They perform at Yosemite, on water towers in Kansas, on manmade climbing walls in concert halls. It is real, technical climbing, fully geared, done by real technical dancers full of grace. A woman who spent the last 9 years in Indonesia working with Save the Children hosts the party which is subsequently decorated exclusively by photos and art from Indonesia. Her home is also built around three Redwoods, one shooting straight through the back porch, hanging over the misty hill. We are a little stunned by the setting. The evening, as it turns out, has not even begun.

Shortly after we arrive, the guests are summoned downstairs to a family room where there are bright silk pillows forming a large “u” on the floor. The piano is in front of us. Rae and Zach begin to play. They are artistic partners of sorts with Bandaloup, having composed several pieces for the troupe. Rae is the composer and pianist, Zach the violinist. They play a modern, slightly jazzy brand of tango that takes its inspiration from Astor Piazzolli. They have been playing together since they were 13 at the Houston School for the Performing Arts and their chemistry is palpable. After the first piece rips through the room and spreads our lips apart of their own accord, our smiles straining from the uncontainable joy, Paul and I look at each other across the room, jaws hanging, eyes glowing. These musicians are outstanding.

When they finish, we are feeling quite content and shaking our heads at our own silliness for doubting even for a minute that this might not be worth it. But there is more. We are invited to serve ourselves from a 9 part buffet of Pakistani cuisine, home cooked. The aromas wafting through the air are golden and spicy and we are instantly ravenous. After the performance, dinner and conversation, we are fully sated and ready to retire. But there is still more. A slide show. Having not learned my lesson, I scrunch up my cheeks a bit distastefully. It’s late, I’m tired, a slide show? Hasn’t the evening already been grand?

As it turns out, the slide show is a fascinating story about the climb one of the dancers and one of the riggers made on a giant never-before-scaled face in Pakistan, just near K2. I apologize to those of you who know something about climbing – I don’t, and so cannot do justice to the incredible feat of this couple. I can only attest to what I saw and heard: port-o-ledges clinging to rock’s edge in the middle of a storm, unanticipated returns to base camp halfway through when the party ran out of food, a grueling ice picking lead as they neared the summit. Two weeks on one face, and they achieved their objective. These are serious climbers and their photos left us buzzing.

And so this was our welcome to San Francisco.
Catching up on June 22, from Melisa:
We rise and scurry out of the casino/hotel, eager to make our way to California. As is almost always the way, the California landscape announces itself before the state line, with pine trees on golden hills. The pine coverage thickens, the road winds and before we know it we are at “customs.” The state has provided a very helpful brochure on why we are being stopped – produce is a $5 billion dollar industry and odd beetles and bugs from Illinois or Kansas simply cannot get in the way! The ocean to the west and the mountains to the east form natural barriers that protect California agriculture and the state intends to keep it that way. I’m happy to do my part and open the trunk – this state feeds the nation and I like my almonds just as well as the next person.

There is a fire north of Truckee that has been raging all week and the misty smoke still hangs on the pines. We’ve read that it’s under control (flyers at the coffee shop) so we focus on its beauty. The smoke emphasizes the new quality of the morning light and as we round each bend we are happy to be here.
[Editor's note: More thoughts from Melisa on Reno].
June 21:
The day goes calmly by and the sun is setting by the time we pull in to Reno. The neon towers everywhere speckled with ads for contests (“You could win a trip for two to Ft. Lauderdale!”) and, of course, the more direct gambling – “The loosest slots in town!,” “The most action!,” “Free continental breakfast!” The night is windy and sweeps the hair off the face of a passing local, maybe forty, with the face of an eighty-year-old, hauling a plastic bag with oversized beer cans, a determined look in his glass blue eyes. I don’t much like Reno.

We walk through glass doors to a room with red carpets and lights spinning all around, the electronic noises of video poker, the clinking of slots. We struggle to find the check-in, but finally make our way past two bars, a 50’s “drive-in” and several seniors to the registration desk. Paul tells the woman who checks us in that we may be headed later to “that other city” – her face lights up for a few seconds as she chuckles at his joke.

I thought we might check out the “action,” but I’m exhausted and make a direct line to bed. Paul considers the gambler look (see photos).

Thursday, June 28, 2001

Another note to point you to pictures
The last few days have been a rush. Sorry for the cobwebs, I didn't realize we had readers! The next batch of pictures will post as soon as we head south.

It was good to see Andrew, Sheila, and Noah, Randy and Pam, Isadora and Noah, and Lyz. Fun fun fun. We stayed in Mill Valley for 3 days and Oakland (Oakie) for 3. I do not easily picture myself living in California. I have an easier time thinking of an early Paris morning baguette in hand, the metro, a typically Parisian kit office. Can anyone relate to the kit office. Not sure if I've found the right words. I'll post the pictures I've taken in San Francisco to a separate link. They are my personal pictures of things and shapes that interest me and may not be worth the download time.

Melisa will describe our week in San Francisco. Coming up: Big Sur, Route 1, Carmel, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, Mojave, King's Canyon, and the Valley of Death.

Day 5: Friday June 22 [Paul]

Reno to SFO is a long drive. Nice in places. Geographically, as we approach Truckee, the landscape begins to take on its California shape. Pneumatic hills in golden browns, dotted with trees the shape of my child mind. Low, round, picturesque. We were worried about the fire leaving Reno. Would it close our roads? We found crossing the mountains that the roads were clear, but smoke kept traffic slow. We could see burn areas against the mountain; a nice western foil to Yellowstone.
Pictures are up. Sorry for the delay. Check

Reno reminds me of Vegas 15 years ago, but smaller. We drove around the downtown for a bit, then checked in to the Sands Regency at about 22:30. The streets were full of people in shorts wandering the streets (money in their pockets? out of money?). The lobby of the Sands was congested with the aging poor and video slot machines. Over the din we grabbed a room, joked with the attendant about the unmentionable "other city", described our trip, and checked on room service. It seemed that as we described our purpose for being there (food and lodging), she relaxed and turned up the charm slightly. Do casino employees develop a thick hide to protect themselves emotionally from the personal destruction they provoke? Would she have kept a tight charmless smile had we answered her queries with "Gambling, baby!"
Day 4 (Thursday, June 21) (Melisa)
I was foolish not to write of this sooner – today Sunday it’s not as fresh in my mind as it could be. But then how would we possibly forget our day in Nevada? After bunking up in Wagon Wheel Village of Jackson, Wyoming, we rose and made tracks to Nevada. The first town we hit was called “Jackpot,” no joke. The casinos began almost immediately, though they’re far apart and rather desolate and depressing. One can only think of gambling junkies getting their hit and losing their last scraps of cash at these lonely no-name casinos surrounded by dirt.

Nevada lines up right behind Wyoming in isolation, the exit signs for the stops all named something-or-other-AREA, with the accompanying sign, “NO SERVICES.” As in, no gas, no food, no lodging, no bathroom (eek). After the coolness of Yellowstone (a little too much fleece required for me to be entirely comfortable), the dry heat felt like a warm blanket. Ah, the sun. The landscape is barren of vegetation though the mountains shimmer in purple, orange, brown. This is still cowboy country and many are the hat-wearing truck driving constituents.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Pictures won't go. Will post in SFO.
[ed. note: have had lots of trouble connecting to ISP. Here is the past couple of days in one stream. The photographs won't be uploaded until we get to SFO, but here are 2 to give a taste of the road.]

Monday, June 18th. 9:19AM. (Melisa)

The trip begins! We have just emerged from Chicago traffic. Skies are cloudy, but bright and beautiful. There is green everywhere. Reminds us that Chicago is an urban oddity of sorts in a region of prairie and farmland. The land is lush from all the recent rain. We speed toward the Quad Cities, for us the Illinois/Iowa junction that will push us out of familiar territory and towards the wild west.

3:47PM (Melisa)
The day is so windy, the car is listing from side to side. Passing trucks nearly drive us into the shoulder. The wind ripples the long green grass making aqueous waves of light and motion. Photo opps drift in and out-- a line of cows, all grazing in a row, heads down and hidden by the tall grass, their bodies arranged as though for a still life.

We stop at the Mississippi River. The wind is damp and feels warm and comforting on our faces.

10:44PM. (Melisa)
Day one has come to a close. The sunset left deep pink streaks across the sky and a glow beneath the blue that deepens the enormity of the sky. We've crossed Illinois, Iowa and half of South Dakota. We're happy with the distance we've covered, but a little overwhelmed by the girth of this state. Half of tomorrow will be over before we reach our first destination, Mt. Rushmore.

For the moment, we content ourselves with Mitchell, South Dakota's claim to fame: The Corn Palace, a building decorated entirely with corn. A holdover from the late 1800's created to lure settlers, it has remained a popular attraction drawing 400,000 visitors each year. My favorite factoid is that after it's final rebuild in 1921 (the same architect who did Radio City Music Hall) visitors were displeased because they felt his design did not look like a palace. Making hasty reparations, large turrets were added to each corner of the building. Phew! The Palace of Corn is palatial once again. Tomorrow we rise early and hustle across the rest of South Dakota, national park-bound.

Day 2

The Badlands. They're somehow smaller than expected but no less beautiful. The suddeness of the change in terrain is astonishing. Badlands appear in the middle of huge expanses of green. Sometimes the road divides the two: green sheets on one side, umber ridges on the other. The colors are invigorating after so many miles of prairie. We pulled off the road to feel the rocky masses crumble under our fingertips. The crickets have full command of the audio landscape, laced with periodic arias from capricioius birds.

We've experienced our first of the local wildlife with intimate viewings of the ubiquitous cows and horses, but also close encounters with prairie dogs, mountain goats and even a herd of bison. Spring was abundant this year and there are calves and ponies everywhere, watchful parents eyeing us suspiciously. It's quiet and peaceful, just us and the cows...

...and the presidents. Mt. Rushmore, decked out in full regalia. Flags, ice cream and massive granite parking lots. It's all-american at its most patriotic. When in Rome...we stopped at the DQ for a parfait on our way out of town.

As we neared the edge of western South Dakota, the country began changing dramatically.From rolling prairies to hills to mountains. We got off the main interstate and found ourselves on empty roads accompanied only by coal trains, hundreds of cars in length. Our arrival in Wyoming was marked by one small wooden sign on the side of the road. This is the least populous state in the union with no interest in changing its status. In Wyoming the landscape slowly creeped into mountains and a change came over Paul. You might call it love at first sight. He is intense and passionate on the subject of Wyoming: "God's gift to the earth."

We supped in Buffalo, Wyoming, chomping on vegetables for the first time on the trip (the Buffalo dogs gave us indigestion). Tomorrow we'll rise early as we push onward to Yellowstone.

Day 3 / 8:32 AM (Melisa)

This morning Wyoming is spectacular. Sunny crisp early light putting the sky and mountains in sharp relief. Our ears pop as we rise and fall with the turns in the mountains. Paul is gasping at each new view as we round the bends. We've christened these "toddler mountains" (only three million years old, rather than the five billion year old grandparents we passed earlier). They change colors every ten minutes or so -- pale green hills, dark evergreen mats, peach cliffs, red hills. We've just entered Tensleep, Wyoming: population 310.

20:14 Paul (Wednesday)
We're exiting Yellowstone National Park, the Tetons from this angle looking particularly bosomly. Wonderland, as it was called in the early 1900s, is a sprawl of rolling mountains, uniformly blanketed by long pole pine like the cozy bristles of a porcupine. Truly endless pine. The eye tires, but between the spaces is also a surprising diversity. Lazy streams of mineral water seaping from geysers, fields of grass with bisons grazing. Actually it's all a little too manicured to my eye, but gorgeous it is, truly. I found eastern Wyoming to be a beauty tougher to describe. Its rougher cowboy country. Again, big. Next time I see or hear about Big Country, I will smile. In east Wyoming, long trains carry minerals and other things of the earth through rolling hills of scrub and grass. One thousand shades of green spread beneath the wide blue sky. Perfect painted clouds perch on the horizon and launch themselves across the vault. Wyoming is big and rough. No sir, none of the "Big Attraction Only 10 Miles" road signs that decorate the Dakotas. Horses too, and black cattle chew their cud and take in the sun while waiting for their day.

Melisa and I are feeling a bit guilty about not camping in Yellowstone. 15 miles out of the park, we stop at the Flagg Ranch camping site to see if we can redeem ourselves. We've spent 40 bucks on bear repellent. "Better safe than sorry," chirped the friendly Cody outfitter. What's the problem, I ask myself. We don't have a lot of time. Westbound we need to make it to SFO by mid-afternoon on Friday. Neither of us want to get stuck with 14 hour driving days. So, we push on toward Jackson and give ourselves an easier 10-11 hour drive to Winemucca or Reno. Another truth is that I'm slightly concerned about the bears. All of the rangers caution strongly. The hassle of hoisting everything up on makeshift rope and keeping all of the food cooking clothing and other odorants segregated and 100 yards downwind from the tent, in the dark. Packing all this up tomorrow morning. We're not hardcore on this leg. Passing the Tetons. Saw some elk. Saw some bison. Saw a mare mule and her baby mule. Saw some horses.

What's up with the hotty rangers and park assistants? There is definitely a trend here. All strapping lasses averaging 25 years of age, freckled and long haired. They have both the wide-eyed innocent perk of country/mountain trope and a uniformed "heed-me" seriousness that is very bewitching. This is a national park filmed in Hollywood.

21:11 Paul
The mountains have settled into their evening blue. Even the green flats, bowing under pressure from above are starting to turn a cast of blue-gray. The sky is pink tinged, but blue as well in one long cerulean gradient. There are no cities or homes anywhere near us. No golf courses. No gas stations. Looking off to my right, the Tetons still dominate. I think Prudential uses them. Can any other companies use the Tetons now? Companies... industry... the next big thing. That is, after all, what this sabbatical preludes.

Sunday, June 17, 2001

We leave tomorrow headed west toward Omaha, NE. We've outfitted ourselves with tents, packs, and other miscellaneous gear for the trip. From this point forward Melisa will take the editorial and I will take the pictorial sections of this travelogue.

Sunday, June 10, 2001

Melisa quit. My company lost its funding and closed. We're taking the summer off. Should give us some welcome rest.