Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Day 138: Arriving in Yucca Valley

I drove from Banning to Joshua Tree, but I didn't have a plan. As much as I was interested in continuing my fancy and free hotel phase, I was feeling better and my budget was... is shrinking. The one Wal-Mart for miles happened to be in Yucca Valley - the town over from Joshua Tree (about 15 miles from the park entrance) so I stopped there for the night. This was my camp for the evening, after a stop at the local Dollar Tree and 99 Cent stores. Also, I popped into the Marshall's across from the Wal-Mart after I'd picked out my spot (it was only about 6p, so sitting in my car already for the next 15 hours would be ridiculous) - I was looking to see if they had any cute tea infusers for cheap (I had seen some adorable ones in Idyllwile that were more than $10; over my budget) and stumbled across a nice pair of black heels on clearance. Before leaving for my trip, I had written into my mental plan to purchase a pair of black work pumps for interviews - of course the chick who left behind 200 pairs f shoes to travel the states would write buying a pair of shoes into her plan. (To be fair, all of my black heels had died out before I left; so I chucked them and set aside $40 for new ones once interview time came because I didn't have the space in my car for a pair of shoes that was superfluous and unnecessary until the very end of the journey.) As soon as I slipped them on and looked in the mirror, it occurred to me just how much I have missed wearing heels. And what a strange, unexpected thing to miss. 

After that, it was around 8pm and I decided to try to get some "work" done at the Starbucks. This meant tending to my blog and trying, again, to apply for Medicaid. Oddly, the thing that is pressing a deadline for me to stop traveling isn't money, as I had expected, but running out of short term health insurance. And applying for Medicaid in either DC (my recent address) or PA (my 'permanent' address) proves to be impossible.

In case you didn't know, Applesbee's offers $2 well drinks for happy hour. You're welcome. 
I borrowed wifi, sucked up a couple of drinks and made "friends" with locals. Yucca Valley is the kind of fancy place where not many people are not white and having not showered in 30 hours makes you fit right in. That's not a judgement, it's just a description. After talking some really manly blue collar men into some mudslides - mostly because I couldn't afford my own but was willing to ogle - they left after a bit and an older gentleman - who interjected into my interjections into the mudslide crew's convos - slide over, slide over and bought me a drink. He was 60 something, nice and looked just like John Cleese. John Cleese asked if I wanted a scotch; he asked what I was doing, we chatted and traded digits as he was a bored local and soon after the bar was closing and we parted ways.

The following morning, after a quick bath in the back restrooms of WalMart, I took a call from Nah and was on my way around noon. I wasn't in much of a hurry since I planned to have a few days in JTNP, so I stopped at the visitor's center and a store called Cactus Central Store (I think) across the street about 8 miles outside of the park. I noticed that the store had pay showers for $4. This is good information to know; it has been about 27 hours since my last shower (and car sleeping - for whatever reason.- makes me feel particularly greasy). 

I headed up to the park, took my -now regular - park sign selfies, then proceeded to the gate where I was informed that the toilet I was staring at was the last facility with running water in the park. This was going to be interesting. I planned to camp at the first site "Hidden Valley" but it was full. So I headed to the second site, Camp Ryan, and settled into a site that was unoccupied and facing the sunsets. After setting up, I headed back out to use the Wifi at the local Applebees in YuccaValley.

i'm finally winning winter

Monday, January 18, 2016

Day 137: SIZZLER! and stuff

I left St. George later than intended, but savoring the last days of hotel stays because holy shit money. On the other hand, I also knew I was driving five hours down boring as balls I-15 in California to meet up with my friend/Seattlehost in Banning – as I had promised when I left last month. I passed through Vegas…again then then made my way back into California – for the third time.

But first! I stopped in San Bernardino. Because, oddly I was early in my arrival – and also not since there is exactly nothing to see off the coast of California – and the Steelers playoff game was on. I haven’t seen any football and I miss it in a nostalgic sort of way. What I wasn’t expecting was becoming some sort of mini-celebrity simply because I am from Cali.

I walked into Buffalo Wild Wings off of the highway and towards the bar. Another perk of solo travel is that it’s much, much easier to find a place to sit in a crowded place for one v. multiples. I nestled myself in between two middle aged men and quickly the bantered between themselves about if I was a Steelers fan or not, and if not perhaps I wouldn’t be allowed to sit there. Half in jest – but as a Steelers fan myself – probably half not in jest. Quickly they spotted my Steelers keychain on the bar and decided I was okay.

We started to chat. I explained that I was from Pittsburgh; showed my Pitt class ring and we watched the game. I had two glasses of cider and unfortunately watched the Broncos beat the Steelers. Afterwards, I schooled another middle-aged man about how not to be a sore winner – he apologized to the three of us. The gist: “We want to root for your team, but not if you’re being a dick about it.” “Sorry.” My new friend to the right left me his number and said that if I decided to settle in the area, to give him a call.

Then I was on my way to Banning. I was still a bit early so settled into a Starbucks down the road from my friend’s hotel to connect, have a coffee and write a little. Dave, my friend, showed up a bit later and we then went to dinner a Sizzler. Which, up until this point, I had always assumed was a fake establishment people made fun of on television. BUT IT’S NOT. It’s magical and an oasis for a vagabond.

If you from SW PA, think Hoss’s – on steroids. You order an entrée. And then there is a self-serve food bar. Unlike Hoss’s that offered a salad bar and self-serve soft serve, Sizzler has a fucking taco bar and pasta bar and salad bar and self-serve soft serve and desert part. HEAVEN. I wish I hadn’t shrunk my stomach startingin the Dakotas.

I ATE ALL OF THE FOOD. And asked for a box for my entrée. This would be dinner tomorrow.
so good looking. lol. quite fittingly, my shirt says "namaste single"

After dinner we headed to Palm Springs. Out of curiosity and something to do. We went to a bar; we chatted and had a drink We walked around the ‘town.’ Palm Springs makes me think of those women that put on all of their costume jewelry, miss their actual lips when lining them, and have shirts that will blind you if the sun hits them the wrong way. It was a mix of tacky and over entitled. There was a man at the bar who clearly thought he was someone; he looked like and 80s has been.

Like that time I saw Eddie Money in concert at a rib fest in Pittsburgh and he mostly just talked about all of his stints in rehab – except not Eddie Money. He still wore a balls ton of eyeliner and bleached his hair. And maybe like he was the drummer, not the lead singer.

The following day, Dave and I woke up and drove up to Idyllwild. Which was like a 2.5 hour drive exactly north – and not like directionally north, like we’re driving into space north…because, technically it Is southeast. But I’m pretty sure we were halfway to the moon – and the temperature change proved this hypothesis.

Dave had heard of this place and wanted to go. I’m just along for the ride of whatever. Suffice to say we were both disappointed in the area, but the ride up was pretty. It was clearly a tourist town that wasn’t nearly as tourist nor town in the off season. Perhaps it’s poppin’ during Coachella. We had a way less than mediocre lunch that I’m still salty I spent $12 on and then back down the mountain. We had left my car in a strip mall parking lot; so we said our goodbyes there. Perhaps we’ll see each other again when I move to Bellingham,WA – it’s on my list. But that rain, man.

the way back down

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Day 135: A Show of Fate in Zion

I arrived at the entrance of Zion, running into a group of what I'm guessing were young college kids. My method of taking images of myself at the gates (or whereever) is to set my camera up on a tripod, hit the timer and then run like hell to climb to my spot before 10 seconds is up and the seven images I have set it to take finish. The group watched me do this at least four times - check the focus in the camera, click the start, run up to the sign; smile and pose, then hop back down, check the pictures and repeat. After the fourth time they asked if I needed help, but I declined having noticed a short line of two other cars waiting to get their images at the gate.

Afterwards I went to the visitors center to pee and grab a map. I learned that on the off season (yet another perk) visitors could go down a certain stretch of road by car that ordinarily could only be reach by park shuttles. I got my commemorative pin - which are getting way to heavy for my one purse strap now - and then went to check out the campsite. It wasn't full. However, it was cold and I was fully committed to the cold, plus I am supposed to be in Banning tomorrow to meet my friend and that's like a 6 or so hour drive, so I would wait to see what happened and pitch later. I then explored the park; taking pics, driving around the switchbacks and through a tunnel carved through the red rock, down a small path and behind a shrub to pee, and then making lunch out of my trunk as other visitors passed by:

I left, nearing sunset and decided I would get a headstart on heading to California...

About and hour later, I walked up to the upper emerald pool area back in Zion to a man in with a red backpack and black hat standing, staring up at the rocks, dangling with ice-cycles. It was the kind of scene you see in movies. The sort of serendipitous moment that never happens in the real life, the kind of un-exaggerated scene that I want my True Love story to begin like. Unfortunately, this wasn't it. But I wasn't supposed to be there, I had left and turned around an hour or so before, having read a comment on facebook telling me to hike the emerald pools trail - the only one I had looked at myself and meant to do but passed it on the way out and figured "meh, forget it." After about 15 minutes of internal debate inside my car, I turned around and went back.

I hiked up the trail, passed the chains where it was closed off to the middle and upper pools due to ice, slid (literally, held onto the railings and just slid... weee) down the trail past the ice and hopped off the other chain.

When I finally arrived to the upper pool, I expected to see no one. It was dusk. And I hadn't seen or heard anyone in a while - aside from a couple that passed me going down. We stayed talking by the  upper pool (which at this point, we laughed about being ice and covered in snow - as we were both to we had to do it and now stand, unimpressed watching icicles fall from 3000 feet).

The conversation was great. Oddly, he lives in DC. I seem to keep running into people in DC. I hadn't talked to a sole for longer than 30 seconds all day so it was a welcome relief. Although he kept saying how funny I was and I confessed it was probably just that I haven't held a full conversation since the Brit hit my car a week prior. He asked if I wanted to go to dinner, "Oh but I'm not hitting on you."
"Sure," I said, "but I wouldn't be offended if you were."

I learned his name was Jake. That Jake is a Cancer and 31. I learned that is Mormon. That originally he is from Idaho. Jake doesn't drink, do drugs and is pretty straight laced (obviously). On the walk down, Jake confessed that he came west early to clear is head and think about the relationship he has been in the past two years: He can't decide if she should stay with her. He thought I fell on our hike back down when I did a little jig over this information; it's not that I'm excited he's only sort of happy in a relationship; I just really enjoy talking about interpersonal relationships. I don't know why. It's kind of like how I enjoy putting the pistachio shells back in the bag with the rest of the nuts. We all have our things. It's fine.

I've thought of it before and it occurs to me again, that perhaps I'm in and out of lives on my trip to make a difference in their lives - not anyone in mine. I asked him questions. Gave him the "advice" I could. And then he made me pinky swore that we would be friends. Over dinner, we talked more. About his girlfriend; about life; about choices. Everything, really. About being single and in your thirties; he thinks, logically, he should give her a go because he "gave up" on relationships before, but I don't think that's fair for people to reach a certain age and settle for anything less than spectacular. He asked me what I was looking for in a partner and I could think of was the same old thing: someone that makes me laugh; someone that makes me a better version of myself ... oh, and blue eyes and brown hair.

"Well," he laughed, shaking his head as if his brown hair would move in the wind, "I've got that covered."Dinner ended a couple of hours and many words later. We hugged, implored one another to stay in touch. And in the end, the only advice I can think to give him is: Follow your heart. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Day 134: Hoover Dam

I checked out late this morning and was on my way. As soon as I hit the open road - ten minutes into my drive - it felt like home again, reminiscent of my first time leaving over four months ago.

I decided, kind of at random, to head to the Hoover Dam, but mostly because I noticed it was on the way and it's just one of those things people see. I didn't know that to enter the Dam site, you had to go through a security check point. My heart fell nearly into my butt and I thought about turning around and going back, thanks to my Canadian experience. Most people weren't getting pulled over and I decided to go for it and act as normal as possible, hoping I get to keep my stun gun this time.

Naturally, they saw my piles of shit in the back and pulled me over, had me get out of the car and asked what I was doing. Contrary to the Canadians, they were genuinely interested in my travels and quite nice. They riffled through my things a bit, my heart still racing, and sent me on my way.

It was a nice stop and a beautiful day.


After a couple of hours, I was onward, back through Vegas, and on my way to Zion. I looked for surrounding towns and I decided it was too cold to camp - and I couldn't quite yet commit nor find a WalMart to sleep in fully back in the vagabond spirit - and got another night at a shit hotel room for the night. I'm happy to be back on the road again, my nerves calmed. Tomorrow: Zion (-- then off to Banning, California to meet up with my Seattle friend).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Day 133: Restock, Restart & Bump

I found out that it is terribly difficult to get going again once you've stopped. Sort of a like a roller coaster that went halfway up the incline and then just kind of rolled back down to start ... now do that like six times. I spent the past week in Laughlin. Well, technically Laughlin and then also across the Colorado River in Bullhead City, AZ in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Saturday. $50 is a price too high for me, but it's still only $18 Sunday through Thursday, so score!

total cost of walmart parking lot dinner: $1.28

However, the second night I was there, I was restocking at the Bullhead Dollar Tree (the gypsy paradise) and after I left I pulled off the road to take a look at the river and nab a photo. I noticed a funny group of raccoons in the parking lot and stopped to take their photo for a funny post I had so cleverly come up with in four seconds.

Laughlin cats something something joke...

Just then! I heard a terrible noise and nearly pee myself. I look over to the source and see a huge pick-up had just backed into me.

I get out quickly to assess the damage and suddenly the pickup truck floors it towards the river, stops suddenly and then bounces back towards the river again. "STOP! STOP! REVERSE! REVERSE!" I yell to him. Soon, he halts his panic and comes back to a normal parking space and then, the culprint, a 50 something man, exits his truck. He approaches me and with an English accent, apologizes for having left a huge dent in my poor little hatchback's bumper.

back at the casino hotel, i assess the damage and whine. wah.
my dad owned a detail garage so i've always taken pride in my cars, but now mine looks tragic.

After the first few minutes of our exchange, which began with him apologizing and then telling me it was his son in law's truck and he didn't have the insurance, I told him if he couldn't produce it I had to call the cops. "But I'm English..."

"Okay?" I responded, in a tone that suggested I needed more context for that to mean anything.

"You can trust me," he said as if his Britishness qualified my trust.

After explaining that I don't trust anyone I don't know, he texted his son in law. Huzzah, the document. A security guard showed up and the Englishman admitted fault and apologized, which is all well and good - but what about my house...I mean car.

After a while, we decided that he would pay me $500 out of pocket. He clearly wanted to avoid cops and I always believe in leaving the insurance companies our of small claims. Plus, I had remembered seeing a YouTube video where a guy popped his bumper out with hot water and I was in desperate need of more funds. So this worked out for me, unfortunately, my car looked crappy now - which I'm never a fan of. He only had $230 dollars on him (he had just won that night at the casino) and we agreed to meet up the next afternoon for exchange the remaining cash.

i got my photo though?

We both left a little salty that night, but when we exchanged money the next afternoon (although I was late because I forgot that when you cross the river, it's a different time zone) and I signed his hand written "contract", we talked for a while. And by a while, I mean we talked for over two hours in the parking lot about every random thing you could think of: why I'm single, his shock at my singledom (because "you seem so normal"), my travels and London. And if I'm ever in London, he will show me around.

Did John and I just become friends?! Yup!

The rest of the week was fairly blah. Because my time here was meant - excused? - to be attempting to catch up on my blog, I had to find free WiFi. Unfortunately - or fortunately, I don't know - the only free WiFi in town was at the Golden Nugget Starbucks a couple of buildings down. I spent a couple of days, a few hours a day there (where I stumbled upon my long forgotten Tiago Pass photos - next post.)  I went on a windy ass walk along the "boardwalk" and stalked the local Dollar Store and then found the most magical of places: The .99 and Below store. THEY HAVE PRODUCE. FOR A DOLLAR. I cooked meals on my bathroom sink with my camp stove. And I have begun a new low...or high: baby food... because it doesn't require utensils.

A couple of days later, I was still struggling to get back on the move. Fortunately for my inability to jump start my life back into a lack of beds and electricity, I had promised my friend in Seattle (who I stayed with) that I would drive over to Banning, CA and meet up with him when he was there for a Pin-Ball tournament.

I meant to leave today, but I didn't. I'm the worst; I know. I had suddenly decided I wanted to drive back up into Utah and see Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. (Kinda like that time I all the sudden decided I needed a sign language certificate in college.) I didn't though, obviously. It's so fucking hard to give up a bed and television and leaving your pots out when you don't know the next time you will see one or when you'll get to stay put for more than a day or two.

My travels up until this point have been scheduled and fast and full of fervor. I am now looking forward to a more relaxed portion of the tour - having extended my travels. I am, however, struggling with the idea that I have left my parents back in Pennsylvania, to deal with the cancer with just the two of them. I will check in again soon. Until then, I'm off to Utah tomorrow. Finally, on the road again...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Day 126: New Year's in Florida

Accurate NYE fortune cookie?

As it began to get to freezing temps in Pennsylvania, it was time to leave. I had an evening flight and arrived a few hours before New Years. I was staying with my friend - since 7th grade during the school dance we were bored with and instantly bonded over making some gross concoctioin drink, throwing a quarter in the bottom and telling anyone who drank it they could have the prize (no one drank it) - and her girlfriend. Last year, I finally fulfilled my 'dream' New Year's Eve of sitting at home on my couch doing nothing; I was thrilled to be buying bras on Amazon in yoga pants as the year switched to 2015. DC parties had become so pretentious with expectations and price tags to match; I like house parties. So, party of one...mostly.
Interestingly, I always say that the how you spent your NYE and what you do at midnight is indicative of the rest of your year. I hadn't planned to travel the US by myself at that point. But as my theory would  have it, I spent much of the year planning to be on my own, doing whatever the hell I wanted and the last four months of it following through on the plan. I may be onto something...

The plan for New Year's was simple: Chinese food and board games. YES! Is it a problem I would like to have enough kids to complete teams for my favorite board games? Whatever, it's fine. After my fill of chicken and broccoli and Pandemic, we headed off to bed with no real plans for the following week. 

My friend had days off and switched days so we could spend a bunch of time together. We went to Ledo Key and downtown Sarasota and just hung out. It was nice, but the 80 degree weather decided to end there at the same time that I rejoined the east coast. So my dream of laying out on the beach was squashed and we did a lot of walking in the sand - and people watching. All we were missing was a gross drink with a quarter at the bottom - ha!

Also, my phone decided to get a black spot of death in the display - that then began to move around - which required me to upgrade my phone and during that time I discovered someone left the Framily plan and my bill went up $30. So then plus the new phone, my bill went from $50 a month to $120 - not good. Terrible, really, Plus, I had planned to switch networks to whichever network was best in the city I move too, but now I'm stuck with Sprint. Also, not good; but Mercury is in retrograde and I suppose these things happen. With very little time to spare I got my new phone, traded in the old, grabbed my rental car and took myself to the airport - and accidentally through a toll so I'm really looking forward to how much a rental toll costs me. 
On my way back to Vegas this evening, I sat beside a kid, Colton. Colton was 21 (a fact I learned after he hit on me and I asked him how old he thought I was "24?" Awesome.) He was on his way to Vegas for the first time. We talked the whole time and, being thrifty and having had my Lyft coupons I activated for the ride to the airport two weeks ago expire, I thought we could share a ride and then I drive him down to the Strip. It was during this flight that I unexpectedly became the Condom Fairy of Seat 21A: Back in August, I had a farewell party and my friends filled a pinata with candy and condoms; I'm not sure what they thought I was going to be doing on this trip! So I took their gift to me and told Colton "don't get STDs" and then he informed me that he's from St. Petersburg, the "STD Capital of the US". So there's today's PSA: Prophylactics in St. Pete.
We de-boarded, I taught Colton how Lyft worked, and after a wrong turn or two, we were back to my hotel where my car had been for two weeks. What I failed to accurately tell him was that my passenger's see was fairly occupied so he was going to have to sit with his feet and legs up against the dash. He didn't mind. And we continued to chat until I dropped him off and he said he tell me if they were going to any clubs - okay, I'll be 90 minutes south...

While I was in Pennsylvania, Danny Also texted to say we was going to be driving through Las Vegas and asked when I would be back; maybe we could connect there. I was stoked, Beatles "Love" was on my Buck List and I got money for Christmas. I declared aloud (so I would actually do it!) that money would afford me the opportunity to finally check off "Love" and now I had Danny to go with me. Unfortunately, while Danny Also had told me while I was in Florida that he had been delayed in his excursion. I said I would wait near Las Vegas for him to finish. So, I headed back to Laughlin - my cheap hotel oasis to take a breather and wait to see when Danny and I could go see Beatles "Love".

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