Santa Barbara, Huntingdon, Newport & Goodbye America…

Sad timesAlas, in a nondescript Californian rest area we exchanged texts with a few Irish girls we had met previously on our travels and arranged to head to a house party somewhere in Santa Barbara. It had always been our intention to rendezvous with these girls if we headed back that way, although the impromptu nature of it all was somewhat of a pleasant surprise, especially having missed out on a night out in Santa Cruz the previous night.

Pulling into Santa Barbara (that makes it sound like a small village; it isn’t…) we headed to what can only be described as a floor-to-ceiling booze megastore that calmly and understatedly described itself as an off-licence. With spirits, beer and wine stacked twenty-feet high on a shelving system that puts Amazon warehouses to shame, it was hands down the most pervasively alcoholic environment I had ever been in.

There was even a pirate outside that somewhat “greeted” our arrival at this den of depravity. Regardless, we purchased. With gusto, I might add. We only had a few days remaining in the States so we intended on partying hard. Stocked up with enough beer and spirits to sink a Russian armada, we headed over to the party.

Catching up with the girls that we had met two months previously added a nice circularity to our trip – we regaled them with tales of our adventures whilst they informed us as to how they had tried to make a living the other side of the Atlantic. Drinking games and general levels of debauchery continued throughout the night until roughly 6am when things began to quieten down. Winty found solace in a brunette, I paired off with a blonde, whilst Ads – knowingly intoxicated to an impressive level found himself with a girl who would later end up dating a guy we both knew from university. Small world, as they say…

The next morning barely existed, although the early afternoon was one giant, elongated, prolonged, tormented, and diabolical hungover blur. A bit of baseball was watched, but no home runs were scored. God bless America. Ads and Winty took a trip to the nearby beach, before we bade farewell to this Irish corner of California that had provided such an entertaining evening. With the well wishes being offered, hands were unclasped as reluctantly as two sides of a coconut being split.

There was still time for an unknown dude to rock up to our “cool van” and invite us to his “house-party on Thursday bro,” which although we “digged” the idea of (being hip British travellers and all) we knew we would be somewhere over the Atlantic as it kicked off. It seemed a shame. Alas, we progressed, hitting the road southbound in search of further Californian dreams. God bless Katy Perry.

We paused at some point that afternoon to give our blessed and abused van some long overdue reparations. A new battery was fitted and a new lease of life given; PornStar drove again. We headed on to our RV site for the night, in desperate need of sleep and recovery. Around 10ish we pulled in, grabbed a hastily cooked meal and commenced our evening of, well, general nothingness. It was bliss. I checked my Facebook to discover one missed log-out had resulted in a monster rape and a lot of attention from those back home. And there was I getting excited about my forty-nine notifications. Fail.

The next morning we rose after great sleeps. Winty successfully negotiated a RV pass for our van (as opposed to just a general camper admission) which gave us a much better bay, certainly far better than what we had paid for. We headed into Huntingdon – well, to the beach – where we were greeted by a Ferrari and Porsche dealership, adjacent to a Taco Bell and a Pizza Hut. Such fine placement…

Just next to the beach were a set of what are best described as demonstrators; you get the gist of what I mean – casual chanting, marching together, placards and posters and all that jazz. Except that these folks were pro-religion; “Jesus Rules” and “God Judges Sin” were amongst the more prominent placards. Hilariously, barely five meters away from these God-loving / God-fearing amigos were a group of ten bikini-clad girls, resplendent in their next-to-nothingness and chanting “legalise cannabis” whilst holding their own “LEGALISE POT” placards. The irony and amusement was thoroughly enjoyed by us Brits.

The beach afternoon was cool. It was like being on holiday, which seems a silly statement in the context of what was essentially a glorified three-month vacation, but sometimes sitting around with a beer in the sand is all you actually crave. A few book pages were turned and a few Zs caught before early evening we meandered through town and took in the local Huntingdon market.

The streets were packed with sellers, buyers and general observers alike, absorbing the relentless offerings of food produce and bric-a-brac, not to mention the omnipresent sounds of amateur musicians and street entertainers, all equally enthused by the notion of catching your ears and your imagination. One gent, Erik Kuffs (possibly…), was particularly impressive with his enthusiastic and intriguing electro covers of classic American pop.

Dinner and guitar on the beachAfter we had ourselves wowed by the notion of balance-improving wrist-bands, we took advice from a few of the girls we had spoken to and made plans to head towards the “only place to be” on a Tuesdays in Huntingdon – Sharkeez. Flashbacks aplenty to our arrivals in Hermosa it seemed. We cooked dinner by the beach, itself a fun experience (and, surprisingly, an audience-drawing one too…) before genuinely getting changed into our going-out clothes for the night on a side-street, outer-wear that had almost become alien to us over the preceding months. Sharkeez was essentially a night of giant tequila shots and giant cocktail pitchers. The fun was good, the drunkenness even more significant, and the dancing thankfully – seeing as it is bad enough at the best of times – non-existent.

The following morning’s hangovers were sadly anything but non-existent. We began dealing with said hangovers with a traditional dose of coffee, followed swiftly by a less-traditional dose of van tidying and cleaning. We had put it off long enough after all. We hit up a few shop and grabbed ourselves some sale bargains (again, Levis jeans for $9 (yes, nine!) instead of £80… what a steal!) before purchasing our evenings pre-drinks and strangely tucking into two dinners back at the campsite. I do not recall why we ate twice; perhaps because we were hungry, perhaps as we would only have binned the food. Strange…

Rolling Rock advertRegardless, beers and wines were consumed, including a Rolling Rock or two – fitting given that I had just purchased a Rolling Rock tshirt of my own. Sipping the beer that branded my chest, I was the living embodiment of a walking, talking clichéd advert. ~Funnily enough, I quite liked it…

We took a taxi into Newport, thereby allowing all of us to drink on the final night of our epic American adventure. The taxi driver himself was nothing short of mental; it was almost as if he wanted to give us a goodbye journey to remember. The rants he careered off on were as dazzling as they were confusing. Eventually it reached the point whereby we could no longer stifle our laughter.

Sharkeez fish-bowlsThe bar of choice, once again, was a Sharkeez, albeit the Newport version of the chain we had seen in Huntingdon and Hermosa. This one, thankfully, was not only larger, but considerably busier too. And so was the plastic in our wallets. We comfortably cleared $200 as we blew out in style, at one point separately returning from the bar with fish-bowls to discover each other had already done the deed and bought a fish-bowl apiece. Ahh, great minds, as they say…

final night fun timesIt was an entertaining night to say the least. We made a number of new friends, danced like total dickheads, got started on by a deranged lunatic (not just your standard lunatic…), and drunk more Jägerbombs then you could shake a hastily arranged army of German fists at. Unsurprisingly we were surrounded by yet more Australian and Irish girls; it was almost as if a pattern was emerging. When we finally met some genuine Californians we were shocked almost to the point of disbelief…

Jazz hands and sexinessWe surged on and took an endless array of final-night photos together. We could all feel a tinge of sadness that this epic adventure was drawing to a close but were determined not to let it put a downer on our last evening out – party hard and party happy was the motto. And sure we did…

The following morning was a sombre affair. Hangovers and the reality of departures took over as we began packing up our things and discarding three months’ worth of accumulated rubbish. We laughed when recalling how Winty had been told off by a neighbouring camper for firing up his bed’s motorised air-pump at 3am, and then laughed further when we chose to clean down the van with an assortment of soon-to-be-dispensed-with towels and clothes. Poor old PornStar had been in desperate need of a wash it seemed.

Final meal at In'N'OutAfter coffees and breakfast we made tracks across Los Angeles towards LAX, a highlight being when Adam negotiated six lanes of bustling interstate traffic in under thirty seconds as we squeezed into the car pool lane with barely a metre to spare. Tight, but as amusing as ever. Our final meal was taken at In-N-Out Burger, tucking into an animal-style burger and animal-style fries off the secret menu – my God it was tasty.

From here we proceeded to the base of Escape Campervans and returned our beloved van to her owners. We had racked up an extra seven-hundred dollars’ worth of surplus mileage charges, unsurprising seeing as we had clocked up 10,300miles in the space of three months. Shaun, the Escape rep on duty, dropped us off at the airport, us regaling him with tales from our travels and him doing the same about his time on the road.

Packing Barbara at check-inAt check-in for the flight we realised we were still in possession of our beloved guitar, Barbara. We had tried to sell her to folks on the beach but with no joy, and were consequently adamant that we would not just leave her on the side. By quirk of fate the French couple in front of us had a spare cardboard box, so with us less than three people from the front of a massive check-in queue I proceeded to dismantle the box and Gaffa-tape it around the outside of Barbara, much to the disbelieving amusement of those behind us in the queue. Our turn was called, and with our bags being checked by the now-frustrated attendant I was still scrawling the word FRAGILE in giant letters across the impromptu guitar “case” as he demanded my passport for the third time. I proudly stood up, eventually, presented my passport and requested to check an extra baggage item. The dishevelled and hastily-arranged mess of guitar and cardboard cost me an extra sixty bucks to get home, two-thirds the cost of Barbara herself, so I began praying the scribbled FRAGILE warnings were heeded.

We checked-in, just about passed security (the air-pump and mass of cameras and wiring in Winty’s bag set off all manner of alarms), waited for our flight in the lounge area, eventually boarded after an hour’s wait, and then, before we knew it, we were in the air. For a final memento we all signed a dollar bill for each other, and that, as they say, was pretty much that. With a quiet tear in the eye and a glance out over the plane’s wing, our enthralling and eye-opening American road-trip had come to a close.

In America, his travel diary from his time in the States, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard stated: ‘Drive ten thousand miles across America and you will know more about the country than all the institutes of sociology and political science put together.’ We had racked up 10,300miles and consequently felt we had given his line more than our money’s worth.

We had been fortunate enough to be repeatedly blown away by the stunning power and beauty of nature in some of America’s finest National Parks, experienced some of the country’s most iconic cities, seen myths and stereotypes both confirmed and dispelled, lived a life on the road that both Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson would have been proud of, and made a number of friendships – especially on Lummi Island – that, four years later, we still hold to this day. And, of course, we had managed to find our way to ‘The Most Photographed Barn in America.’

‘If a thing like this is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right,’ says Raoul Duke in reference to his ensuing cross-American adventure in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was a maxim we had applied to our travels in the western half of America, and boy did we think we had done a cracking job of it. It was quite simply a trip of a lifetime, and I cannot thank my fellow travellers enough for making it such an incredibly memorable experience. Ads, Winty, Sandy, Hugh & Jez – I salute you all.

Now where’s that garlic salt…

Thank you, America...

Thank you, America…

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Laguna Seca MotoGP…

Pedrosa, Stoner, Lorenzo, Spies and Dovizioso

Checking the MotoGP at Laguna Seca…

When I first booked up my travels in the States I had one fixed date to keep an eye on – the weekend MotoGP rolled into town in Laguna Seca. As a big fan of the MotoGP championship, and having been to the British round at Donington Park for the previous five years (read my comparison of the two events via this link), it felt natural to check the race whilst in California whilst I had the chance. I was not quite Hunter S. Thompson getting paid to cover it, but for sure there was a parallel there about taking a road trip across the States with a bike race in mind.

Alas when Sunday came around I rose early, woke the boys, tried to persuade them to join me one final time (no joy) and proceeded to discover we once again had a flat van battery. ARRGGHHH!! Of all the days for this to happen!

Anyways, we eventually got a jump start and made our way across to the drop-and-go zone where I bid farewell to the lads and hopped on a shuttle bus to the circuit. I had unfortunately missed the warm-up which was a ball-ache as I had planned on circling the track and taking a load of photographs while the likes of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo went through their final rehearsals.

Bike pornHowever, with the sun beating down it was not the end of the world. I toured through the infield areas and had a good old goosy-gander at all the ridiculous bikes on show courtesy of Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and so on. And then there were the race sponsors (as well as team sponsors), the likes of Red Bull, Monster and Rizla, all of whom had more merchandise available than a city full of Chinese sweat-shops. It was impressive as it was hollow. At least there was an endless array of beautiful women, aka Paddock Girls, fronting every stand and stall to appease one’s conscientious mind…

Nonetheless, I negotiated the hordes of drooling middle-aged men (mostly moustache-sporting too I might add) and purchased my brother a t-shirt and an event programme. I headed back to my tour of the circuit where I was surprised to see just how close to the actual track I was able to get. Standing on the inside of Rainey Curve (turn 9) I was shocked to be stood barely ten metres away from motorbikes hurtling past at the best part of 100mph. I eventually managed to take a few photographs, mostly blurry of course, and certainly without a clue of who I had snapped.

Support riders flip their way through The CorkscrewI positioned myself for the main event at the iconic Corkscrew section (turns 8 and 8a). It is a quite ridiculous set of corners, incomparable to any other in world motorsport, featuring a scarcely believable sixty-foot drop (pretty much a six-story building) in the space of one mind-boggling left-right switch. It really has to be seen to be believed, but I was genuinely amazed to witness these dudes manhandle their beasty machinery through such a challenging corner with such apparent ease. Watching track stewards get out of breath as they tried to scale the corner whilst sweeping it in between race sessions really put it in perspective.

Rossi, Spies, Hayden, Simoncelli and MelandriThe build-up to the MotoGP race was something else. The track announcer asked everyone to “stand for the anthem of the greatest nation on earth,” which was duly obeyed by all and sundry. Even the few Brits I had positioned myself near felt obliged to do likewise (well, guilt tripped…). Hats were removed and hands placed on hearts as Kelly Clarkson (or some other generic female singer) belted out ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before a genuinely insane level of cheering, whooping, hollering and fist-pumping took over as the “land of the free” lyrics were reached near its conclusion. Then, just as I thought things could not get any more American, boom – overhead we get a roaring fly-by from one of the military’s F-16 fighter jets. I was both daunted and stunned by the fervent patriotism on show.

And then began the race. The announcer gave us a commentary through the first seven turns, although we knew the bikes were approaching our secluded corner thanks to the deafening roar their 800cc engines spat out. As they flipped their way over the top of the corkscrew and then roared their way into the distance the fans cheered and blew their horns in appreciation and delight (although a significant number were watching through their cameras it seemed…). I was in awe, frankly just happy to be there.

The crowd went wild when Rossi got ahead of DoviziosoThe race itself was a relatively interesting event. Fan-favourite and all-time-great Valentino Rossi was recovering from a broken leg so his participation was impressive enough, let alone challenging for a podium. When Rossi passed Andrea Dovizioso the crowd went wild – it was great fun to be a part of. When diminutive Spaniard Dani Pedrosa crashed out I was surprised to hear unsportsmanlike cheering from a significant proportion of the fans, flying in the face of what the programme cited as the “passionate yet respectful nature” of American bike racing fans. Ah well…

The Corkscrew becomes Lorenzo Land

Lorenzo won; The Corkscrew became Lorenzo Land…

Up at the front Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo continued his fine form and proceeded to win the race, offering up an enjoyable man-on-the-moon celebration right before our eyes at the top of the Corkscrew. The Corkscrew had been conquered; Lorenzo Land it now was. Amusingly they played the Italian anthem for him during the podium ceremony; I could not help but chuckle.

The main race was followed by another support race which I took in from the famous Laguna Seca hillside – a superb vantage point which affords you views right the way across probably three-quarters of the circuit. On the far right you see the bikes exit turn 9 before taking on turns 10 and 11 and entering the start-finish straight. From here you can follow the riders all the way through turns 1-to-5, including the Andretti hairpin amongst others. It is all rather impressive.

Following this I made my way back to the lads. The exit was quick and easy, with the shuttle buses getting me back to the park-and-ride section in no time at all, far cry from the four-hour car park queues we experienced in our first year at Donington. All traffic was turned so that all of the lanes faced the same direction – smart move really – and I rendezvoused with Ads and Winty in no time at all.

I learnt that our van was officially fucked. They had needed jump starts after two hours watching Inception at the cinema and after barely half-an-hour in McDonalds; proper buggered. The engine was now kept running all the time, although we swiftly started making tracks for Santa Barbara, texting the Irish girls we had met on our previous visit on the way. There was potential for a house party it seemed…

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Giant Redwoods, DUIs, and Santa Cruz…

Hunting for giant redwoods...

Hunting for giant redwoods…

The previous night we had set up camp in an extremely isolated cove, barely fifteen minutes down the road from a bunch of wildfires and without another person in sight. Thankfully we had survived the night fire-free, but the decision to camp away from habitation came back to haunt us with yet another flat battery for our ailing van. With nobody and no vehicles anywhere to be seen, we were stumped. There was no way of pushing the van up the steep slope to the main road, and flagging vehicles down proved fruitless. Eventually, after a frustrating hour or so, and the son of an old couple that we found nearby came to our rescue, jump leads and all.

The message Oregon leaves you with...With our not-so-trusty steed back up and running we continued our run down the scenic coast. Skipping over the Oregon-California border (complete with a filthy road sign or two), our main port of call for the day was to take in some seriously giant redwood trees – we are talking about 350ft monsters here! We pulled into a national park and were immediately dwarfed by the wooden behemoths that we had been itching to see. In the car park we were treated to the unusual spectacle of the tops of the trees still being covered by the marine layer, with the bright morning sun starting to shine its way through – it gave the area a little bit of a magical feel, kind of like a neck-straining version of Narnia, if you will…

The eerie early morning in the redwoods

SplitAds paused next to a sign saying ‘Big Tree’ holding a discarded branch, much to a few tourists’ amusement, before we craned our necks as we strove to see the top of said Big Tree. What a beast. The three of us then undertook a trail that took us past a number of notable trees, some absurdly high, and others incredibly wide. We took photos of us next to a number of these trees, if only to give ourselves a sense of perspective as to just how damn sizeable they were. The only disappointment was that we failed to come across a drive-through tree, purely for novelty’s sakes, although we knew they did exist in the area.

Ads at the foot of a giant redwood tree

The giant redwoods were indeed, well, giant…

Then, after a couple of hours of route and campsite planning, we hit the road big time. We broke the journey at a Sizzler for a mediocre steak, Malibu chicken and shrimp dinner (that memorable that I fail to recall anything about it other than the words in my journal). The restaurant itself must have had about thirty waitresses in however, each and every one seemingly fixated on our British accents. Bless.

We cracked on with the monster drive, Winty taking the wheel for several hours until about 11pm, before I took over until we called it quits around 2am. We had reluctantly skipped by San Fran and had planned to simply slum it in a roadside rest area for the night. Unfortunately for us, the one we had picked was closed. Our first indication of this was as I started pulling off the interstate and the exit lane suddenly became blocked off. I swung back on to the highway and got Ads to dig out the map and work out where our next potential stop might be. It was confusingly tricky to work out, not least in the dark, and at 2am, and whilst driving!

As I tried to help him, my foot gradually eased off the gas pedal, the van’s speed slowly slipping from the state limit down into the thirties. In my rear mirror I noticed a cop car with flashing lights, so I sped back up so as not to hold him up. Back to working out what to do for the night, I let the speed fall again as Ads and I deliberated. Five minutes or so passed, at which point I realised the cop car with flashing lights was still on my tail. Shit. Was it for me?

Ads and I decided that given the circumstances – cop car on tail for five minutes with flashing lights – it might be best to pull over. So I signalled, braked, and ground to a halt. Cop car stops too. Shit, it was for me. A giant eye-burningly bright lamp is instantly shone into my wing-mirror – I can barely see. Now, where the hell is my driving licence? Oh my days, I was bricking it. A number of minutes pass – my breathing gets heavier, my palms sweatier. Not cool.

Finally, a knock on the front passenger window – I wind it down. A torch shines inwards, no doubt assessing the situation and our faces. The dishevelled state of the back of the van, with clothes and empty beer boxes strewn everywhere, was hardly conducive to earning the trust of the officer. But, I had not done anything wrong, so why the worry?

Officer: “licence and vehicle registration.” I hand over my UK licence and state that it is a hire vehicle. He continues, “You do know your vehicle licence has expired,” to which I reply that I had no idea. He informs me that this is more of an issue for the hire company, not for us thankfully. I breathe a little sigh of relief. He enquires as to why we were driving so slowly, to which I inform him about the closed rest area and trying to find somewhere to kip. Luckily, his mood seems to soften slightly.

I gently enquire as to why we were pulled over. “Because you were driving so slowly I wanted to check you weren’t doobied or DUI!” was his reply. Perfect. So I get pulled over three times in the States and they are all for equally lame reasons – littering, doing 15mph in a 10mph zone, and driving too slowly on the highway. Honestly…

Anyways, with the officer in a far more jovial mood now that he was satisfied I was not stoned or pissed, he tells us to take the next exit where there is a bus-stop car park the other side of the bridge – “you guys can just kip in there for the night if you want.” What a gent. And so we did.

The next morning the marine layer was back in, and it was freezing cold. This sucked. The van started, but only just – seriously a close call, especially as technically we were trespassing (as far as our understanding of the car park’s ‘information’ sign went). We found a McDonald’s to pinch their Wi-Fi to confirm our next RV site booking. We utilised their facilities for a quick wash, before I proceeded to spill a whole carton of cereal across the car park. Cheers, Ronald!

An hour or so down the road we wheeled in to the Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort. It was a lovely place in fairness, with massive trees stretching skywards, letting in intermittent rays of sunlight that both warmed the air and gave it a charming feel. The showers were banging too (and much needed, it must be said). The rather abrupt lady on reception kicked up a fuss about us putting up a tent in our bay – she also jarringly attacked us with a horribly-toned “you from Oz!” jibe – which resulted in a good hour or so of diplomatic negotiation from Winty, who amusingly referenced the Trade Descriptions Act (a British thing, not American…), before it was settled that we could put our tent up, but we had to move a whopping two bays further along. It was as hilarious as it was pointless.

Regardless, with the sun now beaming through and the facilities (including pool and table tennis) being made full use of, it was a great afternoon and evening of chill time. The following day was much the same, generally relaxing and taking it easy for a while. On the Saturday we made our way into Santa Cruz itself – beach time! After a now customary jump start of course…

Lunch on the Santa Cruz waterfrontWe lunched at a seafood restaurant near the boardwalk – the food was pretty decent, the waitresses even prettier. Breast enlargement seems mandatory in these parts. There was even karaoke going, and we had barely broken into the afternoon! We chilled on the beach through the afternoon, and unsuccessfully tried to scout some bars on the way back to the van.

Our beloved van was once again dead, and it took a considerable amount of time before we were given a jump by what I can only describe as a gargantuan, drunk, former Hells Angel. It dawned on us however that if we went for a night out then the van would almost definitely be dead again, and trying to get a jump start at 3am was not an enticing prospect. We cut our losses and bailed for camp, via a shop to pick up a consolation dinner of beer and cheesecake. Such is life…

Jump start number seven for our ailing ride...

Jump start number seven for our ailing ride…

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The Pacific Coast: Portland, Cheesecakes, Highway 101 and a Wildfire…

Driving down the 101, checking the Pacific Coast...

Driving down the 101 and the charmingly rugged Pacific Coast…

Our nondescript campsite was memorable for two things: firstly, for the volume of mosquitoes and other insanely frustrating insects, and secondly, for the great repairing of Winty’s punctured airbed. With military precision we (hopefully) prevented any further nights spent sinking slowly into the rocky ground.

We rolled out around midday, heading into Portland in search of a giant tax-free shopping mall (Oregon is a tax-free state), partly in order to pointlessly drain our funds further, but also to replace some of the more battered garments in our “wardrobes” (hiking bags, or a suitcase if you were Ads). We did find some cracking bargains, certainly compared to UK prices, so with a billion A&F / Hollister / Levi’s branded bags we proudly swung via a Cheesecake Factory to have our palettes wowed by the sheer volume and variety of cheesecakes on offer.

It wasn't just us Brits that were enjoying the cheesecakes on offer...

It wasn’t just myself & Ads enjoying the cheesecakes…

Everything from Wild Blueberry White Chocolate Cheesecake through to Oreo or Snickers Bar cheesecakes were available, so like kids in a proverbial candy factory we tucked in to a couple of rounds of helpings. Each. When in, err, Portland, as they say. There was even time to embarrass Ads somewhat as we left a 1c tip for the annoyingly stuffy waitress, notifying her that Ads was sorting out the gratuity as Winty and I fled to the van. Cue the latest in our long litany of awkward tip-based “interactions”.

We loaded up the van and made tracks for the Pacific Coast, an uneventful drive of roughly two hours which we eventually broke with a stop for dinner. Ads and I mashed up some cracking acoustic covers, such as singing the I Got You Babe lyrics to the chords (up one fret) from Maclean’s My Name with a bit of harmonica chucked in for good measure. But for the fact we were in a generic and largely deserted car park with an audience consisting of two McDonald’s employees on smoking breaks, a nomadic dog, and a relatively entertained but also somewhat bemused fellow traveller (Winty), we would have chucked down our caps and surely busked our way to a life of affluence. As it was, we didn’t. That night we camped in Knight Park, near Lincoln City.

Day sixty began with a casual breakfast and a meander through town towards the coast. The beaches were somewhat sandy as we hit the iconic Highway 101 and wound away down the coast towards our evening destination of Newport. We made camp early – this time at the Sawyer’s Landing site – allowing ourselves plenty of time to chill out, cook food, drink drinks, and write an unrepeatable song or two. Good old Annie. Bless.

Just after sunset, Sawyer's LandingThe site itself was actually rather pleasant, on the bend of a river (or it might have been a sea outlet) with a nice sunset behind the nearby trees. We cooked some food and sank some suds before idly chatting the evening away, trying to come up with lists of our top five places and top five National Parks visited to that point. I also attempted to sketch a few drawings, once again highlighting my lack of artistic talent by shading in black the sun’s bright reflection on the dark waters (which I left as white). Honestly my sketches are not even fit to sit on a fridge alongside a five-year-old’s.

Running down the Oregon coastline on Highway 101The next day we continued moseying our way down the Oregon coast. The sun was out and the marine layer had thankfully retreated off shore, leaving large swathes of the coastline in a rather picturesque light. We stepped out of the van for a wander around the Seal Rock State Recreation Area, resting our eyes upon sandy beaches, large jagged rocks, and a quaint row of wooden sea-front shops whose items included home-made fudge and locally-sourced jewels. There was also a delightfully emphatic sign warning us that we were entering a Tsunami hazard zone, which seemed somewhat surreal for such a charming and innocuous part of the coastline.

Tsunami Hazard ZoneDriving down the 101, we crossed Alsea Bay, a wide and sandy estuary that seemed to catch the attention of many passing motorists, before taking in a succession of long, sandy beaches on the drive down towards Florence. We passed the neatly named “biggest little store on the 101”, Bob Creek, the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area (which featured 500ft sand dunes!), Cannery Island (which looked kind of nice), and the magnificently titled and luckily odour-free Salmon Harbour Area, before finally exiting the Tsunami hazard zone, much to our unnecessary relief.

On the Pacific CoastAdam’s lane discipline was proving as hilarious as usual. On three occasions I glanced up from reading my book in the passenger seat to see we were firstly half into the hard-shoulder, secondly straddling the central reservation, and then thirdly back on the hard-shoulder again. “Ads, you ok there?” I asked. The reply: “Sorry, what was that Bobs? Think I just nodded off a little there…” Oh. My. Days. It was as hilarious as it was scary. Thankfully for Winty’s sanity he was asleep at this point. We continued down the 101, breaking for lunch, a refuel and an impromptu Brazilian espresso at a drive-thru coffee shop (this genuinely existed, so we simply had to try it…), before returning to the highway to pass more dunes and the rugged and beautiful coast.

The Ocean ViewOn an upwardly-rising stretch of road we were intrigued by a series of giant markings on the tarmac which boldly stated OCEAN VIEW and an equally massive forward-facing arrow. The view into a wide and blue bay did not disappoint, even if it was cheekily interrupted by one potty member of our party. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon should probably have been emanating from our sound system at the time.

Wildfires aheadFurther into the afternoon, we noticed a dreaded wall of red rear brake lights ahead in the distance. We were nearing Brookings, just shy of the Oregon-California border, and had passed about four ‘WRECK AHEAD’ signs and one ‘HIGHWAY 101 CLOSED’ sign, for some reason assuming they were idle threats and naively staying on the 101 at the last possible turn off. Fail. The irony of grinding to a halt smack bang next to a ‘BE PREPARED TO STOP’ sign was not lost on us. We occasionally crept forward a few metres and eventually pulled in to beach-side car park with a giant queue of traffic ahead of us; many others had done likewise. It transpired the road had been closed for a couple of hours already due a wild fire ahead! Crazy.

Approaching the wildfiresTalk amongst the fellow stationary travellers was that it might be best to set up camp for the night; such was the supposed unlikeliness of us moving any time soon. It was both frustrating and strangely exiting. However, barely half an hour later a Pilot Car started directing the queue forwards about a mile or so, before parking up again. This time we were close enough to the action to actually see the flames on the hillsides ahead, not least the smoke filling the sky and the helicopters dumping load after load of water and/or fire-supressing chemicals on to the alight areas. It was astonishing to see.

A hazy, smoke-laden sunset followedAn hour or so later we were shepherded through the smoke-filled roads by the slowly-advancing Pilot vehicle. There were countless fire-trucks and firemen to be seen through the smoke (mostly because of their flashing lights and bright uniforms respectively), with what appeared to be a giant fire-trench digging or undergrowth-clearing operation being undertaken to the left of the highway (the fires were to the right). It was quite a cool experience, if a bit bizarre in all honesty.

The secluded cove we picked camp that eveningEventually we were clear of the smoke and, we assumed, the danger. With a significant chunk of our afternoon lost, we only drove another fifteen minutes before ducking down to a beach (kind of like a Cornish cove) for dinner. It was very secluded, quirkily picturesque, and swiftly became camp for the night. As we looked out across the Pacific and surveyed the smoke-covered horizon we crossed fingers that the flames would keep moving northbound with the wind and that we would be safe for the night. It was a bit of a gamble, but given the charming location and its refreshing seclusion it was one we were quite happy taking. Our nonchalance would come back to bite us the following morning…

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Mount St. Helens

Myself and Wilson in front of Mount St. HelensWe had a rather considerable lie-in when we woke, Ads commenting that we had clearly been hitting it hard as evinced by our ever-lengthening lie-ins. Thankfully Winty was feeling a little better after a good snooze, so we nipped via a Burger King (it felt like sacrilegious betrayal of our McD tendencies) for, erm, an orange juice. As you do. Amusingly the seemingly intellectually challenged BK employee somehow misheard Winty’s order as “orange fries” (surely our accents were not that confusing!) which provoked much hilarity as we tried to stifle our sniggers and clarify the situation. Eventually, with Winty juiced up, it was my turn to order. BK dunce: “how can I help you?”. Me, tongue firmly in cheek: “can I have some orange fries please???”. Cue more laughter…

We headed over to the Mount St. Helens visitor centre, signing the visitor book with names such as Russell Brand, Wilson Ball and Tom Hanks, before checking a really interesting thirteen-minute film on the infamous 1980 eruption, including the build up to it and the ensuing fall-out. There were several intriguing exhibits dotted around the building too, notably a poster of fifty facts on the eruption that did plenty to help us understand the events of May 18th, 1980.

Slide show stills of the eruptionOne large earth tremor on March 20th reawakened the volcano after 123 years of relative inactivity. As the world’s media, scientists, geologists and general volcanic enthusiasts flocked to the area, the state initiated evacuation plans as the volcano itself was displaying classic pre-eruption patterns. Most worrying was the bulge growing out of the North face as magma swelled underneath, pushing outwards at the astonishing rate of 5-7 feet per day.

Mount St. Helens 2Two months later, the morning after roughly 30-50 local residents had been escorted back into the danger zone, a 5.1 magnitude shake directly underneath the volcano triggered the furious explosion that has become so famous. The volcano had also been under the influence of a full moon’s gravitational pull. The north face of Mount St. Helens collapsed, with the ensuing pyroclastic flows annihilating everything within its 230square-mile radar, and the lahars transporting the best part of four billion cubic yards of material across the surrounding areas. Forests were flattened, wildlife killed (including twelve million fish and seven thousand big game animals), homes destroyed, and fifty-seven human lives lost, with a heat wave lasting several minutes felt seven miles away and 700mph pressure wave felt as far away as Maryland. It was nature in its rawest and most staggering form.

Trees flattened like scattered matchsticksThe drive up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory had afforded us stunning views of the volcano’s snow-capped peak, while the thirteen-minute film finished with footage of the eruption before the screen pulled back to reveal a stunning panoramic view of Mount St. Helens in its current guise. It was a lovely touch. Our wanderings along the nearby trails took us right through flattened forests, with thousands upon thousands of felled trees matted against the hillsides like scattered matches, all eerily facing the same direction. At one viewpoint we simply sat and stared at the volcano, trying to take in everything we had learned – we were in awe of the vivid and visual results of this powerful force of nature. It was a most humbling experience.

Ads and Winty in front of Mount St. Helens

Later that afternoon we hit the road for Portland, eventually finding a camp that was waaaay off town centre and consequently putting paid to our night out plans. Not that this was a bad thing – it was nice to have some time to reflect on what we had just taken in.

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Seattle: Space Needles, Pike Place Market and the Experience Music Project…

The Seattle Space Needle...

The Seattle Space Needle…

Back on mainland America for the first time in almost a fortnight, we hit the road and began the two-hour, hundred-mile drive down towards Seattle – the city famous for coffee (Starbucks began here), the Pike Place Market, music legends (such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Pearl Jam), the Space Needle, and, err, being Sleepless. Oh and Frasier too. Love that show.

Anyways, the drive was a rather melancholic one for this bearded author, as I reflected on the great times had over the previous eleven days. We broke the journey to ring and book an RV site in Seattle, plus a token visit to McDonalds (free Wi-Fi), before eventually arriving at our campsite in late afternoon to discover it was basically a glorified car-parking space. Oh how the mighty had fallen. That said, given the shower and laundry facilities on offer, and our proximity to central Seattle, it was far from the worst twenty-two bucks we had parted company with in the States. That night, we noodled it up for dinner, put on about sixteen loads of washing, noted that our van battery appeared dangerously close to dying (again), and chinwagged with a few fellow campers, included one family that were doing a near identical route to ours but in reverse.

Lake UnionThe morning began with our third jump-start of our travels, before heading into “town” in the vague direction of the Space Needle. The city itself looked pretty cool on our way through, with the skyline and general vibe of the Seattle helping us understand why it has such a decent reputation. We went into the Experience Music Project (EMP) which looked seriously groovy with its bulbous metallic purple shell (designed by building guru Frank Gehry) and obvious dedication to music (which naturally we loved), and duly added the place to our “to visit” list for the following day.

Home to Seattle's sports teams the Seahawks, Sounders, and MarinersWhilst meandering our way up to the Needle we passed a cool South American pipe and guitar band, pausing to take in a few minutes of their sound. With Seattle gracing our presence with clear skies – the city has a relatively unjust reputation for being one of the rainiest in America – we decided that it was a great opportunity to make our way up to the Needle’s observation deck and take in the sights from above. Inside there were plenty of informative displays and boards covering all manner of facts and figures to do with its creation, history, past and development; there was also a suitably overpriced café and gift shop to boot. Standard.

The Seattle skyline$18 initially seemed expensive but it was definitely money well spent, with stunning views afforded all the way across the city and beyond. We witnessed seaplanes landing on Lake Union to the north-east and giant cruise ships turning in the Puget Sound waters to our west, and could see the city’s financial district, the shared home ground for the Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and Sounders (“soccer”) as well as the Mariners’ baseball “field”. With views stretching far into the distance (to the east the city is pretty much flanked by the Cascade Mountains), we took in the menacing and ever-looming threat of Mount Rainier, eerily rearing its 14,411ft head above the afternoon’s low-lying cloud line that covered its lower levels. It was thoroughly impressive.

The ever-looming "floating" threat of Mount Rainier...

The ever-looming “floating” threat of Mount Rainier…

Seattle's first skyscraperFollowing our space adventures – I should add that during our time on the observation deck a group of young school girls genuinely mistook Adam for Wayne Rooney, much to our hilarity – we took our time to casually amble through the city. We wandered past a number of cool old buildings (including Seattle’s first skyscraper) to the waterfront, passing a handful of impressively expensive seafood restaurants, before cutting inland towards the internationally renowned Pike Place Market. Being later on in the afternoon however, things were beginning to quieten down, so we vowed to return earlier the next day. There was still time enough to take in some funky live music however.

Some obscure structures were seen in the Olympic Sculpture ParkWe caught a bus (with a shoe-loving driver) through town towards Pioneer Square, a cool-ish area featuring cobbled paving, native myth statues, and an open funky salsa/ballroom style dancing session. We watched for a while, intrigued, and as we left were approached by a girl with a view to sharing a dance. Ads’s reply of “we’ve got somewhere to be very quickly” spoke volumes. We grabbed a few beers in a nearby bar, braving the big bikers and door staff that flanked the entrance to the establishment (we were rewarded with attractive bar staff and cold, cold beer!), and learned that Britt and Lauren were to join us in Seattle the following day. We saw a few strange water-features and even had a relaxed wander through somewhat bizarre Olympic Sculpture Park. Eventually we made it back to our site for the night.

Low and behold the following morning our trusty van’s battery was once again dead, resulting in another jump start from the now-grumpy and thoroughly unimpressed camp manager. We figured it was karma for his decision to close the showers between 9 and 10am for cleaning. Douchebag.

IF VI WAS IXWe met the girls outside the EMP, where we were briefly entertained by a bizarre dog long-jumping competition which involved owners seeing how far their canines were willing to hurl themselves into a rather brisk looking pool (the record apparently was a remarkable 24.9feet!).

Anyways, we rocked inside and toured our way around the various music exhibits on offer. Pride of place in the EMP is a mesmerizingly neck-craning sculpture (‘IF VI WAS IX’) by an artist called Timpin, featuring over five hundred guitars and a handful of computers that combine to make their own music. It really is a sight to behold.

Recording Rubber In Your PocketThe museum itself was fascinating, containing countless artefacts of important heritage to the music world, ranging from hand-written song lyrics to various artists’ actual instruments and countless original photographs. The exhibits focusing on Seattle’s home-grown musical legends (including Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and more) were of also of great interest… this city certainly has a fine musical heritage! We were also able to try our hand on a number of instruments (from keyboards to guitars and drum kits) in the Sound Lab and On Stage areas of the EMP, before hilariously recording a cover of ‘Rubber in my Pocket’ and getting an actual CD copy of our attempts – a great memento. It had been an enthralling morning extremely well spent, and we finished it by pausing outside the obscurely designed building for a number of photographs in front of its metallic purple exterior.

EMP 1EMP 2

EMP 5EMP 4

We made our way across town on foot (the best way to see any place really) in the search of finding some lunch, before stumbling back across the Pike Place Market in full fish-flinging flow. There were market stalls packed with fish, flowers, pastas, herbs, fruits, veg, coffees, honeys and seemingly every naturally sourced substance under the sun. With the volume of noise generated by both the singing and shouting fish sellers, not to mention the bustling chit-chat of the many, many tourists (and occasional shoppers!), it was an extremely raw experience in a frenetic, relentless, and very visceral environment.

Pike Place Public MarketKing Salmon in Pike Place Market

We followed this up by visiting the original Starbucks, complete with an ‘a capella’ quartet singing some awesome gospel songs just outside of the doors. We willingly parted with ten bucks for one of A Moment in Time’s CDs, poked our heads inside the Starbucks, and then subsequently found ourselves some mega cheesy macaroni and cheese that was boldly marketed as ‘the world’s greatest mac & cheese’. The world’s cheesiest would have been a more fitting title. We wandered around town some more, past the Olympic Sculpture Park again and down to the waterfront, before making our way back up to EMP and saying our final goodbyes to Lauren and Britt. It was a sad moment.

No LoiteringAds and I popped into the nearby sci-fi exhibit, taking in all manner of cool and quirky things to do with postmodernism and socio-critical theory, discourses that related heavily to my university degree, and a number of fascinating features on, amongst others, The Matrix, Blade Runner and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. Back in the open air we retrieved an under-weather feeling Winty from the waterfront (it actually took ages for us to find each other) before saying goodnight to Seattle and hitting the road again, this time in the direction of Mount St. Helens.

Being back on big open roads once more was mightily refreshing, although I could feel that our to-that-point-trusty van was ailing somewhat. Sluggish gear changes, ropey and slightly inaccurate steering, tardy acceleration – hardly surprising after the best part of ten thousand miles in sixty-odd days! We broke the journey in a nondescript car park to feed the similarly ailing Winty, raided another McDonalds for “free-refill” juices, and a couple of hilarious hours later (Ads and I had a great category laden conversation) arrived at the Toutle River Rest Area which would be camp for the night. With Winty still recovering, we bedded down early for once, noting that the transition from holidaying on Lummi back to road-tripping on the mainland had been a seemless one. There is something about being on the road that I just love…

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Lummi Island Days 10 and 11: Pounding Busch, Beach Parties and Goodbyes…

The morning of our tenth day on Lummi was a comfortably sedate affair. Eden and I dabbled in the existential writings of Albert Camus (The Stranger was book of choice), before en masse we tucked into a breakfast of eggs, onions, sauce (of some description) and reduced beans. Over at the Beach Store Cafe we settled into a spot of route planning and begrudgingly set our island departure date for the following day. It was a sad moment.

CroquetLauren turned up so I joined her in going to meet Britt. We then hung back at the Cafe for a while longer where I wrote another postcard home (the seventeenth of my travels) before Taylor turned up and invited us to join him for some croquet that afternoon. How could we resist? Being our final night on the island we started putting out word that we would spend it on the beach with a fire, copious amounts of alcohol, and a load of pizzas as a small gesture of thanks to all those that had helped make our stay so special.

Myself with Lauren and BrittWe headed over to Eric’s for croquet (Taylor had mowed the lawn!), via The Islander for a quick beer shop, of course. Two crates of Busch – par for the course. The croquet itself was a right laugh – the Busch gags flowed with Sara & co., whilst Eric and Taylor showed us Brits just how to play the game. Ads did pretty well, Winty staged a late resurgence, I got stuck in the midfield and then in the shrubbery. Lauren and Anna turned up for the finale, before more Busch pounding, Busch jokes, and photographs took place. It was a delightfully chilled way to spend the afternoon.

On our way to the beach for the final night's partyWith the evening fast arriving, we headed to the Cafe to collect our pizzas and head to the beach. There was a slight delay on the food production front so we nipped up to The Islander for what can only be described as a booze buying bonanza for us and the million others over at the beach. Wine, PBRs, Rolling Rocks, Busch, and God knows what else – a great day to have shares in The Islander. Pizzas ready, we made our way over to Frank’s Beach, stopping in Legoe Bay for a few stunning photographs – this scenic paradise clearly did not want us to leave without a final flourish!

Legoe Bay at sunset

There were quite a few folk already on the beach, so we set about collecting wood for the fire, dispensing the pizzas and generally getting the evening going. I shared a really great chat with Lauren, probably for the best part of an hour or so, as we gathered firewood against the backdrop of another fine sunset, a moon- and star-sprinkled sky, and calm waters that gave us leaping fish, two elephant seals and what we were fairly sure was a porpoise. Lummi clearly knew how to put on a show…

Sunset on our final night on Lummi gave us a moon and a planetWe returned to the group and faced the inevitable barrage of questions about our absence before settling into a fine evening. The fire roared as loads of folk – ranging from our fellow twenty-somethings up to a number of the island’s more established residents – came down to join us for our departure night. Laughs were had, pizzas shared, and beverages drunk as the sun disappeared on the evening, just like our time on the island. Having such a large and enthusiastic turnout was not just heart-warming, but a fitting reflection of the good nature of those that we had met during our time on Lummi.

Beach fireWith the moon high and the stars shining, numbers gradually dwindled and those remaining grew closer to the fire. Just myself, Lauren, Ads and Britt remained as we shot the breeze until the early hours, before curling up around the burning logs (still going strong) and eventually falling asleep.

Sunrise and our final morning on Lummi brought a smidge of a hangover (understatement) and an undeniable tinge of sadness – we were shortly to be leaving this fine island that had been our impromptu home for the best part of a fortnight. We packed up the rubbish and our gear from the beach and headed to the Beach Store Cafe for one final big, tasty burger. The always-welcoming Iona – owner of the Cafe – kindly gave us three free beers for the road.

The Three BritsWe kept it chilled through the morning as we gradually packed up our van – it was a hideous state. We returned all manner of items to their various owners, ranging from blankets to hats, scarves and assorted items of clothing. I said goodbye to Eden – who was off for a driving test (she passed) – before making our way round to Greg’s where Basil was having a few birthday beers. There we took photos of us all, and allowed our dear friend Wilson to be signed by all Lummi-ites present. “Peace, Love, Lummi Island” – Lance.

The goodbyes continued as Sonny and Britt’s mum Wendy wished us well, with similar sentiments echoed from Basil, Ry, Greg, Lance and the others present. The girls tried to lure us into extending our stay further with the temptation of an afternoon’s tubing the following day, but deep down we begrudgingly acknowledged that it was time for us to hit the road again.

We passed a waving Mike on the way round to the ferry, as we were followed and joined by Sara, Lauren, Tara and Britt for our final goodbyes. For us this was most fitting, as it was these girls especially, through various combinations of their open and willing hospitality, the likeminded generosity of their family members, their engaging company and through simply giving up their time to spend with us, that had helped to make our stay all the more memorable.

With heavy hearts we bade farewell and hugged it out, delaying the queue to board the ferry and making the gent in the car behind mightily jealous (“hey, I want hugs from four girls!”). Getting waved off the Island by this quartet of quality girls until our eyesight could stretch no further was a fine way to go given just how superb our time on Lummi had been. The Busch pounding, the island hopping, the beach fires, the sunsets, the random chats, the deep chats, the idle hours, the giant shrimps, the log-floating, the moonshine – the list goes on and on. Lummi Island was more than just a ‘scenic paradise’ – it was a holiday that felt like a home, where we made friends that treated us like family. It remains comfortably one of the fondest memories of my travels in America.

Farewell Lummi Island - 'Scenic Paradise' and so much more...

Farewell Lummi Island – ‘Scenic Paradise’ and so much more…

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