Saturday, December 17, 2011

In Between Colorado and Here

It has now been several days since Rachel and I returned safely from our eight day road trip through six states from California to Colorado and back. Regrettably I was too preoccupied with navigating and staying warm in frigid winter midwest weather to keep an active journal, so I thought I’d use this forum to sum up our trip in a few brief words; in the likely event that I’ll forget all about the details within the coming months and subsequent years.

We began our journey down the poorly maintained and deeply pitted Highway 99, which bisects most of California, to beautiful Bakersfield (for those of you from California or who have ever had the privilege of touring through Bakersfield you’ll know that it is in fact NOT beautiful). We passed many LA commuters and obtrusive billboards for various food stands and products through this familiar stretch of highway, before connecting onto the 58 to Barstow, and then the 15 that makes a bee-line for Las Vegas, the place where dreams come true. The 15 is actually a surprisingly scenic drive, shooting at a whopping 80 miles per hour through the Mojave Desert, you see sparsely vegetated stands of Joshua Trees and evenly distributed aromatic Creosote Bushes, back dropped by impressive clay rock architecture. We arrived at the Nevada border after dusk, with the bright lights of Vegas and the white vertical beam of the Luxor penetrating the cosmos visible for miles beyond the hills. After acquiring a case of beer, some whiskey and rum, and food the next two days of driving, we met up with some friends at Red Rock campgrounds outside the lights of Vegas. We enjoyed a warm fire, good company, and beer until Orion began to set in the west. There happened to be two Australian travelers in the mix, and I enjoyed chatting about Qantas, the PM Gillard, and TimTams once again. I slept in the back of the truck with Reef; the water jug was frozen by morning.

The orange rock reflecting the golden morning rays had me up and percolating coffee by seven, and we eventually hit the road again by noon. We continued to follow the 15 through the bottom of Nevada, through the red rock canyons and sedimentary layers of the Moapa Valley. We enjoyed Arizona for about 15 minutes, through a sliver of the state around Virgin’s Temple, before entering Utah just southwest of Zion National Park. Suddenly we were in a whole new set of landscapes, with tall eroded plateaus and deeply carved valleys, and depositional layers of rock shades from deep red to sand coral white. It is amazing how different the landscape becomes when crossing borders between states; it was already beginning to feel like California was a long way behind us. The Joshua Tress and Creosotes were now replaced by dry brush and Pinion Pine, and the white asses of pronghorn. By nightfall we were on interstate 70, a major throughway that would take us east across Utah to Colorado. We briefly investigated a state campground in Green River, but unanimously decided after a brief debate the creepy factor was too high (the place was a ghost town at best) and ditched civilization (if you can call it that) for the more wide open space of BLM land. Eventually we pulled down a dirt road, over train tracks, and camped next to a steep mesa under an almost full moon and crisp stars for the night. IT WAS COLD. My breath froze onto the camper window within seconds of exhaling.

Early morning start after a time-lapse of the rising sun, coffee in hand with frozen motionless face fixed on the road. Back on the 70 it was all uphill from there, through groves of white dusted ponderosas and hemlocks and the snow clad Rocky Mountains. The Martian landscape had given way to a snowboarder’s paradise, “where the women flock like the salmon of Capistrano”. Fractions of an hour upon exiting a long tunnel named after a dead president (I want to say Teddy Roosevelt but I don’t think that’s correct), we were back on high elevation flat land and in the smoggy mile high city that is Denver. Denver is a dreadful place, only good for layovers and delayed flights due to ice. In Denver we picked up the 25 and changed course due north in route to Fort Collins, arriving at Kelly and Matt’s place just before dark. We spent the next three days touring the college town, drinking Fat Tire straight from the witches’ caldron at New Belgium Breweries, hiking the eastern slope of the Rockies, dancing on frozen creeks (well they did…I don’t dance), fishing for trout on a frozen lake (I was the perch whisperer), playing dominos, staying warm by the wood stove, cooking previously caught trout, and letting the dogs out to create yellow snow. It was a great visit with some really great friends, I miss them already.

To make a long story short we then spent the next two days petal to the metal westbound all the way down the 80, through the gorgeous snow covered high prairie of Wyoming, past the layered mesas of Utah, up and down the basin and range complex and deserted desert of Nevada, over the river and through the woods of the Sierra Nevada, back down into the Central Valley of California, where we merged onto the 99 in Sacramento and rode the pavement to our launching point in Madera. All in all it was a memorable trip for many reasons I won’t go into here. I highly recommend to anyone who has ever thought about throwing caution to the wind and heading where the radiator may take you, to jump in your vehicle and drive. America is a big place, go out and find it. Just make sure you have enough beer in hand before entering Utah…those damn Mormons.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Let the Time Pass

Six emails expressing my interest in volunteer and field tech positions for seabird research across the globe, from Florida to Hawaii, have been submitted with cover letters and resumes attached. Now all that’s left to do is wait and enjoy the free time.

Finally began construction of my first ‘strip-plank’ kayak. I purchased the plans from an online site at the beginning of the year while offshore in the Indian Ocean, as a project for whenever I returned home; so it only seems fitting now that I’m stranded in the central valley for an undefined length of time, that I get started on stripping (the wood planks that is). I’ve chosen to use a lighter cut of Western Red Cedar and a darker cut of pink Redwood for the ¼ inch thick strips. It took me a full day to rip and plane the ¾ inch boards, with another full day to glue and cut out the paper forms from a sheet of plywood and mount them in almost perfect alignment on a 16 foot two by four. In total this hand crafted sea faring kayak will be 19 feet in length from stem to stern, with soft chines and a relatively flat bottom. I finished the first two full length strips this evening, with another 100+ to go. Not to mention the faring, sanding, fiber glassing and outfitting… but we won’t think about that right now. The projects turned out a life lesson already, take everything one day at a time.

Before I glue strip number three down however, I’m taking a side trip with a good friend Rachel and my trusty companion Reef to Colorado, to visit another good friend from college Kelly and her boyfriend Matt. Along the way we plan to meet up with another good friend Esa (an ex girlfriend of mine none the less) with her boyfriend Saylor and camp somewhere outside of Vegas the first night, before driving a likely white and slippery highway 70 through Utah to Denver, and 25 up to Fort Collins, on the following day (assuming all the passes stay open). Kelly reports it was nine degrees at her house yesterday, so I made sure to pack the ear muffs, and chains of course. No need for an ‘esky’ to keep the beer chilled on this trip, I’m not in Australia anymore.