The (Not So) Innocents Abroad...



To be sure, travel writing is an old game. Writing down one's thoughts with the intent of entertaining others, or shifting the burden of memory from the brain to paper (or screen in this case) has been a pursuit of the traveling man, I would suspect since we began drawing figures in caves. As you might expect these journals are not an improvement on the genre. 

Our departure from home was one for the books, though. In the morning, the last we would spend on our small, rented piece of land, began with our sweet neighbor, Kristen and roughly 3 children (they are hard to count, as they never stop moving, and all look basically the same to me) were diligently picking flowers from a rose bush in front of where we parked the van for the last time. 

Kristen told us we absolutely had to give at least five minutes notice before leaving, as they were planning a rose petal parade for our departure. The flowers they were picking were being shuttled to another cache of children in the school itself...

I should mention, our neighbors and landlords operate a small school out of their home. It is called the Wigwam School, and it is usually teaming with happy little runny-nosed monsters. I tend to use typically uncharitable adjectives to describe the kids, but I do love them and wish them all of the best. I just hope they experience the fullness of that love and enjoy the best life has to offer at a distance which germs and shitty attitudes cannot cover. 

So now you know, somewhat out of linear order, there is a school next door to where we parked. Did you also know we have lived on that piece of land for the past year and a half in an RV? Not to be confused with our van, we lived in a 33' RV for the past three and a half years, at various locations around Sonoma County, CA. We ended up selling that to a couple of other neighbors, and have since been living in our van...about a week now, as I write this.

The last week of our time in Sonoma County was something of a quest to defeat our fears of failure and our own potentially crushing expectations. I (Andrew), had knee surgery, our van was in the shop for three days, and I was out of town for about 56 hours immediately before my surgery. Feel free to read the previous journal entry if you are curious about that.

My good friend Erik, a fun and interesting guy in his own right (who incidentally refused in his own suborn way, to be a guest on our show), was kind enough to let us stay at his home through the most difficult bits of my recovery...the part where I was walking with a cane. Before that, our friend Sally (Also fun and interesting, but unable to sit with us for a recording of one of her many tales) let us stay with her the evening before my procedure. She also picked me up from the mechanic's shop when I dropped off the van, as Tiffany was under strict obligation to adhere to a previously scheduled ritual sacrifice she had written in the book of death with her own blood and threats of eternal damnation, should she miss that appointment...I may have the details there a bit confused, but I'm pretty sure it must have been incredibly important to leave her ceaselessly loving husband alone to sort out the problems with the van in which we are both meant to be living in for the next two years. It couldn't have been a reservation at a restaurant, I'm certain of that.

At any rate, we owe a debt to our friends...all of them.

The task of reading one's self for a journey is a fairly typical experience, one needs a way to store food, water, clothing, and shelter. The method of transportation must be in sound condition, and the traveler must be in a physical and mental state, suitable for travel. In the case of a two-year expedition wherein man, wife and dog are planning on leaving little or nothing behind, the aspects of travel preparation which are a-typical, are joined by the daunting task of deciding what to do with all of the shit you have collected over the years.

Tiffany was busy sorting through our remaining items (mostly making piles of things to give away, and a much smaller pile of things to mail back to the house I rent to my family members in Memphis, TN), and I was on the task of hobbling around our van, cleaning, organizing, making last minute adjustments and repairs, and basically futzing. 

When we finally decided it was time to go...after about a 30-minute nap for me to rest, elevate and ice my knee (Mom), we told sweet Kristen we would be leaving soon. 

The students, ages 2-4 years old, gathered at the edge of the semi-circle driveway, with their shirts filled with flower petals, ready to throw. Tiffany stayed behind to film the procession, as she was also driving our car, which was filled with items to donate. 

Incidentally, we also donated the car to our good friend, and the first host on our journey, May Dwyer. You will hear more about her in a bit.

As the van pulled up the hill, the adorable teachers and students rained petals in crazy little arcs down from a little hill, some reaching the inside of the van, some landing just in front of the tires, and one getting caught in the snapping teeth of Pele'. The kids were shouting, “Goodbye, Happy Birthday, Be safe!”

It was a beautiful send-off. The video Tiffany took of it is something quite special and can be seen on Instagram, or Facebook.

From there, it was all business...mailing shit, picking up the last package from the mailbox, buttoning things up, and eating one last greasy meal in town before sitting in traffic for the next two hours on our way to Nevada City, to see our friends, May, Allison, Kevin and their son Rowan (2 years old & some change). 

The drive was largely uneventful and represented one of the very few times I have driven in the van over the last few months without Pele sitting next to me. The dog rode in the car with Tiff, and evidently tried to wedge his tiny face into holes in the steering wheel. 

On the way from Nevada City to our host's property (which is in the hills, just outside of town in an area called, “The Ridge”), we saw what looked like a terrible motorcycle accident. Once again, I timed the ingestion of pot-laced confections quite poorly; this time in the form of 5mg THC espresso beans. I thought our friends lived closer to town, and I ate the little beans when we were what I thought was about two hours turned out we had another 30 minutes to go. I ended up feeling a rush of sadness and intense paranoia as we slowly drove by the officers and first responders tending to a man, supine in what looked like a full body brace. His rather large and severely damaged motorcycle was on the opposite side of the road, somewhat pinned under a big black SUV.

That is the last time I try to “time” the eating of edible pot while on a drive. Fool me once, shame on me. If I fool myself again, I've been fooled by a fool, and that is a little hard to take. Also, the road to our friend's house was gravel, and at one point, we had to drive across a creek-bed and climbed over some seriously beat-up roads for the last mile and a half. 

Our time with May and her friends was a blast. She was also waiting on some other friends from New Orleans to return from the river, Kenzie, and Matt. Matt and Kenzie are fantastic people on a similar journey to ours.

I actually knew Kenzie from New Orleans, and am super glad to have met Matt. He is a skilled builder, wood-worker, metal worker and all-around cool person. I almost forgot how much I liked people from New Orleans. Kenzie is a kind and beautiful young woman who is smart, funny, and fun to be around. Their vehicle is painted in a beautiful fashion by a New Orleans artist...both sides are covered with a lovely rendering of a heron.

We had time to chat in the morning with everyone, then played in the Yuba river for several hours before leaving for the night to interview a great friend of Charris Ford by the name of Ross Evans.

Ross is the founder and owner of Xtracycle, an electric assisted cargo bicycle company. We sat with Ross at his home, just outside the downtown area of Nevada City and had an incredible conversation with him. Ross, as I hope you will hear in the podcast, is a high IQ, quick-witted, ad sweet guy who truly believes what he is doing is for the better good of humanity. We believe him. His wife came home shortly after the podcast interview, with his two beautiful boys, one of whom climbed up a large door, and onto the second-floor balcony with several comic books in his mouth in order to read them from a choice spot. I liked him immediately. 

Shannan, Ross's wife had a Sprinter van full of groceries, which Tiff and I were happy to help haul up the stairs to their home. We had just enough time before the kids had to go to bed to chat for a bit with them and to play with the youngest boy, Ike. 

Ike is one of those super healthy little babies who are about 20 pounds heavier than they look like they would be; a solid little man, to be sure, robust and happy. He and I got along right away, and we read a few stories together, and he dropped a uniquely heavy little steel bottle directly on my knee-cap. He is only about a year and a half old, so the odds that he did it on purpose are fairly never know though. 

The older son, Kale, was deep into his books and was not particularly interested in talking to us. He was totally sweet about it but fairly firm on getting to the last pages as soon as possible. We enjoyed listening to his impassioned plea to be able to bring the books to bed, in-spite of his father's edict that they would not be passing the threshold of the kitchen. 

Ross and Shannan said we could sleep where we parked, and invited us to share smoothies in the morning before the caravan of cycling the children to school began. We did not want to miss that.

In the morning, Pele and I tossed the ball for a while before Ross showed up with three of the thickest and most nutritious and dense “smoothies” I have ever seen. They were incredibly high in fat, low in sugar and carbohydrates and tasted great. I was full until lunch. 

The neighbor's son and Ross's oldest came down with the rest of the family, and the neighbor offered to let me ride his Xtracycle, as my knee was hurting too bad to ride my own bicycle through the hills of Nevada City. Tiff rode her bike, and we barreled down the hill to get the kids to school, just shy of on-time. 

The bikes are fantastic. An Xtracycle is a long bike, with cargo space for additional riders, luggage, supplies, groceries, or basically anything which will fit. They come with an electric motor that can go from “off”, to barely have to work at all, with the push of a button. I needed that feature and made liberal use of the highest setting. Never at any point did my knee hurt, and I was able to go about 20 miles per hour on the rare flat surfaces in town.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with Ross, his wife, and Ike, and had a delicious, home-cooked lunch! We are super grateful to have spent time with Ross and his family, and am excited to share the podcast we recorded with him soon! 

From there we got a crazy tea made from coca leaves...I was flying by the time our friend, May took us to the South Fork of The Yuba River. If you have never seen this river, it is absolutely worth the WILL see naked hippies, so brace-yo-self!

We spend another nite with May & company and had such a beautiful and relaxed time. Little Rowan is sweet, playful and smart. We feel so fortunate when we get to spend time with these little beasts, pet them, get them pumped up, and then leave them behind to be tended to by their parents.

We spent the evening in Marysville, CA with the goal of seeing the Bok Kai Temple there. Our friend, and former guest, Heather Young has been involved with the restoration and upkeep of this beautiful, sacred space. 

We arrived after the temple closed, so we ended up wandering around the downtown area for a few hours, before finding a (relatively) quiet place to park for the night. We noticed the town was fairly busy with cars, but almost no people were walking the streets other than homeless folks and ne' us.

In the AM, we drove over to a little lake in the center of town, found a picnic table to use for breakfast, and settled in to play around with the dog for a bit. It was peaceful, there were men fishing quietly on the banks of the man-made, brick and stone retaining wall. Geese, swan, and ducks swam lazily around with little chicks in-tow. 

Mercifully for us, just as we were finishing the task of packing up to leave, a crazy sound penetrated the air. Have you ever heard a crackhead, shrieking in tears? Well, if you haven't, you are missing out. I do not wish to make fun of this man's suffering (excessively, anyway), but the shrill howling and caterwauling of a toothless, wildly disheveled, and more than just a little crusty cracked out crazy person will make a guy want to rethink some shit. 

Another sound, much deeper and more menacing soon followed. We turned our heads as said crackhead threw a large piece of broken masonry, with great effort, at the windshield of a parked truck. He followed up immediately by scooping up the stonework and smashing it completely through the driver's side window of the same truck. 

We decided to leave, right away. As I started the van, Captain Cracktackular had smashed the windshield of the Jeep parked next to the truck he had been brutalizing, and he was attempting to break the driver's side window of that vehicle; this time, without success. 

We drove away and pointed our undamaged vehicle in the direction of a hallowed, Taoist Temple on the other side of town. 

The Bok Kai Temple is something to behold. It was built in the mid-1800's and houses a trove of artifacts from the first wave of Chinese immigrants to enter California. It is a part museum and part active temple for worship.

I was happy to lay aside my skepticism and just enjoy the experience of buying incense, and beseeching the various deities in the temple for the protection of our loved ones, the success of business interests, and for protection for the community of Marysville from the ravages of floodwaters. To be fair, I sent up an extra little petition for the well-being of the crackhead and the owners of the much-abused vehicles he was using in-lieu of brutalizing the vehicles owners.

All prayed-up and smelling like the delightful incense of the temple, we pointed the van north, and drove clean out of the state, stopping just once to water the good soil of the most beautiful and dynamic little country in the United States; California!











Andrew Couch