Sunday, October 11, 2015

Southwest Adventure

In September, Paul was in Las Cruces, New Mexico for a month long research position studying biological soil crusts in the desert. So I was on my own in Eugene all month, and actually did well! I made some awesome new friends, found a new TV show to obsess over (everyone should watch Mr. Robot), and went to go visit Sam in North Bend. But once his job ended, I flew out to meet him in Albuquerque for a week long vacation/road trip/camping/epic adventure. I flew out on Saturday, got to Albuquerque in the evening, met Paul and several of his coworkers who were going to be joining us on our trip, and we all went out for vegan sushi. Paul and I stayed the night in an adorable Route 66 hostel, and then woke up early Sunday morning, at 4 am, to go to Balloon Fiesta.

Balloon Fiesta is the international hot air balloon festival held in Albuquerque every year, and it just so happened to be going on the week Paul's work ended, so that was a lovely serendipitous surprise. The idea was to get there before sunrise and experience what they call Balloon Glow, where all the hot air balloons set off into the sky while it's still dark. These few balloons started to glow, but then it barely started to sprinkle, so, because it's the southwest, they almost cancelled the entire event. The balloons deflated, and the whole event was on hold for a few hours. All because of a few tiny drops of rain. Paul and I kinda cracked up about that. People were in full on rain parkas, for about three minutes of minor sprinkling.

Eventually, the "rain" stopped, and the balloons were allowed to inflate again. So we missed the Balloon Glow during the sunrise, but the event was still magical. There were thousands of balloons, and not just traditional ones, but ones in the shape of bees, frogs, whales, clocks, zebras, giant heads, and Darth Vader.

After Paul and I got back from Balloon Fiesta at about 9 am, we met up with the rest of the group, ate a lovely New Mexican breakfast, and started driving to the Grand Canyon, which was about a six or seven hour drive. We stopped at Petrified National Forest along the way, and I'm so glad we did. As a group, we were all like "sure, I guess" when we passed by and decided to stop, but we all agreed afterward that it was amazing. We drove through and jumped out at every viewpoint to take pictures. It rained a bit, but there were lots of rainbows, and it totally added to how alien the landscape looked. There were a few boulders with petroglyphs carved into the stone, and I actually found that quite emotionally moving.

And then of course, the Petrified National Forest also contained lots of petrified wood! This blew my mind! The wood was fossilized and has turned to stone, and it was insanely beautiful and colorful. Paul and his coworkers are a bunch of botanists and ecologists so we spent a lot of time squatting and looking really closely at everything, and that was really fun.

After the Petrified National Forest, we drove through the night until we arrived at the Grand Canyon at around 10 pm. We quickly set up camp in the dark, and then woke up in the morning, ready to hike! The Grand Canyon was amazing, really, truly amazing. For some reason, I thought that maybe the Grand Canyon would be a little over hyped. I was more excited to see the other National Parks we were going to visit afterward on the rest of the road trip. But I shouldn't have been so cynical, it was breathtaking.

We were on the South Rim, and hiked the Bright Angel Trail. It rained quite a bit. A lot of our southwest adventure it was rainy. I was alright with it, because we had a very long hike ahead of us, and I would rather it be rainy than hot outside. And again, the rain meant rainbows, and rainbows in the Grand Canyon was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

Here's our group! From the left, we have Jennifer, Francisco, and Shelby. They worked with Paul the whole month of September in Las Cruces. They all lived in a house together, worked together outside in the desert all day, and then watched the sunset together every night. It was very cute, and I felt welcomed into their little botanist crew.

So, we hiked the Grand Canyon. It was intense. I wore jeans, which was a mistake. I literally don't even know why I did that. And we chose one of the hardest hikes: it was 9 miles, was supposed to take 9-12 hours, and was listed as "very difficult." We hiked all the way down to where the arrow is, in that little lush glade of trees, called Indian Garden. Then there was a thunderstorm. It was so loud! And we were so naive, kept saying things like "that wasn't so bad!" But then we had to hike 4.5 miles back up the Grand Canyon. Paul was saying how it was the opposite, mentally, of hiking a mountain. With a mountain, you hike up and it's so hard. Then you're at the top, you did it, you get to rest, and hiking down is the easy part. With a canyon, you hike down, it's easy, you rest but don't really need to, but then you have to hike back up and you want to die.

I learned a lot about myself on that hike back up. I am not a social hiker. I am very stubborn. Shelby went way ahead of all of us because she was such a beast, but Francisco, Jennifer, and Paul were all hiking back up in a group, chatting, going slowly and steadily. I couldn't deal with that. I found hiking like that more difficult, that it took more effort to go slowly. I could only go full force. I went as fast and as hard as I could, and kept going until I felt like my legs or lungs were going to give out, then I collapsed on a rock and rested until I could go on. Even with my many breaks, I ended up several switchbacks ahead of the rest of the group. So I did the most difficult part of the hike by myself, and I'm so stubborn, that I had to keep pushing. If I had been forced to be in the group, forced to be pleasant, forced to go any slower than my full effort, I think I would have emotionally broken down. At the end though, I took a long break, waited for the rest of the group, and then we finished together. At the very top, I cried, and then almost threw up. By then, it was getting dark, raining again, I went back to my tent, and passed out for about an hour. That was a physically and emotionally draining day, but I am so proud of myself.

We spent our second night in the Grand Canyon, and then woke up in the morning, packed up our camp, and drove to Zion. By the time we got there, there wasn't enough sunlight for the 4-5 hour hike we'd wanted to do, we hadn't actually reserved a campground, and the first come/first serve camping at Zion was filled up. So we drove through for an hour or two, took some pictures, but then had to go find somewhere to set up camp!

A lady working at a gas station nearby told us about the barracks, which was this dirt road off the highway, along a river, where people often did dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is essentially where you camp outside of any designated campground. So it's free, but there are zero amenities. We got to the barracks, and there were some other people camping further down the road. We found out that Paul's brother had camped near here when he went to Zion! We got to set up our hammock for the first time all trip, had a little drumming and ukulele jam session after it got dark, and then looked at the stars. It was a great night. In the morning, Paul and I parted from the group and went on to Yosemite, while the rest of them were going to on to Arches.

That day was a driving day. We drove until sundown, through Utah, Nevada, and California without air conditioning. It was difficult. I tend to get carsick, and it was really hot. In Utah, we stopped for coffee at The Rock Stop, and we stopped there because it was the cutest place we'd see in hours. It was so cool on the inside, the guy who owned it was so nice, we talked to him about the tourists he gets (mainly Danes and Germans), Oregon's landscape versus Utah's landscape, and then he gave us our coffee for half price. Then we drove and drove and drove. Our camping stove was out of fuel, so we had to stop at a gas station for dinner that didn't have to be heated (carrot sticks and sandwich ingredients). The sun started to go down and we were still an hour away from Yosemite, and again we hadn't reserved a campsite, so we pulled off on a side road, and slept in our car.

We woke up with the sunrise, and drove to Yosemite. It was distinctly more familiar looking than the rest of the National Parks we had been to. There were mountains, pine trees, lots of green. We sneaked into a campground, filled up our water bottles, and tried to clean ourselves in the sinks, our first "shower" in about five days.

We found this giant fungus in Yosemite! Shout out to Muhammad, do you know what this is? Chicken of the Woods?

After driving through Yosemite, we drove to San Francisco, and that was another several hours in the car. By that time, I was really sick of being in the car. We stayed the night with Paul's brother and his fiance, and went out to some amazing Indian food, the first non-camping food we'd had since our New Mexican breakfast after Balloon Fiesta. I don't have any pictures because my camera had died by that point, and while I had the charger with me somewhere, our car was an absolute disaster. We woke up in the morning and then drove home to Eugene, another 10 hours in the car. We had listened to our downloaded Spotify playlist too many times, we had gone through all of our downloaded podcasts, and so, to pass the time, I read Paul a book out loud. It actually helped with my carsickness, to read out loud and focus on something. I read him The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, which is a beautiful and heartbreaking book that I had finished myself a few days earlier. We stopped only for milkshakes in Yreka, on the California/Oregon border. We got home to Eugene right at sunset, and I took a bath, and fell asleep.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

North Bend Part 2

Yesterday I returned home after three nights in North Bend with my best friend Sam. The last blog post I did was also about North Bend, when I went to help her move in, and I promise I've actually done some pretty interesting things in between, but this is what I took pictures of. I got there Wednesday afternoon and we went on a nice hike through the estuary, which had these interesting raised wooden platform pathways through all the marshy land.  

Does anyone have an explanation for the crab massacre I found on the side of a hill in the estuary? The crabs were tiny, very dead, and literally everywhere.  

We walked Sam's dog, Sprinkles, at sunrise, and it was unreal. For all the difficulties of living somewhere so unlike Eugene, Sam does live about four blocks from the bay, which makes up for a lot.

Another great thing about North Bend is that Sam has a very cute apartment filled with very cute things. 

On Thursday, three bicycle tourists came to stay with us through the website Warm Showers, which is this place where bike tourists looking for a warm place to sleep connect with hosts who offer up their homes. Sam's done some bike touring herself, and has been a Warm Showers host for years. We had three people, Tom, Marta, and Mattia, all biking south, having started in Canada. Marta and Mattia, from Portugal and Italy, were a couple biking down to San Diego, and Tom, from the UK, was biking all the way to the bottom of Argentina. We cooked all our meals as a big group, chatted a lot, and even did some yoga together. It felt a little like summer camp, all cramped in the living room, but in a pleasant way. They were incredibly warm people and I'm glad to have met them. Then on Saturday, we had a big American breakfast at a diner (very exciting stuff for non-Americans: they all tried maple syrup and we had to explain what biscuits were), and they were on their way again.

Tomorrow the new school year starts, which means my job working on campus as a transcriber starts again. And next week I'm going on an epic road trip through the Southwest, so I will definitely blog that. I've been really happy lately, and surrounding myself with interesting people has played a big role. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

North Bend

This weekend, I accompanied my best friend Sam on a spontaneous 24 hour vacation to North Bend, where she is moving for the year. She needed to move some of her stuff from Eugene to her new apartment in her new car, but her car is a stick shift, and she's just learning how to drive stick. So I came along for emotional support. North Bend is a tiny town on the coast about 2 hours away from Eugene, right down the road from a slightly larger town, Coos Bay. I'm sad she's leaving, for selfish reasons, but I also think she's going to love living on the coast and it's for a really good opportunity. Plus we talk on the phone about once a day anyway, even when she's only one mile away! So I imagine with two hours between us, there will be lots of phone calls. Also, two hours isn't all that far to drive when it involves your best friend and the beach. Sam, her dog Sprinkles, and I had a very nice mini vacation. We drove down, unpacked the carload of her stuff, ate lunch on the floor of her new apartment, went on a nice hike along the coast, saw a whale, drank beer, cooked some frozen pizzas, and did a very difficult puzzle until we fell asleep in our sleeping bags in the middle of the living room's empty floor. Then we woke up early and she drove me back to Eugene so I could go to work.

One of my favorite parts of the trip, and apparently the only part I took any pictures of, was Shore Acres State Park, which is a botanical garden off the hiking trail to Cape Arago. It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I couldn't believe it. It was this crazy, lovely manicured garden, all fenced in. From the outside all you could see was a tall fence and then some trees, right in the middle of the forest on the edge of the coast, and I almost didn't go in because I didn't think there would be anything interesting inside. 

Within the park, there was a greenhouse with some really funky plants I had never seen before. I was obsessed with all the colors.

I don't know the official term for this type of flower, but I call them dancing ladies.

Probably my favorite part of the whole garden was the section with all the roses. I didn't even think I was that big a fan of roses, but I am now. I've never seen roses like this; they didn't look real. This post took a lot of restraint, because I took over 100 pictures of roses and I pared it down to 4. Some of my favorite varieties had names like Cinco de Mayo and Hot Cocoa.

This trip made me feel a lot like an adult. My best friend moved away, and I helped her pack and helped her settle in. We went on a 24 hour road trip and I was back for work the next morning. My other best friend Muhammad also moved recently, all the way to Wisconsin for the next five years for grad school. But we talked on Skype this week for four hours and he gave me a Google Maps tour of his new neighborhood, because technology is amazing! I don't have a lot of close friends, but the ones I do have, I love very much. I felt like an adult this weekend because we got a lot of stuff done on our little trip to the coast. I felt like an adult because I feel like I am handling the moves of my two best friends within two weeks pretty well. Because I know that it's not goodbye. It's see you later when I come to visit, and when we talk on the phone tomorrow. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Oregon Country Fair

On Sunday, I went to the Oregon County Fair for the first time. I've lived in Eugene for five years, and this was my first time going, and I'm sad it took me so long. I've generally always worked weekends and haven't had time before. But I took the day off specifically so I could go, because Paul was volunteering there, at the native edible plants information booth.

The Oregon Country Fair is indescribable. It's set on 280 acres in Veneta, about 30 minutes away from Eugene. It started in 1969, and in 1972 hosted The Grateful Dead as a fundraiser for Nancy's Yogurt which is run by Ken Kesey's family. It's the mecca of counterculture.  

 About 45,000 people come a year.  It's huge! I've been to other festivals, like Sasquatch, renaissance fairs, and Faerieworlds, but this was on another level.  Paul and I wandered around for several hours, but when we looked at the map, we had only looped through 1/4 of the fair.  I heard someone say that walking through the whole fair one way was 3 miles of walking. And when you spend eight hours there, and you do a lot of going back and forth, like Paul and I did, that's a lot of walking.

It's really combination of a lot of things. There were hundreds of craft booths, selling everything from jewelry to handmade soap to puppets. There was a lot of delicious food; Paul and I had beignets, a chalupa, and Ethiopian food.  There were also informational booths, like the plant booth Paul volunteered at, where they gave some public talks. Lots of booths had these tree house like structures built on top of them, where the workers camped out. It was insane. It was like a whole two story city built into the middle of the forest. Then there were about 14 stages scattered throughout where they performed music, acrobatics, and just about everything else.  Paul and I saw a really interesting mime/dance performance where someone swallowed a sword. There were also little yurts and tents set up everywhere for hula hooping, juggling lessons, yoga, and a dance floor.  There were also all of these big interactive art installations, like the giant hummingbird made of plastic bottles filled with different colored liquid, a giant globe, and a big maze of colored ribbon to run through.

  Some people went just because it was a thing to do on the weekend. Some people's whole year revolves around the fair. There were old people, young people, families, naked people, people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. And everyone was happy. An acrobat took the microphone in the middle of their performance and gave an impassioned speech about Bernie Sanders. Paul and I, while in line for food, befriended a cattle farmer who had been a vegetarian for 34 years. People were always waving at you saying "happy fair!" When we ran into friends, they asked us, "how's your fair?" because it's not just an event you go to, it's an experience in itself, not how's the fair, but how's your fair. I think that's really beautiful.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Doris Lake

Paul and I have been really busy lately, as he works full time and I just got a second job. It's also been really hot; the little animation on the weather app on my phone has not been a sun, but a danger symbol, for over a week. Also, recently at the REI garage sale, I purchased a backpacking backpack for 70% off. All of these factors together, plus getting the weekend off, meant we were going backpacking, to Doris Lake in the Deschutes National Forest. We parked our car at the trail head and hiked for about an hour and 20 minutes until we reached the lake. You'll notice my clean feet in the picture above, before we started hiking.

And after.

The first thing we did when we got to the lake was swim around for a while. That was nice, but I was the most excited about all the critters I saw. Then we set up our camp. Doris Lake had a little peninsula that jutted out a little bit into the lake, and we decided that was the prime spot for camping. It was awesome to be completely in the middle of nature by ourselves. When we first started swimming, there was a family there too, but they left eventually. And we saw a tent set up across the lake, but the lake was so huge, it was as if we were alone. This actually wasn't my first time backpacking. We went once about a year and a half ago, where we had to snow shoe into our camp, but it was freezing, I strained my hip, and I had a panic attack where I cried hysterically about Ted Bundy coming to get us all night. So this was much more successful! 

My favorite part about this trip hands down was relaxing in the hammock. My mom got us this two person hammock for Christmas two years ago, and while Paul's used it a few times, this was my first time getting to use it, and it was awesome.

How unreal is the view from inside our tent? Oregon is the best state. Also the best, reading while camping. I was reading The Motorcycle Diaries and Paul was reading Bel Canto.

This was a very short little trip. We had planned to spend two nights but ended up only staying one. We both woke up the first morning feeling a little ill, and the combination of the mosquitoes and worrying about how our cats would handle the 4th of July fireworks without us, in addition to the concern that we might wake up the next morning feeling even worse (we were right), we decided to hike back to the car around 3 in the afternoon, and then drive home. But we had a glorious little 36 hour getaway.