A Little Green Man in Montana

Welcome, friend.

This Journal entry is a little long, so I'll not be sharing any of my thoughts on the phenomena of bio-film, or how the invisible atoms which bind us together may or may not be out to kill. There is a little talk about faith, drugs, politics and racial bias here, but mostly, I'm jotting down the dailies. If you've read this far, I'm happy.

We entered Montana at the border crossing near Waterton Park in Canada. Only a few miles away, the romantic promise of Glacier National Park. Around us, there was still the haze and smoke of fires from British Columbia to California. We were undaunted and drove our little red house into the rapidly changing landscape of Northern Montana. 

We had a couple of objectives in Montana; visit Glacier National Park, do some hiking in the area, and spend some time with our friend Nathan in Bozeman. As is often the case in the pursuit of our objectives, they represent more of a general idea than an actual plan. 

Moments after crossing the border, I began to see warning signs, 'Watch For Cattle on Roadway”. These cautionary emblems, while somewhat depressing, triggered a response in my stomach. I suddenly remembered what America was all about! I had a hunch we were likely very close to some kind of big, crazy steakhouse...I wanted in!

I asked Tiff, 'If we see a steakhouse before we reach St. Mary's (our destination for that evening), would you want to stop and eat?'

Tiff is a vegetarian and is not crazy about the eating of cows. I'm not exactly 100% comfortable with it either. Frankly, every bite of beef for me is an outward expression of my own ability to compromise my moral ideals. Each time I hunger for these beautiful creatures, I embrace my own hypocrisy. With this embrace, I lend the warmth of my own my tacit approval to the cold and ceaseless suffering every creature we farm so brutally for food.

My ability to pile-on to the unforgivable suffering in the animal kingdom was greatly aided by the sudden appearance of “The Cattle Barron Supper Club”, in Babb, Montana (less than 30 miles from the Canadian border, and resting on the edge of the Blackfoot Indian Reservation). We pulled into the parking lot, and I could smell the unmistakable aroma of beef fat over fire. 

I was expecting cowboy ranch culture to dominate the decor of this large, log cabin style building. However, the interior sensibilities were not done in the typical Western chic I anticipated. There was a large bar, complete with whiskey barrels converted into bar-stools, with a bar-top made of locally milled lumber. Those few elements were about the only elements in the place which struck me as overtly cowboyish. The remaining ornamentation in that not-insubstantial building was done in what I can only call, an impressively understated Blackfoot-Native style. 

There was a large sculpture of a buffalo jump, which spilled out from a mural on the wall behind it. There was an enormous bison head, mounted on the wall. There were several other sculptures around, depicting other sacred animals. A variety of beautiful feather head-dresses were also on display. 

The staff was made up entirely of locals who had been raised on the reservation. The ownership was also native. To me, the soundtrack playing softly to the percussive and constant sounds of cutlery, conversation, and steak munching, was perfect; a strange and subtle drum and flute music which seemed to meander through the dining room.

By far, the most impressive visual elements in the place, however, were the placemats. In front of each seating at the table were laminated sheets of 8x10 paper. Each placemat was different, and each carried some sort of message. We were seated at a 4-top table when the waitress removed the excess silverware, small plates, and glasses we would not be needing, she did not take the extra placemats. In my opinion, those things were the floor show.

I've always been a fan of the narrative history behind any old restaurant or cafe', but this was different. For sure, one of the placemats told the story of the restaurant itself, and laid out a timeline. However, the other three placemats were relating timelines and creation myths of a way-less upbeat nature. 

The Placemat which struck me most was one which looked like an essay, with a small photo of a wilderness scene and a great mountain in the background. The essay began with a bit of a creation myth intro, relating the significance behind the tale of the Blackfoot people as told by the Beavers. These tales tethered the Blackfoot to his land and created a sense of belonging to the land, as opposed to being owners of it. 

As the narrative continued, the creation stories began to follow a new arc, and point to the way of life a Blackfoot was meant to follow. The environment and the Blackfoot's place in it are still thematically important, but the tone begins to shift from creation narrative, to read more like an anthropologist’s senior thesis.

In order to fully appreciate just how incredible this placemat was to me, I took a photograph of the document for you to read at your leisure. To be sure, this is the only placemat I've ever seen which quoted a psychologist or used the words - “...individualistic organizational structures.”

Ultimately, I felt like the essay was getting across the message that a bunch of uninvited guests had shown up on land which had never before known an owner, parked all of their stuff wherever they wanted, and told the current inhabitants to either fuck-off or get with the program. The “program”, however, didn't jive with the previous thousands of years of cultural development in the current inhabitant's minds and had created a great deal of trouble. 

Oh yeah...the steak was fantastic!

We camped outside of Glacier National park and the small town of St. Mary's that evening. A heavy smoke was hanging over what we could see of the park, but the sky above us was clear and the air crisp. We slept well, with a belly full of delicious hypocrisy, and a head full of the white man's treachery.

In the morning, I awoke to the sound of a truck heading up the hill where we were parked. We were just above the main highway and were parked on a bit of an overlook. The road we parked on stopped, right where we were parked, and we felt fairly certain we were not in anyone's way. Where the road stopped, a deep gulch began, so there was nowhere else to go. When the sound of this approaching truck reached me, I knew this vehicle was not heading our way with the intent of passing by. It was heading our way to interact with us.

I opened the rear curtain, still under the covers, and looked out to see an older blue Chevy truck being aggressively driven by a man with long dark hair spilling out from a worn old cowboy hat. The truck got incredibly close to our rear bumper, and I could see the man in the old hat was probably in his forties, with big white teeth. I could also tell, he was highly pissed off. I jumped down from our bed to put on pants and go speak with this very angry man, peaking out again to see him take out a small camera and photograph the back of the van. 

I then realized we were doing the very thing the placemat had talked about. We were trespassing on land we did not own, without the permission of the current inhabitants. We were the privileged, white people, who availed themselves of someone else's property, without a care for the consequences.

I have to be honest here, I was incredibly disappointed to have had anything to do with upsetting someone who clearly looked like an Indian to me. We were in Blackfoot territory, and as such, all of the land around us was theirs. Finding a couple of sleeping whites, too cheap to rent some dirt from a local campground is, in hindsight, offensive.

I then thought about it a bit more. If this was a white guy approaching me in this way, I would be unlikely to feel so instantly apologetic. What if it was a black guy, or a Hispanic woman, or a Chinese person? Do my unconscious biases have that much sway over how I react to people? 

Before I could get out of the van and offer my foolish explanations, the guy in the old Chevy slammed his truck into reverse and backed away from us. When he reached the highway, he sped off in a big- ass hurry!

Before I could waste any more time thinking about how weird a guy can act when his bias is in control of his actions, I moved our stuff around, and got us the hell off that overlook, before, as one might have said in another time and in another context, the cavalry arrived. 

When we finally made it to the great Glacier National Park, the smoke in the air was getting thicker by the minute. We made breakfast in the park, and posted up on a beach on the shores of Lake St. Mary. It would have been an amazingly clear day, were it not for the smoke. 

I strung up a hammock, and Tiff laid out a blanket for her to lay upon in the sun. She also laid out a blanket for Pelé to ignore completely, while he walked all over the blanket she had laid out for herself. In that hammock, I took the time to fully examine my bias towards the man I now assume to be an employee of the Blackfoot Nation, who had no choice but to encounter our giant red van on his way to work. 

I have read a few books on native culture - “Savage Mind”, by Jamake Highwater, and “Black Elk Speaks”, by John G. Neihardt, among them. I do my best to be careful to not think in terms of the “noble savage”, and instead like to think of American Indians as human beings with whom I share a great deal in common. Mainly, we share the imperfect stamp of a creature who has a shit-load of choices to make, and a complicated machine (the human brain) with which to make those decisions. 

If a white guy, or a black guy, or a Hispanic woman, or a Chinese person in his or her late-forties had approached my van in the same way as the native man had done, I would like to think I would have remained calm and kind, but underneath that gentile approach, my thoughts may well have been different depending on the skin color. I realized, I tend to care a great deal more about offending people with whom I do not share a similar skin color. This, I recognize, is an absurd notion.

Skin color is largely irrelevant to me in my daily life. I'm not aware of allowing or preventing any of my own behavior based on skin color. Yet, when I reflect on how I might react if a white person did something I found objectionable, versus how I might react if someone “not-white” were to do the same thing, I clearly have distinct feelings depending on the skin color of the person in question. As I search the land for a place to fit in, I am also searching through my personality for blind spots. I would like to send out a little prayer of gratitude to the Blackfoot Indian guy, with whom I did not have to awkwardly interact. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to recognize my own absurdity. And, may I react to all people, regardless of their skin color, with the kindness and patience I would have offered you or any other group I perceive as a “Minority”.

The park was crowded, full of smoke, and not an entirely pleasant place to be. Also, Pelé is not welcome in the National Parks, so we headed south to visit the Helena National Forrest. Full disclosure, we tried to visit “The Museum of the Plains Indian”, but arrived after it closed for the day. Instead, we stopped at a grocery store on the reservation, filled our little refrigerator with food, and bought some mildly-gaudy seat covers for the van at a locally owned gift shop. 

We drove back roads from the northern border of Montana, all the way to a town called Choteau, where I met a guy who just pulled up to the side of the van while I was brushing my teeth and started talking. The guy was riding a bike, was in his eighties, and told me, within two minutes of meeting me, “Oh, it's all bullshit, you know?”

I really liked this guy. I'm fairly certain most people think he is a crazy person. Tiff, who really needed to pee, but didn't want to be rude to the guy, was a bit tired of him by the time we finally took our leave of him, about ten minutes later. I love little interactions like this. I honestly wanted to just turn on a tape recorder, and release it to our audience as an anonymous, man-on-the-street bit, but I didn't even have a moment to ask him. There was little time for my interjections between nonsequiturs, and him telling me, “yeah, I taught some CIA guys how to smoke jump, but they were assholes, and everything about it was basically bullshit!” 

We eventually made it to the Helena National Forrest and drove through a town, I want to believe was named for a guy who's place in history, I have mentioned before, York, of the Corps of Discovery. I did not stop to verify this fact, so if you know this to be true about a small town called York, MT, feel free to drop me a line. If you know this to be false, please do not take this one from me, or York.

Not far from York, a dirt road, heavily pockmarked and full of sections which our van and driver do not like, began. We took this road for several miles to a dead-end, where a fantastic trail and mostly empty campground were waiting for us. The road itself winds around Trout Creek, and in-spite of feeling like driving on a large turd is exceptionally beautiful.

The road ends at Vigilante Campground, where for $8, we were able to spend the evening in a perfectly legal campsite, next to the delightful Trout Creek, and under our first clear, Montana night sky. We hiked that afternoon for about six miles along the creek, then deep into a narrow canyon which opened up to a small valley. We finished up our hike with a nude dip in the creek, only about 100 yards from our campsite. If you find yourself in that area, do yourself a favor, and get clean in those crisp and clear waters. Pelé agrees.

Helena National Forrest

Our goal the following day was Bozeman, to visit our friend from Memphis, TN Nathan. Nathan moved to Bozeman with a job. He works for a company called FICO. Now, of all the things I discussed with Nathan – topics like religion, politics, relationships, consciousness, dogs, old friends, and fistfights – never at any point did I bring up my feelings about FICO. I still will not be bringing that up, mostly because I don't want to burn the calories it would take for my fingers to fully express my feelings about the algorithmic calculation of a person's worth. What I will express, though, is that Nathan is a fantastic human being, and the place where he earns a living (and the role he performs there) do not in any way influence my opinion of my friend.

So, we made it to Nathan's home, after spending some time at the beautiful Bozeman Public Library for me, and Tiffany surprising me with a wash for the van. We planned on spending a little time with Nathan, seeing the sights, taking a hike or two, and then heading on. Three days, maximum. Or so we thought. We would be in Bozeman for a total of six days. We are so glad we did.

That first evening, Nathan invited us into his home, introduced us to his incredible dog, Seamus, and made us feel right at home. He then took us to a Barbeque festival (of a sort), where we had some overpriced food that was “not bad”, and where we met his friends Skipp, Andrea, and their daughter Barit. We had fun, ate a bunch of food, I had to physically stop myself from taking a piss in a parking lot, not because I had had too much to drink (I don't drink), but because I may be going feral, and have become accustomed to being able to pull over on a trail or highway, and just piss whenever I feel like it. That doesn't fly in a polite city like Bozeman, MT.

After going to a few bars with Nathan, we decided to go back to his house and eat a little bit of some edible pot, given to us by a friend in Alaska who specializes in making “Little Green Men”. The “Little Green Men” are made by infusing coconut oil with THC, spreading the oil out in a sheet, about a quarter inch thick, freezing the sheet, then stamping it out in the shape of little gingerbread men...little ginger-bread men that will light you up like an old Christmas tree in a bonfire. 

In other words, these little things are magnificently potent. To be clear, I don't feel stoned when I eat it. I feel high. Super high, in fact. I was not alone in this. Nathan also ate a little bit with me, and we ended up staying up until 3:30 AM. We started the discussion, when Tiffany was still awake, talking about Politics. The discussion, although Nathan, Tiffany and I are not all on exactly the same page politically speaking, was energetic, fun and not at all adversarial. When we drifted into the realm of whether or not there is a God, Tiffany politely drifted off to sleep in the van, while Nathan and I decided to dive in, head first. Fortunately for us, the “Little Green Men” reached maximum potency at just the right time. 

"Is there a God", you ask?  Of course, we won't be answering such a cockamamy question, but we must applaud you for having the wisdom to ask a couple of dogs.   - Pelé & Seamus  

Nathan and I have wildly divergent views on how we think about the universe. I won't go into a full recount or explain exactly where we diverge, but suffice it to say, I do not know if there is a God, or some divine, prime mover who gave the ball of existence it's initial push down-hill, and Nathan is a Christian. I do not actively believe in a God who knows and or loves me, and I do not subscribe to any organized religion. I simply don't know what the deal is. In the absence of evidence, faith is not an option for me. I am a tad bit envious of the faithful, honestly, as I can remember feeling quite comfortable believing in God before I began asking some difficult questions.

I have a tremendous respect for Nathan. I am not a traditional atheist, and I do not wish to cast any negative feelings in the direction of the faithful. If anything, I applaud faith. My mother and step-father are people of faith, and I admire that. The discussion Nathan and I shared was one of great mutual respect and wasn't the typical stoner conversation with excessive use of the words, “dude, you know, like, or it's just crazy, man”. Instead, we were exchanging ideas, listening to each other, and instead of trying to persuade the other, or tell the other he was wrong in some way, we were on a search for common understanding. 

As you may have guessed, we did not solve the world's problems. We did, however briefly, manage to share a truly spirited and fun exploration of our beliefs, ideas, notions, and biases. I truly long for that to be the norm in all of my discussions with others, and to be the norm when it comes to the way we speak with each other as a species.

We managed, over the next few days with Nathan, to go to a hot yoga class, take a beautiful hike to Lava Lake, cook together, share laughs, and some really fun conversations. We are so incredibly grateful to have Nathan in our lives, and look forward to someday returning the hospitality!

One evening with Nathan, we ended up reconnecting with his friends, Skip, and Andrea. I had a great time chatting with Skip, who I found out was a music journalist, and I invited him to be a guest on the show. I so desperately respect real journalists and writers, I could not pass on the opportunity to speak with one. He accepted and was kind enough to feed me chili after our interview later that weekend. His episode will be out on September, 11.

Skip, Andrea, Berit, Tiff & Dummy

Our friend Sally in Petaluma told us about a few friends of hers who live in Bozeman. Sally is an incredibly interesting woman who I failed to interview before we left California, so when she said she had friends we should meet, Tiff and I agreed we had to meet them. As I write this, sitting under the Tetons in a handcrafted little studio space in sunny and beautiful Moose, Wyoming on the property of friends of Sally's friends, I can not even begin to tell you just how fortunate we are to have a friend like Sally.

Tiffany & Sally, before leaving California in April.

When she was in her twenties, and living in the Bay Area of California in the late 1960's, Sally and her husband decided, with a group of friends, to sail around the world. None of them knew anything about sailing, but with true ingenuity and determination, the little community of friends banded together, bought an old boat (which they named, The Topaz), dry-docked it, retooled the whole ship to suit their needs, and managed to sail it around the world for many years. I often think of Sally's tales from “The Voyage of The Topaz” anytime I'm tempted to think we are on some sort of grand adventure.

It was on “The Voyage of The Topaz” where Sally met the friends she would later introduce to Tiffany and me; Steve and Marylou. Steve and Marylou were living in American Samoa, working in a cannery when a ship full of young people sailed into port. At that time, very few young people were in American Samoa, so Steve and Marylou took the opportunity to go down to the docks and make new friends. Of all of the people on the boat, Sally, and her then-husband, Peter, were their favorites...they have remained friends.

Sally and Peter had invited Steve and Marylou to join them on the journey. They were, understandably, leery of joining some sort of floating commune, and declined. When the boat full of young people sailed out of port, Steve and Marylou (who have now been together for over 50 years) held hands and watched as this little sailing community left them on their little island. As soon as the boat was out of sight, the two of them reached the same conclusion at the same time. They ran to the nearest office, and sent a telegram to the occupants of the Topaz who were expected to land in Fiji in a few days which read, “WE WANT TO JOIN YOU!”

Steve and Marylou flew to Fiji, joined the crew of The Topaz, and sailed with them to New Zealand. Sally told us stories about Steve and Marylou, long before we ever thought meeting them would be a possibility. 

Steve and Marylou, who have traveled all over the world, now live in Bozeman in an almost supernaturally charming home. Steve is a retired river guide, and Marylou was an educator. At one point in their lives, when their two girls were young, they moved to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica to open up an adventure guide company. The business was successful, and they eventually sold the business and moved back to Bozeman. Eventually, their daughters would join them. 

We met them for breakfast at their home near downtown Bozeman and had a fantastic time. Steve made us some blueberry pancakes, from scratch, and we chatted the morning away. I asked if Steve and Marylou would be willing to be guests on the show, but Marylou understandably declined. Fortunately for us, when the conversation drifted to their kids, a small book was produced and Tiffany and I marveled at the paintings of their youngest daughter, Michelle. We also found out that Steve is an artist, so I asked if Steve would like to be a guest with his daughter Michelle. 

Steve and his daughter, Michelle.

Michelle arrived minutes later, with her gregarious little 15-month-old boy, and agreed to be on the show. That will be released on September, 18th.

A capital day on the open!

We took a tour of Steve's Studio and fell in love with his wonderful paintings. When we made it to Michelle's home later that day to record the podcast, we were blown away by the scope, scale, and emotional response we experienced when sitting with her work.

Sandhill Cranes, Steve Osman

Sandhill Cranes, Steve Osman

That Ribbon of Highway, oil on canvas, 24 x 18, 2017 - Michele Osman

Danäe, oil on canvas - by, Michelle Osman

Michelleosman.com - Steveosmanfineart.com

The following day, we met up again with Steve and Marylou for a boat trip on the Yellowstone River. Steve has a beautiful wooden boat, called a dory. An inflatable craft was also in-tow, and Marylou took the first shift. Mercifully, the sun was out, the smoke was not present, and the air was as fresh and clear as any day I've ever known. The big skies of Montana were in full effect. 

Pelé stood on the deck of that ship like an old pirate captain and menaced every flying insect which dared to cross his tiny chompers. The sun warmed us down to the individual cell. We stopped for a swim break and a picnic on a sandy bank and sat in the lap of the hills and mountains which surrounded us. That river trip will stick with me for the rest of my life, yet it is only one of the many things for which I will be forever grateful to Steve and Marylou.

Steve and I rode together in the boat for a while, as Tiffany and Marylou paddled together in the inflatable. As Steve and I discussed everything from travel and psychedelics, to education, business, politics, and religion, I was struck by the way he handled his boat. 

The dory is not a small craft. There is room for at least four people, a couple of dogs and plenty of gear. While it would be ill-advised to travel that heavy, the boat at least had space for it. In this vessel, one would think maintaining control would require a great deal of effort. When piloted correctly, the amount of effort required to get down river, even a river with little rapids and rocky sections like the Yellowstone, is minimal. Watching Steve so effortlessly guide his boat into just the right space reminded me of watching the left hand of a skilled banjo player. Even as the notes fly out of the instrument, the hand looks as if it is hardly moving. 

I would later in the day take my turn at paddling the small, inflatable kayak. I followed Steve through the lines he picked as he “read” the river. I found myself paddling backward, and using entirely too much effort to guide my little boat in any meaningful way. I have a long way to go before I figure out how to let the river do all the work.

When we got back to Steve and Marylou's home, Steve gave me the river shoes I had borrowed from him, and then gave me a book. The book is called “Stumbling Through Paradise”, and was written by Steve after selling his business in Costa Rica. I highly recommend this to anyone who either likes to laugh or has designs on opening any sort of business. It is also available on Amazon!

Of all the gifts and kindness Steve and Marylou shared with us, the opening of their Rolodex of good friends was, by far, the greatest. 

On one of our last evenings in town, a friend of ours from New Orleans, Elizabeth, was planning on being in town with her dog, Cash. We met up for drinks and food, then spent a few hours chatting at Nathan's. Elizabeth is also on something of a journey of discovery. It was fantastic to see her and to see how her journey was working its magic on her worldview.

As I mentioned, we were in Bozeman for six days, having only planned on being there for three. When we finally decided we would absolutely leave, we stopped by the hot yoga class for one last incredibly deep sweat, got groceries, and headed to Yellowstone National Park. 

We stopped in a little town called Livingston, Montana to get water and to take a little walk. If you are anywhere near Livingston, it is worth stopping. The streets are clean, charming, and full of bustling business and characters. 

Two elk in the boiling river - Yellowstone.

We made it to Yellowstone, where Pelé was only welcome to be anywhere cars could go and stopped for a soak in the Boiling River. The experience is mostly pleasant, as a cold river mixes with indecently hot water from the geothermal pools which are sitting on top of the giant caldera which will likely end civilization as we know it. Moments of pure delight are punctuated by moments of intense cold, followed by boiling heat. We were surrounded by rocky hills, fragrant sagebrush, and a couple of adult female Elk and several little ones.

That evening, we camped in the park (paying for an actual campsite), and hiked up to a small hill to look for animals and watch the sunset. We headed to bed early, as we planned on getting up at 4 AM to try to see a wolf pack which is often seen in a nearby valley. 

At 4 AM, we got up, moved a few items, and headed off to see the wolves. As it turns out, a 4 AM wakeup call is unnecessary. We reached our destination in about an hour, and the sun would not be up for another hour still. When we did see the sun, we saw many vehicles headed away from where we had parked. Tiffany drove, and followed these vehicles to a large, sprawling part of the valley, where over a dozen cars were parked, and nearly two dozen people with large camera lenses and telescopes were standing and pointing. 

We parked and walked up a small hill to join the group. Our binoculars were sufficient to pick out a few small moving objects, and one much larger slow moving bison. A delightful older woman who had parked next to us was kind enough to offer the use of her telescope. We saw about six of the eleven or twelve wolves which were hanging around, and making the large male bison only mildly agitated. We did not witness anything more than the mildest charge by the bison, and a light scampering of the two nearest wolves. Seeing their long tails, and their slick movements were powerful. We were glad to be so far from them.

When we returned to our little wolf descendant, Pelé somehow knew he would not be taking a hike with us, and stayed pretty mellow as we took a driving tour of the park. We saw moose, Elk, and a ton of hilariously obstinate bison. We saw thermal pools, hot springs, geysers (yes, Old Faithful), and loads of beautiful landscapes. Unfortunately, each of these was done without the company of our little friend who was patiently waiting for us in the van. 

When we finally left the park, we had made arrangements to meet up with friends of Steve and Marylou; Amy and Lyle, in Moose, Wyoming. That is another story which I will save for next time. 

Mountains..I think.

Andrew CouchComment
Sins of my Father...

With my eyes, I cannot see you.  In my dreams, you live again.

Lately, I've been dreaming of my father. Since his death 16 years ago, I occasionally find myself in various dream scenarios, wherein he and I have some sort of strange emotional entanglement. The scenarios are always different, but a couple of themes are present each time I am visited by him in a dream.

For one, it is always just the two of us. In real life, the most pained and awkward moments I can remember of him were the moments when it was just the two of us; usually driving somewhere. I don't want to give the impression that he was some sort of bad guy or an asshole to me. He wasn't. We were just VERY different people. I was 22 when he died, so the majority of the time I knew him, I was a child. We only ever had one real conversation in my life, and that was maybe about six months before he died. Pretty much every other time we “spoke”, it was awkward, and I was as uncomfortable and ill at ease as I can be.

Another constant in these dreams is that he is somehow alive, or at least, able to interact with me in the world of the living, or I am interacting with him in the realm of the dead. Sometimes, we are in a house together, sometimes we are in the woods, and sometimes it seems as if there we are nowhere at all.

The final changeless aspect to these dreams is the deep sense of sadness and loss I feel at some point in the dream. Typically, it will be at the end of the dream, and I will wake up with a lump in my throat like I've been crying. However, there are times when the powerful emotions are universal throughout the dream experience, and I wake up feeling drained and a little depressed.

So why, in a travel journal, am I telling you about these dead-dad dreams? I promise there is a connection. I'll sketch that out as we go, but I'd like to pick up where we left off last time; on top of the world.

The crotchless panty of the Klondike!  Dawson City, YT

The “Top of the World” highway dumps you into the Yukon river like one of the many stones we sent careening down the great cliffs as we slowly bumped our way along that wild road; mad with gravity's fickle attention, and too fast for comfort. At the bottom of the last hill of that highway, the road abruptly ends at a ferry crossing. There is no bridge, for good reason. The Yukon River would likely destroy it.

The ferry, which runs 24 hours a day, picks up as heavy a load as it can on either side of the river, every ten minutes or so. As soon as river conditions are “safe” enough to do so, the ferry begins its season of operation, thus opening the “top of the World” highway. It stops crossing the river as soon as it impossible to do it any longer, thus closing the highway for the season.

So, what is on the opposite bank, you ask? Dawson City, of course, the crotchless panty of the Klondike!

Dawson City is one of those incredibly charming, gold-rush era places that still feel a little bit wild and crazy. It has very little of the Disney vibe of Skagway, and more of the Latin Quarter, or Bywater feel in New Orleans; full of history, possibly a little dangerous. Visitors are charmed by the gravel streets, the wooden sidewalks, and the stilted buildings, resting precariously above tundra and permafrost. The town had lots of bars, restaurants, bistro's and Cafes, but for us, the main attraction was from Miami, via Brazil.

We did not come to Dawson City to catch the late Can-Can show at “Gertie's”, we didn't come to drink, and we had no intention of drinking the “sour-toe” shot...seriously, you pay like $30 and sign a waiver to take a shot of whiskey with a mummified toe in it.

Nope, we were there to talk with a guy we met in Chicken, AK. His name is Ricardo Serpa. Ricardo is from Brazil, but has been living and working in Miami for decades, as a photographer. When we met him, like us, he was just beginning his long journey south, via motorcycle, to return to his home in Miami. While in Chicken, we made plans to meet up in Dawson.

When we arrived in town, I was slowly getting over something of a rage-hangover from a childish reaction to the previously mentioned highway. I was struggling to get my head in the game. I wanted to make myself available for this potential new friend, and I didn't want to be moody.

Tiff and I saw him outside of the hotel where he told us he would be staying. He was clean and wearing a bright white T-shirt. We both noticed this and felt even grubbier than we normally do. We chatted with him for a moment and agreed to meet back there in an hour and go for a meal.

Ricardo Serpa..so fresh and so clean!

This was perfect. We parked the van, leashed up our little pal Pelé, and took a walk around Dawson. We looked at some old buildings, read some historical markers, marveled at the Canadian cleanliness of the public toilets, and internalized the impact of the town's appreciation for its own woebegone and wistful, whore-housing past.

When we met up with Ricardo again, I was in a much better mood. I knew we had stumbled upon an interesting guy who was fully committed to doing fun things, but I wasn't prepared for just how cool spending time with him would be.

Simply put, Ricardo is an amazing guy with an incredible story. His tale includes some great advice, strategically placed honesty from key family members, having the wisdom to take good advice and ignore the rest, a near-death experience, and some beautiful analogies for dealing with the existential angst felt by anyone who does less than fulfilling work.

In addition to the many aspects of his tale which are inspiring, Ricardo also shared something which resonated with me in an powerful way.

Ricardo is 56 years old, tall and handsome. When my father died, you could have said the exact same sentence to describe him, by substituting Allen for Ricardo. When Ricardo was 22, and full of wild ambitions, his father passed away unexpectedly. At age twenty-two, the same sentence could have been used to describe me.

When Ricardo told me of a very meaningful conversation he had with his father, only a few months before he died, I was reminded of the only real conversation I had with my own father, shortly before his passing. The parallels to his tale and the loss of my own father were sufficient to shake me a bit off my goal in speaking with him; to listen intently to a fun and interesting person, and record his tale. However, there were enough key differences in how we handled the time before and after our father's passing, that I was able to stay on track with my line of questioning.

For instance, Ricardo and his father had a close relationship. They had the type of relationship where the two of them could sit at a kitchen table, drinking wine, and chatting until the time was right for deeper subjects to emerge. In my case, I couldn't imagine sitting at a table alone with my father for any reason, let alone having a frank discussion on the nature of happiness. Another serious point of divergence was in the way Ricardo dealt with his father's passing. Instead of diving off the deep end of every crazy venture/adventure/misadventure, as I have, Ricardo did his best to stay the course with his career track, and only shifted gears to pursue his passion after a near-death situation of his own caused him to reexamine his choices.

In other words, Ricardo has been acting like an adult, and I have been acting like a giant child. One of us has taken the time to hone a set of skills to a fine point, while one of us has bounced around from job to job like a stone thrown from a tire-tread.

One of the benefits of recording these conversations is in the editing process. As I work on the episodes with these fantastic people, I get the chance to experience them all over again, and can really take my time with the subtext and personal relevance of what they told me in the initial interview. In the case of Ricardo's interview, it not only made me think about how a measured adult might react to the exact situation which happened to me, but what types of changes I could make in my own life.

From Dawson City, we had a few goals in mind. One, we wanted to soak in the hot springs in Laird River, BC, and we wanted to see Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff national parks in Alberta. At the exact point where we finally connected our last circle (where the Alaska Highway meets the Cassiar Highway), I noticed some unmistakably familiar clouds in the distance. These were the type of clouds you only see when there is an enormous fire in the distance.

We pulled over to a petrol station and asked the attendant if he knew about any fires ahead. “Do I know about the fires!? How do you not? It's all over the news!”

As it turned out, he was regrettably 100% correct. At the time of my asking about “any fires ahead”, there were nearly 500 wildfires burning in British Columbia alone. Many of them were west of our destinations, but the places on our list were all sitting in the thickest smoke they had seen in some time.

I thanked the attendant and was about to leave when he offered one last piece of news. “At least we don't have it as bad as the poor people in California! It's even worse down there!”

With this, we hopped back in the van and made our way to the hot springs. On the way there, we began smelling the rather fragrant, but still disconcerting smell of thousands of trees burning over 100 miles away. In the midst of all of this smoke and haze, the landscape opened up to softly rolling hills, grasslands, and some fairly unique road-side signage - “Caution - Bison Herd next 100 Kilometers”.

Caution, indeed!

We were desperate to see some bison! Fortunately, we did. We came upon several groups of them, slowly mowing the grass along the highway, some with their young, others, it seemed, just hanging out with their pals. We did see one gigantic dead one, legs locked out in rigor mortis, lying unnaturally supine. We then saw another one, limping horribly, trying to catch up to a much larger herd about 400 yards ahead of him. We knew we were looking at another dead one.

Should you find yourself in Laird River, you will have done well for yourself if you then stopped and soaked in the steamy perma-fart waters of the hot springs. The waters of that spring are delightful and, like everything maintained by the Canadian Parks system, the environment surrounding the spring is awesome.

A beautifully built wooden boardwalk leads you gently over a boggy, warm-spring marsh, to a lush and tree-lined area with a covered pavilion. Below the pavilion, which is built from spruce and birch lumber, the upper and lower pools of the hot-spring lazily fan-out before you. Situated at a distance great enough to not offend the senses, yet not too great as to strain the bowels or bladder, even the bathrooms project an unexpected, graceful elegance. While bathing in these luxurious waters, you might even forget for a moment you are sitting in a large soup of strangers, whose personal aromas blend with the fragrance of the spring to achieve maximum fart-potency.

We then made our way south through a few other towns, Fort Nelson and Fort St. John. In Fort Nelson, we stopped for the night above a beautiful river valley, at a dead-end street used mostly by locals. Before sunset (which I must note that we are still getting accustomed to the fact that it is getting completely dark before 2 AM), we spent some time chatting and sharing a joint with four men from the large worker's village in the valley.

The men were building steel buildings which would house tools and equipment for many other workers on an enormous dam building project. They told us the worker's village below had a population of over 1,600 people.

The four men were of mixed ages. Two of them were 19, one of them was in his 40's, and the other was about 50. The two younger men were in relatively good health and did not seem to have any noticeable scars. Both of the older men were in quite a different boat. The oldest of the men was missing the better part of one of his thumbs. When I asked how he lost it, he told me, 'It got caught in a metal press...it just got pinched off.”

I asked if he ever thought about that moment or the trauma of it. “No, not really. Hell, I was about his age when it happened.” He said this, pointing to the young man across from him. “That's my son, by the way.”

I couldn't help but think of how at risk those two young men were. I guess we all are, if you think about it...one man's risky business is another man's job, I guess.

We didn't get a chance to ask the other older guy about his scar; a jagged white gouge spanning the top and bottom of his left forearm. The guys had to get back in time for something unique to me. “If you don't have your card filled out by 7:30 tonight, you don't get to order what you want on your sandwich for lunch tomorrow, so we gotta go. Have a nice trip, be safe!”

Damn, I love Canadians!

That evening, while editing in the van, Tiffany pointed out the window to a small group of people with a little birthday cake and candles on it. The group consisted of one woman, who we learned was turning 63, one young woman and two young men. After blowing out her candles, we stuck our heads out of the van and called out “Happy Birthday!” The group was very friendly, and we all shared a smile and wave, before heading back into the van.

About five minutes later, there was a knock at the van door. A beautiful young woman with a plate full of an equally beautiful slice of birthday cake was standing there when I opened the door. “Please, have some cake. We didn't bring any utensils, so we just ate it with our fingers.”

We accepted and thanked her, and she walked off. We were touched by this act of kindness and wanted to reciprocate. We had nothing to give as a gift. We do have running water though, and where we were parked, there was no place to wash off birthday cake from sticky fingers, so we offered this little service as a thank you. Fortunately, they accepted.

We chatted with these sweet people for almost half an hour. They are a Sikh family from Northern India. The birthday girl spoke no English, but the three kids (One was a granddaughter, one was a great-nephew, and one was just a friend) spoke perfect English.

The three younger ones had been living and working in Canada for several years, sending a great deal of their personal income back home to family. I asked if they could tell us how to say happy birthday in Hindi. They told us...twice, and we could not repeat it. We all laughed. I asked if there was a “Happy Birthday song” in Hindi. They said yes. 'Great, can I hear it?' No laughter. “We are good at the English one, we like English.”

The following day, I looked at the GPS and saw what I thought was an Asian food market. We arrived and realized it was not. Fortunately, there was a Tim Horton's (a Canadian coffee franchise) next door, so I walked over to get a cup. As soon as I opened the door, I saw one of the young Sikh men from the night before.

We were not close to where we had seen them, and we only stopped at this coffee shop by chance, and yet here was this young man who had been so kind to us. “This is my second job. I leave here at 2, go home and eat, then work another 8 hours at a sporting goods store, you should go there!” The young man was completely earnest and genuinely enthusiastic about his work. He loved that he could work nearly 80 hours per week, sending home nearly two-thirds of his paycheck to his family, and having more than enough to “visit the city of Las Vegas next month!”

I don't know why I ran into that kid again, but I'm incredibly glad I did. I want to believe that there is some sort of lesson to learn here, but I'm inclined to agree with Mark Twain, “Sometimes a fishing story is just a fishing story.” Either way, regardless of when you are reading this, someone, somewhere is working way too hard...there is a really good chance that person won't be me.

Throughout this leg of our journey, we noticed an almost daily increase in the amount of smoke we would encounter. We were heading to Jasper National Park. All reports told us to expect more smoke in the direction we were heading. The reports were sadly correct. In Jasper, Lake Louise and in Banff, the amount of smoke in the air at all times was considerable.

I'm certain we would have found the area even more beautiful than we did, but I have to tell you, even when the mountains and sky are obscured by a smokey haze, there is no shortage of beauty to be found. I'm not sure if everyone would agree with me, but perhaps living in a town like Memphis, TN has strengthened my imagination to the point where I can find beauty in almost any city. I believe, if you are paying attention to your surroundings, and look for beauty in tiny spaces, you will never be bored with a landscape.

In any case, I have no complaints. We lost nothing, and we were never forced to flee for our lives. Smoke beats fire, in my opinion, and we never saw one lick of flame.

Be greateful for smoke, when there is no fire.

We did manage to take a couple of small hikes, one in Jasper on the Pyramid Lake Trail, and another in Banff on the Tunnel Mountain trail. Neither of them was very long or difficult, but they at least got us out of the van, and into some beautiful country.

In Jasper, we found an incredible business though, it is a coffee shop, a laundromat, and a shower facility called Snow Peak Coffee. This place, unsurprisingly, claims to have the best coffee in town. Surprisingly, the place was packed with locals who were not doing laundry. More than one local recommended the place to us. We needed to do laundry and shower, so we treated ourselves to some coffee drinks and were pleased by how delicious they were. Score one for word-of-mouth advertising.

We did manage to get up close to another glacier outside of Jasper.  We hiked up late in the evening and ended up parking at the base of the giant crazy thing.  In the morning when we woke, the smoke was so thick you couldn't see it.  

Columbia Glacier, near Jasper.

The smoke in the parks was getting so thick, we decided to leave the parks system entirely and head East and South to Calgary. Tiff wanted to get a haircut, so we headed that way. The town of Calgary is another delight. It does tend to sprawl a bit, but what bigger city doesn't. At least it is full of mild-mannered Canadians, and mighty clean for a city which was also sitting in a haze of smoke when we arrived.

However, as the day progressed, the smoke cleared, and after both Tiff and I emerged from our haircuts, we played with the dog for a bit and hit the road. Our next stop was to be our last Canadian destination, Waterton International Peace Park.

Waterton sits on the southern border of Canada, and the USA, and shares another border with Glacier National Park in Montana. We planned to cross the border in the park. When we pulled into the park, after driving through pastoral and ranch land for many miles, we were greeted by a fire ravaged landscape (a temporary tattoo from the previous year's fires), and some truly hazy skies. Our initial impression of the time which awaited us was somewhat bleak.

We spent the night not far from a waterfall, and were at least not in a crowded place, as the proximity of fires in BC had slowed the tourism down considerably. We woke early the next morning and were greeted with clear blue skies.

We made a big breakfast in a local park and planned on doing a “moderate” 6-mile hike up to some waterfalls and a lake on the Lake Bertha Trail. This “Moderate” hike completely kicked our asses. We tend to hike fast, in order to get as much exercise out of the little hikes I can take with my knee still not at 100 %. I hiked at about 5 mph and made it to the lake in about an hour or so. We were covered in sweat and breathing like we had just run a 10K. The elevation gain was not “moderate” by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not complaining though. I needed it. The tough climb was rewarded by a stunningly clear lake, by which I took a 15-minute nap. When I woke, we strolled around the lake, then hiked back down to town.

 Our view on the way up the Lake Bertha Trail.

Our view on the way up the Lake Bertha Trail.

We both got clean (a shower for Tiff, and a lake bath for me), and prepared ourselves to cross the border back into the states. One hates to cross a border looking AND smelling like a hippie. One of those is challenging enough.

Our crossing was uneventful. Just like that, our northern journey was over. Gone was the wildness of the Yukon, the spaciousness of Alaska, or the stunning beauty of British Columbia. Upon us, however, are some of the most beautiful states our country has to offer, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona!

This world is not my home, but I'm happy to be here.

I'll tell you more about our return to the states in the next post, but for now, I'll relate to you the dream I had on our first night across the border.

I was sitting in some strange combination of a house my father once lived in, and some sort of hotel. We were sitting in the downstairs kitchen area, and I was listening to him describe how he felt about having died. It made him sad to be gone from his body, and he could almost feel the weight of regret around him like a heavy coat with pockets full of stones. He seemed to be crying and laughing at the same time.

I remember trying to make eye contact with him and stare into his face (which even now, I have a hard time picturing) as much as possible. I tried to speak to him, but nothing came out. It was as if all of the weight of my own regrets and sadnesses were weighing down my voice, and it was stuck deep within me, struggling in vain to escape.

As I looked for recognizable features on his face, he was suddenly gone, and I was alone in that kitchen. I remember walking through the house, looking for him, and encountering artifacts from my own childhood, and a closet full of the clothes I had to wear when we would spend weekends with him. Clothes I hated as a kid.

I woke up suddenly, stressed out and unable to return to sleep for some time. In the time I spent awake, I looked out of the window above our heads and saw stars and darkness. I was reminded to appreciate the darkness of night in a new way, having spent so much time in the land of the midnight sun.

Wide awake, listening to the strangely poly rhythmic breathing of my wife and our dog as the two of them mixed their tones with the sounds of insects and the wind, I let my mind drift back to the dream I just experienced.

The weight of regret, expressed as a thick coat, heavy with stones, was on my mind. I'm certain I am wearing this coat. Perhaps my coat has even more pockets sewn into it, with reinforced stitching to accommodate even larger, heavier and more numerous stones.

Perhaps I should be making a point of tossing these stones from my coat, the way our tires tend to do as we transition from gravel to pavement. I don't think I can remove the coat entirely, but I can do my best to make sure the pockets are filled with artifacts of my own choosing, memories, and experience which I can wear any weekday or weekend of the year, without concern for judgment or reprisal.

As we make our way south, and our experience is enriched by the many people we meet, I advise any motorists or pedestrians whom we may pass, to keep an eye out for stones of varying size, as they are jettisoned, or blocked from my oddly stitched coat.

Andrew CouchComment
F is for Fairbanks, Friend, and F**ck!

A dog's view from the "Top of the World" Highway...how many smells are within his reach? 

Fairbanks is a town in Alaska. There are paved roads, houses with indoor plumbing, the gravity is on at all times, and the likelihood of seeing a human person in the city limits is 100%. At least, we found it to be that way.

Before we made it to Fairbanks, we camped by a lake near Denali National Park for two nights. We were told of alien activities in the area which had attracted the attention of “scientists” and their mysterious “equipment”, which we could see from the van. A curious local told us something had fallen from the sky recently, and “scientists” showed up immediately after to do “research”. He also said the patterns on the surrounding hills, which were made by stands of short birch and willow trees interrupted by rolling tundra, had been seen to change, sometimes reading like messages...some of those had looked to him like Hebrew.

Of course, being a devotee of ignorance, I scanned the hills in vain, searching for yet another message to completely fail to understand. I may or may not have seen that message, because I got nothing from watching those hills, trying to read a little something special. The only message I got out of the experience was the one I imagine all birch and willow stands have to say; “This whole damn experiment is out of your grasp, dummy!”

Also, when we took a walk the following day, we got a close-up look at this “equipment”. I'll drop the quotes now and just tell you, it was actual scientific equipment. The tundra upon which this equipment rests, and the measurements it is meant to be taking, are all directly linked to the effects of a changing climate on deep-earth temperatures under the tundra. The equipment did have one hilarious feature built-in though. One piece was equipped with some sort of proximity alert device, which would make a buzzing noise, just loud enough to scare anything which got too close, like a bear, or a little dog who wears a tie.

Thinking about the phenomenon of alien sightings, and our fascination with otherworldly visitors made me ask myself some fairly obvious questions.

  1. Why do we assume so many unidentified flying (or crashing) objects are from other planets?

  2. If so much of the world we live in is beyond the limits of our senses (think ultraviolet or the range of smells available to a bear or a dog), why wouldn't a UFO be something from this planet?

  3. Perhaps what we perceive as aliens could be phenomena which we are mysteriously and suddenly able to briefly witness with our limited senses?

As far as I can tell, the answers to those questions are all the same; we don't know.

I do know that the idea of a realm, largely outside of the range of our many senses (there are quite a few after the big 5) made itself something of a theme over the latter part of our Alaskan Journey. I'll tell you about that in a bit. First, I'll tell you about our time in Fairbanks.

We headed to Fairbanks to meet up with our pal, Shooter, who was flying in at 1 AM on Saturday. We got into town a few days early to TCB, and to meet up with a friend of the show, Gary Toth. Gary reached out to us about three months ago, after hearing us on Dr. Chris Ryan's podcast, and invited us to park in front of his house. As it happened, when we decided to visit him, he was fairly occupied with other things.

Gary's brother and his grandnephew were visiting, and one of Gary's two dogs had just given birth to 4 little puppies. In-spite of all of this, Gary felt taking on two additional visitors and their little dog would not cause any trouble, and told us to come on over. We did.

Our first evening at Gary's was great; chatting with Gary and his family, and holding tiny Doberman puppies. The little puppies were beyond adorable. So adorable, in fact, we completely forgot about the camera-phone in our van and took a grand total of zero pictures.

Gary's wife takes an impressively “hands-on” approach to the breeding and raising of these animals. By “hands-on”, I mean the only thing other than dog nipples touching those little creatures are hands...human hands...and super often.

Gary and I took a little trip down to the van, smoked some incredibly powerful pot, and talked about philosophy, meditation, psychedelics, and travel. I knew I wanted to have him on the podcast, so I asked if he would have time the following day. He invited us to join him, his brother, and his grandnephew on a tour of an antique car museum the following day and said he would have plenty of free time after to chat with us. His only request? “Get a hold of some 'Cave Man Coffee', for inspiration.”

The Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks is not to be missed. It doesn't matter if you don't give a shit about cars, machines, or museums. There is something for you at this museum, unless you just hate being in buildings in general.

The oldest vehicle in the place is a 1930's Packard. With just about every vehicle display (I think there are a few dozen of them), you will find a beautifully curated mixture of period-appropriate clothing, informational kiosks, and other charming artifacts from the time of the vehicle's use.

There are several mechanics on-staff, some paid, some volunteering their time, a fantastic shop where they maintain, and occasionally drive, EVERY vehicle in the collection! The shop alone was worth the $10 for me, as they not only rely on their own ingenuity and creativity to maintain these vehicles, but they also have to fabricate a staggeringly large number of parts from scratch. Imagine having to make a replacement part for a vehicle built in 1910, with only the broken part for a template!

After the museum visit, we agreed to meet Gary back at his home. We parked, set up the mics, busted out the coffee, and got to business. We ended up talking so long that my computer battery began dying. We paused, sorted out a solution (plugging into the van's inverter causes an annoying sound to register in the mics...feel free to write-in if you have any suggestions as to how I might remedy this), and kept on going. We ended up talking for over three hours.

The topics of conversation ranged from his own personal history to following a child guru, to living in a spiritual community, to (you guessed it!) the existence of other realms of reality which we fail to perceive with our limited senses.

 Chatty Kathy meets Chattin' Katherine!

Chatty Kathy meets Chattin' Katherine!

At a certain point in our conversation, I noticed that Gary's phone was buzzing frequently...buzzing in the unmistakable way which suggests the person on the other end REALLY wants you to answer and knows you are ignoring the call, so they call back again, right away. I'm fairly certain, Tiffany and I were the only ones to pay it any attention, once Pelé realized that it was of no consequence to him, of course.

Gary paused at one point to run inside and grab his laptop so he could read to us something he had written. When he came back, he told us he was in trouble with everyone in the house, as they were waiting for him to eat. He promised them he would only be about ten more minutes. Twenty-five minutes later, he interrupted himself and broke from the written narrative to just tell us the story. His phone continued to buzz throughout the reading.

When Gary left the van, we felt a sense of relief. Not to have him out of the van, as I would have enjoyed talking to him for much longer, but to have the building pressure in the house finally relieved...or so we thought. About two minutes after going inside, Gary reemerged with his brother, got in his vehicle and drove off.

Tiff and I agreed we should take off without delay. We started packing up our gear, and about five minutes later, Gary and his brother returned with armloads of to-go food. He began to head inside without speaking to us...a sure sign of a spouse outside of the normal operating range of happy. Tiff, Pelé and I stopped him to thank him, and tell him goodbye. About one minute into our salutation, with his dogs standing on the deck above us, barking at Pelé, Gary's wife exploded onto the scene and literally screamed, “Gary, she's had about all she can take!”

At that, Gary turned around without a word and walked back inside.

I'm not certain if she was referring to herself in the third person, or if she was expressing the exasperated sentiment of the mother of the puppies who was barking at Pelé. In any case, we found the best course of action was to fuck-straight-off and move our little party elsewhere.

We picked up the dog, got in the van, sent Gary a sweet a text, and started to leave. Gary reemerged and was able to give us something of a goodbye. We drove off, happy to only have our own domestic entanglements to unravel.

From there, we had to wait it out in Fairbanks until Shooter arrived.

Shooter, for those of you who do not know him, is not a small man. In fact, he is a big man. To be more specific, he is Six feet five inches, and 260 pounds of loud talking, Italian/Irish man. Having this much additional man and luggage in our van for the next five days would be a fun challenge in good weather...in rainy weather it would prove to be a somewhat less fun challenge.

The first night, we drove, at 1 AM, from Fairbanks to about 45 miles north of Denali National Park, where we hoped to be able to do some hiking before it started to rain. We made it to a flat and safe place to set up a tent, and Shooter walked off, looking like one of the bears we had been warned about since entering Alaska.

The next day, we had a great breakfast at camp, and I found an extremely cold stream to jump in and bathe. From there, we made our way to a grocery store, and Shooter bought six bacon wrapped filets, and three ribeye steaks, and about as many groceries as we can fit in the van, then headed to an area south of the National Park where we could camp for free, and maybe take a hike.

We cooked all of the meat in one sitting, so we could have leftovers to make things with the following days. Unfortunately for us, and ultimately for the cows from whom they were involuntarily taken, the rib eyes tasted like wild game. The upshot of the bad meat situation was Pele's meals got a great deal more interesting for about a week.

We cooked, talked shit, smoked some good old California pot and enjoyed the last non-rainy moments we would see for the next three days. After our meal, we took a brief walk around the campground and had to hustle back to camp when the rain started to come down in sheets. We sat together, in the van, all four of us (Pelé counts), and yammered the night away.

The rain would continue to fall for the next three days. We took the briefest of drives into the first fifteen miles of Denali National Park and saw one sad old moose, and about twenty cars, trucks and busses. We saw the little museum inside the visitor center and took a soggy walk along the only trail Pelé was allowed to travel.

We stopped by a hostel earlier in the day, who had lost power, and rented a room which we hoped would have power when we returned. As it happened, power had been restored, and the place was a delight. The room Shooter rented was small, but looked like a gigantic version of our van. We sat in there, listened to music, chatted, and listened to the rain. Later in the evening, we sat in the common area and struck up a conversation with a few of the other travelers.

One of them was a woman from Beijing (where Shooter had been for the Olympics), named Fibi. Fibi was a trained biologist who had improbably studied in Monroe, Louisiana many years ago. She was an absolutely adorable human being. Her most unique quality was something of an open fascination and obsession with a spiritual teaching by yet another guru who, as you may have guessed, was able to heal others through his unique access to an unseen realm of reality wherein he could pluck a troublesome organ from an ailing patient, and wash off cancer cells like dirty melons from a grocery store bin.

After a brief chat with Fibi, we collected our little dog, leaving Shooter to enjoy his room. We were delighted to have the sound of the rain on our roof and slept like we deserved it.

The following day, the rain persisted, so we decided to do indoor activities. Tiffany and Shooter both felt like day drinking. Tiffany suggested the 49thState brewery, which I'm sure is a really cool place with nice beers and some sort of aioli based dips or sauces on the menu. I don't drink, so going to a nice bar has little value to me. If we were going to a bar, I would rather go to a dive, in search of characters. Tiff and I had seen one on our trip up to Fairbanks in a little town called Nenana. A consensus was reached, so we made our way to there. 

When we pulled up to the bar in Nenana, I knew we had made the correct choice. Outside of “Moocher's Bar”, a patron was crossing the street for his own day-drinking. We asked if he knew if it would be cool to bring the dog inside. He laughed, and said, “as long as he's old enough to drink!”

Moocher's is one of the few remaining places in the US where you can smoke cigarettes indoors. When you approach the entrance, you can literally smell the lack of regulation from the street. Other lax regulatory statutes make themselves apparent as soon as your feet touch the floor...it is buckled and wavy as if the floor itself has had a bit too much to drink. We were told later that someone had hit the other side of the building with their car, and had “...severely fucked up the building!” They weren't kidding.

The crash had caused not only the floor to buckle, but the ceiling to shift uncomfortably. It also may have had something to do with the fact that no less than five balls were missing from the pool table (including the cue ball), and completely prevented the bartender from informing me of that when she made change for a dollar.

Watching Pelé play in an old dive bar was a treat for me. He bounced around, sniffed the day-drinkers, was afraid of the toilets, and almost as befuddled by the pool table as I was. He also had some popcorn.

What the car crash failed to do was dissuade the cadre of about 7 delightful weirdos and characters who were drinking and chatting. I say about 7, because the bartender, who was also operating the attached liquor store, was also taking breaks to sit at the bar next to a guy we later found out was her father.

It was her father that I ended up chatting with. After a while, I asked him his name, “I'm K. John. I was crazy John, but a buddy of mine shortened it, and it stuck.”

K for crazy...I'd found my people. All he had to do was keep from mentioning some other realm, and I knew we'd be fine.

Instead of “otherworldly” topics, we discussed a variety of super heavy “this world” topics. K. John is a veteran, a California native who moved to Alaska after the war, and does everything he can to stay, “North of the Alaska Range. I came here to die.” He told me.

We talked about the war for a bit. He had seen some incredibly heavy action and was one of thirty-six men to survive from his company. He said there had been over two hundred men in the beginning. “I'm not here because I'm brave. I'm here because I'm a coward. All the brave guys are dead.”

Our discussion of the war was heavy for him, and when he felt strong emotions, he told me. “Shit, man. You've got me shedding tears. I haven't thought about this shit in a while.” If you are wondering, these were not the tears of old drunk at the bar, rambling on about the war. These were the tears and deep emotions of a thoughtful man who allowed his mind to rest briefly on an old wound.

We spoke about politics for a bit as well. “I fucking LOVE Donald Trump!” He told me. Even though I've been living in the Bay Area for the past several years, and dislike having to call him the president, I am never bothered by people who support Trump.

When I do have conversations with someone who supports Trump, I always ask the same question. 'Are you happy with the way things are working out?' I'm careful to not phrase it in a way which could be misconstrued as condescending or patronizing. I'm genuinely curious, and just want to know how someone in possession of those beliefs perceives the current landscape.

Invariably, the answer is neither a straight yes or an emphatic no. In K. John's case, he compared the American political system to the mafia and suggested that we finally had the right guy at the helm for that type of organization. Regardless of whether or not you accept that analogy as true, if you follow his logic, he isn't wrong. I actually enjoyed that portion of our conversation and was able to keep my own opinions from getting in the way of an otherwise good time. In fact, I continue to enjoy the luxury of being able to keep my cosmically meaningless feelings to myself.

The conversation eventually drifted, the way it tends to do in a place like Alaska, to hunting and fishing. I told him I hadn't caught any salmon, but that I really enjoyed a few “pinks” I had been given in Hope. “Pinks?!? YUK!”

“We feed pinks to the dogs! I'm a red man, myself.” He told me he was planning to go upriver to his fish wheel to collect well over one hundred fish. When I asked what a fish wheel was, the conversation took an even more delightful turn; he invited me to see one. He also offered us some frozen fish.

When we paid our tab, after personally eating about half a pound of the stale and salty popcorn on the bar, we followed K. John in the van, as he drove his 4-wheeler along the river to show us a fish wheel. If you've never seen a fish wheel, they are basically a floating apparatus, tethered to a river bank which uses the flow of the water to turn a large wheel full of baskets and angled chutes to capture fish and guide them into a giant wooden box on the side. These things are capable of catching thousands of fish and need to be carefully monitored while in the river, and removed when the harvest is complete.

From the fish wheel, we followed K.John to his home, where he showed us true hospitality, generosity, and a uniquely good time. First thing, he rolled up a joint and invited us to sit with him. We smoked and talked about his home, winter, and his amazing wife. We did not have the pleasure of meeting this woman, but we were told about her feats of strength, and how she had won a competition by pulling a heavy sled across a great distance.

After getting nice and stoned, he showed us around his home, indulging our relentless questioning. He showed us over twenty different guns, and a variety of furs, including fox, wolf, and a bear (all killed by him). Before we left, he opened his freezer and gave us a large package of moose back-straps, some smoked salmon, and some king salmon filets.

As much as I wanted to get him on the podcast, I passed on the opportunity, and just enjoyed the time we spent with him. Meeting him was something I will not soon forget, and I am as grateful or the opportunity as I am grateful for the moose and salmon.

 “I'm not here because I'm brave. I'm here because I'm a coward. All the brave guys are dead.”  - K. John

“I'm not here because I'm brave. I'm here because I'm a coward. All the brave guys are dead.”  - K. John

From Nenana, we headed north, to Fairbanks. We stayed the night outside of another of Shooter's rooms for the night. This one was near the antique car museum, which we, unfortunately, did not revisit. We did manage to go eat at one of nearly twenty Thai restaurants in Fairbanks that evening. It was incredible.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed off to Chena Hot Springs to camp, cook our moose, and soak in the springs. We ended up doing most of that. We stopped on the way up there for a lovely hike up to a rocky ridge which overlooks the river valley below, and the mountains surrounding it. It was a beautiful hike I would recommend to anyone planning on soaking in the spring.

Shooter declined to camp outside, in spite of the first nice weather we had seen in several days, and got a room in the lodge. We did manage to cook that moose, though.

Moose, unlike deer, has an almost sausage-like quality to it...just without the fattiness of pork sausage. It is gamey but not too gamey. When grilled over hot coals, and then covered with melted and salted butter, the flavor is smoky, savory and just plain delicious.

We spent the better part of the next morning at the springs, where Shooter declined to join us in a soak, preferring instead to sit alone and read. Tiffany took a walk and invited Shooter to join her. He declined that as well. We got the hint, Shooter was ready to go. Five days with me, for anyone is quite a lot to endure. Five days, in a van, with me is something I marvel at Tiffany for being able to endure in such large doses. I don't blame Shooter for wanting to be alone.

I was also ready for Shooter to go, as two people and a dog is already a crowded situation in our little home. The addition of another person for so many days was not the best plan. The last evening of Shooter's visit, I actually got pissed off at him and had a confrontation.

Handling confrontation is not exactly something at which I excel. In fact, I'm horrible at it. My pulse speeds up, I start to sweat, and I get incredibly anxious. Typically, I go to great lengths to avoid it. I'm overly polite, I let go of quite a bit, and I tend to bottle up my frustrations in a large reservoir which rarely reaches capacity. My reservoir, on the last night of my friend's visit, was full, and my ability to let shit go was greatly diminished.  

I dropped a giant turd in the middle of our relatively trouble-free punch bowl, and by suddenly displaying such a drastic change in character, completely shattered the otherwise pleasant nature of our visit. Such is the price one pays for being a human with an ego.

Shooter and I said goodbye that evening after he declined to let us take him to the airport the following morning. We were in less than great spirits. For the first time in our fifteen-year friendship, I was angry with him, and it showed. I'm sure he was angry with me as well, but he gave me a smile I didn't recognize and we parted ways.

I don't really know what to think about our interaction. I am conflicted by my feelings, and very much dislike feeling like an asshole. On the other hand, I also disliked the situation I found myself in with my friend.

Looking back on it now, I should have taken the same approach I took with K. John and his support of Trump. Instead of having a big, dumb confrontation with a good friend, I should have asked him questions about the nature of what was making me angry. Instead, I reacted with the force of a dam breaking on an emotional reservoir and did my part in creating unnecessary tension with someone I truly care about.

This journey is one of continuing education for me. I hope I'm paying attention.

Sometimes, you just fight over nothing.  In fact, maybe we exclusively fight over nothing?

The morning of Shooter's departure, we had plans to visit one of our Patreon supporters, and a friend of the show, James. James has been in touch with us since we began our journey, and even offered to help me get my Alaska massage license so I could pick up work in his office (James is a chiropractor).

Our communications with James have been very friendly, and have had a very professional quality to them. He offered to help us out with any adjustments to our necks and or spines. As much as I wanted to take him up on that, I knew Tiffany needed some deep-tissue work on her neck, back, and shoulders, and I needed to practice my massage skills, so I asked if we could instead borrow one of his massage rooms so I could work on her.

James not only said yes, he also let us use his large washer and dryer to do our laundry. After an hour of massage, we took James out for breakfast and found him to be one of the kindest, warmest and most interesting people we had met in a while. He invited us over for dinner to meet his wife and her young son that evening. We accepted, and are so glad we did.

Amber and Dominic, James's wife and her son, are incredibly wonderful. Amber is an Alaskan Native of the Yupik people. She has been competing in the Native Games since she was a young girl, and has won many competitions. Her son Dominic is a sweet, playful and very smart little man at the age of six!

They fixed a delicious dinner, complete with wild blueberry cupcakes, and Eskimo ice cream! James prefers anonymity, and understandably declined my invitation to be a guest on the podcast. Fortunately for us, Amber was willing, and she let me harangue her with dumb questions while Tiffany entertained Dominic.

Her episode will be out on August 28th!

Dominic, Amber, James and Zona the dog

Spending time with James and his fantastic family in their simple yet beautiful home was a wonderful experience. We slept in their driveway that evening, full from a delicious meal, and glowing with gratitude for the opportunities made possible by this strange journey.

From James's driveway, we began the long journey South. Fairbanks would be our Arctic Circle, our Prudhoe Bay, our northern-most point. From there on, we point the van South.

On the way out of town, we stopped in a little town called Salcha, AK to meet with another Patreon supporter, Nate. Like meeting Gary and James, I'd been looking forward to meeting Nate since he reached out to us.

We met Nate on something of a high from visiting James, and a strange low from my weird interaction with my old friend Shooter. My emotional state was deeply conflicted and left me feeling tired. When we arrived, Nate was waiting for us on the road leading to his home. I could tell immediately that we were in the company of a kind and gentle soul.

We were eager to continue south, as the weather was nice, and we had a ton of miles to cover before the weather turned. With that in mind, we hadn't planned on staying at Nate's home and were thinking of getting further down the road while the conditions were good. The scenery had been fantastic, and we wanted to see more. In retrospect, this was an error.

Nate's story is a fascinating one. He has lived all over the world, worked as a geologist, and in various capacities for the armed forces. I kick myself for not sticking around to record his tale while at his home. In addition to Nate being an all-around cool guy, he is also grooming his place to be a campground for travelers to the north. We sat with Nate, drank some coffee, looked over his view of the Salcha River, toured his cozy and rustic cabin, and smoked some beautiful, Alaskan pot. The caffeine, marijuana combo for me is powerful, and the urge to drive was pretty strong. In any case, I should have stayed there, and pulled out our gear in the morning. Instead, with the promise of a southbound journey burning in our veins, we set off after sharing a coffee and one of Nate's perfectly rolled joints.

At some point in the future, I would like to return to the frozen north, to see what winter is really like. I will make a point of visiting Nate again.

Our pal Nate at his home in Salcha, AK!

The only upshot of making decisions on impulse is the way in which it makes you available to other serendipities, like chance meetings, and random moments in nature. While mining the hills of impulsivity, this time we hit solid-impulse-gold!

Out of Salcha, we camped by a beautiful river, with the snow-capped Alaska Range in the distance. We watched, humbled by our abject tininess as the peaks seemed to change color every time we looked up from tossing sticks with Pelé. The next morning, we had three goals to reach by the end of the day; Breakfast in Tok, a walk in a town called Chicken, Alaska, and day's end in Dawson City, Canada.

At breakfast, in a place called Fast Eddy's, we drank about forty-five cups of coffee and ate a little bit. We spent a little time there, researching the route (Tiffany), and wandering around with the dog (me). As soon as we were ready, we made our way south and east.

The road between Tok and Chicken is not kind for a vehicle like ours, but it is quite beautiful in the rare moment you feel confident peeling your eyes away from the road will not lead you into a giant, axle-breaking hole. The town of Chicken, however, is worth the drive.

Chicken is a town which physically, mentally, spiritually, and metaphysically just cannot take itself too seriously. Once you latch onto a name like Chicken, your fate is sealed. Gigantic metal chickens are compulsory, so are fowl-puns, egg-jokes, and a variety of other bird-specific themes. The public toilet even has a large painting of a stressed-out chicken, standing in the familiar ankles crossed way which tells the world it clearly needs to take a piss.

A chicken in Chicken, AK.

It was in this goofy little town that I heard an incredible voice coming from the front porch of a restaurant with an impressively chicken-centric menu. That deep, sonorous voice, complete with rhythmic Latin overtones and cadence, belonged to a guy we had seen eating breakfast in Tok.

I need to confess something; I am a compulsive eavesdropper. I blame it on having been a bartender for many years, which tuned my ears to listen out for people who needed a drink. In reality though, I also just liked listening to what people had to say. I like a story, and eavesdropping is a great way to hear stories without polluting the stream with my presence.

I was practicing this skill in Chicken when the owner of that deep, latin voice was singing his tune. I heard some keywords; photography, Miami, Alaska, motorcycles, travel, and Dawson City. I bided my time by visiting the pissing chicken shack.

When I returned from the piss palace, I saw the guy with the deep voice, as he was preparing for departure next to what was clearly his beautiful BMW touring motorcycle. As I approached, I noticed he had a Brazilian flag sticker on his fuel tank, as well as a sticker for what I later would learn, is his website – ricardoserpa.com

After a few moments of speaking with him about his plans, a bit about what he was doing, and where he was going that evening, the conversation turned to us. Ricardo asked what we were doing. I wasted no time, and told him I was there to do exactly what we were doing, meeting people who do fun and interesting things, inviting them to sit with us in our van and asking them a series of increasingly stupid questions. I then asked if maybe he would like to join us for dinner in Dawson City, and maybe be on the show. He said yes, and that was one of the last things I would truly enjoy in Alaska.

We agreed to meet him in Dawson, later that evening and said our temporary goodbyes. “See you there,” he said. It sounds so innocent and easy - “see you there.” However, when “there” is Dawson City, and you are in Chicken, innocence, and ease is not in the forecast.

We took a small walk around the debris field in Chicken, which is dispersed around an old river dredge, and found the atmosphere to be quite lovely, and strangely idyllic for a place that can experience 50 below zero. After our little trot around the detritus, we hopped innocently into our little van and pointed the nose towards Canada, and the “Top of the World” highway.

About 10 or so miles from the border, the road goes from pretty shitty to beautifully paved. I'm not sure who is kidding whom, but I wasn't buying it. That nice little stretch of road, while a welcome break, seemed like one country was fucking with the other. In any case, it didn't last long.

I did manage to accidentally insult the border crossing guard, mercifully it was after he had handed me back our passports and told us to drive safely. I thanked him, and said, “Don't ever dye that beard, man. The grey looks cool.” What I didn't realize, was that the guy I had perceived as having a lovely black beard with little bits of grey at the top, had been dying it black for years, and the little grey bits at the top were the roots! Clearly, I don't know how hair dye works...

At any rate, he dropped his smile and waved us along. My own smile was not far behind him in the dropping game, because the road, in spite of being situated on a beautiful ridge, which rolls along for miles this way, was about to go from perfectly paved to apocalyptic, tooth-filling rattlingly shitty.

We traveled over this road, which I later learned is closed in the winter (for good fucking reason), for hours and hours. I seriously started to lose my mind. The front end was squeaking so badly, that I pulled over and re-greased the ball joints. At one point, as we rattled over a particularly bad stretch of pothole-filled road, I slammed on the breaks, just hard enough to send all of the shit in our closet, crashing to the floor. I was so tweaked out with irrational worry for the condition of our vehicle, that I had to take a bit of a fuming stroll around a rest-stop before I could manage to get the grease-gun out and take care of the suspension.

From the "Top of the World" Highway.

It took me a while to remember how useless and soft it was to be complaining about how “rough” the road was treating me. It took way too long to realize I could instead consider the following; our machine is carrying a beautiful mattress, warm blankets, plenty of good food, fresh water, a wife who loves me regardless of what an idiot I can be, a fun loving dog who just wants me to love him, and a litany of treasured belongings in the van, too numerous to mention. It does all of this, over terrible roads, through heat, cold, rain, or sunshine, and only asks that I remember to give it fuel, and look after it when it needs something (which has been a mercifully rare occasion). In exchange for that, this machine has taken us over ten thousand miles so far! I have precious little to complain about.

This lack of things about which to complain brings me back to thoughts of realms which operate outside of our perceptual range. I tend to worry about things which are beyond my control, and I find myself caught up in a whirlwind of negative emotions and worries about the future, the past, or the ineffable nature of consciousness.

I should consider my troubles with the flow of time or the nature of consciousness the same way I should look at the way I fret over rough roads. I should take those bumps and potholes as frequent reminders to be grateful for having a vehicle, without which I would not perceive them. I should visualize my concerns for the bumps and potholes in my perception of reality, as reminders to be grateful for having a mind without which I might actually get bumped off the road.

However, sometimes it just feels good to get mad at nothing. To shake a fist at the sky, and grit my little teeth together in an impotent display of useless rage at no one. It feels good, not because it is effective at creating change in any given environment, but because it creates a change in me. To exhaust that sort of toxic rage, the way our fantastic machine exhausts the unburned carbon atoms in the diesel fuel I feed it. To roll into and over those pointless moments, the way our tires roll over and into the pointless potholes... You just do it. You do it every day. Eventually, you can't do it anymore, and the game is over. The trip comes to an end. Then, you get your answers. Until then, you eat, you move, you experience, you exhaust, and you roll along, red with rage, or red with delight. The choice is probably yours.

 Adiós Alaska!

Adiós Alaska!

 

 

 

 

Andrew CouchComment
Homer is Where the Heart Is
IMG_20180721_102517183.jpg

I'd like to take a moment to share my feelings about psychedelics, death, and panic. My great fear is that at some point, whether at the moment of death, on a powerful trip, or just some afternoon waiting on a bus, I will experience the same sensation I have had on psychedelics, where I suddenly question if everything I've ever known hasn't just been a great big old lie. In that state, any messages coming my way from the psychedelic, or from anyone around me are no more trustworthy. I fear that I may slip out of my mind completely, and be unable to believe in anything at all, with no idea what is real or imagined, and subsequently remain in that state of consciousness indefinitely. It feels like my mind is a quarter in a funnel, circling the drain, about to drop into the hole, ending the game I've been playing in consensus reality. 

I suppose this comes from the very real fact that I truly know nothing about how things actually work. I don't understand the gravity keeping me on the ground, let alone the oxygen in the very air I breathe. I don't know how my body or mind function, I don't know how or why there is something rather than nothing, I don't know how the computer works than I'm using to write this, and I'm not even sure if these things haven't been explained to me, multiple times.

These fairly basic questions are sneaking around in my mind, unanswered in the dark.  They bounce through my waking moments like some sort of tennis game played on a cosmically stupid court. I often feel my mind is like some sort of impenetrable, unsinkable piece of styrofoam, unmoored and adrift on a sea of knowledge, achieving buoyancy by means of my own abject thickheadedness.  Fortunately, most of the people I meet are real nice.

With that out of the way, I'd like to tell you about our trip...

Spit adjacent

At times, looking over my shoulder to the passenger seat of our van, I can experience an almost overwhelming feeling of love for the occupants of that seat. My wife and my dog - one often sleeping, the other often pouring over the maps and books which are meant to guide us; both occupying a place in my heart which only those who you truly love and who truly annoy you can occupy. I am a fortunate man to travel with such companions.

With these companions, I was fortunate enough to travel to a little town at the end of the road in Alaska, called Homer. On the way into town, we headed towards a long, narrow bit of land jutting out into the bay, known to locals as “the spit”. Tiffany has been intrigued by this little dry elbow of land since we began research for this trip. As is often the case with on the ground reality vs on-paper research, expectation creates a mirage-like view of something that may or may not really be there.

Although the “Spit” definitely exists and will not vanish when approached, the romantic notion of an “authentic” (whatever that means) Alaskan experience quickly disappear, leaving behind what one would expect of a place that is trying to scratch out a living from fish, tourists, and nostalgia. Fortunately for the incredible town of Homer, there is much, much more to this lovely place than just “the spit”.

“The spit” creates for Homer the same sort of buffer from tourists as is created by the French Quarter (specifically Bourbon St.) in New Orleans. Although locals make use of “the spit”, it is there to entertain the tourists, and create income for the locals, leaving the rest of the town, largely free of crowds of temporaries like us.

Tiffany and I spent the first night of our visit to Homer on “the spit”. We had a great time, in spite of the tourist-trap atmosphere, mostly as a result of fantastic weather, a long walk on the beach, and fun and interesting neighbors.

We met two different couples out there, one about twenty years older than us, traveling in a custom built sprinter van. The other couple was about forty years older than us, traveling in a class B motorhome. Both couples were kind, funny, quirky, and delightful. Of course, I don't remember any names, but the younger couple was from Wisconsin, and the older couple split time between Arizona and Alaska.

I do remember the younger couple was somewhat keen on talking politics when they noticed we had California tags and Tibetan prayer flags on our vehicle. The husband actually said, “I like talking politics with people who are on my side.” I can't help but think that is considerably more problematic in the long-run than speaking to people with whom you disagree. As is my custom, I left that unchallenged, and just enjoyed the act of listening to someone who was certain I agreed with him without ever actually having to do so. I'm not sure if I agree with anyone, or if I even have a “side”, so I'm always willing to hear someone out.

The older couple had very different views politically but were not keen on sharing them, likely as a result of the same correlations people tend to make when observing our California plates and colorful flags. In both cases, Tiffany and I did our best to just observe and report.

Having political discussions is likely a healthy exercise. Unfortunately for me, I am way less interested in talking about what an asshole Trump is, or what the US is doing in Yemen and am much more interested in what it must be like to have a job like Trump's, or what it was like to be Yemeni before the Saudis were dropping our bombs on them. Unfortunately, I have no immediate access to Trump or anyone from Yemen...I would welcome both, but would prefer the latter.

After our night on “the spit”, Tiff, Pelé and I decided to take a walk on Bishop's Beach. On the drive over, we both cracked open our windows to get some fresh air in the van. The wind was fairly gusty, and in an improbable series of wind-born events, a somewhat precious artifact of ours was swept from its resting place, and flew out the passenger window, landing in a lake on the highway. The artifact was a beautiful feather from the Greater Argus, a bird from Papua New Guinea. This feather was given to me by my friend Erik on the first day we met. I've had this feather for three years, and have displayed it in a prominent place since receiving it. To see it fly out the window and land in a lake seemed a true shame...at first.

We pulled over and ran to the lake. The feather was resting on the water and was being blown directly into the middle of the lake by the same gusts of wind which freed it from in the van in the first place. There was no retrieving it. At first, I felt sad to have lost it, but then remembered just how little things like that actually matter. A gift given is a gift waiting to be lost, destroyed, stolen, or re-distributed after your death. I watched it float away, thinking to myself just how startled the bird who had grown that feather in the first place, would have been to see any of its beautiful plumage in a place as far from Papua New Guinea as Homer, Alaska. I then though about the fact that the bird in question was likely long dead, and would be startled witless to be suddenly alive again, just to witness some dumb white guy, starring into a cold Alaskan lake, trying to apply some sort of philosophical balm to a loss that was objectively way less traumatic than having a feather literally plucked from its body.

Our walk on Bishop's Beach was quite nice though. It was nice for a variety of reasons. The weather was fair, breezy, and overcast, but not cold. We walked through tide-pools, looked at sea plants and searched for birds, shells, and sea-life. There were kids on the beach who we had the opportunity to speak with, thanks to Pelé. Hearing children explain to you just what you are seeing in an environment is always entertaining. What truly made the walk special though, was a chance encounter between Pelé and another dog.

As we were nearing the end of our walk, Pelé, who takes a somewhat ambivalent stance on encountering other dogs on a walk, saw another dog in whom he seemed unusually interested. Our normally standoffish little friend walked right up to a delightfully short, stocky, fluffy, little white dog and began the bizarre, intimate and, I would guess, highly informative dance of circling and ass-sniffing that dogs seem to love doing.

The dog's name is Quito, like the capital Ecuador. She is an . The people walking with here are named Bill and Melisse. Bill and Melisse are in their late fifties or early sixties, and immediately seemed like kind people. I struck up a conversation with Bill, and Tiffany and Pelé chatted with Melisse and Quito, each in their own highly inquisitive ways.

Bill was on a mandatory sabbatical, and chose to spend some of his time visiting friends in Homer; Melisse and her husband Dave. The work from which he was being forced to take a break was diplomatic work for the U.S. State Department. Bill had been in Ecuador for the past several years, working in the embassy...amazingly, Quito is not his dog. His next assignment would be in Beirut, and would require six months of intense training and constant lessons in arabic.

After chatting with him for about five minutes, I mentioned we were traveling with recording gear, and would like to talk with him for our podcast. He agreed, and we exchanged information.

What I didn't realize was that Tiffany had already received an invitation to come over to Dave and Melisse's home for drinks, and a place to park the van for the night. When we reconnected the group, Melisse and Bill had to hustle off to pick up Melisse's husband Dave, who was finishing up his radio show within the next ten minutes. The show is called Pot-Luck, and is tethered to no particular genre.

We parted ways, and planned to meet later on that evening. Both Tiffany and I were incredibly excited to have been invited over to someone's home, and I was particularly excited to meet someone who had a radio show (as the host of my own fake radio show), and was eager to speak with Bill about his work.

Dave, Big Dummy & Bill

When meeting new people on the road, you never know how a prolonged encounter will turn out. Will you run out of common interest? Will the host tire of your presence? Will you tire of theirs? Will you like them, or they you? It's a crap-shoot every time. Fortunately for us, Tiff and I tend to like just about everyone. We ended up liking Quito, Dave, Melisse and Bill more than most.

That first evening at their home, in front of which we parked our van for three nights, we bonded over music, food, wine, travel stories, art, and human compassion. We would spend the next two days in orbit around their home, sharing talks, meals, snacks, and a beautiful water taxi and lovely group hike. We would also end up taking a much needed yoga class from Melisse.

We took a water taxi to the Kachemak State Park for a beautiful hike with Melisse, Dave, Bill, and Quito. The walk took us through the forest, over a river via a hand-powered tram, and ultimately to a glacial lake. Pelé swam in the icy waters...I just submerged my head and torso. We all took turns in the lineup, chatting independently with one another. I highly recommend this hike and taxi to anyone. The water taxi captain took us by a rookery, where we saw an incredible variety of sea-birds, including several types of Gull, tons of Cormorants, and several Tufted Puffins! There were also well over a dozen sea otters, eating and playing with their young.

If you are wondering whether or not Tiffany and I realize how fortunate we are, rest assured, we are doing our best to recognize acknowledge our good luck as often as possible. We are also doing our best to spread this good fortune around through any act of kindness or generosity we can find.

Before we left the good company of Dave, Melisse, Bill, and Quito, we would record two podcasts, watch as Pelé and his new pal Quito warmed our hearts, and get to experience one of my favorite things – paying multiple visits to a quirky grocery store. We would also have gained new friends.

The podcast with Bill will be out soon, and the podcast with Dave and Melisse will follow immediately after.

Melise & Dave...Quito (presenting from the rear) is blending into the floor on the left.

Let me tell you about this grocery store. The Save-U-More in Homer is not a typical grocery. First of all, I should tell you that I am amazed by every grocery store I visit. The bright lights, the organization, the foods from around the world, the prepared meals, the age-range of the employees, the community gathering aspect of the store itself, the availability of everything from foreign wines to fruits and vegetables which would never have been there otherwise; all of it is incredible to me. I try to be aware of this modern-miracle every time I enter one; especially when I enter one in a place as remote as Homer, Alaska.

In a strong field of incredible stores, however, the Save-U-More in Homer is a stand-out. When you first enter, you are in a bit of a deli/restaurant area, serving fish and chips, giant plates of nachos, pizza, ice-cream, and various stoner foods, stopping just shy of giving patrons jars of peanut butter and spoons. The place is dimly lit, cinderblock-walled, and filled to the gills with various departments. There are tools and hardware items, a pet store, a liquor store, housewares, some limited clothing items, and isle after isle of foods from various regions of the world. There is a Russian and Bulgarian section, an Oriental foods section, Latin foods, middle-eastern foods, typical American items, organic, conventional, frozen, fresh, seafood, meats, a Trader Joe's end-cap, tons of items obviously purchased from Costco, and a crazy hodgepodge of mixed items from around the globe.

The whole place is teeming with locals, Russian orthodox families, a few tourists, and people clearly looking specifically for weird shit, for the sake of finding weird shit. We managed to visit this store almost every day while we were in town.

Before we left, we also had the opportunity to meet, in-person, someone, who has been sending us messages on Facebook and Instagram since we began our journey. Since having our trip exposed to the public via Dr. Chris Ryan's podcast, we have been in touch with people from all over the globe, wishing us well, or inviting us to meet with them. Our new pal, Tom who has a summer cabin in Homer, has been incredibly generous with information and even offered us the use of his cabin while he was away. Tom and his family made it to Homer on the last night of our visit, and we planned on meeting the following day before we left for Anchorage.

Tom's place is something special. Over a few decades, Tom has collected buoys from the Pacific ocean, the Kachemak Bay, and even the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and has brought them all to rest on the property, many dangle from tree-limbs, some are huge and on the ground, others have fallen, or are laying on the deck of his cabin. He lovingly calls his home Buoy-land and is rightfully proud of the home he built with his own hands.

Tom is a high energy, kind, playful, hardworking fella. His wife and Son were there as well, and were both, understandably, a bit more low energy than Tom; likely due to having traveled the day before from Utah to Anchorage, then driving from there to Homer. Tom's enthusiasm was apparently undimmed, as he was hard at work when we arrived, taming the quickly growing plants which were doing their best to overtake his yard. He greeted us and took us on a tour of the property that ended with a walk to a bench on a ridge, overlooking the bay below.

The proud owners of Buoy-Land

 

Homer is situated in between mountains, the Kachemak Bay, and another range of impressive mountains with glaciers grinding them down from the Harding Icefield above. On a clear day, Home is as beautiful as any place I've ever seen.

Homer, AK

The magic of being able to meet a guy like Tom, all through this crazy journey, the podcast and the objectively strange world of social media has not been lost on me. We are looking forward to spending more time with Tom in Utah.

Our time in this magical community was spent in awe of the people there, as much as the beauty surrounding them. I can only imagine that this community of people must be what makes the otherwise miserable weather conditions of the winter worth living through in between the pleasant months of spring summer and fall.

 

From Homer, we made our way north to Anchorage to meet a friend visiting from California. Our pal J.T. Flew in to meet us. J.T. Was one of several guests on the show before we left for our journey.

On the way to Anchorage, we were fortunate to be able to briefly catch up with our Brazilian friends, Marcos, Cristina, Kateno, and Teressa. Pelé continues to like those kids and patiently played a gentle game of fetch with them for over an hour.

Once in Anchorage, we scooped up J.T., and had a fantastic evening in a hostel with our friend from home. J.T. Had the foresight to rent a small apartment style room for us for the first night of his visit. The Bent Prop Inn is the place to be if you have to stay a night in Anchorage. Tiffany and I truly appreciated the gesture, and took advantage of being able to sit on a couch, and for me at least, being able to stand up straight while cooking breakfast.

We visited a bakery in town called the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. I highly recommend it, but more importantly, J.T. (a highly skilled and world-class baker, and head of bakery operations at a large bakery in Alameda, CA) also recommends it. We took a variety of fresh bread, and drove to an area called Hatcher pass to hike over the April Bowl.

Before reaching the trail-head, I stopped by the little Su river, stripped down to my undies, and jumped in the river. The cold, rushing water was better than the coffee I'd been drinking and readied me for our hike. The hike was above Hatcher Pass. It takes you straight up for about a mile of rolling tundra, overlooking valleys, mountains in the distance, beautiful alpine lakes and miles and miles of unpopulated landscape. We were accompanied throughout the hike by little ground squirrels, which drove Pelé completely wild. Every bit of his instinct is to give harmless chase to creatures like those.

J.T. surveys the landscape.

Pelé is almost always off-leash and has no real trouble with it (mostly). He is largely obedient, and will come to you when called (usually, unless he really doesn't want to...or just feels like sitting down, or staring at you, or wandering off in another direction altogether). In short, Pelé sticks with us on a trail, and doesn't get too far ahead of us, or fall too far behind. On the April Bowl hike, however, he had other plans.

Once we reached the summit, I had to piss. Tiffany and J.T. Didn't go all the way to the top originally, as they felt there wasn't much else to see. I turned my back on Pelé for about as long as it takes to empty a full adult male bladder, and turned around to find no trace of our pal Pelé.

The landscape around me at that moment was fairly stark. I was on the peak of a mountain, surrounded by moss, small flowers, rocks and boulders, and patches of snow. The same basic ingredients rolled and undulated down from where I was standing in all directions. I called out for Pelé and heard my voice blow away in the wind. I called again...and again...then a little louder. I waited, but that dog never came.

Tiffany came up the hill, and in a “helpful” tone said, “You lost the dog?”

We both began calling out for him. I knew he must have been chasing after those little squirrels, and gotten completely distracted by it. The chase, in his mind, was too good to pay attention to where his people were.

We both called out in increasingly desperate volumes for our little pal. I had visions of myself out there at midnight, calling for him, and visions of the horrible moment when I would have to eventually drive away from that mountain with a broken, guilty heart. “Pelé!!!” We called out, over and over again. In between the howling of the wind and the echo of my own voice, I strained my hearing for a sonic glimpse of the sound of his tags, jingling against his collar. I was clamoring down the side of the mountain in the direction I had last seen him and was pretty far down when I finally saw him.

Our crazy little friend had run down the entire side of the mountain, and was nearly at the tree line, still distractedly chasing after those little creatures. I actually started screaming. Finally, he saw me and ran up the hill towards me. When he finally made it back to my side, I could have cried. J.T. likened the experience to having once lost sight of his daughter at the tower of London on a busy day for about 45 minutes. I'm not sure if the love one has for a dog is equal to the love one has for a child, but I felt deep desperation, and a tremendous relief, the likes of which I would rather not experience.

Post Rescue!

After a fairly tense descent, we took the Hatcher Pass road over to the highway that leads to Denali national park, turning off to visit the town of Talkeetna. This little town, we liked right away.

For one, it is small, funky, and not overly full of tourists or RV's. There are, of course, lots of little gift shops, and tourist attraction places, but the town has a character of its own. Many of the workers are seasonal, but there is also a strong local vibe. We walked around, had a nice meal, bought an incredibly expensive joint from a dispensary, then made our way to a campground.

For the first time on this journey so far, we actually set up our tent, and prepared to sleep in it; leaving the van and our comfortable bed for our pal, J.T. to enjoy. In spite of going to bed a little high, I wasn't paranoid about my proximity to grizzly bears and slept like I deserved it.

The same was true the following night when we camped at a campground in Anchorage. However, the campground in Anchorage did not afford us the sleep of the just, as it was situated near the highway. Our site was also quite close to a couple of campers who were having a screaming match in the night. An early flight the next morning was to blame for the choice of campgrounds that evening.

Anchorage was not our favorite place. I couldn't quite get my finger on the pulse of the town. I also got the impression that if I did manage to find the pulse, I would need to immediately wash that finger. We did quite like that hostel though.

We had a blast with J.T., he is honest about everything, not shy, interested in just about everything, and as fun to be around on a road trip as he is sitting on a porch. I hope we see him again somewhere down south!

About 10 hours after J.T.'s visit, we met our friend Helena at the airport (our 3rdvisit to that airport). We met Helena in Baja about two years ago, as she was traveling solo, on her bicycle from Florida! Helena had a 6-hour layover on her way from Bristol Bay to Seattle. We timed our visit to Anchorage to see both her and J.T. .  We are so glad we did!

I very much wanted to have Helena as a guest, but she was suffering through the final stages of a cold and was not really in the mood for us to put a microphone in her face and pepper her with questions. So, we left the microphone out of the picture.

Helena has been living in Oaxaca, Mexico for the past year or so, working for a Spanish Language school. She was in Bristol Bay, working in the Salmon harvest as a quality control agent for a buyer. Her job on the boat was to keep an eye on the overall quality of the fish being dropped off by smaller fishing vessels, determine the grade of fish, and help the buyer determine what to pay per pound for the fish. She was also there to help guide the fishermen on how to better handle the fish, so as not to damage the future filets.

Her's was an ambitious position, for sure. Helena had never been on a salmon fishing boat.  She knew nothing about salmon fishing.  She learned about salmon quality on-the-fly.  She did all of this while living aboard a boat for nearly one month of her two month journey. Ambitious journeys are not new territory for Helena.

Helena, when we first met her, was in Baja, riding her bicycle. She had ridden that bicycle from Florida, alone. Helena's tools for measuring and carving out ambition are somewhat sharper than most.

We enjoyed a few hours in her sweet and funny company, returned her to the airport where we found her, then made our way to a Cabella's parking lot for a surprisingly good night's sleep.

The following day, we made the short drive to a little town on the Kenia Peninsula called, Hope, AK. Hope is basically adorable in every way. The buildings on the main street (which is dirt), are small, wooden, old and charming. The paint is chipping and curling in a charming way. The un-level and un-plumb windows and door frames are charming. The town even has an incredibly charming little disclaimer, pinned-up conspicuously by the public toilets, reminding any visitors who mat stop to read it, that the charming town in which they are standing is run entirely by volunteers.

Fortunately for this charming little slice of heaven, the river at the base was full of fish, which had attracted loads of anglers, eager to catch them. The bottom of town is basically a campsite for tents and RV's, opening up to a large grassy tidal flat, surrounded by Resurrection Bay and the mountains and glaciers which live there.

We took the Hope Point hike up to the top of a ridge, overlooking the town and the bay. The view was worth the climb and the 8 or so miles.

Back in town, we managed to strike up a conversation with a guy who was quite eager to check out our van.  This character was happy to sit with us for a bit, share some wine, and then offer us some recently caught fish!  His son-in-law had been pulling out salmon all day, and was kind enough to filet and package two beautiful fish for us, rith on the river.

We Thanked them with more wine, and parted ways for the evening.  Before even a sip of coffee had been poured the next morning, I got out the charcoal and the grill and got to work.  

As I lit the coals, another guy approached and struck up a conversation with me. This particular guy was from New Jersey, and was traveling through the state with his wife, son and daughter. The trip was centered around fishing adventures, and was a stand-in for his son's Bar Mitzfah. 


Tiffany and I had been watching this family the previous day, and noted that the young man in question spent hours and hours in the water, catching fish after fish. He was about as happy as a young guy could be.

The father asked if he could throw some of his fish on the grill after I was done cooking. I hate to waste coals, and was happy to share. We ended up spending the morning chatting about a variety of things; fishing, parenting, travel, latin America, New Jersey, and education.

We had a great time, and became fast friends, exactly the way it tends to happen in campgrounds. As the coals were dying, my new pal offered me some of his fish. I gladly accepted, and rigged up an impromptu smoker, using the low heat of the dying fire, several large sheets of aluminum foil, and some wood chips I chopped from some firewood to give the last two pieces of fish a slow smoked flavor. As you might expect, they were the best pieces of the day.

Over the next week, both Pelé and I would enjoy fish with every meal. What a great gift!
From Hope, we traveled north to Denali. On the way, we stopped off in a strange place called Whittier, AK. To get there, one must drive through a mountain. Under the mountain is more accurate. There is a crazy tunnel under the mountains which separate Prince William Sound from Resurrection Bay, and it is shared by vehicle traffic and a train line. All of this is managed by a series of cameras, a crew of dedicated civil servants, and a couple of enormous jet engines which do their best to push out the harmful vehicle emissions from the tunnel. Honestly, it feels like some sort of nightmare waiting to happen. 

Mercifully, on either side of the tunnel, beautiful scenery and strange characters await. We spent about fifteen minutes in Whittier, where the whole town lives in two buildings. We got an espresso and headed off to go hike up to a glacier.
The Portage Glacier is a thing of spectacular beauty. The hike up to it is also fantastic, and only a little challenging. We hiked, sat around by the glacier for a bit, and made it back down to the tunnel, just in time to drive through without waiting. As always, the key to not having to wait around on anything is to not be in any kind of hurry. 

Portage Glacier, Whittier, AK

From Whittier, we made our way far north.  Thanks to being dog owners, much of the National Park is off-limits to us, as dogs are not allowed anywhere other than the parking lot and a small trail adjacent to the road. We were not deterred and headed to see the mountain with clear skies and a few campground ideas in-tow.

On the way up there, we stopped and picked up a couple of hitchhikers who had just clearly finished a long hike. The couple was from Switzerland and were the same age as Tiffany and I. After Pelé greeted them with a little bark and growl, they settled in. We took them far beyond where we originally intended to stay for the night. We all ended up going to a grocery store, then we took them back to the park entrance, where we parted ways. Tiff and I were both so glad to have picked them up, and they thanked us with espresso and fantastic conversation. I was glad to have an opportunity to pick up a hitchhiker, as I am the sort who always wants to.

That evening, we camped just north of Denali and were incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic view of the mountain all night. We were in deep tundra, looking at the very spot where the North American plate just up into the landscape. There were miles of tundra, stretching out around us, large hills and mountains, and a small lake nearby. While making a fire and relaxing, we were greeted with another surprise visit.

A car came by, and two incredibly small women emerged. One of them immediately asked if I had seen her brother-in-law. The question didn't land well in my brain (stupid reefer). I had to ask her to repeat her question. She repeated it while looking over the tundra with a pair of binoculars that made her look even smaller than she was.

I grabbed our binoculars, got a description of her brother-in-law, climbed up to the top of the van, and spent the next several minutes looking for him. In the mean-time, the other of the two women (the wife of the missing fella), wandered off into the brush to look for her husband. The lady with the giant binoculars engaged with Tiffany and needed some assistance getting to a chair in the back of the vehicle. 

While Tiff was busy with the tiny lady, I asked if the tiny lady (Linda, as it happens) if she would like for me to call out for her brother-in-law. She told me his name and said, “Go for it.”

“Albert!” I yelled. “ALLLBERT!!!”. I was reminded of searching desperately for our little wandering friend, Pelé. I wondered if either of the women were feeling that desperation I had recently experienced. I asked how long he had been missing.

“Oh, he is just looking for berries, and we don't want him to have to walk back up the hill. He isn't lost...at least, I don't think he is.”

Of course, the moment a situation is no longer perceived as being desperate, it becomes much easier to solve. I spotted Albert almost immediately after that. I let Linda know I had spotted him, about 800 yards to my right, wearing the blue checkered shirt she described and carrying the little blue bucket. I watched him continue to pick berries for some time; oblivious to the fact that there was a half-hearted search party out looking for him.

Linda then began shouting, “MERT!!, MERT!!”

As it happens, Mert is Linda's sister. Mert was now fairly far afield and needed locating. Tiffany set out to find her, and I kept my eye out for Ablert. It took about an hour, but finally, everyone was reunited. As soon as Albert was wrangled to the car, he took off again, in search of berries which might be closer to the car's new location. 

Tiffany and I took the opportunity to chat with the two diminutive ladies, Mert and Linda. The ladies were Eskimo and told us stories about the village where they were raised (about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle). They told us about dog sledding, hunting caribou with their mother, great fun in the bitter cold, and years of objectively terrible wok up in Prudhoe Bay.

They also mentioned a son and nephew who had been a champion in the Native games. We had never heard of the native games, but when Linda told me her son was one of the very best at the blanket toss, I got a clue as to what the native games were about. The games represent a competition to determine who is the best and strongest, to be sure. However, they also to create a rising tide to lift all of the boats, so to speak.

We had such a good time chatting with those ladies. They declined to join us by our fire, as they needed to set up their camp, and wait for Albert to come back with berries. I did manage to get this fantastic shot of Tiff with her new buddies.

Mert, Tiff, Linda

This journey is not an adventure, and it is not a vacation. This is something of a quest for kinship, friendship and a sense of purpose in existence. We have been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to be right where we need to be to meet fun and interesting people. Not all of them make it on the podcast, but each of them informs how we are choosing to express our own humanity, and how we experience the wild world around us. 

Here is to friends, new, old, and yet to be made. Cheers to you, oh stranger, my future friend. May we meet again, and again.  Also, I sure hope it is all really happening.

Alaska, Schmalaska

Move your ass going, my friend....Near TOK, AK

Some days, when you are barely aware of time,

Observing the spaces between the lines of a thumbprint is a day’s work.

Occasionally, one is occupied solely with wildness.

Some days are domestic and reassuringly normal.

But some days, you just drive.

It really doesn't matter where this is...it's just there...waiting for nothing-in-particular to happen...or maybe not.

Pelé is a quick study and a patient little guy. He adjusts to pretty much anything we are doing. However, he knows when a “just drive” day is coming. He slows way down, will stand anywhere from 10 to 50 yards away and just stare at you. He isn't overly obstinate, and will generally motivate in your direction after one or two clicks and whistles.

Leaving Haines, we had a whole bunch of driving ahead of us, and Pelé knew it. The first night out of town (and back in Yukon, Canada) we stopped along the Quill river, and Pelé pulled every stick he could manage to get his teeth around out of that water. He darted around and played a game of chase with me that I will remember for the rest of my life.  When not slapping mosquitoes to death, we tossed the rescued sticks and played and played.

From there, it was a whole day of driving to the town of Tok (back in Alaska). Tok seemed to be a large truck stop type of town and was filled with RV's and greasy places to eat, get fuel, or both. We passed on both and headed to a free campsite outside the Wrangle St. Elias State Park. Were it not for the sound of mosquitoes, it would have been as close to true silence as one can get.

Next day...more driving. We drove for a bit into the Wrangle St. Elias park and stopped to eat breakfast and take a small hike, but the actual entrance to the park (and all of the big trails) was about 40 miles down a very rough road, so we passed on it and headed south to Valdez.

A small note on rough road driving. We are well aware that rough roads are going to be an inevitable reality on this journey. We have encountered many so far and can count on many more in the future, but whenever possible, I try to skip them for a few reasons. The main reason I try to pass on them though is due to my ears. I am a chronic listener when I'm driving. Every squeak, knock, bump, or scrape is received, categorized, and filed in my brain somehow.

I can tell the difference between a rock being dislodged from the groves in the tires or something hitting the bottom of the vehicle. I know the sounds our engine should make. I have a range of tolerable noises from the interior and can identify their sources. When a new noise pops up, my senses are triggered, and I need to know right away what the cause of it is. If the noises fall outside of the tolerable range, I can't relax until I either find the source and if possible, fix the problem.

When driving on rough roads, the range of tolerable sounds is pushed beyond the limits of my ability to be “cool” about things, and I just flat out worry about the machine which houses everything I own. I hear terrible noises in our water tank, I can feel the suspension bouncing. I can picture insulation panels dislodging and plumbing lines chafing and leaking. I have this fear that there must be a frequency achievable on a washboard road which when reached, would cause every screw in the van to simultaneously back out, causing total failure of our crazy project.

Of course, I know my fears are overblown, and I shouldn't worry about something which hasn't happened. Anything you worry about is guaranteed to suck at least one more time than it should. A more relaxed attitude towards mechanically hazardous roads should be and indeed is my goal. My road to that sort of equanimity has its own series of bumps, washboard sections and holes to navigate.

Rough roads were in fact, the reason we did not make it to the main bit of that beautiful and enormous park. We stopped after 20 nerve-jangling miles and made breakfast in a little campground. After breakfast, we hiked around a bit, looking for animals, rampaged through a local mosquito population, and managed to get some exercise for Pelé. The visitor center for the park and trailhead were another 27 miles from where we stopped. We decided to just turn around, and save my brain the stress.

Worthington Glacier, near Valdez, AK

From there, it was a haul straight to Valdez, with only a few planned stops; Worthington Glacier, and a couple of waterfalls. The Worthington Glacier, in-spite of having such a regal name that would seem more appropriate for some fancy mustard, or a type of silver-gilded pheasant shotgun, is a crazy, jagged and wildly beautiful piece of natural history, which can be seen from the highway. In fact, there is a small snack stand/gift shop at the base, and an interpretive trail, complete with information on the geology, physics, and history of the glacier.

The parking lot was full of vans, cars, trucks, campers and RV's. The atmosphere was more like a Cracker Barrel than a goddamn miracle of time and ice. Once you got away from the parking lot though, the true beauty and abject danger of the thing became much more apparent.

We scrambled up to the mid-point of where the Glacier was clinging to the mountain and watched as a small river of water rushed out from below the glacier, melting, and, melting, and melting. I know that is what Glaciers are meant to do in the summer. Were it not for the melting of glaciers, we wouldn't have Colorado or the mid-west, but somehow, the rapid melting of the glaciers we have been seeing feels different. Perhaps it is my liberal bias and my seedy past as an advocate for renewable fuels and energy efficiency which makes me feel a sense of loss when I see just how far these glaciers have receded over just the past ten years. Many of the parks and public places where you can visit glaciers, with those little plaques at the base, have some means of showing you the path of the glacier's retreat since the industrial revolution. If you aren't careful, the gravity of the situation could slip into your buzzing, joy-filled consciousness, and seriously damage your buzz.

From there, we were only a few miles out from the city of Valdez. What a town! Surrounded by a beautiful bay, waterfalls, mountains, and glaciers, Valdez is a hiker's playground. There is even a beautifully paved bike path which will take you from miles out of town, directly into the center of the city. If you are currently wondering how to improve upon whatever town you find yourself, begin petitioning for the creation of something similar.

If you are wondering how a place can recover from having its name become synonymous with man-made calamity, I can't tell you. All I can do is not mention it by name...

We camped every night in Valdez around the bend from the Valdez glacier. Our view from the van was of icebergs, slowly melting in a beautiful lake. We were told by a kayak guide that the glacier could only be seen on a kayak tour. We noticed the mountain to our left looked like it might have a trail somewhere on it, so we decided to clamber up and see if we could get to the glacier. We hiked around a cliff edge for about 20 minutes until we found a small trail, cut into the thick growth of the forest overlooking the lake and icebergs. In less than half an hour of scrambling, we were on an overlook, directly above the Valdez glacier.

Our bike ride took us to the opposite side of the bay (near some fairly substantial petroleum infrastructure) and watched as several enormous sea lions were feasting on Salmon near the hatchery. The total mileage was only about 25, but every bit of it was worth it. We thoroughly enjoyed Valdez and would recommend a visit to any fan of beauty, character, and wildlife.

From Valdez, it is a bit of a hike up to Anchorage, which we blew through on our way south to Seward. On the way to Seward, we stopped in a town called Girdwood to meet a potential podcast guest. It didn't work out, but the way it came to be is worth recounting.

Instagram, and the social web of strangers in private in which we find ourselves is a strange beast to me. We have been in touch with a listener of the show, who reached out to us before we made it to Alaska. We missed the opportunity to meet with him in his hometown of Haines, AK, but his interest in our having a good time, and meeting fun and interesting people was undimmed by our odd timing. He sent us a number of fantastic recommendations and put us on the path to meet with the erstwhile guest-not-to-be in Girdwood.

Our internet pal was kind enough to reach out to his friend and wrote back to say that his friend would be expecting us. Tiffany and I decided to haul it to Girdwood as quickly as possible and just made it to the brewery before they closed. I walked in, ordered a beer for Tiff, and a kombucha for myself, and inquired about the whereabouts of our guest-not-to-be...let's call him, Chet.

“Chet?” the bartender said sweetly, “he hasn't been here for hours.”

My big dumb face is incapable of hiding emotion; my disappointment was sufficiently obvious, so she asked, “was he supposed to meet you?”

I explained the situation to her, and she decided to call him. It was kind of her to do so, but ultimately unnecessary. As kind and good intentions go, our friend from the internet was a prince for trying to connect with someone he finds interesting. Unfortunately, a third party stranger is immune to the strange magnetism of internet friendships, and just flaked out on a meeting with people to whom he owed nothing.

Lesson learned.

Girdwood however, was worth the drive. We found the best little laundromat/public shower we've seen so far. The town is surrounded by mountains and the bay. We planned on taking a hike, but a sudden case of debilitating and wildly unexpected unrest in my intestines prevented us from fully enjoying the experience.

Our accomodations in Valdez - Glacier View Park, Valdez, AK.

Valdez, AK

Seward was our goal, so onward to Seward, it was.

As is often the case with towns in AK, our first impression of Seward was not great. Throngs of recently floating tourists were drifting around town, distractedly eating ice-cream, looking at their phones, and meandering into oncoming traffic. A fairly cold and thick cloud-cover was also doing its best to keep us from falling immediately in love with the less-than-obvious charms of the place.

The initial approach into town sends a motorist directly into the belly of that strange beast, to directly encounter the wandering, sticky-fingered masses as they drift through gift-shops and sweet-shops. Any surface which wasn't covered in tourists in windbreakers and ball caps was then covered by RV's and bedraggled campsites.

Fortunately, we carried on with our tour and made our way to the considerably more charming part of town, where the crowds thinned out, and the gift-shop density thinned out a bit.

My tone may sound cynical; don't let that fool you. We are having a great time, and we have no real complaints; cynicism is something of a default for me.

In any case, we decided to head to see the Exit Glacier (a few miles out of town), and camp there for the night. We were all glad we did. The next morning, we made our way to the glacier for a little hike. Unfortunately for Pelé, the park is a National park, so all he can experience is the parking lot. Our hike around the Glacier was nice but brief.

We found several fantastic hikes in the area, but the best one was the Lost Lake Trail. That is a 15-mile hike up through beautiful which climbs through a dense forest, above the tree-line, into the tundra at the top, which then rolls up and down, terminating at an alpine lake. You are surrounded by peaks, waterfalls, rolling hills, beautiful wildflowers, and gorgeous views of the bay and the impressively more attractive-at-a-distance town of Seward. If you make it to Seward, don't miss this hike.

We also decided to buy a 24hour pass to a local gym to take a yoga class and get a shower. To our surprise, the gym honored the full 24hour period, so we were able to take two classes, and two showers in the same 24hour period. It was worth it to me. Yoga has been helping my knee on my road to recovery.

For our last day in town, we booked a brief little kayak trip in the bay. Before that though, we heard about a spot where we could fill our water tanks from a deep aquifer which was continuously pumping crystal-clear and clean water for free. We drove dons a narrow road, past some fishing industry and boat building facilities, and saw a muddy patch of dirt at the bottom of a mountain; from it, a small white hose pouring water was just visible.

The water source was at the base of a mountain, but up a small but steep hill. I could tell that I needed to approach at an angle to keep from bottoming out. I backed into the space and found that I could not get the hose to reach. Defeated, I pulled out of the spot. Unfortunately, I forgot about the need to keep the hill at an angle to our long vehicle, and subsequently got completely stuck.

The back of the van carries a large metal towing hitch receiver. I use it to house a small wooden bench which is only really useful for tying my shoes or standing on to make the bed. This large metal structure is what was keeping our vehicle from going anywhere. When I hit the gas, the back tires spun freely. The suspension was unweighted, and the back tires could get no traction.

I tried to dig out the area below the bar, but my tiny little shovel is only really made for sandcastles or shit-holes. I tried to wedge our bright orange and inconvenient to carry traction pads...nothing worked.

Two cyclists stopped to help us out, but when one of them took out a wrench and tried to take off the ladder on the back door, I knew I would have to look elsewhere for help. Fortunately for us, there were two guys working across the road who were friendly enough to help. They came over with a couple of pry-bars, and we were planning on lifting the rear of the vehicle while Tiffany drove off. What they really ended up doing though, was to draw attention to the fact that a big dumb tourist had gotten his sticky finger toting van stuck on the side of a hill, and was troubling locals for help. Another local, who had a tow rope, flagged down yet another local with a truck, and in less than five minutes, we were free to drive away, without a single drop of water.

The following morning, we woke early, took the yoga class, and made our way to a place called Miller's Crossing for a kayak tour. We drove past the watering hole, facing our shame with dignity, and arrived early to get the boats ready for our short paddle around the bay.

Miller's is an incredible place. Originally homesteaded many, many decades ago, it is now a combination of a campground, water taxi hub, charter fishing boat rental, guided kayak tour company, and something of a cafe (barely). There are tons of people working there, most of them seasonal. Our guide for the kayak tour, a young woman in her early twenties, was knowledgeable, capable, and only slightly disdainful of the sort of person who would book a mere two hour “fun paddle”.

After our amazing tour, we asked her if she could recommend a fun and interesting seasonal worker for us to chat with. She pointed to a woman I had noticed before who had been driving a mid-sized forklift tractor, hauling boats on a trailer. I approached the woman and asked if she would be willing to speak with us about her experience when her shift was over. She agreed, and we set a time for her to come by the van and tell us her tale.

Her name is Jennifer, amazingly she is only 19, but as smart, confident and capable as many people I have met who are twice her age. We recorded a conversation in the van, which will be released in the next few weeks.

From the kayak trip, and Jennifer's interview, we mad our way back to the water hose, determined to get some of that good, clean water. This time, I parked the van safely across the street, and just hauled our 7 gallon jug across the road a few times until we were full...it was slightly more difficult than just running a hose into the van, through the door, but 100% worth it to not suffer the indignity of being stuck.

First Impressions are just that...Seward, AK

Exit Glacier, Seward, AK

Lost Lake Trail, Seward, AK

Kayak, Miller's Crossing

The drive from Seward to Homer was on the menu, and it was pretty damn spectacular. We camped near the end of a crazy dirt road, near Lower-Skilak lake, in between Seward and Homer.

The next morning, we drove over to a town called Kenai to wander around, and to watch the spectacle know as “dip-netting”. As you might guess, “dip-netting” is a method of fishing, available at certain times of the year, exclusively to Alaska residents.

The fishermen are strewn along the shoreline in large rubber pants and boots, with 5' nets on the end of long poles. Each head-of-household is allowed 25 fish and 10 more for each additional family member. We walked a couple miles of beach and watched as hundreds of people pulled fish by the dozen from the waters. It was a spectacle, to be sure. There were tents, teams of children and parents, cleaning fish, dipping nets, there were coolers covered in fish guts and blood, shorebirds were munching on fish heads, and Eagles were stalking the beach like fighter pilots looking for a village to strafe.

We spoke with one man who had just caught his last fish and was taking a break before he pitched in to help prepare them. He had 5 children, and a wife, which entitled him to _ fish per year from the dip-net method. He said that every summer, he would freeze hundreds of pounds of salmon, and eat every bit of the fish for the next year.

We took the beach road from Kenai back to the highway and stopped at a seafood processing facility to get some fresh fish and a pack of smoked salmon bellies...my new favorite. From there, we made our way to Anchor Point to park the van briefly at the furthest western point to which a person can drive in North America. We watched as two tractors, each hauling an empty boat trailer, drove fairly deep into the crazy ocean to collect the owners of the empty trailers in their boats. I've never seen anything like it.

The drive from Anchor Point to Homer was brief and spectacular. It was a clear day, and we saw three large volcanic peaks in the distance as we drove the highway. We made our way into Homer, trying desperately not to judge this new town with the same eyes we had been casually landing on other towns in this strange state. We knew to expect some sticky-knuckled tourists, an overabundance of unnecessary shops filled to the brim with terrible deals. We have learned to ignore that, and await the unexpected to greet us...it usually does...it certainly did in Homer.

Dogs don't float - Homer, AK

Andrew Couch
Back in a State...
IMG_20180622_144857_548.jpg

 Ignorance Might Just be Bliss...

Microdosing of psilocybin or LSD, if you haven't heard of it before now, is worth looking up when you have a moment. As you may have guessed, micro-dosing is something in which I am quite interested. In fact, I am so interested in it, that I have been micro-dosing for about three months, with small quantities of psychedelic mushrooms. Once every three days, I eat a very small amount of one of the many dried mushrooms in the little bag of Psilocybe Cubensis I was able to procure back in California. If you are wondering, I never feel “high”, and I never really notice that I have taken them.

So, what have I learned in the past 3 months? Well, I can safely report that I am just as dumb now as I was when I began eating these little bits of dried mushrooms. I don't feel any more or less creative. I don't feel any more or less driven or inspired. In all honesty, I feel pretty much the same as I've always felt; like a big dumb domesticated animal, wandering around without the instinct and intelligence afforded to most wild animals.

With that said, I decided to try something a little different on our first day back in the US, and on my first day in Alaska (my 49th state). I decided to remove one of the words in my protocol, and just go ahead with some regular old “dosing” of those dried mushrooms. To be sure, I didn't have many left, so the dose would be fairly small, but in no way would it be “micro”. 

I was left with probably about 1 dried ounce. That will not set you on the path of ego dissolution, but it will make your first day in a new place mighty interesting.

I've been thinking quite a bit about death, birth, and the time we spend in between the impulse and echo of those moments. In speaking with Joel Solomon, I asked him about his relationship with death, having won a temporary victory over death by receiving a kidney transplant given to him by a close friend. His take on death is one I have heard articulated before. However, hearing him share it was powerful to me for a number of reasons. I'll share his take on death in a moment, but first, I think I should explain why his telling of this hypothesis is so compelling to me.

Joel lives part of his week in the city of Vancouver, doing work which he finds uniquely fulfilling. As I've said previously, Vancouver is a fantastic place to be, particularly if you are not stressed out about money.  Joel clearly has a positive relationship to money.  He enjoys the food, culture and has access to folks in every area (politics, entertainment, etc...).  His life in the city, materially speaking, I would imagine is quite sumptuous.

Another portion of Joel's time is spent on the wild and beautiful island of Cortes. He lives in a beautiful home, in a loving relationship with his wife of many years, next door to an amazing retreat center called Hollyhock, and maintains a fantastic garden. Cortes is also occupied by other well-known figures, big thinkers, luminaries and kind and genuine folks of all stripes to whom Joel has direct access. To be sure, materially, spiritually, and culturally speaking, his life on the island also seems quite sumptuous.

In the lap of a life which, by my casual observations, is so replete with comfort, community, the pursuit of intrinsically enriching work, a healthy relationship, access to abundant natural beauty, and access to brilliant and interesting companions, having an outlook on death which does not include any sense of loss is something which I would imagine to be difficult if not impossible for a less evolved character. Joel's outlook on death, to sum it up rather crudely, is that his own ego will not survive his death intact, as his consciousness did not exactly “belong” to him in the first place. He welcomes death and is ready for its arrival. He does not worry about the loss of comfort. He does not wish to conflate his enjoyment of the deliciousness of life's pleasures or any of the things on this plane which he clearly holds dear with the loss of his own life. Instead, he sees his own consciousness returning to the greater field of Consciousness itself, where it will merge once again, likely to spring up again somewhere else entirely. In other words, he sees consciousness as an essential element in the universe, like carbon atoms, or like energy. As such, like atoms or energy, consciousness is not bound to any one form, and cannot be created or destroyed.  He also, rightly so, has put everything on the line, and lived a life one can be proud of; seeking to be a good ancestor.  

Having the opportunity to speak with a man like Joel about something as troubling to me as death, has prompted me to reconsider my attachment to my own ego and consciousness.

Why do I bring this up in a travel journal? Mostly because I can, but secondly to give some more texture and context as to why we are on this journey in the first place.

I'll come back to this in a bit. First, let me tell you about our last few days in Canada.

Whitehorse, Yukon...taken at 11PM.

We spent the weekend in a town called Whitehorse, Yukon. As it happens, the timing was perfect, and we were fortunate to have decided to stay in that town at that exact time. We met up with two other groups of folks from the road who also happened to arrive in town on the same day.

One couple is driving a VW van, and are on their way from Quebec to Alaska, to Argentina - their names are Catherine and David. Catherine is a nurse, and they left five days after we did. The similarities end there. David and Catherine are young, super adventurous, and incredibly industrious. Just check out their Instagram page @destinationadventure and you will see what I mean. The guy is a fantastic photographer, and has sponsorship deals with a variety of companies, including Fuji Film. Fuji gave him a small polaroid printer; he took our photo, and printed us a copy.

@destinationadventure - David & Catherine

The other group is a Brazilian couple with their two kids. Their story is incredible. They, Cristina, Marcos, Caetano and Teresa, have traveled from Brazil to Alaska in a cab-over truck camper over a four year period. The youngest, Teresa, was born on the road two years ago! You can follow along with their journey @onossoquintal

Cristina, Marcos, Caetano e Teresa!

We decided to all meet up outside of town at a free campsite near the incredibly named, Ear Lake. The campsite was the best. The parking spots were flat and sat on a rise above a lake. We were flanked on one side by a forrest, and had an open view of the lake below. There was a family of beaver living in the lake, several foxes, tons of birds and, amazingly, a small airport nearby. Normally, an airport that close would kill the buzz, but this one was different.

The airport is small, and only small planes and jets fly over. I forgot how cool it is to hear the sound of jet engines catching up several seconds after the plane itself has already passed.

We grilled food, played with the kids, and chatted. The kids loved Pelé, chasing him and tossing the ball for hours...he only growled a little bit. We had a fire, it rained on us as we cooked, and we still managed to have a great time. There is something magical about spending time with travelers, particularly when they have traveling children.

Cristina had a number of amazing stories to tell, so I invited her to be a guest on the show. She agreed, and we set a time for the following day.

The following day was Canada Day, and all Tiff and I really wanted three things; to see the parade in Whitehorse, eat some poutine, and record Cristina at some point. If the previous sentence has a few words of phrases you don't understand, that is O.K. Poutine is basically a basket of french fries with large cheese curds and brown gravy dumped on top. Canada Day is to Canada what the 4th of July is to the USA. 

We missed the parade, and the only place in town selling poutine was a fast food joint, so we passed. Fortunately, the recording of Cristina's episode did happen. We got a chance to share another meal with the Brazilian's. Cristina cooked an incredible stew for dinner and handmade whipped-cream with strawberries for dessert. We made a warm cabbage salad with goat cheese, garlic and red wine. Not too shabby for two couples living in vehicles.

The Brazilians decided to camp outside of a large grocery store in town so they could have wifi for the Brazil vs. Mexico game the next day (World Cup). So after dinner, Marcos agreed to watch the kids while Tiff, Cristina and I sat together in the van for a recorded conversation.

This will be Tiff's first solo podcast. I was there in my capacity as an audio engineer. I am looking forward to sharing this episode!

Teresa, at her best!

The following day, we left Whitehorse to go hiking. We took a beautiful hike outside of a town called Carcross. The trail, called the Sam McGee, was constructed on top of an old miner's foot path, and followed the remains of an abandoned tramway up the steep and varied terrain. The old steel cables, pulleys, several of the large wooden structures from which the tramway was suspended, and the little carts which must have dangled from it, are all still on the mountain. As the trail winds around, switching back, then driving straight uphill, you cross over and follow this seemingly ancient debris for a couple of miles until you reach the summit. It gives the trail a special feeling; like you are getting a manicured preview of life after the fall of man, when plants and trees will take back our cities and industry.

The hike up was difficult on my knee. The hike down just flat-out hurt. I'm still healing, evidently.

If you zoom in, you can see the van...or maybe not.  The view from the top of the Sam McGee hike.

When we got back to the van, we decided, after failing to find Poutine on Canada day (the one and only time either of us was keen to eat poutine), to drive up to Carcross and get some at a restaurant known only as, “The Bistro”.

Carcross, and “the Bistro” could really each be their own post. I don't even know where to begin. For one, my view of the place will forever be skewed, as we showed up the day after Canada Day (also a Monday) when most businesses were closed for the holiday. That made it hard to meet any locals who would be happy to see us, and it gave the place something of a ghost town vibe...but only if a hip neighborhood in Portland were condensed into little tiny-house vendor spaces, and then deserted...that type of ghost town vibe.

Carcross, like many of the towns in this area, had once been involved heavily in the trafficking of “precious” metals mined from the surrounding hills and mountains, and all of the other atrocious shit that comes along with doing so. Indigenous peoples, who had been there for quite some time before all of this, were pushed to the edges of their own territories as crazy whites came by the thousands to mine for gold, sell things to the miners, or to distribute diseases with their genitals. A wild time, to be sure.

For a time, the town had been a trading hub for fish, fur, and other goods. Once everyone took off for fortune elsewhere, the town languished under the weight of the crazy infrastructure built to handle the now elsewhere people of the past. Recently, a solution was proposed...tourism.

I don't blame the town at all. In fact, I would like to make clear that I really liked the town of Carcross, and the Bistro should definitely not be missed if you find yourself there. The owner of the Bistro is clearly a creative type who isn't afraid to make a pizza out of Naan bread or throw curry into anything on the menu, which includes burgers, fries, decadent desserts, and plenty of typically American or Canadian fair...and no, the owner is not Indian.

I suppose what I am trying to get across here, is that the place has, in-spite of the presence of loads of totem poles, beautifully painted figures of Raven, Wolf, Beaver, Bear, etc...on the buildings in town, the distinct influence of hipster sensibilities. The town center is comprised of an enormous wooden deck, which connects “The Bistro”, to almost a dozen small buildings and about half a dozen tiny-house storefronts. When I say tiny-house, I mean it. These little structures are built on trailers and are meant to be moved. Perhaps when the weather is terrible, or the mine dries up again, the little businesses can move down the trail to more hospitable climes?

At any rate, the place is incredibly clean, beautiful, and is working hard to make a sustainable future for itself; desperate to apply the mean lessons learned over centuries of crazy whites doing impulsive business on the shores of their lovely town. I sincerely hope it works. Perhaps you should visit, drop a little bit of your own currency into the pockets of the local vendors, and report back to me on your findings.

Carcross.

From Carcross, we headed south to camp below the mountain we climbed earlier. The spot we chose was perfect...in fact, it was the parking lot at the trail-head to the Sam McGee hike we had just done. We found a level patch of tightly packed gravel overlooking a stream which fed into the wild lake system which feeds the Yukon River. The lake at our feet is called, Windy Arm. The creek that was feeding this lake was as close to freezing as water can be without becoming ice. As has been our custom on our journey, we bathed in this water.

I'd like to say a word or two about freezing cold water. If you have never plunged yourself into water that is painfully cold, I suggest you do it as soon as you can. Like the moments before ingesting psychedelic drugs, there is a moment of fear and anticipation before jumping in the water. It can be bracing, unpleasant, and scary, but after it is done, and you are dry or sober, you never regret having jumped in (provided the environment was safe). We do our best to find secluded spots where we can strip naked, we only use soap with safe ingredients to wash ourselves, and only a small amount of that. Sometimes we just get in without soap, and just get good and cold. Sometimes we just dip Pelé in, to knock the dust off of his crazy hair and little body. Other times, we just get in for the sake of getting in. In every case, it has been worth it. We look forward to the next one.

After our cold plunge, we sat to watch the sunset behind the mountain we had summited earlier in the day. The sun dropped behind the mountain around 10 PM, and did not fully “set” until sometime closer to 11 PM. It never did get dark.

Pelé was in the mood to run and play, but Tiff and I were in the mood to smoke the last of a little joint we had been given in Whitehorse. We tossed sticks with him for a bit, then Tiffany tried to pick him up and cuddle him, just to get him to relax. He squirmed his way out of her grasp, and continued to run around, bringing us various things to throw for him. After letting him go, Tiffany got up to refill her water. As soon as she got up to walk over to the van, Pelé jumped into her empty chair, spun around three times (like he always does), and settled into her warm chair. He is like a little child; full of energy, obstinate, and on his own little schedule. I have to remind myself that he has only been in our lives, full-time, for about four months; we are still getting to know this little creature.

The van, complete with air dried undies and crazy dog...

When we woke up the next morning, we didn't even take the time to make coffee, instead we packed up and drove to the border; Alaska; the first stated destination of our journey. It only took two months to do it.

The border crossing was uneventful. We felt the customs agent must have either been Canadian or spent so much time around them that his friendliness was somehow amplified to Canadian levels of expression through osmosis by proximity. We also noticed a sharp increase in the number of poorly driven RV's, giant truck campers, giant truck campers, and tour buses and vans packed to the tits with people.

We have been asking ourselves as we have driven up the coast and around the two Canadian provinces we've been privileged to experience; “how much prettier could Alaska really be?”

On the drive from Carcross to Skagway, we got our answer. Holy shit, Alaska is pretty!

The terrain changes as you drive along the lake system and strange moss-covered rock formations begin to appear around you. They stretch out into the distance and resolve into enormous mountains; snow capped and rocky. Emerald water pools up around the bottoms of these mountains, and many are directly fed by dramatic waterfalls. To be fair, the weather was absolutely perfect on the drive.

The town of Skagway, however, was somewhat less cool than what I had in mind for Alaska. There is a real Disneyland vibe going on in Skagway, thanks largely to the arrival of 3 huge cruise ships full of people. They were everywhere when we reached the town.

The crowds seemed mostly American, and we couldn't help but notice that a rather large number of them were eating ice cream at 10 AM.

To be fair, it was almost 82 degrees when we arrived, so maybe the boat folks thought the ice cream would help. At any rate, the throngs of people were something of a turn-off, so Tiff, Pelé and I made our way to the Library to do some research on where to camp. There is no data service in the town of Skagway, and only three places have public wifi. This is not a complaint, I like it, but now that we have a show to manage and a journal to update, and we depend on an app to tell us where the good, free campgrounds are to be found, data and wifi are fairly important tools to us. I never thought I would use wifi more than an ax on an adventure, but sadly that is the case.

Fortunately, the Library came through, and we found an amazing spot to camp.

100 yards from our campsite in Dyea, AK (outside of Skagway)

Tidal Flats, Dyea, AK

It was here that I knew I wanted to experience an altered state in my first new state in over a decade. In my twenties, I managed to get to my 48th state, leaving only Alaska and Hawaii unvisited until now. 

 

With our campsite set up, the hammock delicately strung between two pines, firewood piled next to the fire ring, and an amazing amount of privacy, I decided to eat the rest of my dried mushrooms. We are also carrying several little mushroom chocolates we were given as a gift on our journey, so Tiff ate one of those.

We both had our own agendas for the better part of the day. Tiff's was to lay in the sun, topless. Mine was to lounge around in the hammock, reading, playing guitar, and tossing the tennis ball with Pelé. Pelé's interests intersected perfectly with mine. Somehow, he seems to like it when I play music, and he tends to completely relax when I do; making him an even more rare creature than I thought possible.

If you have never taken psychedelic mushrooms or any other psychedelic, it will be difficult to have a frame of reference for the feeling you get as the high starts to kick in. The buzz you get from alcohol as it sets in is vaguely similar but falls short in a few aspects.  A mushroom high is warm, with little rushes of energy and feelings of completely relaxed sleepiness mixed in.  You don't feel necessarily like doing or saying foolish things, and if you let your mind relax, it will float down streams and find eddies which an alcohol buzz could not even stay afloat.

If you eat lots and lots of mushrooms, unlike drinking lots and lots of alcohol, you are not at risk of ingesting a lethal dose.  The "High" at some point, gives way to something else entirely.  Whereas, with an alcohol buzz, the high gives way to drunkenness, unconsciousness, and potentially lifelessness.  This will not be a story of that sort of mushroom trip.  The amount we ate will take you to the shore of a sea of questions, but will not set you adrift alone.  Instead, this is a story about having one's hand held-gently on a long walk along that shoreline. 

Having my hand held gently...

Tiff and I both took just enough to not have any crazy visuals or highly charged freakouts, but we both felt incredibly high. The feeling was largely in our bodies, but as I sat in the hammock, looking over the scenery, glancing at my beautiful, topless wife bathing in the sun, my playful and sweet dog rolling around below me, I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep joy and gratitude for the having access to conscious experience.

I was also struck by a thought that accompanies many of my waking moments - “what am I here to learn?” Although it is something of an existential question, it is also a question surrounding, specifically, the selfish journey I currently find myself drifting through. It is also the type of question, when your mind is bathing in the muddy waters of a psychedelic experience, which can get particularly difficult to hold in place. Fortunately, not being able to hold onto a question gives you an opportunity to look at it from new angles as you struggle to maintain your grip.

We keep meeting all of these strange and beautiful people on this journey; essentially what I want to know from them is how they deal with life, in order to do a better job of being a person myself. But why? What is the point of being good at being human? I don't fear eternal punishment if I fail at being a person, and I don't have faith in an eternal reward if I do it well...so why get better at this?  Do you ever feel like you don't know how anything really works? I do, and it leaves me feeling not particularly “useful” in any meaningful way.  I seem to only learn that I don't really understand anything.

As I sat in that hammock, struggling with that question, I had an insight.  I decided that, instead of focusing on learning for the sake of greater wisdom or intelligence, my new goal would be to focus on increasing my ignorance, and not my understanding of the world. That may be the best an ape like me can hope for, but seeking ignorance is less mad than it sounds.

The more you learn, the more you realize there is to know, so no matter how much you learn, there will always be an increase in your ignorance, as every answered question gives birth to many more which will go unanswered. So, I have decided that I will just seek the ignorance directly. Each question I ask of a new person will be a direct approach, not to intelligence, but to the wisdom of ignorance. My search for new things to not completely understand began in that hammock and continues in front of this screen.  I am seeking to populate my mind with a truly diverse flora of ignorance.

The following day, we took a few small hikes, and on the 4th of July ended up having some really terrible fish and chips at a place in town called, without any sense of irony at all, Woadie's Fish and Chips. The upshot was that the terrible restaurant in-question had exclusively outdoor seating from which we could watch an unusual spectacle. 

Locals and tourists were lined up on the sidewalk along a temporary stretch of railroad (about 40 feet long), which had been set up in the road for the occasion. The wide city street was closed to vehicle traffic, so the whole scene was nothing but sugar-crazed children and adults sporting various degrees of American flag attire and drunkenness.

Tiff and I had no idea what was about to happen, but from our vantage point on the porch of the worst fish and chips in Alaska, we could see everything. A guy with a clipboard, a stopwatch, and a microphone was standing next to one end of the temporary railroad track. Next to him was another guy with several railroad spikes in one hand, and a large handled maul (big-ass hammer) in the other.

The guy with the spikes and the maul took his time setting the spikes. When each of them was set into the wood, the guy with the clipboard checked the depth, counted down to zero, and the guy with the hammer started swinging at the little spikes.

The crowd cheered as a guy with a big hammer drove big nails into a big piece of wood that was taking up a big space on a small road, which would all have to be disassembled when it was all said and done. They did this over and over again...roughly 25 people competed for the fastest time. To be fair, it is not easy work, and some were better than others. The fastest time was somewhere around 12 seconds to fully drive home all four spikes.

At one point we heard a guy at the other end of the street, who was on a stage, playing guitar and singing to less than three people. He called out to the spectators, “live music here folks, it might just be more interesting than driving a spike?” He might have been right. Tiff and I decided to leave that question unanswered and hiked back to the van.

Smuggler's Cove - Skagway, AK

The following day, we took our leave of Skagway via the ferry system. It was a far cry from the incredibly efficient and well maintained BC ferry system, but it was a short trip to Haines, and the scenery is second to none. 

Haines is completely different from Skagway...completely. It has a character, altogether more genuine and less desperately nostalgic than Skagway. No one is wearing old-timey clothing or giving street tours, and none of the buildings are set up to look like the old gold mining days. We drove into town, found a place on the street to parallel park the van right away, and saw mostly local foot and bicycle traffic on the streets around us.

The IGA grocery store was the most expensive we've seen, by far. We got some staple supplies, then wandered off. Oddly, we found a natural foods grocer around the corner with better variety and cheaper prices...I've never seen that before. We meandered, took a small hike with about 1,000 mosquitoes and visited the visitor center, to get some info on better hikes.

 

Before driving a little bit out of town to park for the night, we stopped by an RV park to fill our water tank. The camp host of this place was the coolest lady we've met in a while. Her name was Fiona, and she was hilarious. She let us give Pelé a much-needed bath, and made us feel completely welcome, even though it was clear we were too cheap to stay there. We ended up going back there every day during our time in Haines for showers and laundry. She invited us to a crab dinner on Sunday, but we politely declined, as we wanted to hit the road before then.

We ended up staying at three entirely different places over three nights in Haines. Once, near a trailhead for the hike to Battery Point. A beautiful spot on the water, looking at the town of Hines, and the surrounding mountains and large inlet. One night was spent in between the town and Chilkoot Lake. We found a pull-out on the road and parked with amazing views of mountains, the inlet, and a river. The third night, we stayed in the Chilkat State Park (not to be confused with Chilkoot Lake), and for the second time on this journey, we actually paid for a campsite - $15! The view from the campsite was nil, but the view we had at breakfast, a 2-minute drive down to the boat launch and picnic area was one of the best we have seen so far. I'll tell you about that one in a moment.

Looking into the town of Haines, AK.

Rainbow Glacier, Haines, AK.

My knee has recently begun doing this extremely inconvenient and highly uncomfortable thing when I walk on rocks; it has been hyperextending in the wrong direction. When it happens, it is incredibly painful and leaves my knee feeling weak and vulnerable for a day or two. Of course, this happened to me on the first 12 steps of a planned hike in Skagway, so our hiking in Haines was a bit limited. We made it to Battery Point, which is a lovely hike through a rainforest along a rocky coastline. We took the coastline out, and the rainforest back. It was beautiful, but not really much of a workout.

The town of Haines has an event in the summers called, First Friday, in which local businesses open their doors with free wine and snacks, and create a bit of a town-party vibe for locals and tourists. There are tourists around, for sure, but much fewer than there were in Skagway. The town of Haines only has one or two cruise ships per week, and never on First Friday. We check out a few shops and found plenty of postcards for friends of the show, and family.

The following day, we visited the farmer's market. The market has a permanent outdoor structure wherein there are tables and booth space for locals to shop for fresh produce, a variety of cookies, pies, cakes, jams, jars full of pickled items and various crafts. One of them was manned by a young boy who was selling zipper pulls and jewelry made from fishing lures as well as lemonade and keychains. He was hilariously disinterested in whether or not you made a purchase, and was just enjoying the feeling one can only get from being a merchant of one's own work. He was my favorite character there.

We thoroughly enjoyed the town of Haines, but it was the area around the Chilkat State Park which won our hearts. From the shores of that side of town, you can see across the river inlet to several mountains, upon which are resting some impressive glaciers. You are surrounded by Eagles as well. The boat launch/picnic area I mentioned earlier has the best view of these glaciers. Flowing from them are massive waterfalls which cascade and crash from a great height. Sadly, you can see just how large the glaciers once were, and the finish line looks to be much too close...especially when you consider how much water is rushing out of the bottoms of these things. I'm glad we were able to get an eye full of them.

Rainbow Glacier, Haines, AK

Before leaving Haines, we stopped at a fish cannery, got a few food items (smoked salmon, and canned salmon), refilled water, got more groceries and did some finishing touches on the next episode of the podcast, then hit the road. The next destination is Valdez, Alaska. In order to get there, we have to go back North through Canada (BC and Yukon), then through parts of the interior and then south again. As the crow flies, Valdez is not far from Haines. However, getting there by road is about 700 miles.

 On the way to Tok, AK.

On the way to Tok, AK.

Fortunately, the scenery between the two destinations is our true destination. Our first night of camping on that leg of the journey was along a creek, after a freezing cold bath in Lake Kathleen. We count ourselves fortunate to be on the road. Blessed are those who seek ignorance, for they shall not be disappointed.

Not dissapointed...

Andrew CouchComment
Canada Day, Eh?

Vancouver Island is no small place. There are cities, towns and villages from top to bottom and side to side. Surrounding the island to the east and north are a variety of smaller islands, almost all accessible by ferry. We visited a few of the islands: Salt Spring and Cortes Islands most notably. Each of these islands and towns have their own flavor and character.

Take the village of Cumberland, for example. Tiff, Pelé and I stopped in Cumberland after leaving Cortes, and were fortunate enough to be able to make a visit to my pal Sally's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, Chelsea, Nigel and Freya. These delightful people (who fed us breakfast and let us take showers) took us on a quick hike around the edge of town.

Tiff, Chelsea, and Freya

Cumberland self-identifies as a mountain biking town. The murals reflect this. The items on the menus of local restaurants, the names of the restaurants, the names of the trails around the town upon which one can fly crazily downhill on a mountain bike reflect this. Everything short of the names of the streets themselves has some sort of connection to hiking, mountain biking, or some sort of outdoor, healthy pursuit.

The town immediately next door, Courtenay, wore an entirely different set of loafers. Courtenay is situated on a river and has a lovely airport for small craft, a couple of charming bridges, a waterfront bike/pedestrian path, and a quaint downtown. We spent a few hours at a bike shop/cafe in Courtenay, working on the podcast, and continued to marvel at the politeness and gentile attitude of Canadians in general.

So, two towns who are divided by nothing more than an imaginary line, both on an island, could not be more different from one another. Cumberland, the tough, hale and hardy outdoorsy town of fit Canadians; Courtenay, carrying a mix between a retirement community and hip shopping mall.

We took advantage of the fairly accessible nature of Courtenay and did laundry, got groceries and took a nice bike ride along the river while we had the van serviced one last time before heading out for either more expensive destinations or more rugged terrain. We liked both towns, but as much as we would have preferred to hang out in Cumberland, necessity drew us away and placed us squarely in a town that, aside from the number of eagles flying around and the beauty of the mountains in the background, could have been located somewhere in the mid-west.

From Courtenay, we caught the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast, true to its name, was sunny and warm. We camped for three days and two nights outside of a town called Lund, at a place called Dinner Rock. It was one of those amazing, free campgrounds. This one is managed by First Nations folks and was spectacular. We camped just above a beautiful beach and had a lovely view.

Dinner Rock Campground, Sunshine Coast, BC.

We spent two days hiking around the beach, climbing rocks, having coitus al fresco, and playing around. In the evenings, we built a fire with wood brought over by an incredibly generous and kind local who just wanted to share. We gave him some of the sloppy handful of pot given to us by a hitchhiker on Cortes as a thank you.

From there, we decided to make our way to Vancouver, where we had an interview lined-up with the singer/musician, Frazey (pronounced like crazy) Ford. On the way down the coast, we were stopped in an improbable traffic jam. On these small coastal towns, there is often only one road connecting the little towns between them. On this one, on Father's day, there was a terrible accident, involving two motorcycles, and an SUV. This is the second potentially deadly motorcycle crash we have witnessed on our journey so far. The first one we saw on the first day of the trip. This one was awful.

The SUV was completely totaled, with an enormous crater in the front, shaped just like a motorcycle. The two bikes were completely ripped apart. We were certain that there had been fatalities, given the condition of the vehicles. When we would later check the news papers, we discovered that, mercifully, there were no fatal injuries. One of the cyclists was air-lifted to a hospital in Vancouver, but was expected to survive. The other two involved had no major injuries.

Seeing something that horrible puts me in a somber mood, and my mind was lost in a sea of thoughts about death.

I tend to think about death quite a bit anyway. I wonder about those last moments, what the sensations are like, the quality of light, the intensity of pain, etc... I also think about what happens to consciousness. Does it really just switch off, like it does in anesthesia? Is there an afterlife, with some sort of cooky heaven or hell scenario? Does your individual consciousness toss the ego driver out the window like a motorcyclist thrown over the handlebars, and merge once again with general consciousness? Is reincarnation something I should think about? Do you wake up at your babysitter’s house only to be told you were just having a bad dream? Clearly, I don't know what happens, but I can't help but be a little envious of the dead when I think of them. Sort of the same way I get a little envious of people who are so much more intelligent than I am. I feel like I've missed out on some crucial bits of knowledge, and I don't know how I'll ever catch up.

Between impulse and echo; living through the task of thinking about death.

In any case, I did my best to steer my thoughts in a more up-beat direction, and thought instead about the one aspect of our journey which typically does not make me think about death; FOOD!

We were heading to Vancouver, which is an excellent place to get great food. Being on a fairly restricted budget, we are not visiting great restaurants. We do, however, get the opportunity to go bananas when we are near grocery stores, and I knew Vancouver would have good ones...particularly, Asian markets, wherein we could find exotic ingredients, cheap produce, dried mushrooms and a variety of spices.

We landed on a gem, the T&T market! T&T is an incredible experience for a guy like me. I am almost always a little hungry. When you walk into the T&T market, you are immediately walking into a fairly large buffet. There was seafood, roasted duck, pork, chicken, a wide variety of steamed veggies, and a whole deep hotel pan, full of Singapore style noodles. I was in heaven. We loaded up on groceries and ate our fill.

Before this delightful encounter, we had other things to do though. First, we had to conduct an interview with Frazey Ford. Frazey is a well known Canadian musician, mostly from founding a band called, “The Be Good Tanyas”. Frazey has been doing solo work for many years now and was kind enough to sit with us in our van, outside of a small park in her neighborhood. She was super sweet, patient, and generous with her time. Her episode will be released on July, 17th. 

From there, Tiffany had an appointment for a haircut, and man did she make the most of it. Tiffany had about 4” cut off of her hair, and looks great!

Told ya...

 

After walking around with Pelé in the city, getting Tiff's hair done, and getting food at the T&T, we worked our way over to Stanley Park to watch the sunset. We decided that we would stay another few days in Vancouver, and would spend the following day, riding our bikes around Stanley Park.

We were fortunate to be able to park in a spot, where we definitely should not have been parked overnight, for three nights in a row without incident. The spot was perfect. It was in a small park, on the water, with clean bathrooms, picnic tables, a place to do pullups, a lovely path for Tiff to take a run, plenty of grass to toss the ball with Pelé, and only 5 minutes from a community center where we were able to take free showers.

I'd like to say a thing or two about the community centers in Canada. So far, we have visited several, and they all have been quite nice. I don't know what the community center in your town is like, but I have had limited experience with them before this trip. So far, my time in community centers has been taking odd-ball classes in low ceilinged rooms, adjacent to either a gymnasium or some drab commons area. If that is what you are picturing when I say community center, forget it.

Take the West Vancouver Community Center, as an example. You will not find one square foot of linoleum, none of the ceilings are low, and there is nothing drab or florescent anywhere on the grounds. Picture instead, high ceilings, natural light wherever possible, exposed wooden beams, slate floors, and public art. Instead of a drab gymnasium, several well-appointed work-out facilities, an acrobatic center, an aquatic center, classrooms for yoga, pilates, art, and dance are at your disposal. The foyer of the building is faced with a long, glass wall that completely opens up, accordion-style, to let in the outside air. There are commissioned works of local art hanging on walls and from the ceilings, and the seating is well distributed, comfortable and inviting. At every turn, you will see happy children, energetic elderly folks, relieved parents, or fit young people. The building does its job and brings together the full range of the community.

Amazingly, this is the only photo of the West Vancouver Community Center.  This piece of art is made entirely of drift-wood.

We can not say enough good things about the community center programs we have encountered in Canada. The U.S.A. Could learn something from these places.

On the last evening of our stay in Vancouver, we knew it was too good to be true. Before we went to sleep, there were 5 vehicles in the parking lot. When we woke up in the morning, there were 8. Too many people were parked in the small lot. To make matters worse, our gigantic red van, and a huge cab-over truck (which had been driven from Brazil, and had the stickers and Brazilian occupants to prove it) were two of the eight vehicles present. A neighbor, justifiably, complained and the authorities showed up in the morning to, with deference and congenial politeness, ask us to fuck off and never come back. I really do love Canadians.

We did manage to spend a whole day on the bikes, riding laps around Stanley Park, stopping to sit on the beach, toss the stick with Pelé, and eat lunch. We stayed at the park all day and watched our last Vancouver sunset from the shores of that beautiful park.

That evening, we drove away, and landed just north of a town called Squamish. We camped in an area which had been technically closed due to high grizzly activity. To be honest, it feels wrong to not capitalize the word grizzly, so Grizzly it will be from here on out.

The next morning, we met some new camp neighbors who were coming in as we were finishing up our breakfast. It was clearly a father and son team who were taking off for a long weekend in their camper-truck to go play around with their crazy 4wheel drive off-road vehicle which they had towed behind them. The pair approached us shortly after parking their vehicle.

The father, Darrel, and his son, Brandon approached us with one confident and friendly grin, and one incredibly shy, but kind smile. Darrel introduced himself and was keen to chat. He introduced us to his son. The boy was about 14 or 15, tallish, lanky, with curly blonde hair and bony knees. Darrel was about fifty, hearty and fit. There was something about Brandon which caught my attention, he had extreme difficulty making eye contact, and was wearing hearing aids. You could tell, in spite of his shyness, that he was incredibly kind and sweet. I can't quite explain why I noticed this, but on the rare occasion when his eyes did manage to meet mine, I could see it. I'm not sure what troubled young Brandon, but some sort of developmental issue was present.

At one point, when Darrel and I were discussing the motorcycle accident I witnessed on the road along the Sunshine Coast (where Darrel and Brandon were from), Darrel very sweetly reached out and took hold of Brandon's wrist. He lifted his arm and held Brandon's hand, gently pressing his thumb into the palm. He then politely changed the subject. I hadn't noticed at first, but the discussion of the violence of the car crash was upsetting the young man, and his father picked up on it without a word, and comforted the boy right away.

I was touched, and felt a sort of sweet sorrow. Like that feeling you get when you see a stray dog, or an orphaned wild animal. I couldn't shake the idea that one day, like my father, Darrel would be gone, and Brandon would have to sort out the world for himself. For me, I didn't ever really feel protected by or close to my father, so losing him was more abstract and did not leave me feeling bereft of a protector. When Darrel passes, it seemed to me from the briefest of interactions, Brandon would be without a man who knew him so well, that he knew when to take his hand and change the subject. It was a powerful moment for me to witness.

I remember having feelings of being something of an odd-man-out when I watched my class mates or friends interact with their fathers. I would watch them kid around, riff on an inside joke, or casually hug while laughing. To be sure, I knew my father. He was a nice enough man. I could see him any time I wanted, and he was obligated to see me every other weekend, but never did I feel like he was the kind of guy with whom I could joke around, or casually hug. He and I only ever had one actual conversation, and I was 21 or 22 at the time. We were not close, and we did not interact easily, ever.

When I watched the tenderness and care that Darrel had for his fairly vulnerable son, I felt the loss of my own father again. Not the loss of his passing, 15 years ago, but rather, I felt the loss of him as a man in my life who made me feel loved or looked after. I felt that same sensation I had as a boy, watching my friends and their dads act like pals. I felt the odd-man-out. I'm certain my father loved me, but I'm also certain he never knew how to let me know that. If you are reading this, and have a son or a father near by, feel free to reach out to that person and make sure they know how you feel about them...don't wait.

We spent that day, climbing the steep hills and stairs of “The Chief” in Squamish. We only made it to the 1st peak, as my knee is STILL not completely healed. The views were stunning, and the hike was not exactly easy. We hiked down the mountain, and made our way to a Mexican restaurant which advertised fried chicken...it was ok, but not great. 

On a rock, on "The Chief" -  Squamish, BC 

From Squamish, we made our way to a small town called Pemberton. We did a small hike to Narin Falls, did laundry, got supplies, showered, and prepared ourselves for a bit of a drive through some winding and twisting mountain roads on our way to a town called Lillooet.

There is a free campground outside of Lillooet, which is managed by the BC Hydro company. I'm not exactly sure what sort of sins the BC Hydro company is trying to atone for, but it must be something horrendous, as they are doing a bang-up job of it with their parks. We decided to stay at this campground for three days.

On our first night, we stood near a roaring creek and watched the tumult of the water as it rushed crazily by. It was hard not to be just a little bit afraid of it when standing so close. A man approached, also named Darell, as it turns out, and struck up a very friendly, if slightly inebriated conversation with us. He told us stories of Grizzly bear encounters, and local sights to see. In particular, he told us about a hike we absolutely had to do in the morning. We agreed and meandered back to our campsite.

On our way back, we met two gentlemen who were walking from their campsite to go throw away a few empty beer cans; Bernie and Mike. At first, I thought Bernie was Mike's son, but that turned out to be far from the case. Bernie was in his late fifties, and Mike looks to be in his late sixties or possibly early seventies. As it happens, Mike is actually 79 years old, and spry as hell.

We didn't get to spend much time talking with Bernie, as he seemed to have other things on his mind, but Mike was quite keen to chat. We told him what we were up to (the trip aspect of it, not the podcast), and he wanted to see our van. Mike and Bernie came over, and Mike was immediately taken with our little home.

“The Honeymoon Suite!” He would call it. “You could sell this for $100K (Canadian), and buy another one, or rent it out for $1,000 (Canadian) per week. You should get three of them and go into business!”

Mike is the kind of guy that I immediately want to be friends with. If I look back on the folks with whom I have made friends over the years, they have had a few things in common. For one, they are generally at least 20 years older than I am. Secondly, they typically have either a ton of enthusiasm for life or a hilariously cynical view on the whole enterprise of being. Thirdly, they are typically a bit eccentric.

Mike is all of those, wrapped up in one guy. He is almost 80, has an abundance of enthusiasm for life (in-spite of about a million reasons to be cynically twisted against everything), and he is fantastically eccentric. He is German/Canadian and has been in Canada since 1958. He is the first draft dodger I've met, and his story is dramatic, to say the least.

The first evening we met, we talked about his career, past, and present. Mike is a retired cabinet maker, but his most recent project came to me as a bit of a surprise; he is developing an app for travelers called Smart Stops smartstops.ca. His app was being developed by a team in India, they have recently been fired for, “incompetence”.  I hope he gets the app done soon, his website is helpful in Canada, for sure!

He and his pal Bernie were as tired as Tiffany and I were, so they left us, but Mike and I talked about hanging out the following day.

That next morning, Tiff, Pelé and I took the recommended hike and saw an incredible site. We hiked along the banks of the raging creek we had watched the night before. We made our way through Douglas Fir, and a variety of trees, one of which was fruiting with these little berries we were told are called Saskatoons (before leaving the park we picked about half a gallon, and ate about half a gallon – that is about 4 liters, Canadian friends). The hike had a hard terminus, we were told. A dam from which the entirety of the crazy spring was rushing forth. As we approached the dam, Tiffany spotted two wild mountain goats just above us. As they tired of our presence, they took off up the mountain, causing a small rock slide which made us more than just a little nervous about continuing down the trail. The views were too great not to continue, and the promise of being able to watch as this crazy volume of water rushed through a crack not much bigger than the two of us side by side, was quite tempting.

We made our way past the rock slide area and climbed up some craggy rocks to a moss-covered outcropping. From there we could see the spillway, and the wild crashing creek fell about 30 feet into a smooth stone cauldron of whirlpools and eddies. There were some red paintings on the other side of the creek, covered from the elements by stone. They were too far away to determine if they were painted by native peoples in the distant past or a more recent addition. Either way, they looked real to us.

The view from the top of the outcropping was amazing...the attached picture will fail completely to convey just how powerful the scene truly was.

Pix Falls

That evening, as I was lounging in the hammock, and Tiff and Pelé were drinking wine and chewing on sticks, our new pal Mike ambled by. He was wearing shorts, old white sneakers, a short-sleeved button-down shirt, and orange-tinted sunglasses. He was also carrying a boiled egg. He approached casually as if he were right on time for a meeting we had planned months in advance. We invited him to stay for wine and a campfire. He sat down and we started chatting.

Mike, of smartstops.ca

Another neighbor came by and asked if we had been to see the lake. When we said we had not, she invited us to join her and her husband for a sunset walk. Mike agreed and came with us.

The path leading up to the lake is quite steep, and not an easy stroll for anyone, much less, as you might expect, a man in his very late seventies. The neighbor who invited us was trying to casually dissuade Mike from attempting the climb. I could tell he knew what she was doing, and his response was perfect, “Oh, I climbed Everest last year, I think I'll be OK.”

He most certainly did not climb Everest at any point in his life, but I can tell you this, he had absolutely zero problems climbing that hill to watch the sunset. The only thing which slowed him down was his tenancy to stop moving his feet when he was talking...and we did a lot of talking.

Tiffany and our other neighbors left us behind, and Mike and I got to have a full-blown conversation. We talked about history, his life, his travels, Elvis, Richard Reese (Reese's Pieces), geography, art, music, shoe stores, Canada, and unrepentantly tragic events. I was eager to ask him if he would be a guest on the podcast and share some of his tale with our audience.

Once an appropriate point in our conversation was reached, I brought it up. He wasn't interested. That was that. One of the most interesting guys I had met so far, just flat out not interested in being on the show. I get it, and can't say that I would do things much differently if I were him. I'm mostly just bummed out because I know our audience would really appreciate him.

We spent the evening chatting with Mike, and didn't get to bed until 1 AM! That is incredibly late for camping.

The next day we spent by the lake we had walked to for the sunset. There was yet another neighbor across from us who was traveling with her husband and her brother; Tyla (pronounced Tie-Luh), Darwin and Dale. They are Canadians from Saskatchewan and were some of the most friendly people we've ever met. They had been camping there about as long as Mike had been (over a month) and quite liked Mike.

Tyla asked if I would be willing to do massage on her husband, Darwin. I was feeling lazy and would have rather lounged in my hammock, but I need to keep up the practice, and Darwin really needed the work, so I agreed. I'm very glad I did. While I worked on him, Tiffany and Tyla collected berries, and Dale and Mike chatted and threw a stick to Pelé. I honestly felt like I was with people I had known for years, not hours. Such is the magic of travel.

As I write this, I am sitting in our van, which is parked in deep woods, underneath a glacier, surrounded by at least 5 different waterfalls. We are outside of a small town called Smithers, BC. We've only got another two or three days left in Canada. I must say, although I have little interest in ever spending much time here in the winter, this fantastic country is exactly the sort of place where I would like to spend my summers.

Outside of Smithers, BC

I'm now putting the finishing touches on this journal entry, and am doing so on the banks of the Yukon River. The sun is setting at 10:30 PM, and there is a guy fly fishing outside our window. The river has a slow rhythm, and the fly reel makes a bit of a high pitch hum, although not as high as the crazy whine of the 10 zillion mosquitoes who are outside, baying for blood.

Our drive up to Yukon was a bit of a marathon. Tiff and I are eager to get to Alaska and decided to put some miles behind us. Fortunately, you can not go more than 100 KPH (about 60MPH), so wildlife viewing is no problem. We saw bears, a fox, a couple of moose, badgers, and a variety of birds. I'm sad to report the first animal tragedy of the trip, though. I was unable to keep from driving over at least two small ducklings who were standing in the road, crossing behind their mother.

I often try to imagine how animals perceive the world around them. I wonder if spiders can sense what type of creature a frightened grandmother is, or whether or not a squirrel is ever “glad” when she makes it back to her home, having survived another day. This time, however, I did not want to picture what sort of horrible anguish was in the mind of the surviving ducklings, or their mother. I can not even begin to get my head around the horror of our terrible red machine, carelessly destroying the innocent and unfortunate little creatures who were so near the end of their own day.

I will do my best to take this moment of having dealt out an unintentional tragedy as a lesson; a prayer, perhaps is appropriate here.

Oh great goon in my mind

Wondrous creator of innocence and evil

Let me not stray into a violent path,

nor the violent path of another stray onto me

Let me not carelessly step upon the vulnerable,

and protect me, as I am vulnerable

Let me not mindlessly drive over the cute and cuddly,

and protect my ugliness so that I may not be a target

and most importantly,

let my prayers to fictional deities

not be offensive to any that happen to actually exist

Dog's Speed to my friends in Canada!

Andrew Couch
Into Canada
IMG_20180602_175303516_HDR.jpg

An inordinate number of microscopic creatures are located just under my front left paw. When I lift it up, be prepared to greet them with all the charm you can muster. I suggest something profound, yet conciliatory.

  Olympic Peninsula, WA

Olympic Peninsula, WA

  Sol Duc Falls - Olympic Peninsula, WA

Sol Duc Falls - Olympic Peninsula, WA

Our View from the top of the bottom of the heap. Port Angeles, WA

My dear, we could go on all day arguing about what should be done to address the human problem. I suggest we put that aside for now and focus on us. How does it feel when I move it like this?

Fox Glove Farms – Salt Spring Island, BC

Michael Ableman & some jerk.  Fox Glove Farms – Salt Spring Island, BC

Gary & a sentient cricket – Salt Spring Island, BC

Joel Solomon, Cortes Island, BC - Sometimes the camera will capture a look that doesn't quite reflect the true feelings of the subject in focus. Other times, the camera conveys precisely what the subject has in mind. What face would you make if you were being harangued with strangely worded questions by some weirdo?

Cortes Island, BC

I'm on a journey through time and space. Like most, I track my progress with the benchmarks of joy, suffering, pleasure, pain. I welcome you now to witness the feeling one gets after finding the fortitude to leap into the depths of the universe on a quest to recover the truly sacred and to wholly appreciate the simply material.  

Cortes Island, BC

Cortes Island, BC

“What have you come to ask of me?” When I did not immediately answer, she continued - “I will answer one question at a time. Word them carefully.”

When I remembered the language I was meant to use, my questions would slip away. When I remembered the questions, only the lumbering language of men was available to me. Finally, I closed my eyes, let my focus melt away from the man in my head, and spoke in the language of the carbon atom. I asked my simple questions of this ancient being.

“What can I do to stop the evil of men?” I asked.

“That foolish question says much about you.” Her voice was nowhere and everywhere. I could not hear anything, but her words came into my memory like a sculpture done in relief. She continued, “Define evil for yourself and cease doing it at once. Only then you will have done your part, and that is all you can hope to do. For the likes of you, that alone is a life's work.”

“Is there hope for our kind?”

“Hope? Your Kind? What would you hope for? And just what 'kind' are you? Are you and I of a different 'kind'? I should think there is always hope, so long as there are beings to dream up words like hope. As far as whether or not your 'kind' have any hope, my dear child, when your 'kind' decided to define itself as something 'other', is when the real trouble began. The rest of us have hope, and it is that your 'kind' realize the truth before there are none of you left to play these delightful games.”

“What is the “truth” you speak of?”

“That your last question should be the only good one you asked does not surprise me at all.” Her tone, although inaudible, gave the distinct impression of being delivered through a uniquely cheeky grin. She continued in this way. “You and the others like you who live by spoken words and are seeking to transcend the flesh and blood of this world, are not in control of anything, let alone yourselves! You and your kind who strive to project your collective minds into the future and onto other worlds inside of machines are not doing so because you thought it was a good idea! You are being led by the hand into this future, little one. And that hand is not holding yours as gently as you might wish. Should you wish to know more, and I expect you do, you need to ask Raven. But, I don't expect he will want to tell you either...at least, not right away. Good luck!”

With that, her voice was gone and she moved along, as slowly as she had been moving since before the apes began to drift apart into tribes and cities.

Cortes Island, BC

Tofino, BC - The tale of “The Weeping Cedar Woman” is unknown to me. There was a brief telling of the significance of some of the elements in this sculpture, but no origin story or supporting narrative. However, any tale that includes a lady with snakes for tits, lightning bolt fingertips and an infinity fountain of tears is one I am eager to read.

Tofino, BC

Occasionally, what they really want is to just pick you up and carry you around. I find it best to let the big dumb animals have their way most of the time.

A Whole in the Wall, Port Alberni, BC

Port Alberni, BC

If your desire is for a particular moment or object to carry great significance, the only necessary ingredient is your belief that it is so. The moment you begin to believe in the sacredness of time or space, you are an alchemist of tremendous power. The hard part is true believing. Welcome to the human race.

 

Andrew CouchComment
North For Freedumb
IMG_20180515_111226916_HDR.jpg

North For Freedumb...

On his Journey across the states in search of the Northwest Passage, a man named York was hard at work, without pay, every day of the week. There were no days off for York, and it is possible the concept of a vacation had never occurred to him. He had no savings, no monetary debts, and there was no hero's welcome waiting for him if he survived the wild and dangerous journey there and back. His companions in the Corps of Discovery have streets, parks, towns, currencies and a host of other monuments left in their honor. York has very little in that regard and died a poor, not particularly happy man - mostly, he has been casually tossed into the bin of history as a good-natured, athletic man who was basically excellent at every task he was forced to complete. 

Why am I writing to you about a slave who largely made possible one of the most famous road trips in American History? My aim is to give you a little perspective on the amazingly soft journey we are undertaking as we drive our luxurious bed-on-wheels at an average of 60 miles per hour in a zig-zag pattern, based on nothing more than our desire to see pretty things and meet fun and/or interesting people.

Along this journey, I have had the audacity to gripe about having to replace my alternator or having to pull over and drain a bit of oil from the pan, after it was overfilled by an inept mechanic. I've also found myself complaining that my little knee still hurts from the miracle of surgery to repair a torn meniscus every time I have the privilege of walking down a steep hill.

Of course, I understand that all suffering is relative, and most of it is born in the brain as I travel through time worrying about the future, or fretting over the past. However, it is good to remember just how easy we have it here in our big red machine as we leisurely frolic about the Pacific Northwest.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about our trip.

We have been a few places since I last wrote in this journal.

We visited a legal cannabis farm in Oregon called, Old Apple Farm. Our hosts were amazingly hospitable, and ended up being guests on our show and ultimately our pals. Having the opportunity to meet the guys and gals there was an inspiring and beautiful experience for us. We are tremendously grateful to Trevor for reaching out to us and inviting us to their home and farm. We are also quite grateful to Dr. Chris Ryan for having me on as a guest on his show; that encounter has opened so many doors for us, most notably the visit to Old Apple!

We visited Old Apple Farm twice. The first visit was only for an evening and part of the next day. The second time was after a visit to our dear friends, Jesse and Paul in Astoria, OR. 

Beforemaking the trip to Astoria, Tiff and I stopped to share a meal and a drink with my friend Jesse's daughter, Olivia. I have known Olivia since she was about 4 years old. Olivia is now 24, and is a smart, funny and beautiful young woman, making her own way through the world with style and charm. Spending time with her was very special to us, and we are forever grateful to have her in our lives.

Our pals Jesse and Paul are kind, intelligent and passionate people. Their home in Astoria is situated on top of a beautiful hill, overlooking the Young and Lewis and Clark rivers. Jesse and Paul, among their many talents, play music together, mostly Bossa Nova.

Jesse & Paul at home in Astoria.

We had the privilege of sitting in their living room while they played tunes for us. They were kind enough to let us record them. We will be using those tunes in the show as we produce more episodes!

We took a hike with Jesse, spent some time on the Columbia River, played with Pelé on the beach in Washington, and visited Jesse's hometown of Vernonia for a bike ride on a beautiful trail. We purchased a bike trailer for Pelé in Astoria, and this ride was our first opportunity to test it out.

Unfortunately, my knee was unhappy with me for taking the mildest of bike rides, and after less than 10 miles I had to head back. Pelé was being hauled by Tiff (to save my knee), and he was not happy to be with only one of us.

Pelé has this strange habit of stressing out completely when he is on a trail or a bike ride with just one of us. He spends half of the time looking back for the missing partner. When he realized that I wasn't with the group anymore, he started whining and crying like we have never heard. Tiff had to let him out of the trailer and risked life and limb by holding his leash as he ran beside her for about 3 miles.

That crazy little dog, an amazing, good-natured athletic little man who does all of his work for free, got back to the restaurant where Paul and I were waiting for everyone, drank about a liter of water, then sat in the shade and panted until he fell asleep.

Our time with Jesse and Paul was a fantastic four-day retreat and visit with old friends. It had a bit of everything, adventure, leisure, mild debauchery, a little argument, and mostly lots of love and companionship.

From Astoria, we headed East again to Portland, stopping for an afternoon to play around on a beach on the Columbia River. It was there, Jones Beach, we discovered Pelé will swim! I think it may have been the first time he swam. All it took was throwing a stick far enough to force him to paddle for it. I turns out, he loves it! Now when we visit a lake, stream or the ocean, he wants in, so long as there is a stick which one of us has thrown for him.

In Portland, we had to see a mechanic to change out the aging pulleys and belt tensioner on our van. The mechanic said he would have it done in about an hour. As you can probably imagine, it took him much longer. Fortunately, we got back in time to help him get the belt back on the vehicle and likely prevented something bad from happening. When I walked up to see how the job was going, the mechanic had a pry bar up against the side of a new pulley and the edge of the new belt and was trying to force the belt over a pulley that was clearly not having it. A quick consultation with Google and the sprinter forum showed me that the belt routing he was swearing to be correct was, in fact, not correct at all. Once we changed the path of the belt, it slipped on like a glove.

When we started up the van, I heard a noise I could not hear before over the chirping of the aging pulleys...the alternator was making an audible chirp. It doesn't matter if you don't know what an alternator is, or what it is doing in your car. What matters here is that you know that it is not meant to chirp when it does whatever you think it is doing in your engine.

I ordered the parts and had them shipped to Old Apple Farm, where we had an open invitation to return, and planned on installing the new alternator later in the week. We spent the rest of the week in the Columbia River Gorge.

If you have never been to a town called Cascade Locks, we highly encourage a visit at your earliest convenience. What a beautiful place that is! We camped illegally at the park for two days without incident.

The river was rushing, and locals were catching spring chinook salmon with nets, and selling them by the river. We played, we read, we lounged, we ate and we played some more.

From Cascade Locks, we headed back to Portland to buy books and get some supplies. Two books for Tiff and I (The Natural Mind; Dr. Andrew Weil - Spontaneous Happiness; Dr. Andrew Weil), and two books for our new pals at Old Apple Farm (The Ginger Man; J.P. Donleavy and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; Tom Robbins).  If you haven't read any J.P. Donleavy, I highly reccomend it!  

Back at Old Apple, I got the new alternator installed in less than two hours and had no parts left over! We spent four nights and three days with the guys at the Farm. We had such a great time hiking around during the day and cooking out by the campfire at night. Those fellas have a great life, marked by simplicity, hard work, plenty of exercise and a passion for the task at hand. Dave took me to a Costco on a Saturday afternoon, Trevor and I talked books and craziness, Gregg and I talked science and podcasts and we all played frisbee golf on their beautiful property. Mike was injured from a rock climbing fall (two broken feet), so we didn't get to spend much time with him. In all, the visit was a blast.

From Old Apple, it was time to head East and North to Washington, through the Columbia River Gorge, through The Dalles. Eastern Oregon is so drastically different from the rest of the state. I'm glad we took a slow route through the state.

Our goal was to reach some lake that people had been hyping us on for the past few weeks. It was quite a drive through the cascades into the Wenatchee River valley. When we reached the last turn on our map, we saw a familiar old sign barring us from entering a beautiful and empty roadway - “Road Closed”. No worries, there was an alternate route. We drove around to the south side of the mountain where the lake was situated. About twenty miles later we encountered what was probably a road, located somewhere beneath about two feet of snow. Amazingly, there was no sign announcing the closure of the road; just the plain and obvious facts.

We decided to change course and headed to a nearby lake, and we are so glad we did. Lake Wenatchee is a pristine and deep blue lake nestled in by mountains and pine groves. About ten minutes after parking, an older gentleman and his wife approached the van.

“That's a nice rig you got there!” The man said.

The man, Russ Yuly, we came to know quite well throughout the day was my exact height and weight. He is also 85 years old. We chatted about vehicles and travel.

Russ Yuly & Spiff!

“Well, you picked the right time of your life to do something like this. I always thought I would hike all of these trails and climb all of these peaks when I retired. Now that I've got the time to do the hiking, my body is too old and worn out to do any of it.”

This resonated deeply with me. I told him about our project, explained to him what a podcast is, and asked him if he would be interested in telling us any stories. His wife didn't miss a beat - “You should tell 'em about the worst day of your life!”

Russ told us he would think about it. “If you're gonna be here for a while, I might come back.” He said.

I told him we weren't going anywhere because it was warm and sunny the whole beach was full of sticks Pelé couldn't wait to rescue from the lake. Between Pelé leaping into the water and Tiff trying to roast herself to a golden flake, we would be in the area for many hours to come.

About four hours later, I glanced at the parking lot and saw him getting out of his vehicle. I put together the podcast gear, invited him into the van and just hit record. His episode is #14, and is worth a listen.

We stayed at the lake for two days, camping in the snowmobile bit of a nearby forest. We didn't hear a single vehicle all night and parked our van right in the middle of the woods.

While at the lake, another couple approached the van. This time, it was a couple on motorcycles. The two of them were decked out in denim and riding a Triumph and a super cool classic Yamaha. They were both tall, good looking and about our age.

They were really interested in van living, asked me a bunch of questions, and let me give an overly caffeinated tour of the van. The couple, Stevie and Carlenn were the first people to ever ask me if I had an Instagram profile. Thanks to the show, I do. We chatted a bit, they met Tiff and then talked a bit about meeting up again in Seattle.

We left Lake Wenatchee and spent the night in a little town we heard about through a free car camping app that claimed a nice spot was to be found in the town of Index, WA. The app said it was a favorite spot for rock climbers. The app wasn't lying. We pulled up after crossing the Skykomish River, in awe at the mountains and cliffs around us, and encountered a parking lot filled to the brim with white sprinter vans and one box truck.

Tiff and I, in spite of being fairly gregarious and easygoing, are a bit shy. We debated the idea of just walking around for a bit, then getting in our van and going to sleep, or trying to talk to some of the other campers, who were all hanging out around their vehicles, eating, drinking and talking.

Thankfully, we resisted our urge to hide in the van and approached a huge group of campers. I walked up, right in the middle of a conversation of course, and when the awkwardness of some big goon and his pretty wife standing suddenly at the outskirts of the circle was near the peak, I asked “Is there somewhere I should park if my Sprinter van isn't white, or do we just need to fuck-off right away?”

Fortunately, my dad joke got enough of a laugh to ease the awkward tension. There were about ten or more people in a rough circle in between two vans. In the circle, one of the characters stood out. He was older, a bit more colorful and had some other quality about him I immediately recognized as some sort of strange kin. His name is Will.

We didn't stick around the circle for very long, but we did manage to bring a pre-rolled joint over to the group as a token of goodwill. The guy I mentioned, Will, was parked next to our van. He was driving the box truck.

He invited us over to take a tour. His setup was fantastic. Rustic wood, copper countertop, bathroom, and spacious separate bedroom. The whole thing was well done, and it all opened up in the back with one of those old-time split doors.

He told us very briefly that he had been a bullfighter (also known as a rodeo clown, but don't call them that). Something about his character and his whole demeanor made up my mind right then and there that I would ask him in the morning if he would mind being on the show.

In the morning, we sat quietly by the raging river, drank coffee and waited for everyone else to wake up. We ended up sitting with Will and his friends Ryan and Guillermo. About halfway through breakfast, I asked Will if he would be willing to be on our podcast. I am so glad he agreed to do it.

He will be Episode 15. I won't say too much about it now. Suffice it to say that his story is incredibly powerful and was one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Left to right -Ryan, Guillermo and Will.

We connected with Guillermo and Ryan as well and talked about meeting up sometime down the road.

In Seattle, we had more necessary repairs to do to the van, so we headed into town to meet up with a friend from Memphis who is living temporarily in Seattle. We stopped at a music store to get some gear for the show and met a guy who recognized me from having been a guest of Tangentially Speaking. That was a pretty funny experience for me...it did not net any discount.

Our friend from Memphis, Jeff, was a great host. He took us out for Vietnamese food (my favorite food of all time) and ice cream. He let us park at his place, and use his shower. That is an incredible luxury when traveling in this way. Most of our baths have been in rivers, streams, lakes and occasionally behind the van. Using a real shower is something you should think about the beauty of next time you take one.

I didn't know Jeff particularly well before this meeting, but I came away with a true appreciation for what a sweet guy he is. He is clearly an excellent and loving father, an incredibly hard worker and an all around honest and fun guy. I'm glad we got to spend time with him.

From there, we spent a day dealing with suspension issues with the van in a part of town that exists in every major American city. You know the one...lots of used car lots, automotive shops, vacuum cleaner repair, restaurants that advertise sirloin, and lots and lots of crappy parking lots all over the place. We were glad to have that chore behind us.

From there, we connected with Carlenn (the lady we met at Lake Wenatchee), and she offered to let us borrow her visitor's pass to park in her neighborhood in Seattle – Capitol Hill. This turned out to be an enormously fortuitous move.

We parked before she was done with work, and while waiting for her to come down and see us, Pelé was hanging around the van with us. A young lady with a dog that looked like Benji approached and was audibly enthusiastic about seeing Pelé. Pelé was remarkably interested in her dog, B.

B's owner, Audra, is an incredibly sweet and friendly lady who seems not to have a fear of stranger danger, was a blast to chat with. When I asked her what she did for a living, she told me she was the GM/event coordinator for a floating entertainment venue which was just opening. She told me about the owner, and I told her about our show and asked if she could set up an interview. She agreed.

We had dinner with Carlenn at the restaurant where Guillermo the climber worked, Chavez. Carlenn is a delight.

She offered us a place to shower and let us use her visitor parking pass so we could park in her neighborhood without being hassled by the parking authorities.

We spent our time in Seattle walking around, attempting to avoid going downhill, as my knee is still not 100%. Guillermo took us to his climbing gym for an incredible workout on the wall. I have no interest in ever climbing on a real rock face (fear), but I would like to be strong enough to do it. Next time we settle somewhere, I am joining a climbing gym.

From Seattle, we took a ferry to Bainbridge Island and began our journey on the Peninsula. The first night was spent in Port Townsend.

Port Townsend is a lovely, and charming fishing and boating village. There are old Victorian homes and buildings, and an incredible maritime education center with shipbuilders, and a school attached. We walked around, played with Pelé, and had a blast in Port Townsend.

Our first intentional destination on the peninsula, however, was Sol Duc hot springs. Sol Duc is located in the National Park and is surrounded by incredible hikes into rugged and lush forests. With my weak knee at the time, I was not able to do much hiking, but I was perfectly situated to take advantage of the hot spring.

The scent of spaghetti fart was constantly in the air, as the spring which feeds the pools is coming from deep below the surface and is heavy with sulfur. The first evening, in the spring, was fairly mellow. The following morning when Tiff and Pelé took a hike up a steep grade to go see a beautiful alpine lake, I made my way back to the spring for a quiet soak and a swim.

Before I even walked into the lobby of the pool facility, I could hear the bleating and caterwauling of about 10,000 children as they ran, dove and splashed about in the pools.

As it happens, that morning was the field trip day for a local tribal school. The wild and rambunctious children in the pools were the “good kids" who had sufficient school attendance and few enough behavioral infractions to be privileged with the opportunity to harass, splash and gently menace the people desperately seeking the healing serenity of the hot spring.

I was (foolishly) attempting to read in one of the pools. The children nearest to me were playing a game whereby they would pretend to “accidentally” splash my book. Having been a rambunctious child, I knew this game well. I would “accidentally” flick tiny droplets of water into the eyes of these kids when they would pass by.

One of the kids (the only white boy in the school, and by far the biggest pain in everyone's ass) walked right up to me and asked, “why are you reading a book in the pool? It's just gonna get wet.”

I replied in a sweet tone, “only if it gets splashed.” I then turned to pick up my beverage and promptly dropped my book directly in the water.

Of course, I blame that kid.

Several days later, I would see that kid, his sister and his mom (all of whom had been at the pool that day) in a grocery store parking lot in Port Angeles. The mother was struggling with her keys and a uniquely cumbersome box of groceries. I approached and asked if I could help. Without making eye contact, she tersely said, “no”.

I wished her good luck, and walked away a little butt-hurt at first, but then remembered everything was the fault of that terrible child and decided not to take it personally. His mother's misery is just another one of the products distributed by that rancid little bastard.

It should be noted that I am joking.

The upshot of having to dry my book in the sun, feeling like a moron for having brought the book into the pool where, clearly, it was just going to get wet; was that I was free to be harassed in earnest. This harassment led to the bus driver's intervention, wherein we struck up a conversation.

An unnaturally even-tempered man by the name of Arnold approached me in something of a conciliatory tone and started asking gentle questions. As it turns out, Arnold is an elder of the Quillayute Indian tribe and had driven a portion of the children to the pool that morning from a town called, amazingly without any irony at all, La Push.

We talked about travel, marriage, children (he has 4, we have none, his cousin has 24!), the struggles of indigenous people, and the fact that his uncle is five years younger than he is. After about 20 minutes, he told me about a happening that evening in La Push to which we were welcome to attend.

The Quillayute hold, every Wednesday, something of a pot-luck/ceremonial celebration of their culture in the gymnasium of the tribal school. All he asked of us was that we “Bring something to share if you want.”

We decided to go. The event was fantastic.

There was drumming, singing, dancing, chanting and a tiny bit of storytelling in a small gymnasium. A large portion of the small reservation was there for the event, and less than 10 white people (including us) were awkwardly sitting around in plastic chairs, eating chips and pizza.

We did not take any pictures or video, but I am still kicking myself for not asking if I could bring a little recording equipment. The tone of the drums and the singing as they reverberated through the large wooden beams of the gymnasium was spectacular.

From La Push, we made our way into the Hoh rain forest in the national park, and then to the beach where Pelé seems to have more fun than anywhere else. In fact, I would say that of the three of us, Pelé is having the most fun.

We actually paid to camp for the first time outside of the rain forest, alongside the Hoh river. We had a fantastic time there and were able to relax completely, not wondering if we would be ticketed, towed, or asked to leave in the middle of the night. If you have not yet been to the peninsula, make plans to go!

From the Hoh, we made our way to Port Angeles to take the ferry to Canada!

It should be noted, we have about 28 gallons of fresh water storage, 5 gallons of grey water storage, a 3 gallon toilet tank (piss only so far), and six gallons of straight drinking water. We also have enough refrigeration to store cold food for about 4 days, and enough dry storage for about 2 weeks. Laundry needs to be done once a week (possibly less), and showers (when a cold stream or river is not handy) are a daily search. Why am I telling you this? Before leaving our country, we wanted to empty some tanks, fill others, replenish our food cache, and float confidently-washed into the land of our polite, courteous, sorry-on-a-hair trigger, Canadian cousins to the north. We managed to do just that.

IMG_20180527_203733334.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew CouchComment
Photos From the Road - May, 1 - May, 24
 Looking down my nose at me? 

Looking down my nose at me? 

upload.jpg

Yuba River, CA

upload.jpg

No sticks on this bit of the Yuba River!

upload.jpg

Jesus...is my co-pilot ok?

upload.jpg

Old Apple Farm (left to right) Dave, Gregg, Mike and Trevor.

upload.jpg

A little cold for a Wombat, Moonrat.

upload.jpg

Cannon Beach, OR

upload.jpg

Our pals Jesse and Paul in Astoria, OR.  Bossa Nova session, as recorded by an old man/cricket.

upload.jpg

Pelé was given a choice by a wise and ancient beetle in the grass.  She spoke to him in a tongue only the uncomplicated animals can hear.  "Sir", she whispered, "would you care to dance with the devil, drink with the gods, or piss on a golden obelisk?"

Without hesitation, Pelé closed his eyes and raised his leg in gratitude to the creature, sending a message to all gentle and curious travelers to come.

upload.jpg

What advice would you give yourself if you met a younger you?  

Buy a mask, and get mean! 

upload.jpg

Astoria to Washington over the Columbia River. 

upload.jpg

"Yes, I'll have the swordfish, not overcooked this time, thank you, and the lady, when she wakes, will take another Chablis."

upload.jpg

Lake Wenatchee, WA

upload.jpg

Patreon.com/monkeytooth to help prevent this from being permanent.

upload.jpg

Ross Yuly, 85 years old, totally relaxed, our new pal.  

upload.jpg

More podcast recording in Index, WA.