The Other Side | Palm Desert to Mexicali (Grand Road Trip Leg 6)

Sunset in Mexicali.

The first time I came to Mexicali was in 2007. I remember it like it was 14 years ago. I was 23 years old, freshly graduated from the Universidad de Washington, where I had just majored in Spanish and Portuguese studies, despite having never studied Portuguese. My Spanish was the best it’s ever been, since I’d just studied in Mexico City the year before. The idea was to go from Seattle to Buenos Aires by land and write a book about it. That book never materialized, though parts of a rough draft of it did, mostly written in a coffee shop in Victoria, BC called the Moka House and also a the UVic library, where I would also read Jane Eyre until I fell asleep and then meet my girlfriend for a late breakfast, which usually consisted of hashbrowns smothered in ketchup and sausage.

On that trip I was actually in San Felipe, a couple hours south, and realized that if I wanted to go further south in mainland Mexico I’d have to go all the way back to Mexicali and get a bus. So my host, a guy from my parents’ church originally from San Felipe, found me a ride with a couple going north and next thing I knew I was at the bus station in Mexicali and for 50 bucks I got a one-way ticket o Mazatlan, a bus ride that would take 24 hours.

In Mazatlan I stayed with my friend’s grandmother, and then on the bus to Guadalajara from Mazatlan met a guy named Jeff from Vancouver, who I’m still friends with to this day. We got black out drunk on tequila in Guadalajara, and the only thing I really remember is sitting around Jeff playing the guitar and singing. The next day I felt awful. And the next day we were supposed to do a tequila tour. Those were my first memories of Guadalajara. After Guadalajara I went to Mexico City, and then my girlfriend at the time and I went to Puebla and Puerto Escondido. Eventually I did make it by land to Buenos Aires, albeit with a boat ride from Panama to Colombia.

Now, here I am 14 later, back in Mexicali, this time with my ’97 Subaru who BARELY got a Temporary Import Permit today letting her/us go anywhere we want in the whole damn Republic. The world is our periwinkle. And this barely happened because APPARENTLY my car has a damaged frame. Which means I probably don’t even have a clean title. Which I was a bit dismayed/surprised to learn. But at the same time I’m thrilled I even GOT a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) because I thought you needed the title to get a TIP and it turns out all I needed was the registration.

So now I’m in Mexico. I have Mexican car insurance. I have permission to go ANYWHERE I WANT IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING COUNTRY, and that might be exactly what I do.

But first I have to decide: Am I going to eat tonight.

You see, I’ve been fasting all day today, and I’m coming up on 24 hours. This has been one of the easiest fasts I’ve ever done, because I’ve been distracted by 1) driving all day, 2) crossing the border, and 3) getting a hotel. I’ve had water and a little bit of green tea, but no calories. And while I would LOVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE to eat tonight if I don’t eat tonight I could possibly do my longest fast ever, and tomorrow might be the perfect day to do it because tomorrow I might spend all day driving to Hermosillo.

Oh yeah, I’m probably not going to Baja.

I love Baja.

But, like, I’ve been there a bunch.

And I’ve never really been to Hermosillo.

And Hermosillo seems kinda dope.

Cuz it’s, like, the desert.

And it’s Sonora.

And if went there I might go to Chihuahua.

Which when I was younger I thought was pronounced, “Chi-hoo-a-hoo-a.”

Fajita.

You don’t really realize how ridiculous the border wall is until you spend some time on the other side of it.

If I don’t eat tonight, what am I gonna do? Just sit in my hotel room all evening? You see because if I eat then that’s something to do. That’s my evening. I eat and then I come back and I watch “Alone” for awhile and then I go to sleep. But if I don’t eat, then, well that’s an empty existence. But then again my whole life revolves around food. I’m like a golden lab.

OK, I’m gonna take a shower. That will feel nice. And drink some more green tea infused water. I forget that you can’t drink the water in Mexico. Which means if I want water I need to brave crossing the busy thoroughfare in front of my hotel. And I don’t know if I’m up for that. And let’s be honest, if I go to a grocery store right now there’s no WAY I’m not getting food. Ugghhhhhh this is so difficult. Why is fasting so hard.

OK time to chill.

I’m in Mexico.

So fucking stoked.

I Choose the Process | Fallon, NV to Lone Pine, CA

9:00am in Fallon, Nevada and I want to hit the road but my car is covered in snow. Luckily it doesn’t look like heavy snow. It looks like the kind my windshield wipers can handle. It’s not that cold out.

Going over Montgomery Pass the full-on blizzard conditions start. There’s a truck in front of me gong 20mph and I downshift into second so I won’t skid into him from behind. When I got off 95 the road started to climb, mile after mile of climbing, and I kept thinking, “How are we still climbing? How is this possible? We must be at 8,000 feet by now.” Then we merged with highway 6 and we were still climbing. I prayed that the Subee would hold it together, and she did, getting me over the pass. Once we were in California there was no snow at all. They asked me if I had any fruits or vegetables and then I was on to Bishop.

I planned to stay three nights in Bishop, but when I got there and went to the Von’s to fill up gas I thought, “Fuck this place. I’m getting out of here.” Everything about Bishop reminds me of the last time I was there, under much different circumstances, on a much different road trip. Things already feel like they’ve changed light years since then, but the memories are also still fresh. Pretty sure I wasn’t going to stay, I got a sandwich and a matcha latte at Schatz’s bakery, then made my way up to the Peabody Boulders.

If you’re new to this blog, let me tell you that last year about this time I became obsessed with the discipline of bouldering. It just so happens that Bishop is one of the best bouldering places on the planet, and it also just so happens that the Peabody Boulders, in the Buttermilk area, are some of the most famous boulders on the planet. Specifically the boulder pictured on the right side of the photo above, the Grandpa Peabody boulder. I figured if I wasn’t going to stay in Bishop I at least needed to see this bloc. I needed to touch the holds of Lucid Dreaming V15 and see The Process V16. I also wanted to check out Ambrosia V11, the 50-foot highball I’d seen Nina Williams send in a video.

The washboard road up to the Buttermilks was wretched. I kept thinking the wheels were going to fall of the Subee. Once I got there I parked in the completely wrong spot and didn’t take the trail up to the boulder because I didn’t know there was a trail. And then I was standing in front of it, looking at the lines, not thinking, “I’ll never be strong enough for this,” but rather, “I feel like I could pull on some of these crimps.” The main thing that impressed me about the Buttermilks, though, was the silence. There was no one there. It was cold and clear and you could see the Sierras in the background, looming over everything. I wanted to sit and appreciate the silence, but I also wanted to get out of there. I felt like I didn’t really belong there. I felt like it wasn’t my moment to be there. So I walked back down to the car, this time on the trail, and just as I was leaving two cars came ripping up the dirt road, disturbing the silence.

After Bishop I got on the 395 south, not knowing where I’d end up. I ended up in a town called Lone Pine, about 40 miles south of Bishop, in The Portal Motel. It was great. I watched Hulu. I chatted with friends. I spent way too much money on a black olive pizza from The Pizza Factory, and then spent several minutes stewing over the fact that I spent so much money when there was a special they didn’t tell me about over the phone that would’ve saved me a bunch of said money. And then, right before bed, I went out for a walk. The Sierras were glowing to the west, and the stars glowing in the sky. Orion’s belt was throbbing. I chilled at the skatepark for a bit, in the dark, but it was so cold that I was quickly forced back to the room. Right before bed I wanted to read and realized the only books I’d brought into the room were a psychology book by James Hillman and The Bishop Bouldering Guide. This presente a bit of a conundrum, as I wanted to read neither. But in the end I opted for the bouldering guidebook. I read the descriptions of some of the problems and also an essay on the development of The Process V16. To dedicate your life to bouldering, I thought, What must that be like? Finally around 11:30pm I turned off the light and tried to sleep but mostly just lay there, thinking. Thinking about what, I don’t remember.

 

Treachery and Nicotine | Leg 3: Burns, OR to Fallon, NV

Waking up in Fallon, Nevada and the first thing I notice is that my knee is swollen and stiff. Fuck. And yesterday I was bragging about how I’d gone on my first hike since my injury and how I’d be surfing in another month and bouldering in another two. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about? Maybe the injury is worse than I thought? Or maybe I just overdid it. Maybe I need to finally take some damn ibuprofen.

(*Puts 4mg nicotine gum in.)

Good morning! Here I am in Fallon, Nevada, and it snowed last night. The Subee is covered in a thin white layer of gossamer fluff. Highway 95 beckons us, but for some reason I’m not eager to jump in my car. Is this because of my knee? Is this because of the weather? Part of me wants to just stay another day in Fallon, but I know that staying in Fallon would consist of me paying too much for a hotel and eating burritos from Safeway. Not exactly a recipe for happiness. So I’ll probably press onward, to Bishop. Probably.

My first hike post LCL injury, in the Steens Mountain Wilderness.

Or maybe not! Part of me just wants to get in my car and drive to Mexico right now. Cross the border. Be in a land where the sun continually shines and the hotels cost $30 a night. A land where I can eat for a third of the price and be more at large in the world. But aren’t I at large in the world here in Fallon? Must I always be somewhere else? Is my green tea done steeping?

Third state of the trip and then onward to California.

Yesterday I drove from Burns, Oregon to Denio, Nevada, stopping for a short hike on the way. It felt so good to hike, though I’m paying for it now with a swollen and stiff knee. Still, I would not take it back! Oh, to be alone in the wilderness, wondering if you’re going to be attacked by a wolf or a mountain lion. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked anywhere so remote. This last summer I went backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the Cascades, and even that, after an eight mile hike in, didn’t feel so remote, mostly because we were surrounded by goddamn humans. It’s hard to get away from humans, and sometimes you need to. Yesterday I needed to. And I did. I hiked probably a mile in on a trail called “Three-mile Trail” or something similar, and the only sounds I could hear the entire time were the brook babbling next to me and the wind caressing the trees. Which I think were juniper trees. But I have no idea.

Mordor.

I have to say I’m not thrilled about being in Nevada. Is anyone thrilled about being in Nevada? Why would you ever move to Nevada? Are there people out there who are like, “You know what? I think we should move to Nevada?” As soon as you have a thought like this you should be locked up and the key thrown away. Though what am I talking about. If you’re the kind of lunatic who wants to move to Nevada, that’s precisely where you should be. Far from everyone else.

Nicotine gum for cognition.

At Wal-Mart in Winnemucca I bought some 4mg nicotine gum. This is supposed to be for smoking cessation, but I don’t smoke so I’m using it for cognitive benefits. Plus it’s just kind of a fun thing to have on road trips. I also bought some turmeric gummies to hopefully help with the swelling in my knee, but I should really think about just taking some ibuprofen. I’m loathe to take NSAIDS. I know your body swells for a reason, but also due to our shitty modern-day diets we probably exacerbate the swelling with the insane amounts of sugar and crap we ingest. Continued swelling, according to one website I consulted, “destructs and distends the tissues, and distorts the anatomy.” I feel like in my case I might’ve done this all wrong. I RICED the crap out of my knee at the beginning, and so maybe now the swelling I’m experiencing is just my body healing. I don’t know, and I don’t know how many doctors I would trust on this one, because almost all doctors would just push NSAID’s on me immediately.

Doctors like to push stuff.

Crimson and clover, over and over.

As the title of today’s blog suggest, treachery abounded yesterday in the form of me…getting on an interstate. Yes, you read correctly. I am a fraud. The road trip is ruined. But also there wasn’t really a way to avoid it. The google map directions had me almost literally driving on train tracks on a railroad service road. I had to do about an 18-point turn underneath an overpass just to turn around. And then I realized all of the roads Google wanted to take me on to avoid the interstate were dirt roads. So I hit one of the onramps, and never turned back. And got to Fallon in about half the time. And didn’t exactly feel bad about it.

And now here I am in Fallon and it’s still snowing and my first nicotine gum has run its course. I don’t know if I felt anything. Am I doing this wrong? Does this stuff even contain nicotine?

My tea is done steeping.

Grand Road Trip Leg Two: Saint Helens, OR to Burns, OR

It was hard to leave Saint Helens, Oregon this morning. I rolled out of bed at 8:30am (!), and apart from a nightmare got a wonderful night’s sleep.

My first stop was Portland, where I wanted to go to Whole Foods. I was heading into the middle of nowhere, so there would be no more Whole Foods. I bought a Rebbl Matcha and a Go Macro bar. I had to take advantage while I could.

After Whole Foods I forced myself to go to Powell’s Books because it’s only a couple blocks from Whole Foods and it’s one of the best bookstores in the world. Though I had nothing in mind to buy I stumbled upon the Karl Ove Knausgaard section just to see what I could see and lo and behold, there was a book called Inadvertent which is Karl Ove Knausgaard on writing. I didn’t know this book existed. I looked at the back cover. $8.98. I sprinted to the cash register.

From Portland I took Burnside Street east, which would eventually turn into Highway 26 which would take me by Mt. Hood and into Central Oregon. I didn’t want to go to Central Oregon. Central Oregon is a necessary evil of this trip. It’s impossible to get to Nevada and California without going to Oregon, unless you take a big detour into Idaho, a state I wanted to visit even less. I don’t know what it is I have against Oregon. I like surfing in Oregon. I like the lack of sales tax. I like that it’s somewhat similar to Washington. I don’t, however, like how they don’t let you pump your own gas. And I’ve never been particularly attracted to Portland. Oregon just seems kind of…blah. Kind of like, “OK, let’s get this over with and get to California.” I mean, the coast is beautiful, I suppose. But right now I’m not into the coast. I’m into getting to the middle of nowhere, Nevada. Into getting to Mexico.

Powell’s Books.

Once over the pass I stopped in Madras, Oregon, for lunch. I went to Safeway and got a turkey pesto avocado Sandwich and enjoyed one of the few human interactions of the day. The woman working told me she liked making sandwiches with focaccia bread and I countered with something like, “Well, I like eating them with that bread,” and retreated to the parking lot, where I ate alone in my car, contemplating the road ahead of me and the proper pronunciation of “Madras.” Madras led to Prineville, and sometime after Prineville is where I started to speed.

I’m not much of a speed-demon when it comes to driving. I used to be, in my teenage years, ripping around suburban Washington in an ’88 Honda Civic, pulling e-brakes in the parking lot. But nowadays I drive the speed limit, unless I’m really bored. The stretch between Prineville and the highway to Burns was one such stretch. It might be the first time I’ve gotten my Subaru over 80, which doesn’t sound like much, but keep in mind around 68mph my Subaru starts to shake like an F16 taking off. I discovered something today, though, namely that there’s a sweet spot around 74pmh where it stops shaking, and again at around 80pmh. So for awhile I was cruising.

A bucolic landscape outside of Madras, Oregon.

I must say I do like Central Oregon, despite the trucks kicking up pebbles at your windshield. I pulled over for a bit somewhere and just stood, basking in the sun and my orange puffy jacket. I peed. I kept driving, stopping in a place called Riley, which is the junction of 395 (which is the highway that goes to Bishop [!]), where I got black tea and an orange. At this point I was only about 25 miles from Burns and America’s Best Value Inn, which I had booked during my sun-basking pitstop. I’m obsessed with lodging and the website Booking.com. Sometimes when I’m bored I just look at the Booking map view to see if any establishments catch my attention. I have a pretty good handle on the different American hotel chains, which is why I was surprised to see that the America’s Best Value Inn in Burns, Oregon, had a rating of 8.5. I was under the impression staying in an America’s Best Value Inn was a bit like staying in cellblock D of your local penitentiary. I’d never seen one rated this high. I was greeted at the front desk by Nikki, who told me the hot tub was open and I could make an appointment. First, though, I went for a stroll around Burns, which actually DID feel a bit like penitentiary, or at least the places I went. I curtailed the walk in favor of going back to the hotel. At 6pm I had my solo hottub date, where I played in the jets and lasted about 15 minutes.

For dinner I had panang curry from Linda’s Thai Room. It was surprisingly delicious. It was interesting to see people dining inside masks. When I went in to pick up my food wearing a mask I saw one guy look at me like, “Now, wait just a gosh darn minute. Cheryl, go get the truck…”

I ate my curry back in the hotel room and for dessert had a Butterfinger McFlurry from Dairy Queen. My diet has already begun to suffer a bit on this trip, but I’m not worried about it. It evens out in the end. After dinner I watched a series on Hulu called “Looking for Alaska” and of course immediately fell in love with the female protagonist. In the middle of the night I woke up and thought, “Why am I doing this trip?” and had a strange longing to be back on my boat! Luckily, those thoughts were quickly banished from my head as a fell asleep. I don’t know why I’m on this trip, and that’s precisely why I must keep going.

The Grand Road Trip | Leg One: Ballard to Saint Helens, OR

It’s finally happened. I’ve finally started my road trip south. I was supposed to start last week but then I decided to hang around for my doctor’s appointment, where I learned I have a partially torn LCL that will take 2-3 months to heal. So what better way to kill time in the winter waiting for your ligament to heal than by getting in your ’97 Subaru and heading south toward Me-hee-ko?

I’m calling it The Grand Road Trip, semi named after The Grand Forest on Bainbridge Island, a kick-ass name and one of my favorite places to go walking (and apparently a cougar lives there now and is preying on local livestock).

One of the goals for this road trip: To not take interstates. Which in theory is a romantic idea. You see the land! You live among the people! But in practice it meant that leaving Seattle I had to pass through places like Kent and Tukwila and SeaTac and the dreaded Puyallup.

Despite this, from the first moment it was still enchanting, turning onto Airport Way S. down by SoDo stadium. Airport Way S took me past Boeing Field and the King County International Airport (I didn’t even know this existed; Do they have one-way flights to Guam?), and onto Military Road S, and from there through the aforementioned places I wasn’t thrilled about but that were a necessary evil to get out of the greater Seattle area.

Once on 161 south things began to get better. I passed Alder Lake, which for a moment made me feel like I was back in Central Switzerland, fresh off the mountain and looking for a comely lass in the local ski lodge to share a Stein with. This led me to the town of Elbe, which apparently has Germanic influence, as noted by the word “Kirche” written on the local church. Here I stopped in a general store and got a large Earl Grey with “just a little bit of cream” and then sat on a bench outside, eating cheese and crackers and gazing out on the lake. Already I felt good about my decision not to take interstates. It was hard at first, leaving Seattle and seeing I-5 south signs every five minutes and knowing I could just faceplant onto the freeway and be at my destination in almost half the time. But this trip is not about destinations. I have nowhere to get to. I have nothing to do. I just want to see new things and appreciate the place where I am, places like Elbe with their Teutonic places of worship.

The church in Elbe, WA. The pastor is a monolingual German speaker named Hermann, or so I hope.

After Elbe it was onto highway 7 which took me to the lovely town of Morton, known for….a lumber mill, maybe? Morton was one of those towns that was charming in the way your slow-witted nephew might be charming. It’s great to be around him for a little bit, but then when you’re not in his presence anymore you say to your wife, “Jesus, I’m glad our kids didn’t turn out like that.” Or maybe he’s like that cousin you have that lives in Minnesota or Iowa or some god-forsaken place like Missouri, where he lives in a subdivision at the end of a cul-de-sac, and you visit him and he’s so happy, so carefree, and though you’re touched by his happiness you also know he’ll grow up to be a manager at Applebee’s and never leave the country (though he’ll still be happier than you). Anyway, Morton is something like that. The only thing interesting about it was a group of semi-goth highschool kids that got off a schoolbus, and the fact that in Morton you have to decide if you want to take Highway 12 east towards Yakima, or west towards Longview.

I went towards Longview.

I kind of WISH I had gone towards Yakima, but by this point I’d already made my reservation at the hotel where I’m currently typing these very words, the Best Western Oak Meadows Inn in Saint Helens, where the woman at the front desk wasn’t wearing a mask and many of the patrons weren’t wearing masks and she asked me “How is the virus up [in Seattle]?” She also thought it was dumb the pool was closed “‘cuz, you know, chlorine,” to which I didn’t respond. Despite a lack of teeth she was super nice. She gave me corner room far far away from the group that was checking in, whereupon I went on a two mile walk and saw four churches, at least as many fast food restaurants, and a Wal-Mart. Saint Helens has a lot going on. If there were to be another eruption it would be a shame if this place didn’t make it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After Morton and the goth kids and the life or death decision of whether or not to go towards Yakima I worked my way back towards I-5, and then took a two-lane road just west of I-5, where I went to Safeway and got an express special with General Tso’s chicken. My diet so far on this trip has been phenomenal. Energy bars, tea and fake Chinese food. I should probably just get a pack of Skittle’s right now and call it a night.

Tomorrow I’m going to head into Portland to go to Whole Foods and also Powell’s Books. I don’t really want to go there, but it’s one of the best bookstores on the planet, so I have to go. And then after that onward towards Central Oregon, maybe, if I’m lucky (or just keep my foot on the accelerator from time to time), ending up in a town called Burns.

But for now I’m going to enjoy the splendors of the Best Western Oak Meadows Inn in Saint Helens, Oregon. I’m already in another state. And traveling without interstates is awesome! Shame about the pool, though…