A Travellerspoint blog

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Days 11/12/13: Breaking my Travels for a Hollywood Adventure

Taking a break from my travels to spend a few days in Los Angeles, CA

sunny

Day 11

After a couple hours of sleep, I woke up early to send off my friend Tian who was on her way to adventure upstate on the infamous Highway 1. Luckily for me, I finally had no plans for the day and celebrated by going back to bed. When I finally reawakened (later than I have in weeks) I was able to catch up with my friend Aaron again after about 3 years apart. Too long! Of course, I needed to make the most of staying in a place with real amenities and we spent our first day reunited in his apartment's laundry room so I could wash every piece of fabric I owned.

Rested, showered, and in clean clothes for the first time in ages, I was ready to take on Hollywood.

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Aaron wouldn't let me choose the places we went to be tourists (which bothered me at first because I had big plans) but I quickly switched moods from angst to excitement when we moved from one incredible place to the next, places that I had no idea even existed in the LA area. First was Amoeba Music, the world's largest independent record store. The place was almost the size of a planet itself! Not only did they have music from every artist in existence, the top floor was filled to the brim with movies. I was in heaven.

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After that, we went on a long drive down to the University of Southern California (USC) campus to check out their huge rose garden. I didn't get any pictures (and the roses weren't quite in full bloom anyway) but I was happy to note it was still packed with students and tourists alike, strolling through the gorgeous gardens. After that, we explored the campus for awhile (but since it was USC's spring break, everything was pretty shut down).

Then I finally got to see what I was most excited for: the ocean.

We parked at the Venice beachfront and pushed our way through crowds of artists and skateboarders alike to reach the water. We made it just in time to watch the beginning of what would be one of my favorite sunsets the whole trip. I was surprised how cold it was since I was told my whole life that LA was the warm and sunny paradise, but I hardly noticed my goosebumps as I become swept up in watching a golden sun plummet into the ocean, turning the sky from firey orange to a delicate purple. Despite the crowds, the beach was reverent, silent, peaceful. There was something truly magical about that moment, when hundreds of people from all backgrounds can stop what we're doing, stop our conversations, and watch in awe as an everyday miracle happens before our eyes.

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It was freezing after the sun went down, but we still had one more stop to make before we headed back to Hollywood. I had never been to an In n' Out, and I was excited to experience the internet's favorite fast food restaurant. Vegetarian for 14 years, I asked the cashier if there was a vegetarian option and he enthusaistically told me "of course, one veggie burger coming up!" I expected a veggie burger patty...but when I picked up my food, I realized the "vegetarian option" was nothing more than a tomato slice and piece of lettuce on a bun (with their special sauce!) At least the fries were good.

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Day 12:

Today, Aaron decided to stay in and catch up on life and chores (he's a hero Americorps volunteer who works way too many hours as a teacher in one of the most impoverished parts of LA). While he stayed at home, I decided I was recharged enough to take on the city on my own and set off on foot to explore Hollywood Boulevard.

The whole way there, the roads were lined with palm trees.

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But after I arrived on the strip, I quickly became disappointed in how flashy, fake, and crowded it was for miles in each direction. The crowd's pace was permanently set to a slow crawl and stopped often because some tourist needed to take a selfie...or two...or three. This was the city where films are made, where I expected I'd live one day, but I struggled for most of the morning to find something redeeming about the place.

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My favorite part of the day was when I came across a man selling screenplays off the street, and picked up a copy of Pulp Fiction as a reward for surviving my walk through the star-covered streets. I took my new screenplay into a cafe and read it over lunch, real Hollywood filmmaker style.

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I spent the rest of the day wandering searching for the best LA could offer in its most famous district, but came up mostly empty handed. After making some long-deterred calls to my family and friends, I headed back to Aaron's apartment to rant and remove LA from my list of potential places to live.
But luckily, after it got darker, he took me on an adventure climbing up one of the city's huge hills. It seemed like a waste of time until we pulled over and crossed the street and looked down at the entire city lit up and spread below us. I only had a cellphone to photograph the moment and it couldn't do the view justice. Once again, I ended the night in awe of a beautiful city that I had despised just hours earlier. LA might be alright after all.

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Day 13

After a couple days in one place, I was getting restless and decided today would be my last day in Los Angeles. I took advantage of the apartment by washing all my dishes, and then used my friend to help me unpack and repack the heavy tupperware containers in my car. Then we set out to catch a matinee (10 Cloverfield Lane, some scifi/thriller) at the coolest theater I'd ever seen called Vintage Cinemas. It was Egyptian-themed for whatever reason, but the atmosphere here was tangible; just walking in, you knew something incredible was about to unfold.

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After the movie, we spent some time in the theater area checking out ridiculously hipster shops and vintage boutiques. Every cafe's sign advertised something "low cal" and avocado themed. We passed several juice cafes on the short walk. This was LA at its most stereotypical.

At around 4, I left to go rescue my friend Tian who had dropped off her rental car and needed a ride to the airport. After an hour of standstill traffic (EVEN ON A SUNDAY?) I made it there in time to take her to dinner and to grab some last minute items for her travels. Then it was another hour or so of traffic to LAX, a wild ride dodging taxis and busses through the airport drop-off area where we were lucky to make it out alive. We said our goodbyes, difficult after we'd been through so much together over the last couple weeks. I was beyond grateful she was able to join me for the first half of my adventure and sad to see her go.

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Of course it was another long drive through traffic back to Aaron's apartment, but this time I didn't mind. The city was alive; glowing light from the tops of the highest skyscrapers to the streets below where people danced between bars and restaurants, swept up in their own worlds. Sitting in traffic, I was able to take it all in. It was breathtaking. I knew I wouldn't be able to live in a place like this, but I knew I'd miss it.

Posted by aswoger 15:22 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 14: A Solo 20+hr Adventure All the Way Up the West Coast

Los Angeles, CA to Portland, OR

all seasons in one day

Aaron works at a school an hour’s commute from his house, so he wakes up at 6am to get there on time. That meant today, I had to wake up at 6am. I'm not a morning person. He helped me carry my bags out to my car several blocks away (because LA parking) and we parted ways as the sun was just about to rise. It was going to be a long day. Luckily, if I made it to Portland, OR by tonight, I would be able to meet up with my best friend and partner-in-crime -- Christian, like the religion. He was checking out the Pacific Northwest for jobs and already had a hotel booked downtown for tonight. Already used to the cozy life of sleeping in a real bed, I was not quite ready to give that up for a night in the car somewhere on the way to Oregon. Besides, the chance to see my friend in the weirdest city I could think of was definitely worth making the 20hr drive in one day...right?

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Unfortunately, the foggy morning was bleak and dreary, making it hard to get energized for my long drive. And predictably, somewhere along the way to the scenic Highway 1 (“The Big Sur”) I took a wrong turn. But it became the best mistake I’ve made on the trip.

I was suddenly in rolling hills of the most vivid green I’d ever seen. They were coated with wildflowers, especially along the road of the rollercoaster county highway I was taking. I had no idea where I was going at this point, my phone had no signal, and I hadn’t brought a map for California thinking I’d easily have signal everywhere I’d be. It just gave me an excuse to take this beautiful road as far as I could until I found a way to the coast. Despite mild panic I would be lost forever, I couldn't stop smiling.

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After a couple hours driving through this wonderland, I found a connection to a highway and that took me West to the last remaining section of the Big Sur. When the road finally ran along the ocean, I flew out of my car to snap photos as proof of my eventual success.

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The remaining road I caught along the coastline was brief and the rest of the scenic drive was through a thickly forested segment of highway with huge hills and bends (and a 50mph speed limit everyone was disobeying by at least 20mph). It was like a rollercoaster, minus the automatic part and with added danger. The wild ride took me straight into San Jose where I stopped to get a coffee at one of the 30 hipster coffee shops downtown.

The road was starting to take me through mountains again, and kept getting more beautiful. I didn’t stop again until I reached the border of California and Oregon, at a little town called “Weed, CA” (I needed to see what the name was about). Turns out the city has nothing to do with the state’s favorite drug, but they definitely went all out when they realized people would buy a tshirt with the city name on it. Souvenirs with weed puns were everywhere in town.

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I watched an amazing sunset from behind huge purple mountains in the distance that I was headed straight towards. Then the sky blackened and it began to thunderstorm, just in time for me to enter some more swerving and hilly roads. The drive was a bit nervewracking and I was getting tired at this point (it had been about 15 hours of driving by now). I think I spent more money today on coffee stops alone than I spent total any other day of my trip.

My last stop was for gas in a creepy small town in the middle of Oregon, where a man came up to my car and ushered for me to roll down the window. I was a bit overcaffeinated and paranoid and I panicked and drove off and tried another gas station, where the same thing happened. At this one, I tentatively rolled down my window to ask what he wanted. It turns out in this city they didn’t allow self-serve gasoline, and the attendant pumped for me while I watched in awe (I’d never seen one of these stations before). I tipped him, and I'm still not sure if I was supposed to do that.

At this point it was only a couple more hours to Portland, and even though I was beyond exhausted and my foot was getting sore from pushing on the pedal, I powered through, desperate for a shower and sleep.

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As soon as I pulled up to the hotel, I was awestruck by how beautifully luxurious it was, paid for by his incredibly generous parents in order to start this segment of the trip off right. Even better, the hotel theme was classic movies!

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We threw my muddy bags onto the spotless carpet with a bit of guilt and ducked out to make it to a famously eccentric bar called the Paymaster’s Lounge before bar close. I was grateful to guzzle a couple local craft beers after the stressful drive while we observed the locals in their natural habitat. In the back, they had these crazy vending machines with “mystery” prizes, books, and other strange paraphenelia. We picked the “?,” the “What’s your Spirit Animal,” and “Scary Things” options and ended up with a pack of seeds and a toy elephant, and a homemade book of handdrawn “scary” things. I have a new favorite bar.

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We returned to the hotel late, and I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep so fast.

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Posted by aswoger 23:43 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 15: "Keep Portland Weird," a Day Exploring Portlandia

Portland, OR all day long

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We woke up by late morning and started off on an adventure to find the strangest food we could for brunch in the city where nothing is normal. We ended up on a street filled with food carts for a couple blocks in every direction, with food of literally every ethnicity and style. It took us each about 45 minutes to choose between all the incredible carts all trying to out-weird each other. It gave us plenty of time to also observe the eclectic mix of businessmen and hippies stopping for their daily lunch break.

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After lunch I dragged my friend to the infamous Powell’s bookstore, a place the size of a small city that I’d been dreaming of visiting for ages. I could’ve spent hours in each section, and easily would’ve if there weren’t a million other things I wanted to see in the city. We went to a comic bookstore which featured comics handdrawn by locals, and wandered by some equally unique spots and people before we got hungry again.

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We made our way to our second infamous Portland bar, and probably my second favorite of all time, this one called the Shanghai Tunnel. On the outside, the place looks abandoned and doesn’t have any obvious signs saying the building is a bar. When we entered, no one was there (a way to deter tourists, probably) and we had to walk to the back of the building and turn to find the bouncer who sent us down a small also unmarked staircase. We walked into a small dimly lit room that I can only describe as “cool,” with arcade games crammed in the corner and the most unique and delicious cocktails and beer selection I’d seen in a long time. We heard the noodle bowls were good and ordered those with our beers; both my food and my drink ended up being my favorites of the whole trip. If any of you visit Portland, definitely this place out (and remember it's a secret!)

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We were reading about city events that night over dinner and noticed a standup comedy show featuring the best of Portland’s comedians was starting in half an hour. We left the bar and made it to the Helium Comedy Club just in time for the first act. Everyone was hilarious, exactly the style of comedy I liked, for only $5. I think I'm meant to live in this city.

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We knew after the comedy show we’d have to check out Voodoo Donuts, one of the city’s biggest attractions for its weird donut types and 24/7 services. There was a line out the door (of course), and the donuts ended up being plain cake donuts just covered in various toppings. It was a bit of a disappointment considering all the hype, but it was very Portland.

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Our cab driver had suggested we check out a bar on one of the top floors of a skyscraper but when we got there the place was overly formal and we were very underdressed in our plaid attire. The waiter snobbishly avoided us so after a few pictures of the view, we bitterly left for a more casual place to chill out a bit and people watch. We ended the night early so we could wake up on time tomorrow. We needed a full day in Portland before heading to Seattle, WA that night.

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Posted by aswoger 23:43 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 16: The Quiet Side of Portland and Onwards to Seattle

Portland, OR to Seattle, WA to Redmond, WA

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This morning I had a pang of regret as we checked out of the beautiful Hotel de Luxe, I’d definitely be happy staying there another few nights (or the rest of my life). We decided since we saw the city of Portland yesterday, we’d check out some of the equally unusual nature spots 30 minutes outside the city, like a Catholic prayer garden called “The Grotto,” or the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. The place was absolutely beautiful and completely silent as people would come here to pray and confess. As we strolled through the bountiful garden we saw visitors holding rosaries, heads bent in prayer in front of stone statues of Mother Mary. No one spoke louder than a whisper, if they spoke at all. Even though neither of us were Catholic, the powerful holy presence was tangible.

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We changed moods entirely after leaving the park, and headed to Alberta Street in downtown Portland to check out the city’s art scene, a bit more my style. We wandered through local artist/photographer galleries and poetry shops where I was awestruck again and again by the local talent in this city. We followed up with some trendy Indian cuisine. Everything in Portland was vegetarian or could be, and as a long-time herbivore I was ecstatic having this many options. I felt spoiled eating out at real restaurants after my first half of my trip consisted of jet boil ramen, but I could tell my body was grateful to get some real food again.

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It was about 7pm when we departed from my Weird Wonderland and made a beeline for Seattle, WA. We got there with enough time to stop at a tiny bar right downtown with board games and cards on every table for guests to play while they drank.

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After that quick stop and a short walk around the downtown area of the city, we headed a few miles north to Redmond, WA. There we’d be staying with a few of Christian’s friends who were generous enough to give us a place to stay as long as we were in town. When we arrived, the incredible and fascinating Terina, Jovi, and her boyfriend Chris made sure to let us know all the best places to check out in the city and even lent us their bus passes before handing over their living room to us so we could get some rest.

Posted by aswoger 23:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 17: Sanders in Seattle and Adventuring in Capitol Hill

Redmond, WA to Seattle, WA's International District and Capitol Hill District

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Today was the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle and we were excited to be a part of the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching a social democrat and presidential hopeful raise awareness in a fiercy liberal city. We hoped to explore Seattle's Pike Place before hitting the rally in the afternoon, but unfortunately, we slept in too late. After an hour long bus ride from Redmond into the heart of Seattle, we went straight to the International District to be ready for the rally.

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We were at lunch at a Vietnamese place when a girl sitting near us overheard our rambles about the rally. She mentioned she was attending too, and scooted over to chat. After some group Googling, we found out that in order to get into the rally, we'd have to be at the stadium waiting in line for about 4 hours before we could get seated, and then wait another couple hours before hearing Sanders speak. We checked our watches; in order to make it, we'd have to go right away. Christian and I didn’t want our whole day in Seattle to be spent waiting in a line for a rally we weren’t overly passionate about, and decided to skip it to explore the young and trendy Capitol Hill district of Seattle instead.

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We found a bookstore, called Twice Sold Tales, which featured used books crammed haphazardly onto the mismatched shelves. Dozens of the owner’s cats roamed the store (and rudely ignored my beckoning) while we browsed the shelves. We each instinctively picked out a couple books because despite our lack of free time, we're still both booknerds at heart.

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We got to the busy district just before sunset and wandered the streets following the diverse crowd through restaurants, bars, and shops. We checked out a vegan metal bar (weirdest theme combo I’d seen in awhile) but we definitely didn’t fit in with the crowd and left instead for a bar with a view of the city skyline called The Lookout Bar.

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The beer was mediocre but the view was amazing, and we befriended a couple girls there who invited us back to their apartment with an even better view of the city to drink and hangout. We all bonded but Christian and I were ready to keep exploring and left after an hour or so for more bars and adventures on our own. It was our goal to find a place called the Unicorn Bar, but it was as reclusive as the animal of its namesake and we ended up wandering the streets and visiting various pizza shops and bars with outdoor patios instead. It was around 3am when we ordered our Uber back to Redmond, a 45 minute ride I mostly slept through. It was good to have a place to pass out.

Posted by aswoger 23:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 18: Perusing Pike Place & Reaching New Heights

Seattle, WA all day

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Today we made sure to wake up early (despite our late night) and groggily ventured back into Seattle to explore the Pike Place Market, one of the largest farmer's markets in the United States.

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The place was enormous, spanning about a mile in each direction, with 8 floors of food and wares being sold in tiny stands throughout. Eccentric dishes (like our favorites: sushi burritos and huckleberry flavored ice cream) were everywhere. People gathered around a small fish stand in a crowd so thick that it blocked the walkway entirely, waiting to see the workers fling impossibly heavy fish back and forth as customers ordered them. Street performers were in every corner and in front of every seating area. Our favorite was a trio of red-headed children playing string instruments like they were professionals.

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We also made sure to stand in the hour-long line for donuts at the Daily Dozen donut stand, where two older women dropped fresh balls of dough into a fryer before the very eyes of their customers. We watched our tasty morsels cook behind the stand's glass pane before they were plopped into bags of powdered sugar and/or sprinkles. Definitely worth the wait.

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Christian hadn't seen mountains yet, so it was time to head to a cafe on one of the higher levels of the market named something along the lines of "The Viewpoint Cafe" which featured enormous windows facing the waterfront and the mountains looming in the distance. Since I had been driving through mountains the last week or so, I wasn't overly impressed by how far away they appeared from the Market windows, but Christian was beyond excited about the view.

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After some more exploring, it was time to check out the infamous “gum wall” where it is tradition for visitors to tack a piece of chewed gum onto a long stretch of brick wall outside Pike Place. It’s supposed to be placed on the wall with your mouth, but we were not about to get sick halfway through our trip and used our hands to stick our tourist-y marks to the wall instead.

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With our visit to the Pike Place Market complete, we had plenty of time to explore the rest of the city before our plans later that night with Christian's friends. We had heard great things about the Seattle Public Library, so we booked it to make it there before they closed (pun intended). It was worth the rush; the exterior of the building was all glass window panes stretching up several stories high and angled in the most fascinating way that was even cooler looking from the inside.

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Throughout the day exploring the city, we noticed construction on every street corner; it seems like the whole city is constantly being updated to fit the growing population of young professionals and eccentric hipsters. Instead of finding the situation annoying, as I do in Michigan when our roads are permanently torn up from April until October, I loved watching the construction unfold in Seattle.

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Our temporary housemates had suggested that, instead of paying big money for a ride to the top of the Space Needle for a skyline view, we head to the Sky View Observatory on floor 73 of the Columbia Center building. It was cheaper, higher up, and had a 360 degree glass window view of Seattle's gorgeous skyline. We got to the top and gasped, and I don't think I ever caught my breath again. I raced around the area soaking in the sights with both my eyes and my camera like a fool, but I didn't care. Standing here, hundreds of feet above the city, I fell in love with the Seattle all over again.

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Christian had to literally pry me away from the window seat where I would've otherwise remained permanently attached in order for us to make it back to Redmond in time for Terina's birthday party we promised to attend. As much as I hated to leave that view behind, we ended up in an equally fascinating place: the AFK bar.

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Since Terina, Jovi, Chris, and my friend Christian had become close through playing World of Warcraft together for almost 10yrs, it was fitting that the bar was a videogame/comic theme for Terina's party. Even better, each drink was named after a character, as was the food. I think I spent about 45 minutes just nerding out over the menu descriptions (and I didn't even recognize half of them).

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The bar featured card game/board game rentals, and our group snatched Cards Against Humanity which we played for hours, our responses becoming more and more inappropriate as we became more intoxicated on delicious cocktails named after our favorite video-game characters. It was a great night, and I'm so happy these amazing people were kind enough to give me a place to stay on my adventure.

It was the perfect way to end my stay in my new favorite city.

Posted by aswoger 23:22 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 19: A Joy Ride Through Washington's Temperate Rainforest

Redmond, WA through the Olympic National Park to SeaTac, WA

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I can be a bit grumpy when I wake up early (especially if a tad hungover), but luckily Christian had adventured into the city while the rest of the house was still asleep to grab coffee and breakfast for us in preparation for our departure. Bless him.

Today we planned to explore the western section of Washington state, through Olympic National Park which featured a temperate rainforest. I didn’t know the USA had rainforests and I was thrilled. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish packing up and planning out our route until it was already early afternoon, meaning we wouldn’t have very much time to explore the park before nightfall. Nevertheless, we set out for the long drive around the peninsula and towards the tip of the state where thick forests and misty lakes awaited us.

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As we got closer to the park, scenic viewpoints popped up every few miles featuring picturesque lookouts over the ocean at the mountains beyond. We had to stop at just about every single one, despite our time crunch. The views were breathtaking, and worth every second. Even though it was raining on and off as we sped down the winding roads through Olympic National Park, each turn around a bend brought a new gasp of excitement as we saw better and better views of one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever encountered, somehow even more gorgeous in the rainy weather.

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It was nearing sunset when we hit the western tip, and a sign for Forks, WA popped up on the side of the road. If you’re not familiar with this town, this is the location where the infamous “Twilight” vampire book series takes place. While I was never a huge fan of the series, we had to stop because this was such a huge part of our generation’s culture.

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I’m glad we did; despite the town’s tiny population, they held an impressive amount of tourist shops dedicated to Twilight paraphernalia. We even found a hotel offering a “Twilight Suite” package…I don’t want to know what that entailed.

We even checked out the high school where I believe some of the Twilight films had been shot, staying true the book series’ location.

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Nightfall was upon us and it was time to head back towards the Seattle area where we had booked a motel in SeaTac (just between Seattle and Tacoma) for the night. The last leg of the drive was spooky, with fog coating the roads and tall trees looming over us on either side of the road for miles in both directions.

Since we couldn’t see the scenery anyway, we took a shortcut and ended up in SeaTac by around midnight, exhausted and beyond ready to pass out for the night.

Posted by aswoger 23:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 20: The Day We Never Stopped Driving

SeaTac, WA to Mt. Rainier National Park to Redmond, WA all the way to Lolo National Forest, Montana

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Today we managed to wake up early to start one of the most beautiful drives in Washington: all the way around Mt. Rainier National Park and back. After a quick breakfast, we managed to make it to the gorgeous mountain wonderland by noon. That meant we had plenty of time to stop and take pictures at almost every viewpoint we saw.

The first hour took us through huge forests, the endless layers of trees visible due to the mountainous terrain. Even hundreds of feet up, the land was thick with evergreens. The treeline was only broken when we passed sections destroyed by the logging industry; swatches of trees clean-cut by the thousands, leaving the area devoid of any wildlife . Man-made deadzones in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. I can only hope they'll stop before the entire forest is a tree graveyard.

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While we pulled over often, a personal favorite "scenic viewpoint" we hit was one with an enormous natural rock wall that had indents for passerby to climb (if they were brave!) Those who made it highest even graffitied their highest point out of pride. My friend Christian tried it freehand, but I made him stop before he got as high as the now infamous "Summer" who currently owns the highest spot on the wall several yards up.

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At one of our stops, we came across a huge dam off in the distance that we wanted to explore. Despite our attempts to get to it, we never got a closer look at the thing. But our journey did take us past a slew of gorgeous rivers and lakes, each more beautiful and unique than the last.

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The further up we climbed, the colder it became. We traded our rich forest landscapes for barren plains, and by mid-afternoon we had to don our winter coats to brave the elements. We stopped at this huge scenic viewpoint at the end of the Mt. Rainier park area where I saw a girl walking along a guard rail and wanted to check out what she was doing. It was a good move -- she had found the best view!! From where we were, we could see miles in every direction, with rolling yellow hills leading to the mountains beyond. I couldn't stop smiling.

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As we reached the end of the day, it was time to conquer the "Snoqualmie Pass." The long stretch of highway would take us back towards Redmond, WA so we could say goodbye to our hosts and pick up packages we had delivered to their residence. It was at the highest elevation we'd be at the whole day, and suddenly it was freezing! Luckily we weren't going to be stopping much on the way to Redmond, so the snow and ice was a beautiful bonus rather than a concern.

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It was sunset when we got to Redmond -- the perfect time to pull over at a lake park nearby and photograph the view. The colorful homes right on the water were definitely stunning, but I found myself photographing more of the local fowl than the waterfront properties. A pair of ducks had caught my attention and I chased them until it was dark while Christian impatiently tapped his foot and begged me to please stop taking pictures so we could get going. I still think it was worth it.

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We got to our friends' place shortly after leaving the park and choked out our final goodbyes and thankyous behind the tears. We had spent almost 5 days in the Seattle area, the longest I had spent in one area my entire trip, and it was the first time I left a place feeling a tinge of regret rather than excitement. I have a feeling we'll be back here one day.

With heavy hearts, we ventured east. We planned on camping in a National Forest in Idaho just outside Washington state, so we decided to take a short break when we hit Spokane, WA (about 4hrs out of Seattle) because we were told it was the last big city with food and amenities before the long stretch of forests we'd be driving into. We got there around midnight and made sure to fill our water bottles to the brim and stock up on a healthy diet of fast food (the only places open so late) before hitting the road again.

Our good luck unfortunately didn't follow us past the Washington border. As soon as we got into Idaho, a thick fog rolled in that made it impossible to see more than a couple feet in front of the car. We drove a steady 10mph and used Google Maps to see where the turns on the road were (until we lost signal), desperately searching for signs telling us if we were even on the Coeur d'Alene National Forest grounds. But there was no way we'd be able to find a safe place to camp in this weather, and I don't even know if I would've wanted to -- the tall and thin trees loomed over us and creepy ghostly beings darted along the sides of the car (deer? monsters? I'm still not sure).

After much too long, we found a rest stop on the side of the road where we could pull over to recover from the tense drive and figure out where we were. While Christian got cozy with the maps inside, I made us a pathetic snack and boiled some desperately needed coffee. I barely remember it, but I even got some spooky shots of the fog rolling over the moon.

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The rest stop said no overnight parking or I swear I would've slept right there and then. It took all my willpower to force my body to turn on the car and move forward. The fog didn't let up until we hit the Montana border at sunrise. We had driven straight through Idaho and hadn't even seen it! We pulled over as soon as we got signal so we could figure out our options, and I hate that I was so tired because the view of the fog rolling across the mountains at sunrise was my absolute favorite view of the entire trip. I tried to clumsily capture it while half-awake, but my photos can't do the moment justice.

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Fortunately, while we were stopped, we found out that we were right next to the Lolo National Forest which allowed dispersed camping. We pointed the car towards an area marked as a campground on the map. Of course, the path led us along an old logging road that was muddy and covered in potholes almost as big as my Toyota Yaris. The abundant deer along the pathwere moving faster than my car. We had to drive a few miles down this treacherous path (at about 5mph, slowly dodging the largest holes) and when we reached the end of the path, we found the campsite wasn't there anymore. We had to go all the way back.

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It was almost 9am. Not about to look for another place to safely sleep at this point, we drove back along the path until we found a somewhat secluded area just off the road meant for logging trucks to park. We weren't sure if it was legal or safe, but at this point it would be more dangerous to continue. We parked, shoddily blanketed the windows to block out the sunlight, and finally let our eyes close by 10am.

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Posted by aswoger 19:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 21: A Relaxing Afternoon in the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas

Lolo National Forest to Missoula to Deer Lodge, MT

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We woke up from our 10am nap in the forest shortly after we had gone to sleep, the sun hot and bright even through the blanketed windows of the car. It was just after noon and we were not feeling another adventure after a miserable night, so we decided to check out the one thing in the nearby area that caught our interest: the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas. Christian and I had taken a Buddhism class together once upon a time so we figured the nostalgia made it worth the visit. I was grateful for the low-energy venture.

Missoula was a couple hours from where we had camped this morning so we had a couple sleepy hours in the car before we had to get out and move again. The area was beautiful, even inspirational, and when we pulled into the parking lot of the garden we made sure to photograph it's surrounding landscape first.

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As we walked up I was shocked to find this strange and remote buddhism worship site was a truly impressive garden with literally 1,000 meticulously placed statues in the shape of a wheel and a large sculpture in the center. On the path leading up to the buddhas, there was a golden pyramid that visitors placed small trinkets on for the buddha. Toys, stones, and letters to lost loved ones covered the statue.

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Quotes from scripture covered the garden and directed visitors on which places to visit first. We were happy to find we even recognized some of the quotes from our buddhism class. Behind it all, there was a decorated pond with a half dozen koi swimming in it. It was so peaceful and quiet here, I got exactly what I needed today.

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Around the garden, prayer flags of every color flew high in the mountain wind. It was the perfect finishing touch on the place. I made a short film of each piece of the garden moving as the sun set, but I won't post that here. You'll see it on my website soon!

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We stayed at the site until almost sundown, strolling around the garden and reading the buddha's titles. After a few hours, we hit a local Starbucks in Missoula to use their wifi. We were going to splurge tonight and get a motel -- we earned a good night's sleep. And we got it. At 9pm, we walked into our motel room in Deer Lodge, Montana and immediately passed out.

According to my phone's sleep app, it was the best sleep I've had all year.

Posted by aswoger 20:22 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 22: Idaho Was Weird and We Drove All Night (A Sequel)

Deer Lodge, MT to Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID to somewhere near Spanish Fork, UT

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I woke up this morning in the best mood after a good night's sleep. I enjoyed a real breakfast at the hotel that was a billion times better than the usual Jet Boil-ed lukewarm oatmeal. I showered and took my time getting ready. I had a feeling it'd be a great day. We had done some research last night and made a long list of places we wanted to see today, ending on the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho that the internet promised would be beautifully surreal.

The Berkeley Acid Pit in Butte, Montana was our first stop of the day. The pit is a former open pit copper mine 900ft deep, filled to the brim with water as acidic as Coca Cola and filled with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals like arsenic, sufuric acid, and zinc. It's both a tragic environmental problem and a major tourist attraction with attached gift shop. But it only charged $2 admission to look at the pit of chemicals, so of course we had to check it out!

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But when we go there, the place was locked up and closed. No one was at the site's ticket center and the gift store lights were off. The only way to see the pit was through the locked gates; it was boarded up everywhere else. An old woman pulled up next to us while we were checking out the area wanting to tour the pit as well. We all pulled out our smartphones to double checked the website together, but nothing said the site would be closed today. On our way out, I made sure to use my telephoto lens to photograph the place from between the fenceposts. It was my personal revenge and sad attempt to make the trip worth it.

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Leaving the city, we got a kick out of the city's name which was proudly featured on all of its local products. My favorite was the "Butte beer," which I still need to try one day.

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The drive to southern Idaho was slow and crazy boring, with one lane roads cutting through a flat and empty landscape. We promised ourselves the Craters of the Moon Monument would be worth it along the way. Every now and then, a new butte would come up on the horizon, and we'd google it's name to entertain ourselves. Pictured below is the "Big Southern Butte," the only thing we had to look at for a couple hours. We saw some horses at one point which was our biggest excitement until we finally hit the park.

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Driving into the park, there was strangely no one at the ticket center. I drove in and parked so I could pay at the visitor center, but that was closed too. The entire area was a ghost town. Worse, we both had to pee and the only bathrooms were inside the locked building.

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We tried to make the most of it and drive around even though it was technically closed, but every road was blocked off except for a small circuit right by the entrance and one lookout point with a sign describing the landscape (which to be honest, wasn't too interesting). The signs said the other areas were open for hikers, just not cars. But the next closest lookout point was a couple miles away, we had to pee, and it was going to get dark soon. It wasn't worth it.

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Idaho was cruel to us once before when the fog forced us out of the state and into Montana, and it was cruel once again. Even on our way out of Idaho, we faced strange challenges. The landscapes were dull yellow and lifeless. We found a town made up of only a post office and a cemetery. Later, the workers at a gas station pulled the blinds down and changed the open sign to closed as we pulled up (but we still bought gas). I hold a small grudge towards the entire state now, I can't help it.

Idaho's only saving grace was the sunset, with the most vivid colors of any I'd see the whole trip. We stopped at a general store in a Native American reservation to buy a coffee and watch the orange sky turn black.

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We didn't stop again until Salt Lake City where we briefly toured the city as we ate a late fast food dinner and enjoyed finally being somewhere populated again. I was still angry that we wasted the whole day driving to places that weren't open but, since we got a decent sleep last night, I figured we might as well power through and get more driving out of the way until we get close to our next destination -- Colorado.

After a few hours, we were regretting our decision to power through...and just about every other decision today. We got to a National Forest near the Colorado/Utah border by roughly 2am, and spent awhile trying to read the signs to find a safe dispersed camping site. I was happy to find this forest marks theirs distinctly with a big sign, even explaining the rules to newbies. We set up camp in the pitch black forest, hoping there was nothing dangerous nearby, and tried to get some sleep.

Posted by aswoger 22:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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