From this perspective, actually laying down on Nevada highway 266, there is but one direction to go. I am the only person on the flickr using bellyontheroad as a tag; there is some sort of message there I won’t dwell too much upon.
This road, and others, was over 1900 miles to go from home in Strawberry Arizona to Kamloops, British Columbia, where I will be based through March 2015 as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University, an opportunity made possible by Brian Lamb (and many others I shall get to know soon). More on that story as it develops.
Here’s some notes from the road, a blurred experience coming on the heels of a 2 week trip to New Zealand that ended 5 days before I left again. On/Off/on/off the road. Go go go.
I thought briefly about maybe writing these experiences in a separate site. I do it solely because it helps me process on it, and remember it later, and work through a handful of many experiences that do begin to slide like grains of sand through the hands. While I have done written long trips in other spaces before, there is truly something about the comfort of one’s own home. Even as a blog home.
creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog
I can only faintly try to tap put the words that grapple at the feeling this place brings to me. This is not pathetic longing yet; this base grounds me out in the Space That is Everything Outside The Front Door.
And I certainly have a more than comfortable perch here from a top floor suite of the TRU residence hall. Like a spotlight, the morning sun just lit up the autumn trees.
I did leave some cold beers for my return in Strawberry.
And last night I was enjoying a new appropriately named beverage in honor of my trusty road steed
At this point I am thinking I am pretty clever for finding a way through photos to book end this trip, maybe develop a sort of sideways Memento-ish narrative… but this is as far as I got.
Day 1: Strawberry, AZ to Beatty NV (439 miles)
One could not have designed a more classic Arizona postcard day; cloudless saturated blue sky, peaking golden aspens waving, quaking, draping the sides of the San Francisco Peaks.
But then there is life.
Meet Elijah, technically my fourth step-grandchild, and less than 4 weeks old when I stopped by to see him and his Mom in Flagstaff. The descriptor “miracle” on newborns of overused for good reason. Imagine the first sensory overload of trying to make sense of this world, having to make sense of it as you go and unable to give or receive but the most basic communications.
Routine routes on major roads, I40 west to Kingman, AZ. A major construction stretch where I might have covered 10 miles in 45 minutes. It was at a gas stop here I was reminded that faithful red Dog has been coughing hard on the start up when the engine is warm. Register concern to level 3. I give appreciation the cheap prices of fuel, $3.15/gallon here and as low as $2.98 elsewhere. It’s less than I payed when I traveled in 2011. If you go anywhere else in the world, and can do the conversions, you will find in the US we pay 1/2 to 1/3 the price of fuel elsewhere.
Then it was north on highway 93 through some wide open high desert. Warm, the kind of let your arm hang out the window and do that wave thing (not allowed in Australia). The first border crossing, Arizona into Nevada, previously involved a twisty descent/ascent to cross over Hoover Dam (which leads me to remember the Bugs Bunny Wet Hare episode “No Doc, not THIS one!”)
But now there is a new modern bridge across the gap (I like knowing it’s named partly after Pat Tillman) apparently the 2nd highest bridge in the US, and essentially the first road crossing of the Grand Canyon west of Lee’s Ferry, several hundred miles to the east.
I noticed people walking along side, and an exit marked for the bridge walkway. It seemed like a reasonable spontaneous diversion. Well, until I saw the signs and stops for security inspection. Damned terrorist fear. The inspector wanted to see what was in the bed of my truck, the 33 suitcases of clothes I had tightly burrito wrapped in a heavy tarp and secured with a black heavy duty cargo net.
It was rather suspicious I admit. The guard just wanted to see the suitcases. And darned, I could not easily reach in to peel open my wrap job enough to get a view.
“I think I will skip the walkway, Ok?” No problem. Instead I stopped for a view of Lake Mead, really worth doing what everyone else was doing. Stop for 5 minutes and snap a photo.
But darn, Red Dog was really hard to start. Cranking hard, but barely turning over. My plan was to drive through Vegas into Beatty and not turn the engine off. Obviously many people enjoy Las Vegas, and I have had my surrealistic wonder walks, but its really a dense place I prefer to get through as soon as possible. I feel more at peace in the wide open spaces.
Actual billboard. Brothel. Hot sauce. Pictures. Souvenirs. Welcome to the weirdness of Nevada
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 17, 2014
I have passed through Beatty on previous trips, mostly as a gas stop. It’s typical of the parts of Nevada that is Not Vegas, occupying the geographical proximity of Death Valley, The Nevada Test Site, and Area 51. I had a colleague from my Geology graduate school days that lived here, working for a gold mining company that was actually taking down a small mountain.
Day 2: Beatty NV to The Wrong Strawberry CA (329 miles and one fuel filter)
Not much to be said for Beatty, a fine road stop at a Motel 6. it was fitting to have breakfast at Denny’s how can I resist a name like “Moon Over My Hammy.” A table full of retirees next to me, seeking directional wisdom by speaking loudly into their mobile phones “How Far to Lake Havasu, Arizona” and “How Far to Quartzite Arizona.” In honor of my gambling pal Barb, I put $10 into a poker machine in the casino and walked out with $11. Winner.
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 17, 2014
In light of concern over my truck, I altered the route to stop in Bishop CA where there was a Ford service shop. It’s a rather stunning two lane highway trip, north on US 95, then NV 266 and CA 168. Also remarkable for such a less traveled route how smooth the road is, be thankful for our highway system. Have you ever stayed over in Lida, NZ? Checked out the hay fields in Fishlake Valley? i did risk one stop to take some photos of the remains of Palmetto, an abandoned silver mining town.
Risky. But Red Dog coughed hard again (confirming the problem) but roared to life.
I thought I was close to finding my karma–
Foiled by spelling again.
The descent of highway 168 into the town of Big Pine would normally reveal one of the most majestic views of the Sierra Nevada, among the peaks is Mt Whitney, the highway point in the lower 48 states at 14,400 feet. In 1989 my ASU grad school pal Jean-Cristophe and I did in one day the hike to the top and back, a 22 mile round trip (proof).
Today the peaks were draped in haze. Still majestic.
The folks at Bishop Ford diagnosed Red Dog as having a failing fuel filter. Getting that replaced was a ($700) no brainer. I ended up with a few hours to walk around town. I spent a lot of time near this town in the late 1980s, when I was doing the field work for my thesis on the drab valley just north of town, the Volcanic Tableland. With more time, I would have revisited the spot I based at a lot, the spring that feeds Fish Slough, maybe trekked up Glass Mountain to look for more banded obsidian, or taken a dip in Hot Creek.
So I never had seen much of Bishop. The main strip has your typical chains, plus a lot of hunting, fishing stores. It reads much of the ups and downs of medium town America, abandoned shopping centers and ones being retrofitted anew
Maybe the best thing was a lunch at Eric Schat’s Bakkerÿ. The sandwiches are divine.
I only get so much from commercial strips, so as I often like to do, I wandered down a random residential street that looked like at the end to have a view of the mountains. I enjoy just taking in the way neighborhoods and home fronts speak to the place. The street ended in a hiking/biking trail that cut north towards where I needed to return. The mountain view was okay, but turning around, the late afternoon light on the cottonwood trees was superlative (well with a tad of HDR effects)
With Red Dog truck fixed and retrieved we set out for the evening’s destination. On a previous 2012 trip this way in the opposite direction, I had passed through the tiny “Strawberry CA” on Route 50 so had booked a room at the Lodge there. How could I pass it up? I punched in the town in my GPS, called the Lodge to double check an 8pm arrival was okay, and headed up highway 395.
Always worth a stop to wonder at Mono Lake. pic.twitter.com/wsxMSWMYPa
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 18, 2014
I always like to stop to take a photo of Mono Lake, and at 530pm there was a decent shaft of light on Negit Island. The other tourists were bundled up in parkas and hats, why is the guy from Arizona walking around in a t-shirt? It felt maybe in the high 50s. Oh well.
Passed Bridgeport, the light was getting low, and I followed the GPS to turn on highway 108. Wow, was that ever a twisty climb. At some point a convoy of some 30+ military humvees passed in the opposite direction. Progress was slow, with the road, and my tired wariness. I entered finally the town of Strawberry, saw a Strawberry Inn, but did not see the lodge. I was quickly on the other side, which did not seem as I had remembered from my last trip. Returning to the Inn, I stopped and checked the map for the lodge address on my phone. The signal was marginal, but it said I had another 2.5 hours to go!
Something was amiss.
I went inside and talked to the guy behind the bar who also ran the Inn. So here is what I fiund out.
Confused by towns named Strawberry pic.twitter.com/JpDwEQOHD9
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 18, 2014
There are two small California towns in the Sierra Nevada named Strawberry. I was not at the one I expected. The guy at the Lodge where I made the reservation was kind enough to cancel my reservation and I was able to find a room at the Inn.
Day 3: Strawberry CA to Georgetown CA (120 miles)
After walking around the giant town of Strawberry obtaining appropriate photos and postcards from the Strawberry Store (a smaller town than Strawberry AZ has way more commerce than us) I headed up the road.
A much shorter time today, but through some windy scenery mostly along California highway 49. The land shape is rather jumbled, twisty, most likely having something to do with the earth shifting near the town of San Andreas (conjecturing). Sonora looked like a nice town to wander around.
But the goal today was a visit with Zack aka @noiseprofessor at his home in the forest. This is maybe the third time I have stopped over, and always great to catch up with him, his wife, and those lovely attention seeking dogs Luna and Lullaby.
We went on an excursion out to Stumpy Lake and walked among the ghostly trees that burned in the recent King Fire, only 8 miles from Zack’s home.
Zack also took me down to Sutter’s Mill and see some of the artifacts and things related to that little discovery in 1849 that set a lot of things in motion.
Later, under the influence of a fine array of tapas like cheese and other goodies, I was additionally denogginized…
And this topped by some guitar pedal stomping fun in Zack’s studio. I so much enjoy hanging out with him.
Day 4: Georgetown CA to Eugene OR (497 miles aka The Long *$#& Haul)
If you want a cool place to live, try Cool, California. There is a Cool Taqueria, a Cool Baptsist Church, a Cool Drycleaner, and of course, this is where maybe Cool Ranch flavor was invented
The route took my down off the shoulder of the Sierra Nevada to the coast, the low elevations. The landscape moves between muted yellow crass covered field and hills, to rows and rows and rows and rows of almonds, kiwis, and other edibles. I made it to another town I think is cool, Chico.
Just on a whim, since I know she was based there, I tweeted to Kim Jaxson whom I know from Connected Courses and she picked a nice lunch spot and gave me a short tour of town and campus (she knows it well having grown up there). As usual, I liked Kim from what I knew of her work online, how she interacts with others, and in person… same.
I would have enjoyed a longer stay, but today’s goal is ambitious.
Me and my copilot pic.twitter.com/4FTywKABHc
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 19, 2014
I had low expectations for scenery along an interstate route, but I5 north of the nearly bone dry Shasta Lake was really gorgeous. How could I not like a giant snow covered old volcanic landform mountain?
The countryside wonders continued right into Oregon… well at least while daylight lasted. The drive went into the early evening hours, until I arrived to the delivered as promised yells of jubilation when I arrived at the home of Sandra Brown Jensen and her husband Peter in Eugene.
I was treated to warm soup and a rush of great stories in their home, which is just overflowing with all kinds of art. Art, art, and art. Not to mention a unique bed spread (well sort of unique, someone sent me one in the mail. I have a clue).
Day 5: Just across town in Eugene OR (5 miles)
After a long day’s drive, a short one was in order. After a yummy home cooked breakfast, I enjoyed more conservation about his interests un cracking the code of Shakespeare, notebooking, painting, and stories of his father’s career in drawing bridge designs.
I took a short walk along the Willamette River (steps from their home), and cam home as a bit of rain started.
Rain that would continue for 2.5 days.
Sandy came home for lunch, I gave them a tour of the Storybox (and Sandy added a video of me explaining it, edited only in the way she can whip out a video digital story) (I may have to break my rule and out that piece of media online). Then we got dressed up for some serious photos.
I so, so so, enjoyed getting to meet Sandy and Peter in person. So fun and so full if life and love of stories and art. I went just a few miles over to a new home being renovated for my good friend Tim
This portion has already been blogged as its own story, but Tim was really the first person I knew only online (in the mid 1990s via an email listserv) whom I came to visit and become good friends with. That was 20 years ago.
If I time it right, I might have been the last person to visit Tim and his wife in the house in the woods has has lived in since 1978 and the first when their new home is finished being renovated (when/if I return in March).
Day 6: Eugene OR to Vancouver WA (119 miles)
Today was again a short hop. I made plans to get to portland by noon and met Randy Thorton for lunch and drinks at the most appropriately named place
Randy, who knows the town well, described The Lucky Labrador as “pre-hipster” Portland. A t-shirt was purchased. It’s a spacious warehouse type place in an industrial part of town. It’s awesome. We caught up on life, work, open source, and tiny houses. I’m a big fan of Randy, he is one of only 3 people who have visited me in Strawberry and made it to my place on their own.
I headed out of town early to avoid rush hour traffic, and set up for some blogging and stuff at a Starbucks in Vancouver, WA, and waited for Mike Caulfield to show up after work. After happy hour we went to his nearby home for a lovely dinner, where I got to meet his family, including a bird named Derp. Yes, wikis were mentioned briefly in conversation, a very very warm evening.
Great to visit with @holden -it's a brush with fame being in the home of a Latvian pop music star
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 22, 2014
Day 7: Vancouver WA OR to Seattle WA (192 miles)
The rain continued, and continued, and continued. Traffic was not super heavy, but people in Washington sure love going slow in the left lane. If it were nit raining, i would have loved a side trip to Mount St Helens; I’ve not seen the volcano since a Geology field trip in 1991. Instead, I got a photo from a rest stop bulletin board
I headed on up to the home of Jennifer Dalby, who luckily was home from work that day. We’ve been friends a long time in internet years, and I always enjoy hearing her no nonsense perspective. the last time I visited, we found and tried to return some lost dogs. It was fun to hang out with her son, who beat me bad in Wheel of Fortune video game.
Day 8: Seattle WA OR to Kamloops BC (275 miles)
It’s the final day! Just a little hop across the border, and out the Canadian highways to my destination. Easy. Peasy.
In the morning.. rain. Rain. I headed up the road hoping to avoid work traffic, I seemed to be going against the flow. I felt a need for some coffee, and a small cafe in Snohomish looked interesting
And oh did Jakes Cafe have character, beyond the Blues Brother persona. It was full of wise cracking old guys and a sassy waitress in big scary hair who called everyone “honey”. I was not really hungry but it was worth ordering a biscuit and gravy breakfast (extra bacon) to observe.
I knew from looking at the maps that I could parallel I5 by going up Highway 9. This meant every few miles hearing my GPS inform me I was going the wrong way “Recalculating” is a nagging word. My truck was due a rotation in its tires; and while I saw that there were Big O Tires stores on the way (in Chilliwack BC), while I was thinking about it I passed a Big O in Lake Stevens. U-Turn! Twas a good thing I took care of it early.
The route to cross the border took me off I5 and through some interesting small agriculture areas along the border. I took my last gas top off in Sumas WA ($3.05/gallon), and pulled into line at the border. Short lines.
I had at the ready my passport and the official letter of my Thompson Rivers University Open Scholar Award, which I expected to be the paperwork to get across.
I was sent inside.
I did not emerge for another 90 minutes. And I thought for most of that I’d be headed back to the US.
The border agent had reservations and doubts about me qualifying for the work exemption listed in the letter. The language of the award being based on “academic achievement” was something she saw as not applying to me as I was not a student. I tried to explain that others in education are recognized for academic achievement, that I was a teacher, and that previous recipients were full tenured faculty. There was concern about research being done to show that qualified Canadians were allowed to apply for my reward.
There was lot of looking at computer screens. Then others were consulted. And more. I was called up a few times and told things were doubtful.
Waiting for border guards to finish checking out whatever they look at on those screens. I stopped short of saying "Google Me"
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 23, 2014
I started to speculate what I might do, or in worse case, if I had to go all the way home. I had trouble getting in touch with Brian Lamb (he was in a workshop).
There’s not much one can do here. It’s out of my control. But it felt pretty grim. That said, the agent was not rude, and in fact, on the second to last counter summons she and her colleague explained they were trying to find a different exception. Contacting TRU was not an option, its really left up to the border agents to interpret the conditions.
Eventually I was told that I would be granted permission (after paying $155 for a work permit).
And then I drove into Canada.
And sighed a relief.
Having crossed the border after paperwork hassle it seems appropriate to eat tacos. Welcome to Canada pic.twitter.com/4jbakxwi3v
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) October 23, 2014
Now I just had to drive the rest of the way. And oh did it rain hard. The kind that makes you wonder if you can see far enough ahead of you. Before the border fiasco, I had plans of a leisurely lunch in Hope BC, a town I visited also in 2011. I had not known then that Hope was the film location for First Blood. But that plan to follow Rambo into town was blown away by the border fiasco (and the rain, the rain, the rain).
Actually past the town, and going down a scenic gorge of the Coquihalla River, things actually got a little less grey. And climbing the road to Coquihalla Summit, where I had been advised via twitter there might be ice (there was not), the rain stopped (and revealed snow on the peaks on either side of the road)
From there, it seemed like a bubble of blue sky opened over Kamloops.
And like that, the long trip was over, 1920 miles in distance. I found my way to the Thompson Rivers University Residence Hall, where I am sitting now in a lovely 11th floor suite with a spectacular view. Brian Lamb was there to greet and help me ferry my bags up to the room.
From there it was time for some wings and beverages at Fox’n Hounds and a fun informal gathering at the home of Irwin Devries.
And things look really good from here.