Thursday, May 9, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Part Three: The end.

Wow, my last blog was written in Gallup!  That was like forever-ago! What a lot of road trip I need to cover.  Well, here we go.

After such a wonderful time with friends in Gallup, it was a bit tough to head out on my own again, but I was also excited to get the road trip going again.  Except, at this point in my trip I had two problems: my laptop screen had died, so I needed to fix it or buy another one; and I didn't know where to go!  In planning the trip, I knew I wanted to get to Gallup, but having made it there, I didn't have much of a plan.  I knew I wanted to get to the New Jersey/New York area eventually to visit my friends and sister and brother-in-law, but that was across the country; there was lots to see in between.  There were two possible options along the way: to head towards Florida where my friends Dan and Natasha offered to let me stay in a home of theirs, or to visit a boys camp in North Carolina that my friend Mike had told me about.  This being the best road trip ever, I decided to try to make it to both options.
So, on day 59, I headed east along highway 40 to Albuquerque.  There, I found a computer store and bought a used laptop to replace my busted one.  Then I kept driving east into Texas for the first time.  After passing some sad, smelly farms with thousands of cows crammed into tiny plots of land, I stopped in Amarillo for the night.
The next day I drove into and out of the beautiful red and orange hues of the Oklahoma soil and into Arkansas.  At this time I was feeling like I was spending too much money on hotels, but as the sun went down on day 60 I couldn't find a campsite to stay at.  I had just finished "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" back in Oklahoma and I liked how, in the book, the main character and his son, at the end of a day of driving, would just find a side road to turn off onto and camp on the edge of the road.  So I decided it was time for me to try this.  It had been drizzling off and on that day, but by nightfall, the stars were out and I was pretty sure I'd be o.k.  I was driving south on highway 65 when I got lucky and found a perfect spot to pitch my tent, right next to a rural water tower.  So I set up my tent without putting on the fly so that I could see the stars, and, feeling good about it all, I settled in for a good night sleep... fully unaware of how close I was to the train tracks.  Then the first train came.  It was so loud it sounded like it was coming right for me.  'Oh well,' I thought after the train passed, 'I used to like falling asleep to the sound of trains going by.  I'll get used to it.'  After a couple more trains I did finally fall asleep, but I had a strange dream that night.  It's been a while since that night, but I'm positive that in my dream, I woke up in the middle of a thunderstorm.  I'm sure this caused me to actually wake up and quickly realize that, 1) it was still very dark, 2) I was being dripped upon, and 3) the thunder I was hearing was very close.  Ahh!  For a second I thought about putting on the fly and waiting out the storm in my tent, but I quickly realized how miserable that'd be.  So, just as the rain started pouring down, I chucked all my stuff into the back seat of the car, stuffed the tent underneath the car and jumped in myself.  Good thing for that dream and for a dry car to stay in - it was a doozy of a storm; constant lightning flashes and crashes of thunder.  In the morning, I slept a little in my back seat, which is actually pretty comfortable, and then continued on.
I had decided to visit New Orleans on my way to Florida, so I was driving south at this point.  I drove through cotton fields and small towns that looked like they had seen better days.  That night, I stayed just outside New Orleans so that I could spend the next day exploring the city.
On day 62, I found a hostel just off of St. Charles Ave. and then walked down to the French Quarter to check it out.  I quickly discovered how easy it is to fall in love with New Orleans.  It's truly the city of art and jazz.  I hadn't listened to very much jazz before, but being in the French Quarter sure got me hooked.  I couldn't walk very far without hearing jazz being played by one group or another, and I stopped and listened to each one.  Back in Gallup, my friend Phil had told me about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (check it out) and said I could probably get in to Preservation Hall to listen to them since it doesn't cost too much.  I got excited about this possibility and, after asking about it, found out I should get to Preservation Hall early because there was always a long line.  That night, I got there an hour and a half before the shows started and already a line had started.  But it was worth the wait.  Walking into the hall feels like going back a couple of decades; it's a really small room with a couple rows of old chairs and old pictures on the wall.  I got a good spot sitting on the floor at the front.  The show only lasted a quick 45 minutes or so because they do one show after the other all night, but it was a magical 45 minutes.  I'm super glad I did it.  Day 62 was a good day.
The next day, I headed to the French Quarter again, but this time I didn't stay long.  I rented a bike and headed north to see more of the city.  I went to City Park, which has some of the oldest oak trees in the world - super cool.  I stopped at a cemetery with rows and rows of fancy white stone vaults.  I overheard a tour guide saying people in New Orleans are buried in vaults because the city is below sea level and if bodies were buried in the ground, they'd be pushed right back up.  I got back on my bike and peddled toward Canal Street, but I soon realized I didn't have any air in my front tire.  Crap.  I wasn't anywhere near the French Quarter where I rented the bike and I had no idea where the nearest bike shop was.  So I asked a nice lady where I could find one and she pointed me down the road toward the bayou.  I found the bike shop, but the repair guy was busy and said it'd be an hour before he got to replacing my tire.  So I bought a repair kit and fixed the tire myself using an air pump at a gas station.  This made me feel pretty good about myself and I continued on my bike ride.  I took the Canal Street Ferry across the Mississippi to Algiers Point, which, compared to the busy, tourist hub of the French Quarter across the river, was super quiet with no one around.  Then I ferried back over, dropped off the bike, and had a really good muffaletta (olive salad, cheese, salami, and ham) sandwich for supper.
Dan and Natasha's Florida place is in Cocoa Beach, about 100 steps from the ocean.  I camped two times in Florida (a bigger state than I thought) on my way to Cocoa Beach: at Blackwater River State Park and at O'Leno State Park.  Driving through Florida, I got a small taste what it must have been like to live in a swing state before the election. I saw quite a few political road signs, most of them Republican, along the way.  Then in Cocoa Beach, people campaigning for both parties, just down the road from each other, were holding up signs and waving to passers by.
But for me, Cocoa Beach was relaxing.  I spent a whole day reading on the beach and swimming in the surprisingly very warm ocean.  And I spent the other whole day on the couch watching playoff baseball, 'WALL-E', and uploading pictures.  Having a kitchen to cook meals was nice after eating out so often.
After truly making this a coast to coast road trip, I headed north toward Cameron Boys Camp in North Carolina.  On the way I stopped for the night at a hotel in South Carolina so that I could watch the third presidential debate.  Visiting the boys camp was a highlight of this road trip because it gave me an example of outdoor education that jives with my passions and what I'd like to do in the future.  As a prospect - chief/counselor, I got to spend two days with two different age groups of boys who were very welcoming and fun to be with.  I won't go into details about my visit to the camp because that could take up a whole other blog post, but being able to see what happens when a group of boys and a couple of excellent chiefs live in the woods together for a year or two was awesome.
The next stop was Washington DC and the beginning of my east coast road rage.  You see, drivers in the east are noticeably worse drivers than those in the west, particularly drivers in Washington DC.  But on top of this, it is impossible for someone to drive up the east coast highways without paying oodles of TOLLS!  So here I am paying around $50 in toll fees to drive on highways I don't ever use with bad east coast drivers!  Road Rage.  It wasn't a constant rage, more a sporadic rage when a guy almost drives me off the Arlington Memorial Bridge without even noticing, or when I miss my turn and it takes me 20 minutes to find out where I am and get back to where I should be, or when I have to pay something like 20 dollars to drive the short 10 km through Delaware!
Besides the side effects of this road rage, I had a great time in Washington DC.  I got there, on day 72, as my friends Rich and Jaime were getting off of work, so for supper we went to a super burger place near George Washington University.  Then, as the sun went down, we walked to the white house and then to the National Mall.  We saw the Washington Monument, then the World War Two Memorial, and finally the Lincoln Memorial, which, strangely, was overrun with giddy middle schoolers.  But it was a nice night, we didn't get shot by any snipers, the company was good, and I was impressed by the architecture.
The next morning I said goodbye to Jaime, who had to work, and Rich, who was heading to New York to visit his family, and I walked to the museums to check some of those out.  They turned out to be pretty cool, as I expected, except I didn't have enough time to fully enjoy them.  But I did get to see most of the Museum of Air and Space and the Natural History Museum.  Then I left Washington DC and headed to Princeton, New Jersey.
In Princeton, New Jersey, my good friends Achyut and Galina live.  They are my good friends from the college years, both of them from outside Canada and the US.  Achyut is from Nepal and Galina is Russian.  They got married while at Calvin and since then have been living in the states where ever they can find work.  They are the epitome of hospitable and they love to cook.  I think I gained a couple pounds just from the two weekends I spent with them.
But we did more than cook and eat food.  We spent some time at their friend Sally's house.  Sally is a very cool lady who put Achyut and Galina up in her house when they first moved to Princeton.  We also drove to a CRC church elsewhere in New Jersey where the Calvin Improv team was performing.  They were great and it was fun to reminisce about the good years at Calvin.
On day 75, a Sunday, we went to church in morning and then made delicious Nepalese dumplings called momos.  We also watched the news and talked about a certain storm problem by the name of Sandy that was coming our way.  As it was looking like it was going to be pretty serious, I decided to head to my sister and brother-in-law's place in Brooklyn right away so that I'd be able to ride out the storm with them.
It turned out to be a good decision because, as the storm hit, everything in New York was shut down so Jolene and Greg didn't have to work and I got to spend two full days with them.  We were mostly shut up in the house, but we braved the wind and rain a few times to walk the dog.  Inside, we had lots of fun playing card games, watching movies, hanging out with members of the community that Jolene and Greg are a part of, and hosting an unplanned potluck.
On day 78, after the storm had come and gone, despite the closer of all the subways between Brooklyn and Manhattan, my ever brave sister, Jolene, made her way, on bus and foot, to Midtown, where she works.  The schools were still closed, so Greg, a teacher in Brooklyn, and I went for a good long bike ride to Greg's school, around to the Brooklyn Bridge, and then back home.
That evening, Greg and I went to pick up Jolene at the Williamsburg Bridge.  It was getting dark and, incidentally, it was Halloween.  So, as we joined the crowd walking over the bridge, we saw people all dressed up and likely heading to Halloween parties.  Then, halfway over the bridge, we found that all the lights leading into Manhattan were out and all of Lower Manhattan was completely black.  When we couldn't get a hold of Jolene's cell phone, we started to get a little scared.  Here we were scouring every masked and unmasked face, looking for Jolene as we crossed a dark bridge into a black Manhattan, on Halloween night - spooky, and a little fun.  We ended up finding Jolene and it was all ok, but that certainly was an experience I won't forget.
The next day, Jolene tried again to get in to work, but this time the lines for the buses were unbelievably long.  So instead she decided to work from home.  Not wanting to distract her, Greg and I took our bikes to the Brooklyn coast to see the effect of the storm there.  Most of Brooklyn had made it through mostly unscathed, just some downed tree branches here and there.  But the coast was a different story.  We saw parts of the concrete boardwalk along The Lower Bay that had been ripped up and moved a good ten feet inland - by the water surge I guess!  In Coney Island, so much sand had been deposited on the roads that, when it was plowed up, it left up to fifteen foot sand hills all over.  There were abandoned cars all over completely water logged and covered with sand.  We also saw lots of people pumping water out of their stores and homes and carrying out their ruined furniture and merchandise out onto the road.  It was quite a sight.
Early the next morning, Greg and Jolene left to catch a plane to Iowa.  I slept in and watched a powerful movie called "Beyond the Gates" about the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.  Then my friend Mike Elders and his friend Jovan came.  They were planning to work with the hurricane relief effort and needed a place to stay.  I'm glad they came, it was good to be able to spend time with them.  On day 81, the three of us drove to Coney Island hoping to spend the day cleaning up.  After getting to the site, we waited around with a group of maybe thirty others hoping to do some work that day.  Eventually a guy came around and took down our phone numbers and said they'd call us if they needed us - not exactly what we were expecting.  We drove around the area a bit and then went home. 
That's where I stopped writing and took a break for a couple months.  Here's a shortened version of the end of my trip:
After New York,  I drove north to beautiful Vermont to visit my good friend Emilie.  Emilie works on a farm in rural Vermont and it's the coolest thing ever.  She feeds chickens, milks cows, and cooks excellent meals for her, the other workers, and the really nice family who she works for.  I spent a great couple of days with her.  It was so good for me to see her and catch up with her.
From there I continued north and headed to Montreal.  As the sun set, I crossed the border back into Canada.  Montreal is probably my favourite North American city.  I know that people say that Montrealers aren't the kindest Canadians, but this isn't true in my experience.  And Montreal is so beautiful and so different.  The streets lined with two story homes with metal stairways in the front are as unique and iconic as Brooklyn's brownstones if you ask me.
My last stop was Ottawa, or Kanada to be exact.  My friends from Korea Dan and Natasha live here and they had just bought a new house when I visited.  Dan made some really good dukk galbi for dinner the first night and he showed me around Ottawa the next day.  It was cool to be able to visit and compare two nations capitals on my trip.  Ottawa and Washington DC are completely different.  Canadians are much more low key.
Then, on a lovely autumn day, I drove down rural highway 7 to Scarborough and home.  And so ended my epic and awesome road trip.  I'll never forget it.

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