Escape to the Forest of Titans

I woke up early, packed my bags, and drove as quickly as I could out of LA. I was antsy and in need of some exercise, but I didn’t dare spend another minute in the city. On the way out on the northbound I-5, I was contemplating stopping somewhere to run, when I spotted this enormous and monolithic wall of something from the highway:

I took this as a sign and pulled off the nearest exit, which read “Castaic Lake.”
I drove in the general direction of the imposing structure until I came to a park. At the gate I was stopped by a stout troll-looking boy and told it was $11 to enter. I turned around and parked across the street at a horse cop training compound.
Near where I parked I noticed a peculiar sign. Apparently there is a lethal and incurable outbreak of horse herpes going around. 

I put on my gym shorts and took off toward the mysterious wall. As I got closer, I realized that this thing was much bigger than I originally realized, and thus much farther away. Its context appeared to designate it as a dam. Whatever it was, I was bound and determined to reach and conquer it. I saw an off-limits drainage ditch that appeared to be my ticket in. After some strenuous uphill running in a narrow concrete culvert, I discovered that this drainage ditch was but a tiny minion to the mother of all drainage ditches, as wide as a 4-lane highway. It appeared to start up on top of the hill on the left side of the dam. I ran up the hill alongside it and took a couple pictures:

I was very intrigued and couldn’t help but think of all the cool things this could be used for: longboarding races, street luge tournaments, throwing an avalanche of bowling balls down it…et cetera. My musings culminated in a fantasy of constructing an aerodynamic and amphibious 1 man vehicle that could roll down the mega-trench and reach terminal velocity before skipping out over the lake at supersonic speeds. Sort of like a life-sized Pinewood Derby diathalon, but way more legit because people could, and probably would, die in the process. The creators of this thing had the foresight (or experience) to anticipate devious minds like myself and had installed an impenetrable security fence with outward-slanted barbed wire over the top. I was determined to penetrate, and eventually I found this poorly-designed section in the security fence, conveniently located over an access ladder.

I climbed in and gleefully ran up the trench to the mouth, which widened to 10x its original size, and sported a perfect roll-in for skateboarding.

Here’s a picture looking down the trench from the mouth. Check out the power line towers on the left for scale:

Once I reached the lip, I realized this was a spillway for draining the lake above down into the lake below. It was clearly built to handle an insane volume of water, and would be a sight to behold in action.

I climbed up and out, and looked out over the upper lake at this ominous installment. Reminds me of something from the video game Half-Life.

A state vehicle approached on a service road, searching for trespassers like myself, no doubt. I ducked behind a concrete wall and evaded the truck, and after the coast was clear, continued on the the promised dam.

 The view from the top was excellent, as expected.

The only established path out was through an enemy encampment, and sure to result in an arrest or citation. I decided to just scramble down the dam itself. I quickly realized just how huge it was, when after 10 minutes I wasn’t even halfway down:

 After much careful side-stepping and mountain goat footwork, I reached the bottom and followed a dirt road. I led under a huge power line tower. I had never been so close to one of these, and stopped to marvel.  You could hear the fatal levels of electricity hum through the lines from the ground.

 I navigated through an industrial compound of unknown nature, to a nearby hilltop, and took a picture of the dam for scale. Note the power lines and the shadow cast on it by the clouds.

 Having come, seen, ran many miles through, and conquered the Castaic domain, I ran back to my car, had a quick picnic, and continued toward the Sequoias.

The landscape grew increasingly beautiful, and as the elevation grew, the smooth and pristine hilltops started to poke into the clouds.

I stopped for gas and last minute supplies in Bakersfield, which totally sucks, by the way. To illustrate this, I took a picture of a local and intelligently-named bank.

what in the hell were they thinking?

I got bogged down in the morass of troglodytes in Bakersfield, and by the time I got near the Sequoias I was way behind schedule. I started up the winding mountain roads and was racing the sun to be able to set up camp before dark.


To my dismay, it started to rain, and as the elevation steadily grew, the rain turned to snow. I realized I wasn’t going to make it, and I was missing out on the beauty all around me by trying to rush. I let go and decided to leave my fate completely in the hands of the merry prankster. True to form, I was almost instantly provided with a large, warm, and quite suitable cave. I laughed out loud at myself and my foolish plans once again, and set up camp within.

The cave was home to some bats in the far end, but we shared a common goal of peaceful slumber, so we got along fine.

—————–Day 2——————

 I awoke and emerged from my troll-haven to find myself in a misty winter wonderland.

I continued up the road to my original destination: the tiny mountain “community” (not enough people to qualify as a “town,” I guess) of Camp Nelson. The place pretty much consisted of a handful of houses, a little diner, general store, and a ton of wilderness. I walked into the diner to inquire about my destination, Belknap Grove. I was met with skeptical looks and general discouragement, as the locals warned me not to try and get there. Apparently the roads were pretty well frozen and I was unlikely to succeed. They did direct me to a vacant lot nearby that I could camp in. They called the owner to get permission for me to stay there, and she said I could, “as long as you feed the ducks. The goose’s name is Lucy.” They filled up my water jugs and sent me on my way.

I investigated said lot, and grabbed some bread to give to the ducks. They quacked in anticipation when I arrived, and swam up out of the pond to meet me.

I stared ripping up the bread and throwing it to them, but Lucy, the clear matriarch of the group, took offense and got pretty aggressive. She charged me threateningly and hissed a bunch, but the ducks didn’t seem to care, waddling around in a quacking mob. For some reason the whole scene was hilarious to me.

A car drove by, in the direction of Belknap, and had stopped to put on snow chains. Their car was the same make and model as mine, and their snow chains the same size and brand as the ones I had gotten. They said they were going to Belknap for a day hike. I decided to hike up the road after them to see if they got stuck. I strapped on my backpack and followed the road all the way down to Belknap, to find them playing happily with their fat and gleefully hysterical child, who promptly ran up, hugged my leg, introduced himself as “Raymond Arthur,” and immediately started throwing snowballs at me.

The grove itself was beautiful, and soon I was walking amongst the ancient and gigantic trees I had longed to meet. These weren’t quite as big as the famous ones like the General Sherman, but that the trade-off for coming to remote National Forest land, which is much less restrictive and crowded than National Park land. In fact, the campground within the grove was ‘closed’ for the winter, which amounted to the bathrooms being locked and no one being there. But that was exactly what I needed after the manic rush of LA: isolation.

here’s Raymond Arthur; current and future menace to society at large

A stream ran right through the middle of the grove, and the running water gave the place a serene background of natural white noise. I took a deep breath and thanked the universe for delivering me here at last.

 I hiked back to my car, strapped on my snow chains, and drove back to the grove. I picked out a neat little campsite tucked away from view, since, technically, I was there illegally. I pitched my camp without too much trouble, but starting a fire in snowy and wet 20 degree weather is another story. After 2 hours, the sun was setting, the temperature dropping, and my back was sore. I had busted my ass to no avail, and could not seem to get the fire to take. I sat down and accepted the fact that I would be spending a cold night alone in the woods and I was OK with that. Just as I submitted to my lonely fate, the fire crackled to life with no intervention on my part. I jumped for joy, and the merry prankster rode high on the cold wave of darkness sweeping the sky.

the wages of hatcheting is fire

Now that my kindling and small wood was actually burning, I realized I would need some substantial long-burning firewood, so I donned my headlamp and began searching. I eventually found some dry-ish logs around and dragged them back to camp. I began cutting the wood down to more combustible pieces with my hatchet but this proved challenging as well, as the wood was extremely hard and difficult to cut. I slowly but surely got a decent fire going, but I was struggling to keep up the wood chopping. My wrist and knuckles were locking and swelling up from all the high-impact hacking, but if I stopped, I was doomed to a cold and demoralizing night, waiting for the sun to rise. I chose physical pain over existential fear, and it payed dividends. After a painful 2 hours I had a decent fire and enough wood to last me till bedtime, and I lied down next to it to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I’ve usually camped in groups, and didn’t realize how much work it was to do it alone, much less in the snow at 7000ft elevation.

As I lied down next to my hard-earned fire, I took some deep breaths and conjured up the tree spirits all around me. I began to pleasantly hallucinate a bit, looking up through the treeline from my spot on the ground. Maybe it was years-old acid percolating up in my brain, or maybe I was just exhausted, but maybe the ancient Ents were communicating with the lone traveler who was the only one intrepid enough to visit them in the dead of winter.

I enjoyed this entranced state for a while before curling up in my hammock wrapped in my army sleeping bag.

—————Day 3—————-

I slept hard and was woken by the sunrise in the morning. I snapped a picture of my camp now that it was visible in the daylight.

With full daylight ahead of me, I took off and hiked around for a while. I got a couple of pictures, but by and large lost myself and forgot about documentation.

I had gone just about everywhere I could without snowshoes and my throbbing and visibly swollen right hand was not up for another night of hacking, so I packed up camp, said goodbye to the giants, and headed out. 
On the way out the views were spectacular. The mist and snow clouds had cleared to reveal a breathtaking landscape.

Here’s a slightly obscured picture of an old-school powerhouse nestled over the river.

A little ways down the mountain I passed a heavily forbidden walkway. There were 5 different signs telling me not to enter in various ways, detailing a myriad of penalties. You can see 3 of them in the picture below.

Really, if you put up 5 different “KEEP OUT” signs on a neatly constructed stairway, all you’re really telling me is that you’re hiding something awesome. This logic proved extremely sound once I reached the top. It was a pipeline of some sort, that ran on along the mountainside indefinitely. I jumped atop and walked along it daringly like Huck Finn before me.

It got to be pretty high up and sported a great view of the river below;

After a half mile or so of precarious balancing, I was rewarded with a walkway proper. It was like the last level of GoldenEye, whats it called, “Skywalk” or something? I climbed up onto it and tried to contain my glee. This lasted all of three seconds before I was joyfully bounding and whooping aloud across the pipeline. Who the hell was I trying to impress anyway? Any responsible, god-fearing adult wouldn’t be up here in the first place. I’m the only human for miles, halfway up a mountain on a dangerous and forbidden industrial catwalk with an amazing view. I live for this shit. 

the edge looking down

Eventually the catwalk ends and the pipe feeds into an aqueduct. There’s a little winch for opening and closing the waterworks, and again I feel like I’m in Half-Life.

tell me this doesn’t look like something straight out of Half-Life 2

At this point, I’m forced to draw the line on my reconnaissance. I have to get to somewhere with phone service so I can figure out where I’m going to sleep tonight. On the way back to the car I see a cool gnarled tree:

And can’t help but snap a picture on the scenic drive out of the Sierras. Truly this is beautiful country.

This place is called “Success Dam.” I find that to be hilarious. Just say it out loud a few times. As a bonus, it looks great.

I make it out of the mountains and into the central valley, and stop in the first town with a traffic light. I had phone service so I made some calls and arranged to meet Tim in San Luis Obispo.

I took off across the valley and was quickly surrounded by seemingly endless orange groves. I mean, these things went for miles in all directions, literally.

There’s not much to do in the central valley, but it sure looks cool. Its so flat and clear for miles that the sky seems bigger. I passed a section of a grove that had been planted with saplings fairly recently, and tried to capture the “huge sky.” Probably failed.

After several hours of driving, I was back to the coast. I pulled into San Luis Obispo, dazed and weary. I wandered around downtown and walked into an empty bar to glean some info from the bored bartender. She directed me two blocks down to a local oddity: “Bubblegum Alley.” Apparently, the inhabitants of this quiet college town have made a weird and awesome tradition of accumulating their gum on the walls of a certain alley. This has made for a several-inches thick layer of multi colored gum fully covering both walls and floor of a 20 yard alley. There are people’s names written in gum, prom proposals written in gum, and even a mural for breast cancer awareness made entirely of gum, on a canvas of….gum. What in the hell is going on here?

After a few hours, Tim, my host, tells me to meet him at a nearby bar downtown. He is very friendly and brings me back to his house where I crash promptly on the couch.
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Final Days of Fear and Loathing in the City of Angels

 —————–Day 4—————

I woke up and drove to the grocery store for something. I have trouble parking thanks to this asshat:
According to her chrome emblazonment, the size of her rims “matters,” but apparently the size of her shittily-parked SUV in a “compact” parking spot does not.

I forgot exactly what I went to the grocery store for, but after I had obtained it, I remembered one last thing I had meant to do in LA: the “Sunken City” ruins. I drove down to LA’s southmost tip, San Pedro.

According to the internet, it was accessible in the very corner of Point Fermin park. The park itself sat atop a bluff, directly on the coast. I stepped up to the edge and was taken by the inhospitable beauty. This was the coast I had been looking for. Just water meeting land, polar opposites in collision. No soft, sunny beach to soften the blow. The weather was dreary and overcast, and the landscape wore the mist well. It added a classy mystique to southern California’s normally clear and fully bared coastline. Like throwing a trenchcoat over a girl in a bikini.

These signs were placed all around the edges of the park:
I followed them until I found this one. I knew I was close.

After some investigation I found my point of entry: a well worn hole dug under the spiked fence.

At first things appeared dissapointing. All I saw was some old foundation outlines covered in shitty gang graffiti:
But I kept walking and found a road, and some mexican kids:
I followed it for a while, and soon the road dropped/broke off to a sheer cliff, which overlooked the promised land.

Apparently, back in the 20s or 30s, the coast just collapsed into the water – buildings, roads and all – and nobody did shit about it. The city just built a fence around it and made it illegal to go here. Now it’s a graffiti-covered wasteland the locals call “Sunken City.” Honestly I’m glad it’s illegal, because if wasn’t, there would be $20 guided tours and fanny packs abound, rather than graffiti and teenagers smoking pot.

The whole area is eerily prophetic. I can’t help but think that LA will look like this soon, whether by earthquake, or by the hand of a vengeful and angry god. The palm trees sprouted up from the disheveled slabs of pavement made for and excellent post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Mad Max goes to the beach.

There are quite a few pictures, and I didn’t know how to arrange them neatly on the page. If you click on one, it should bring up a gallery-like view that you can scroll through with the arrow keys.

view from the edge of the death road

descending into the wastes
near the bottom looking up at the edge of the road where i was standing in the first picture

finn and jake make an appearance

you can see the former path of the road particularly well here. legion of ghosts lie in wait for the sun to set.  

you can’t make it out in the pictures, but a lot of the ‘rocks’ on the beach are actually eroded pieces of buildings and sidewalks

a particularly nice run of  slabs. I had the urge to skateboard.

impressionist dinosaur graffiti? ya blew it.
death and elegance.
Afterwards I spent the remainder of the day preparing for my expedition to Sequoia National Forest. I planned on leaving in the morning, but found out I needed tire chains to get to the famed ‘Giant Forest’ grove during this snowy time of year. I needed to get there early in the day so I could set up camp with daylight to spare, and if I was going to try and find tire chains in the morning, I would be cutting it close. It appeared I would have to stay one more night. I was long overdue to blow town, but one more day in LA wouldn’t kill me, right?
—————Day 5—————-

After waking I was at a strange loss for what to do. There were things to do all around the city, but none of them sounded appealing. I drove aimlessly and found myself strangely able to navigate the hectic traffic. I stopped to eat and instinctively looked for parking several blocks before the restaurant.

“I think I’m getting used to Los Angeles,” I thought.

As soon as the thought crossed my mind I immediately panicked. I felt the Fear welling up in my chest and slowly closing my anxious thoughts into a circular loop. Have I become one of them? I realized I had been driving like an asshole most of the morning, only thinking of where I needed to go, and how fast. Just like everyone does in LA. But now I realized why: if you don’t, you’ll never get anywhere on time. In LA, there is no “journey,” only the destination. Actually, there’s a ton of “journey,” but it’s such a shitshow that everyone just wants it to be over with.

I had stumbled upon the dark Truth, and it was hitting me hard and all at once. People don’t choose to be self-absorbed assholes here. They have to be, in order to function in this place. It was happening to me, and shockingly fast. I’ve only been here a week. I thought I was safe; a neutral observer. No way. I was a fool to think I could set up camp in the middle of the raging war for humanity’s soul and emerge unscathed. I was trifling with the American Dream, and I had underestimated it. Suddenly I understood why so many slaves wander the streets here. Many before me had come the same way that I had, but stayed too long, adapted too well. Before long, the skills required to survive become the very shackles that keep people from leaving this place. The Heart of Darkness was revealing its blinding core revelation to me. I felt sick and naive. I was just like everyone else that comes here. The only thing that separated me from these people was the fact that I could still leave. But if I didn’t exercise that privilege soon, I would lose it, like everyone else. I had to get out, and soon.

This marks a ubiquitous pattern in my life. I have always been a seeker. Asking the questions you’re not supposed to ask, saying the things you’re not supposed to say. I have come to identify a distinct process that repeats itself over and over in my life. Here’s how I explained it to my sister some time ago when she asked me about acid and the Truth. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it’s a copy-and-paste transcript from Facebook, but when I put it here it reads a bit like poetry:

life is disney world
you’re a child
wandering around this incredible wonderland made especially for you
everything is beautiful and pretty inexplicable
so naturally you’re curious
you want to see more of this awesome stuff
in fact, you want to make sure you see ALL of it
because its so awesome
so you begin exploring
you ride the rides, play the games
it just keeps getting better
eventually you come to the “employees only” door
you wonder what’s behind it

DO NOT ENTER

but you can’t help but open it, because you wouldn’t want to miss out on even one bit of this incredible world
so you open it
and you see mickey mouse
and then he takes his head off
and its just a sweaty ass carny
working for minimum wage
and at that moment, innocence is lost
because now you know the truth
the truth that you searched so hard for
and you can’t ever forget it
The content is complex, but the Formula is simple: I seek the Truth, I find it, I run for my life. So now, it’s time to run. 
On the walk home, I see a very fitting and terrifying inscription over the doors of a church.
Goodbye, Los Angeles.
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Out of the Frying Pan and Into a Slightly Less Hot Frying Pan

I woke up, ate some breakfast, and decided to walk down to the beach. Along the short walk there I realized that, while Long Beach seemed tame and refreshing in comparison to the manic clusterfuck of LA, I was still in densely overpopulated and spiritually bankrupt southern California. Really if it weren’t for some green signs on the highway, you’d never know you were in Long Beach vs. LA; there’s not even a slight break in the urban sprawl to separate them.

This sentiment was really driven home when I witnessed this extremely misguided and poorly executed likeness (tribute? effigy?) of Martin Luther King on someone’s porch. The only reason I even knew it was Martin Luther King was the initials “MLK” plastered across its baseball cap. It appeared as if someone had tried to give a mannequin blackface makeup, but used malnourished feces instead of paint. Take a second to really take in the details here. There’s even dead flowers on the left. This is the work of a true american.

‘ya blew it.’

The other pedestrians didn’t seem to understand what I was laughing at, which brought the hilarity full circle, because now I accidentally look like a total racist asshole for laughing at someone who accidentally looks like a total racist asshole. I stifled my laughter and quickened my walking pace. LA is very meta. I don’t think it knows it.

Just as my smug cynicism is reaching critical mass, I notice a beautiful plant on the sidewalk that sets me straight. A bee even flew onto it right as I took the picture, to remind me that everything is beautiful and I am dumb for thinking I know so much about things.

I get to the beach with renewed faith, only to have it dashed by dump trucks and a sickeningly thick layer of smog on the horizon to match. My god is a merry prankster with a wicked sense of humor. 

I eventually ward off the Fear and see that there is a nice paved bike/pedestrian path along the entirety of the Long Beach shoreline. I strap my guitar to my back and take off down it towards some menacing looking cranes. You can sort of see them over the dump truck in the picture above.

After a mile or so of walking, I reach the promised cranes, and realize my trek has brought me to a marina. The cranes suddenly make more sense. I walk further down a long rock pier that juts out past the sand into the water and play some guitar to the seagulls. Some guys nearby are drinking beer and ‘hunting’ birds with a slingshot. I turned around and got a picture of downtown Long Beach from the marina pier:

After walking for several miles, I long for a quicker mode of transportation. Recounting last night’s parking nightmare, I don’t dare move my car. So I grab Wes’ bike (that he freely offered to me along with his home) and start off toward “Hilltop Park,” which allegedly holds the best view of the area. Along the way I saw an interesting street sign:

i’ve never seen a sign that took the time to explain itself.

After a strenuous uphill ride, I found out they weren’t bullshitting about the view. It was spectacular. Once again, though, LA’s meta-beauty/ugliness started to fuck with me. As always, the phone pictures don’t do it justice.

I got snapped out of my melancholy philosopher trance by a group of teenage asian boys. They were talking about skydiving or something, and the only pronoun they seemed to know was “my nigga.” I counted more uses of the word “nigga” in a ten minute conversation than in the entire running length of Django Unchained. Think about the stereotypical valley-girl using the word “like,” every 5 seconds. Now replace that with “my nigga.” They went on to describe how “my nigga Jackie Chan went skydiving to rob some niggas,” and how “my nigga, his parachute broke but he killed them niggas in mid air and stole the golden skull, my nigga” I fled the deluge of pubescent douchebaggery to return to Wes’ home to cook dinner with him.

When I got back we whipped up a mean chili and ate it hungrily while discussing the folly of veganism. At one point I remember him emphatically saying, “I’d never abuse an animal in any way, but I’ll eat the SHIT out of one.”

During our after-dinner conversation, he told me about how he loved New Orleans, so played him some good old fashioned delta blues. He got a phone call and informed me that we would be receiving more couchsurfers tomorrow, one from Brazil, and another from Denmark. I was to coordinate with the Dane to let him into the house while Wes was at work. I ate some peanut butter with a fork and went to bed.

—————————Day 2————————

I woke up and wanted to just chill out for a day, but my body quickly rebelled and I became restless. The wanderlust has gotten into my bones, I guess. I stubbornly sat on the computer for a bit, but the restlessness grew to an unbearable point, so once again I stormed out the door in a foreign place with no plan, but this time with a bike. I rode deeper into the marina and developed a fantasy of meeting some seafaring ruffian that would take me on a random adventure out on his boat. This didn’t happen, so got a picture as I rode:

This is a huge ass ship that Long Beach is very proud of. It has its own exit from the highway. 

The “Queen Mary”

Even after several miles, the restlessness still drove me, so I rode downtown to this cool commercial park called “(something) Lagoon” 

All the biking had made me hungry, and I remembered something that Wes had told me earlier: Long Beach has the largest population of Cambodians in the world outside Cambodia. They are all concentrated in an area appropriately called “Cambodia Town.” I rode there hungrily to sample what was sure to be an exotic delight: Cambodian food.
Once within the boundaries of Cambodia town, this fantastic-looking writing appeared everywhere. Cambodian, I presume.

The city even puts it on the trash cans: 

I wandered for a bit before deciding on this place:

The menu was confusing so I just asked what the most popular dish was. The cashier pointed out the “House Special” with pork, beef liver, shrimp and beef stomach. Sounded good to me. $5.50 and 30 seconds later I was handed a steaming hot bag of food. 
It looked a lot like Thai food, but tasted much different. It was extremely good. The spices were different than anything I’ve had, so I can’t really describe it. But it was damn good.









 I was so impressed I got this dessert afterwards. It was coconut, sweet rice, kidney beans, and some kind of sauce sauteed on. It was strange and tasty as well. I noticed that all the deserts had beans in them. I guess beans are a dessert item in Cambodia.

It was nearing the time for my rendezvous with the Danish traveler, so I returned to Wesley’s home, satisfied. Instead of the Danish guy, I found another guy, who introduced himself as Tyson, in the house. Apparently a friend of Wesley’s, here to check his mail and use the internet. 
Shortly thereafter, the foretold Dane arrived and introduced himself as Andreas. He was extremely earnest and upbeat, and spoke very fluent English. He is also one of the most unintentionally funny people I have ever met. For some reason, the combination of his accent, his face, and his extremely affirmative personality was hilarious to me. So funny, that when I talk to him I have to try very hard not just burst out laughing. I get a huge shit-eating grin every time he talks to me and he seems confused by it. I wish I could explain it, but you would just have to meet him. Here he is below with Tyson:

Andreas (left) and Tyson (right)

Not long after, Wesley arrived home with yet another couchsurfer, Rafael from Brazil. He spoke great english as well and was very cool and friendly. Here’s him and Wes:

Rafael (left) and Wesley (right)

We all hung out, I played some guitar, we ate, then I went to bed a little richer for cultural experience. Thanks, Wesley.
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Heart of Darkness Pt. 2

—————–Day 4—————-
I woke up feeling pretty good and went for another run identical to the last one, but minus the tree climbing. Afterwards, Lorenzo, Edward, and I had a fun little bluegrass jam together. Buffy listened as she studied her sign language flashcards, and clapped for us after. After breakfast I decided that the dreaded time had come to update you all on my goings-on, and sat down at the computer begrudgingly. Several hours later I was finally done. 
After spending the better part of a day ‘blogging’ (sorry but I can’t bring myself to legitimize that word), I was so restless that I basically stormed out of the house with no plan. I ended up at Marina del Rey in a little park on the docks, just as sunset hit. The crowd was eclectic; yuppie couples walking their lapdogs, mid-life crisis victims smoking cigars, a Filipino mountain-biking posse, teenage lovebirds, some bums having a sort of bum party/cookout under a pagoda with a loud stereo blaring from their overloaded shopping cart. There were also some young latino kids fishing down on the docks. I went to ask them how the fishing was, and saw they had a litte shad or something hooked on the line but made no effort to reel it in. They informed me that they were “just taking our pet fish for a walk, at the fish park, you know.” I’m not sure if these kids were fucking with me or what, but they kept talking to this poor dying fish like it was their pet. Either way, they have a wicked sense of humor.
Soon the sun set, and yuppies and bums alike stood together to take in the beauty. Right when the colors hit their peak, a rowing team paddled by out of nowhere.

After this I decided to try some dumpster diving in the area. I went around to a few places, but most used compactors, which you’re not supposed to jump in because they can kill you…..have you seen Star Wars?
After a bit I ran out of time and went to meet EA at another anonymous gathering. After that, I decided to try Hollywood for dumpster diving. Figured I could find some good stuff, with all the upper class organic markets and such. This proved even more disastrous than the Marina. Apparently in Hollywood they take their garbage VERY seriously. The first was underground under a parking garage (?!) so the dumpster was inaccessible  Another had a large spiked fence around it. Never easily discouraged, I jumped the fence and stealthily evaded the employees out back, only to find the dumpsters were individually padlocked.
I saw a Trader Joe’s across the street and figured it was a safer bet. NOT. Not only was there a slanted and spiked fence around the dumpster, but fucking razor wire around the top. These people have spent time and money making damn sure that no one can eat anything they are throwing away. Most things that are wasted are done so out of convenience. It’s easier to throw away than to reuse. Which is still selfish and stupid, but this took it a step further. Apparently in Hollywood it’s not enough to waste several metric tons of perfectly good food every single day on account of rich and picky customers. You have to guard your trash to ensure that nobody disrupts the delicate cycle of consumerism. They literally are spending money to ensure that what they toss out will rot and be poured into a landfill. And the best part is that these health-food stores are considered ‘progressive.’ Progressing towards what? Disposable iLife? Honestly I didn’t even need the food. I was just doing it for fun. But the jail-style dumpster security I found was so unbelievable that it bothered me. 
I gave Hollywood a solid middle finger and drove home in disgust.
————–Day 5—————

I woke with a start to my phone ringing. I was supposed to have met Kimba at a diner 17 minutes ago. I rushed over and found her staring disapprovingly at me over a cup of coffee. Notice her “Kim Book.” Full of witchcraft and hexes, no doubt. 
My friend Mike told me about a place in Griffith Park he refers to as, “the Batcave.” We decide to visit it. Along the way I see this sign. How many different ways can LA spell it? Time will tell.

We get to Griffith Park and start hiking. I’m immediately taken with the landscape. It’s easy to see why so many people migrated here and turned it into a sprawling metropolis. The ironic part is that the city has expanded so much that it has nearly eradicated the natural beauty that made it a destination to begin with. The meta-circular nature of this begins to make my head spin.

what LA looked like before humanity ruined everything.

read on the internets that many episodes of Star Trek were filmed here.

We come to the promised Batcave and walk through. Apparently it’s so named because it was used as the Batcave in an old Batman movie, presumably the original.

Alfred was nowhere to be found.

Upon emerging from the cave, we were in an interesting and pretty canyon. Hard to believe that this is smack dab in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world.

I felt compelled to take this picture, just to prove that we were still in LA.

maximum worship pose

 I ran up a steep trail gleefully, but Kimba kept slipping and sliding, and had to resort to a less evolved position to get up. I turned around just in time to snap a picture, much to her chagrin.

grovel, wench.

pretty high

Eventually, at the very top, we were greeted with an amazing view of the entire city. Even Kimba, a Los Angeles native, was stunned by how far you could see from the hilltop. We were in Hollywood, and you could see all the way south to San Pedro and Long Beach, as well as Downtown, Santa Monica to west, and Venice to the southwest. I made the picture huge so you could kind of get the effect. Scroll over to the right to see the whole thing.
 To the right was another great view of the Hollywood sign, so I disrobed and welcomed the rapture of the Christ, Lord and Savior.

praise him.

After this, we found ourselves craving cold refreshment, so Kimba directed me to a painfully hip but interesting Hollywood establishment called the “Bourgeois Pig.” It was right next the the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater, which I wanted to visit, but they only do shows at night. Inside there was an assortment of colored lights and awkwardly dressed high-class indie-swag hybrids drinking $6 lattes over their MacBooks. Of all the times I have been called a hipster in Prescott, I felt distinctly classless and unrefined in this temple of hip-ness. I looked down at my pants. Even though they were black, they looked dirty. I realized I hadn’t washed them in at least 2 weeks. They passed a quick sniff-test, however, so my fear quickly dissipated. Near the back, we found an extremely dark room decorated like an enchanted forest. We found a spot, sat down and unwound for a while and soaked in the bewitched atmosphere.

After our decompression, we headed over to Amoeba Music, the world’s largest record store, apparently. On the way we stopped at a German sausage bar and got some “currywurst” which is German street food. The gay German cashier did an enthusiastic and stupendous job of explaining the menu and the food was pretty good, though the portions were small. I learned a valuable lesson about paying gay Germans for their sausage. Afterwards we headed to Amoeba, which was, as promised, enourmous. They had sections for everything, ranging from outlaw country cassettes, to black metal vinyl, and everything in between. There was even a stage where bands play for free. And not just local bands either. Apparently I had just missed Yo La Tengo play there the day before I arrived in LA. Bummer. I tried to take pictures, but my phone died. I stole one from Google just so you can get an idea:

a Costco of music

After this the sun was setting and I realized I was supposed to be in Long Beach hours ago. So Kimba and I said our goodbyes, I rushed over to Lorenzo’s, gathered my belonging, said my goodbyes there, and left him a 6-pack of one of his favorite beers, Fat Tire Ale, in gratitude.

I headed south to Long Beach to meet my next host, Wesley. I was arriving much later than I thought, and he wasn’t going to be home again till much later. He asked me if I liked dodgeball, and in the interest of adventure, I said yes. He told me to meet him at ‘Cesar Chavez elementary school’ instead.

I arrived after sunset and put on my running shorts and shoes, and walked in to the bustling gym to find quite an unexpected scene. There were people wearing “World Dodgeball Society” shirts, knee pads, elbow pads, gloves…..some guys even had their fingers taped. These people meant business. They had regulation size proprietary dodgeballs, team/league names, warmup drills, the whole nine yards. I walked up to a friendly looking guy to ask him what the hell was going on. He introduced himself as Mike, and then wailed the ball at the wall so fast that it curved in the air like a baseball pitch, before smacking loudly against it. I immediately feared for my genitals.

I saw a manic young Vietnamese woman who appeared to be running the show. She was checking the pressure in the dodgeballs and meticulously adjusting it to regulation when I approached her. She explained the rules to me and I asked her if she knew a “Wesley”. She pointed me to young man with a red bandana over his face. I introduced myself and he smiled and informed me to warm up.

Eventually the game started and was about 10 times as intense as elementary school recess ever was. Balls flew at me at speeds in excess of anything safe. I proved to be somewhat nimble in dodging, and pegged a few of the opposite team, but this combined with my large stature quickly made me a target. They waited until they had several balls accumulated on their side, ran up to the line, feigning in random directions, then drilled them all right at me at the same time. I didn’t stand a chance.

After I got over the trauma of being completely shellacked by several asian women in kneepads, I got pretty into the game and had a lot of fun. Eventually though, I screwed up my elbow from throwing a light object so hard, so many times. I sat out for the second half of the night and took the opportunity to take a picture:

Wesley is on the left with the purple shirt and the red bandana

After the madness subsided, Wesley jumped in my car and directed me to a local eatery called “Hole Mole.” Disappointingly, I found that it’s actually pronounced “Holy Moly.” Wes strongly recommended the fish tacos, so I got several. They were only $1. What came out of the kitchen on that tray was absolutely the best taco of any kind I have ever had. In fact, I have been craving more for a full 24 hours as I am writing this. 

After recovering from the awe of the tacos, I noticed that the atmosphere in Long Beach was noticeably different than in LA. There is just as many people here as in LA (way too many), they just move at a more natural speed. There was a much more eclectic crowd, and a generally relaxed demeanor that was entirely nonexistent in LA. It was refreshing. To give you an idea of this, I took a picture of this matter-of-fact sign under the cash register:

the fact that they have to designate this speaks volumes about the attitude in Long Beach. 

After my taco revelation, we spend about a half hour trying to find parking, but finally landed a spot. Wes informed me that I was extremely lucky to have gotten the spot so close. I was surprised, being that we were 7 full blocks from where he lived. After a short walk he showed me into his apartment, only a few blocks from the beach.

Once again, I was blown out of the water by the generosity and caring spirit of these CouchSurfing folks. He showed me to my “couch,” a queen size bed in a spare bedroom. He even had tacked up maps all over the walls to aid travelers. It appears that this guy has an extra bedroom just for travelers like myself. Even though he had to be up at 6am, he sits up late with me pointing out places on the map. Then to my surprise, he hands me a set of keys to the place, just like Lorenzo. Unbelievable. I fall asleep bathed in good karma.
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Blast Off Into the Heart of Darkness

On Friday January 18th, I woke up and immediately went for a final run amongst the beautiful snowy hills I’ve grown so fond of over the last 2 years. Due to the exploratory nature of the run, I mistakenly trespassed into a ritzy neighborhood. Once I realized this I just decided to keep going, and came to a palatial druglord villa near the top of the mountain. It was enough to make me slow down for a second to gawk.

taken from the realtor’s site. “The crown jewel of Prescott.” only  $4.8 MILLION 

I noticed the realty sign in front of it, so I jumped the fence and discovered that the artificially-terraced-and-sodded ‘back yard’ had one of the best views of Prescott (and neighboring Prescott Valley for that matter) I had ever seen. There was even a pool that spilled over the edge of the man made cliff, which was frozen solid for an even more awesome effect than was intended. I stopped and meditated in gratitude for such an epic, if not illegal, way to say goodbye to the place that had been my home for the past 2 years.

view from pool. taken from realtor’s website, obviously at night. I was there in the morning and honestly it looked better in the sunlight. 

Leaving Prescott proved to be harder than I thought, in several ways. I didn’t realize how tight the little Arizona mountain town’s grip on me until I tried to escape it. Even after several month’s public knowledge of my departure, a proclamation of gratitude and goodbye and an enormous social arena, and 2 separate going-away parties, there were still enough last minute come-see-me-before-you-leave endeavors to delay my departure a good 4-5 hours. However, I am truly happy to have such a large group of people care for me. The last time I left a city, everyone just assumed I was dead. Literally. Granted this was a different part of my life that involved hard drugs and general scumbaggery. But the point is, Life has taken me to a drastically different place and I’m grateful for that. And these friends are pretty diverse, too. Between all of my friends I was able to discern places to stay, friends of friends to meet up with, and cool things to do in pretty much every spot between LA and Vancouver.

This is Alex from Prescott. He taught me how  to use a dry bag, and instructed me to swim in the Oakland bay. 

After a morning of last minute preparations, heartfelt goodbyes, and a particularly heart wrenching last moment with my girlfriend, Christine, I was off into the west.

The drive out of Prescott was beautiful as I took the 89 out the back way and wound down through the mountains, but as soon as I hit flat ground it was pretty boring. I had a growing urge to urinate, and when this came to a peak I took the nearest exit, which was “Desert Center”. I soon discovered that Desert Center was nothing but an enormous dirt/gravel lot with some abandoned businesses. I did seize the opportunity to piss, though, but as soon as I got a good stream going, a Jeep blazed through the lot, apparently only to do a few donuts and kick up a dust cloud that lingered. I gathered my wits and genitalia, and took this picture as the sun set behind a post-apocalyptic gas station.

ghost stop

Fear and Loathing in the City of Angels

Upon arriving in LA, I called my CouchSurfing host, Lorenzo, and parked on the street outside of his apartment in Mar Vista. After knowing me for only 5 minutes he unbelievably gave me a set of keys to his apartment, set me up to sleep on his futon, and went to bed. What a guy. 
Then I called my friend, Kimba, and was informed to meet her at “Das Bunker.” I was excited because this was one of the weirdo nightclubs I had scoped out on the internet, and wanted to check it out. Now that someone I knew was there, I had to go. If you can’t tell by the name, the club focuses exclusively on Industrial music, mostly german. This is one of the cool things about LA. Not many places have enough of a population to support such a fringe interest. But in LA, that %.001 of the populace is enough folks to fill a basement nightclub and let a totally weird scene thrive. 
I followed my phone’s directions deep into foreign territory, and found myself in a deserted part of town with nothing but Korean lettering visible anywhere for miles. A voice in my head started referring to the area as “Koreatown” and narrating how I was lost in this strange land, but I felt very racist and politically-incorrect for even thinking this. Hilariously enough, I later found out that this area actually IS called “Koreatown,” and, as usual, my subconscious flagellation was totally unwarranted. I was confused but continued onward and found that my Google maps had directed me to a place called “Catch One” that was possibly the only active establishment for miles. Seemed wrong, but I said “screw it.” and bravely approached. The bouncer frisked me (apparently missing the utility knife in my pants) and sent me up. I saw a freakishly dressed couple and followed them down a narrow staircase to find, against all doubt, the promised Bunker. It was too dark for a decent photo, so I stole some from their website that are a pretty accurate representation of my experience:
There was a disappointingly happy discotheque-style dancefloor on the main floor with the bar, but after a bit  of wandering I followed the distorted throbbing down another level. Here I found the real stuff. There was a live group dressed like sado-masochists and screaming german over harshly distorted beats, and a weird crowd to match. I liked it but wandered even farther into the annals of the establishment to find “Das Noise Room,” where a (debatably) female DJ was blaring some of the harshest electronic music I’ve ever heard in an almost pitch-black room. This dark and claustrophobic atmosphere struck a chord with me and I danced up a healthy sweat for a while, forgetting all about meeting Kimba. Eventually I emerged and caught the tail end of the live set, and found Kimba shortly after. We talked, danced, and eventually gave in to exhaustion, but agreed to meet in the morning. 
I was extremely hungry, and the canned chicken in my car just wasn’t going to cut it, so I ventured over to the nearest In-N-Out burger, which happened to be in Hollywood – at 2 AM on a Friday night. Along the way I was aggressively passed, had brights flashed at me, honked at, and even had a flamboyantly dressed gentleman step into the road in front of me just to ridicule the haphazard paintjob on my 96 Corolla. None of this phased me. I was truly a driven man at this point, near the breaking point of hunger. But just as I neared the notorious Sunset boulevard, I laid eyes on an establishment that called to me much clearer than In-N-Out: the similarly hyphenated Chick-Fil-A. I pulled into the drive thru and obtained the succulent breastmeat I have come to expect from America’s finest christ-fearing and gay-hating chicken retailer, and after quickly scarfing it, escaped the deranged limelight to return to Lorenzo’s home and sleep.
———————————–Day 2———————————
I woke up and contemplated LA. All my life people have been painting it as this terrible Voltron-like assimilation of everything wrong with america. And maybe that is true. Probably is. Everything about it seems to go against my ideals and even aesthetics.  But I didn’t come to LA to philisophize myself into a dark corner and catch the Fear. I came here as part of a freewheeling journey, where my only real objective is to gather experience. And last night, that objective was accomplished in full. So who gives a fuck, really? It’s clearly ‘not my scene.’ But it’s not like I have to live here.
After resolving the argument in my head about by continued and voluntary presence here in the american heart of darkness, I got to know Lorenzo and his brother and roommate, Edward. They are both very friendly software engineers working on an Android app called Valarm, and soon I meet their respective girlfriends, Izza, and Buffy. Everyone is super nice and accommodating, and Buffy even makes me pancakes. Edward shows me his library of guidebooks, and shows me good places to jog nearby, and Lorenzo shows me the myriad of musical instruments about the living room. These are good people. I took out their trash and found this unique expression of love on someone’s motorcycle:

this is how people in LA express their affection to one another.

Shortly thereafter Kimba calls me and suggests we meet at Venice Beach. After parking nearby, I strapped my guitar to my back and walked to our meeting spot. I stopped and took a picture of this excellent Orson Welles-themed mural along the way.

if you don’t get he reference, look up “Touch of Evil”

Kimba gave me a quick run-down on the Venice Beach boardwalk, and then I was off into the freakshow. I described it to a friend later in the day: “You know how the Japanese take American culture and totally misinterpret it and twist it into something even more ridiculous? Well Venice Beach is as if the Japanese made a New Orleans-themed boardwalk.” The place is like a long, thin circus of humanity, set against a beautiful beach backdrop as some sort of sick joke.

this guy specializes in shitty oil paintings with the caption “DON’T FUCK WITH ME I’M A GODDESS”

self-explanatory

impromptu drum circle, led by a frenetic, whistle-blowing dwarf (center, blue shirt)

This brought to mind my outrageous and traumatic first experience with Salvia, which happened to be with my schizophrenic best friend.  You can read about it here.

After scoping out the spectacle I was a bit stressed out, I guess from all the stimulation. So much bullshit from so many angles at once was exhausting. I sat down, pulled out my guitar and played some music to relax my mind. I zoned out and got pretty into it, and a young guy came and asked what he should put his money in. I opened up my guitar case and set it in front of me, and thus began my California busking career. Over the next few hours I played, sang, danced, and generally had a great time as onlookers passed and stared. Some gave me money, others didn’t even turn their heads. A couple of swagged-out black guys even stopped, rapped over my delta blues progression, and then proceeded to make it rain dollar bills whilst celebrating their lyrical victory. I ended the song at an appropriate moment and exchanged elaborate handshakes with both of them. I didn’t make a ton of money, but I wasn’t trying to. The way I saw it, I just did what I enjoy and do for free every day, and strangers gave me money for it. Not a bad deal. Eventually I came out of my busking trance and realized the sun was going down, so I packed up and used some of my busking profits to purchase a local delicacy, the pupusa. Its essentially a big corn tortilla stuffed with meat and cheese, and was extremely good and cheap.

beats the shit out of taco bell any day

Before leaving I noticed the undeniable beauty of the sun setting over the ocean, with the Santa Monica mountains in the background. Picture doesn’t really do it justice.

i guess this is why LA got so big in the first place.

After the sun set, I met another friend, Emily Ann, and went to a group meeting, details of which I cannot share due to the nature of anonymity. It was a very tolerant place, but this sign on the wall detailed the 3 things they won’t put up with.

cats are ok.

After the meeting, which was EXCELLENT, by the way, E.A. led me to “Nate ‘n’ Al’s” diner. We met in front to find that it was closed. I looked around and expressed both my distaste with the upscale nature of our surroundings, and my overwhelming need to urinate. E.A. informed me that this was Beverly Hills, and that I could consummate both sentiments simultaneously by relieving myself on the nearby Chanel fashion megaplex. She wasn’t serious, but I was, and seized the opportunity, leaving a long, unbroken trail of urine along the wall of the meticulously designed building. It is worth noting that at this point – I just realized I have publicly pissed on every single area of LA that I have been to, some even multiple times. Seriously. And not out of any vandalistic or destructive urge. Just out of necessity. I have a fast metabolism, drink lots of water, and LA isn’t big on public bathrooms. These three conditions have created a perfect storm of frequent public urination that will probably continue throughout my stay.

After some deliberation EA suggests we go to Mel’s diner in Hollywood. I am reticent because of my Hollywood experience the previous night, but am lured in by her promise of a free milkshake. Along the way I resisted the urge to steal this from a very expensive neighborhood:

not “Dick” or “Dick’s”. just “DICKS”

After reluctantly surrendering my car to the valet attendant at Mel’s we go in and get a table. Much to EA’s chagrin, I have brought in a can of tuna and a can opener. It seems a feasible option for protein intake without gross expenditure. I explain to her that this can of tuna cost me about a dollar, and will provide me with as much sustenance as a 10 dollar appetizer from the menu, before reading this elegant slogan off the can to her:

is this even possible?

Our waitress must’ve noticed my faux-pas, because we receive possibly the shittiest service ever. EA eventually just accepts my logic and we carry a decent conversation over the 6 dollar milkshakes (even more expensive than in Pulp Fiction!). I drive home in a daze brought on by exhaustion and sugar overload, and pass out almost immediately.

———————————–Day 3——————————–
The following morning I woke up and did some research on music in the area. I quickly was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options and became mired in indecision. I decided to go on a run to clear my head. I ran down to a nice boulevard with a designated dirt running path down the center median, and got a good 3 miles in. 
On the way back I eyed a particularly climbable tree on the side of the road. I ran past it, but couldn’t resist and turned back. I intended only to climb up a couple of feet and sit with my feet dangling on a horizontal branch. But as soon as I got up into the tree, my inner baboon took over and before I knew it, I was at the very top, swaying in the breeze, taking in the view of a quaint little neighborhood. Couples jogged by with strollers or dogs, totally oblivious to the scenic vista right there in their front yard. They will probably never get to see their neighborhood the way that I did. After a few minutes at the top of the tree, I earnestly forgot where I was. I transported back to an 11 year old headspace where my biggest worry was how to occupy the hours between school and when my sister’s dance lesson let out. I would climb a similarly shaped magnolia tree and sit at the top to pass the time on many a hot, humid, Louisiana afternoon. After I came out of my nostalgic trance, I decided that it was probably time to go. Some lady’s yippy poodles were onto me, and if these socialites realized there was a transient wildman up a tree in their front yard, they would probably call the police. 
Back at Lorenzo’s I got to meet Kenny and Isabel, who are couchsurfing with Lorenzo as well. They are from Belgium and Spain respectively, but speak fluent English  so we get along well. They have been backpacking around the world for almost a year now. We talk about our next destination, and they plan to go to Sequoia National Forest next. This is a destination for me as well, so there is talk about the possibility of camping there together, which would be cool. 
I got a call from an old highschool bud, Alex, who was stationed at a marine base in Oceanside, about and hour and a half to the south. He was driving up and wanted to hang out. I had found a CouchSurfing meetup in Santa Monica, and figured that would be a good place to harvest info, so I told him to meet me there. After some frustration with parking in the ultra-commercial Santa Monica area, I made it to the meetup spot, and was greeted by a highly inebriated and extremely diverse group of people. I quickly found out that I was the only American there. There were people from Egypt, Belarus, Russia, England, Brazil, China, and many other countries I don’t remember. Everyone is so drunk, loud, and foreign that it is impossible to really understand anything, so when Alex arrives, we take off. After some walking around, we end up at a cyberpunk-esque glowing table enclosed in glass that looks off the edge of a 3 story mall over Santa Monica. We recount stories from our hometown, Lafayette, Louisiana, and once again I forget I am in LA. After a while we get pretty tired of the brightly lit commercialization of Santa Monica and head downtown for a show. On the way out, I saw and laughed at this mannequin. 
Santa Monica: so classy, even the mannequins look at you with disdain.
The place is called “The Smell” downtown, and it located in a back alley with no clear sign to designate it. Upon entering we are greeted with blaring Nintendo music and a young uncircumcised man screaming/rapping in the nude. Alex and I both exchange looks of approval and move closer to the stage.

It was “Chiptune Night Vol. 2”, which means that all the music we were hearing is made on antiquated 8-bit video game equipment, like original NES. There were literally people on stage playing GameBoys as musical instruments. It was cool.

I was pretty beat after a while so we parted ways and I went back to Mar Vista and to bed. 

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