San Diego…or San Diago…Founded by the Germans, it means Whale’s….

A fat guy called Stanley sat opposite me in a campsite hot tub back up in Oregon. “The best resource for people,” he proclaimed, “is other people.” Stanley, it appears, was on the button. Even earlier in our wee trip, we had got talking to a bearded chap by the name of Steve, propping up a bar in Seward, Alaska. Steve had given us his number and told us if we ever got to Santa Barbara, (he seemed more sceptical than even us that we’d make it) we could call him and he’d have us stay in a bus in his driveway down there. Skip forward 2 months, and there we were, cooped up in a converted school bus (it had beds and everything), basking in the Californian sunshine and swapping stories with Steve, his family and his next door neighbours. We ended up staying for 4 nights.

This was partly because Steve’s driveway was being resurfaced and he needed some extra hands to fill holes with dirt and transfer piles of bricks to other piles of bricks. We’re not sure if he’d just been waiting for us to arrive to get this done but we were happy to get our hands dirty for a change.   Cheap labour aside, Steve also took us out on his flat-bottomed speed boat, which whizzed along at a fair pace and hit each swell with such severity my tail bone was crushed into a fine powder. G got a shot at driving the thing while I dived in and swam with some dolphins that were performing a cheeky fly-by. They whooshed right under me and headed off to eat some fish – none of this playing malarkey unfortunately – but I was pretty giddy.

Steve’s next door neighbour also left an impression. His name was Court and he was a mystic of some sort (and also a very accomplished skate-board artist, who used to design Tony Hawk’s decks), who declared immediately that both G and I were “Level 3 Old Souls” and most intriguingly, “twin souls.” Twin souls have spent numerous past lives together and it appears that G and I have had a few adventures in the past, including one occasion where I was Issac Newton and 17th Century Cambridge G managed to secure me some funding. I informed Court that in this life I actually failed maths, (not to mention G would more likely give me a kick than any money)but that was irrelevant. Court was one of the most fascinating people either of us have ever met. We just sat in his house, listening to his birds chirp in the background, while he smoked endlessly and proffered musings and poems on our previous lives. It was a very surreal few days.

Now we’re in San Diego and tomorrow we head south to Mexico, with a new recruit in the shape of Karen, an English lady who dives for a living and knows Spanish. A rather useful trait as our Spanish learning has been a little slower than anticipated. By slower, I mean pretty close to non-existent. San Diego is sunny, filled with hippies, $1 fish tacos and waves that gobble your surf board like a Hungry Hippo. The hostel is good fun though, although a fat bloke in our room snored so loudly last night (and thrashed around like the girl in the Exorcist) that none of us slept. It was like trying to sleep through a thunder storm. I genuinely could not shout as loud as he was snoring. So we moved rooms. I reckon he’ll get the hint when he beds down tonight and he’s all alone – saying that we’ll probably still hear his dying walrus impressions from the other side of the hostel. Ridiculous.

I forgot to mention in a previous post that we went to Napa Valley. We got lots of vouchers and drank all the wine. The End.

Land of the Free-Loaders

Approaching Santa Barbara today, avoiding the chill of the rest of the continent like we planned it.  There’s a thin envelope of sunshine following us down the coast so we’re not deviating.  I’ve been going down memory lane since San Francisco, revisiting all my old stomping grounds from when I worked in summer camp back in ’05 and ’06.  The camp was in the rather well-heeled Carmel Valley (I say “was” as it’s closed down now sadly), which is all yellow grass, assorted trees and quirky mansions.  We located the Cachagua General Store, which opens as a restaurant on only Monday night and Sunday brunch.  This operation is run by mate Dylan’s dad, Mike.  Mike runs a pretty smooth operation out there in the woods.  We rocked up in the dark to find a buzzing little shack, all fairy lights and live music, and went on to eat what was quite easily the best meal of the trip so far, and will take some topping.  Lamb shank, rabbit, crab cakes, washed down with great wine and an atmosphere not seen since I worked in the Volcano back in Lyttelton.  The couple on the table next to us had got married two days previously, and the newly wed husband had demanded their first stop on their honeymoon be the Monday Night Restaurant as he hadn’t been in four years and he still remembered the rabbit.  High acclaim indeed!  Mike regaled us with war stories and let us sleep on the floor that night, even leaving a little breakfast out for us in the morning.  Tremendous.

We then got the pleasure of taking Highway 1 south, which Gina enjoyed almost as much as us, until we took a wee detour that Mike had suggested – along the old highway that existed before all the concrete bridges were erected in the 30s.  This stretch of “road” was ten miles of pot holes that took over an hour to navigate.  At one point we had to give Gina a rest at the crest of a hill, her engine melting like a T1000.  The road to Mordor was better maintained. We got to Big Sur and climbed up the river gorge, which due to years of drought was a fair bit shallower than when I used to go there last decade.

The number of hitchhikers has gone up though, and we’ve had 5 in the car since entering CA.  A mixed bag to be fair, the first guy had clearly wet himself and we had to fumigate Gina after he’d gone.  The third guy immediately asked us for money, which was bloody cheeky and the final two we dropped off yesterday, one of whom was called Brodie and fought fires in the summer and hunted for jade during the other months.  I’m not sure who jade is but I hope she’s ok.

We’ve been very guilty of free-loading ourselves of course, kindly letting Griffin host us in San Francisco.  I used to work with Griffin back at camp and apart from his super mario moustache he hasn’t changed a bit, which is all at once refreshing and deeply, deeply disturbing.  He took us out for BBQ and burritos and spent the rest of the time insulting me, which I could see he had sorely missed doing.  We took Gina over the Golden Gate Bridge, somehow avoiding the tolls by driving through the wrong check-point and paid a visit to Arhoolie Records, which featured in a movie we watched back in Homer, Alaska.  The store features stuff recorded by the owner from the past 5o years, all over America and Mexico, all out in the open or at gigs and all reassuringly bluesy, jazzy or folksy.  Imagine the shop in High Fidelity staffed by ZZ Top and you’re getting there.

Final shout out to the Santa Cruz Warriors, a D-League basketball team we caught by chance, playing some other team from somewhere else that produces 8 foot monsters.  The most amazing thing about the match was that even during a 20 second time-out there was entertainment lined up to fill the gaps.  “Oh look everybody, Alan McClusky from Row 12, Seat 5 is going to kick a ball through the mascot’s legs for FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!”  I genuinely enjoyed these parts more.  When they ran out of games the mascot just did a break dance in the centre circle.

So by our clock, we’ll be in Mexico in a week or less.  Those drive-time Spanish CDs will be on repeat!

Dead Good Redwoods

Interesting times on the road since we left Corvalles. First up, a hidden collection of hot springs we uncovered, populated by a naked guy who looked like John Hurt and a naked guy who looked like Tony Soprano. Second up, a bar near Diamond Lake where we got talking to three young guys who were working on some ant-infested campground toilets nearby. They said we could camp next to their caravan and they’d ply us with beer and breakfast – that sounds creepy but it honestly wasn’t. They let me hold their hunting rifles while they regaled us with various carpentry anecdotes from around the Midwest.

The next day we attempted to climb the notorious Mount Thielsin, a 3000 metre monster with an almost vertical spindle on top that resembled ET’s finger. A bloke from Alaska had recommended the climb back in Portland, describing the ascent as “unequivocal.” Unsure what he actually meant by this but convinced by the conviction in which he said it, we set off through the trees under a cloudless blue sky. Above the trees it was a different story. Thick clouds rushed in rapidly and within minutes we were down to “shower door after a particularly hot shower” levels of visibility. We carried on gamely but soon it became apparent that the clouds were darkening and the wind was starting to make that whistling noise usually associated with disaster and suffering. So we made the rather mature decision to descend. Enjoying a warming coffee in a nearby café, the manager informed us he knew of a group of guys who have returned to summit Thielsen for the past 6 years without success, so that softened the blow of our first proper mission failure.

Since then however, it’s been a merry succession of successes. California greeted us with sunshine and we made haste for the giant redwoods on the coast. These trees are simply ridiculous. Gathered together like enormous statesmen from another world, they seem to inspire the same reaction (and neck pain) in every human – silent upward-facing gawping. Some of these trees are 370 feet tall. Saint Paul’s cathedral is 365 feet tall. They make the trees in Dunnottar Woods look like water cress. After camping on the beach we made our way along the misty shore, headed inland along the base of a canyon lined with fern (or a fern gully if you will) and then back through the redwoods. Pretty insane contrast there.

We’re now in an extremely shady motel in the odd town of Arcada. It’s basically the town from Back to the Future but populated entirely by hippies and hobos. Our next door neighbour just opened his door as we walked past stark naked with a spliff the size of a pine cone in his mouth. Some hippies in the square offered us vegetable soup and bread for free because “people should feed people,” which was a lovely sentiment and far lovelier than the soup in question as my stomach cramps will attest to. We spent the money we’d saved on watching Interstellar at the ‘Minor Theatre’ (America’s oldest purpose built cinema apparently) which was stark raving bananas but we loved it.

Oregon of the species

(written on 5th November)

Ahoy there from the leather-bound cockpit of Lady Gina. Today’s voyage is taking a definite southern turn as we leave the wholesome town of Corvalles and our grand host Colin behind and make haste for Crater Lake. There are only two of us in the jeep now, the lowest number since day one in Anchorage, as we finally cast Zie German off in Portland. Goodbyes are horrible at the best of times. This one was the worst of times. It certainly feels like stage one of our trip has been completed with the Age of Zabrina clearly denoted in our minds as that wonderful 6 week period between Alaska and Portland. She and her ridiculous laugh will be sorely missed! Portland was the perfect spot to say goodbye however, as it is quite simply one of the greatest cities we’ve ever been to.

I use city in the loosest term, not that Portland isn’t city-sized, we’re not talking Brechin City shenanigans here, it just didn’t feel much like any city I know. We were aware of the high potential for hipsters, but all these folks seemed to have relocated to Vancouver. Portland has gone full hipster circle. Guys don’t get trendy hair cuts here, they just don’t get haircuts. Buskers don’t play to empty street corners, they play to crowds of dreadlocked vegans all high on life amongst other things. It all sounds very pretentious but it happens to be so relaxed and informal and just nice. G and I went on a morning jog (no lie) in a nearby park and the bums wished us a good day and a happy run. There’s a bookstore in the downtown called Powells that is the size of a city block. I mean to say that it actually is a city block. It seemingly has every item that has ever gone to print in history. It’s like the Great Library of Alexandria with way more denim. On Hallowe’en (in our thrift store costumes of a zombie nurse and Connor Macleod from Highlander) we went to a bar that was stacked full with retro arcades (Asteroids, Pac-Man, Donkey-Kong) and while all the patrons slugged quarters into the machines in their various fancy dresses, a DJ dressed as Thriller Michael Jackson, played Prince remixes. If this wasn’t heavenly enough, the beer on sale was just ridiculously good. 7% IPAs that tasted like someone milked an angel. The city seems to run entirely on coffee and beer – both of which they have raised to an art form. It’s weird too. We went to some underground club courtesy of a great bloke we met called Enon who looked a bit like Spike Lee and danced a lot like Bruce Lee. I found myself upstairs from there in a drag-queen cabaret show whereupon I was invited on stage to perform in a dance competition. My rival immediately stripped off and started daubing his body in neon paint. My booty-shaking robot routine was blown out the water. By the time I’d managed to summon up the courage to remove my shirt the victor was declared and I was left to do up my buttons solemnly in the corner while G and Zabrina creased themselves.

So that was Portland. I would advise you visit in the summer where it may not rain quite as much (we’re talking rival to Glasgow here) and that you perhaps cleanse your liver beforehand. Our faith in cities restored, we’re back on the road heading to greener pastures. The pastures were decidedly less green on the way to Portland – the Colombia river snaked through an undulating yellow expanse that added a definite Mad Max feel to proceedings. However, these quickly evolved into a thick canyon of forest that secluded such a number of towering waterfalls that to chase them all would take TLC levels of commitment. The only thing we’re chasing now is summer, heading south after escaping winter in Canada, autumn in Washington and the monsoon season in Portland. It might be time to see if Gina’s air con is up to scratch…