Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The End and New Beginnings

On my drive home last Sunday, I was a little choked up after Sandra called me later in the afternoon. Sandra had spent the afternoon paying her respects to the family of a friend of ours who was killed in a car accident last week. One second, her 22yo son was driving her to work in the morning, the next second....this beautiful, vibrant, wife, mother and friend was gone, as well as the driver of the car that t-boned them. Fortunately, their son survived but he will have to live with this the rest of his life. Across the nation, Dylan and I noticed literally HUNDREDS of crosses and memorials alongside our highways. No doubt a cross will be erected at the intersection where our friend and the other driver lost their lives. The most poignant cross I saw was on a very lonely stretch of Route 66 in Arizona. At the apex of a curve, a freshly painted cross with fresh flowers stood there. As I drove by, I was able to read the date painted on the cross. 1978 was the year some mother's son died in a horrible car accident. I know it was horrible because any car accident where someone dies is horrible. Someone still tends the cross that bears his name after all these years.

Why do I bring this very sad topic up at the end of such a fantastic, happy adventure? Because it is a reminder of how very precious life can be. One minute, you can be happy and in a great mood and the very next second, a loved one could be gone. Every single freaking day - EVERY DAY, we must appreciate our loved ones. We need to accept their faults, forgive their mistakes and cherish that part of them that made them a loved one in the first place. Every one of us rides in a car almost every single day. It's part of our lives and something that we take for granted. Statistically, it is also the single most dangerous thing that most of us ever do and, for some of us, it may be the last thing we ever do. Love those around you. Life is too short not to enjoy life and do the things that bring a smile to your face and to the faces of those around you.

I'm a changed man now because of this adventure. If I feel myself slipping into complacency and losing that spark for life, all I have to do is look back upon the summer of 2010. I can't take things for granted anymore. I've seen the boarded up storefronts in Kansas. I've seen the people walking the streets aimlessly in Louisiana. I've seen farmers tending desolate fields in Colorado. I've seen the ramshackle homes that our Native Americans live in. I've seen signs on the side of the road in America's heartland saying, "This is a NO-METH zone" I've been humbled. I think everyone should take a "road trip" of sorts. Even if it's a quiet moment alone to think about your family and everything that is "good" in your life. Remember, it's all about balance. Accentuate and embrace the positive. Minimize or eliminate the negative.

Though Dylan and I were never really pushed to the limits of human endurance or anything like that during our trip, we were quite a ways outside our comfort zone and I think we learned a lot from that. Speaking for myself, I feel energized and strong - not just physically but mentally. I learned a lot, not only about myself but about life. I have such an appreciation now, whereas before, one day just blurred into the next and my whole life was a cesspool of complacency. I think that, if I ever feel that cesspool filling up again, all I have to do is re-live a moment from this trip. I'll go for a mountain bike ride or I'll take Dylan camping. Maybe Sandra and I will have a quiet weekend away in Tahoe or explore and take pictures in a National Park - anything to break the cycle of boredom and monotony.

I've enjoyed writing this blog everyday and I'm happy that I could share this with my friends and family. Give a hug and a kiss to your loved ones, don't stress and enjoy life!!!


Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 37 - The Last Resort to Home...Back to Reality.

It was really strange to be driving without my co-pilot. Here I was, back on the road with a 500+ mile journey in front of me and Dylan wasn't there. It was oddly quiet and disconcerting. I actually felt a little choked up knowing that, chances are, I would never get a chance to spend that much quality time with my son again. Maybe someday he'll remember all this and take his son to re-trace our steps.

I arrived home safely 37 days after Dylan and I had left. For most of the trip, I drove the speed limit and was extra careful knowing that I had my son with me and that there was a beautiful wife and mother at home waiting for us. Many, many thanks go out to Sandra for being so supportive during all of this. Being apart for so long really made us appreciate each other and both of us feel that there is something new and exciting going on. That's a fantastic thing to say after 17 years of marriage!! I also have a much greater appreciation for my son and, I hope, he has a greater appreciation and understanding of me. Though it cost thousands of dollars that we really didn't have, how can you put a price on the experience that we had? It was, and always will be, a moment in time that will live on in our minds until the day we die. Hopefully, we'll tell the stories enough that Dylan's kids will be able to re-tell the stories to their kids.

I really enjoyed sleeping in my own bed again. It seems like it's been ages since I've slept there....and I slept so very soundly. I was content and relaxed. Robby dog and Ginger were happy to see us. The birds didn't really seem to care but Junior was doing a lot of whistling when I came in so maybe he did care after all. I'll take Junior's whistling any day over some retarded Whipporwill anyway!! I had a refrigerator close by. A microwave. 3 bathrooms to choose from with nobody else in them. I didn't have to pay to use the shower. We picked up the phone to order Chinese and it was delivered 15 minutes later. There's a lot to be said for being home....and I really appreciate it.

Today, I start a new adventure......


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 36 - More Photoshoot, Saying Goodbyes, Then Back to The Last Resort

Second day of Dylan's photoshoot. Sandra and I decided to drop Dylan off and go exploring a bit. We drove down to Tahoe City and went for a little walk to explore and visit a few shops. It was rather early in the morning so not too many shops were open but it was nice to just stroll along anyway. After our little exploration of Tahoe City, we sight-see a bit and drive down to Emerald Bay. What a beautiful drive it was!!! We took note of all the beautiful homes along the waterfront and agreed that it wouldn't necessarily be all bad to be friends with the homeowner. Tahoe is definitely an area that I wouldn't mind living in. I know the winters can be rough but I think the beauty of the place would make it worthwhile. On top of that, virtually every local that we encountered was genuinely nice. What a nice change from some of the surliness that Dylan and I ran across during our travels.

Emerald Bay was, of course, stunningly beautiful. It seemed that every tourist from miles around had made it their destination. Cars were parked along the highway for miles and miles so that people could take pics and hike down to the water. We finally found a place to pull off and took some pics of the stunning scenery. We just wished that we could have been down on the water.

Dylan's shoot ended early so we went back to pick him up and all the kids decided that they wanted to go swimming and hang out back at Northstar before everyone had to catch their flights and go home. All us parents had a great time just hanging out, people watching and chatting the afternoon away while the kids were out terrorizing the place. Everyone said their goodbyes, exchanged phone numbers and made their way home. Paul and Karyn met us at the airport. Dylan and Sandra were flying home and I was to go back to The Last Resort for one last evening before driving home. It's almost over.

Paul, Karyn and I decided to hang out in downtown Reno for a couple drinks before making our way back home. Had a great time drinking on the patio of a river-side bar listening to a live band. It was a very nice "wind-down" to this long, long adventure.

Day 35 - Lake Tahoe

We had to be up early to make Dylan's call time of 9AM. Grabbed some coffee and made our way to the shoot location. ....and what a location it was!!! It was a great big beautiful house right on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Wow, not a bad place to spend the day! Dylan was paired up with 3 other kids and, not only did they look great together, they all got along fabulously!! That doesn't always happen. We spent the day hanging out on the dock, chatting with the other parents and basically really enjoying ourselves. Not too shabby....I only wish that the homeowner had come out and said, "hey, if you want to go use our jet ski, our beautiful twin engined speedboat or our Melges 24 sailboat, feel free to do so." Yeah, right! It was a great day anyway.

Everyone was getting along so well that the adults met up back at Northstar for drinks and pizza while all the kids went out carousing around. Everyone had a great time and we all ended up really enjoying ourselves.

Day 34 - The Last Resort to Northstar Resort, Lake Tahoe, CA

After a month, Dylan and I were finally reunited with Sandra. Sandra flew into Reno to take Dylan to his photoshoot for Pottery Barn Teen up in Lake Tahoe on Friday. Paul dropped me off at the Reno airport on his way to work and I waited for Sandra's flight to arrive. When I saw her walk around the corner from her gate, it was like a man dying of thirst in the desert seeing water after crawling to the top of a sand dune. The old saying is true, distance DOES make the heart grow fonder!!! It was a reunion of very special significance that I shall remember forever.

The plan was to drive back to The Last Resort to spend the evening with Paul and Karyn so I left Dylan in bed when I went to pick up Sandra but he was wide awake and quite excited to see his mom by the time we got there. Big hugs all around!! As I suspected, the first thing he did was take her for a ride on the ATV!! Seriously, after traveling all around the country and seeing everything he did, the only thing that he really wanted to do was ride ATV's. They were gone for quite a while and had a great ride.

Paul, Karyn and little William came home and we all enjoyed a great evening together before we had to leave to make the drive up to Northstar to check into our hotel room. It was about 67 miles from The Last Resort up to Tahoe so, by the time we got there, it was about 9:30 or so. We followed the signs to "check-in" and were appalled to see that the office was closed and completely dark. The office, btw, was free-standing all by itself near the entrance with no other buildings around. We had no idea what was going on. Sandra and I were both starting to get a little worried that we may have to make the drive all the way back to The Last Resort but I decided to get out and see if there was an after-hours phone number or something that I could call. I walked up to the door and there was a sign on the door that said, "After hours check-in, please open the box and press the red button" Ummm....ok. I pressed the button and the security guy gets on and warmly greets me. I told him who I was and that I was trying to check in. He says, "where are you standing?" I said, "right outside the check-in office" He says, "Good. Now turn around. See that box behind you? Open the door and you'll see a keypad. Type in: 05683# and pull the door open. Inside, you will find an envelope with your name on it. Inside is your key, a map to where your condo is and a welcome packet with a parking pass and other goodies. Enjoy your stay and have a good evening!" I expected him to finish with: "this message will self-destruct in 10 seconds." I walked back to the car feeling like I had just found a treasure map or something.

For fairly obvious reasons, I was hoping that our hotel room had two beds with a little privacy. I needn't have worried!!! A 2 story, 2 bedroom, 2 bath ski condo awaited us way up in the forest!!! Woohooo!!!! Remember how I've talked about balance in life? Well, all the negative balance that was accrued during our uncomfortable nights in the sweltering tent was balanced out quite nicely by this condo! It's all about balance.

.....and a good night was had by all!!! ;-)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 33 - The Last Resort

It's so nice to be with my good friends, sleep in a real bed and eat good home-cooked food. Like I said yesterday, it's almost like my home away from home here. As usual, I was up early and enjoyed my coffee while checking emails and updating the blog. I'm really going to miss doing this; I enjoy writing. I looked out the window and noticed a small herd of antelope out on the hillside. THIS is why people live out here and endure the harsh winters, the hot, dry summers, the wind, the bugs and the solitude.

So....the scoop is that, ironically, Dylan has a photoshoot at Lake Tahoe on Friday. We had always planned to finish our road trip by visiting Paul and Karyn in Reno but, because of the photoshoot, we ended up being "time-bound" around this shoot. Sandra is flying in to be his "chaperone" because I have to work on Friday. Yes, during this whole road trip, I have been working everyday via phone and remote access. You gotta love cellular technology!!! I'm so very excited to see Sandra....it's been a long, long time.

Paul suggested that we head out to Pyramid Lake to do some water skiing and tubing. I was very concerned about letting my fair-skinned, blue-eyed boy out in the sun on the lake for that amount of time. I actually vetoed it because I didn't want Dylan to show up at his photoshoot with a major sunburn. He protested and pinky-promised that he would wear a hat and a Banana Boat Burka all day long. I gave in. The lake is amazing. It is this really vivid turquoise color that just reaches out and grabs you. We spent about 4 hours out there enjoying it almost by ourselves. On this huge lake, there were only about 4 boats that we could see. A great time was had by all!!!....and....Dylan survived without any sunburn at all!! Whew!!!

Came back to the "Resort" and enjoyed some Longboard Lagers, Fire Rock Pale Ales and a fantastic dinner of Lemon Chicken and Lemon Pepper Pasta. Paul has turned into a pretty damn good cook. Paul can cook like some people can draw. He eats something he likes and then goes home and tries to recreate it. Over the years, he's come up with some pretty tasty dishes!!! Kudos, my good friend!!!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 32 - Bruneau Dunes to The Last Resort, Palomino Valley, Nevada

Got up nice and early, like I always do, made some coffee and watched the sun rise in the east. I am definitely a morning person and absolutely love watching the sun come up. It's even better out in the high desert where you can almost feel the rays of the sun melt the cold, stillness of the morning air. I made some coffee and went for a little walk around the park. The only person out and about was a very nice woman taking her dogs for a walk. I really didn't want to go get Dylan up and break down camp. This is it. This is the end of camping and soon it will be the end of our adventure.

The drive from Bruneau across the Idaho and Nevada desert was on an empty 2 lane highway that stretched for 178 miles to I80 in Nevada. During the entire drive, I think we saw only about 5 cars. It was a little spooky to think about how long it would take to get help should something have happened to the truck. I drove very carefully, though. At no time did I ever get over 105 MPH! Most of the time I just cruised along at the safe and sane speed of 95!! :-) Even though we were able to cruise the straight stretches at a decent speed, there were quite a few miles of Scarlett Johannsen road requiring us to slow way down so it still seemed to take forever to tick off those 178 miles. The drive was uneventful.

"The Last Resort" is the name of Paul and Karyn's home out on 40 acres of land at the south end of Palomino Valley outside of Reno. They are the last home at the end of the road and it certainly is a resort of sorts. Paul and I have been best friends for about 35 years now so visiting his home is like going to a second home for me. Though I'm not back in L.A. yet, I'm certainly "home". Their home sits on a knoll overlooking 40 acres of high desert scrub with views of mountains in all directions. A very beautiful place, indeed. We'll be staying here for a few days before I make the drive back to L.A. Luckily, they have high speed internet so maybe I'll get a chance to upload some of the videos that we've taken. I'm going to put them on the proper date so it may be kinda fun to go back through and check the previous blog entries.

Dylan loves it here at The Last Resort also. There's an ATV to ride, places to explore, guns to shoot, animals to play with...a veritable paradise for a teenage boy who loves the outdoors. I haven't taken too many pictures yet, but I will.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 31 - Yellowstone to Bruneau Dunes St. Pk., Idaho

It was bittersweet to leave Yellowstone knowing full well that our adventure is coming to a close. We drove out the West Entrance, dropped out of the mountains and into the high desert of Idaho. We motored along without much excitement other than viewing the mountains in the distance. I don't know, I can never grow tired of the beauty of snow-capped mountains.

As I mentioned yesterday, we opted to drive an extra 87 miles to get to a state park that had known facilities rather than a forest camp without anything. I began to second-guess myself as we followed the signs to the park. We were driving across the desert without seeing a single soul anywhere. We take the exit for the park and it just appears deserted. Oh geez, not again! We worked our way to the campground to find a few people there. Not bad. We found a site and setup camp, had some cheese and crackers, a beer and chilled out for a few minutes. We decided to drive out to the dune to check things out. OMG, it was freaking amazing!!! It is the tallest single sand dune structure in North America. It formed at the congruence of two mountain ranges right where the Snake River rounds a bend. The conditions are perfect.

We climbed to the top and proceeded to act like a couple little kids in a big sandbox. You know, it's one of those things...we totally thought that this park was going to be a bust but it turned out to be fantastic. We went back to camp, had dinner and decided to ride our bikes back out to the dunes. That was when we took all the pictures at dusk. It was actually about 9:45PM when we took most of the pics. We were far enough north to take advantage of the long sunsets. Well, we started to get completely chewed up by skeeters so off we went back to the site.

We're sitting next to the fire enjoying our last night of camping when Dylan mentions an ambulance coming down the road with emergency lights on. Then we noticed another. It seems that the teenage girl across the way that Dylan had noticed earlier had slipped and fell outside the bathroom and had lain unconscious for quite a while before her family went looking for her. They took her away on a backboard and, though everyone was pretty worried, her grandma assured us that she was going to be ok. Because of all the excitement, we didn't get to bed until after 11PM. I was sleeping soundly when, all of a sudden, I hear footsteps right outside our tent. FREAKIN' RACCOON going after our garbage and trying to get into the ice chest!! Damnit!!! I scared him away and went back to sleep only to be awakened once more before morning. I was so excited to not have to pack everything up because of bears that I left the stove and the garbage out. Live and learn.

Tomorrow, we're off to my "brother-from-another-mother"s homestead outside of Reno. 5 days of R & R!!....and....I get to see my lovely bride on Thursday!!! YAY!!!!!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 30 - Last Day at Yellowstone

We took our time getting up in the morning. Yesterday, I had cracked the glass on the French Press coffee maker so we went ahead and splurged for a new enamel old-fashioned coffee percolator. It's been a while since I've used one so I ended up with fairly good, although, crunchy coffee. It's a good rugged coffee pot and as my dad used to say, "that's ok, it'll last a lifetime". I miss my dad. He would have really enjoyed these stories.

We decided to do the Grand Loop today. 142 miles all the way around Yellowstone. We knew it was going to take a while but we had all day and so what. So....we're driving along and, as we pass a "thermal area" that we want to check out, traffic comes to a halt. I was going to pull off and park anyway so I do just that. I still didn't know why traffic stopped but I figured because it was a fairly large "thermal area" that traffic was just backed up there. As I stop the car, I see why everyone was stopped. Walking towards my truck was a ginormous bison!!! He was about as large as the truck so Dylan and I just kinda sat there with our jaws dropped. Just as he passes by us...mind you, he was only about 8 feet away, we notice another one right behind him. Right then, some dumb-ass, stupid shit, douchebag on a Harley decides he's going to pass the buffalo!!! Obviously, the buffalo got spooked and I thought we were going to have to call our insurance agent. "I'd like to report some damage to my truck" "what happened?" "well, we were minding our own business when a buffalo decided to ram us" "ummmm....sir, we don't appreciate prank phone calls" Yeah, that would go over well!!! Anyways, the buffalo continued to walk down the middle of the hwy for about a 1/4 mile, stopping traffic completely, until they found a nice patch of grass off to the side. Fantastic!!

The thermal areas were all pretty cool...not as amazing as we had seen around Old Faithful and the West Thumb Basin but interesting nonetheless. There were actually a lot more bubbling mud holes than beautiful iridescent blue pools. We made a lot of stops and did a lot of power walking around these areas. About every half hour or so, we would come upon a traffic jam while people would get out of their cars and take pics of the wildlife. It's amazing how blase it becomes after a while. "yeah, dad keep going, it's just another huge bull elk that you would never see anywhere else except for a zoo....no biggie" We saw lots of elk, an entire herd of buffalo, a pelican surfing down a raging river, osprey, mooseseseses, black bear, grizzly bear and lots of fat humans!!!

So, I forgot to tell you, when we stopped at the area where the buffalo were walking down the road, we were meandering on the boardwalk around the bubbling pools and we came around a corner into a stand of small trees and here, not 6 feet off the path was a HUGE bison just lying in the shade minding his own business. Weird. Even being that close to semi-tame cattle is unnerving and here was this VW bus-sized behemoth just lying there ignoring us.

We continued on our drive and when we were at Mammoth Hot Springs, (which was a bust, by the way, nothing like the pictures on the brochure showed) Dylan mentioned that Montana was only 5 miles away. We had to take the opportunity to add Montana to our list of states visited. We drove into Gardiner and got gas. An official stop in Montana!!!

Made it back to camp by about 7ish, cracked a glorious, ice-cold Alaskan Amber, made a huge pot of spaghetti and chilled by the fire.

Today, we are off to our last campsite of our trip. We're going to drive a little out of our way to go to Bruneau Dunes State Park in western Idaho. (who da ho? You da ho! No, I da ho!) We decided that driving a little further to get to a place with showers and full rest room facilities is a little more palatable than our other choice of a forest camp at about the 11,000' elevation. I'm done with being cold and we need showers!!!!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 29 - Day 2 of 3 at Yellowstone National Park

I was cold last night. Not too cold but enough to wake me up every so often. Thunder woke me up at about 5:30 and then it started raining. I, unfortunately, thought very negative thoughts about the day because of the rain but, as soon as it started, it stopped!! Yay!!

We dinked around and took our time getting up and moving knowing that we had, yet, another full day here. Cool!! We decided to make our way to Old Faithful and, along the way, there was a section of hwy where there were a lot of people stopped alongside the road. That usually means a Wild Kingdom moment so we stopped and joined the crowd. It seems there was a bear down in the woods. We could bearly see him (hehehe) so Dylan decides to go exploring a bit. He found a clearing and there, in front of him was Mr. Bear tearing apart a pine tree just for the hell of it!!! Dylan was still a safe distance but all the other tourists had lost sight of him and Dylan had a perfect view from the top of a log. I joined him and we snapped away with the camera for quite a while before Mr. Bear decided to head on up the hill. Excellent!

We took off and started driving towards Old Faithful. As we round a corner, we see the top of the geyser off in the distance. Damn!!! We just missed it!!! We were in for an hour and a half wait for her to blow again. I suppose an hour and a half isn't too long to wait when you know how good she is when she does blow, huh? We decided to walk around and see all the other "thermal areas". Some of them were actually pretty cool. It's amazing how many different colors some of these pools can be. One of the geysers was blowing right as we walked by and we ended up getting a good shower from it. Not bad. We finished our tour of the "thermal areas" and went back to wait for Old Faithful to give her show. Thousands of people were waiting...and waiting....and waiting....what the hell happened to "faithful". She finally blew and everyone got their Kodak moments. We filed in behind the other human sheep and made our way to the lodge to get some food. Of course, everyone else was doing that too. I finally found a $6 hot dog and felt a little better so Dylan and I decided to hit the road. We only drove about 2 miles from Old Faithful when I spot a bike trail. There are virtually NO bike trails in Yellowstone. Why, I don't know. We stopped and rode our bikes through some very cool "thermal areas" and actually back toward Old Faithful. Had a great time and bikes are definitely the way to see these "thermal areas".

We made our way back to the truck and gathered some firewood before heading back to camp. Went for a little ride on our bikes to check out the campground. Ended up down by the lake and noticed another fantastic specimen of wildlife lying on the beach!! Once we got back to the site I festered up a dinner of rice pilaf, BBQed burgers, a few grapes and a couple beers. All good. As I write this, Dylan has a great fire going and I'm ready for another beer!!!!

....oh shit!! He just called me as I was writing this and he said that he was watching rangers trying to scare away a HUGE grizzly bear off this island in the lake....RIGHT BY THE CAMPGROUND!!!!! The rangers said yesterday that the largest grizzly in Yellowstone was spotted real close by. I wonder if this is the guy? Where's Marlin Perkins when you need him?

Addendum: I just went bookin' down to where Dylan was and shot a couple great pics of the grizzly. It seems that the rangers shot explosive shells over his head so that he wouldn't continue to the campground. They scared the shit out of him so he swam WAY out into the lake. The pics I took are of him coming ashore. A grizzly, who woulda thunk?