Thursday, December 31, 2020

Hello Blog / End-of-2020 Letter

 Hello again blog and blog readers. It has been ages, and a lot has changed. For one, I'm married and not living in Pohang (my Korean hometown) anymore. I hope to resume writing again, using this blog as the place to do that. My first back-to-blogging post is an end-of-2020 letter from my wife and I to our friends. Here it is.

             For Jina and I, the year of 2020 has brought, as for all of us, unfamiliar challenges and opportunities. The COVID 19 virus changed the way we live, work, and worship this year. While these changes were difficult to adjust to at times, we were also blessed by them. We were challenged to question what we value and what we spend our time and energy on. And we were challenged to trust in a God who is in control of our world despite our inclination to fear the destruction that this virus has brought.

             Here in Seongnam, South Korea, our church’s English ministry was a source of encouragement and guidance in the call to live Godly lives during this epidemic. For Jina and I, the efforts of the church and our service in the children, youth, and adult ministries have helped to keep us grounded in Biblical truth throughout this time of uncertainty.

             For our family, the big news of the year came in July when we learned that Jina is pregnant with our first child. Now, Jina is in her 8th month and our daughter continues to grow into a healthy baby. We praise God for this incredible blessing that will surely change our lives dramatically in 2021. Recently, our excitement level has surpassed our nervousness level as, with the help of friends who have recently experienced it, we start to picture what giving birth and raising an infant will be like.

             As for our jobs, we have been blessed to have stable work. Jina works as an inhouse counsel lawyer at one of Korea’s biggest video game companies. In the recent months, she has worked from home much of the time, which, incredibly (to me), has not affected her diligence in the least. I am teaching a group of bright fifth graders – mostly Korean - at a local American school. I enjoy teaching as much as I ever have, and I look forward to teaching my kids back at school, not online, as soon as the virus cases in our area go down.

             These days Jina and I have been spending more time with Jina’s grandma and dad while her mom visits Jina’s sister in Germany. In March, in time for our baby to be born, Jina’s mom will return with Jina’s sister and brother-in-law, as well as Jina’s niece and her newborn nephew. Our daughter already has two wonderful cousins to greet her when she arrives.

             It is our prayer that God is working in your lives as He is in ours. We hope that 2021 might bring more opportunity to travel and see each other in person. Until then, do not hesitate to contact us.

In Christ,

Jina and Michael

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Developments

I'm branching out. Tonight I didn't make spaghetti! (Mostly because I forgot to buy spaghetti sauce, but that's not the point).  Instead, I made a fantastic fried rice!  Actually, it was the same recipe as my spaghetti but instead of noodles, I used rice, and instead of spaghetti sauce, I used lots of oil, soy sauce, and eggs.  The eggs were key.  It's good stuff.  Maybe better than my spaghetti, if that's possible.
So this is an update blog, my second after coming back to Pohang.  Here's what's been happening:

I am now a proud graduate of the Pohang Korean Language Beginner Level Class.  I even have a fancy diploma to prove it.  The class ended last week and that's kind of too bad because it had been so good.  But, after a break for the summer, the next round of classes are supposed to start up in September.   In the meantime, the challenge will be to retain at least some of what I learned.  This won't be easy without a consistent class to keep me doing my homework.
Since my last blog, Alisa went back to North America for three weeks and has returned.  I'm glad she's back now.  She brings me a lot of joy.  Just yesterday, at the arcade downtown, we discovered her unknown talent for a classic arcade fighting game called Tekken.  I remember being a kid and not being very good at those kids of games.  So I'm a little jealous of her.
While she was gone, I saw some movies at the theater with my friend Paula; the best one being The Croods.  Ya, I'm a sucker for animated movies, but I'm telling you, you've got to watch this one.  It's just so hopeful and joyful and funny and good.  And after you watch The Croods, check out Wreck It Ralph.  That one's pretty great too.
My church, PICC, continues to be wonderful.  The Sunday worship services, along with our Saturday morning prayer meetings and a really good Bible study at Handong University, have been really good for me.  I'm so blessed to have these opportunities to grow in my faith.  I'm also very blessed by the Godly people of these worship opportunities.
A while back,  I got to go to one of my favourite places: Bogyeongsa.  As with the other times I've gone, I enjoyed our trip not just because of how beautiful the hike up the mountain and the waterfalls are, but also for the great people I got to share the day with.  I didn't save any drowning Koreans this time, but I did get to jump in the water at one of the waterfalls.

At the time that I started this blog, yesterday night, I had been searching for a motorbike.  I finally could afford one, but I hadn't had much luck finding one that I felt good about or was worth the money. But then, in the middle of writing this blog, I called up a guy in Daegu who I just found out was selling a motorbike for a good price.  It turned out he's leaving on vacation this week so the only time I could come and take a look at the bike was ... last night!  So I dropped everything and jumped on a bus to Daegu.  Although, it didn't go quite as quickly as this last sentence makes it sound.  It actually seemed to take forever to get to Daegu.  But around midnight I made it and the guy selling the bike, Peter, an interesting and very kind fellow Canadian, picked me up on the bike and let me stay at his place for the night.  But before going to bed, he let me take a test drive.  It was about that time that I knew this was the motorbike for me.  So the next morning - this morning - we went to some kind of DMV type office, made the transfer, and I drove back to Pohang with enough time to each lunch and make it to work on time.  Again, this last sentence makes it sound like the process was quick and smooth when it actually was somewhat stressful.  It all seemed to take longer than I had anticipated and I wasn't sure how much time I needed to get home.  But it worked out really well in the end and now I have a motorbike!  But wait!  I haven't told you anything about this motorbike yet.  You see, I was looking for a 250cc Hyosung Comet, just like Alisa's motorbike.  250cc is a noticeable step up from the 125cc bike that I had to give up when I left Korea last year and would be probably be adequate for what I use it for.  The motorbike that I just bought is a Hyosung Comet, but it's not a 250cc.  It's not even a 450.  It's a 650!  Woah eh?  Ya, kinda crazy.  I never thought I'd own a 'real' motorbike.  But, while the bike's power might be a little excessive, the price certainly was not. It was a good deal.  And, though it has the potential to go very fast, that doesn't mean that it only goes fast.  Maybe just keep that in mind, those of you who might worry about me on such a big, awesome bike.
Here's a picture of the beauty:

Woah! Look at that motor.
And here are some pictures of other happenings:

Woah! Look at those muscles.
Trying to stack rocks.  It may sound lame, but don't knock it until you try it.

My great class.
Springtime at my bus stop.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pohangic Tales: Take Two

I'm back! Back in Pohang, South Korea, and back to blogging!  Sorry for the wait - if you were waiting.  My life has been very full recently and unfortunately that fullness hasn't included blogging.  But now I've started and you already know something about how things are going for me over here: things are busy.  To be honest, the real reason why I'm blogging now is because I've come down with a nasty cold which has made me take a break from my usual weekly schedule.  It's been a valuable break though, because it has helped me see how things that I enjoy doing, like soccer and hockey practice, can loose their excitement and seem like a chore after a while if I don't take a break from them and think about why I like them.  And this break gives me a chance to blog, so that's good.
So, what's it like to be back in Pohang you ask? Well, I know that, through my past blogs, I've made my previous time in Pohang sound pretty sweet. But, if you can believe it, for the most part, things have only improved since then.  First, and most importantly, my spaghetti has improved.  I've been making some really good spaghetti these days.  In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm chowing down on some scrumptious leftover spaghetti made with sausage, onions, green pepper, parsley, lots of black pepper, and this really good tomato cream sauce that I found.  Also in the food category, I've discovered yellow kiwis from Jeju Island, and they are the best fruit EVER!  Every time I eat one I can't believe how good they are.  But they're also super expensive and I could only afford them before I looked at the price and realized how much they were.
Another area of improvement has been my church.  I'm a part of this really great community that has become like a family for me.  It was a really great church before I left too, but since then our meeting place has been made into this cool coffee shop, the church has grown a lot, and I've become more involved in its leadership and activities.  It was a major reason that I came back to Pohang, and it has been such a blessing for me.
My job is also a lot better than before.  I loved being at Poly despite its flaws, but it was a stressful place to work.  I'm working at another English academy, but my hours are a lot better.  Now I'm at school from 1:30 to 8:30, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I'm only teaching for half that time.  That's a huge difference from the 10 hours I was teaching before.  My director is also a lot more easy going and friendly, and I have three super cool Korean co-teachers.  I'm not teaching kindergarten any more, which I miss, but, surprisingly, the classes that I enjoy teaching the most these days are my middle schoolers.
My living situation has improved as well.  Now I'm living in a spacious, two-bedroom apartment which is only a four minute walk to my school and a fifteen minute walk to the beach!  My apartment complex even has an organized recycling system! That's a huge step up from the dump-all-your-garbage-on-the-street-corner system that I had when I first came to Pohang.
Probably the most practical improvement over my previous time in Korea has been my Korean.  I'm taking a free Korean class at City Hall that meets two times a week.  It's great!  It's good to be a student again, and  I have cool people in my class, who make it fun.  I feel really good about not living in Korea and simply getting by with a limited Korean vocabulary while I teach 1st graders their second language.  And, while I've always been a brilliant individual, these classes are definitely making me even smarter!
Korea itself has seemed to improve over the time that I was gone - it seems more beautiful at least.  I was sure blown away by the beauty of the spring blossoms and flowers here.  Korea does springtime well.
But, while some things have upgraded since being here last, sadly, my soccer team has not.  In the two-plus years that I've played for the Pohang Ironmen, we haven't won a league game yet.  Yup, it's a bummer.  But I think we've mostly gotten used to it.  I still have a lot of fun.

Here are some other things about my life back in Pohang:
1.  Alisa.  I'm happy to be close to her again.  She was the biggest reason I came back, and it's been good.  But we're both pretty busy so we've found it hard to find hangout time.  Maybe I'll have to make some adjustments to set my priorities straight.
2.  A motorcycle.  I don't have one.  I've missed not having one.  But I've also enjoyed taking the city bus all over.  It's a great way to people watch.
3.  Hockey.  It's still crazy to me that I'm playing more hockey living in Korea than I ever played living in Canada.
4.  I've joined a group called Salja, which is the Korean verb 'to live'.  It was started by some friends of mine who wanted to address the issue of suicide among Korea's youth.  I'm glad I'm a part of this group because I see this as a major wrong in Korean culture that isn't being addressed.  This past weekend it was Children's Day and we had a celebration on the beach where kids came and we played games, painted faces, and enjoyed awesome weather.
5.  I ran a 10 kilometer race!  It was my first actual race and it was awesome.  The race was in Gyeoungju, so close by; it was perfect weather, and I feel like I did really well.  I ran it in 47 minutes and I'm pretty sure I could have done it in under 45.  Now I'm thinking about doing the half-marathon at the race in Pohang in June. 
6.  Haejangguk.  It's still the best food in the world, and I'm glad to be able to eat it whenever I want.

So, do I have any regrets about coming back to Pohang?  None whatsoever.  Being home and going on a good long road trip was great for me.  But having made the decision to come back here, and now being close to three months into it, I feel very blessed to be here.  I feel that God does have me here for a purpose.

PS.  Feel free to read the ending to my epic road trip which I just finished now. (See below)

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.

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 CafĂ© 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.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Part One: My Epic Road Trip So Far

So far the road trip has been pretty epic – as eventful as I could have hoped.  Let me tell you about it.
I’m writing this from my hostel in Vancouver, which in itself is pretty epic – both the hostel and Vancouver.  When thinking about this road trip seeing the west coast, specifically Vancouver, was a major reason I decided to do it.  So finally making it here is pretty cool.  The hostel I’m in is right on the beach, Jericho beach to be specific, and I’ve already gotten some good sunset pictures. Yesterday I went for a long walk from my hostel in Jericho Beach to Stanley Park, then down through downtown, and back to the hostel.  By my calculations I walked over 30 kilometres in all!  Pretty good eh?  My feet hurt, but it was worth it.  Stanley Park is definitely the coolest city park I know of.  It’s just one big jungley forest with big awesome trees surrounded by a beautiful coastline.  And I can see why everyone talks so highly about Vancouver.  There are parks and beaches all over, it’s right on the ocean, and it’s surrounded by mountains.  If it’s a competition, I’d say Vancouver has Toronto beat pretty handily. One similarity between these two cities, though, is their multiculturalism.  I knew that there were a lot of Koreans, Asians in general, in Vancouver, and there are, I saw quite a few, but what surprised me was how much French I heard on my walk.  Almost every other person seemed to be speaking French.
One thing that stuck out to me about the people of Vancouver is that they are incredibly physically active.  All day long, it seems like half the city is outside either biking, running, or walking somewhere.  And this is another difference between Vancouver and Toronto: Vancouver is a much more bicycle friendly city.  There are bike lanes on a lot of the roads and beside every walking path here.
So, yup, I’m glad I made it out here to Vancouver.  It’s a cool place to be.
But let me go back to the beginning and tell you about how the trip has gone so far.  The first place I visited was a familiar one – Grand Rapids.  I stayed with Andrea and Ruth Ippel, an awesome and influential couple who I lived with my fifth year at Calvin.  It was great to catch up with them and reminisce about the good ol’ days.  The whole time I was in Grand Rapids memories of my time there constantly flooded back.  I walked around Calvin’s campus the second day and then drove just north of the city where I found a good campground to stay the night at.
On day three I drove north over the Mackinaw bridge, through the Upper Peninsula, through Sault St. Marie and partway around the north coast of Lake Superior to White Lake Provincial Park.  I’m pretty sure my family had driven this stretch of road earlier on our way to a family reunion in Manitoba, but I surely didn’t remember how beautiful this part of Ontario is.  In Sault St. Marie, I picked up a hitchhiker.  He was a younger guy with a dog and he was travelling from Montreal to where he lived in Saskatchewan.   He told me that typically he travels by climbing on cargo trains.  He said he had gone across Canada a couple of times that way and that’s how he had gotten to Sault St. Marie.  He was hitchhiking to the next train stop because the train he was going to get on had been rained out.  So that was pretty interesting.
The next day I continued along the beautiful Superior coast to my next big stop, Thunder Bay.  My good friend from Korea, Sarah King, grew up there and was home for just the right time before she headed off to teach in Kuwait.  I had a lot of fun visiting her and meeting her family.  We went to Old Fort William, a replica of a fort of the North West Trading Company that was once in that area.  I’ve always liked historical places like that.  Then some of Sarah’s family came to their house in the evening and her mom and dad made a massive feast for the event.
On day six I drove into the prairies to Winnipeg where I stayed in my first hostel.  The hostel was mostly full except for a really small room in the basement which I thought was pretty cozy.  I woke up early the next day eager to see as much of the city as I could.  I saw quite a bit of it in fact, walking the whole way.  I found out that Winnipeg has a French part of town called St. Boniface which has a real French Canadian feel to it.  I also enjoyed walking around The Forks – the area where the Assiniboin and Red rivers come together.  Historically, it was a meeting place for Native peoples before the western settlers arrived.  There’s a cool international market there where I had some good pizza for supper.  I really got a good feeling from Winnipeg.  It seems like a cool place to be – at least during the day time.  I went for a walk later in the evening and the mood seemed to have changed somewhat.  There were quite a few police around and most businesses had closed already.
On day eight I continued west on Highway 1 into Saskatchewan and stopped in Regina.  I didn’t stay for more than one night, but I had enough time to go into town, find a cool park along Wascana Lake, and watch the third Batman movie at an I-max theatre.  The movie was good and, like Winnipeg, I thought Regina felt like it would be a pretty cool place to live.
The next day was the longest drive of the trip so far, from Regina to Calgary.  It was only about an hour longer than some of the other drives but it felt longer probably because it was through the flat prairies.  I thought the prairies were cool to see and beautiful in their own way, but it’s true that they’re boring to drive through.
As I walked around Calgary on day ten, I noticed a difference between it and other Canadian cities I’d been to: it’s growing.  There were lots of construction projects around and apartments going up.  And though this would seem to be a good thing for the city, I didn’t get the welcoming vibe from Calgary as I did from Winnipeg and Regina.  It seems to be changing too much to be comfortable.
The planned next step of my trip was to go north to Edmonton and after that to visit the Rockies.  But then my Edmonton friends – Eugene, Dawn, and Manny Perry, friends from when we lived in Hagersville – told me that they were camping in near Lake Louise that weekend and had space on their campsite for me.  So I continued west and saw the mountains earlier than I had expected to – which I had no problem with.  Camping with the Perrys was super.  It was great to see them again, remember the good ol’ days, and renew our friendships.  We saw Lake Louise of course, drove to Radium and relaxed in the hot springs there, walked around Banff, and had some good evening campfire conversations.  As it was when I remember our family visits to Jasper when we were younger, being in the mountains is always a Godly experience.
On Monday, day 13, I drove to my aunt Geraldine and cousin Kimberson’s place near Edson, Alberta, between Jasper and Edmonton.  So I said goodbye to Manny who took his truck and their camper and drove the faster way to Edmonton, through Calgary.  And Eugene, Dawn and I took the slow way, going up the Icefield Parkway.  Along the way we stopped at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Columbia Glacier, and the Athabaska Waterfall – all incredibly places.
So when I arrived at my Aunt Geraldine’s place I was planning to stay a couple days, visit with my uncle who lives in Edmonton and with my cousins, and then get going again.  But then Aunt Geraldine told me it wouldn’t work to see my uncle or cousin Carolina until the weekend, which was ok with them because they wanted me to stay as long as possible anyway.  And I thought, ok it’s worth it to me to stay longer so I can see my uncle and cousin, and I don’t really have a time schedule to stick to anyway.  So I stayed a whole week!  And I’m glad I did.  I really got to see how my aunt and cousin live.  They live out in the woods, grow a lot of their own vegetables, and raise chickens.  I wanted to help out with the work while I was there, but Aunt Geraldine wouldn’t let me do much.  She insisted that I shouldn’t be working or paying for anything while I was on vacation.  So I ended up playing a lot of video games with Kimberson, which he probably enjoyed a little more than me, but I had fun too.  We also played outside with his somewhat crazy neighbour, played card games, went on walks, and even did some work for a church friend of theirs for some pocket money.  I got to see my cousins Ben and Jason a couple times, we went to Edmonton to visit my uncle, and then Carolina and her husband visited us on Sunday.  It had been a really long time since I had seen all of them, so I’m really glad I got to on this trip.  It reminded me of how important your family is even if they live across the country and don’t see them very often.
Then on Tuesday, day 22, after a late start due to me needing to buy a new battery, I drove back through the mountains, into British Columbia, and arrived in Kamloops after dark.  I stayed for just one night and continued on my way to Vancouver the next morning.  I had been told earlier on that Kamloops and the area south of it was unique because of its desert-like landscape.  I didn’t see this driving in but in the morning I did. It was almost like driving though New Mexico – not many trees or grass but lots of dirt and low bushes.
From Kamloops I took Highway 1 west to Cache Creek, where it then goes south along the Thompson and Fraser Rivers.  And, let me tell you, this was the most beautiful road I’ve ever been on.  The road hangs on the steep cliffs of the canyon amidst big coniferous trees as it follows the rushing Fraser River down below.   I couldn’t help but stop and take pictures every few kilometres.  Then the road turned west into the plain and became more of a highway as it approached Vancouver.  And that’s where I am now, in Vancouver, on day 25.

Thanks for reading.  To see pictures of my trip, visit my facebook page.