Wednesday, July 29, 2009

All through the night

One thing about driving the great distances over here is that I get to listen to a lot of radio - and as you know I've found a station that plays nuthin' but 80's ALL THE TIME! One song has come back to me that has struck home more than most I haven't heard since those halcyon days...

Cyndi Laupers "All through the Night" is a great driving song... though it tends to make me too contemplative. I remember as kids you were either a Cyndi fan or Madonna fan... needless to say I was in Cyndi's camp.

As we drive theres more music though, a lot more (its amazing how much hair-metal there was in the 80's!)... passing the time... thoughts and memories as our little car segues from hour to hour, day to night and state to state, grinding away the miles through flat praries, deserts and stunning mountainscapes. Past bustling towns, abandoned gas stations, properous farms and desperate homeless...

Seeing things we may never see again and in a way we definately wont be able to again, with a wonderful 6 year old and 3 year old.

I wonder if driving this country is much different to what it would have been like if we were listening to these 80's songs when they were new, and I wonder what will be here for my lovely daughters to see if they should come this way again. Will they remember any of this? I hope so, I'd like to think that some of the wonderful memories they're helping me build will also be there for them.

This trip was always about more than just discovering America, its more about discovering our daughters and hopefully letting them discover a little more about us. Its going by fast, but as Cyndi sings "Until it ends there is no end..."


Its becoming obvious to me that eating well in the U.S. when you're travelling is an impossability... it all came to a head in the Nebraskan town of Alliance which we dragged our road weary feet into late in the evening after hopping all over South Dakota and Nebraska... we snuck up and down the main drag looking for a nice looking restaurant only to be greeted by hamburger grill after steak house after hot dog stand (which I know I should be writing more about but I'll get around to it...). We finally decided to hell with it and at least we'd have an experience by pulling up to an old style, neon draped road side "drive-up" food stall.
In the late evening summer glow with a glorious sunset behind us you can imagine our suprise to find the menu littered with such healthy looking treats as grean beans, broccolli, cauliflower and baked potatoes! Yumm - a nice heathy snack with a bean burrito to fill the gaps... how bloody wrong can you be.

Never. *!NEVER!* in my life have I had a meal that was totally deep fried... but thats changed now (if you can call it had). The meal arrived eventually in a series of suspiciously greasy and see-thru white paper bags. Burrito - fried. Green beans - fried. Cauliflower - Fried? Yep? Deep fried cauliflower - and it tastes as good as it sounds. ie. Crap. We made an effort to pick off the fat smothered bread crust but enough was enough... we gave up, leaving behind piles of grease sodden paper bags filled with perfectly good vegies that had been ruined... I'll never knock back a salad again (unless its deep fried that is).

Alliance is a nice town though - it was such a refreshing experience to drive past acre after acre of lush green sprouting corn, alfafa and golden wheat... lets hope our farmers get a break from the drought soon.

From Alliance we trooped onto the city of Cheyenne (pronounced shy-anne) for the biggest wild west celebration and rodeo IN THE COUNTRY! THis was going to be the wild west at its westiest and wildiest. Its a tough town, on the cold high praries... tubleweeds visit in the millions and buffalo used to roam these lands...
Trouble is, those days are gone. There is no real wild west any more, not that one can easily find. Its packaged up in easy to digest servings in themed family restaraunts and glizty expensive country and western stage shows... I think the real wild west might still be out there, riding fences and camping rough, but its not anywhere we'll find in a guildbook or festival or historic town.
Which is why Cheyenne felt a bit like the royal Canberra show - but with a smaller side show alley and no stunt cars (stunt horses sure - but they're not as fast nor dangerous). The rodeo though - when we got to it was good fun to watch, the bull riding is very exciting, the crowd all get to their feet and roar as the rider approaches the 8 second mark of being thrown around like a stick of celery in a blender - until we started wondering about the animals' (and the riders!) welfare. Some of them get pretty beaten (particularly one rider knocked out cold) around, and the wild horse race is a threat to life and limb for ALL involved, so many tough cowboys strewn over the field - and I dont think they're known for milking a penalty... The locals are very friendly though and the rodeo - I'm told - is the best outdoor rodeo in the US.

One thing that we all though was pretty good was a HUGE free pancake breakfast the town puts on for all comers. In two hours they serve 11,000 PEOPLE, mixed in a concrete truck mixer and cooked on huge bbqs. It was all over too soon though - we got served in record time, wolfed them down and then we hustled away as downtown Cheyenne quickly reverted back to its standard quiet and lonesome status. I kept waiting for the tubleweeds. Some poor local soul had scrawled, in obvious frustration on the window of a failed business "WYOMING SUCKS". I dont think thats true, Wyoming is an amazing place, from rugged peaks to sweeping praries to bone dry desert and dry rusting railcar after railcar this IS an interesting and engaging place, built upon the sweat and fading photographs of those who came before by foot, wagon or steamtrain - but the strain of trying to live the wild west dream after its long gone would be a tough life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Something more sinister

In the vast landscape of my childhood fears, there was one dark obelisk that haunted my dreams more than any other. Out past the backlots where ghostly fire engines and demonic vacuum cleaners lay rusting... out far over the horizon, distant, hazy, so far away that I rarely worried about it, yet so impossibly large that its gravity would affect my dreams, lay the place I visited today.

The flat, grassy and welcoming plains of South Dakota. Flush with wildlife, farmers, small towns and friendly faces. Even in my childhood though I knew that under these plains lay slumbering titans whose awakened fist would crush the world. Minuteman Missiles.

I used to imagine what it would be like to live out here. Whether you would wonder about them being here at all... worry about seeing them leap into the sky, a smokey rumbling lance of impending and unstoppable doom...

We visited the sites where these slumbering titans used to lie today. It was not as I expected. There is no menace here. No lingering evil nor sense of what might have started here... A simple fibro shack with a few rooms connected to a remote silo where two bored Air Force personnel would while away the "hours of boredom between seconds of sheer panic". It all seemed a bit... less threatening now. After the SALT agreement in the early 90s they were dismantled and most of the silos destroyed. One was left open to the public, but after seeing the mundane control room I saw no need to visit that. My fears were banished.

I thought how the world had changed and that children now dont have to watch films like Threads or The Day After in school and live with the constant possibility of nuclear war... How much nicer to not have that constant fear. To only have to worry about sex, meth, marks, uni scores, house prices, the global financial meltdown, the ashes...

As we were walking out of the builing a movie on the project was finishing up. It concluded with the cheery message that although the minuteman silos have been abandoned the project lives on with the minuteman III, now "in the field 'til at least 2050..."

That dark obelisk on the horizons foundation's are slowly being laid again...

The things you can do in a day...

Its amazing the things you can see in a day when you get motivated... well, maybe not motivated... maybe more crazy. For some stupid reason we decided to bugger all our plans to hell, jump in the car and "zoom" across the whole state of Wyoming so we could see a mountain with four dudes faces on it (where do I put the possesive apostrophe on that?).

Being the aesthetic that I am I choose the most scenic (and painfully long) route , out of yellowstone up the beartooth highway, up over amazing alpine meadows and lakes, down through hair raising switchbacks and mind numbing roadworks. The views up on the pass are stunning, this is what I thought Yellowstone might be like, but here at least I got to see the grandeur that that the area is known for. We also became VERY well aquainted with some less scenic parts of the road as we dawdled along behind trucks or were made to wait interminably by malicious and EVIL road workers (to whom I hold no grudge - or not much of one)

Its about then, after 4 hours on the road and a 3rd of the distance covered that I began to think... "Now hey, its all well and good to be crazy and impulsive but I have to do this driving..." I actually DID start to act like Clark Griswold, urging th family on at every stop "we have to keep going!" I ended up in a crazed trance like state behind the wheel, determined to everything in my power to get those miles down as quickly as possible. I actually was greatful for the wide and welcoming lanes of the interstate for once!

It was worth it though. Only some 8 hours after leaving yellowstone the huge plinth of Devils Tower rose into view. Its pretty bloody cool to see it look exactly as it did in one of my favourite episodes of the goodies (about 2:30 in). It might also have been in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. After a brief walk around the tower to take it all in and look for that hidden military base we struck onwards towards Deadwood, and all its glitzy Casino filled glory. Its the old west as it really used to be, if the old west was crammed with poker machines, casinos owned by Kevin Costner and cheap buffet meals... the buffet was pretty good though! (The meal that is, the town is worth driving though though - its pretty on the outside...)

Next morning was off to Mount Rushmore, its exactly the size I thought it would be. The four figures inscribed upon it actually do instill a feeling of respect, even for an outsider like me. The information boards as you walk around outlining why each Pres is there and his greatest achievements make you realise what an impact these men had on their country, and really, to the rest of the world as well. (I doubt Saint Kevin will be inscribed on any mountain any time soon - put it that way).

While chatting to a lovely lady from Minnesota we got caught up in YET ANOTHER stupid decision - to hop in the car and zoom to the very close (on the map) Black Hills National Park... it was only an hour and a half out of our way. It was worth it though, stunning and strange twisted magical sandcastles in the afternoon light, prarie dogs popping up and down like a game of wack-a-mole and ramrod strait dirt roads flying off into the distance with a lone car raising a trail like a lone rider in the days of the Pony Express. This was wide open country, nothing to blemish the green sweep to the horizon but the occasional farm, haystack, and... something more sinister lurking under the thin soil...

We then struck out south into Nebraska, where our second huge day-on-the-run ended with sunset at a most strange monument. Carhenge... a wonderful recreation of stonehenge in all its mystery and grandeur but made out of cars. But this one was better than the original, as you can WALK RIGHT UP AND TOUCH IT! Take that U.K. National Trust and your stupid rules...

We now rest easy in the quiet and pleasant middle of nowhere town of Alliance. I wont be making any more last minute decisions though. The things you can see in a day are amazing, but the petrol costs are killing me!

Yellowstone National Park

Shortly after we arrived at Yellowstone, a lightening storm hit us forming a striking setting for some shots of the white thermal terraces against the dark grey sky. Between showers we managed to get the tent up, see some impressive lava lined gorges, breathtaking waterfalls and have Jue cook a delicious meal over the fire. Jamila had "the best day ever" on her birthday. She had a party with her toys near the lake, a wander around deep springs, licked chocolate icecream at the Old Faithful Inn (stunning log lodge) and saw old Faithful geyser blow it's top - "It's saying happy birthday to you Jammy!" To finish up, spotting a couple of bears in the wild (a black and grizzly) made for a perfect day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Missoula Summer Saturday

It's rest day between camping. Jue has checked us in to a nice hotel, we've showered, washed clothes and the girls have watched way too much Sponge Bob Square Pants on cable television. We're keen to see what this town has to offer but it's 97 degrees Fahrenheit outside - so we just do what everyone else is doing... and that's toobin' down the river.

The water is cooling beers and the edge is busy with tatooed teenagers smoking, swearing and spitting. Groups head off with eskies tied to their inner tubes. After we've refreshed ourselves (looking out of place in our sun cancer aware get up) we are ready for the next National Park.

Ricky Ponting you bloody rippa!

Just when I'm in danger of being totally brainwashed by American culture, food and cars, Ricky comes along to remind me JUST what it means to be an Australian! Bloody oath he does! No matter where I am in the world I can rest easy knowing that there is always a little piece of Australia , a cultural touchstone and SOLID WAKE UP CALL that says "MATE! THIS IS HOW WE DO IT IN AUSTRALIA!!!"

Apparently how we do it is to bitch and moan and act in an unsportsman like manner on "sportsmans day" at the ashes... I thought it might take until at least the 3rd test this time around - but he's gone beyond even my wildest hopes and dreams by starting his brilliant whinging form with the first test and continuing on well into the second - and that's just for starters! I can't wait until England start winding him up with that old substitute fielders trick of his or how he'll react when Rudi Koertzen is named man of the series. I just wish I could be at work so I could send out inflammatory emails calling for his dropping for the 3rd test along with Mitch J... except this time they wouldn't be inflammatory - more likely just a statement of plain fact - am I right!? Still - he hasn't been this entertaining since that transsexual knocked him out in front of the 'Bourbon in Kings Cross... Happy times.

As for the U.S. well, apart from being distracted by the Ashes, and trying to work out just what the hell time it is in the UK, we're getting ready for Jamila's birthday which will be in Yellowstone National Park on the 20th. I've arranged to have the park closed so we can hold a private party for just her and the animals. Should be a real treat.

We've also been a little humbled by just how big some mountains over here can be - we took the drive of our life in Glacier National Park, and as Lib was constantly reminding me as we struggled up the crumbling goat track named the Going-to-the-sun-road, it could well have also been the last... imagine the road out to the cotter river. Now make it about 2/3rds of the width it is. Now imagine pinning it to the side of a cliff with the skill of a drunken Australian Cricket Captain circa 1978 on a Qantas flight to the UK (not the sober whinging type they have now)... NOW imagine filling it with oversized "utes" driven by slack jawed yeeehaws looking up at the snow instead of at the damn road and you have an idea of what driving this road is like. Sheer drop one side to certain death, craggy sharp teethlike wall on the other just waiting to chew up your precious hire car and spit you out with a massive excess payment in US dollars...

And despite all that I'd do it again in an instant. We actually have done it twice already anyhow... The road might be tough but the views... the wildlife... is just stunning. Mountains, realt sharp mountains you can touch... that have a peak. Not like those try hard hill-upon-hill things we have back home. There's waterfalls, not just one or two - but hundreds of global warming-glacial melting thunderous falls exploding from every crevace and overhang. There are hidden lakes, grizzleys and mountain lions (we of course didn't see any, but being an Australian I'm glad of that - I'm sure these yanks would all expect us to wrestle it to the ground and then parade it around for everyone to gawk at...). I suspect the rangers they have over here *could* wrestle a grizzly - but would choose not to out of respect. The rangers we've met are all very cool, and have such wildly varying backgrounds as education, geology, biology and ice-cave and igloo building. That variety really goes towards making a visit to any park over here so interesting... talk to any ranger and you'll get a different viewpoint/piece of new information on any given subject... its all so... enlightening! Which is a pain, this is a holiday - we SHOULD NOT be learning ANYTHING.

It more than makes up for every strip mall and cluster of foul take away that besets you when you even think about visiting a city (except Seattle - which I really do still like). Its big. It FEELS big. Its not as old as Australia, but it FEELS old. You can see the geology here. You can see where glaciers slowly tore their way through this landscape, where tectonic activity thrust these giants upward out of the flat prarie... it... has impact.

But no hot dogs.


Monday, July 13, 2009

The lamp post.

The North Cascades are one of the last great wilderness areas of the lower 48 states, sure a highway runs through the middle of it - but to the north and south of that highway are huge, impenitrable tracts of high high peaks and hidden valleys, and incredibly, over 300 glaciers... after summer the air grows cooler, the tourists drift away, and the huge amount of snow and diminishing returns on clearing the road close the highway for 8 months of the year. No one gets in here then, no one... leaving the wild mountains and valleys to only the wildlife...
But even in the heart of the wilderness, America throws up the occasional architechtural treat. Diablo dam was built in the early part of last century to help power the city of Seattle, its completion in the 1920s leaves it with some very nice art deco touches - my favourite being these totally out of place lamp posts that line the top of the dam, delivering their soft glow into the cold wilderness every evening at dusk, a string of lights in the middle of the wild dark...

Of course its not that wild, well not the part we visited anyhoo... Lib and I had some nice beers and hot dogs and the girls snacked on marshmallows and chocolate chip cookies just 6 miles down the road in the company town of Newhalem - and it *is* a company town - the only people that live their work for the utility company. Its kinda quaint, antiquated and also nostalgic at the same time - they're a dying breed.

And speaking of beer, I reckon the poor old US has been given a bum rap over the quality of their brews. I've had some very nice times, relaxing in our campgrounds, listening the the happy cry of nearby kids or the rush of a glacier fed river while sipping a local brew. That said, dont try any of the mainstream stuff (Miller, Budweiser, Coors) that stuff is ABSOLUTE RUBBISH and they deserve all the bashing they get.

One thing that deserves kudos though is the camping system and facilities over here, there's been literally hundreds of campgrounds we've passed with a wistful look wishing we had longer to stay and experience them, a lot with rangers in attendance who would give nightly informative talks around a campfire while sleeping bag snuggled families listen on... we dont really get that in Australia to the extent it is over here.. like New Zealand, the yanks really know how to make the most of their outdoors. Must be why we love it so much over here.

Its not all wilderness though, one of my favourite parts of our stay in Seattle was a trip underground, to the old forgotten parts of the city, abandonded after the city was rebuilt in the early 1900's after a disaterous fire. To rise above the tidal flats (and the associated problems they had with sewerage!) a series of sea walls were built, and the city roads all raised by 12 to 30 feet on landfill and stone walls. Thats right - the road only... the buildings weren't raised, you can imagine the difficulties this led to with horses and drunkards falling to their doom almost daily... finally at the completion of the plan, sidewalks were built from the roads to the edge of every building, much like a bridge, leaving what was the ground floor now a basement and the space below the sidewalk an empty hollow... what an exciting place to explore! We loved it - the corridors are thick with ageing detritus from times past, ancient graffiti insulting long dead sailors, huge rusting cogs, pumps and cables from disused and dismembered utility machinery... theres ghost stories, bordello stories, black market and crime stories, hot-dog stories - but you'll have to experience it for yourself if you ever get here...

One last thing -its our wonderful little nephew Louis' birthday today - HAPPY BIRTHDAY LOUIS! We all hope you have a wonderful day - here's a picture of Jammy with a squirrel! Did you see any when you were in America? Did you see any chipmunks too? Jammy and Lucy love squirrels and chipmunks. They wish they could give you a hug today but instead say "we love you LOUIS!"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

That gum you like is going to come back into style...

Twin Peaks was a real love of both Lib and mine for a long time, and it was one of those things we had in common to chat about when we were first getting to know each other. So it was wonderful to finally get to see some of the places it was filmed in over 20 years ago, and reminisce about the show and ourselves - time flies eh? It was an amazing program and was really for me the first "must see" television, and pretty much the only one until X-Files and Lost. Twin Peaks was a wonderful mix of nostalgia, horror, the wonderfully mysterious and the askew that came together in a brutal fashion in what I still consider to be the most powerful pieces of television footage ever shown ushered in by the "giant" and one of his mysterios clues coming true: "it is happening again", we won't spoil just *what* was happening again... I haven't linked to the full scene though as its a little *too* brutal... (you can always borrow our DVDs and experience it yourself!)

We saw the famous Snoqualmie Falls, the Great Northern Lodge (just above the falls), and the RR cafe which is in the town of North Bend... it all looks just like it did in the series, and is a great place to visit in person to boot.

The scenery in Washington is amazing, Lib has already mentioned just how dominant Rainier is, but also the surrounding areas and even Seattle itself is quite beautiful - this would be a great place to live if you didn't mind the fact that it rained for half the year... actually coming from Australia in drought that might not be such a bad experience either...

Leaving Seattle we passed into the beautiful Northern Cascades, huge moutainous chunks of rock piercing the sky, even now some parts still blanketed in snow... Lucy and Jammy were real troopers and marched their way all up a trail to the snow to make snowballs and snowmen... we had beautiful weather, glorious sun, a warm breeze, and freezing cold snow to slip and slide about on like a bunch of no-hopers...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Multiple Moments

Praise the Lord! It's happened! I've been anticipating that I will have an ultimate experience while I'm over here - but, so soon!!!! No, I'm not talking about that! I'm talking about several days of me saying to Jue, "Been there, done that"..that has lead up to......TONIGHT. I've absolutely loved seeing Waikiki, San Francisco, The Redwoods, Crater Lake and the Interstate Hwy but I have seen it before. I've even been to the awesome display of force and distruction at Mount St. Helens before. I was impressed seeing where green had replaced grey. However, it was only 8 years after the 'event' when I last saw it, so a sick part of me took pride in the fact that,"I've seen it worse." Once again I went to Mount Rainier national park and once again found it covered in cloud. But tonight for the first time on this trip my jaw has dropped impulsively with an outburst of "OH MY GOODNESS" not once,.. twice!

Firstly, after going on a underground city tour of Seattle and getting $1 discount to go up the Smith Tower, I was standing on the observation deck checking out the sights from the road below up to the horizon. I glanced up to the sky......AND I SAW IT, the top of Mount Rainier. It dominates the skyline, it's as far away as Marulan is from Canberra, and it is STILL MASSIVE. No photo can do justice to first hand eye witness nor the deep sense of gratitude felt by seeing such an enormous volcano.

Secondly, we saw a ball game, we saw a home run, we saw the Mariners win, we sucked up the 4th of July x 1000 atmosphere and went nuts with the rest of the stadium and OH MY GOODNESS we got it all for free! After rejecting the purchase of $22 tickets just to watch the last half hour or so, Jue got talking to security officer Kelly. One thing lead to another and we got in. The girls were also given a stash of stuff including a certificate for first time attendence at a baseball game. Just like a photo, no words of mine could do justice to the high we all had tonight.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Comments... and on the road

Apparently comments somehow got turned off, so for you thousands out there just gagging to comment on our travels you're now at liberty to do so...

After the success of Crater Lake we decided to make a double header of it and head right off to another volcano... this time Mount St Helens... far to the north and over the boarder in the state of Washington. We had a lot of miles to cover so I roused the gang early and asked them to make me some damn breakfast... that didn't really go according to plan so I got up and got some breakfast myself... ingrates.

When you've got a lot of miles to cover by car theres really only one way to go here in the states, and thats by interstate. Zipping along on 2,3,4 or more lanes at 70 miles an hour and over. Its fast, flat but far from fun...

The only fun to be had is looking at the blue information signs that start pop up as you near every major cross road showing every interesting fast food joint with names like Arbys and Carls Jnr.... I have no idea what these places sell but feel it would be interesting to find out sometime... in the same way that it would be interesting to find out how it would be to loose a finger... The fast food places swarm like gnats around these glowing intersections of commerce as the Interstate passes high above. The only sign we have from the car that theres any habitation nearby is the gangle of neon fast food signs jutting up on their long rusting legs.

Apart from this the interstate seems to have been designed to remove any possible driver distraction and all evidence of habitation while you drive... for mile after dangerously speeding mile all that be seen is the flat farming plains, truck after truck and the occasion strange twisting form of a willy willy tossing a frustrated farmers freshly cut hay hundres of meters into the air in some strange juggling game. Every town is either passed way over or hidden behind high sound walls.

Off the interstate though things get much more interesting. You can take any road, go in any direction and I bet that within five miles you'll come across some interesting new small town, with a colourful and intersting (though short) mainstreet with a bank, petrol station, pizza joint and a waetherboard bar, with ubiquitous neon COORS and OPEN signs flashing in the window. These towns are everywhere... in Australia even in the populated areas you sometimes have to drive for hours just to bo so bitterly dissapointed to find out the next town is Dubbo or Bungendore... but these small towns are the kind of place you just wish you had a few more moments to explore, or to talk with some of the locals.

But no, the svelte and sexy interstate with its sevently mile an hour allure is calling... and when you've so much ground to cover that 70 miles an hour helps make up for any missed opportunities... and there's always next time... right?


I've been to a fair few impressive volcanoes... not surprising when you love N.Z. as much as we do... but nothing could really prepare me for how incredible Crater Lake is... Lib has often commented how its one of the things that really stuck in her mind from her last trip - 21 years ago.

I would "oh okay" and "yeah yeah" and "hmmm, really?" to all her waxing lyrical about it. Its just another mountain right?... right? Well no, not really. Its a big mountain. Its a big mountain with no top. Its a big mountain with no top, no middle either and a huge, HUGE deep DEEP lake of the purest blue filling its explosivly removed heart.

Seeing it on a sunny day like we did was a stroke of genius on my behalf, and great planning, as shadows play across the rim and the sun strikes deep into the depths of the lake.

There's a lovely road that travels right around the rim of the crater providing amazing views... my favourite, interestingly enough, was not into the canyon but away from it, to the north. A huge forest expanding out towards the horizon with the occasional starry dollop of rock in the form of a huge and craggy mountain. The spaces out here are huge... and for the first time they *feel* huge. Here is the America of my childhood imagination writ large in the font of the U.S. State Parks Service and painted with the pallette of an old episode of Lassie...

We camped nearby, as I'm a cheap bastard at heart and didn't want to shell out $250US for a room for the night in an amazing lodge up on the crater rim... I almost regret that... but the fun the kids had identifying all the different types of biting insects at the campground more than made up for it.

I also made a stunning discovery - our car has *sattelite radio*! Its amazing! Now I can do the whole road trip never having to change CDs again as I've found the station of my dreams... all 80's all the time 24/7 everywhere in the US. The only downside is it seem so be interrupted by any passing planes, cars, telegraph poles, trees lights, buildings or excessive road markings...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Thats no moon...

... actually it is. Its Endor, or more precisely the moon of Endor sight of a famous battle in Return of the Jedi. It was filmer right near where we're staying in the Redwoods State park. We had the girls keeping a keen eye out for any Ewoks so I could brain them and castigate them for taking the rightful place of the Wookies in the original script for the film (how much cooler would Wookies have been! than these little pests?!)

Today was a lazy day - Jammy spent some time with Libby on her schoolwork and Lucy and I took in the local strip clubs, dive bars and crack joints. It was a helluva day, and it sure is nice of the local sherrif to let me write in my cell, and have a cot in here for Lucy too - right hospitable!

I can hear the mournful toll of the fog horn from the harbour outside the window this evening. I heard it last night as well... all night.

Normally that continuous, precise type of noise is just the type to send me right of my rocker, like a ticking clock, a dripping tap, some annoying insect or the bass from some infernal party just on the edge of hearing... but this... wasn't so bad. I lay awake and thought about the thousands of boats who have passed out of this harbour, of the few who would have found their way back only by that distant toll through the thick fog, and for the few who would never have heard it again, lost on the sea. I thought about bout how, in this part of the world, that sound is as comforting to some as a home lighthouse is to others after a long stint on the sea... and here - unlike most any other place I've been, the sea is in the lifeblood of the town, a real and everpresent beating heart, and a rough and temperamental one at that.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy birthday....

... to CAM! And America apparently. Things are going nuts at the moment. People are yee-haawin' and whoo-hooo'n their heads off. Its a real humdinger of an evening! Picture - if you will - several thousand slightly drunk parents, and their kids, crammed into the marina at Batemans bay, lining the docks yelling and screaming, cussin' and drinking. Pretty interesting? Then pile 'em up - WAAAYYY up with every illegal firework you can imagine and let em go nuts.

Thats pretty much what the evening of the 4th of July's like in Crescent City. Its... an education. It like, I imagine, being in Bagdad during "shock and awe" with all the shock and awe but a slighty reduced fear of imminent death... its bloody crazy, and very fun! Everyone seems to love it and the official fireworks get lost in the groups of youngsters trying to outdo each other with more and more wildly illegal firworks hauled in from Washington state.

4th July is a big deal here - we stopped at a town called Ferndale on our travels North today - and apart from having the best damn burger I've had in a long time, I really noticed the passion people had for the day. From dressing in red white and blue, to parading around town with huge placards proclaiming that big government is the death of freedom, and that "Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing its idiot" - I kid you not -thats a bumper sticker too. Theres beautiful cars parading around and almost every downtown building is done up with bunting and streamers. Was nice to be able to share such a special day with people who found it so important...
...until we got back into the fog that is. The damn cold fog rolls in whenever you even THINK about maybe going close to the ocean. Its dampens the air, chills everything right down, and provides a handy prop for a game we called "guess that official firework" Where several thousand of dollars of fireworks would shoot WAY up into the fog to boom and bluster and leave only a hazy fog induced afterglow of their true self to those watching below...

4th July is of course also Cams birthday - happy birthday Cam from us over here in the states! Lucy - and all of us hope you had a good a day as we did*

*(with less fog)

Blue yonder

Fair dinkum, cities are alright but its out in the wild where America gets really interesting. We're up in redwood country now and this like nothing I've ever seen. Makes you feel small and insignificant standning next to some of these huge trees - now I know how Rich felt growing up with me as a big brother to look up to - just hopelessly outclassed...

Once we were away from the fog of S.F. the sun came out and things really warmed up... it was hot - damn hot. We slouched our sweaty way into out first WalMart (not the amazing experience we were expecting - its like Target or K-mart but without the pizazz but with actually helpful staff...) for our last camping supplies and then chugged down some sugary drinks and our first taste of jack-in-the-box... which was surprisingly pleasant - in a fast food near death fat overdose way.

Then BAM! I was floored, absolutely knocked out by how beautiful redwood country is. Lib LITERALLY had to take control of the car as I passed out from aesthetic overload and ended up "somehow" on the wrong side of the road for some reason. We got to our camp and realised that we were going to have a hard time topping this campsite on our travels as it is amazing... made us (well everyone except me) forget completely about the stupid amout of money we'd spent on camping supplies and carrying the bloody big tent halfway around the world.

We walked, we swam, we ate crappy American mashed potato powder that seems to include only glue powder and no taste, we swam some more, we ate horribly sweet american oatmeal with "real fruit!" blueberries (ingredients oats, sugar, colored flavored dried fig pieces) and we swam some more. The swimming was great. We also swam.

If you ever make it over this way I highly recommend camping in Burlington camp ground in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.. but skip the dried mashed potatoes - they really do suck excruciatingly.

...the swimming is good though.