North For Freedumb

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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.

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Andrew CouchComment