On summer

I read two novels by Virginia Woolf this weekend. The first, The Waves, is a dense little bugger - one I didn't think I could make my way through until at some moment her prose cracked and out shone a series of startling, vibrant soliloquies. About 30 pages in, one of her characters has a monologue about how exactly she plans to spend her first day of summer, and it reminds me of how, as a kid, I would keep a tally of the number of days until summer and write it on the class board every morning before first period. This says it even better:

"'I have torn off the whole of May and June,' said Susan, 'and twenty days of July. I have torn them off and screwed them up so they no longer exist, save as a weight in my side. They have been crippled days, like moths with shrivelled wings unable to fly. There are only eight days left. In eight days' time I shall get out of the train and stand on the platform at six twenty-five. Then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions that wrinkle and shrivel--hours and order and discipline, and being here and there exactly at the right moment--will crack asunder. Out the day will spring, as I open the carriage-door and see my father in his old hat and gaiters. I shall tremble. I shall burst into tears. Then next morning I shall get up at dawn. I shall let myself out by the kitchen door. I shall walk on the moor. The great horses of phantom riders will thunder behind me and stop suddenly. I shall see the swallow skim the grass. I shall throw myself on a bank by the river and watch the fish slip in and out among the reeds. The palms of my hands will be printed with pine-needles. I shall there unfold and take out whatever it is I have made here; something hard. For something has grown in me here, through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms.'"

--The Waves, pg. 32-33

In related news: Four more weeks of work, one more paper, and then Ryan and I are embarking on our second cross-country trip. Destination: Calgary.

We shall let ourselves out into the summer air. We shall tremble. We shall burst into song...

Forget cellar door. Open road is where it's at.

This summer, driving cross country, we passed many cars with decorative antennae. The cacti were often my favorite. Watching their little flapping plastic tendrils zip by on the I-10 made it look like all the passing cars were sticking out their hands for high fives. Parked cars with dangling antennae smirked at us when we stopped to refuel.

I miss watching the scenery change. The concept of settling anywhere is fundamentally mature, and while with every passing year it seems less final, less scary, the romance of the open road is often more attractive than the stability of staying put.

Open road. Can you think of two words more beautiful?

America: Consider Yourself Discovered

In the past week, we've outrun a tornado, met the latest and greatest of the Jackson family clan (Jolee, daughter to Greg and Carolee), watched the sunrise over Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, and climbed both Angel's Landing and the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah. Okay, so technically neither of us wanted to risk that final half-mile death march on Angel's Landing, but we made it all the way to Scout's lookout, and were back down at the base by 9 am this morning. Not too shabby.

It is hard to believe how far we have gone in one month. We plan to be home by Sunday night, which means we can change our clothes and unpack our bags and sleep in our own beds, but it also means that this little mini reality we've been daydreaming through is coming to a close. We'd say it would be hard to pinpoint favorite places, foods or experiences, but in the end the same things stand out: the jazz in New Orleans, the rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina, the happy and fun Pittsburghers and their Pittsburghese, the fried artichoke salad at Tia Pol in New York City, where Mr. Dave Peterson works...

Our trip back west has been a bit of a hustle, with its own unexpected adventures. We zipped in and out of Iowa's ugly Lake Manawa, where the water had rumors of E. Coli and it appeared that whomever didn't live in Omaha proper came to live in the park. Nebraska was surprisingly beautiful and about as chock full of historic sites and places as one could imagine, including the Pony Express Station. We had hoped to camp at Wildcat Recreation Area, about 30 miles outside Sidney, and the park was stunning, but about half an hour after we'd parked the car, we saw the clouds brewing overhead and overheard tornado warnings on the radio. So instead of visiting Chimney Rock, we drove north through Wyoming in the driving rain, and spent the night with Julia's cousins in Colorado. From there we have zigzagged through Utah's five phenomenal national parks, and are now staying at Julia's fifth grade buddy Sarah's house about two miles outside Zion National Park. The view from her backyard is easily worth as much as whatever it is they pay in San Francisco's Pacific Heights or Malibu. With a lot less people, and a lot more wildlife.

Tomorrow we make the long drive to Yosemite, for one final night in our trusty tent before heading home on Sunday. Home--where is that again?

Many thanks to Team HJ, the Alpers, Pat & Dale Bibee, Rim Vilgalys & family, Allie & Toya, Jes Consiglio & family, Cleve & Lindsay, Adam Taylor & Dave Peterson, Coleman Hamilton, Greg & Carolee, Zion expert Sarah, and everyone else who made this trip and its subsequent excursions possible.

Happy summer...

Discovering America, Part Four: Pittsburgh, PA

Two weeks into our trip, we find ourselves in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I find myself wanting to write things down journalistically, recording the who where why when how of every single day on the road, the names of funny roads and the ingredients to family recipes, and yet, at the end of the day it's hard to narrow down just what made each day so extraordinary.

We left off in Durham, North Carolina, home to Duke University, deserted tobacco factories now renovated as hip bars and music venues, and the wonderful and fun Vilgalys family. Rim went to school with us in Santa Barbara, and was happy to show us around his hometown, where we discovered the wonders of cigar bars and "the taqueria with the cow on top of it." We were put up in the amazing Vilgalys home with his parents Rytas and Liz, their dogs Mona and Lulu, and a small harem of wonderful cats. Walking outside their house was akin to wandering straight into the forest. Bullfrogs, chickens, hawks; it was amazing.

My favorite part of our stay in Durham was the hike down the Eno River to a stone quarry which had since been converted into a small lake. There were salamanders, frogs of all sizes, birds, and an amazing diversity of mushrooms. Ryan's highlight was probably our late night trip to Bo Jangles, one of Durham's many fried food joints, and the subsequent revelry with Rim, his brother Gabe, and some of their friends.

After Durham we made our way northward through Virginia and suffered through Washington D.C. traffic at rush hour in time to arrive at Allie and LaToya's apartment in Baltimore. Allie was the first friend I made in college (at summer orientation), an amazing writer, jazz musician and educator. LaToya also lived in Santa Barbara for a year and is one hell of a fine artist--we're talking paintings, sculpture, and she has just started work on her first commissioned mural. So basically their apartment just south of Patterson Park is a homage to good art, books, and happy pets. While in Baltimore, we checked out the Baltimore Museum of Art and took a small detour to the Apple Store because (um) Ryan's computer has decided it needs its own vacation.

From Baltimore we drove through the first of several turnpikes (ask us later how much we love paying for them, state by state--ick) en route to visit Jes Consiglio in South Jersey. Jes and I lived together for five months in Granada, and as anyone who has lived abroad can tell you, the people you meet traveling are the kind of people to whom you are intimately connected thereafter. Jes now teaches Spanish in New Jersey, and so she was happy to give us a tour of Philadelphia, where we saw the Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and LOVE park, before heading to a Phillies baseball game. Our stay in Philly was a very culinary experience, too: first there were the AMAZING soft pretzels and water ice from the South Jersey Pretzel and Water Ice Company, (where Jes' fabulous mother works), then there were the famous Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches from Tony Luke's, and finally there were the crab fries from Chickie's that we bought at the ball game right when the Phillies started really kicking the Toronto Blue Jays' collective ass. And then, of course, more soft pretzels.

Oh, soft pretzels. Jes gave us 12 more when we left on Saturday morning, but they were gone by late that evening, when we had arrived at Cleveland Motley IV's house in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA. Cleve is also a former Gaucho and one of Ryan's good friends (when they both lived in San Francisco, they spent the better half of a year building a playground that generated electricity). We were treated to a pretty special barbeque dinner out on their porch, which is draped in hanging green vines and frequented by fireflies. Pittsburgh is divided by a few rivers and is home to a few major universities, but more than anything I've been amazed at how beautiful and leafy it is. This feels like the kind of place that Raymond Carver wrote about. A place where, in the stillness of late afternoon, characters come and go, and things happen. Thanks, Cleve. :)

We've reached our halfway mark of the trip in remarkable time and with no major hiccups. More than anything, we've soaked up a tiny bit of local culture in each place we've driven through, whether it be Lithuanian liqueur (thanks Rim), to free art in Baltimore, to greens sandwiches in Philly, to Vietnamese sandwiches at the Pittsburgh Strip. From here we will eventually make it to New York before turning our wheels homeward.

Thank you to all our friends and hosts who have been so kind as to let us drive in and out of your daily lives. It has been one hell of a trip.

Dateline: Durham, North Carolina, via Vilgalys

Near Honey Island Swamp
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

This is where the boats put in at Honey Island Swamp, Louisiana. Our friends Pat and Dale Bibee of Slidell took us out in their Sea Chaser last weekend so we could experience the splendor and biodiversity of the southern bayou. And indeed we did: we saw egrets and cardinals, wild boar and an alligator, thanks to a pesky Swamp Tour guide who was throwing marshmellows into the Pearl River and prodding the surface of the water with sticks to get animals to surface. We were the lucky ones, though: we had our own, private swamp tour with the most excellent guides!

We had planned to leave Saturday night to make the trek up through Mississippi and Alabama, but just as we were plotting our next steps, the Louisiana sky turned once again to storm. A huge lightning storm right over the house, actually--we heard a bolt strike the tree next door. So we decided instead to enjoy the air-conditioning and hospitality of Casa Bibee and left early Sunday morning for a long drive through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and ending in southern Tennessee.

There's nothing quite so spectacular for two California natives to drive through five beautiful and humid states in one day. We lucked out when we found the Hiwasse / Ocoee Scenic River State Park just outside of Delano, Tennessee, where the air was not only cooler (under 90 degrees for the first time on the trip!), but the campsite was only about two minutes from the Hiwassee River. Perhaps the best part of the night was watching the fireflies come out--another treat for two West-Coasters.

From Tennessee we drove through the stunning Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the border of North Carolina, which meant weaving our way through traffic to Dollywood (Dolly Parton's Disneyland, basically) in Pigeon Forge first. In the end it was worth it, though, to drive through 70 miles of virtually untouched green mountains, and see a portion of the Appalachian Trail. We passed signs for restaurants selling Frog Jam. Apparently there is also a chain of restaurants in this area called Fat Buddies.

We made it to Durham around dinner time, where we met up with our fellow CCS grad and kickass writer Rim Vilgalys. Rim walked us to downtown Durham, where the buildings are tall and beautiful and made of brick. Today we plan to drive out to a quarry where you can swim. I keep thinking of the movie "Breaking Away." Durham has that kind of feel.

From Durham we will make our way steadily northward, to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and eventually Pittsburgh, before turning our wheels homeward.

Dateline: Motel 6. I-35, Austin, TX

We made it to Austin. It's been five days since we left San Jose, four since we left California, three since we climbed halfway up Arizona's Picacho Peak (although we alternated between calling it "pinochle" and "pistachio"), two since we swam the Rio Grande at Leasburg Dam State Park in New Mexico, and it was just yesterday that we descended 750 feet into Carlsbad Caverns before settling down at Guadalupe Mountain National Park on the border of New Mexico and Texas. And then, just this morning, after hiking Devil's Hall trail and spotting 10 lizards and 3 deer, we headed due east for Austin.

Today has been the hottest so far. Also, most mileage logged. Most This American Life podcasts listened to.

We're making a tally of the best signs seen along the road (starting with "STATE PRISON: DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS", "GET OFF FACEBOOK AND INTO MY BOOK -- GOD" from a church in Santa Monica, "DIABETICS: ASSESS YOUR CONDITION" from the entrance to the caverns, and ending with "MARGARITA BREAKFAST TACOS" in the lively Texan town of Fredericksburg, which wins for cutest green town we've passed through yet).

Souvenirs bought thus far include a 25-cent placemat of a spaceman contemplating a crater (doubles as our cutting board while camping), a Nevada Barr murder mystery set in Guadalupe Mountain (a bad idea to read a murder mystery set in the very campground where we're sleeping, as I learned after swearing I saw a mountain lion in the parking lot at 2am, and lay awake breathing heavily for half an hour afterward), a button that reads "Bats need friends too," and some barbeque sauce from Rudy's here in Austin.

Our plan from here is to make our way across Texas to Louisiana, where we'll stay two nights before heading to visit family friends in Slidell and then turning northward. There is still so much to see.

Our first night in Arizona I was struck with a sense of awesome peace that I realized I'd been waiting for a long time to feel. It was like I had finally exhaled. I forgot how, when you travel, you focus so much on the minutia of getting where you're going and appreciating it when you're there, that all the major day-to-day worries seem so fleeting somehow.

With that, Coco & Bigote sign out...

P.S. photos soon!

...And We're Off!

It occurred to me recently that I embarked on my first big international adventure ten years ago this month. Newly 16, I was lucky enough to spend six weeks in Israel with my youth group--a voyage with its spiritual and political roots, but inevitably what made it magical was not its original aim but all the little surprises that came along the way.

I'm feeling a similar excitement tonight as Ryan and I get ready for an ambitious drive across the United States. We're not crossing any oceans, or learning any new languages, and yet I can't help feeling that this trip has the same level of possibility--if not more--because we're going to be seeing an entirely new side to our country. Who knows what we might find...?

Sayonara, San Francisco!

Sign of a Good Day

big sur. julia fords river
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

The water was a bit deeper than I originally anticipated, but it was worth it to get to the other side of the sand dunes at Andrew Molero State Park in Big Sur. My housemates, boyfriend and I drove down the coast this morning, stopped at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, ate tacos near the river, and tromped around because tromping is the singular best activity for a birthday. The older the better.

Adventure is in the air. Ryan and I have planned an ambitious road trip with stops in Phoenix, Austin, New Orleans, Atlanta, Durham, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Denver and St. George in mind. We might very well be underestimating the size of the United States. But you know, I'm okay with that. Underestimation. Size. Time. Not knowing. I think, as I reach the cusp of my 26th year on the planet, I'm getting more and more comfortable with the idea of just letting the things I can't control dictate the things I can. So be it.

We hope to blog, take pictures and draw comics of the trip as we go. And then make up all the money we spend in gas by printing the comics into handy little zines that eventually we sell for gobs of money, in which case we celebrate by driving to who knows where.

Seriously though, I hope to be fording more rivers this summer. Bigger ones, greener ones, faster ones. Stay tuned and I just might.