After a busy day in a busy city, it was high time for a peaceful morning at my campsite. I started by reorganizing all the stuff I packed inside my car, which is a job that always needs doing. With that done, I took a walk along the beach. Several dogs and their owners joined me on the beautiful shoreline.
On my second stop of this long road trip, I visited with my friend James, in San Luis Obispo. While I was there, I showed him the route I planned to take. When he saw that I was planning to visit Chicago, he contacted his friend, Richard, who lives close to the city, and asked if I could stop by to say hello. The answer was an enthusiastic yes, and I scheduled my visit for the afternoon of October 1st. Forty-one days flew by and here I was, driving to Sullivan Lake to meet a new friend!
I drove by several water towers on my way to Richard’s house on the bank of Sullivan Lake. When I arrived, Richard was standing in his front yard with a friend, putting the finishing touches on a new shed door. I got out of my car and was greeted by his huge smile, long white hair, and thick white beard. Right away, I had to tell the story of how I’d met James when I was on a train coming home from New Mexico and he was returning from Chicago.
The door was almost finished, but (as tends to happen with such projects), a final trip to Home Depot was required. I accompanied Richard on the drive, and we had a great conversation. I told him a little bit about my trip and he told me about himself and the time he spent in California as the owner of a package delivery company.
When we returned, I met Richard’s wife, Geri and after the door was completed, Richard and Geri took me for a drive around several of the lakes in the area. We ended up at Docker’s, a restaurant on Pistakee Lake with outdoor seating and a full view of the lake. I filled them in on the details of my trip and we watched the beautiful sunset while enjoying dinner.
The sunset seemed to last forever and to become more incredible every time I looked up. I kept returning to the edge of the deck we were sitting on so I could take another picture. I was eventually joined by several guests who left their seats inside to get a better view of the fiery sky.
When the light died away, we finished our delectable food and stimulating conversation and drove back to the house. Before I left, Richard and Geri admonished me to be safe on the road and to take good care of myself. I thanked them for their concern and told them that I would be. They gave me a warm and generous send-off and even added two books and two audiobooks to my traveling library!
After paying several tolls on the Interstate highways I took, I made it safely to the Michigan Welcome Center. It was a successful night! The Welcome Center was open and allowed overnight parking, so I had a safe parking spot to camp in.
Starting Point: Sullivan Lake, Illinois Route: State Highway 12, Interstate 290, 294, and 94 Destination: Welcome Center, Michigan Miles Driven: 130
On a trip full of incredible experiences, Chicago scores one of the top spots. I can’t measure it against my favorite days of hiking and camping because the activities are so different, but it’s certainly up there with them. I found a lot of reasons to like Chicago. There was the gorgeous skyline, the wonderful pizza, and the people (most of whom were friendly). I really don’t know what else I could ask for!
Before reentering Chicago, I stopped at a McDonald’s to borrow their Wifi. I haven’t yet become callous enough to use a restaurant’s services without purchasing something, so I went to the counter to order a strawberry banana smoothie. There, I met Alonzo – the happiest McDonald’s worker I’ve ever seen. He greeted me and asked me how my day was going. Before I could answer, he told me that his day was “pretty dope.” After taking my order, he asked about me again, so I told him about my trip. That excited him even more and he said he wanted to do the same thing someday. I encouraged him to do it.
When my smoothie came out, I sat down and got to work on the serious task I had come to do; replenish my depleted supply of audiobooks. Two caught my eye; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Republic by Plato. I’m looking forward to getting started on them!
With my books downloaded, I got back in my car and drove into the city. I intended to start my walking tour of Chicago at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum, so when “Hemingway House” showed up as a search result on Google Maps, I selected it. I thought that if Hemingway was born and lived at a particular location, it would be called his house. I learned my mistake when I walked up to the large glass doors of the Hemingway House and saw the smartly dressed desk clerk. Apparently, the Hemingway House is an upscale apartment complex that has nothing to do with the famous author, except for the use of his name. The clerk even looked up from his desk and gave me a look that said, “How dare a lowly commoner stand outside my door – wearing jeans, no less!”
I did make it to the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum on the next try. There were two buildings to tour, and I only had time to go through one, since I also wanted to walk and get dinner in downtown Chicago. I settled on the museum because I didn’t know very much about Hemingway. Despite my interest in literature, I have not read any of his works yet.
The museum volunteer was a little too friendly for my taste. She would have told me stories at the front desk all day if I had let her. I sat through one story, in which she took ten minutes to narrate the tragic history of a BBC documentary of Hemingway’s life and how it happened that this museum owned the only remaining public copy of the film. At the end of this story, I extricated myself and headed into the museum itself.
Inside, I found lots of pictures and plaques along with several artifacts from the author’s life. learned that Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park (a small city that sits on Chicago’s western border) and went to school like most boys and girls do. After finishing high school, he became a news reporter and kept that job until he joined the military in 1916. He spent two years driving ambulances near the front lines before a blast of shrapnel severely injured him and sent him to a hospital back in the United States. Near the end of his time in the military, he met and fell in love with a nurse named Agnes. When his injury sent him home, he received a polite letter from Agnes, in which she told him she did not share his romantic feelings. Her rejection devastated him and many historians attribute the failure of his four ensuing marriages to that early heartbreak. He began his career as an author in 1926 and wrote six novels (among other works) before his death in 1961.
I left as the museum closed, and my new friend at the front desk offered me a box of garlic knots, saying that she was too full to eat them. I politely declined and continued on my way – toward my own dinner, and the Magnificent Mile.
The Magnificent Mile is a famous stretch of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It’s full of people, cars, restaurants, shopfronts, and huge buildings. I managed to find free parking, but I did have to walk a mile to get back to Michigan Avenue. The walk gave me the chance to see the skyline and to notice the moon as well.
I made my way in a leisurely fashion to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. Two people I worked with in California have visited Chicago many times and both recommended this place. It was certainly popular when I got there. I waited an hour wait to sit down, but when the deep dish Chicago Classic Pizza came to my table, I knew the wait had been worth it. Sausage, cheese, sauce, and bread never tasted so good!
After dinner, I walked back up the Magnificent Mile and detoured through some of Millenium Park. The sky was beginning to darken, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well. The walk was beautiful though, and I found a plaque that explained why. The many pavilions, fountains, gardens, and monuments that constitute Millenium Park were finished in 2004, and cost four hundred seventy-five million dollars to complete! I am just one of the twenty-five million persons who are estimated to visit the park this year.
Despite the good time I was having, I did not want to be out too long past dark since I’d have to walk through a few of the less populated parts of the city on my way back to my parking spot. So I called an end to the evening, had a safe walk to my car, and ended my night back at the Illinois State Beach.
I enjoyed every bit of Chicago that I explored, but I know there’s a lot more to see. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much – I just can’t wait to go back!
All week, I’ve had the idea of hiking Pike’s Peak in the back of my mind. I have already hiked one mountain on this trip (Buck Mountain), so why not make it two? That’s a great idea!
I knew this would be a serious hike though. It is a thirteen mile hike up Barr Trail to the top of Pike’s Peak and a thirteen mile hike back. That’s three miles less than what I did at Buck Mountain, but I would be gaining seventy-three hundred feet of elevation instead of thirty-five hundred. It would also be colder; the air would be forty degrees instead of sixty-five.
So last night, I made sure that everything was in order. Lou generously lent me a Camelbak so that I would have a real hiking backpack instead of the bulky school backpack I lugged up Buck Mountain. He also lent me a set of two-layer gloves. The black outside layer had special fingerpads so that I could use my phone while wearing them. The white inside layer had silver in the weave to help retain heat.
Into the Camelbak, I stuffed Cliff Bars, trail mix, a bagelwich, sunglasses, an extra shirt, and the gloves. I used the straps on the bottom to hold my windbreaker.
I set all of this out last night (except the bagelwich, which I left in the fridge) and went to bed early so I’d be rested up for the big hike. I wanted to get going as early as possible. I’d found free parking in Manitou Springs several miles away from the trailhead. A shuttle goes between the parking and the trailhead once every twenty minutes from 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. I wanted to get on the first shuttle of the day so I’d have plenty of time to finish my hike and be back before the last shuttle left.
I slept peacefully, knowing that the preparation and planning were taken care of. All I had to do this morning was wake up and go. There turned out to be a slight problem with that though; I slept an hour past the alarm I set for 5:00 A.M. Oops! I jumped out of bed, picked up my pack, grabbed my bagelwich from the fridge, and rushed out the front door. I made it to Manitou Springs by 6:40 A.M., in time to catch the third shuttle. Not a perfect start to the day, but not a complete failure either. There would still be thirteen hours for me to finish the hike.
I had five fellow hikers for company on the shuttle. One was a middle-aged man, here for his annual hike up the mountain. He had a ticket for the COG rail so that he wouldn’t have to hike back down. The other four were together – two guy friends and their girlfriends. They hoped to make it up and back today like I did.
I stepped onto Barr trail at 7:02 A.M., after a short walk from the shuttle stop. The trail started out tough – two miles of switchbacks and semi-steep climbing. My sleepy brain wondered if I really wanted to do this thing. Yes, I did.
The gloves Lou let me borrow were a lifesaver. I hiked for five minutes without them and my hands started to feel like swollen pincushions. I pulled the gloves out of my backpack and put them on. My hands felt a little better immediately and after several minutes they were perfectly normal.
The hike up was long, and not as scenic as Buck mountain had been. Green trees and brown rocks are nice (I suppose), but after staring at them for a few hours, they became extremely boring. I started to wish for a change. The landscape must have heard my wish. I passed the treeline and all the green disappeared so that I was left I was left with brown all around. Be careful what you wish for…
With four miles to go, I stopped for a bagelwich lunch. Several birds joined me. One of them seemed especially interested in me. I held out a little piece of bagel and the bird hopped up onto my leg, flew away, then came back and snatched the bread out of my fingers.
As my journey continued, another creature joined me. I wasn’t sure what it was – it looked like a beaver and a squirrel put together.
At about twelve thousand feet, the view improved dramatically. I was high enough to see all around, and I found that brown rocks really can be picturesque with the proper background. I passed a hiker who was on his way down and we took pictures of each other.
At one point, I looked back over the last bit of the trail I had followed. From where I stood, it was faintly visible on the mountainside as a sweeping curve headed toward the far ridge, a series of switchbacks zig-zagging down that ridge, and a long straight line moving away from the ridge again.
The last two miles stretched on interminably. I stepped off the trail at 1:02 P.M., exactly six hours after I started the hike. As I reached the top, I was glad to just be done. In the big picture, I was only halfway done; I still had to go down. But I didn’t let myself think about that. I let myself enjoy the feeling of being done and of surviving.
I walked through the doors of the Summit House and saw, to my relief, that there were two water fountains waiting just for me. I still had water in my Camelbak, but I was trying to drink it sparingly. At the water fountains, I could drink as much as I wanted. Except for one tiny problem. They didn’t work. Argh! Who puts water fountains at the end of a thirteen-mile trail without any water in them? Cruel people, that’s who. People who laugh at the suffering of parched hikers like me!
So much for quenching my thirst. I decided to just drink a little more from my Camelbak, buy a hot chocolate, sit down, and eat some of the trail mix I’d brought with me.
A few minutes after I sat down, a middle-aged man walked by my table. He had a Nikkon camera with him and he looked familiar. Suddenly, I remembered why.
“Hi sir!” I said. “We were at the Molly Kathleen mine together yesterday!”
“Oh yeah!” He replied. “What a coincidence! It’s good to see you again. Did you hike up the mountain?”
I told him that I had indeed hiked up the mountain, and we chatted for a couple minutes. He told me that he took the COG rail and was there with two friends. As we talked, I showed him a few pictures I had taken. Finally, I came to the mystery animal that I had seen; the beaver-squirrel.
“Hey, I saw this animal on the trail today. Do you know what it is?”
“Sure, that’s a marmot.”
Instantly, my mind flashed back to the scene where I met this man yesterday and I started to laugh at myself.
Yesterday, Marie took us to the Visitor’s Center at the Molly Kathleen mine, where we learned that the mine itself was closed. It was here that I met the man. I was standing in front of an exhibit that showed animals commonly seen in the Rocky Mountains. There were pictures of eight animals. I was able to identify seven of the eight, but the last one gave me trouble.
I wondered aloud, “What is that last animal?”
A man behind me spoke up. “That’s a marmot.”
I turned around to see a middle-aged man carrying a Nikkon camera.
I said, “Thanks!” and walked to the next exhibit.
I talked with the man at a couple other exhibits in the Visitor’s Center and, at the time, forgot all about that first conversation – until today, when I asked the very same man the very same question. Thankfully, while we were talking today he did not seem to remember that particular conversation from yesterday.
After this man left to get back on the COG rail and go down the mountain, I wasn’t quite ready to resume my hike. I stayed in my seat and looked for more people to talk with. I ended up meeting a real, live knight and dame! Their names were Bill and Eileen, and they were part of the Order of Malta – the oldest surviving chivalric order (begun in the eleventh century), whose motto is, “Defence of the Catholic Faith and assistance to the poor.” Bill is a retired Air Force pilot. We chatted until they had to catch their ride down the mountain.
Now that two groups had left in the time that I was sitting, I decided that I should get moving too. I made sure everything was stuffed back into my pack, put on my gloves, and walked out the back door of the Summit House.
Before I got back onto Barr Trail, I was arrested by a thought. Wouldn’t it be cool to do pushups fourteen thousand feet above sea level? I decided to find out.
After doing twenty-five, I came to the conclusion that pushups feel exactly the same at sea level as they are on top a mountain. But I had gotten a start on the two hundred pushups I had scheduled for the day, so it was a good experiment.
I stepped back onto Barr Trail at 2:02 P.M., which meant I had a little less than six hours to make it down before the last shuttle departed. And I did make it. I stopped at several places to do the remaining hundred seventy-five pushups over the next three hours, and had a mostly unremarkable hike down the rest of the way. I did see an F-16 fly quite close overhead. And I narrowly escaped being run over by mountain bikers who were zipping down the trail. And managed to get lost for twenty minutes. But my mind was focused on getting down and finding somewhere to sit down, so I barely noticed those things. Finally, I finished. I walked off the trail at 7:01 P.M., eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes after I started.
I got to the shuttle stop before 7:20 P.M. and called home while I waited for it to arrive. The shuttle dropped me off at my car, I drove back to The Mansion and freshened up, and then I went out with Lou and Valli to enjoy a wonderful Mongolian Barbeque dinner. When we returned to The Mansion, I went straight to bed and enjoyed a glorious night’s sleep.
THE GRAND HIKING PLAN
– Bring a lot of food and water
– Take some pictures
– Listen to an audiobook
– Walk a long, long way
This was my strategy as I woke up and drove back to the Teton National Forest this morning. I suppose it would be more accurate to call it an outline. A very rough outline. Looking back, it probably could have been improved if I had figured out specific details (especially about where I was walking). But if I took the time to work all of that out, maybe I would have chickened out and not gone on the hike. And then I would have missed my favorite adventure of this trip so far. Here’s the story of how it turned out.
I did bring a lot of food. Two ham and cheese bagelwiches, two cliff bars, two servings of protein powder, one snack-sized bag of trail mix, half a bag of baby carrots, and five bottles of water. Yes, I put all of that in my backpack. It was heavy and made me sweat disgustingly (although that may have happened even if I hadn’t been wearing the backpack). It was well worth it all though when I was able to satisfy my hunger and thirst with the treasures I carried.
I took some pictures. Quite a few pictures – over a hundred, for the second day in a row. Yesterday it was easy to sort through the photos. Some were interesting and most weren’t. The interesting ones went into my post for the day and the others will be forgotten. Today it’s harder. The mountains, trees, animals, and clouds were incredible from every angle. A hundred pictures are too many to post though, so I picked my favorite-favorites and had to leave the rest (my just-normal-favorites) behind on my SD card.
I listened to an audiobook. I borrowed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain from the online library I use. I started it on my drive to the trailhead and finished it about three-quarters of the way through my hike. Eventually, I’ll write my thoughts about it on the “Books” page that is linked on the sidebar of this site. There’s already more than enough to write about today without adding in a book summary.
I did walk a long, long way – and I did a lot more climbing than I expected to. Last night, I decided to start my hike at the Taggart Lake Trailhead and see how far I could go. It looked like the trail went in a big circle around the Teton Range. I thought it would be cool to see the mountains from the every angle, and that’s what I expected to do. It turned out that the trail goes over the top of the mountains, not around, and that the full loop is at least a forty-mile trip. By the time I figured that out, I was already over six miles into the hike and I really didn’t want to turn back. I decided to keep going until prudence absolutely insisted that I turn back. Before I talk about that though, I should probably go back to the beginning.
The hike started out well. After walking for a solitary forty-five minutes, I met a friendly squirrel – at least I think he was a squirrel. Maybe Sam, the official wildlife expert on this site, can double check that for me. Anyway, the squirrel (as I will call him for now) seemed quite excited to see me with my camera and he posed perfectly for a picture. I think he was embarrassed after I took it though because he started to hide his face behind the branch he was sitting on.
The path was well kept for the most part. There were a few places though where I had to push my way through fresh undergrowth that hadn’t yet been trimmed back.
The grass and vegetation stayed with me for the first three miles. Then I was moved onto a hardpacked dirt path which led in a long, gradual slope to this view of Phelps Lake. From here the trail went into downhill switchbacks. I enjoyed the easy walk down and I hoped I wouldn’t have to walk back up.
The hardpacked dirt continued and I started to ascend again. I got a great side view of the mountain range.
At this point, I started to figure out that I was headed right toward the middle of the mountains, not the back. The trail began to climb more steeply and stones appeared in the pathway, sometimes as steps and sometimes only managing to get in the way. A series of tiny waterfalls ran roughly parallel to the trail and sometimes came close enough for me to walk onto them.
Eventually the I reached a clear pool of water that fed the waterfalls. Once I passed that, I entered a dense forest that ushered me to the base of what turned out to be a four-mile path of endless switchbacks. This was by far the worst part of the hike. So far, I had gone about ten miles in a little over three hours. This four-mile stretch took another three hours all by itself.
In the picture on the left, you can see the narrow path that led upward. If you look carefully at the picture on the right, you’ll see the flowers and grass in the foreground with everything else in the background. The only thing in between was a steep slope with some shrubbery growing on it. I didn’t think that falling off the side of the path would be very fun so I did my best to avoid it.
Those switchbacks seemed to last forever. I did my best to keep moving up, then I’d rest for a few minutes. I felt wimpy when I needed to rest every hundred steps, but I knew I was still making progress. At last, I made it. Not to the top, but to a ridge that was almost flat. I looked behind me and saw this beautiful view.
I kept going up, but I knew it was getting too late in the day for me to even hope that I could finish the loop. I knew that it would be beyond stupid to try. I would most likely get stuck on the peak of a mountain all night in thirty-degree weather and then I’d be discovered by a mother bear who would think I was a popsicle and carry me away to her den where she would share me with her hungry cubs.
Before giving in and taking the wise course back down the mountain, I went a little further up the trail to see what I would miss when I turned around. I saw the peak of Buck Mountain, about a thousand feet higher up. I climbed toward it until the switchbacks started again. Then I took a couple more pictures of the heavenly mountain panorama I had walked so far to see and started back down the mountain.
The trip down didn’t seem too long at first. The switchbacks only took an hour and a half to get through. And on my way down, I was cheered on by another friendly rodent. This looks like a chipmunk to me, but I’ll need to call on Sam again before I know for sure.
The reality of this hike set in on me as I made my way back through the forest and down the rocky steps next to the waterfalls. Getting to the top of the mountain had been difficult. But now I had to go back and retrace every step I had taken. It was much easier going down, but by this point, I had walked twenty miles already today.
I told myself that when I arrived back at Phelps Lake, I would take a break and enjoy the last bagelwich that I had been saving to eat sometime during the return trip. I made it back to the lake and happily stretched out on the rocks and roots shown in the picture below and to the left. I had a clear view of the lake from here, similar to the picture I took as I passed Phelps lake on my way up the mountain.
From my cozy perch, I watched the sun make its way toward the horizon. I didn’t want to be stuck out in the dark forest alone, so I got back on my tired legs and continued my return trip.
To take my mind off of my tired legs, I decided to knock out the two hundred pushups I still needed to do in Wyoming. I stopped every ten minutes over the next several miles, to do a set of twenty pushups, then got up and started walking again.
The sun went down while I was still walking and when it eventually got dark, I used my phone’s flashlight to make sure I stayed on the path. Soon after dark, I reached the Taggart Lake Trailhead. I still had to walk a quarter mile to the parking lot, and I managed to finish off the long walk with my new trademarked move – wandering around in circles while trying to figure out which way to go.
I did eventually get myself pointed the right way and made it safely to my car around 9:30 PM. I climbed stiffly into my car and checked my watch to see how many miles I had put on my feet today. It showed twenty-nine point seven miles. I really wished that I could have hit thirty, but my legs wanted nothing to do with me after what I had already put them through.
I drove back to my campsite and walked around in circles some more as I got myself ready for bed. When I lay down in my sleeping bag, my watch told me I hit exactly thirty miles for the day. That was a great way to go to sleep.
When I thought about leaving on this trip, I found it difficult to imagine myself navigating safely across the USA. I’ve never been good at using maps and directions. They definitely do not come second nature to me – fourth or fifth nature is about where my navigation skills are. I knew I wanted to be places. I just hoped I could deal with moving between places. Then I remembered that Google Maps exists and my problem was solved. Type in the address and follow the directions. It’s that easy.
Then, when I got to Seattle, I wondered if I could make my way through the crowded and confusing city streets without getting lost.
Well, there’s an app for that – of course, there is. There are apps which tell you how to arrive at your destination by car, foot, public transit, or Uber. That’s pretty cool. So instead of allowing myself to get lost, I used an app.
I started out in Edmunds, where my Uncle lives. He drove me to the commuter rail that would take me into downtown Seattle. On the ride to Seattle, I saw the ocean to my right but was rather distracted by the people squishing in on me from all sides. Especially the ones on my left who were reminiscing about their young adult days of picking fruit in Northern California. I did learn that harvesting peaches is a very uncomfortable task because it is impossible not to get covered in peach hair, which is apparently quite itchy.
When I exited the rail, I didn’t know exactly where to start. I had downloaded the magical app that would lead me safely through Seattle and I had a general idea of where the places I wanted to visit were located, but I didn’t have a route planned. To figure out where I would go first, I flopped out of the tide of humans I had been swimming with and sat on a bench. I plotted a course to the Seattle Center, which is a public gathering place that was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. It is a center for performances and activities and includes (among other things) the Seattle Pacific Museum and the Space Needle.
I had a mile and a half to walk from the transit station and I enjoyed seeing the city as I went. When I started on my way it was 8:20 A.M. and the sky was still cloudy, making for a cool morning stroll.
I arrived at the Pacific Science Center, hoping to sign up for tickets to see the traveling exhibit of Terracotta Warriors (funerary statues of the first Emperor of China’s army). However, I found that the tickets were slightly beyond my price range, so I decided to leave the exhibit for the real tourists who come with overflowing wallets.
Moving on from the Science Center, I walked the short distance to the Space Needle and sat near the base to find my next stop.
I decided to go to the Olympic Sculpture Park and then walk along the waterfront. At the Park, I found three pieces of art that interested me. The first is entitled Wake and is modeled after the lines of the ocean – waves, ships, etc. The second is called Wandering Rocks and I won’t pretend to know what it is about. It’s supposed to be symbolic of something. And it looked cool, so I took a picture. The last one is a sculpture of a nine-year-old girl, entitled Echo. It is over 46 feet high. I watched for several minutes as two people worked on the upper surface. Watching one of them stand on what looked to be a very precarious work platform made me realize that 46 feet is really really high off the ground.
As you can see in the last picture, the Sculpture Park borders on the waterfront. When I left the park, I followed the water and eventually made it to Pike Place Market.
During my tour thus far, I had seen at least six different Starbucks locations. Now I saw the original one – 1912 Pike Street. It was crazily busy, so I got coffee at a different Starbucks that was only a block away.
I walked through Pike Place Market and saw lots of people, lots of stuff being sold and lots of food. In addition to the open-air marketplace that it is famous for, there are four levels underneath, inhabited by a wide variety of shops. I approached it from the waterfront and walked up several flights of stairs to get to the top level. From there I explored downward where I eventually found the best kind of store there is – a used bookstore.
Next, I used the underground transit system to get out to the University of Washington. I haven’t been to a university quite that large before, and I was interested in comparing it to Grand Canyon University, where I plan to attend in the fall. The University of Washington didn’t disappoint – it is huge. It took me about half an hour to walk from the southern edge of campus where the transit station was to the center of campus where the tour departed from. I was impressed with the grand buildings that gave off the feeling I’d always imagined I’d find at places like Harvard and Oxford.
I finished the campus tour and walked back to the subway. When I got back to downtown Seattle, I visited the Waterfall Garden, which is a tiny patch of lush greenery in the heart of the bustling city. The garden is built on what is said to be the footprint of the original UPS office (then called the American Messenger Company) in 1907.
My next stop was the Frye Museum. I enjoyed all of the walks I took throughout the day, except for this one. There was a steep, long hill, upon which the sun graciously decided to bestow its warm rays. Just as a piece of advice, if you ever tour Seattle, don’t walk east on James Street. I enjoyed the art at the Frye but was not able to take pictures there.
I finished up at Seattle Public Library. Because of the shape of the building, I couldn’t get a good picture that would communicate the size and awesomeness of the place. It is an eleven story tall library filled with books, media of all sorts, people, comfy seats, meeting rooms, and at least one coffee shop. I looked around for a few minutes, then went up to the eleventh floor and sat down to rest.
After recovering, I walked to the commuter rail and rode back to Edmonds, where Uncle Ross picked me up. We ate a delectable dinner at home of barbequed pork, fresh salad, corn, and sourdough bread. For dessert, we had fruit, including plums that I was given in Oregon and blueberries from Aunt Dianne’s garden.
Now that the day is over, it seems to have gone so fast! It went by in a blur of busy people, impatient cars, incredible skyscrapers, and churning feet. Two of those feet were my own. They churned a lot – twelve miles in all. I am thankful for everything I got to see and also for the way I experienced the city. By walking all around, I saw both the good and the bad (thankfully not the dangerous though). Taking public transportation was interesting too, as it gave me a chance to catch a glimpse of the middle-class culture in the city.
Even in the hugeness of a metropolis like Seattle, people build relationships. On both of my rides on the commuter rail, I listened to people greet each other as friends. From what I heard, think it would be true to say that they primarily see each other on the way to and from work. But that is enough time to talk for a moment and appreciate the presence of a familiar, friendly face. Even the security officers who came back to check on the passengers was able to greet many of them by name. On my trip back to Edmonds, the security officer stuck around for the whole ride. He and the eight people he talked to were making plans to have a barbeque together on the weekend.
Well, there’s enough for one day! Tomorrow should be a little bit more relaxed. I hope.
After a surprisingly good night of sleep, I woke up at 6 A.M. to see the sun shining down on me. I appreciated its kind attempt to get me up, but I was too cozy. I slept for another two hours and got up for real at 8 A.M. I packed up my campsite quickly, ate a ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast, and reorganized my car. I left my campsite at 9:30 A.M. and began my drive to Klamath National Park. The drive was uneventful and I continued listening to my audiobook, this time learning about China. I pulled off the road at a rest stop for a few minutes to get this picture of Shasta Lake.
I got back on the road and drove another several miles to Shasta City. I stopped at a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop to obey nature and then grab a cup of coffee. I walked around the city for about twenty minutes but found nothing intriguing. I found out when I left that I had stopped too soon – there was a much nicer downtown area a mile up the road. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I turned around and went back to the coffee shop I had seen. While waiting in line, I met a young man about my own age, named Kevin. He looked to be of the adventuring sort, so I asked him if he was traveling through, or lived there. He said that he lived in the city and had just come to have a cup of coffee while he read. I could sympathize with that! Before I could ask him what book he was reading, it was his turn in line. After him, I ordered my usual ultra fancy beverage – iced black coffee. It came out quickly and I wished Kevin well before walking back to my car.
Now I was in mission mode. I had realized earlier that my destination for the day was across the Oregon border. This presented a problem – I had not done my two hundred push-ups in California yet. As my mind always does, I started trying to worm my way around doing pushups just yet. This was only California, I had done thousands here before. I could just skip them and start in Oregon. Then, if I decided I wanted to do some in California, I could do them on the return trip. But I knew that was silly – I wanted to start this off right. So I looked for a nice spot to do them. Sadly, exercise facilities are not a part of the tourist attraction business. I looked in vain for several miles before it occurred to me that a local park would work out perfectly. I pulled off the road and found one and here, again, I went through the mind-games of avoidance. I feel quite foolish now, writing about it. I walked all the way around the park (which turned out to be very extensive), taking pictures of the gold mining equipment they had and exploring the mountain biking trail head. It’s true that I got a good walk in, but I ended up right back where I started. I finally decided to stop wasting time and get going.
I hoped to break the two hundred into sets and chug systematically through them. As I got close to a hundred though, I realized that wouldn’t work – would need a rest before I was ready to do a hundred more. So I did the first hundred in nine minutes, took a twenty-minute break, and finished the second hundred in eleven minutes. Some people will wonder how I did them so slow and some people will wonder how I did them at all. I’ll let those two opinions balance out and just try to do a little better each time.
I got back on the road after taking a quick shower (using the ingenious portable shower device suggested by my brother, Andrew – don’t worry, there has never been any Roundup in this one).
The remainder of my drive took me through increasingly exciting mountain passes, ending with a single lane gravel road with a sheer drop down the mountain on one side. Well, it may not have been a sheer drop, I’m sure one of the giant trees would have been happy to catch my SUV halfway down – though I doubt that trees know the meaning of “gentle.” Anyway, I did meet two other vehicles coming the other way (both were GMC pickup trucks). We made it safely past each other with at least six inches to spare on the cliff side.
I found the Mt. Ashland Campground almost empty, except for one large RV. I picked the spot farthest away from the RV. I get enough of close proximity in the city, so I reclaim my personal space when camping. Five hundred feet please, keep your distance people.
I set up my tent around 4:30 P.M. and sat down to read. Ater an hour I got up to stretch my legs and explore the camping area. This is the most beautiful area I’ve been so far on my trip (which isn’t saying much, since I was driving through California), and the temperature was perfect – around 65 degrees.
When I came back to my tent, I called home to update my family, then went began writing. Eventually, I got tired, and now, around 10:30 P.M. I am quite ready to get some sleep. Tonight I am using a traditional sleeping back and thin air cushion since I don’t want to wake my neighbors by flopping about in my balloon chair.
Today, August 7th, was a trial run for the road trip I have planned. It started off well enough, as I got everything packed into my car and started my journey to the Sequoias around 9:30 a.m. Traffic on the 57 and 210 Freeways slowed me down, but I was having a great time. I had an audiobook to keep me company, food to snack on, and an open road before me. I transitioned to the I-5 Freeway, and got over a few hills – then my check engine light went on. When I noticed the light, I pulled off at the closest exit, which turned out to be in Santa Clarita. My clock read 11:05 a.m. Only an hour and a half on the road. I turned the engine off, then turned it back on to see if the light would go away.
It didn’t. The light stayed on and the engine barely started, while the engine’s heat gauge suddenly spiked up. I popped the hood and got out of the car to check on the engine. When I saw the green liquid that had spilled on the ground, I knew immediately what was wrong. I must have run over an alien who had been using an invisibility shield, and its acidic blood had eaten through to my engine. Whew, it’s a good thing I was blessed with such excellent deductive skills.
Despite my excitement over the possibility of an alien encounter, I soon realized that the car was simply leaking engine coolant. I started the engine again to see if it would run now after having cooled off for several minutes. It was a little better this time, and the radiator gauge had fallen slightly. The check engine light was still on though, so I was stranded for the moment.
Now for the phone calls. Will Dad’s answer his work phone? Ring… nope. His cell phone? Ring… Nope. Is Mom at home? Ring… and she answered. My call interrupted her talk with a friend, but I made it brief – just telling her where I was, what had happened, and that I was going to call AAA.
But then I sat around for awhile, not wanting to call AAA. This trial run had sounded so fun, it couldn’t just end right now. If I called a tow truck, I’d have to go all the way back to our mechanic in Brea and then my trip would be over. Boring.
After pondering my dire situation with a suitably anguished heart, I tried to reach Dad again. This time he was there. We tried to figure out what the problem was, and I called our mechanic to see if he could help. No luck, I would just have to get it towed. Ten phone calls and thirty minutes later, I was sitting in a parking lot with my car. I had talked to Dad, our mechanic, AAA, and Mom. In the end, I got to the parking lot by moving my car, which had cooled down sufficiently, and was waiting for AAA to come. I still harbored the hope that I could get my car fixed and continue to the Sequoias.
When the truck arrived, a little after noon, the driver got my car hooked up with only a little difficulty. The driver was polite, and I liked getting to talk to him. His name is Pete. Pete drove us to the nearest auto repair shop, so I could get the problem diagnosed and see if it was anything serious. The attendant told me very nicely that they wouldn’t be able to check on my car until tomorrow. Not exactly what I was hoping for.
I rushed back outside, hoping that Pete had not unhooked my car yet. He had not. I told him that I didn’t want to wait a whole day to get my car checked out, and asked if he happened to have an error code reader – the simple device mechanics use to read what problem the engine has reported – so that I wouldn’t have to go all the way back to Brea. He did not have one, but he offered to take me to the central AAA hub for Santa Clarita, where the mechanic could probably help me pretty quickly.
On our drive, I kept talking to Pete and found out that he’s only been towing cars for a few months. Before that, he drove big rigs for twelve years. He went through a driving program right out of high school to gain the qualifications he needed, and after the usual tautology of beginning employment problems (need the experience to get a job, need a job to get experience) was able to keep steadily employed. He said that driving trucks pays better than towing, but he wanted to change jobs so that he could stay in one place and spend time with his wife and three children.
We arrived at the AAA hub, and the quick diagnosis ended up being rather slow. It was certainly better than waiting a day though. I waited from 1:30 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m. for the mechanic to figure out what was wrong. While I waited, I had a wonderful educational experience. I got to learn about the inner workings of AAA (don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, or I’ll be convicted of espionage), and I got to learn about the Middle East from someone who grew there.
First, I found out that the place I was at (Lyon’s Towing) gets extremely busy in the afternoon. I sat in the office, and in the room next door was the “dispatch” station. It sounded just like a superhero movie. The dispatcher got direct calls from clients and assigned clients on a computer system from AAA headquarters. The dispatcher had to keep track of all these clients, assign them to one of the eight drivers who were on the clock, and call the driver to verbally confirm the “target.” Sometimes the drivers would call in and ask for specific directions when a place was hard to find. “Turn left at the light. Right at the next light. Your pickup is in the shopping center ahead of you. Wow, watch out for the machine guns! Spider-man and Iron man are cutting off their escape. Fly out of the sun at them! ” Well that’s how I heard the conversations. Maybe my imagination ran a little past the facts.
I found out that Lyon’s Towing works as an independent contractor with AAA, which didn’t enlighten me too much since I was foggy about how independent contracting works in this industry. I learned that they take care of all business with the client/member – battery service, towing, and sometimes repairs – then send the charge tickets to AAA. So basically they do all the work, and AAA sits around making sure that they maintain high standards of customer service. Their performance is measured by surveys that are sent out randomly to a small percentage of the members that they help. These surveys are essential to them – they mean the difference between survival as a contractor, and getting completely cut out of the system. The survey asks three questions, with one point possible for each question – and thus a perfect score of 3 points. If a member marks anything less than “Totally Satisfied,” they get zero points for that question. Lyon’s towing keeps their average score around 2.72. If it falls below 2.7, they get a severe warning from their regional manager who is suddenly grumpy over losing his pay bonus for the month.
I learned most of this from talking to the manager of the shop. His name is Sam. In addition to talking about business, we also talked about religion and his own life. We started off by talking about my college plans, and he ended up telling me about his experience with college.
Sam grew up in Iran. He watched the Muslim revolution that took down the King of Iran when Sam was 13 and saw them shut down all the universities in the country. He turned 18 at the perfect time, right when the schools were reopened. His entire university class had only 128 students, 20 of whom were girls. The girls and boys sat in separate sections during class and could be suspended if they were seen talking to each other – inside or outside of class. Sam graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, then completed his master’s degree also. He got married, then immigrated to Canada to pursue a Ph.D. program. His plans were interrupted when he went on an emergency visit to his brother in California, who was running a successful towing shop but was experiencing health problems.
His brother ended up in the hospital before Sam arrived, with only two weeks left to live. Sam had planned on making this a short visit and a quick return to Canada, but during the visit, his brother begged him to take over Lyon’s Towing instead. After thinking it over, Sam agreed and set his whole mind to the task of learning how to run an auto shop. He left behind Canada, his Ph.D., and his pursuit of a career in engineering. Now, about twenty-eight years later, he told me that he is happy with his decision. He is married and has an adult son.
I mentioned that I am planning to go to a Christian college, and that got us started talking about faith. Though he came from Iran, Sam is not a Muslim. He believes that there is a God who has designed the world we live in, that we should all treat each other fairly, and that all religious scriptures are wonderful sources of wisdom. But he saw evil in the Muslims who took over the government in Iran and suppressed education, freedom, and opportunity. He does not have a problem with organized religion in general as long as it does not attempt to rule a nation, but he has no personal use for it.
And that was how I spent my time while I waited for the mechanic. I found my second interviewee. When at last the diagnosis was made, I learned that the engine was fine. The only problem was my cooling system. In some way which I don’t understand, the fan and air conditioner that cool the cab off are also connected to the radiator. And in my car, the fans were sending little bubbles of air into the radiator instead of sending them into the cab. That’s what the smart people said. So theoretically, the car was safe to drive, the problem would just have to be taken care of soon.
That was the only permission I needed. I drove around town for a few minutes to ensure that the car was not going to overheat again and then decided to continue my journey. I called Mom and Dad to let them know that I would keep going, then I stopped at Starbucks for a shot of happiness. I ended up paying for one cup of unsweetened iced coffee, and receiving that, along with a free cup of sweetened iced coffee which the barista had made on accident. Sweet! I also got a cup of ice and used that to chill some pure cherry juice and mineral water that I had in my car.
Now armed with enough fluids to… well, *cough. Now resupplied for my journey, I started off again. I drove from 4 p.m. till 8:30 p.m., stopping several times to give the engine a break. Most of the time, I listened to my audiobook – Our Oriental Heritage, book one of the Story of History series, by Will Durant. I’d already gotten past the introduction of the book and its discussion of pre-civilized cultures, so today I listened to the sections on Sumeria, Egypt, and Babylon. I took a few breaks to listen to music when I got tired of hearing about people that lived and died five thousand years ago.
At 6:30 p.m., I pulled off the road to give my engine a break and talk to my family. Past that break, I started going uphill. For awhile my car did well, and I was thrilled that I would actually make it to the campsite for the evening. Then the radiator gauge started rising again, and I pulled off to wait it out. I waited five minutes, then drove for a minute. The gauge rose again, so I decided it would be safest to give the engine a break. 280 miles on a hot day is a lot more work than I usually put it through. Hopefully in the cool of the morning, after it gets to rest for the night, it will feel better and be willing to take me home.
So I found a nice little pullout on the side of highway 180 and spent my evening in bliss. It must have been around 9 pm when I finally settled into my spot and started enjoying the night. I took out the physical copy of Our Oriental Heritage and went back over what I had listened to, highlighting the things that had stuck out to me, and thinking grand thoughts about civilization, people, and adventures.
As the sun disappeared and I started thinking about my situation, I will admit I was a little creeped out. I was stuck on the side of the road, after dark, surrounded by a strange forest. With no cell reception. With coyotes searching the spooky forest for an easy meal, bears lurking behind every tree ready to smash through the thin sheet metal of my car to grab me, and vampires just waiting for the last shaft of sunlight to disappear so that they can drink my blood!
Okay, I was actually about a hundred yards from a farmhouse, surrounded by tame cattle that were safely fenced inside their owner’s property, with cars driving by every two minutes. But it was still a little creepy.
At the present moment, in case you couldn’t figure it out, I am journaling. This has been a crazy day. It’s fun to look back over it and to think about the people I met and the stories I heard. I am still super excited for my trip, even though this day didn’t go exactly – or at all – as planned. It still turned out to be an amazing day, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.