The Woes of Transportation

If you're lucky, you might see a solar glory while flying.

If you’re lucky, you might see a solar glory while flying.

In the depths of half-asleep dreams on a flight, I was awakened by the serving cart right next to my head. The sounds of scraping ice and the loud pop of a soda can being opened follows next. Then it quiets and I feel myself falling back asleep. But no, that is not possible as then the baby behind me starts screaming. I suddenly feel annoyed and disgusted by this air travel experience and as I write this the baby across the aisle is crying as is the one behind me – double screaming baby torture. As much as I love traveling to different places, I have ended up hating the part where I’m shoved into a tin can in the air with hundreds of other people for hours on end. 14 hours is the longest flight I’ve experienced so far – LA to Taiwan back in 2005 on my way to Thailand. After 8 hours on that flight, I threw up in a paper bag, seemingly having contracted an illness on that flight that manifested itself very quickly.

But then I think of other travel experiences involving other modes of transportation. I’ve traveled by horseback, camel, canoe, train, bus car, boat, airplane and on foot. Many memories come back now with what I’ve experienced.

Oh yes, that 26-hour overnight bus ride in Chile to the Atacama desert. How could I forget that? Sure, the seats folded almost flat so you can sleep more easily than on a plane, but the bus stopped all night every two hours or so and the lights would go on and people would get on and off. Ugh. Then we arrived at San Pedro de Atacama at midnight, the sandy streets deserted and dark. The bus station was not where I thought it was on my Lonely Planet map and I was turned around in where I was and didn’t know how to find the place I had booked to stay. So I followed the other lost tourists who didn’t even have a place to stay yet, carrying my heavy suitcase as the wheels didn’t work on the dirt streets. Finally I was saved by a woman in a truck who said she could take me to the place I booked for a ridiculous fee, but hey, what other choice did I have? I shared the truck ride with one other tourist. It was just a few minutes away from where I had been.

So I learned how to book the double decker buses after that in Chile. Pay a few more dollars and stay on the first level as there are only about 10 seats, while on the second level there could be 40 seats or more. In the end, bus travel in Chile was actually quite luxurious compared to Ecuador and Peru.

Yes, there was the bus in Ecuador that drove through a river because the bridge had been washed out and also couldn’t make it up a muddy hill and had to be towed by a bulldozer that was clearing the landslide nearby. It was much, much less comfortable than the Chilean bus many years later.

Or that memory of the bus trip to Huarez in Peru where we decided to take a day bus instead of a night bus because accidents during the night drives were not infrequent on the winding, narrow mountain roads. Still, someone came on the bus before we left and filmed everyone’s face. I was baffled as to why they did this, but someone at the hostel in Huaraz said they do it so that if the bus sails off a cliff, then they know how to identify the bodies. Kind of not very comforting, but we all happily survived the trip.

Oh yes, and the chicken buses in Peru. There would be a van that should seat maybe 12 people and they would shove 30 people in there somehow. They would keep stopping even when it seemed impossible to fit in more people and the people would sit on each others laps or on the floor, sometimes with animals, like chickens with them. I noticed that the locals did not sit on the foreigners and left them be. I would have been kind of shocked if some dude just sat on my lap. Although, maybe I wouldn’t mind holding a chicken. heh

How can I forget the truck ride through the Sahara desert in Morocco, where maybe 30 people were stuffed into this open truck. I was smart and grabbed a spot on the cab of the truck, balancing there above the heads of the drivers. I had space around me and was sitting, but the others in the back were all squished together like cattle, standing in the open bed. The truck drove slower than a normal walking pace and pieces of it kept falling off and the driver would stop and “fix it.” Finally they stopped and said too many people were on the truck and asked half of us to get off and they would come back for us after dropping off the first group. Um, well, no takers on that idea. I for one was not about to be left in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere in the dark, waiting for the truck to come back. So we continued onward, traveling about 5 mph. We finally made it to our destination. Funny thing is that we probably could just have walked beside the truck at the same speed.

I remember a train ride in Europe from Firenze to Venezia, where there were no seats at all – only standing or sitting on the floor, so we headed to the eating car and lo and behold there was a table and we sat for hours there, the waiter serving us very slowly so we didn’t have to leave (we told him there were no seats) for the entire trip. It was nice of him to do that and this was a very pleasant trip in the end.

When I think about these modes of transportation, I like the ones with less crowds of people in them by far. Yes, it’s slower and open to the elements, but horseback is in some way preferable to me than being stuffed into a small space in an airplane. Unless….it’s an open cockpit of a biplane, doing loops and hammerhead stalls in the air. Oh the joy of that for me! But that isn’t for transportation, that is just for the shear joy of flying.

I wish trains were more common and useful in North America as they are in Europe. In general, I like train travel and you are free to roam around the train if you choose (and hope someone doesn’t steal your luggage if you leave it behind). There’s something about the sound of the train on the tracks and the rocking motion with the landscape whizzing by that is romantically appealing and peaceful. Of course, I have been on annoying train rides too, with people snoring in the sleeping compartments or smoking in the normal cars. So it’s not all a rosy and endearing experience, but it does have a certain charm and appeal, which the other forms of transport do not.

I actually remember the times when smoking was allowed on planes. How could that ever have been allowed in such an enclosed space? You had to hope you weren’t in the last row of the non-smoking section. I’m glad that is not allowed anymore.

I guess noise is the worst thing to conquer and I am really thinking of investing in some noise-cancelling headphones. I say this now as I sit here with two screaming babies on either side of me. But hey, it could always be worse, right? So I guess I shouldn’t complain. A train from Vancouver to Florida would take a hell of a long time.

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New shoes to prance in – DASH RunAmocs by Soft Star Shoes

First is a story of what drew me to alternative footwear and second is a review of the DASH RunAmoc shoes made by Soft Star Shoes.

My feet were traumatized last September on an overnight backpacking trip to the Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park. I had put on my usual hiking boots that I used for such adventures, but on the way back down ended up with severe toe and foot pain, which later resulted in many blisters, 2 black toenails and one toenail that actually formed a blister UNDER the nail itself. It was downright agony and I remember deciding I needed new hiking boots, or socks or SOMETHING. So this started me thinking about my feet and shoes. I had long ago decided not to wear shoes that torture my feet and had left high heels and pointy toed shoes far behind. But you see, even hiking boots can torture your feet.

On the Black Tusk hike on the way up, before my hiking boots had tortured my feet.

On the Black Tusk hike on the way up, before my hiking boots had tortured my feet.

Then a few months later, I met Jessi Stensland, owner of the website Feetfreex, who basically told me that just about all modern shoes are terrible for our feet. She is barefoot as much as she can be and her feet are much stronger and feel better than ever before. So, I showed her my shoes, which I had thought were pretty good for your feet. Well, it seems I was wrong.

I have very narrow feet, so most “normal” shoes are not made to fit my abnormal feet. Couple that narrowness with a longer than normal second and third toe on my right foot and that even makes it more difficult. I have a history of wearing too small shoes so they wouldn’t be flopping around all over the place, which of course, were hard on my toes. Later on, I discovered I could wear shoes in the proper length if I added thicker insoles to take up some of the space in the shoe, so I finally could let my toes relax. But still, shoes didn’t fit me properly.

So I look at my feet and see that shoes have deformed my feet from the way they should look. Both of my big toes lean towards my other toes instead of being straight, which is basically the beginning of a bunion. I can make them go straight if I use my muscles to do so and spread all my toes out, which I do when I do yoga. But this is a conscious effort and does not last as soon as I relax my foot. They go back to leaning towards my other toes (esp. the right one is worse). This is caused by the tapered toe box on just about all modern footwear. I am also developing a hammer toe on my right second toe, which is a bit longer than the big toe. This toe is what propelled me to change my footwear recently as it started to hurt. Yeah, it was a few months ago and I noticed it after climbing, but climbing shoes are notorious for being painful for your feet and it would go away in a day or two, so I didn’t think much of it. Until, I went on a longer hike with trail running shoes that made it hurt more and not ever go away. This is also the toe that had the crazy blister UNDER the nail from my black tusk hike.

So I sold those shoes and bought another pair that was recommended: Altra Lone Peak 2.5. These have a natural shaped toe box and do not squeeze your toes – you can splay them. I liked these shoes, although they run wide and so I ended up having to add an extra insole so they weren’t moving around so much on my feet. They helped, along with acupuncture, massage, stretching exercises and toe spreaders.

 

Review of DASH RunAmoc Shoes

Around the same time, through the facebook page, Feetfreex I discovered a link to Soft Star Shoes in Corvalis, OR. They make handmade soft leather shoes with zero drop and flexible soles. I decided to order the DASH RunAmoc shoes first to try to use those for lighter trail walking. (although I felt like I wanted to try several of them!)

The Dashes without feet in them.

The Dashes without feet in them.

You can customize the shoe to some extent in the type of leather, colors used and also the width and type of sole. The options for the soles are bull hide leather, 2mm vibram and a 5mm trail vibram. I decided to go with the trail sole since I thought of using them on the trails. I was also excited that I could choose a narrow width (how rare is that?!). I chose the chocolate brown color for the shoe with a green accent on the side (kind of a “forest elf” look). I almost thought about going for an all-green one, which would have been kind of fun. You can also choose a leather that is perforated (for ventilation) or suede, rather than smooth leather.

5mm trail sole and side view.

5mm trail sole and side view.

So my customized elf shoe was on its way in just 5 days and shipping to Canada took only a week and was free (although there were some taxes/customs charges involved).

I was exited when I first received the shoes and they were so soft and had that new leather smell. The only issue I had with the fit was that the leather is just like a glove and fits over your foot as a glove would and so lays over your toes.   They seemed a little tight on top of my big toes, which poked upward into the leather. I had heard you could stretch the toe box and I did that for 3 days by stuffing socks into the toes. So finally on the third day they were ready and I was sure that I would keep them, after wearing them inside the house for a while. I went on a walk on a trail near my house and, wow, I was amazed at the feel of the trail through those shoes.

DASH RunAmocs on the trail

DASH RunAmocs on the trail

It’s the same feeling as walking barefoot since they shoe bends with your foot. If you stand on a curved rock, your foot bends around the rock.   They are kind of like ballet shoes, but with a flexible rubber sole.   I can see they would be good for prancing and dancing on the trails and you can even point your toes.

You can point your toes!

You can point your toes!

So I must say I really like the comfort of these “shoe gloves” and the flexibility of your feet when you walk in them. Walking in the forest is like getting a foot massage too. Gravel even feels good. I have to say that pavement is my least favourite feel, but I always prefer to walk on the earth, rather than on cement. For pavement, I would prefer to walk in my cushiony Altra Lone Peaks which have a flexible sole also, but much thicker of course, with more cushion. They are like slippers with a pillow underneath. I know that you alter your stride with minimalist shoes, just like in dance when you are barefoot, but cement just doesn’t feel as nice in comparison.

Side view.

Side view.

Of course, I don’t think I would wear the Dashes on a long mountain trail with scree and talus and really hard terrain. But other people run in these (even marathons), so I guess it’s possible for people to build up their strength in their feet to do so, but I am just beginning this journey of minimal footwear. I will slowly start to try to “prance” in them on the trails (as I called my trail running experiment this winter), but for now, just some more gentle trails near my house and I’ll use my Altra on the gnarlier trails.  I call it a trail running experiment as I was used to hiking only and didn’t normally run for sport, but I started it this winter/spring and was enjoying it until I sprained my ankle.  So now I have to be careful of my ankle, which has been prone to twisting ever since I injured it back when I was 15.

My local forest path to prance in.

My local forest path to prance in.

It seems now I am intolerant (after just two weeks) of most of my other footwear that I own and want all new footwear. How funny that I didn’t notice before how my other shoes squeezed my toes together (except my Keen” shoes, which have a super wide toe box). But those Keen shoes have a stiff sole and a toe spring. Even with my narrow feet (ball of foot is only 3.25 inches), most normal shoes squeeze my pinky toe. It makes me wonder how people with wider feet than me (which is most people) feel in their shoes.

This blog has some informative articles about natural footwear:  Natural Footgear

I also wanted to replace my high leather boots this winter and already found a guy in BC that makes beautiful custom moccasin boots: Soul Path Shoes.   So I am starting this process and should have them by late fall. That will be my first ever custom shoe designed exactly for my feet and I am excited about that. What a dream!

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Trinidad and the Emerald Forest

Trinidad Bluff

Trinidad Bluff

I’m a wimpy camper. Here I was in a beautiful redwood forest campground in Trinidad, California in late April, making my breakfast and freezing my butt off. Yes, I was wearing two jackets, the outer one which was a hooded down jacket, with a blanket wrapped around my legs and I was still freezing.  Shouldn’t be that cold, maybe in the low 40s (7C or so). But I sat at the picnic table and dutifully finished preparing my breakfast and coffee and looked at the beautiful view of a lush redwood forest in front of me, thinking, hey, I should be enjoying this. It was only after the coffee did the feeling of coldness go away, but at the same time, the sun had started creeping into the forest at the same time.

Campsite in the Emerald Forest

Campsite in the Emerald Forest

A hot, cozy coffee is essential while camping, especially if the morning is chilly. The following day, on a windswept campsite at Westport Union State Beach, I awoke to pouring rain. By the time I crawled out of my car though, it had slowed to a drizzle and I was able to place my camping stove underneath the picnic table to protect it from the rain. If there wasn’t a picnic table, I guess I would have squatted over it with an umbrella – anything for my hot water for coffee! This time though, I chose to eat my breakfast in the car, out of the rain.

 

Breakfast view at the Emerald Forest

Breakfast view at the Emerald Forest

This had been my first trip to Trinidad. I had passed through the area many times before, but never stopped there. I’m glad I did. It has a beautiful beach and hikes on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It was VERY windy the first day I arrived, but sunny and beautiful.

Stairs down to the beach in Trinidad

Stairs down to the beach in Trinidad

Trinidad Beach

Trinidad Beach

Luckily, I found a very nice campground out of the wind, tucked into a redwood forest, just north of the town, called charmingly, “The Emerald Forest.” The name enchanted me, and the place even more so. Besides spaces for RVs and tents, they also have some cabins for rent. Having camped in quite a few campgrounds, I must say that the Emerald Forest was one of my favorites. The tent sites were quite beautiful and surrounded by trees and forest and not right next to your neighbor.

Campsite at the Emerald Forest

Campsite at the Emerald Forest

Of course, it was too cold and windy for me to be in my tent, so I opted to sleep in my car.

 

My view while camping in the Emerald Forest in Trinidad.

My view while camping in the Emerald Forest in Trinidad.

The next morning the sun hit the forest after my chilly breakfast, but by the time I left the campground, it decided to hide. It definitely was not as windy the day before, but I decided not to go back to the beach and bluff I was at the day before and instead went a bit farther north to an agate beach. I strolled along the beach, photographing the stones that appeared at times, of varying sizes, although most of them are quite small. There was even some really tiny stones, just a bit larger than regular beach sand, but you could see if was different and rather colorful.

Agate beach "sand."

Agate beach “sand.”

I looked for some cool stones and collected a pocketful to take with me.

My collection of stones at the agate beach at Big Lagoon.

My collection of stones at the agate beach at Big Lagoon.

I also found a group of larger stones that someone else left by the bathroom on the sidewalk in a neat little arrangement and added a few of those to my collection. I also edited the stones I decided to take with me in the end.

 

Some stones from the Agate Beach at Big Lagoon.

Some stones from the Agate Beach at Big Lagoon.

I quite liked the Trinidad area and would have stayed a second night, but I had a specific place that I wanted to see further south on the Lost Coast – the Shady Dell Redwood grove. After checking the weather, I saw that Tuesday night and Wednesday the rain would come and it was important to not go to that area in the rain as I wanted to take photos of the unique trees there and because of the steep dirt access road, so I decided to keep heading south and make it to Shady Dell by that afternoon……and THAT is another story…..

Beach and flowers at Big Lagoon

Beach and flowers at Big Lagoon

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Travel and the people you meet…

As my road trip though BC and Alberta winds down, I was just thinking about all the people I have met on this journey while traveling alone. Sure, I was by myself in my car, but I have met and talked with many people along the way, plus visited a few friends that I have not seen in quite a while. But I must say that I met quite a few interesting, nice and friendly people along the way to converse with, including:

Both of my neighbors in the campground at the Roots & Blues Music Festival – a couple from Kamloops and woman from Rossland.

Arwen of Arwen’s apparel at the music festival.

Random people on the hiking trail in Mount Robson Park that I chatted with.

The Swiss photographer I met at a waterfall in Japser NP who allowed me to borrow his neutral density filter because I forgot mine at home and whom I later ran into again at Peyto Lake.

The Japanese family who I banded together with to find the correct trail for a second outlook at Peyto Lake.

The guy who camped next to me at a campground in Canmore who was bike touring and rode his bike from Kentucky to Canmore (and was going to continue through BC).

The lovely manager at the Rosedeer Hotel in Wayne, Alberta who gave me lots of info on the haunted hotel.

A wonderful couple from Saskatoon that I met in the Last Chance Saloon who gave me lots of tips on things I might want to visit in the badlands.

And….the odd drunk guy in the Last Chance Saloon who thought there was deep meaning in the fact that I asked to sit at his table (the Saskatoon couple was there too), when in fact I just wanted a place to sit and people to talk to. He held on to this idea for a few days before finally letting it go.

A lovely woman from Edmonton in my campground at the Rosedeer Hotel who gave me lots of info on alternative ways to drive back to Canmore.

An older German man I met at a café in Nelson who has lived there for 38 years and now lives across to the lake and he commutes to Nelson via canoe.

Several people working in shops in Nelson that I chatted with (people are quite friendly there).

Some aerialists in Nelson starting a circus training community.

My friend’s dad who lives in Kaslo.

The woman whose house I stayed in at an airbnb in Nelson.

Sooo many people to meet and converse with. A moment in time and then gone, but still nonetheless worth having – fleeting conversations, learning and experiencing new things. Such is travel….and even if you travel alone, you are never truly alone. Well, I guess that depends on where you travel and how you travel too. But it was just interesting thinking about all the new people I have met on this trip. Although it’s too bad that I didn’t take photos of any of them!

 

 

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Alberta Badlands: Hoodoos, dinosaurs, ghost towns and ghosts

Since I’m a fan of desolate desert landscapes and interesting geological features, when I found out that Alberta had badlands, I felt intrigued to check them out. Adding to the fact that there was an “almost” ghost-town of Wayne with a supposedly haunted hotel in the area, I just felt compelled to stop for a visit after traveling through Japsper and Banff National Parks.

After spending some time in beautiful Canmore, I headed towards the badlands and immediately after leaving the mountains the landscape became flat as a pancake and was dotted with farms, occasional cows and rolled hay bales. It was raining and nearing sunset, so it was a rather dismal drive through endless flat farmlands with nowhere to stop. But as soon as I came to the turnoff for Wayne, the landscape changed and there were hills, shrubs and some trees. This somehow relieved me. I guess I am not a fan of empty flat landscapes. To get to Wayne, you turn on 2nd St. in Rosedale and the road is known as the road of 11 bridges (AKA 10x). Within 6km, you need to cross 9 bridges (8 of which are one-vehicle only). It was kind of a unique and entertaining (certainly more than the straight road through rainy farmlands that I drove on for hours before hand!) to arrive at the hotel. The hotel was built in 1913 and has an interesting past and is basically the only building left in Wayne which had 2,0000 inhabitants at one point. The hotel, Rosedeer Hotel and it’s attached Last Chance Saloon are quite popular with tourists and locals from Drumheller alike.

Rosedeer Hotel, Wayne, AB

Rosedeer Hotel, Wayne, AB

The hotel was booked for the weekend, but you can also camp there, so I booked a camping spot for two nights. I could have stayed a third night in the hotel, but in the end, I decided not to stay another night. I was intrigued by the tales of ghosts haunting the third floor and so I asked the manager about it. She said that the place has a new owner beginning two years ago, that he considered opening the third floor rooms which have been closed off for 60 years. She said when she was on the third floor, she experienced certain strange occurrences and described them as “energies.” But apparently, noises and things moving about are what is usually experienced. She also told me that some people have come to investigate and have taken photos that have shown some energy mass in the photos and some previous visitors have said they had trouble sleeping (one woman said her daughter told her that a presence was preventing her from sleeping.

While I was there in the saloon and the lobby of the hotel, I did not experience anything, but I took some photos of the hotel from the outside the first morning and in one there is a strange face that appears in the middle window of the third floor. Yes, there are reflections in the black plastic that covers the windows in the other photos and two other windows, but that one photo shows a face. I showed the photo to the owner and manager and the manager said that gave her chills when she looked at it. So make of it what you will. If there are indeed ghosts haunting that place, it’s so lively with people in the saloon, having food, drinks, live music playing, etc. (at least while I was there), that I doubt any ghost would make an appearance nor would anyone notice anyway.   It was quite a popular place the weekend I was there – always packed and almost always someone playing live music.

Rosedeer Hotel, Wayne, AB with face showing in 2nd window on the third floor

Rosedeer Hotel, Wayne, AB

crop of photo of hotel of "face" seen in the third floor widow that has been closed off for 60 years

crop of photo of hotel of “face” seen in the third floor widow that has been closed off for 60 years

It is definitely an interesting and unique place to visit. Unfortunately the “ghost town” didn’t have any other buildings as it was mostly burned down at some point. I did visit an intact ghost town called Dorothy about 20 minutes southeast of Wayne that is maintained as a tourist attraction. Having had only 100 or so people in the town at its largest, it was not big, but now I would say the population is just whoever the caretaker is. There are several buildings, including two churches and they are maintained inside, decorated as they would have been over 100 years ago.

Church in ghost town, Dorothy, AB

Church in ghost town, Dorothy, AB

Inside one of the preserved old buildings in ghost town Dorothy, AB

Inside one of the preserved old buildings in ghost town Dorothy, AB

There is even a ghostly playground for the kids, or as it would have it – just me, swinging on the swings. I had the whole ghost town to myself unlike most of the tourist attractions in the badlands which were extremely crowded (of course, it WAS Saturday). I enjoyed wandering around this tiny ghost town on my own, swinging on the swings, eating lunch and just checking out the buildings.

Ghostly playground in Dorothy, AB

Ghostly playground in Dorothy, AB

There is also a strange phone booth sitting in a field where someone donated a neon phone for it, plus a lovely old grain silo.   It was an interesting and peaceful place to dally and have lunch.

Phone booth in a field in ghost town Dorothy, AB

Phone booth in a field in ghost town Dorothy, AB

Old grain silo in ghost town Dorothy, AB

Old grain silo in ghost town Dorothy, AB

The badlands landscape is quite different from the badlands in South Dakota, although there are similarities. Also, I was thinking of the place as a desert before I got there, and it really isn’t. Although it did have some small hoodoos that are also prevalent in the Utah desert.  Horsethief Canyon was quite beautiful and I was able to hike amongst the formations.

Horse Thief Canyon, Alberta Badlands

Horse Thief Canyon, Alberta Badlands

Hoodoos in the Alberta badlands

Hoodoos in the Alberta badlands

I was able to see everything I wanted to see in one day, including a visit to the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, which is quite renowned in the world of dinosaurs.

T-rex being fed a small child in the Royal Tyrell Museum

T-rex being fed a small child in the Royal Tyrell Museum

Overall, I am happy that I visited the Alberta badlands and I highly recommend paying the Last Chance Saloon a visit. In the end, I wish I had asked if I could have gone to the third floor….just for a few minutes…..to see if I experienced anything at all.   I should have asked, but I just assumed they would say no.  But I know you should never just “assume.”

 

 

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Traveling on Route 66 through Arizona and California

In Flagstaff, AZ, you are constantly reminded of old Route 66.  You see signs for it everywhere, since the old road runs straight through the downtown.  So….having never driven on the road before, I decided that this time around I would check it out on my way from Flagstaff to Los Angeles.

Back in 2005, when I had visited Flagstaff the first time, I did stop off at the small town of Williams, so this time I decided to bypass that and get off route 40 at Seligman to drive a section of 66 all the way to Kingman.

Seligman was a hoot.  It seems its only resource is as a souvenir stop for route 66.  All the buildings seem to be done up extravagantly in gaudy fashion to advertise its Route 66 claim to fame.  Many of the towns on Route 66 died a slow death (or maybe it was quick) once the traffic was diverted to other new highways, so I don’t blame it.  If nothing else, it provides some sort of entertainment for tourists driving on Route 66.  It’s worth a stop to gawk at the buildings and hey, if you need a place to stay, there are old-fashioned working motels there too and even a Road Kill Café.

Route66_MG_4177 Route66_MG_4179 Route66_MG_4181

So I continued on, wondering what else the little towns on Route 66 would offer.  I had expected more of the same for the next few towns on the way to Kingman.  Well, I was disappointed as there seemed to be nothing else worth stopping for.  I did pass by the Grand Canyon Caverns, so maybe I should have stopped for that, but I had assumed it was some cheezy roadside attraction (kind of like the “Hole In the Wall” with the arrow south of Moab on route 191).

So I passed through Truxton and there was just a few buildings and one café – Frontier Café there.  Nothing weird or interesting to look at, so I continued on……Valentine popped up.  Seemed like there was nothing except an abandoned gas station there.  So onward I drove to Kingman and had planned to meet a friend there who was driving from Vegas.  We planned to meet for lunch at Mr. Dz Route 66 Diner.

All that said, I must say I just enjoyed the drive itself.  You could still drive 65 mph and although that is slower than 75 on route 40, there is hardly any traffic and no huge trucks and the view is rather nice.  Just a nice, gentle road to flow through the landscape on.

So I arrived in Kingman and found the diner and it was just adorable!  50’s style and all pink and blue and had a really nice kitschy 50’s, route 66 style.  Just perfect and the food was decent too.  I arrived early and was starving, so I ordered a chocolate malt milk shake as an appetizer.  I must say I haven’t had one of those in a long, long time.  It was quite tasty.

MrDzDiner interior-diner

So afterwards we went over to the tourist info center and asked about where else nearby to visit.  Continuing south on Route 66 from Kingman, takes you into Oatman, AZ.  This is a sort of ghost town that has been revived into a tourist town that has gun fights, old saloons and little shops.     We decided to go there and afterward we would head to Laughlin, NV where there were super cheap casino hotels since it was getting late and my previous plan to camp in the Mojave Reserve was nixed since I didn’t want to be searching for camping spots in the dark.  It was also on the way back to Vegas, so was a convenient stop for my friend.

The road to Oatman from Kingman is one of the scariest roads I have ever driven.  There are signs to drive 15mph and even 10, and believe me, you need to.  There are cliffs and the road is narrow and, well, falling apart on the edge – just crumbling.  So I hugged (or rather straddled sometimes) the yellow line, but of course, I had to be careful in case someone was coming from the other direction.  My friend followed me in his car.  He was of the same opinion of the road, so it wasn’t just me.

So after many torturous turns in the road, we finally arrived in Oatman.  Unfortunately we arrived when most things were closing already, but there were still a few shops open and lots of burros walked in the street.  They also pooped a lot in the street, so there was crap everywhere.

Route66_MG_4185

OatmanHotel

The place looks like an old western town and people have set up shops selling various things, including lots of rocks and art made from rocks since it’s an old mining town.  We met one guy that was a rock art seller who looked like he was a gold miner from the 19th century, but it just turns out that he was a guy from San Diego but has grown to look the part and now lives up the road from Oatman.  No one lives in Oatman.  Everything shuts down after dark and everyone leaves and it becomes a ghost town again.

Of course, it was cheezy and touristy, but it had a high level of weirdness so I liked it.  It was just too weird not to like.  Too bad we hadn’t arrived a bit earlier…..

Metal wild boars for sale

Metal wild boars for sale

A coffin and a old ladder.  Just right for weird Oatman!

A coffin and a old ladder. Just right for weird Oatman!

So onward, we left Oatman for the flat lands and it was not a switchback road anymore to get out of the south entrance (thankfully).  Next to the Mojave River and just over the border in Nevada is a strange casino town called Laughlin.  It’s weird in the way that casino towns are weird – kind of like a miniature Vegas.  The hotels are huge and bright and cheap as can be.  Yes, you can actually get a hotel (and not a bad one) for $16/night during the week in Laughlin.  I chose the Colorado Belle since I have a warm feeling still for Colorado.  Although the theme was of a steamboat and the hotel looked like one (so nothing to do with the State of Colorado).  You had to pay more to stay in the steamboat section, but I opted for the $16 room, which you had to book online (it was a whole $24 if you book in person). This was only $4 more than my campsite would have been.

COBelle

Another strange thing about Laughlin is that there are huge colonies of feral cats running around.

So the next morning, I took the road from Laughlin called the Needles highway south to Needles, CA.  It’s another town that was on old Route 66 so I wanted to check it out.  After Needles highway passed a sign for route 40, I still hadn’t seen the town so I got confused and stopped at a small store on the side of the road.  I asked the guy where Needles was and he said I was there, but downtown is just a few miles further south.  He said (and I quote him), “It’s not much of a town, but it’s all we have.”  After driving through Needles, I have to agree with him, sadly.  It is indeed not much of a town and lots of things are boarded up.  There is not a cute old diner or even a run-down old diner there.  McD’s and Jack in the Box are your only options for breakfast.   There are references to Route 66, but nothing very notable, but I did find a colorful freight train and a blue sky in Needles, so at least it had that.

Cute, colorful freight train, blue sky and palm trees in Needles, CA

Cute, colorful freight train, blue sky and palm trees in Needles, CA

So I got back on route 40 as the guy at the tourist center in Kingman said many of the areas of route 66 in CA have been washed out.  I got off at Ludlow hoping to get on route 66, but only found the section going East, so I continued on 40 until I got to Newberry Springs and got off on Route 66 there, heading toward the Bagdad Café.  I saw the movie that was made back in 1987 of this weird café in the middle of the desert, so I was curious to see the real café.  Originally it was called “Sidewinder Café” but they changed the name to Bagdad after the movie was made.  It’s a real diner still and you can eat there, but it has more of a look of a strange old junk and souvenir shop than a place to eat.  I would also say that they need to clean it up a bit too – was a bit dirty in there.  But nevertheless, I decided to eat an old-time breakfast (for lunch) there.  Or a hobbit second breakfast, as you would have it.  I ordered a bacon and cheese omelette and coffee. Coffee was served in an old-school tiny coffee cup.  Nice touch, although the coffee was strong and burned tasting.  The meal was decent and hot, and with the omelette was hashbrowns and some white toast with what looked like margarine.  I decided to forgo the toast, but ate the hashbrowns and omelette.  It brought back memories of long ago eating such stuff and the cheese was even American cheese (which isn’t real cheese), but you know I ate it up and it didn’t taste too bad, but afterward it felt like I had a tub of lard in my stomach and this feeling lasted for a few hours.

Route66_MG_4213

When I first arrived, I was the only person there, but while I was eating a few cars came with several people from an unknown European country and they lingered taking photos and looking at the T-shirts for sale.   Apparently the movie was more popular in Europe and mostly European tourists come there (esp. people from France, and most of the notes covering the wall are in French).

Inside the Bagdad Cafe

Inside the Bagdad Cafe

They were playing old 70’s cop shows on the TV there, so that added to the old time feel.  White eating, I looked at a route 66 book and afterward I took some pics of the café and also of the abandoned motel and gas station next to the café.  Out back there are empty and gutted airstreams sitting there.  Not sure what the purpose of those are, but too bad someone doesn’t fix them up and live in them.

Abandoned motel next to Bagdad Cafe

Abandoned motel next to Bagdad Cafe

Abandoned gas station next to Bagdad Cafe

Abandoned gas station next to Bagdad Cafe

Route66_MG_4216

So I continued on Route 66 towards Barstow and this was a fun stretch of road!  It went up and down like a roller coaster – what a fun drive.  I saw the turnoff for the Calico ghost town and decided to check it out as I like ghost towns.  Well, it was not quite what I thought – it was not just a falling apart abandoned town.  It was a tourist attraction and you actually had to pay $8 to get into it.  Well, I decided against it at the pay booth, but then the woman there said to just go ahead anyway since I was just one person.  So I checked it out and in many ways it was a similar thing to Oatman, but unfortunately, it was just cheezy and touristy but NOT WEIRD, so I was not fond of it.   It looked like a western movie set and although there were a few building on the outskirts that looked like they were authentic, it was just too fake for me.   So I left pretty fast, but I did like the “Ghost Town Road” road sign on the road before you turn into the fake town.

ghosttownrd

So after that I headed to Barstow and it was getting later and I didn’t want to hit LA at rush hour, so unfortunately I stayed on the freeway and no more Route 66, but what I did experience was interesting, a bit weird and just a pleasure to drive on.

The feel of the open road, endless landscape reaching out before me – a certain pleasure to experience.  Freedom and…..I don’t know….being in the moment.  As a friend of mine says, “Be Here Now.”

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The Float House – Experience NOTHING!

float

I went for my second isolation tank float tonight and it was similar to the last one, but slightly different.  It seemed that I had the need to move around more than last time with different positions for my arms as I had tension in my neck and shoulder.  Funny that all that climbing and aerial don’t seem to aggravate my shoulder, but floating on water can.  I tried arms at my side, palms down and palms up.  That was ok for the shoulder, but then I had neck tension.  So I put my arms over my head and that was better for my neck and was ok for the shoulder for a while, but then it started to ache.  At home afterward, I did some self-massage on my subscap and that seemed to rid me of the shoulder irritation.

I noticed when I first shut the hatch and was enveloped into total darkness that everything seemed dark red rather than black for the first few minutes.  When I went deeper into theta waves, I had the visualizations again, although I noticed these were the same with my eyes closed or opened, which was different from last time. Again these were mostly shades of gray from almost white to darker gray against the black.  There was more texture this time rather than swirling.  It reminded me of a reptile.  I started thinking that it looked like I was inside a giant reptilian creature.  Then I thought……dinosaur…..I was inside a dinosaur floating in  its stomach, waiting to be digested.   Strangely, this thought did not disturb me.  It was more amusing than anything else.  Some of the reptilian textures starting moving towards me in 3D, like twisting worms with eyes on the end.  Yes, weird, but it was not frightening…..just interesting to watch.

I also had a visualization of seeing myself floating, but I was in a canyon in a bright blue pool of water.

I alternated between the feeling of almost falling asleep and seeing the visualizations, to adjusting my position in the tank, swirling my hair around in the water for fun, and bending at the waist from side to side for the sensation in the water.

My next float is in 10 days and it’s a longer one at 2 hours.  So I am curious how the longer float will feel.  It always seems like it ends too soon!

In the facility, they have an area where you can have a tea and there are a few books there to read.  One is art created from people who have floated and was quite interesting.  So many different interpretations and experiences of the floating experience.

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My experience in a sensory deprivation tank (isolation tank)

Finally I was able to experience proper meditation, or what I think proper meditation should be.  Whenever I have tried to meditate in the past, I always end up thinking about a bunch of issues bothering me or I fall asleep – one or the other.   I seemed not able to experience just nothingness or “just being.”   Well, now I’ve found a way – just plop me in an isolation tank and it’s effortless.

I had heard a couple of friends talking about their experiences in isolation tanks (aka sensory deprivation tanks), but I had no idea how popular they have become.  I had thought it was still an obscure activity.   A few weeks ago someone posted a groupon for a discount for a float at the Float House in Vancouver for $39, so I jumped on that to try it out.

I set out for the Float House this evening with anticipation on how the experience would be.  I was wondering if I would freak out in the total blackness or if I would have endless thoughts running through my head (like when I try to meditate) or maybe I’d fall asleep.

When I arrived, they gave me a video to watch with instructions and then a few minutes later I was taken to the float room.  You need to shower before getting in the tank and this is all in the same room (there are several separate float rooms).  They provide a special soap that is also used as shampoo.  After you shower, you put in earplugs that they provide and then lower yourself into the tank and close the hatch.  It’s complete and total blackness.  The water has lots of Epsom salts in it, so you float and it’s skin temperature, so you quickly don’t notice it anymore, unless you move.  It’s almost like a water bed without the bed part.

I relaxed immediately.  It was blissful nothingness.  None of the usual thoughts about issues in my life were in my mind.  I was just present, in the here and now and that now was nothingness and I enjoyed it.  Just floating and existing.  In the beginning, I mostly kept my eyes closed and sometimes I felt almost like I was going to drift into sleep, but then an arm would twitch and I’d be more alert again.  I definitely didn’t sleep, but it felt so relaxing that I would get to the point that I could almost fall asleep.  I didn’t try to do anything (like visualize or mediate), I just let happen what wanted to happen.  Sometimes I would move at the waist side to side just to feel that sensation of that.  I noticed that if I moved a bit, the water would lap and shift and then I would feel a chill.  But if I was totally still, then the temperature was perfect with not difference between my body and the air and water in the tank.  When you are still like that, you feel kind of  feel like you are suspended in a thick cloud floating.

Later in the experience, I decided to try and keep my eyes open more and when I did, I would start seeing patterns.  So the total blackness would be filled with various shades of gray that would swirl and change (kind of like the visualizer on iTunes, but without color).  It was all abstract with no images of actual things.  Later on, I did see a a bit of dark purple in the abstract swirling, but it was mostly just shades of gray.  If I closed my eyes, than all this would go away and when I opened them again, it would be all black once more until my eyes were open for a few minutes.

When 90 minutes has past, music starts to play to tell you that your time is up, starting quietly and then increasing in loudness.  I was disappointed when I heard the music as it seemed too short – I could have stayed in much longer.  I remained for a few minutes, listening to the music and swaying in the water a along with it to get used to moving again.  I put my hands on the inside of the tank and could feel the vibration of the music.  I felt like I could have even just been entertained by the vibration in the tank, even if there wasn’t music to be heard.  I felt fascinated by it.

So after you leave the tank, you shower again with the “after soap/shampoo” which is different  than the “before soap/shampoo) and then condition (your hair feels really dry otherwise).  I felt very talkative afterwards with another guy waiting to go into a float room and also talked with the guy working there for a quite a while too.  He told me that some people have trouble staying in for the 90 minutes the first few times and need to work up to it.  I asked if I could possibly stay in 3 hours.  LOL  I wanted a longer float!  Funny how people are different, but I felt like my experience was just beginning and it wasn’t finished!

So needless to say, I’m doing it again.  I signed up for a monthly membership of $50/month for one float and you can book subsequent floats during the month for $40.  Also got a special intro of a $10 float the first month.  I don’t think I’ll book a double for the next time, but maybe a few months down the line.

I would definitely recommend the experience. For me, if was an effortless experience of nothingness, deep peacefulness, being present within yourself, and being free from any distracting thoughts.  I’m not sure why the distracting thoughts were chased away, but they were, and I appreciate this greatly.  Some thoughts did come, but they floated away easily and mostly they were about what I was feeling and experiencing and not something I’m agonizing over. Afterward, there is also this feeling of clarity and of being very perceptive of the small details in your environment.  I understand that most people feel the effects of this for several days afterward, so it will be interesting if this also happens to me.

Here is the website for the  The Float House in Vancouver  for anyone wanting to try it out:  The Float House

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The Wanderlust Gene

Ever since I was a child, I have seemed to have the urge to travel, to see different lands, places, people’s faces.  Throughout my adulthood I have often made travel a priority and it seems to re-energize me, inspire me.  If I don’t travel at all, things seem too stagnant for me and I yearn for it and then am once again refreshed after a travel adventure.

In my recent travels to Chile, I met many people who were traveling long term, much, much longer than the mere 18 days I was there (some even for years).  I felt inspired by that, thinking perhaps that is what I should be doing.  I have thought about it many times before, but the time never seemed right.  My travels have always been shorter trips, 3 or 4 weeks once or twice a year, maybe some shorter less distant trips a few other times.  But I’ve always had a home somewhere.  Once though, just after finishing college, I did put my stuff in storage and travel for 3 months.  It was wonderful, and yet I did feel like I wanted a home again after that 3 month period.

But these long term travelers I met in Chile and in other places I’ve been, they seem to be different than many others – it seems they NEED to travel.  So I started wondering if some people have a “wanderlust gene” that predisposes them to this tendency to not be satisfied staying in one place.  Sure, of course most people like to go on vacation and travel a bit, but it seems that some people make it a big priority in their life over other things that most people deem more important.

For the past 10 years I’ve had a job that I can do from anywhere as long as I have high speed internet.  I could definitely do the work from different places and move about as I please.  There were other obstacles before, money issues, relationships, etc., that put that idea out of my mind.  But now the time seems to be just right to try some traveling and working remotely for a few months.  First in Canada this summer and then in the USA (and maybe Greece for a bit).  I have liked the feeling of my recent road trips through the USA and I think this SLOW travel will allow me to work while traveling and experiencing different places.  I never seem content with one environment – I want them all, both the city and nature, the green and lush rainforests at home, and yet I yearn for the timeless deserts, high mountains, redwood forests, rolling hills in CA with the gnarly oak trees…..a study of contrasts and I want them all.

So I will embark on a new adventure starting in July, first in Squamish for the month, then through the BC interior and Alberta (where I have never been before) and then down to Burning Man and a new adventurous road trip to new and familiar places.

From my recent road trip – desert and forest waterfalls….

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante, Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante, Utah

 

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, OR

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, OR

 

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New desert adventure

So new website, new blog and some new travel to start this morning!  Off to Indian Creek, UT to do some climbing.  It’s one of my favorite places to climb, and also to just be….in the stillness and timelessness of the desert.

It was a spur of the moment choice to embark on this trip, so we shall see what adventure awaits.  Hope to make it to my own private Idaho this evening!

 

Climbing at Indian Creek, UT

Climbing at Indian Creek, UT

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