Gweilo

Some people are terrified of plane takeoff, but I’ve always loved it. There’s something about the angle that the plane tilts back, the gentle push of the G force back into your seat, that is so relaxing and comforting. Being lifted hundreds of feet in the air in a recliner position is just the best. In a few moments I was aloft over a gorgeous sea of clouds.

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I was headed into another world entirely, one I knew nothing about. This idea is the most exciting one of all, and is the reason I’m a traveler. A society based on another continent, with thousands of years more history than mine, a different religion, a different language, a different sense of morality. Hong Kong beckoned to me seductively in my thoughts. Between my yard hammock residence in Oakland, my harvest stint in the mountains of Oregon, and my rugged beach existence on Kauai, I had been living outdoors for about 8 months. The pendulum was swinging in the other direction now, and I was starting to crave an urbane experience; and right on time. The plane flew westward, chasing the sun at 600 miles per hour, giving me the longest and most spectacular sunset of my life, 30,000 feet over Japan. My concept of time warped as I watched the sun retreat in slow motion and paint the sky in varying shades for three beautiful hours. We flew the length of the Japanese archipelago and I watched the rainbow horizon slowly morph over Mount Fuji. The light faded ever so slowly to reveal the sprawling lights of Tokyo.

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When I finally landed in HK I was tired, bewildered, discombobulated, and most of all, hungry. I wandered through the haze of bright lights and sleek hi-tech everything and followed the directions I had been given to get to where I was staying. Soon I was in the center of everything at 3AM, and the streets were alive. I stumbled bleary-eyed down a bright alley looking at each shop in a long row. Everything was in Cantonese. A jovial group of businessmen came strolling by, speaking and laughing to each other in Chinese, and I chanced my English on them. “Do you know where I can get some good, cheap food? Something with lots of meat in it.” They immediately broke into perfect English, and were glad to help. One guy, clearly the alpha of the group, suddenly piped in loudly, “Sure, you’re standing in front of a great place, look behind ya!” in a thick Texas accent. I looked at his face again to make sure; he was definitely Chinese. My head spun with confusion but the urge to eat was much stronger than the urge to find out what the fuck was going on at this point so I thanked him and strolled in. I was the only white person in the place, and it only took me a few words to realize that no one here spoke English either. Of course, cause i’m in fucking China now I realize. My face flushed hot and red with embarrassment. Jesus I am tired. I walked back out to find the same group there waiting for me. The guy with the Texas accent knew exactly what had happened, and before I could open my mouth he goes, “Lemme guess… you don’t speak Cantonese. I’m gonna teach you how to order. Welcome to Hong Kong!” Great! He runs me through the common Cantonese late-night noodle shop offerings, and together we determine that I want beef brisket, pronounced  “ow lam.” It’s awkward as fuck to say and I feel like an idiot, but to the delight of my audience, I get it after a few tries. My success is short-lived though, because as he explains, “Now you have to learn the tones. Cantonese is a tonal language. That means for every syllable, there are 6 tones, 6 different pitches. If I say ‘gong’ with a high pitch, it is a completely different word than if I say ‘gong’ with a lower pitch.” Jesus. This is a lot for 3AM jetlagged on an empty stomach. I give it my best but I just can’t seem to do the rising tone. My new friends and bystanders alike laugh and enjoy the spectacle of an enormous American with a big backpack learning Cantonese on the sidewalk in the middle of the night. This is my quintessential ‘foreigner’ moment. In Mexico, you’re a gringo. In the ghetto, you’re a honky. In Thailand you’re farang, and in Hong Kong, you’re a gweilo. It translates to ‘foreign devil’ or ‘white ghost’, but its not quite as derogatory as that.

As awesome as this cultural exchange is, I’m getting hungrier and more tired by the second. After several failed attempts, finally I’m just like, “Man, can you just order for me? Cantonese is hard. I just can’t get the tones.” His voice raises louder, his Texas accent even stronger, and to my amazement he says, “Now ya makin’ excuses for failure!” At this point I feel like I am on a high school football team in Houston, and I laugh at the pure absurdity of being yelled at by a Chinese man with a southern drawl at 3AM. I’ve only been in this country for 30 minutes and things are really getting good. Through the laughter I finally manage to order, and Tex chimes in a few extras at his leisure and promises I’ll like them. After our bonding experience, the group decides to eat there and we have a great meal of noodle soup and cabbage.

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The whole reason I’m coming to Hong Kong is that my good friend and Oakland househost Brandon suggested I stay with his mother during her teaching residency. Brandon’s mom, the honorable Dr. Donna Luse, has a semi-annual teaching residence at the business school of Shue Yan University, a private college in Hong Kong. they set her up with an awesome 2 bedroom apartment on a hill overlooking the city. Even in the wee hours that I arrived, she was there to greet me with a smile. Her painstaking directions were accurate to a T, and even included the address in Canto to show the cab driver. I sunk into the bed with relief and fell asleep almost instantly.

When I woke up, I was taken on a whirlwind tour of Dr. Luse’s favorite neighborhood, Causeway Bay. I was still too jetlagged and culture shocked to take in much, but I do remember finding these ‘Corn and Cheese’ drinks in the supermarket.

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Eventually we ended up at the top of the tallest mountain in Hong Kong, Victoria Peak, where there was some kind of bizarre marketing event going on. There was a ribbon cutting ceremony, and the centerpiece was an enormous bear full of balloons. Eventually we found someone who spoke English, and they explained that they were breaking the Guinness World Record for “largest balloon filled structure.”

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The thing was surreal, but what was more surreal was the view behind it.

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Hong Kong is a tiny island that is made up mostly of steep mountains, with only a handful of tiny flat spots along the coast that are feasible to build on. Hong Kong is not a city in China, but rather a self-governing city-state. Which means that The city of Hong Kong is its own country, with its own laws, its own borders, its own currency, and its own [democratic, non-communist] government (unlike China). You need a passport and visa to get from China into Hong Kong. The reasons for this are complex, and I’ll get into them later as they become relevant, when I ended up involved in an anti-communist uprising. What this means, is that everyone from China wants to live in Hong Kong; citizenship and space are at a premium, and Hong Kong crams a population of 7 million into few extremely dense areas. As I wandered the streets, I was struck by the sheer height and staggering amount of skyscrapers. In fact, after a while I realized that very few buildings in the Hong Kong were less than 10 stories, and most of them over 40. I eventually learned that Hong Kong is “the World’s Most Vertical City’ with more skyscrapers per capita than anywhere else on the globe. Everything, I mean everything, was in a skyscraper. Many business addresses I followed from internet directions led me to nondescript doorways that opened up to reveal a lone elevator. The first time, I thought it couldn’t be right, and circled the block several times looking for a business sign. Eventually I decided to just get in the elevator and see where it took me. When I walked in, each elevator button was labeled with very brightly colored signage. It was all in Canto so I just pushed one hesitantly, half expecting to end up barging into someone’s living room or private meeting. My mind was blown when the doors opened to reveal a pool hall. The entire floor was a dark and smoky snooker club, with guys hunched over the tables, cigarettes clenched between teeth. Nobody even looked up from lining their shots, and I just stood there dumbfounded. I turned around before the elevator could close and punched another bright button. A few seconds later the doors opened to a magnificent banquet hall, and I realized it was a restaurant. I just let the doors close, and punched all the buttons at once in an excited frenzy. Every time the elevator opened, I was in a different world; a loud, dark arcade, a bright pink women’s clothing boutique, a hip music shop, another restaurant, a balcony level….on and on all the way to the 23rd floor. Each time was as fascinating as the first; I felt like I looking through the doors of the magic wardrobe into Narnia, each button teleported me to its own little insular world. Finally I got to the top; the 23rd floor, and found what I had been looking for in the first place – a hookah bar. I strolled in hesitantly as the place was empty, but soon enough a hostess appeared an offered me a table. I declined, as I was only scouting for a cool place for Brandon and I to hang out next week when he arrived. I saw that the place was way cooler than I originally thought, but I’ll get to that later. I got back in the elevator, pushed the floor button, and walked out of the Narnia-esque compartmental multiverse into the cool night air of a Hong Kong winter.

This experience initiated me for many similar discoveries into the dense and extremely space efficient nature of Hong Kong. I soon discovered that not only is everything in a skyscraper, but most things are inside a mall inside a skyscraper. Growing up in America, I was used to malls as an unnecessary celebration of shopping; a place you go because you just wanna go to the mall. There’s usually not anything you can get at the mall that you can’t get anywhere else, and often times, aside from Dillards, JCPenny etc,  the stores in malls are miniaturized duplicates of stores that your town already has. You could easily live your whole life without ever entering a mall in America, and the only thing you would miss out on is Rainforest Cafe. That is not the case in Hong Kong. Here, malls are a completely different beast. The shopping mall is a simple fact of everyday life for millions in HK. Not for the glamorous thrill of shopping intoxication, but because there literally isn’t enough space in this city for each store to have its own building, or even its own street frontage. The post office is in a mall. MacDonalds is in a mall. A tailor shop, just another booth in the mall. Want groceries? Go to the mall! Imagine Wal-Mart as a store in a mall and you’ll start to get the picture. They don’t call them malls either, but rather “Shopping Arcades.” This took some getting used to, but after a week or so I grew accustomed to the madness. In addition to the malls of necessity, there were also high class glamour malls, full of Gucci and Prada, that are a little bit closer to what you might expect out of an American mall, however, these are geared towards out of town shopping tourists from China. Due to trade sanctions, many consumer goods like iPhones and desiger clothes and jewelry are either unavailable or vastly overpriced in communist China, so people from the mainland flock by the thousands to Hong Kong, often with the sole intent of shopping. It seems insane, but somehow, an iPhone that’s been shipped halfway across the earth to the US is $600, but in China, where the iPhone is manufactured, it costs $1000. It’s not just limited to luxury goods though, often times the city is swarmed with Black Friday-esque rushes for everyday goods like diapers or baby formula, that are for whatever reason not as available in mainland China. In recent years this has come to a head, with stores sometimes unable to keep up with demand, leading to shortages of vital products for local residents, and breeding contempt for mainland Chinese, which Hong Kongers have begun to call “locusts.” The Hong Kong vs. China dynamic runs deep into almost every aspect of HK culture, but again I’ll spare the details until they’re relevant later.

I had shattered my tablet in Hawaii, and needed a new one ASAP in order to keep up with this blog. After a few internet searches, all signs pointed to Sham Shui Po, a neighborhood overflowing with character that’s the closest thing HK has to a ghetto. Over the course of my visit, this would become my favorite borough of the city, ripe with shady hawkers, sketchy secondhand shops, and cheap, delicious food. Hong Kong proudly paraded its shiny skyscrapers and business megaplexes in downtown areas like Central and Admiralty, but I had begun to wonder if there was a seedy underbelly to this polished metropolis. I found it, and so much more, in Sham Shui Po…

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Kalalau

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I came into Kauai knowing very little. I knew it was the most rural of the islands, and that it was beautiful. And I knew that Ben had taken up residence in the Kalalau Valley, which is very remote. That’s pretty much it.

But over the past week, every time I was asked where I was going, every time I said the word Kalalau, I got the same response. People’s demeanors changed immediately as if I had spoken a secret passphrase that charged them with a duty to aid me on a noble quest. I might as well have told them I was going to Shangri-La, or Atlantis. The way people talked about this place with such consistent wonder, reverence, and awe, began to create an air of mythos around the valley, so by the time I got to the trailhead, Kalalau was a legend.

The valley is situated smack dab in the middle of the Na Pali coast, rendered inaccessible by miles of sheer 5000ft cliffs on either side. It opens up onto the northern shore of the island and culminates at Kalalau beach where the valley hits the water. The strong, clear, cold, and pure Kalalau river runs through the valley into the sea, rendering the base of the already lush valley so fertile that an errant seed dropped carelessly will grow wildly. I had heard tales of naked hippie colonies, wild fruit trees in abundance, strange shrines and natural altars. Many adventurers like myself had wandered in for a few days, only to stay for months and sometimes years. It was so remote that a long history of Hawaiian fugitives had fled there, some successfully evading capture and living to the end of their natural lives. The only way for the authorities to visit in any capacity of power was by helicopter, which was so cost prohibitive that it rarely happened, and when it did, everyone could easily see and hear them coming.

Aside from the destination, the hike was no joke, either. Apparently it was widely considered among the top backpacking trails in the world, but also one of the most dangerous. I was warned time and time again that people die on it every year, and some locals even had anecdotes about personal friends they had lost on the trail. The one thing everyone agreed on, was: whatever you do, don’t go in the rain.

All of this lent Kalalau a mythical quality that shrouded it in mystery and allure, and made the warnings of danger ring hollow against the promise of greatness ahead.

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The more I found out about this place, the more I liked the sound of it. I was excited to get to what was apparently a hidden eden of wild fruit, clear water, black sheep, and naturalists. We woke up early to evade the permit-checking rangers that harass unregistered hooligans like JP and me, and found it to be a sunny and generally clear morning, just like the weather forecast said it would be. So we set off down the trail to the promised land.

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The first thing we saw was a rainbow, a brilliant omen that put us in high spirits for the treacherous 11 mile trek along the mountainside.

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After a short climb I got a great view high above the beach we slept on, Ke’e.

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The trail started out simple but strenuous, and lulled me into a false sense of security as I trudged up the wide, steep path. Soon it leveled out and gave us our first view of the epic Na Pali coast.

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The trail was lush and beautiful, teeming with life and water the whole way.

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Bright colored birds flitted back and forth between tropical trees bearing all sorts of exotic fruit. The ground was covered in dark purple berries that stained everything they touched, and were sweet but so sour they made your mouth feel like chalk afterwards. The sheer diversity of wildlife was astounding, and most of it was species of plants and animals I had never seen before. Gigantic slugs the size of carrots, big flightless kiwi-like birds, and a whole rainbow of brilliantly colored bugs made their appearances and contributed to a growing sense of being a stranger in a strange land.

After a couple of steep but relatively easy miles, we came to the first stop on the trail, Hanaka Beach, marked by an ominous sign.
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Here’s a closeup of the important part:

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That’s 83 people. The ocean’s really not fucking around here. Some research after the fact has revealed that Hawaii is the drowning capital of the United States.

At the beach we were greeted by another rainbow at the mouth of the river where it flowed into the ocean.

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We took a look at the beach, but decided that we would heed the advice of the highly effective sign.

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We took a short break in a jackfruit tree grove, but decided to keep the momentum going and move forward.

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The 2-mile mark was a popular day hike for the less intrepid tourists, and I think the state had pit extra effort into widening and maintaining the first segment to encourage this, but all bets were off once we got past the beach. The trail soon narrowed, and before I knew it we were basically walking on a tiny ledge along terrifying sheer cliffs. The increased difficulty was rewarded, though, by incredible scenery. The Na Pali coast was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Imagine hiking through the kind of jungle you see in movies and National Geographic, spraypainted precariously onto 200-300 foot cliff sides overlooking the raging pacific ocean. Massive monolithic rock structures bathed in green towered over tropical gorges, so beautiful that I nearly fell off the trail staring up at them. I was beginning to see why people get hurt here. The distracting scenery looked increasingly like a movie set, gorgeous in such an extreme that my mind was having a hard time accepting it as real. I found myself humming the Jurassic Park theme more than once, and laughed to myself. As I found out later, it looked like Jurassic Park, because it IS Jurassic Park. The movie was filmed almost entirely on location in Kauai, and the verdant and mountainous coast shown when they initially fly in on a helicopter in the movie was the exact coast I was hiking.

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After a few miles, the skies changed suddenly from mostly clear to mostly cloudy, as often happens in Kauai.

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A light drizzle fell as I trudged on, but minutes later it evolved into a torrential downpour. I hoped it would be a short blast like all the other showers I had experienced on Kauai, but it only got worse. The rain was falling so hard that I could barely see, and my shoes’ grip began to falter in the mud. Soon the trail was more water than dirt, and I stopped to try and shelter myself, but the rain was so bad that I was still getting pounded under the trees. After a couple minutes of futile squatting in the downpour, I decided to just keep going. I was well past the halfway point, so turning back only meant a longer hike, and stopping was just wasted daylight. It was either hike in the storm, or sit in the storm and hike at night. Neither was safe, but pushing forward seemed the only real choice. The rain continued to escalate, and soon was blown nearly sideways by unbelievably strong winds. The gusts were so powerful that they constantly threw me off balance. Walking along a 2ft wide muddy cliff trail carrying 40lbs on my back in a rainstorm was hard enough, but the wind made it a serious survival situation. I was actually blown over a couple of times and nearly fell off the cliffs. The many warnings I had received began to play continuously in my head, providing a morbid narrative for each careful step. Still I kept the faith in our quest, until the rain finally let up. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but it was cut short as I came to this sign:

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Standing at it was a Filipino couple who were turning back, daunted by the infamous stretch of trail ahead. Miles 7-8 were widely considered the most dangerous, and contained the most feared segment, “Crawler’s Ledge.” I hadn’t filled up enough water from the stream, and after 6 miles of labored and careful steps in the wet tempest, exhaustion was starting to set in. But I was long past stopping, so we continued on without much hesitation.

I thought the worst was over after the rainstorm, but I was a fool. The rain had soaked into the dirt and turned the red clay hillside ahead into a slippery deathtrap. My feet would slide down the cliff no matter how carefully I chose my footing, so it was a matter of taking another step before my other foot slid off the trail. This resulted in a frantic sort of diagonal running uphill in order to attain a horizontal trajectory across the cliffside. It was a lot like doing the moonwalk, but instead of trying to look like Michael Jackson, you’re trying to not die. I tried to grasp at roots with my hands, buy they broke under any pressure, and any decrease in forward speed resulted in downward sliding. It was a real Catch-22, though, because sprinting at a weird angle along a muddy cliff with a 40 pound backpack is also extremely dangerous, but at least provided some chance of survival. The whole situation was a complete clusterfuck, and as you can tell its hard to even describe what the hell was going on.

I felt a very real closeness with death at this point, but by the time I reached an oasis of stable ground, it would be more dangerous to try and moonwalk back uphill through the death clay. This infernal segment of trail continued through an agonizing half mile of precarious life-pondering steps, and with each one I felt my bones break on the rocks below, saw the looks of despair on everyone’s face as the watched me go down, felt the waves below crush me against the sharp cliffs, and tasted the seawater filling my lungs. By the time I made it through, I had died a thousand deaths, and fully accepted it with peace and resignation. This process is a familiar one for me, and one I go through every time I face a new threat to my life (of which there have been many, between my ignorant and delinquent adolescence, and my wildly adventurous 20s). I do a lot of things that most people are afraid of, but I don’t think I’m any less scared of them. I feel immense amounts of fear when I do this kind of stuff, but for some reason I do it anyway. The result is that I come out on the other side with the realization that fear can’t actually stop me from doing anything, which is the most empowering revelation ever.

It also proves worrisome and maybe not the strongest evolutionary trait, because I feel at risk of doing stupid things that violate basic survival instinct. For example, when I’m on a skyscraper balcony or a super high ledge or railing and I look out over it, I feel in danger of jumping off for no reason. I feel like I have to babysit myself or I will spontaneously just do it. This extends out to much more severe situations like police encounters and being robbed at gunpoint, to the point that when I’m confronted with death I feel strangely in touch with it. I definitely don’t want to die yet, though, so don’t worry [mom]. I love life way too much.

After my improbable survival of the red clay death hill, we came to the infamous “Crawler’s Ledge,” named for the countless hikers who get down on all fours to cross it. Honestly, I gotta say – those people are idiots. It was a narrow rock ledge made a bit scarier by the 90 degree cliff you had to shimmy against, but it really wasn’t bad, and crawling would actually make it much harder. In any case, it was an absolute cakewalk compared to what we just did, and I crossed it without even noticing it. I didn’t even realize it was “Crawler’s Ledge” until JP stopped after and asked me what I thought about it. “That was it?”

I was increasingly tired, but energized after surviving mile 7 & 8, so we powered on, knowing we had to be close. We came across some goats heroically navigating the cliffs, and I got some shots of them, the misty aftermath of the storm, and the raging sea below.

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I'm standing on the trail in this picture. Can you find it?

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The boost wore off quickly, and things were quickly reaching a flashpoint of exhaustion and low morale. We had hiked over 10 miles in terrible conditions and I was out of water. Every corner we rounded “had to be the last one,” and it began to feel like we were chasing an imaginary mirage.

This went on for an hour so, and just when I was beginning to forget where I was going and what I was doing, we stumbled up to this sign with dogged steps:

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This time, the valley was literally around the corner, and when I finally saw it, I felt like a pilgrim reaching Mecca. Its a place of truly indescribable beauty, so just look at these pictures.

[Note that you can click on these and any pictures in the blog for a full resolution version]

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Even after all the hype, nothing could have prepared me for something so utterly spectacular. How had I lived for 26 years without knowing this existed?! I broke into a near sprint down to the beach, another mile down.

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The land flattened out once I reached the water, and there were people camped all along the trail in various capacities ranging from ultralight backpacker tents to janky tarp colonies. At the end of the trail was a waterfall fed by a spring above that served as a shower and infinite fresh water supply.

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I rinsed off and sat on this super cool surfboard bench to dry out.

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I soon met a 62 year old man named Ronnie, who had lived out here for over 30 years. He welcomed us to the valley with kind words and hot food from over the fire. We ate to our hearts content and trundled tiredly back to our campsite. The folks next to us had a fire pit going, so we walked over and made some new friends.

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The temperature varies less than 5 degrees from night to day, so fires in Hawaii are not really for warmth or any true necessity, but more of a social thing. It gives everyone something to gather around and sometimes cook on. And lo and behold, who should stroll up to the fire, but Nathan from a week earlier at Lydgate. Against all odds we had camped right next to him again! We reconnected over the fire, made some new acquaintances, then slept like babies.

The next day, I set off to hike up the river and explore the legendary valley floor myself. I casually invited the folks at surrounding campsites, and to my surprise, by the time I got to the river mouth, we had a sizable and enthusiastic crew. We set off down the honeycomb network of trails aimlessly, which turned out to be the best approach without a doubt. I learned from a wizened old man that Kalalau means “to wander” in Hawaiian, and so our formless journey was rewarded tenfold. The river was rife with deep swimming holes and waterfalls at every turn. We all jumped in if for no reason than to soothe the mosquito bites.

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After a mile or so we came to a cool lookout up on a hill where we could look down over the beach where we camped.

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The next discovery was a meditation labyrinth painstakingly worn into the ground by repeated walking along its winding trail. It was outlined by moss covered rocks and had a totem in the center proclaiming eternal love and gratitude for mother earth.

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We wandered further and I was stopped dead in my tracks by a heavenly glow coming from across the river. I jumped over and discovered the most idyllic grove of roseapple trees spiraled up in formation around a single squat banana tree. The trees broke the dense canopy of the jungle and let the ethereal light come down in a circle on the area, giving it an enchanted and almost holy vibe. I half expected to find some sort of relic at the center.

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We hung out for a while before continuing up the river to discover a big clearing with some enormous mango trees that I climbed with another adventurous guy. We were told later that this is a local landmark named “Three Mangoes.”

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As I got to know some more of the long-time residents in the valley I learned that almost everything had a name. There were so many camps hidden in little alcoves all over that in order to give directions, they had to name various features along the way. “Flat Rock,” “Mango Stadium,” “the Hippie Highway,” and “Big Hole” were just a few of the endless and entertaining names that served to give even more color to an unbelievably lively place.

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There was wild fruit growing all over the place, and Tobias, a German born airline pilot living in the United Arab Emirates, took a keen interest in grabbing and eating every variety he could find.

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He’s got a guava in these shots.

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Everyone was having a blast and we got so absorbed in our explorations that the sun began to set on us. We had spent a full day in the valley and wandered back to the beach just in time for the sunset.

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The beauty all around was enrapturing; it was like being in a jungle and a beach and the grand canyon and a rainforest all at once.

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We all sat there in the sand and watched the sun fall with such contentment….it was remarkable really. Its hard enough to get people to gather up and keep their attention for longer than a second out there in the ‘real world’ (or ‘the outside’ as valley dwellers called it), but here were 7 people from all over the globe just sitting peacefully, staring at the sunset.

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It was truly an awesome feeling to share such a simple satisfaction and not have to sell anyone on the idea for once… nobody was on their phone, nobody was complaining, nobody was distracted by the material world, everyone was simply…..present. I’ve achieved this state personally in fleeting ways through extensive self searching and outward exploration, but to share it with a group so naturally and effortlessly was simply ecstatic. The quality of adventurous backpacker that Kauai, and moreso Kalalau, seems to attract, is exactly the kind of person I look for and pick out in a crowd. They are the few, the intrepid, the weird, the resourceful, the fearless, the determined. To have so many rare birds flocked together in such an intimate place was like coming home, into the rugged black sheep society I’ve always dreamed of.

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We watched the sunset to completion, and kept laying until the stars came out. We stared up at the brilliant twinkling sky and picked out constellations and recalled dreams that had stuck with us. Everyone was getting along so well that by the end of the day it was a cohesive group of buds, and a tongue-in-cheek-name had emerged; the Chokecherry Crew, after the local name for the super tart berries found all over the trails. This nightly ritual of sunset-watching and stargazing would continue like a tradition for over a week, until we all had to part ways.

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Everyone had different backgrounds, but a common goal: to enjoy the hell out of the present moment. This wasn’t hard to accomplish here either. The closest of the friends I made in the valley were Zack and Nathan. Zack was a vagabond like myself from Minnesota, island hopping for the winter. Before Hawaii he had been in Puerto Rico. He seemed to always carry drumsticks, and would often retreat with headphones and could be found air drumming for hours at a time. One time I caught him eating peanut butter off them, in a shot that pretty well sums him up.

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Nathan was a humble ultra-outdoorsman from Vegas, having backpacked what seemed like every national park in the US, worked several summers in Alaska, and he talked about hiking for 25 miles at a time in an offhand way as if it were something everyone does. He was fountain of practical knowledge on pretty much every issue that came up, and had DIY rigged much of his camping gear in ways that were both cheaper and more effective that the best store bought stuff. He showed me how a simple cat food can with the right sized holes drilled in it makes a flawless and ultralight alcohol stove, and served as resident fire-master, striking up a blaze at a moment’s notice when no one else could.

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He also loved to eat raw ramen.

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We all slept soundly in exhaustion after the long day of hiking. The next day I woke to urgent hunger, and realized that my food supply was dwindling and probably wouldn’t even last through the day. I had made a critical error by putting the vast majority of my food in the rations bag being sent in with Brando. I had failed to consider that it might take a few days to get there, and packed very little food in my bag. I was starting to feel lightheaded and cranky from hunger, and knew I wouldn’t last long. My body was starving for protein to rebuild my legs after the pulverizing hike, and I had nothing to offer it. I was beginning to wonder if this Brando deal was even real, but to his credit the conditions were really rough. The surf had been huge the past couple of days; even if Brando was crazy enough to try coming in, the waves were so big that it was physically impossible to get a jet ski through without flipping. On top of that, its highly illegal to land a watercraft of any kind on Kalalau beach, and the only boats authorized to do so – the coast guard and park rangers – refuse to come anywhere near it in the winter, when the waves are biggest (now). My morale began to sink as my hunger rose, and I still no sight of Ben, who was the whole reason I came.

I had heard whispers of Ben’s whereabouts, but he was always just out of reach. People gave me generalized directions to an area he was commonly sighted in, but it was like tracking a wild animal. However, motivated by hunger, I spent a solid day connecting the dots, and after a tip from a naked girl in the forest, found him at last. He welcomed me with open arms, and fed me a bounty of quinoa, soup, and pancakes cooked over an open fire. The food lifted my spirits briefly, but my body still screamed for protein, in a way that hippie-food simply couldn’t provide. I needed to make a decision fast, because I didn’t even have enough food to sustain me for the brutal 11 mike trek back, and I would only get weaker from here. I had bet all my chips on this Brando guy, and I wasn’t even sure he existed. Things were beginning to look grim.

Ben suggested that I petition the island directly as a spiritual force, and ask for what I need. “You have to be specific,” his girlfriend Angelei told me. With a hollow stomach and nothing to lose, I wandered down to the Haeau, a collection of stacked stones by the river mouth that served as a temple and altar for the ancient Hawaiians, and offered up my request for sustenance.

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After this I trudged back to the waterfall to wash the sweat off. I sat on the surfboard bench drying in the customary way, squinting at the bright sea. I had left my glasses at camp to keep from losing them in the water, so I could barely see anything, but I was making out a faint black blob in the distance. Nah, couldn’t be him. Surf’s too rough, I’m just seeing things. Maybe its dolphins? Or a shark? It was so far out, and my eyesight so bad, that I really couldn’t make out anything. Finally I asked someone else to look out and tell me what they saw. Corey, a gleeful hippie who was planting garden beds that spelled out the word “LOVE,” peered out into the waves and hesitated.

“I think I see something, I think…..yeah there’s something dark out there, a shark maybe? I think……wait no its maybe a bunch of dolphins…….wait…..no……….I think its uhhh………I think its…..uhhhhhhh……………….hmmmmmmm, I…………oh wait………..wait, yeah……………….ok uhhhhhhh………….yeah man, its a jet ski, man! What the fuck is he thinking?! Is that Brando? I think that’s Brando!”

Before he could finish I was running down to the beach. Brando sat on an all black jet ski bobbing in the swells like a desperado several hundred yards offshore. He motored back and forth parallel to shore, carefully observing the break patterns and calculating his entry path. It didn’t seem possible at all, the waves were so tall they would block our view of Brando every few seconds. He continued scoping the situation for a solid half hour, trying a couple of agonizing times but having to dodge and retreat back skillfully from under a monster break.

At this point I have one of those third person experiences where you press pause, step out of your body, and take an outside look at your life for an honest evaluation. So here I am, on a remote and dangerous beach, on an island in the middle of the pacific, waving down a jet ski pirate as he dodges deadly surf in order to deliver me a bag of tuna, bread, hot sauce, peanut butter, and chocolate. What the fuck is going on? I wonder in a malnutrition delirium. If I could make up these ridiculous situations I would, but I’ve somehow developed a talent for unconsciously creating them. I couldn’t help but laugh as I inevitability do at all my ludicrous plights.

After a half hour of suspense, Brando sees his chance and barges thru the massive waves, carving sharply left and right with the throttle floored. As he gets closer we can hear the jet ski roar and more people gather on the beach as he heroically outruns a massive wave breaking behind him and basically surfs to shore. As he gets closer i can see he’s a man of about 40 with wild salty hair, a rugged sea-wrecked sailor’s face, sunburnt red skinrendesvous wearing a wetsuit. He runs the jet ski aground and gestures to me frantically to take the bag.

“Dad yo food man, take it. Fast man, take it, untie.” he barked in a heavy island accent. It was like an order. He was in a big hurry, apparently. I struggled to undo the crazy knots that fastened the garbage bag to the back of the jet ski. “fahka RIPPIT man, I don giva fok just GET it man, I gotta boat out der man, fahka idiot gonna DROWN man! Fahka idiot, fok man.” He pointed back out to sea where I could barely make out a tiny inflatable boat bobbing wildly in the swell. I ripped the garbage bag off the back of the jet ski where it was tied.

“Help me push.” he said, and started straining against the weight of the machine, pushing it down the sand back into the water. A couple of bystanders ran up to help and we shoved him off successfully, and he gunned it straight back, jumping over 8 foot waves on his way out.

After his rendezvous with the endangered boat, he went through the same laborious process to get through the waves again, but this time appeared with a passenger. A toothless brown-skinned man with wild curly black hair dismounted and ran immediately up to another jet ski sitting covered on the beach. He began pushing, huffing, and puffing so I ran up to help him. We eventually got the jet ski into a tidepool, where he thanked me for my help and introduced himself as Aliki.

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The name struck a chord immediately. Almost everyone I had met had mentioned Aliki at some point. Opinions were polarized, ranging from ‘tyrant of the beach’ to ‘lord protector of the valley.’ One thing that was sure, was that he more or less ran the place, by way of his pirate operations in and out of the dangerous beach. I say ‘pirate’ with deliberate intent, because that simply is the most accurate way to describe what he does. He dealt primarily in the smuggling of goods and people, in and out of the valley, and I surmised later that Brando was an associate of his. Through intimidation, corrupt relations with the cops, and classic strongarm tactics he had monopolized all traffic and trade in and out of the valley, and so you were either with him, or silently against him. Many of the old timers comprised the latter group, but would never openly resist him, because they depended on him to bring in their food. One guy, ‘Uncle T,’ had lived in the valley for 16 years and hadn’t even come out for almost 3. He brought in 2000 pounds of food at once, and without Aliki, he would have to carry 20-25 lbs in by foot every 2 weeks. Aliki also hauled out the relatively small but inevitable buildup of trash bags that accumulated, which gave the state another reason to look the other way on his smuggling racket. The only safe means the rangers had to haul out trash was by helicopter, which was so cost prohibitive that it rarely happened. All this added up to a very profitable reign for Aliki, charging hapless tourists who had hiked in way over their heads $150 for a 30min illegal boat ride, and afforded him an unofficial but universally understood czar role.

All of this to say, that my act of kindness to a stranger had just garnered the favor of the effective king of the valley. He invited me back to his large and luxurious (by Kalalau standards) camp for dinner. When I arrived, he said, “Grab a Noni leaf, to use for da plate,” and pointed at the big tree that was supporting his massive 400sqft tarp. It bore the curious Noni fruit, which I had never heard of before. It turned out that was because it tasted like shit.

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But the big, broad, and thick leaves certainly served as good plates. I jumped up and ripped one off, and was served a piping hot steak! Steak! I really was hobnobbing with royalty now, I knew. I looked around the camp and saw all the trappings that come with it. Lawn chairs, ice chests, even chainsaws were sitting strewn around a large brick stove. When you’re 11 rocky, dangerous miles from civilization, heavy and bulky items like these were worth their weight in gold. I chowed the steak gratefully and shot the shit with Aliki and Brando until darkness fell.

Aliki came often, but never stayed for long, and when he was gone, his camp nicknamed ‘A-camp,’ served as a communal gathering point for the many faces flowing in and out of the valley constantly.

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One night, some rowdy Filipinos joined us for a cookout, and we had a great cultural exchange.

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Another unforgettable night, the legendary Grizzly came out of his lair to treat us to a culinary delight unique to the valley. Grizz was the most charming and entertaining of all the long-timers, and had justly earned a legendary reputation throughout the land. At the designated hour we gathered around the fire at A-camp, and Grizz worked his wondrous black magic to produce Kalalau pizza. Everyone chipped in on ingredients, and the crust was made from scratch. Grizz tenderly kneaded it to perfection, while Hawaiian taro boiled in a big pot. Vegetables, preserved meats, cheeses, and other garnish were contributed from all angles and combined into a lovely pie. There still remained the question of the oven, though. Everything on Kalalau was cooked over an open fire; baking simply wasn’t in the cards. This is where the real magic happened. Grizz took two massive cast iron skillets, put the pizza inside one, and the other one upside down on top as a lid, forming a makeshift dutch oven. Then he took embers from the fire underneath, and piled them to the perfect amount and dispersion on top of the apparatus, providing heat from both sides. He attended to the precarious contraption with precision and skill, and danced around it ceremonially.

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Hawaiian taro

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The result was incredible, and absolutely the best pizza I have ever eaten.

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Before indulging, Grizz gathered everyone around the hot pan and obliged us to ‘Yummmmmmmm’ the pizza in the style of the classic meditational ‘Ohm,’ which was hilarious. As we ate in joy and fellowship he gave us an impressive double-hula performance.

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I can only hope I'm this awesome when I'm 60.

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Angelei enjoying her slice off of the customary noni leaf plate

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Soon an intriguing man came fresh off of Aliki’s boat, named Tyrone. He was a millionaire who had come to Kalalau “on the advice of a mystic, a clairvoyant, and a healer.”

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He gave off an interesting cosmopolitan vibe amongst the dirty scallywags of the valley, and didn’t seem to mind a bit. He had lots of cool stories too, from his time in the military, and his illustrious globetrotting thereafter. He claimed to have helped overthrow the government of Peru (or some south american country, I don’t remember), and had the shrapnel wounds to prove it. He ate the pungent Noni with abandon, for its purported health benefits. He became known as “that safari dude,” for his all white shirt, pants, hat, and scarf-tie-thingy.

One day, he hiked up the valley with us to Steve’s camp on the ridge above the river for an informal afternoon party.

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That's Steve on the right with a handmade bamboo bong. He's awesome.

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It turned into a rainbow-watching party after a bright and beautiful double rainbow formed over the cliffs. Definitely the most amazing rainbow I’ve ever seen. Its hard to write about Hawaii without sounding like an idiot because pretty much every description is in a superlative sense. I was constantly seeing the best, most amazing, and most beautiful everything that I had ever seen.

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After Brando’s timely food drop answered my plea to the island gods, I spent my days in well-fed leisure. I got to know the lay of the land and the various valley folks, and alternately swam, hiked, and layed around in the sun. One day Nathan and I bushwhacked far off the trail to climb up a goat path on a razor thin ridge up to the valley wall.
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At night a bunch of creatures would come out and chill in the middle of the foot trails, for some reason. The most common were massive slugs, and massive toads. One time I found some mating (I think?) with one latched on and the other hopping around frantically. It was pretty funny.

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I found lots of cool stuff in my wanderings. There were many abandoned campsites around, and it was fun to imagine what the occupants were like based on the stuff they left.

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This guy had a shrine if sorts centering on an Indian guru with lots of cultish literature to match.

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Really cool tree carving:

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I even found a makeshift library!

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Don’t know what this is.

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One of my favorite places was ‘the bluffs,” a flat and grassy section on cliffs overlooking the water. It was a great place for solitude and to watch the wild goats graze in the sunset.

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There was also word of a ‘wet cave’ around the corner of the cliffs to the left of the beach. Ben had been to it earlier in the year, and invited me to go one day. To reach it would require us to swim out into the ocean and around a rocky outcropping to an unseen inlet into the cliffs where the water flowed into a cave and shallowed out into an underground beach. The surf was low that day, so we jumped in, paddled out with abandon, and though the waves were rough, we reached the cave with no issues.

The cave was peaceful and fascinating, totally raw and isolated by the raging ocean, hollowed out by years of relentless pounding. We wandered down the dark corridor and began chanting freeform syllables in harmony. The water deepened and the light faded as our long tones echoed and sustained through the cave. Eventually we were in chest deep water and complete darkness, and every step forward was a triumph over fear. After many deliberate steps we reached the end of the cavern and turned around to see the light from whence we came, and meditated at the end. All in all we spent over an hour in a spiritual nether zone without a word spoken. Finally we broke our silence and set off back into the ocean.

The serene and surreal cave experience was the calm before the storm, however, as shortly afterwards was the island’s third attempt to take my life in less than 2 weeks. When we swam out, nothing seemed out of line until it was too late. One second Ben was right next to me, and in an instant the massive waves swept in out of nowhere and he disappeared. I continued my trajectory toward the shore but I was genuinely worried for Ben’s life. My concern didn’t last long , because I soon realized that I was in as much or more danger than him. I was being pushed closer and closer to a jagged rock outcropping no matter how hard I swam. I paddled furiously but wasn’t making any progress, and worse, I wasn’t getting any closer to shore. My breaths became labored and increasingly difficult to take in the 1 second intervals between the waves converging from different directions. I soon realized that I wasn’t actually getting anywhere, and in fact I was being pushed back and forth in a circular pattern dangerously close to this rock. By this time, Ben had made it to shore, and seeing that I was basically drowning, started frantically waving down a boat off the shore. He was naked, so he got their attention pretty quick, and some other folks on the beach ran up to help, 2 of which were naked as well. A crowd eventually formed on the shore, including another naked guy. Two brave dudes decided to chance a rescue, one with a lifeguard style flotation bouy and the other with a surfboard. The guy with the bouy put it around my neck which just tangled it up and started to choke me, then immediately started drowning himself. The other guy got smashed against the rocks all most instantly, but managed to avoid serious injury using the surfboard. Another massive wave crashed on us with such extreme force that it ripped his pants off. And I don’t mean it pulled his pants down around his ankles. The force of the wave actually ripped the fabric off of his body. This brought the total naked guy count to 5. In some sort of miracle that remains unclear, we all were able to grab the rock face and basically climb sideways underwater to shore, and all collapsed from exhaustion. Ben hugged me earnestly and I could see in his eyes that he really thought I might have been a dead man for a second. After we all caught our breath, I sincerely thanked my nude rescue crew and gave hugs all around.

Kauai was beginning to feel like a toxic romance with the most beautiful woman in the world. The sharp alternation between seducing me and trying to kill me was growing tiresome, and had totally worn me out, but was abusive relationship that was hard to leave. A few days later, after recuperating from my latest brush with death, I said goodbye to my Kalalau friend and set off on the long hike out. I blasted thru the 11 miles in only 5 hours or so, and hitchhiked immediately over to the opposite side of the island, the west side. The west side had a reputation as a haven for native Hawaiians, and a laid back place far removed from the touristic vibe that had overtaken the rest of the island. I strung up my hammock on the beach in Kekaha, where I met Justin and Karl, who invited me to camp in their backyard. They took me in as one of their own, and the hospitality and amenities of their home were a welcome repose from the the weeks of fast and rugged living. Justin showed me around the tiny town, and my last week was spent in relaxation, eating fresh poke’ from the shop down the street, bodyboarding the small south shore waves, and watching the sunsets in serenity.

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One of my last days on the island was one of the best, when Justin’s brother took me up to Koke’e park, the highest part of the island, home of Waimea Canyon, “the grand canyon of the pacific,” and Aliki Swamp the highest elevation swamp in the world, at nearly 5000ft.

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The whole trail thru the swamp was a super cool janky boardwalk for miles and miles.

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I came to the top of a hill and ate lunch with some awesome Hawaiians hunting boar with a bunch of dogs.

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The last part of the trail led,me along a river that was lush with crazy plants and exotic fruit.

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Finally able to stop and catch my breath for a second, I reflected on the whirlwind of beauty and madness that had swept me up the last 3 weeks. It was an unparalleled experience, but an utterly draining one. I loved the island but I was ready to go. Both my ego and my body had been thoroughly pulverized, and between Hawaii and my previous month in Oregon, I had been roughing it for something close to 3 months straight. I craved the city like I never have before, and Hong Kong on the horizon promised to deliver in ways I couldn’t imagine. As I walked into the airport in a daze, I heard my name called for a distance and turned around to see Zack, flying out the same day!

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We ate breakfast together and laughed about the good times in the valley. He told me a couple of good stories that transpired in my absence, including taking acid, burying a girl up to her neck in the sand for fun, and then forgetting where she was in the dark, only to find her at the last moment with the tide coming closer and closer to her face, frying balls. Apparently when he finally left, there were missing flyers of the same girl all over town…she must’ve not told her parents that she was going into the valley. We had a good laugh and parted ways, and I began my journey over the great blue Pacific to a continent unknown: Asia.

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Fatal Wonderland

I had wrapped up the squash harvest in Oregon only 2 days before my flight was departing out of San Francisco, leaving me only 48 hours to drive south, buy last minute necessities, pack my bag, say goodbye to friends, and wrap up financial loose ends before leaving the mainland for months. It was a real head-trip to come straight into the big city after sleeping between trees for 45 days straight. I hadn’t seen a streetlight or a flushing toilet in almost 2 months.

After enduring the customary Bay Area traffic nightmare, I was welcomed to Oakland by the sight of an SUV flipped upside down in the neighborhood. It was surrounded by laughing Mexicans, and laughing cops. I stopped for a second to ponder how it was physically possible to flip a car of that size on a street less than 50 yards long. My thoughts were quickly interrupted by my city instincts cropping back up in the nick of time. I remember that I’m in Oakland and that’s simply what happens here, and that standing around in the dark with a bike and a backpack in a neighborhood where cars get flipped over at 7pm is a bad idea. Time to get moving.

I must’ve forgotten how San Francisco works too, because I somehow expected it to be more peaceful once I crossed the bay from “The Town” to “The City”. I walked out of the 24th & Mission St BART station expecting a laid back stroll to my favorite burrito joint, and instead was greeted by thousands of protesters with skeleton makeup. Jesus Christ, it just doesn’t stop here. How quickly I forget. After a few minutes bewilderment, I ascertained from a pedestrian that it was Dia de Los Muertos (which explained why there were thousands of skeletons in the street on a Monday night), and in classic San Francisco fashion, it had merged with a protest march against gentrification in the Mission district. Marching drums, megaphones, mariachi music, angry chants, Spanish street preachers and crackheads all blended together in a beautiful cacophony that reminded me why I love this place so much. I can’t believe I’m leaving. As mind-bending as it was to come straight from the woods into this madness, I loved it. The confusion I feel in moments like this takes on a spiritual quality, and quickly transmutes to ecstasy. There’s something extremely liberating about not knowing what the hell is going on. The Divine Confusion, I call it. It’s the polar opposite to the Fear, and between the two, lies my full spectrum of emotion.

After a grueling 2 days, I made my flight, but barely, and at the expense of several nights sleep. By the time I got off the plane, I was running on fumes. I walked out of the airport at 9:45pm, completely exhausted, and the humidity hit me like a brick wall. I was sweating in minutes. I had come here to visit my old friend Ben, who was supposed to meet me at the airport. He was nowhere in sight. Ben is the single least reliable person I know, so there were no surprises here. I had prepared for, and almost expected this, so without hesitation I began my trek to the nearest beach, where I could sleep for the night and hopefully regroup with Ben in the morning.

This definitely wasn’t my first time wandering an unfamiliar place in the dark with a heavy pack, looking for a spot to crash. But my delirious state made my bag feel twice as heavy, and each mile twice as long. My steps grew dogged quickly, and after several miles and a few liters of sweat, the familiar blue glow of Walmart beckoned. It was the only place open, and probably my only chance at hitching anywhere this time of night. I went inside to grab some nonperishable road food, and happened upon the first of many Hawaiian baked treats that changed my life. A few pieces of Kauai Kookie’s Pao Doce Cinnamon Toast lifted my spirits (and my metabolism) up, and put a smile on my face as I stood out at the road with my thumb out.

After an hour and no rides, I remembered that I needed a camera. I went back in, and during my second round in Walmart, I met a couple of local ladies who not only pointed me to the nearest safe beach, but gave me a ride! I hopped in the back of their pickup at midnight, grateful and optimistic. They dropped me at Lydgate beach on the east shore, and assured me I wouldn’t get any hassle from the cops or rangers there. I snapped a farewell picture of them to test out my brand new Walmart camera:

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The second I saw the water my heart leapt. Each wave glowed silver and flashed brightly before crashing. The lightshow was dazzling and I looked up to see a perfect full moon illuminating the empty beach. My clothes came off immediately and before I knew it I was naked in the waves. Stress and fatigue melted into relaxation and peace as I floated on my back, bobbing in the surf, staring at the moon. I strung up my hammock and fell asleep in the warm night air without even so much as a blanket.

I woke to the ocean sunrise, and was so content that I moved my hammock to some better trees and spent the whole day just sitting at the beach. It felt amazing to just soak up the sun and jump in warm water.

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I found some wild coconuts laying around, but they were sea-rotted pretty well.

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The waves were pretty strong, and a good deal bigger than anything I had encountered before. I frolicked obliviously and enjoyed the beating the ocean was giving me, until I got sucked out by a riptide and had the first of many brushes with death on the island. One second I was standing in waist deep water, the next I was 50 yards down the beach getting slammed against rocks by waves from 2 directions. I panicked and fought initially, but once I relaxed, the current released me and I was able to swim back in. I washed up on shore, lightheaded, out of breath, and with a new respect for the Hawaiian surf. I’ve swum in “Dangerous Shore Advisories” up and down the west coast from Mexico to Canada, the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season, and lots in between, but the North Shore of Hawaii is not to be trifled with. There’s a good reason they say not to swim alone here, and I almost found out the hard way. 

I decided to stick to the sand for a bit, and started exploring the area. I quickly stumbled upon a massive and intricate wooden playground:

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Just past the playground I found an old jeep frame on its side.

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I wondered how someone even drove it into these trees on the beach, much less flipped it. A few days later I came back and it had been flipped over again and the engine had been picked over by scrappers.

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After a while, a surfer showed up and paddled out to where the waves were breaking. He bobbed in the swell, waiting patiently for what seemed like forever. Just when I thought it was time for him to give up, he caught a perfect break and rode 3 waves in succession, carrying him 50 yards to shore. It was so awesome that I jumped up and cheered him on as he ripped. We were the only ones on the beach, and hung out for a while on the shore. He offered me a ride into Kapa’a, the next town up.

He dropped me at a cheap local health food store and I stocked up on supplies, and walked over to a little shack with “Whateva Thrift Shop” painted sloppily across the front. There I scored a perfect pair of board shorts that I’ve worn nonstop for the past 3 weeks. There is so much getting in and out of the ocean in Kauai, that wearing anything but a swimsuit is an inconvenience. In fact, I soon realized that between the sand, the heat, and the water, shoes and shirts were an equal inconvenience. The rest of the island seemed to agree with me, as people walked freely in and out of supermarkets, restaurants, and even banks barefoot and shirtless. It was a rarity to see a woman in any article of clothing besides a bikini.

I had everything I needed, but no word from Ben yet, so I put my thumb out at the road, and was quickly picked up by an eccentric Hawaiian transplant who took me north. I was headed to the legendary North Shore, allegedly the most beautiful part of the island, and a surfing mecca the world round. Kauai has only one main road, which circumnavigates the island 75% of the way around in a big horseshoe. On the north side it dead ends at my ultimate destination, the Kalalau trail. I set my sights on the tiny town of Hanalei, simply because it was the last town before “the end of the road” as they call it.

I got to Hanalei in the dark, completely unaware of the Eden I had just stepped into. I walked to the beach and threw my towel down to sleep in the sand. I walked onto a nearby pier over the water and got this shot, which is completely untouched. Look at how bright the moon is:

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On the walk back I ran into the first of many giant Hawaiian toads.
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Not far away I met Drin, a 37 year old french traveler who was loving life. “This is my dream. To live on the beach,” she said. “I think I am doing it now!”

When I woke it only took a second to see why Drin was so ecstatic:

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Hanalei was breathtaking. This was the North Shore that everyone told me about. I walked from the beach a few blocks into town, and found what might be the coolest, tiniest town I’ve ever seen. Not only was everyone shirtless and shoeless, but there were chickens running around everywhere. No one seemed to care, and they occupied not only the roads and sidewalks, but houses, stores, and even restaurants!

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There were also these awesome little birds they would fly in and out of buildings as they pleased. You can see them above with the chickens. Hanalei’s charm fully set in when I was approached to score weed in the grocery store by a woman no younger than 70 years old.

I spent the day lazing on the beach, jumping in and out of the water on a whim, riding waves, and staring slackjawed at the amazing scenery. After the sun set, I walked to the grocery store where I found an outlet to charge my tablet and sat down with a plate of Hawaiian barbecue. A highschool aged kid walked around awkwardly and eventually worked up the courage for a classic “hey mister” (asked me to buy him liquor) and I obliged, feeling an obligation to repay the many times I had asked strangers to do the same. He ran off gleefully when I brought him back the fruit-flavored crap he requested, and I felt like a good samaritan. That feeling wouldn’t last long.

As the night wound down I made my way over to the covered pier on the water, thinking it would be a nice spot to string up my hammock. Any other night, it would’ve been, but I guess fate was against me that night. In the calm before the storm, a fellow traveler wandered up with a backpack, hammock, and the exact same idea as me. His name was JP, from Portland, and this was his second time on the island. We noticed that things were getting rowdy on the shore, and discerned that there was some sort of Hawaiian family reunion going on. Soon a drove of cars showed up and started doing donuts on the beach and partying as well. At first we thought it was all one party, but after the car people started a sketchy trash fire we realized that they were a completely separate contingent of tweakers. Before we could get to know one another any better, lo and behold, the same damn highschool kid shows up with that vodka and 30 of his idiot friends. They ran onto the pier, took mushrooms, and blared generic house music until we couldn’t take it anymore. We tried to wait them out, but eventually some fishermen showed up and that was the last straw. Having your campsite crashed by 4 separate parties in an hour is a clear case of defeat. Luckily for me, JP had rented a van and took me with him to the northernmost beach on the island, Ke’e. We set up camp for the second time, exhausted, and passed out immediately.

When we woke I realized I had strung up my hammock in the most awesome trees. The trees had grown on the beach, but the water had eroded the sandbar to expose the roots, and over time, they just continued to grow into each other in intricate formations.

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Note my backpack at the bottom for scale. These were big enough to stand under.

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The beach was amazing, but JP had big plans to surf Hanalei bay, so we headed back to town. I bookmarked this spot in my head and vowed to return.

Back at the beach JP surfed it up, and when he tired out and took a break, he let me borrow his board and I caught a few myself. I also caught a wicked case of nipple rash, and I learned why surfers wear shirts and tops even in the warmest water.

Nearby was a coconut tree that was fruiting, and apparently the locals had shown JP how to get them down. He led me to a stashed bamboo pole, and we each got one down.
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Under JP’s advisement, we threw them in his ice chest for later, and deliberated over the night’s sleeping arrangements. Neither of us wanted to risk a repeat of last night’s catastrophe, so we cruised north again. As we drove, I noticed a discreet dirt turnout, and got JP to turn around and check it out. My inquisitive nature was rewarded, because what we found turned out to be one of my favorite beaches on the island, Lumaha’i.

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The beach itself was beautiful and expansive running almost a mile down the coast.

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We walked along the trees and cliffs until our feet were raw from sand, and were rewarded.

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Near the cliff we found some chickens dining on a coconut.

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We took in the beauty for a while, and decided to set up camp before dark.

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We sat in the beach in the ocean breeze through the sunset and into the night, talking, laughing, and hanging out. JP was a really awesome guy and a one of the first travel companions I’ve met that shared my rugged sensibility completely. We were there for the same reason, and that felt good. Soon the incredibly bright and still full moon rose above and shone through the clouds suddenly, stopping us mid sentence.

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We retired, and with no tweakers and highschool kids for miles, I slept like a baby.

I woke up to the sun and stumbled onto the hot sand to find JP fiddling with our chilled prize.

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After some smashing, peeling, and precision knife work, we got the sucker open, and were able to drink the ice cold nectar inside.

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It was absolutely the best liquid to ever hit my tongue. Ice cold, clear, sweet, floral, refreshing! I couldn’t think of a better way to wake up. We shared it and before I was done, my face was covered in coconut water. After we drank it dry, we smashed it open on a rock, to get to the meat.

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Again it was worlds better than anything I had ever had at the store. The was thick, delicious, and the perfect texture. All in all, the finest breakfast I’ve ever had.
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Soon we realizes that the opposite end of the beach was a river mouth that poured into the ocean! We jumped in, and the cool water was a euphoric contrast after the warm ocean. Then, when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we found a rope swing. It was pretty low so we just climbed up the tree it was hanging from and jumped from the top! The perfect morning just kept improving.

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Soon some surfers showed up, and started ripping in the waves.
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These guys were pros, but even they got beaten a few times by the powerful waves.

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Seeing the guys thrashing made JP hungry to get back on his board, but the surf was way too gnarly and close to the rocks there so we headed back to Hanalei for another day of surfing. Here we met some Canadians who were doing pretty much the same thing as us.

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After surfing we headed to Lydgate to crash. I showed JP my spot and we had another peaceful night.

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We woke to find we were camped right next to a fellow wanderer and overall exemplary human, Nathan. This wouldn’t be the last I would see of him. More on this later.

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Behind the park, I got a beautiful shot of the countryside behind the beach:

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Kauai possesses a unique kind of beauty that mixes the rugged rock formations of the high desert with the lush, elcectic, and colorful greenery of the rainforest, with verdant pastures in between. Wet jungles teeming with life give way to perfect white-sand beaches, framed by jagged cliffs. They really have it all here: jungle, forest, rivers, ocean, beaches, waterfalls, mountains, swamps, plains, hills, farms…even a semi-arid desert on the west side. Having all of nature’s wonders condensed into a tiny island made for a breathtaking landscape, but also a deadly one. This’ll give you an idea:

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It had been almost a week, and still no word from Ben, so we decided it was time to head into the legendary Kalalau valley. The valley is extremely remote, opening directly into the ocean, and surrounded by impossibly steep mountainous and cliffs for miles on either side; the Na Pali Coast. The only way in or out was via an 11-mile hike along what I’ve learned (after the fact) is one of the most commonly fatal trails in the world.

All I knew was that Ben was there, it was beautiful, and in order to stay any satisfactory period of time, I would need much more food than could be safely carried down the trail. Ben had alluded to a local who could take in supplies on a jet ski (illegally) for a price, and had left me with the contact number of a friend on the island. However, my phone had bricked before I could retrieve it, leaving me with nothing but a vague recollection of a name….Cora? Kora? Cory? yeah, pretty sure that’s it. But how’s it spelled? my phone was done, but I still had a tablet, so I got to hunting on Facebook and after an hour or so of searching, I finally found the Corey in question. I messaged her about the food drop, and she gave me obtuse instructions that continued the wild goose chase. “Green building next to the “last chance” store, ask for Brando or Jet. Double bag your supplies in black garbage bags and duct tape it with your name.” The quest was quickly becoming ridiculous, and each further step in the process felt more like a spy movie, or a drug deal. But it was the only thing I had to go on, and nothing to lose, so why the hell not?

We went to the store, bought 15lbs of food, filled up a garbage bag and prepared it as instructed. On the way out, we met a joyous old soul named Malea that quickly struck up a conversation with us. She was easily one of the most youthful people I had ever met. JP had thrown his backpack and a bottle of wine into a shopping cart and lit up a cigarette outside. Between the cart, wine, and his beach-haggard appearance he made a pretty convincing hobo, and when I cracked a joke, Malea laughed harder, longer, and with more joy than anyone in recent memory. She was still laughing when I took this:

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JP’s rental car was due back, so we returned it and hitchhiked north, in search of “Brando and Jet.” As our luck would have it, the guy who picked us up knew the place, and within an hour we were in front of the Last Chance store. I looked to the left and saw the prophesied green building. I jumped out of the pickup bed, walked up, and knocked on the door, toting a heavy garbage bag of food, shirtless and looking like a wildman with windswept and half dreadlocked sea-hair. After a suspenseful few seconds, a grizzly old dude came out and kindly directed me to the second floor door. I walked up the stairs and knocked once again. A kind and soft spoken woman answered the door with some confusion. I asked to see Brando or Jet and she confirmed that they did live here, but were out surfing. There was a baby sleeping, so she asked me to whisper, which gave an already hilariously sketchy situation an even more illicit vibe. What the hell was I supposed to say, ” I’m here for the illegal jetski food delivery service”?! This was beginning to feel like a fool’s errand.

I chose my words carefully, and explained that I was referred here by friends to drop off some food. As soon as I dropped Corey’s name all was well, and I left her with 30 bucks and 15 pounds of camp food, with the assurance that it would be there ASAP, surf conditions allowing. I walked away and breathed a sigh of relief, eager to put this snipe hunt behind me.

JP and I quickly got another ride north, and set up on the beach of Ke’e once again. Despite our lengthy tangent, we had made it to the beach before dark with plenty of sunlight to set up camp. We sat in the sand and relaxed before what we knew would be a grueling day ahead. As the sun went down I grabbed some awesome pictures. None of these are processed in any way:

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I slept well and awoke with excitement for the perils and beauty to come . Kalalau was calling!

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Weird or Dead

Russellville. Tiny little town in the River Valley of central Arkansas. 6 weeks into tour, and I’ve decided that I don’t really want to be in a van with these people anymore. I decided this weeks ago, actually, when it started to feel like this tour was more about beer than music. But I didn’t want to fuck the band over by bailing mid-tour. There were many highlights on the tour: countless awesome shows, amazing and supportive people, band camaraderie, and a few great stories to tell, but about 4 weeks into the grind, a deep and lasting fatigue had settled over the group. The go-to coping mechanism for touring musicians is intoxication, and this was no exception. But all the sitting and drinking and sitting and drinking had pushed the already sedentary tour van lifestyle to new lows. The tour had begun to feel like a waiting room. It sucks, because these were my friends of many years, and they were good people, but 6 weeks living out of a van together had put our differences into sharp focus.

It seems pretty standard for a touring metal band to be drinking pretty much every day, but jesus, it was boring to watch. I was dying for an adventure, and everyone else was finding theirs on a couch in a bottle. Finally the monotony of night after night spent watching empty cans of PBR accumulate had pushed me to the point of expressing myself.

As fate would have it, Russellville was in a dry county, so for the first time in what felt like eternity, we were spending some time outdoors instead of in a smoky bar or punk house. I ventured out into the woods to find a lake, reflecting a beautiful sunset, and Marcus standing beside it, gazing into the water. In what felt like a confession, I admitted to Marcus that I had thought about bailing several times, and moreso lately. It was no surprise to him, and in a roundabout way he told me that having me around had become a buzzkill for everyone else. I looked him in the eye, and asked him if this was worth talking out with everybody. He said he didn’t think so. They were willing to continue without me, he said, and it started to sound like this was something they had all discussed beforehand. It felt like a breakup, and he said so, before I could.

The feeling of freedom was heavily dampened by the reality that I may have just lost some friends.

It really sucks, but I can’t see how it could’ve gone any other way. I watched them sit so many hours, so many nights, content, happy, fulfilled, living the dream, and all it took was a 40 oz, a little bit of weed, and some folks to shoot the shit with. After several weeks of this, I had the soul-crushing realization that, holy shit, this is enough for them. I caught the Fear all at once. I’m not the same as them. I can’t be part of the club. I’m not capable of having a great time from the safety of a living room every night. It was the most alienating thing I’ve felt since grade school. I felt alone. I have to go out and do something crazy to feel alive, and they can just buy their kicks for $2.50 at the corner store. What a luxury. Unfortunately, it’s a convenience I can’t afford anymore. I’m a recovering alcoholic and junkie, and when I drink, my good time somehow turns into me dying, before I realize whats going on. So I don’t anymore; at least I haven’t for the past 4 years. I usually don’t bother explaining this to people, cause most don’t really care. But more and more on this tour, I was getting strange looks when turning down a drink.

One instance is burned into my memory. We had just finished a show, and a guy came running up to the stage. “GREAT SHOW MAN, THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME!,” and handed me 2 PBRs. I said “Thanks man. But I’m good.” He lowered his outstretched offering and looked at me with with this disdainful and confused look that I can’t forget. It said, “What the fuck are you even doing here, then?”. He turned and walked away without saying anything. Didn’t talk to me again.

Another time, upon politely declining a beer:

“No thanks. I appreciate it, though.”
“You don’t drink?”
“Nah, not anymore.”
“Well, do you smoke, then?”
“No, sorry. Don’t do that either.”
“WELL DO YOU HAVE FUN?!”

After this scenario plays out 100 times all across the country in every city in every state, you can see how I started to wonder if I was even a part of the human race anymore. What the fuck kind of weird anomaly am I? Who am I? 

I wished, wished to god so many times that I could just drink and be Normal with everybody. So everyone would stop questioning my existence and wondering what the fuck was up with that Weird guy who doesn’t drink. But I can’t. I knew from a million failed experiments, psyche ward trips, hospital bed awakenings, and rehab stints that it wouldn’t be fun, and I probably wouldn’t survive it.

Weird or Dead? Those are your choices. Guess I’ll go with Weird…………….

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And so Weird it was. As disappointing as it was to part with the band, I had packed for this, with full trainhopping gear. After a short farewell that they all saw coming from a mile away, I was alone with a backpack and a guitar in the parking lot of a mexican joint in central bumfuck Arkansas. I made my way to a Starbucks to charge my dying phone, and shot out a text to an old friend, JP, who I knew lived somewhere in Arkansas. I took a look around to find a place to sleep, and saw what looked like a promising wooded area down a side street. I made it about halfway there before being greeted by blinding flashlights in front of what looked like an office building.

“Where you goin’, son?”

Turns out that the ‘office building’ was the police station. Critical error.

“Just looking for a place to camp tonight, officer.”

“Welp, that back there’s the jail.” he pointed in the direction I was walking. “I don’t think you wanna sleep there tonight, do ya?”

“I most certainly do not. You gentleman have a great night.”

I quickly turned around and walked out of sight, before they could come up with something to hassle me about, and saw what could be a decent spot along a creek. Turned out to be better than I had hoped, behind a tall wooden fence, with trees to hang my hammock from. The only downside was that it was behind a walmart. I set up camp, and checked my phone. To my delight, JP lived less than 2 hours away, and insisted on coming to pick me up the next day. This set my mind at ease a bit, but I was still reeling from the emotional implications of parting with my buddies, who I had been making music with for years. My head swimming in the Fear, I didn’t sleep well.

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The next day, I woke to the dull glow of the sun behind a thick blanket of clouds. Thankfully it hadn’t rained, but I wasn’t gonna test it by leaving all my gear in the open. I packed up my stuff, and washed up in the walmart family bathroom, much to the horror of the people standing outside when I walked out. Normally those double takes, looks of disdain, fear, and confusion, the heads turning as I go by, are entertaining and funny, almost empowering. But in my raw and alienated state, everything hurt. I just wanted to belong at that moment. I felt like I was too dirty, had too many tattoos, my clothes were too black, my pants had too many patches, and my hair was too scraggly. I did my best to smile at them but they knew I didn’t mean it. They could see the insecurity in my eyes, and that’s all they were giving back. Enough people had questioned my identity that I was starting to wonder myself. Its a real shitty time to have an existential crisis when you’re camped out behind walmart with nothing but a backpack and a guitar.
My guitar, of course! How could I forget. I sat down in front of the store and started to play my heart out, and after only a few minutes, not only were people smiling at me, but stopping and getting out of their cars to hand me money. The biggest boon of all was a young guy who came and watched me for a while. He told me how he had played guitar for years, so I offered him a turn on mine. “No thanks,” he said, “I’ve got stage fright. I can’t play in front of people.” I gave him some words of encouragement, and told him to just go play on the street to strangers. I asked him, “Have you ever seen a guy on the street playing guitar, and just thought, ‘Man he sucks. He should just go home.'” “No, of course not,” he said. I saw a light go off in his head, and the inspiration in his eyes. “You know man, I never thought about it like that. You’re cool man. Thanks.” He walked a few steps away but turned around and walked back to thank me again. He rushed off like a kid with a new toy waiting for them at home.
There it was. I was human again. The magic was back. I’m not just some asshole buzzkill who doesn’t drink anymore. I’m a man on an adventure, and I’m enjoying it. This was that elusive feeling that everyone was getting from their tall cans and whiskey bottles. I had to work a little harder for it, but it was mine.After a little while JP pulled up in a convertible BMW to take me away. After 25 states and 8,000 miles, it was finally starting to feel like the road that I knew and loved again. Soon we were in Fayetteville, a little college town nestled in the Ozarks, up in the northwest corner of Arkansas.

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It was great to see JP again, and decompress a bit from the exhausting tour stretch through the northeast/great lakes winter. I stayed with him a few days and recharged. He gladly showed me around town, and took me to shoot an AK-47.

One unfortunate aspect of northwest Arkansas was that the worldwide headquarters of Walmart were housed in Bentonville, right up the road. There’s nothing I can say about Walmart that hasn’t already been said, but it was eerie and a bit uncomfortable to be so close to the heart of darkness. I could feel the Eye of Mordor’s piercing gaze everywhere I went. We ended up in Bentonville one day, and passed by the massive, nondescript, monolithic megaplex that is Walmart Home Office. I stared the devil in the eye for a few seconds, but the Fear took hold and I just wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
Walmart neurosis aside, I could feel the spiritual flow beginning to pick up. As soon as I embraced it, the familiar confluence of people and circumstances began to favor me: JP’s buddy worked at Cabela’s and got me a $130 sleeping bag for $50, and on top of that, threw in a free army issue backpack and tent, from his time in the national guard. I gave away my now obsolete backpack to a Doug, fellow adventurer and friend of JP, and packed everything up to a compact and superior size. I was ready to head back out into the nether, but I had to decide in which direction.
I was definitely through with the the east and the north, at least for the season. This has been the coldest and most brutal winter on record for most of the United States, and I wasn’t eager to go back into the coldest parts of the nation during it. The west called to me, but I knew I would probably be there during the summer one way or the other. The flat and mundane sprawl of the south had worn out its welcome in my life at least 15 years ago, but I had a friend in Houston who wanted to see me, and a warm bed waiting. I was closer to to the Gulf Coast than anything, so I decided to take the detour south before ultimately heading west.
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JP and Doug were headed to Tulsa to see a friend, and according to my information, both the BNSF and UP train lines crossed there, so it would be a good starting point for freight riding. I rode along, got there around 8pm. I wasted no time getting down to the tracks; I had seen on the weather that morning that a giant ice-storm/blizzard would be sweeping in overnight from the east that would have all of Oklahoma and northern Texas in sub-zero temperatures. It was serious enough for them to name it, and the name, “Titan,” didn’t make me feel any better about it.
I followed my information to a promising looking area next to the freeway, near a bridge that I could take shelter under if needed. I looked around and soon enough, the discarded clothes and empty dog food bags led me to the spot. The earth was worn under foot by many travelers before me, a pair of pants was neatly hung on a tree as an offering to anyone that needed them, along with a pair of shoes wedged into the chain link fence there waiting for someone with a size 10 foot. There was a good view of the tracks, and it was fairly well hidden by brush so I could use the red light on my headlamp to read a book without being too easily spotted. Here’s the view of downtown Tulsa from my perch, with a train going by:

A few trains passed, but none going my way. I used the traffic to figure out which tracks were active, and which ones headed which way. The tracks ran north to south along in this spot, but I knew from previous experience that it wouldn’t be as simple as picking the one that was headed geographically south when it passed me. Train tracks branch off all over the place, and there’s no indication of which way they’ll turn until they actually do it. According to my railroad atlas, trains headed north from my location could continue north (thru Kansas City and up to Chicago) or branch east (to Memphis), and trains headed south from me would either branch west (thru Amarillo and ultimately LA or SF) or continue south (thru OKC and Dallas, down to Houston). According to my information, the way to differentiate a southbound train from a westbound train would be in its cargo. I was looking for a doublestack train with a lot of containers that said “SWIFT.”

A couple hours passed by with no trains, I got absorbed into my book, and things got sketchy. I was jolted to awareness by some loud banter that was sounded way too close. I shut my light off just in time as some rowdy thugs walked RIGHT past me. The area I was in was not somewhere that pedestrians could just stumble into, and though there were signs of a couple of abandoned bum camps down the way, these guys weren’t bums. I stayed low and they barreled past me to duck in the bushes and smoke what I assume was angel dust or something, cause you don’t run into the bushes down by the train tracks just to smoke a friday night blunt. They kept yelling at each other but luckily the sherm-smoking continued without incident, and in another jaw-clenching, knife-clutching moment, they walked back out past me again. After their voices faded into the night, I went back to my book, only to be jolted again by a weird sort of prolonged zombie scream coming from the bridge above me. I looked up to see a guy with a weird white spandex-like mask over his face, sprinting and screaming in my direction and flailing his arms. Once again he blew past me and wailed off into the darkness.

At this point my quest gained a sense of urgency. Now I’m trying to outrun the weather, and the likelihood that I’ll end up in an altercation with the weird fucks that Tulsa is sending over this bridge. I don’t know what the fuck was going on in this town, but I didn’t really want to stick around to find out.

My eagerness to blow town may have been my downfall, because just as I heard more questionable people coming over the bridge, I saw the nearby railroad crossing begin to flash, and heard a train whistle coming down from the north. I waited, poised and ready for a few tense moments as both the train and next wave of degenerates got closer. The train came around the corner, and as soon as I saw a couple of the prophesied “SWIFT” containers, I frantically packed my bag up, grabbed my guitar, and sprinted down to the tracks before I could meet whoever was next in the sketchball parade.

The train stopped just like I was told it would, cementing in my mind that this was the right one. I ran down the length of it looking for a ride before it took off again. I finally found a rideable train car, but as my luck would have it, it was the car that was stopped squarely in front of the railroad crossing. It was brightly illuminated and some vehicles had accumulated in the road waiting to get across, but at this point it was either jump a train in front of soccer moms and SUVs, or stick around and meet more whitefaced zombie-screamers. I had seen enough of Tulsa’s finest for the night so I just went for it. Once I was on the train, I noticed some bums congregated in the street by the tracks. One of them started walking toward the train, and I assumed he was gonna jump on too. I gave him a nod of acknowledgement as he jumped on the car in front of me, but to my surprise he walked over it and jumped off the other side. I gave him a salute as he walked off, but our eyes met for a little too long, and for a second I felt something off. The guy kept walking, into the parking lot across the street, which I realized was filled with cop cars. An automated gate closed after him. He walked straight up to a running police cruiser, popped the trunk, and threw his blankets and bum rags in there to reveal a military high-and-tight haircut, and to my amazement, got into the DRIVERS SEAT. What the fuck did I just walk into?

First of all, UNDERCOVER BUM COPS?!; what the fuck? I’ve never heard of that. Second of all, I just hopped a train in front of a police officer. Third of all, I’m sitting in plain view of what I now realize is the police station. I hit the floor instinctively and stayed low and still. I was watching intently through a small hole in the train car, waiting for a reaction, and praying the train would leave now. Nothing happened for a tense minute or so, before I noticed more ragged bum cops file into the police station. So apparently the entire group of ‘bums’ were all either officers or informants or something, and it’s shift turnover time…I guess? Undercover cars of many shapes and sizes were rolling out of the lot. I’m not supposed to be seeing this, I thought. I had to laugh at the absurdity of my situation. I mean really, I’m not supposed to be doing any of this, much less witnessing the 2am bum-cop roundup. My chuckle didn’t last long before the real danger of the scenario set in. If I fuck this up, the train could kill me, or I could go to jail, or, if I’m lucky, I’ll spend the night in an icestorm with whiteface and the PCP crew. Really though, I couldn’t be too distressed…it was the same two choices I’ve always had: Weird or Dead. 

I was in my element now. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” as Hunter Thompson said. As crazy as my predicament was, the danger was familiar, and exhilarating. I’ve been in much worse situations, and besides, this felt way more natural that sitting on my ass, watching people drink themselves to sleep. I resigned myself to the bewildering current that had swept me up and took a few breaths into relaxation.

Not a moment sooner did the train lurch forward, jerking my head and banging it loudly against the shipping container. Seemed an appropriate start. In a few moments I was out of the beaming streetlights and back in the cover of darkness. I rolled out my sleeping pad to keep me off the cold metal.

As the train picked up speed, we passed a construction site I had explored earlier when looking for the hop-out spot. A security truck was there shining bright lights around and looking for me. They didn’t think to look on the train. I waved them farewell, though they couldn’t see. The train barreled over the Arkansas river on a trestle and gave a surreal view of a refinery across the water:

My phone died shortly thereafter, but by reading the passing signs in town, I was beginning to suspect this might not be the southbound train after all. After an hour or 2, I was in Enid, OK, which brought me to the sinking realization that I was definitely on a westbound train. I looked back at the long string of shipping containers on the train behind me, and saw maybe 6 “SWIFT” containers out of at least 50. I guess in retrospect that 6 doesn’t quite qualify as “a lot.” The train began to slow down, and I realized that this was the fork in the road. I could either jump off in Enid, a tiny farm town, at 4am, and attempt to hitchhike south to OKC and catch another train before I was frozen solid by winter storm Titan, OR just roll with it and see what happens. I had about 30 seconds to decide this before the train would clear town, speed back up, and my window to jump closed indefinitely. I stood at the edge of the train with my backpack on, guitar in hand, ready to jump. I stared down at the blur of gravel illuminated in my headlamp, I smelled that familiar acrid burning metal as the train’s brakes squealed, and slowly the grey blur clarified into individual, distinguishable rocks. This was my window. I stepped down onto the ladder of the train car, inches from the ground moving 6mph under me, but I hesitated. Visions of the west flashed before my eyes. The desert, the mountains, the ocean, the sun, the warmth, the friends……..I lost myself in a moment of bliss before snapping back to the cold, dark, flat, culturally deprived, manure-scented reality. I took a step back and sat down on the train in resignation. I wouldn’t be seeing my friend in Houston. The rails had their own plan for me, and I was a fool to try and superimpose my own in the first place. I breathed in a long, deep breath involuntarily. Alright. I realized I had said it aloud, with a romantic cocktail of resignation, defeat, and determination. That single word had meant “Ok, I see,” “Fine, I give up,” and “I’m ready” all at once. I didn’t know who I was addressing. The train? The stars? Loki? It didn’t matter. The second I came to acceptance, I felt a peace wash over me. I was going home. Where I belong. I’m getting sent right to where I need to go, and all I have to do is ride along.

I stared out over the twilit horizon.

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The ride was long, and exhausting. I had only planned to be on the train for a few hours, and I was on it for a few days. Titan was hot on my tail, and I didn’t completely escape its reach. It dropped down below freezing the second night as I passed through New Mexico, and 28 degrees with a 50mph wind from the train was COLD. The biggest issue was that I didn’t bring nearly enough water. I ran out after 24 hours, and had to resort to eating the snow that would collect on my tarp. The rain was the worst though. I thanked god that I had brought my trusty blue tarp, without which I would’ve been completely fucked. I stayed mostly dry, as best I could on a train speeding through a 35 degree rainstorm, but the rain kept me pinned under the tarp for uncomfortable periods through the night. It saved my ass though, when the train pulled into a hot trainyard, crawling with cops and railroad workers. I stayed low as the menacing cop trucks patrolled and zoomed past every minute like clockwork, waiting to take me to jail. Soon I heard radio chatter in the distance, and I sounded like it was getting closer. The footsteps in the gravel grew clearer and clearer with every step. I had outrun and outsmarted the railcops before, but this was a different scenario where I was stuck in the middle of the yard, brightly lit by floodlights, and pinned down by constant patrols. I felt like I was in a spy videogame. The radio was almost deafening now, and my heart pounded in my ears. I saw the railroad worker stop and hesitate at my car. She grabbed the ladder and pulled herself up. Im fucked. I watched in horror as she stepped towards me on the train car. To my amazement she literally stepped over me without seeing me and jumped down off the other side. She was just crossing the train! Close one. She gave some cryptic command over the radio, and my train lurched forward out of the yard. Home free! Well, not quite, but I had triumphed over the forces of evil once again. I passed out under my lifesaving tarp once again.

I awoke to the familiar dull blue glow of the backlit tarp. I assumed it was still raining, and rolled over to fall back asleep, but I caught a flash of bright blue sky out of the corner of my eye. I peeped cautiosly out from under the tarp like an apocalypse survivor coming out of a bunker, and was greeted by the sweetest, most amazing sight I had seen in at least a week: the Sun. I jumped out and threw my hands in the air, taking in the warmth and radiance. How long had it been? I didn’t remember the last time I felt the sun beaming down from a clear sky. And it wasn’t just any sun, this was the desert sun. So dry, clean, and warm…I felt a lump in my throat and tears well up in my eyes…it felt so good that I nearly cried. I screamed aloud in joy and danced around like a little kid. The whole thing felt like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Probably looked like it too, with my pants tattered and patched to hell, an army jacket in the same condition, guitar bundled in trash bags, tangled hair blowing in the wind, out in the middle of the desert with no one around for miles………………….I was in Arizona now, I could feel it.

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I had my sights on Prescott, AZ, my spiritual home in the high desert, but the train tracks don’t run through there. The train stopped in Winslow, but it was a bit farther than I wanted to hitchhike, so I was hoping for Flagstaff. I was finally back where I belonged: the West. I could see the San Francisco Peaks looming in the far distance. Flagstaff couldn’t be more than a couple hours away. I was so excited to be out of the brutal shitstorm of a winter, so excited to be somewhere familiar, I couldn’t sit down. I hung off the side of the train and let the wind blow my hair back triumphantly. I packed up my tarp with the confidence that I wouldn’t need it any longer. We were running parallel to the I-40 now, and every once and a while, car would match pace with the train and the people inside would see me. They were always so happy and amazed to see someone riding the train. Inevitably one would notice, then frantically point and proclaim to the other passengers. Soon the windows would come down and everyone would wave. Some even filmed it with their phones. It’s a great feeling. Moments like this, riding a freight train feels like a true red-blooded American adventure. And by seeing the country this way, I’ve become a bit of a patriot. Not for the politics, or the economy, or the broken government, but for the land, and its people. We live in a huge, amazing, and beautiful country, and it’s hard to take it for granted when you’re given a solitary tour through the lost backcountry on a speeding locomotive.

Another thing I’ve noticed in my time riding freight trains, is that the kids will always see you first. Every time I’ve passed a railroad crossing, the children are the only ones who notice me. They’re always so happy; I’ve made many a toddler’s day. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the kids point and tug on their parent’s sleeve as they fade away in the distance, the parent looking around obliviously. Sometimes parents will take their kids and just stand by the tracks to watch the trains go by. I’ve passed this scenario many times: a parent holding their child as I go by, standing straight up, looking the father straight in the eye and smiling without him ever realizing I’m there. The kid does though, and points me out excitedly to his mom or dad, but by the time they’ve followed his finger, or deciphered his excited babble above the roar of the train, I’m long gone. Gives me this awesome ‘pied piper’ sort of feeling, like I’m a secret fairy tale spirit of the railroad that only children can see. I know there’s been many times that a kid has yelled up to their parent in the drivers seat about ‘the man on the train,’ and it’s been waved off and patronized like a fantasy. The adults, calloused by the drudgery of daily life, don’t even register me. They see me with their eyes, but their brains edit me out as irrelevant. They’ve seen hundreds of trains in their lives, but probably never a person on one, so the brain just fills it in the scenario they’ve seen a thousand times: big, loud, boring train going by, wasting my time, keeping me from getting where I want to go. The kids haven’t had the time to develop these efficiency subroutines, and are truly observing life, moment to moment. They know I’m real, even if their parents say I’m not.

After much fanfare from bystanders and highway travelers, I triumphantly arrived in Flagstaff, and the train slowed to a crawl as it passed through the city. I had a huge window to jump, but I made a foolhardy gamble to wait until the next town, Ash Fork, so I would only have to hitch straight down Hwy 89. Pride comes before the fall; as soon as we left Flagstaff the train cranked up to 70mph and didn’t stop till we hit California. I went through stages of anger, regret, frustration, sadness, and eventually acceptance as I watched the desert fly by me. It was incredibly frustrating to see the ground that I wanted to stand on, inches away, but going far too fast to safely jump. It was like being teased, and each town that passed with not even the slightest slowdown was like another slap in the face. After about 2 hours and 200 repetitions of “I should’ve just gotten off in Flagstaff”, I came to accept the will of the rails once again. Whatever. It’ll probably be nice and warm once we hit the Mojave, anyway, I thought. Nice for hitching.

The train rolled to a slow stop in Needles around 6:30pm. I gave the hulking monstrosity a pat of acknowledgement and tagged it discreetly with my customary symbol and moniker. I had to be grateful to it for the free ride, but man, I was SO glad to be off that fucking train. After 1200 miles on that freight car, the ground felt surreal under my feet. I had been to Needles once before, but like most people, only to stop for gas and a burrito. There’s really no reason to stick around, nothing but a bunch of tweakers and a river. And a trainyard, I could now attest. I walked around and sweated in the welcome 80 degree sun, but I was so weak from dehydration I could barely carry my pack. I finally made it to a gas station with a few last dogged steps, and threw my stuff down exhaustedly inside. The gas station attendant wasn’t much help, but I eventually got some water out of the sink and drank the shitty tasting, lukewarm swill to my heart’s content. I spotted a grocery store down the road and made my way there to charge my phone. There were some expired sandwiches on sale, and they tasted like a royal feast after my 48-hour tuna-and-cereal diet on the train. I scored some cardboard and made a friendly-looking hitchhiking sign that said “FLAGSTAFF.”

By the time I made it out to the highway to hitch, it was dark, which is really bad for hitchhiking. Think about it, would you pick up a stranger in the dark? People are much more scared at night. I figured I would at least try until I was good and ready for sleep. To my surprise, after only 20 minutes, a beaten old Toyota truck pulled up and a long-haired old road dog asked, “You know how to get to San Antonio?” I sure did, and we were off. He was super nice, and offered me Mountain Dew and PB&J right off the bat. I declined both, but we struck up a nice conversation and I felt fairly at ease after a couple of minutes. That feeling lasted until I noticed the meth pipe sitting in the center console. I didn’t say a word, cause at this point we were in the middle of the desert and I had nowhere to go even if I did jump out. His name was Matt, he was 46 years old, from Orange County originally, and coming out of Vegas to San Antonio to build industrial cooling towers. After a few rest (meth) stops I learned that he had been to prison for cooking speed, and had been involved with the Hell’s Angels since he was 15. This is the other reason why you shouldn’t hitchhike at night: because anyone crazy enough to pick you up in the dark is likely someone you don’t want to be in a car with for any period of time.

I kept my hand close to my knife, but after a time I decided that Matt was pretty harmless, and in fact was a real nice guy. He had picked me up after all, asked for nothing in return, and had shown me nothing but kindness. But his driving was becoming a liability. It had been several days since he slept, and it was starting to show with some wild swerving. I could tell he was starting to come down and was falling asleep at the wheel. At this point I offered to drive, but as soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that was an equally bad idea, because the car was loaded with meth, for which I would take the rap, as the driver. I knew the drug laws in Arizona, and ending up in Tent City on account of this guy’s tweak habit was the last thing on my list. Eventually the only option was to get him to pull into a rest stop and get him to just smoke more speed. I had to do this several times, but eventually we got to Phoenix in one piece. Never thought I’d have to get a guy to smoke tweak to save my life, but this was a period of many firsts for me.

My old friend Ryan picked me up, and brought me to his quiet and spacious home in Mesa. I got a hot shower and a hot meal, and got to see Jenna, his wife and another old friend of mine, when she got off of work. The weather was absolutely beautiful in Phoenix, 70 degrees, clear, with a cool breeze. I’ve never been a big fan of the flat, hot, boring and lifeless ‘valley of the spun’, but Phoenix felt like the best place in the world that night. The next day I went to see another old friend and fellow musician, Trevor, and stayed at his place. After the emotional drain of the band drama, and the exhausting and solitary ride here, my spiritual void was gaping, so seeing old friends was downright therapeutic. I soon found that another friend, Matt (different, non tweaker Matt), was in town and driving up to Prescott the next night. He would be glad to take me up. I had made it this far, and now that I had collapsed in Phoenix, I was being carried back to my sanctuary, the beautiful mile-high pine forests of Prescott.

Matt ended up late for work and had to drop me just outside of town where he worked, but no matter. A few more miles of hitchhiking was nothing after how far I had come. I made a quick sign, strapped it to my back and started walking down the highway. Not 5 minutes later, my friends Dan and Marko recognized me and flagged me down, waving out of the car. They picked me up excitedly, and immediately offered me a couch to stay on, and a job. The royal welcome. Goddamn it was good to be back. I’m not even within the city limits and I’ve already been offered a ride, food, shelter, and employment. Though I had to decline the job and couch for the moment, I did take the ride into town, and showed up at my sister’s door. She was ecstatic to see me, and the feeling was mutual. The feeling of love was overwhelming after the isolation of the road.

So here I sit in Prescott Arizona, back where I started over a year ago, writing, reflecting, regenerating and resting before ultimately heading west. These high desert mountains will always hold a special place in my heart, as will the people I’ve come to know and love over the 2 years I lived here. This place feels more like home than any other, and I feel I’ll always come back to it one way or another. As part of the reacquaintance process, I hiked 10 miles round trip up to the nearly 8000 foot peak of Spruce Mountain, where I took these pictures of the town and surrounding area.

I love you Prescott, but I’ve got to ramble! As soon as I’m back up to 100%, I am coming for the west coast once again. Big Sur, Santa Cruz, the Sierras, Bay Area, Oregon, Washington, BC…….expect me soon.
Over and out.
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Retrograde Amnesia in the City by the Bay

SAN FRANCISCO!

Jesus christ. What can I say?

You’re probably all wondering why I’m still here when I was supposed to be traveling. Somehow within a week of my “visit” I had been offered a job, a band, and a place to stay. In a city where people struggle to establish themselves and quite often fail, how could I resist such a sweet deal? The 2nd most expensive city in the United States had offered itself to me on a silver platter, and while my intention was to continue rambling, it seemed foolish to disregard such an opportunity. After all, I could leave whenever I want. Here I am, months and months later, struggling to recount the whirlwind which has swept me up by force.

You know when somebody takes their baby and throws them up in the air and catches them over and over, the baby laughingly uncontrollably – bewildered but undeniably delighted? That’s what the San Francisco Bay Area has been doing to me for the better part of a year, without cease. I’m super behind on writing about this because I feel like I have literally not had time. I honestly cannot recall the last time I was sitting around, wondering what to do. In fact, the only reason I am writing this now, is because I’m sick and incapable of going out and doing stuff. I don’t remember what boredom feels like. The number one problem for me since I got here is what not to do. That probably doesn’t make sense, so let me explain: there is literally ALWAYS something cool going on. In order to eat, sleep, and worse, work, I have to consciously decide to pass up activities. Whether it’s a sacrilegious nuns-in-drag easter party in the park, a once in a lifetime one-off reunion show of an obscure noise-rock band, or a free Burning Man block party, there is always something too fun to miss. In fact, even when I am totally free from the need to sleep, eat, or work for a time period, I have to decide between which of these simultaneous happenings I will go to. For example: one night recently, I had to choose between 5 different bands that I liked, playing on the same night. And I am a man of peculiar taste in music. In fact, I hate most music. And of the few bands that I do like, even fewer are still around to play shows. This in mind, there were 5 different bands on a single night that a really wanted to see! That, to me, is mindblowing. It takes an enormous amount of willpower just to get a night’s sleep, much less buy groceries, or sit around and write about my life. Watching TV is an absolute crime against humanity at this point, as it would require me to actively pass up actual real-life entertainment in order to sit on my ass in front of a dull glowing screen.

I’m going to eschew my usual “Day 1, Day 2, etc…” format (I’ve been totally fudging it for the last couple entries anyway) because frankly, I have lost all concept of time. When people ask me how long I’ve been around the Bay area, I have to really stop and think about it. I’m just going to do my best to highlight the awesome stuff that I have remembered to take pictures of. This will probably take several entries, but I’m going to do my best to share the madness that continues to transpire on a daily basis here.

———————————————————————————–

Driving into the city was maddening. Traffic of course was ridiculous, drivers honking and weaving like drunken 16 year olds. To add to the challenge there were taxis speeding thru bike lanes, cyclists running red lights in front of me, delivery trucks stopping and unloading stuff in the middle of the street, pedestrians materializing in front of  me with seemingly no regard for their own safety, bums wandering through the middle of the street begging passing cars for change, perpetual construction around every corner, streetcars, buses, cable cars, metro railway………..the list could go on forever. Compounding the insanity are streets themselves, designed in such a way that intersections can be ludicrously complex. I snapped picture of this turn sign at Mission and Van Ness.
Its kind of far away so I found a closeup on google.

My friend and former bandmate Jessie directed me to a trusted ally and fellow traveler, Analise, who is a San Francisco resident and native. I met with her, and she proved to be so awesome that her couch would be my home for almost 2 weeks. Here she is in the center:

a slightly more flattering shot of analise.

With Analise’s pad in the Mission district as my home base, I set to work exploring the city. After my traumatic first experience with the futility of driving in San Francisco, I parked my car in a good spot and returned to it only for supplies. For the next 2 weeks, I wandered the city each day on foot, with my guitar strapped to my back, playing in the streets and taking in the dense urban wonderland.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of myself busking, but it was very well received here. I was showered in gifts ranging from money to food to bus passes, and even weed (I don’t smoke anymore, so I passed it on to Analise as a thank you). It proved to be the most immersive way to see the city, and as a plus, I got paid to do it (and pretty well, might I add).

As a side note to anyone who plays an instrument: I would like to say that busking is truly a beautiful thing and everyone should try it. Here’s the way I see it: I play my guitar, for my own enjoyment, every day, regardless of who is watching. But if I go and do it in a public place, strangers will give me money for it! You don’t even have to put out your guitar case. Several times I’ve just been jamming out and people have come up to me with money in their hand looking for somewhere to put it. I’ve had to throw my hat down a few times. To me it’s such a win-win. Strangers on the street get to hear some music, the city gets some ‘flavor,’ and I just do what I would’ve been doing regardless. What’s more is that it can turn into a super awesome way to meet and interact with folks. I’ve had all sorts of fun, bizarre, enlightening, and downright ludicrous things happen when I just play my guitar and sing a little. One time in Seattle, I had a full blown foot-stompin freestyle hoedown chorus of ten people form around me at 1AM. Another time here in San Francisco I had a guy stand around and listen for a while, then proceed to whip out a fiddle and completely rip on it along with me! This guy was awesome and we jammed for a good while together. Some people in the subway even clapped. Then another time in Portland, somehow my performance turned into a shirtless mock gospel testimony including, amongst other bystanders, another eccentric traveler, a homeless guy who ripped at the guitar, and a rabid crackhead who threw his bike down and ran around us screaming as soon as he heard the word “Jesus.” (More on this in the Pacific Northwest edition later.) Really friends, if you are reading this, and play an instrument, I beseech you to try it out. Its an amazing experience that everyone should have.

Back on topic…Wandering the city proved to be a surreal and breathtaking affair for a lone newcomer like myself. Streets wound up hills at ridiculous inclines. Streetcars ran on tracks in the street as taxis swerved around them. People strolling casually past cops smoking blunts in broad daylight. I even got crack smoke accidentally blown in my face (don’t ask me how I know what crack smoke smells like). Colorful personalities were in high supply, and every race, style, creed, nationality, and type of person strolled past me in the street. I even met a few races of folks that I didn’t know existed; Tongans for example.

I was expecting a large and distasteful hipster community, but I have been blown away by the lack thereof, even at “indie” shows. There absolutely are some awkwardly dressed, meticulously styled wannabe weirdos lurking around. But there are just as many genuine weirdos that don’t know or care how weird they look, and that is key. Overall, the crowd of people you will find on the street is so wildly varied, that I honestly haven’t really been able to visibly discern a single “scene” within San Francisco proper.

Another thing that stuck out to me immediately upon entering the city was the abundance and quality of street art. These are only a few of thousands:

underneath the blanket is a bum.
this one was being demolished at the time, which actually kind of adds a cool aspect to it.
one of my personal favorites.  found on the Albany Bulb, a post-apocalyptic wonderland which will be covered in full in a later entry.
San Francisco quickly made good on its ultra-green environmentally-oriented reputation, as I noticed fully electric buses running on wires above the streets. The overhead wires are a sight to see, especially at the more complicated intersections.

Another breathtaking thing about SF is its hills. It’s allegedly the hilliest metropolitan area in the US, and the hills are the key to the beauty of the city. They provide amazing aerial views of an already beautiful area, and the rapid and various elevation changes break up the claustrophobia of a heavily developed urban metropolis. It’s the most densely populated place in the country outside of NYC, but it doesn’t feel like it at all when you can poke your head out above the skyline from any of the city’s hilltops.

Also, PARKS! There are a ton of them here. And they’re all really nice, too. Sometimes you get a hill and a park at the same time, like here in Dolores Park:

In addition to being one of the most scenic spots in the city, Dolores Park provides a wacked-out cross section of the SF population. My first visit included a man in a transparent G-string sunbathing, couples speaking every foreign language imaginable, a myriad of amateur photographers, exotic lapdog owners, a huddle of yuppies discussing their new electric cars, the obligatory dudes playing acoustic guitars (I was admittedly one), party people getting high/screaming/drinking champagne at 10AM, and an old guy on a Segway blasting Barry White as he repetitively circled the park at high speed. In the middle of all this is a children’s playground, where mothers and children romp about on a fully padded, almost injury-proof obstacle course. Despite the children’s playground in the center, the park is often host to a myriad of bizarre activities and events. Recently, during “National Topless Day,” I was amazed to be in an area where young women were taking their shirts off and children were playing simultaneously. No one seemed to mind either. I’ve always known that tits are great for everyone, but it’s wonderful to see a city on the same page. What a great place!

In one park, I found this sign, which could have been the single most vindicating moment of my childhood:

I also found this monolithic and terrifying facade on a church:

HE IS RISEN

Analise’s roommate, Josh, had apparently taken some time to draw and label various items found throughout life on the whiteboard in their kitchen:

“CARL SAGAN” is my favorite.

At some point, Analise brought me across the bay to Berkeley, where we visited a pot-growing, slow-talking madman named Andrew for amateur tattoos. He was one of the more interesting scoundrels I’ve come across, and did a great job on Analise’s finger and ankle.

the plant material in the background is exactly what it looks like
Analise’s look of flabbergasted resignation after a misunderstanding and supposed error on her finger tat. It all worked out in the end and it looks great to this day, months later.

While in Berkeley, I got a call from an old friend that I went to school with at LSU. I hadn’t seen Brandon in something like 7 years, and by some stroke of serendipity he now lived in Oakland, just a few minutes south of Berkeley. After a few minutes of surprised conversation and disbelief, he picked me up, and after a few days I had taken up residence in a hammock in his backyard in East Oakland, where I have slept under the stars for the past, uh, 7(?) months.

Brandon in his natural element

At some unknown point in time, Brandon and I came upon this inexplicable and hilarious business. I really couldn’t believe my eyes, so we pulled over.

There is truly no explanation for this. As far as I can tell, the “face slapping” is some kind of age-defying beauty treatment, but that only raises more questions. I challenge you to google it.

the pixelation you’re seeing isn’t from my camera. it’s because they blew up a shitty jpeg and used it on their awning. a shitty quality picture of a guy holding another picture of what appears to the pope of Thailand... I mean really, what the fuck. That’s what you’ve chosen to represent your business? What the hell is going on here?
Whatever it is, this is good stuff.

Brandon and I also did some exploration in Oakland. High in the hills in Joaquin Miller park, we found a disused amphitheater. A quick climb over some tall chain link and a brief roof hop got us into the facility:

View of Oakland from the park:

Here’s a bazaar at the SF Civic Center:

Not sure what I was thinking when I took this picture, but whatever. I’ll leave it in. Must’ve been something important.

Super cheap and excellent Chinatown bakery:

One day in Oakland, I took up longboarding on the steep hills. It was dangerous and fun.

Whilst longboarding we found this distasteful statue in someone’s yard:

Brandon’s roommate Andres immediately took the only appropriate action:

By afternoon, Brandon was impressed and placed a strong faith in my skill as a longboarder. This would prove a catastrophic mistake in short order. He brought us high into the hills near the Mormon temple. You can see how high (and beautiful) it is in this picture I found on google:

And here’s a majestic one I took myself:

He scoped out a crazy run that snaked all the way down the hills to the flatlands. I didn’t know any better so I just said OK and went for it. Brandon and Andres went first, and I went after them. After a couple of consecutive hills, we were going really fast, and both Brandon and Andres bailed going around a sharp turn. Amazingly, I was the only one who made it through the curve, and jubilantly flew by them. I smugly contemplated my prodigy as a longboarder as I headed down the next hill squatting low to the ground and feeling super stylish, hair blowing majestically in the wind. My pride would soon be crushed and pulverized into a fine powder of humility; about halfway down the hill I realized I was going WAY too fast. I estimate I was going about 35mph, based on my speed relative to cars, and I started to get the death wobbles. I squatted as low as I could but to no avail. I realized I was going down and there was nothing I could do. For an agonizing 5 seconds or so, I contemplated my impending doom before I was thrown off the board and slid across the asphalt. Thank god I was wearing my indestructible Carhartt pants, otherwise I would’ve lost a lot more skin. The crash was so forceful that it deformed and destroyed my 75 lb. rated carabiner keychain, and so loud that people came out of their homes to see what was going on. I didn’t scream either. The sound of my body hitting and rolling down the asphalt was loud enough for people to hear through their doors. I was pretty dazed and maybe concussed so I don’t remember the details, but eventually Brandon found me in the street and drove me back home.

It may not look bad, but I hurt all over. My foot was busted pretty bad and possibly broken. I couldn’t walk right for at least a month. It still isn’t quite right to this day, 7 months later.

All things considered, I made out pretty lucky from the whole ordeal and walked away grateful to still have my teeth, and with a new respect for longboarding and hills in general.

Later that night we had a fire on the beach in San Francisco:

I’d like to introduce Mark, Brandon’s other roommate, and his dog, Jamie.

Here’s Mark in his favorite article of clothing, a huge blue onesy complete with buttflap.

One day, Mark brought me to Ikea to go desk shopping. (This is another, completely separate day from the other picture. Notice this time he’s not wearing a shirt underneath and his shoes are different.)

Mark and I wandered about the sprawling and confusing store. It might be the single biggest store I’ve ever been in. Think of a multi-story Costco but with a bajillion themed rooms in a circuitous labyrinthine configuration. During this time I discovered that the Google Maps app on my phone had taken the time to MAP OUT THE FLOOR PLAN OF THE STORE. I’m not sure if this is a testament to the monstrous size of the store, or the attention to detail in Google Maps, or the notoriously tech-centric Bay Area. Maybe all of the above? Try it on your smartphone, if you have one – “Ikea Emeryville”.

Mark soon was taken under the advisement of staff for his purchase. They didn’t seem to notice that he was dressed like a life sized man-baby, and immediately began to help him find a desk. He was deliberating heavily, so I wandered off into the maze of superfluous material. I couldn’t help but notice this bookshelf display, where Ikea shows off their prized collection of “JAG, ROBOT” with Will Smith. I’m sure it’s just as riveting in Swedish.  

SOME OTHER MISCELLANEOUS HIGHLIGHTS:

I walked by a hospital and saw this confounding sign: “FREEZING GASES AND SMALL OBJECTS MAY BE DISCHARGED WITHOUT NOTICE. STAY BACK 20 FEET.” I waited around for a while, but was disappointed.

A quick shot of a typical deteriorating Oakland townhouse.

Poignant and prophetic graffiti that proved itself true to me:

A strange and hilarious flyer aimed at a demographic I didn’t know existed:

YOU HAVE RIGHTS!

Beatiful Lake Merritt, the nicer part of Oakland:

This one requires no explanation.

good thing it’s pure.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I also got recruited into a band during this time. We’re called Abstracter, super heavy stuff. Here’s a link to the album: http://abstracter.bandcamp.com/

Found this billboard in gang-ridden East Oakland. As if the billboard itself isn’t terrifying enough, someone has splattered red paint across it to really bring out the Fear that lingers behind those eyes.

Here’s me all cleaned up like a square on my first day of work as a legal courier (document messenger).

Here’s a quick shot of a jazz competition at a high class joint in the city:

At some point I made some friends who had a sailboat. Scott and Gordon invited me out on the bay with them, and I happily obliged. I thought sailing would be a relaxing endeavor, gliding smoothly over the ocean, propelled only by mother nature’s whim. I was wrong. Sailing is FUCKING INTENSE. I had naively perched myself at the front tip of the boat, hanging off the end, lazing in the sun. As soon as they unfurled the sail, I was nearly thrown from the boat. It violently tilted to the side at a 45 degree angle under the pressure from the wind. It stayed this way for the duration of the trip. I really thought we were about to sink. They assured me that everything was normal. The boat continued to rock and tilt so violently that Gordon’s dog was thrown from the deck and we had to rescue him from the freezing water. It took 2 guys to even operate the sailboat, and they were constantly shouting commands to one another peppered with indecipherable sailing slang. I heard many words I had never heard before. Any time the sailboat had to change directions, they would yell something that I came to realize meant “DUCK” after the the sail arm swung overhead and nearly knocked me out. It was absolutely stressful and maddening, but eventually I got used to it and started to get swept up in the beauty of San Francisco’s Bay. We sailed all the way from Sausalito to San Francisco, then out under the bridge into the ocean, and back. I nearly lost my phone trying to take these pictures:

As we cruised back towards the port, I realized I had become completely smitten with the area. Across the bay, the windows of houses were glowing like bright orange mirrors, reflecting the sunset back at me. No matter what I told myself about my intentions, I knew right then I would be here for a while.

COMING SOON…………….

-abandoned buildings
-atomic bomb shelters
-a forsaken post-apocalyptic wasteland peninsula
-forbidden military installations
-a million shows I went to
-one that I participated in
-all the crazy people I met in between, including:
-a 19 year old dominatrix at the Residents show
-some other stuff I can’t remember right now

SEEYA SOON!

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Santa Cruz Stone Zone

We awoke in Mitch’s cozy pool house and he enthusiastically gave us a super thorough but very touristic route to follow through Santa Cruz, and even had maps printed out for us, which he made sure we didn’t forget. This guy means well, but was quickly becoming overbearing. We escaped as soon as there was a break in the motherly discourse, slunk into the car and took off. We decided that one of Mitch’s suggestions was a good idea, a nearby redwood grove, so we took off up the mountains toward it.
It was awesome, and the Redwoods were enormous as promised. I ran up to hug one and Aurelie got a picture.

The trail wound in and out through the feet of titans, and it was hard not to run into things because we were constantly staring up.

This one gives you a better idea of the scale:

Some of the trees were burnt out hollow at the bottom, which was becoming a definite pattern at this point. I had seen trees like this in Sequoia National Park, Big Sur, and now here. One of the hollow trees was big enough to walk into, and inside there was even a shelf carved into the inside. It was a perfect shelter.

When I first saw these burned out trees, I thought it was a shame. “That sucks that these beautiful trees are being destroyed by wildfires,” I thought.  But recently, I remember reading somewhere that the seeds of Sequoias and Redwoods actually need fire in order to open their seeds and make them viable. Apparently, this burnt out state is perfectly natural, and in fact, necessary to the life cycle and continuance of these trees. I can’t verify for sure if any of this is true, but regardless, I realized something awesome, standing at the feet of these gargantuan plants:

A lot of folks, myself included, have this idea of nature as this gentle, soothing, creative force, but we ignore or minimize the inherently violent and destructive force that is just as much a part of it. Animals are ripped apart and eaten alive every second by predators, trees burn up, people drown, scorpions sting things to death, baby animals are cannibalized, spiders mummify and suck the life out of their prey. And none of that is very ‘chill,’ or peaceful. Nature is constantly at war with itself, and that is ok. In fact, that is necessary to maintain the balance of beauty that we perceive.

This makes me wonder: is peace the answer? Everybody says it is, but we’ve never truly achieved it. Are we sterilizing our culture and habitat by striving for these ideals of peace and equality? Mankind have been killing one another since the beginning of time, and we’re not going extinct. In fact, we’re growing steadily. Some say, too steadily. What if ‘world peace’ is unnatural? **

**NO, I don’t want to have a political argument with you. No, these are not opinions. They’re not even statements; they have question marks at the end. They’re thoughts, and if you disagree with thoughts, then you are either Big Brother or the Catholic church. 

After this bit of pondering, I found Aurelie again in the forest and we left to go to a farmer’s market, where she hoped to find some work on a local farm. I spent some time wandering the downtown area and busking a bit, and we found out that the farmer’s market was not today, but tomorrow. Frustrated, Aurelie decided it was time for her to move on, so I brought her to the highway to “make some hitchhiking” as she says with her awkward French-Canadian accent. We said our goodbyes and I dropped her off on Hwy 1, returned and slept finely at Mitch’s once again.

——————————-Day 2——————————
I liked Santa Cruz a lot, but I was in exploration mode, and it was a small town; and I had seen most of what was there. The residents were generally young, aimless, and stoned, which was alright but makes for boring conversation after a while. Mitch’s well-meaning but overbearing nature was getting to be a burden, so I decided to move on to my next CouchSurfing host, Jeff, who was a student at UC Santa Cruz. The campus was situated just outside town. He gave me directions and welcomed me to come on over.

As the directions led me deeper into a thick redwood forest, I began to doubt I was in the right place. Nobody builds a legit college in the middle of a redwood forest, right? It turns out, thats exactly what they did. Sure enough, soon I came to the entry gates. As I drove up the narrow and winding roads, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in some sort of wilderness summer camp compound. The forest is so thick and minimally cleared around the buildings, that the quickest way to many locations on the campus are by unmarked, foot-worn hiking trails. You can literally mountain-bike to class. It was probably the coolest campus of any kind I had ever been on, and really quite surreal.

Things ratcheted up a notch when I reached the terminus of Jeff’s directions. I was standing at the mouth of what appeared to be a psychedelic gypsy encampment on the northwest edge of campus. 

I wandered further around the demented campground and wondered how the hell this was part of any school’s campus. Whatever is going on here, I like it.

I eventually found a small central hub building that housed community showers, a kitchen, and a common area with a guy absolutely shredding the blues on piano. I sat down and enjoyed his playing and introduced myself. There was still no sign of Jeff, but my new piano savant friend, Kenton, assured me I was in the right place, and welcomed me to “the Trailer Park.”

After some wandering, I realized that there was no cell reception in the trailer park, so I wandered down the hill a bit until I got reception, and gave Jeff a call. He gave me more directions which led me to another building deep within the redwood labyrinth, and we finally met. He asked me, “Do you want free dinner?” Like any sane man, I replied, “Of course,” and we were off to the dining hall. A quick sneak and fence jump later, we were treated to a full buffet of delicious food, much of it organic. I was well fed, and even scolded for leaving leftovers on my plate. “Don’t be a waster!” they said.

The cafeteria itself was a bit of a spectacle, being the staging area for a “Sexy President Contest.” Unbeknownst to me, I had arrived on President’s Day, and was unwittingly wearing my highly patriotic american flag/eagle shirt. This led to a series of confusing exchanges with students and staff affirming how “appropriate” my shirt was. I was starting to worry that they had caught on that I wasn’t a student, and didn’t belong here, and were somehow trying to convey this to me through veiled/passive-aggressive statements about my shirt. Thankfully, my frenzied acid-flashback thought-loop was dissolved when Jeff assured me that it was President’s Day, and the school liked to make a big deal about it.

Back at Jeff’s trailer, we sat and talked and got to know each other better. Jeff soon proved to be a man after my own heart, full of wild ambition and down for anything. Our conversation turned to mushroom-picking at one point, and Jeff was delighted to find that I was a veteran of the practice, being raised in hot and humid South Louisiana, where (psilocybin) mushrooms of all sorts grow in abundance in the wild. He handed me this book from his nightstand, which blew my mind:

Besides having the greatest cover of all time, this little book was an amazingly informative and practical shroom-hunting guide, and not necessarily for psychedelics. It covered mushrooms of all types, both edible, poisonous, psychedelic, and not. This sharply dressed, trombone wielding author has truly outdone himself.
Later in the bathroom, I took a moment to glance over the accumulated graffiti. The collective markings of several generations of budding weirdos and weirdettes covered the walls and ranged from perplexing, juvenile, insightful, to downright hilarious. I found this one in particular to be the funniest graffiti I’ve ever seen:

After our talk, I walked around the trailer park playing guitar and met some more cool folks, and fell asleep on the floor of Jeff’s bright blue trailer.

—————————————-Day 3—————————————-

In the morning, I set out to explore the huge and mystical campus. Jeff gave me a few points of interest, and soon I was lost in the redwoods, right where I wanted to be.

One of the first things I found was a big stick teepee with an altar of some sort in the middle. Despite there being a weird doll and other assorted signs of witchcraft, it was more interesting than creepy. Granted, it was also broad daylight outside.

Deeper in the woods I found the entrance to a cave. At some point, someone (school administration, presumably) had sealed off the entrance with concrete and rebar, but the intrepid student body had smashed back through it and even installed a specifically curved ladder. The inside was dank and musty, and too dark to take any proper pictures.

Next I found a tunnel under the road with a nice graffiti wall.

I trekked steeply uphill, following Jeff’s directions to the alleged area of a treehouse. I was not dissapointed. As I drew nearer I found that some students had beat me there. This wasn’t just some haphazard plywood between branches like I imagined. This was a bona-fide treehouse so high up that you could walk past it without even noticing it. In fact, I later found out from the students that I actually had walked right under another treehouse that was even higher up in a bigger tree. More on that later.

The structure appeared to be very well designed and not that old, but there was no apparent way to get in it. There were a couple of ropes dangling down, but it was probably a good 80 feet up, and there was no way anyone could just climb straight up that much thin free-hanging rope. These guys had apparently read up on knot-tying though, and improvised a harness that one guy (Zach) used to meticulously inch his way up. It took over an hour, but he eventually reached the top to find old newspapers, a bottle of olive oil, cooking supplies, and a bed. The tree house itself was hard to see and so high up that I couldn’t get a picture of it in relation to the ground. Here’s what I got:

After some interesting chit-chat, the dudes brought me to the other, even higher treehouse that I had walked right past. This one was even more intriguing. It was at least 100 feet up and had been rendered all but invisible. The bottom was spray painted forest green, and covered in hunter’s ghille camo netting. The guys said no one had been up there as it was impossible to get to, but I begged to differ. 
you can only tell it’s there if you are looking for it.
We propped a log diagonally against the tree to get me up the bare trunk, and once I got a hold of a viable branch, it wasn’t too hard of a climb. After about 80 feet or so it got scary, but the treehouse was in sight and there was no turning back. After a good 15 min of climbing I was at the top, and stepped out onto the platform. It was even higher than I thought; what I had estimated to be ~100 feet seemed more like 150 now. This particular redwood jutted out over the treeline, and I couldn’t even see the ground below. After some cautious pussyfooting around the platform, I determined it was mostly safe save for a few weak spots that were rotting. There was nothing but a park bench up here, though that in and of itself was pretty amazing, given how inaccessible this thing was. How the hell did they get this up here?

 I found my answer on the other edge of the platform. There was a pulley system securely rigged into the tree. I also started noticing that all points of contact between the structure and the tree were painstakingly protected by rubber, cloth, or the like. Very much care and attention had been given to make sure that this structure did not harm or stunt the tree in any way. This, combined with the inaccessibility and stealth of the whole thing started to reek of eco-terrorism or tree-sitting or something.

I looked a bit closer and found some interesting inscriptions on the bench. One was a complex math equation, complete with retort and rebuttal.

This one in particular caught my eye, being an obscure and meticulous Zelda homage.

Link’s Awakening, to be exact. If you’re wondering why it’s signed “THIEF,” you didn’t Zelda hard enough as a kid.
I left my own nerdy mark on the bench:

After sitting on the bench a while and contemplating existence, I decided it was time to come back down. The guys at the bottom applauded me, we exchanged numbers, and I was off to see more of the campus.

As I wandered to the south end of campus, I discovered that not the entire campus was shrouded in dense redwood forest. The front of campus poked out onto a beautiful rolling meadow that looked out over the town, and the ocean. It really was the most beautiful college campus I’d seen.

Later I ventured back into the woods to find their massive library. I hadn’t ever been in one with movable shelves, so that was cool.

Browsing randomly, I came across this perfectly offensive and incredibly hilarious book cover:

this man clearly has the best of intentions.

More wandering found me at another stick structure in the woods, struggling to figure out what it was. A tunnel to crawl through? A snake?

 Actually, it turned out to be a Banana Slug, UCSC’s mascot:

Eventually I made my way back to the enchanted trailer park.

It was suspiciously quiet out, and after wandering around for a minute, I saw this chalkboard sign:

I followed it’s very vague direction into the woods and found this door suspended between 2 trees.

Its bold proclamation was a lie, though, and I was just about to turn around when I noticed an extension cord running deeper into the forest.

I followed it for a surprising while, and after a few minutes and daisy-chained orange cords, I stumbled into the promised tea party.

Kenton was there, amongst other merry folk, and lots of tea, of course. Oliver, whom the tea party was for, manned a sampler and constructed beats from sounds we all made as we passed a microphone around the table. The process quickly became recursive; as we laughed at our absurd noises looping, Oliver would resample our laughter and warp it into the mix, making us laugh even harder which made for even more strange and awesome snorts and giggles for Oliver to record. He even recorded some of my guitar playing and soon we had a crowd-sourced tea party anthem.

A game of volleyball got going and I noticed a good opportunity for an artsy picture. Slap an instagram filter on this and we’re in business.

When suddenly, a dirt bike blazed through the forest! A fitting end to a bizarre and excellent tea party.

That night, I met JC, another trailer park resident and friend of Jeff’s. After some conversation, I learned that JC had a sitar. A real, live, legit, not-a-toy sitar. I beseeched him to take it out, and though he was a bit worried about the humidity affecting it, he obliged, and proceeded to play the hell out of it. I got to jam it a little bit too, and was pretty spellbound by the instrument. I want one.

In the time I had spent here, Santa Cruz had left an endearing impression on me. It was the first place to make my mental list of genuinely livable spots. And though my time in the town was absolutely enchanting, I sensed it was time to move on. San Francisco called to me on the horizon, and I proudly announced to Jeff that I had “big plans” for it. I wanted to stay there for “a whole 2 weeks.” Jeff said, “That’s a long time.” I laugh at this exchange in retrospect. Little did I realize just what “big plans” the Bay had for me…
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Monterey and the Ghost City

By the time I left Big Sur, I was pretty fed up with taking pictures of beautiful topography, but I passed an old naval lighthouse perched high on an island that I just couldn’t pass up.

Further up the road I stopped again to grudgingly capture the beauty of this surf spot.

Several miles and a few delicious fruit stands later, I had arrived in Monterey. It proved to be a pretty place, if a bit stodgy and quiet. I was so starved for human contact though, that it was an ecstatic joy to be in a city of any sort. I wandered about for a while and took in the new setting. One of the first things I noticed was this awesome tile mural:

Soon I came to the heart of Monterey, the wharf and marina. Monterey seemed to be focused around the vibrant sea life of the Monterey Bay, which is the largest marine sanctuary in the United States.

The shore was alive with various marine animal noises. I was able to trace some hilarious and familiar barking  and find this cluster of sea lions fighting for position on a raft:

Near the end of the wharf was “Rappa’s Seafood Restaurant,” where the presumable owner, Tony, made a redundant and preposterous claim on a billboard:

While driving around, I also saw this, and said aloud to myself, “Wow. They actually did it.”

Note: I’m talking about the small brown sign farther up the pole.

I called my host, Walter, and he told me to meet him at a local monthly market. I showed up and wandered a bit, and saw a face I recognized in the crowd. It was a girl I had seen days ago wandering in Big Sur. When we originally crossed paths days ago, I tried to talk to her, but failed because she didn’t seem to understand english. But after meeting the same person by chance in 2 places miles apart, I felt compelled to at least try again. Our eyes met and we both recognized each other, and I said hi again, and this time, she understood me. Through her heavy accent and broken english, I learned her name was Aurelie, she was from Quebec, and she was WWOOF-ing (WWOOF is an organic farming organization) at a farm nearby. Now that the awkward language barrier was broken, we talked freely, and she turned to her companion and said “Allen, I present to you, Marc of France.” After this unintentionally hilarious introduction, I talked a bit with Marc, who was charming, had a discerning taste for wine, and a much better command of the english language than Aurelie.

He was confused by the vendor’s hip decision to serve their wine in mason jars, and after much confusion and stumbling of words, the best explanation that I could get through the language barrier was “It’s for fashion.” He immediately understood and laughed. Talking to foreign people is often illuminating; I always learn something from the way the language gets boiled down to a very primitive and concise version. I often realize how few words I can use to get the same point across. I probably would’ve spent several minutes lambasting the contrived nature of wine in jars at open air markets if I was with a native english speaker. Yet we got the same effect and shared laughter with 3 words. ‘It’s for fashion’ indeed.

Eventually I met Walter, who was tall, funny, and perfectly eccentric. We walked around a bit before departing to his quaint home. I learned that he is a Meteorologist, and has excellent taste in music, as well as humor. I slept well on his large couch.

——————Day 2——————-
The following day I decided to explore the town of Carmel, located to the south and on the coast. A friend had grown up there, and confided that Clint Eastwood served as mayor for many years. This painted a strange and intriguing picture, so I headed down.

The first place I found was some sort of country club type of thing that looked out on the water. The white things are sheep.

I found the beach and walked down it amongst the housewives and their lapdogs. My death metal shirt made them a bit uncomfortable but I was feeling quite serene.

After the beach I took off down the avenues to find downtown. After navigating many narrow European-style neighborhood streets, I found a dense cluster of overpriced emporiums that was apparently downtown. I saw a candy shop, and was struck by a foolish but persistent notion that Carmel would have good caramel. I bought some and this was quickly smashed. Freshly disillusioned, I trudged around the boutique nerve center. The shop names steadily degenerated from trendy platitudes into the absurd. This one was the last straw:

Before I came to Monterey, I asked my friend Josh about the area. He said, “Carmel is nice, you’ll hate it.” His words echoed in my head like that of a father’s forewarning from years ago. Between the shitty candy, the “Material Goods” outlet, and the looks of disdain, it was definitely time to leave now. On my way out of downtown, I spotted this on a billboard:

And this on a telephone pole:

This pretty much sums up my time in Carmel.

I returned to Monterey and tried some busking out by the wharf. It was a huge hit until a disgruntled park ranger came to break up the party. She started giving me a hard time, and just as I was about to walk away from the inane cop-talk, I saw she had a gun. I asked if she was a police officer and she said yes. Apparently prime busking area, a tiny 20×50 foot strip of land in front of the touristy wharf, was a national park somehow. This lady and several armed cohorts lorded over the most minuscule jurisdiction I had ever seen  She detained me and ran my name for warrants, but ultimately had nothing on me and had to let me go. I informed some other buskers before she had the chance to bust them as well, and we all moved 50 feet over, and continued to exercise our free speech just outside her little fief.

I returned to Walter somewhat dejected at the ranger/cop/feudal lord incident, but he quickly lifted my spirits by informing me that the great Bill Murray was in town for a golf tournament, along with ex-presidents Clinton, Carter, and Bush. The latter three interested me less, because, while they may have been presidents of the United States, Bill Murray was the president of my heart.

Aurelie called soon after and we arranged to meet at a cafe, before searching the town for signs of Bill Murray. Apparently he had taken a sharpie to the walls in several spots, leaving his signature behind as some kind of grandfatherly omen. I wanted nothing more than to run into him. We even invaded the town’s nicest hotel and surveilled the exclusive bar social, but to no avail.

We did, however, find some enormous sea lions and got super close to them by climbing down an industrial wharf. They barked at us inquisitively and flopped around. It was exciting and honestly a bit scary, because they were so big.

Also found this, the greatest and most inexplicable bike accessory ever:

yup, that’s a can of Skoal in its hand.

After several hours I relinquished hope of finding Bill Murray, and we parted ways.

——————–Day 3——————–

I was just about ready to head out of town when Aurelie called and asked if she could tag along. I obliged, and she came over and got to know Walter while I packed up.

Walter was feeling patriotic. God Bless America.

After some organizing of gear and a bittersweet goodbye to Walt, we were on our way up the road. Between Monterey and Santa Cruz there was an enormous old abandoned military base called Fort Ord that a friend had tipped me off to. We found it pretty easily, and hopped a fence in. First thing we found was a church. I used my hatchet to pry/smash off a piece of plywood covering a window, and we found a scale model of a failed development plan from 2003. I quickly seized my rightful place as Godzilla and stomped destructively through the little town.

Aurelie took a turn, although considerably more daintily.

I was a kid in a candy shop, and thew my hatchet around breaking things wantonly. I threw it so hard into the balcony that the handle got stuck in the wall.

After I had smashed enough things we set out towards an ominous and older-looking building.

It was a big ol’ decaying theater. Even though it was daylight, I had seen too many zombie movies to fully relax in this setting. I mean, really, it’s straight out of a movie. Also there was asbestos everywhere, which explains why all these building haven’t been demolished.

Next was a wash house. The showers were eerily Auschwitz-esque. Aurelie swung around by the piping.

We wandered from building to degrading building, smashing things as we went. I was in heaven. There was much more than I even imagined. A whole abandoned city to play with. At its peak, it could’ve support a population of thousands. Every single structure you see in this series is completely abandoned. I can’t help but imagine how much fun it would be to have a large scale paintball war here. Why the hell hasn’t anyone done this?

Dining Hall:

Boiler or something? Weird for it to be in the middle of the central room though.

Terrifying pitch black basement. The camera flash lit it up, but trust me – zombie central.

A cryptic 19 year old inscription:

No rats as indicated by the writing, but some awesome and super antiquated equipment.

After several hours we had only scratched the surface, but the sun was going down and we had to get to Santa Cruz and find a place to sleep.

We came in just as the sun was setting, and watched the surfers down by the lighthouse. Santa Cruz seemed a very laid back, stoned sort of place. This was cemented when a large fire-spinning group lit up as soon as the sun set. They were really talented and it was some of the best fire spinning I’ve ever seen. I got out my guitar, and several drummers and percussionists materialized out of the night to accompany me. Soon my friends from the Big Sur campsite appeared as well, and we all had a blast under the stars. Aurelie got some awesome long exposure shots of the fire poi:

My pictures pale in comparison, but this guy had some unusually large poi:

Here’s a handful of em going at it:

The night seemed to be winding down when Dyami, the de facto leader and most talented of the group, muttered something about a “I wanna do a naked burn.” Before I had the chance to ask, he dropped his pants and was joined by several other nude cohorts for what was a true Santa Cruz welcome. A girl even joined in topless to help balance out the sausage fest.

After being greeted by naked guys flinging fire around their genitals in 40 degree weather, I decided that Santa Cruz was a pretty cool place. I got in touch with Mitch from couchsurfing, and he gladly welcomed us into his home at the last minute. We slept like babies on his futon matress.

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