Friday, October 12, 2012

Part Two: My Epic Road Trip So Far

Now 2,340 kilometres southeast of Vancouver, let me tell you about the second part of my road trip.  A lot has happened since my last post and the epicness has certainly accumulated in that time.  As I write this, I am sitting on the porch of an adobe house in Gallup, New Mexico.  The house belongs to my new friend Phil and it is where I’ve stayed for the week that I’ve spent here in Gallup.  Phil is the boyfriend of my friend Erin, who I knew when I lived here in Gallup, three years ago.  Phil moved here this summer and is a first year teacher here, just like I was.  We’ve had some good discussions about the troubles of being a first year teacher as well as other things and I’ve been blessed to get to know him.
It has been refreshing and relaxing to be back in Gallup.  I’ve fallen in love with the place all over again due to a hike with Erin and Phil in the red rocks, a bike ride with Eryn (with a ‘y’) on the High Desert Trail, attending church at the small but loving church Jolene and I used go to, two lunches at Jerry’s Café for stuffed sopapillas, falling asleep to the sounds of the trains, a visit to my old elementary school, and some good hanging out time with the great people here.  All of this has made Gallup another place that I want to move back to.  Add it to the list.
Let me explain all the adventures I’ve had on the way here.  On day 26, I left Vancouver and took a ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.  On the way, the ferry went through the many mountainous islands between Vancouver and the main island and it was glorious.  From Nanaimo, I drove west towards Tofino and stopped halfway at Sproat Lake Provincial Park.  In the morning, in the rain, I drove the rest of the way to Tofino.  And this drive will vie for the best dive of the trip.  While the drive through the Fraser River canyon on the way to Vancouver was super beautiful, this drive to Tofino was super fun.   It was all curves, cliffs, and trees; the ideal road to be driving a manual car.  While Tofino seems like a really cool place to be, I didn’t stay very long.  I did stay long enough to visit the Roy Henry Vickers art gallery, eat some good pizza, and see the true west coast for the first time.  Then I drove back down the awesome road, through Nanaimo, to Victoria.
Victoria is a beautiful city with all kinds of aboriginal art, water planes taking off and landing in the harbour, lovely government buildings, and the smell of marijuana never too far away.  But I had to cut my stay in Victoria short, unfortunately, because I discovered that the ferry from there to Washington State, my original plan, was all booked up.  Instead, I took a ferry back to Vancouver, crossed the border, and then drove south (Yay, not west anymore) to Seattle.  My next destination was Portland, Oregon to see my friend Roman, and I had planned to drive there straight from Victoria.  So a stop in Seattle was unexpected and I was glad for the chance to see a bit of another major city.  In the morning, on day 29, I visited The Space Needle and the Rock and Roll Museum, no doubt the craziest building I’ve ever seen, and then continued on to Portland to find Roman and his family.
Now Roman, my good friend from Pohang, has lived in Portland for some time, thinks highly of the city, and has shared his opinion on the city a number of times with me and our other Korea friends.  We used to tease him about taking every chance he got to talk up how great Portland was.  So I arrived in Portland with high expectations, curious if it was all Roman made it out to be.  Well, I was nearly convinced after the first day.  Roman lives up this big hill, in a great old house.  After meeting his dad and putting my stuff in the best guest room I’ve ever stayed in, Roman and I went for a walk with his dog Boswell.  Then we drove to Roman’s grad school and talked to some Education grad-school students about our time in Korea.  It was great to reminisce with Roman and share our thoughts with people who were interested in our experience.  Afterwards, I met Roman’s mom and we all went out for dinner.  Now, one of the things Roman had said was so great about Portland was its food.  This first evening we went to a restaurant that serves Paleo food – which I would later learn more about as being food that our Palaeolithic ancestors ate before farming – meaning no grains or dairy, but lots of fruits, vegetables, and meat.  I had a salad burger (a hamburger without the bun mixed into a salad) that was pretty good. 
The next day I learned about the great people of Portland.  Roman and I met his friend Renee, who’s an artist, and we went bouldering (rock climbing without ropes) at a place in town.  For dinner, we picked up Renee’s husband, Brian and went to another great restaurant where I had chicken and waffles… ya, that’s what it was – a really good waffle with really good chicken on top along with a super dipping sauce and maple syrup.  I think it’s a southern thing.  I liked it.  Brian and Renee were fun to get to know and seemed just as enthusiastic about Portland as Roman.  Later, Brian, an artist himself who designs prints for shirts, gave Roman and I some of the extra printed t-shirts that he had gotten for free.  Free t-shirts with cool designs – how sweet is that.
On day 31 Roman showed me what a beautiful place Portland is located in.  We went for a hike near the Columbia River.  What is so cool about the place we hiked in is it is full of waterfalls.  The creeks and streams heading into the river meet the gorge created by the river, becoming numerous, awesome waterfalls.  It was great.  If I hadn’t been convinced about the coolness of Portland by then, hiking in this gorge among these waterfalls surely did.   In the evening we went out for dinner again, this time with some of Roman’s past coworkers.  I forget what I ate but I remember how good the beer was.
Overall, my time with Roman in Portland easily met my expectations and I understand why Roman had so many good stories about it.  He has great parents and it was fun for me to stay in an actual home again.
In the morning of day 32 I headed to the ocean and drove down the Pacific coast, in and out of the fog, trying not to stop for every picturesque view, on Hwy 101.  For the night, I stopped at a campground among sand dunes just south of the town of Florence.  Continuing the next day, I stopped for a car wash put on by high school girls raising money for their volleyball team, bought sourdough bread to serve as breakfast and lunch, and drove into California for the first time.  Not long after crossing the border I was surrounded by the large and looming red woods of the California coast.  I stopped at a hotel in Garberville for the night where, for dinner, I ate the best lasagne I’ve ever had.
Day 34 was the day I drove into San Francisco – a highlight city for me when I was planning my road trip – and I learned two things about the city pretty quickly: 1) The Golden Gate Bridge is much oranger than I thought, and 2) people don’t exaggerate when they talk about San Francisco having steep roads.  In possibly the most embarrassing moments of my life, I stalled my car twice in quick concession driving up one of these steep roads as a guy laughed at me in the car behind.  Grumbling, I drove around looking for a coffee shop with Wi-Fi where I could find a hostel to stay in that night.  Eventually I did find a coffee shop, and I did find a hostel, and I think I was pretty lucky because I think most of the hostels are full most of the time in San Francisco.  As the sun went down I went walking from my hostel downtown to Fisherman’s Warf and then back to Union Square.  I saw a crowd of people on the corner of Powell and Geary and soon could hear that there was a street band playing there.  I joined the crowd and realized how good these guys were.  There was a bass guitarist, an electric guitarist, and a drummer and they were awesome.  I couldn’t stop watching the drummer because of how fast his hands moved.  I stayed for over an hour until they finished playing and the crowd dispersed.  It was an awesome introduction to San Francisco.
Having parked my car in a parking garage, I had until 1:00 to explore as much of the city as I could the next day.  I walked around downtown a little, then to Telegraph Hill and then along the Embarcadero, a historical road and waterfront with forty or more piers where big boats dock and embark from.  I had to boot it to pick up my car in time, but I made it and drove to the west side of the city to walk around Golden Gate Park quickly.  Since I couldn’t book the hostel for two nights, I then head out of San Francisco, drove south past Santa Cruz and Monterey and camped among big trees just outside of Big Sur.  Before I set up my tent, I hustled to the beach in time to catch the sunset.  It was the first one I had seen on the west coast and it was perfect.
By this time, my car was making some interesting sounds and the brakes were squeaking.  So I brought it to a mechanic in Monterey to have it looked at.  And, as mechanics do, he found quite a few things that needed fixing.  It’s true, I probably got hoodwinked a little, but in my defence this was the first time I had taken my car to a mechanic, so I didn’t know much about what needed working on and what didn’t.  Anyway, it took them a day and a half to finish everything and in the meantime I hung around Monterey, read on the beach, and visited the Monterey Aquarium (super awesome).  Feeling better about my car, I drove east, in the afternoon of day 37, toward Stockton, where my friend Jenny lives.  This was another memorable drive, up and over the coastal range and into the hot central valley.  I camped near the San Luis reservoir in an empty campground.  The stars were magnificent.
Jenny is another friend from Pohang who I was excited to hang out with and get to know more.  She lives in Stockton, which doesn’t have the reputation for being a tourist hotspot, but having Jenny show me around let me learn about the city from someone who grew up there.
Jenny and I had a blast.  The first day I was there, Jenny drove me around Stockton showing me her schools and the waterways that flow through the city which connect San Francisco bay with the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.  Then, back home, we made a great dinner.  Jenny has been trying out this Paleo diet since she got back from Korea and has gotten really good at cooking with Paleo recipes.  She made a really good cauliflower fried rice which doesn’t actually have rice in it since Paleo is gluten free.  And in the evening we made pumpkin cookies.
The next day, after going for a swim at Jenny’s gym, we met up with two of her friends, Bobby and Brian, near Sacramento for lunch.  And guess what? We had Korean food.  It was the best Korean food I’ve had outside of Korea so far.  Then Bobby went to work and Brian, Jenny and I picked up a couple of stand up paddle boards (look it up) from REI (where Bobby and Brian work and Jenny used to work).  We headed to a nearby reservoir and spent the afternoon paddling along the surface of the water on these paddle boards.  Super cool.  That night Jenny and her mom made another delicious dinner and we went to bed worn out.
But the fun didn’t end there.  On day 40, Jenny and I drove back west to the Russian River near Santa Rosa.  We met some of Jenny’s friends at a winery and had lunch.  Then everyone took out their blow up water floats (floating chairs, mattresses, and inner tubes) and we hit the river.  The plan was to float from the winery down the river a couple of miles to where we dropped off a car.  And while it was a perfect day for a river float and we were having a great time, we noticed a problem… we weren’t moving very fast.  Turns out, the Russian River doesn’t move very fast, and in the end, were it not for a nice guy in a boat who picked us up at sunset, we might still be out there, cold and hungry.  Good thing we got picked up though.  We made it back alright.  Fun stuff.
It was good to spend time with Jenny and her family.  She has fascinating parents.  Her dad, a really good artist, claims that, since he had back problems when he was younger, he can feel in his back when there is an earthquake somewhere in the ring of fire.  He was having back pains when I was there and the next day he said he looked in the news and found that there was indeed an earthquake somewhere in East Asia.  Crazy eh?
Anyway, on day 41, when Jenny’s generous family had given me all the food and maps that I could stuff into my car, I headed east toward the Sierra Nevadas and… Yosemite.  The next three days would be a big highlight for me on this road trip; I loved Yosemite.  The first night I was there, I found and settled into my campground – Crane Flats.  I also learned that in order for someone to climb up Half Dome, a famous rock dome in Yosemite, they had to register (with a fee) for a lottery to get a permit two days before the planned climb and then they’d hear about if the next day if they were selected to get the permit.  I thought about if it was worth it to try for the permit and I thought, I may as well try, I might not have the chance again.  So the next morning I went early to a camp office and signed up for the lottery.  Then I headed into Yosemite for the first time.  Now Yosemite Valley is probably one of the most famous naturally beautiful places in the world, and, being there, I could totally understand why.  The cliffs of sheer granite rock are mesmerizing.   I hiked the Four Mile trail on the south side of the valley, up to Glacier Point that first day and by the end of the hike, I was in love with the place.  From Glacier Point you get a great view of Half Dome and the whole valley.  It was just gorgeous.  Now, for me going to Yosemite late in the season, as I did, meant that part of the beauty of the valley was missing – some of the creeks that fall off the great cliffs as majestic waterfalls were all dried up by this time of year.  But on the other hand, being in Yosemite at the time I went, also meant that the valley wasn’t as full of people as I could imagine it might be earlier in the summer.   I’m guessing that this also meant that less people signed up for the Half Dome permit lottery, giving me a better chance to get it.
That evening, I hadn’t heard yet if I would be allowed to climb Half Dome the next day or not, so I decided to hike up the other side of the valley, taking the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, regardless.  As it turned out, before I started on this hike, I did hear from the Half Dome permit people and YES, I had gotten a permit.  Hurray!  Now, I knew that the Half Dome hike would be pretty gruelling and long, and I was feeling a little sore from the previous day’s four hour hike, but I had already set my mind on hiking both sides of the valley and I think I’ve always had a desire to push my body’s physical limits, so I decided to still hike the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail that day.  This hike, while really beautiful despite the dried up waterfall, turned out to be the toughest of all three hikes.  It was the steepest of the hikes and it had less shade, which meant the sun was beating down strong for a good chunk of the hike.  But I made it up and down, sore and worried that I would be pushing myself too far with the Half Dome hike, but determined to do three big hikes in three days.
So I got up with the sun the next day eager to hike Half Dome as quickly as I could so that I would have time to drive out of the park and find a campground in the evening.  The trail up to the dome of Half Dome certainly was long, but not as steep as the other two hikes.  And I met a cool guy named Joe on the way.  Joe lives in China and was just back in the States for vacation.  We had a good talk about living in Asia and careers in general.  But then, in the interest of time, I sped up and told him I’d see him at the top.  Then I got to the dome and I realized how much more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge this was going to be for me.  I’m somewhat afraid of heights and even the trail leading up do the dome had steep drop offs on either side.  But I took one step at a time and made it to the climax of the hike – climbing the dome.  To allow non-rock-climbing people to ascend the steep side of the dome, thick cables are bolted into the rock and then slabs of wood are laid across metal posts that hold the cables up to hand height.  A climber scrambles from one slab of wood to the next using mostly their arms to pull them up on the cables.  So, when I had decided that this was my best and maybe only chance to do this, and that I’d never forgive myself if I wimped out now, I joined the line and pulled myself up to the first slab… and then the next… and then next… and soon, if I didn’t look over the steep sides, and I didn’t let my imagination get the best of me, it became easier and easier, and in about a half an hour, I was at the top! The view alone made it totally worth it.   I tried to soak in the beauty while I was up there.  It felt great to be up there.  But then going down that cable ladder was almost scarier than going up it because, being turned around and going backwards, I had my butt hanging out and I wasn’t facing the way I was moving.   But I made it down the ladder and then marched down the mountain without stopping, making it back to the road with a total hike time of 8 ½ hours.  This gave me enough time to pick up some pizza in the valley (which might be the best pizza I’ve ever had, both because of how hungry I was, and also because it’s just really good pizza), and to drive out of Yosemite and find a campsite outside the park but still up in the mountains.  I didn’t realize it when I went to bed that night, but when I woke up freezing with a thick layer of frost all around, packed up as quickly as I could, and took off, I saw a sign that told me I was camping at 9000 feet that night!  So I had a very cold start to day 45.  But, as I drove south on hwy 395, I warmed up eventually and I was downright hot by the end of the day.  I was in the Mojave Desert.  It felt like I covered a lot of ground that day, making it to the town of Mojave by supper time, which is where I stayed the night.
On day 46 I drove to Bellflower, Los Angeles where my great uncle lives, the brother of my grandma, Uncle Clarence.  I don’t remember meeting Uncle Clarence before this but I had heard my grandparents talk about him sometimes.  I didn’t really know what to expect and, as I knocked on his door early in the afternoon, was a little worried that we wouldn’t have very much to talk about.  But I shouldn’t have worried.  I quickly learned that Uncle Clarence has a lot to talk about and conversation came quite easily between us.  I discovered that he certainly has a passion for learning.  He asked me a lot of questions about Korea and my life there, and it was clear that he has quite a bit of understanding about Asian counties and cultures already.  He goes to the library every day and, there, reads a couple of newspapers and sometimes researches topics in encyclopaedias.  In little notebooks, he writes down – I don’t really know what all –but probably the events of the day and the things that he learned.
It was interesting to get to experience how my Uncle Clarence lives.  I enjoyed my time with him for sure.  I found out that he’s somewhat cynical about many parts of society – food being a big one.  He’s a vegetarian and he eats only raw foods, so lots of fruit (everyday I was there, we’d each eat half of a honeydew for breakfast) and lots of bread – cinnamon raison bread to be specific.  I think he told me that he buys and eats something like two to three loves of cinnamon raison bread a week on his own!  But he is flexible because on the third day I was there, after I was all raison breaded out, I bought a veggie pizza and he had a couple slices of it.  So that’s good. 
I didn’t get to see too much of Los Angeles, not that I really had a desire to, but Uncle Clarence and I did drive to the beach on day 47.  He told me a story of how he once owned a sailboat and when sailing one day with a friend, it capsized and they had to be rescued.  I realized then how long he’s been in Los Angeles – over thirty years he told me.  It was good to get to know him; I’m glad I visited.
Then, on day 49, with honeydew in my belly and half a loaf of cinnamon raison bread on the passenger seat for lunch, I headed east for the first time and stopped in at Joshua Tree National Park.  I camped in the Jumbo Rocks campground because the rocks where, indeed, jumbo, and I wanted to climb around on them.  I did this, and soon found myself on top of a pretty big pile of jumbo rocks with no idea of how I would get back down.  I eventually did find a way to scramble down but not after a couple of frantic moments.  It was a beautiful park.
In the morning, I continued east, into Arizona, to the Grand Canyon.  Though I was within a day’s drive of it when I lived in Gallup, I never visited the Grand Canyon when I was here.  So I was glad to get the chance to see it and climb into it on this trip.  The first night I set up my tent and then walked to the rim to get my first glimpse of the canyon.  It sure is huge and no doubt grand.  But my mom, having been to the Grand Canyon before, told me that I couldn’t get a real feel for how big it is until I hiked into it.  So I was excited to do that the next day.  I woke up early eager to see how far I could get down into the canyon.  I took the Bright Angel trail because I could walk to it from my campsite, and was quickly descending into the canyon’s depths.  I wanted to get as far as I could but I also didn’t want to be stupid about it because I knew it would get quite hot and that, every year, many people do have to be rescued for misjudging the climb back up.  So I told myself I’d turn around at 10:15 to be on the safe side.  On my way, I was surprised by how green it is in the canyon.  There’s a whole forest down there that you don’t really notice from the top.  There were signs on the trail that told people not to try to hike all the way to the river and back in one day, but as 10:15 approached, I was down past all the greenery and it seemed like I was getting close to where the river would be.  But the trail was windy as it followed a stream through the rock cliffs, and I couldn’t really tell how far it would be to the river.  So I decided to stick to my time schedule and be happy with the progress I had made.  I turned around and headed back up.  Then at a rest stop where I ate lunch, another guy who had passed me earlier going down the trial now came back up the trail and sat next to me.  I asked him if he had made it to the river and he said that he had.  I told him about how far I had gotten and he told me that it probably would have only been about a ten minute walk from where I turned around to the river.   Aww shucks.  That made me feel kinda disappointed and I was kickin myself later when I made it back out of the canyon and it was only 2:30, which meant I probably could have made it to the river and back in plenty of time.  But oh well.  Next time, I’ll be sure to walk that extra ten minutes and then I’ll feel vindicated.  And anyway, as Robert M. Pirsig says in Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey.  And the journey in and out of the Grand Canyon was pretty awesome.  So much rock.
Looking forward to getting to Gallup, I left the Grand Canyon earlier the next morning and drove through the beautiful Painted Desert of the Hopi Reservation and into familiarity and Gallup.
Thinking about the road trip so far, being relatively mid-way through it, I’m just really glad I decided to do it and happy that I’m still in the middle of it.  It’s been everything I could have hoped it’d be.  And I would have thought that I might be sick of the driving by now, but that hasn’t really happened yet.  Between my music and Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on tape (12 of them in all), I’ve enjoyed the driving quite a bit.  And I’ve had plenty of time to think and pray about the next step in my life and anything else.  I’m grateful I had the chance to do this.  It’s been great and it’s far from being over.


  1. Wow, Mike, what a trip you are having! Memories to savour your whole life long! Paleo food, raw food + raisin bread, interesting food choices. Thanks for posting so we can all enjoy your journey! Love you, Mom

  2. Wow indeed Mike! So cool that you are doing this trip. :)

  3. Wow (I fully agree with how the fist two comments begin), wow, Mike. What a fantastic and interesting road trip. I love your descriptions and enjoy visualizing all your experiences. Thanks for sharing! Drive carefully. Luv yah. Dad

  4. Wow. all the way in and out of the grand canyon by 2:30! How early did you start? Mike you must be in fantastic shape with all that hiking. I remember being pretty exhausted when we got back to the top and we only went as far as indian garden. good for you man, im glad you are getting to see so much of Gods beautiful creation. After you've toured the lower 48 I'll have to get your input on where we (you and I and whoever else) should take Mateo in 9 years for a backpacking trip. Thanks for keeping such detailed notes on your trip so that the rest of us can experience it with you. We love you like the sky.


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