About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Hawaii, Chapter 2: Can We Try This Again?

Saturday, November 27th
As I was landing
My flight landed at dusk, and my first couple of days in Hawaii proved surreal and disappointing, to say the least.  A friendly former co-worker of mine (I'll call her Nichelle) who's been following my travels arranged for me to stay with a friend of hers (I'll call her Tess) who had just recently moved to Maui from Minnesota, with her cousin.  After speaking with Nichelle, I trusted it would be a good fit, but from Tess' slurred speech while relaying the directions to her home after getting my rental car, to the half-dozen drunken phone calls she placed to me on my way there, to her irrationally throwing her cell phone at her sliding glass door in an intoxicated stupor after my arrival, the experience got worse and worse, and when I could no longer understand a single word out of her mouth and became extremely uncomfortable, I followed her cousin's lead, and left (not without having to pull her off my shirt first!).

I don't think I've ever been so shaken up from a social encounter in all my life; I've certainly never observed such psychotic behavior right in my face before, and from someone making a first impression on a guest, no less.  I could hardly process the intensely bizarre events I had just witnessed, and my hands were shaking as I sent out a couple of last-minute couch-surfing requests.  Luckily I found myself in the home of a couple of guys from the couch-surfing site only about an hour later.  I was still worked up from all the hysteria, but I did my best to laugh it off as I explained it to them.  They were shocked, and amused themselves by answering a couple of the insane phone calls Tess was relentlessly making to me. 

Sunday, November 28th
This morning I received another phone call from Tess, who apologetically admitted to not remembering much from last night other than letting herself get out of control, and embarrassed, asked for a second chance.  With my couch-surfing hosts eager to be rid of me (I wasn't the babe-chasing frat guy they had hoped to go out and score chicks with), and my wanting to see the side of Tess that Nichelle had told me about, I decided to give Tess another chance.  After all, I've made mistakes too, and it would be nice to make a friend to explore the island with.  So after meeting Austin (here for a couple of days before heading back to Oregon to visit family; a friend of a cool couch-surfing host I previously stayed with) for "hippie church" (a friendly drum-circle gathering of free-spirits and fire-dancers who show up at "Little Beach" every Sunday to socialize, smoke, and relax), I went back to Tess' to make amends, and in fact had a nice, mellow evening getting to know her.  She was the sweet, friendly girl that Nichelle had described to me :) 

Monday, November 29th
A distant view of "The Road to Hana" from Keanae Park
I was so excited for today!  Tess invited me to spend the day with her and her cousin and a couple of her friends for the "Road to Hana" scenic drive, aka the "Hana Millennium Legacy Trail" as designated by Bill Clinton in 2000.  "It's Maui's most famous road show, and one of the Pacific's most scenic; the narrow, cliff-side, corkscrew Hana Highway on the island's lush, isolated northeastern coast, is a 50-mile stretch of highway through rain forest canopy, from the laid-back, former sugar-plantation-town-turned-surfing-community of Paia to the quiet, old-fashioned, eye-blink village of Hana.  It climbs and drops among some 617 curves, crosses 54 one-lane bridges, and passes several places to stop and explore, some advertised, some not, including countless fruit stands, dozens of waterfalls, vistas, swimmin' holes, hikes, beaches, and other attractions.  Even with one full day set aside, one cannot possibly see everything.  Note: Fill up with gas before you go!  With Tess' native-Hawaiian friend as our tour guide, we:
Cliff-jumped from the top of a small waterfall located at the end of a small, slippery trail off the main road (my first time ever cliff-jumping!)
Lunched at Keanae Park (between mile markers16 and 17) - a ruggedly beautiful lava rock beach and banana bread stand (world's best!)
Stopped for a look at Waikani Falls (between mile markers 19 and 20), also called "Three Bears Falls" for the 3 side-by-side falls that get smaller and smaller
Explored Wai'anapanapa State Park (just past the mile marker 32) - a black sand beach (volcanic pebbles), jagged sea arch, tunnel trail of Polynesian hau branches, and two caves - one down at the beach, and the other a [freezing cold] freshwater spring fed cave pool (the secret hiding place of an ancient, slain princess), oh and I spotted and Indian mongoose (idiotically introduced to the island in the 1800's in order to keep the rat population under control, however unlike the nocturnal rats, the mongoose is active during the day, causing the even bigger problem of endangering native populations of ground nesting birds)
Jumped out of the car for a snapshot of the lush, 80-foot Wailua Falls (just beyond mile marker 45), probably the most beautiful road-side waterfall in all of Hawaii
Pulled over and collected fresh, tasty yellow lilikoi - a type of passion fruit that when opened, reveals deliciously tart seeds and pulp
Checked out Oheo Gulch, aka "Seven Sacred Pools" - hiking trails, archeological sites, a series of natural pools and waterfalls, part of Haleakala National Park
Instead of taking the same way back, we continued on Hana Highway to try and make the beautiful sunset on the other side, however, we didn't, lol.  Still, it was an adventurous (i.e., white-knuckle) ride, being a very narrow, one-lane, unpaved road with zero-visibility over hills and around long curves.

I didn't mesh well with Tess and her friends today.  As soon she picked them up she turned back into the party girl.  The day quickly took on a different dynamic, and I became the fifth wheel, but I tried not to let it bother me. 

This reminds me what a dramatic turn my life has taken the past few years, as I've gone from awkward kid to awkward adult, lol.  Back when I was attending college I would've no doubt gotten along great with these bartender/server types that like to party hard and stay out super late.  Been there, done that!  I still like to go out and have a good time and be social and everything, but I've mellowed out a lot since then, and have brought more balance to my life.  Overall, I like who I am, and realize I'm not always going to get along with everyone.  Not everyone in life will like me.

I'm in Hawaii and am going to enjoy myself!  "There's no crying in baseball!"  :)


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MAUI PHOTO ALBUMS
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Hawaii, Chapter 1: Maui It Is!

"Traveling to Hawaii is as close as an American can get to visiting another country while staying within the United States."

"Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states (1959), and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands.  It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of Australia. Hawaii's natural beauty, warm tropical climate, inviting waters and waves, and active volcanoes make it a popular destination for tourists, surfers, biologists, and volcanologists alike. Due to its mid-Pacific location, Hawaii has many North American and Asian influences along with its own vibrant native culture. Hawaii has over a million permanent residents along with many visitors and U.S. military personnel. Its capital is Honolulu on the island of O Ľahu.

There are primarily six major islands to visit in Hawaii: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island. Due to shifting volcanic activity, the oldest Hawaiian island is Kauai to the northwest and the youngest is Hawaii’s Big Island to the southeast. You can see this difference by comparing the topography of these two islands: On Kauai you’ll find lush rainforests and sea cliffs worn by time along the Napali Coast. Hawaii’s Big Island features rugged lava landscapes as well as Kilauea Volcano, erupting to this day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.


Isolated in the mid Pacific, 2,400 miles from the nearest continent and having never shared a connection to any other land mass, the Hawaiian Islands are the most remote major island group on earth. It is generally drier on the leeward (western) sides of the islands, and wetter on the windward (eastern) sides. Hawaii’s wide range of elevations and microclimates allow you to experience a variety of environments including some of the world’s best beaches, lush rainforests, volcanic deserts and scenic high-altitude views."

Deciding which island to visit on my first trip to Hawaii was no easy task.  Each of the islands offers its own distinct personality and unique experiences.  Of the six major islands I scratched off two right away: Molokai, "the least changed and most laid-back of all the islands, with plenty of peace and quiet," and Lanai, a small island that "attracts the well-heeled in search of privacy."  I wanted adventure, and these two islands just can't compete with the others in this respect.  I was left to decide between the remaining four islands:

Kauai, "the oldest and northernmost island, is graced with dramatic, natural beauty.  Known as the 'Garden Isle,' you'll find the lush, green folding sea cliffs of Napali Coast, the colorful and awesome Waimea Canyon, and more beaches per mile of coastline than any other Hawaiian island."

Oahu is the most developed of the islands, home to the state capitol and the majority of Hawaii's population.  "It's a vibrant mix of natural and cultural wonders with hot restaurants and lively nightlife, the legendary North Shore (surfing pros), cultural sites including Pearl Harbor, and popular Waikiki Beach."

"Maui no ka 'oi means the best, the most  the tops.  It's the second largest island and the most diversified, home to what some believe are the best beaches in the world. The waters off of Maui are also some of the best places in the world to whale watch every winter. Wake up early to catch the Haleakala sunrise, stroll through the historic hot spot of Lahaina town, or drive the long and winding road to Hana for spectacular scenery."

Big Island, or the island of Hawaii, "is larger than all of the other islands combined, and is vast enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climactic zones—from sandy beaches to snowcapped mountains. See waterfalls, rainforests and botanical gardens in Hilo, explore the calm and clear water off of Kona, or view Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park."

At the advice of several people, I chose Maui, since it has a mix of everything.

"Maui no ka 'oi is what locals say - it's the best, the most, the top of the heap.  To those who know Maui well, there's good reason for the superlatives.  The island's miles of perfect-tan beaches, lush green valleys, historic villages, top-notch windsurfing and diving, stellar restaurants and high-end hotels, and variety of art and cultural activities have made it an international favorite.  Combining the best of both old and new Hawaii, Maui weaves a spell over the more than 2.5 million people who visit its shores each year, and many decide to return for good."

One thing to know about Hawaii is that paradise doesn't come cheap.  It's remote, and accordingly everything is noticeably more expensive than on the mainland.  Mid-December through mid-April is the busy tourist season, so understand that prices on airfare, car rentals and lodging is priced at a premium during these times. Keep in mind that the temperatures are wonderful all year long, if you want to avoid the crowds.  I bought my round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Maui on November 19th for $595, although it's generally significantly cheaper to fly from Seattle.  I booked a car rental for 16 days for $277.  As always, the daily rate gets cheaper with the more days you book, and it was especially a bargain considering the outrageous price I would have paid had I booked it during the high season, when I saw people paying over $100 for just one day in an economy car!  With transportation covered and lodging arranged, I was all set, and on November 27th I enthusiastically hopped my 5 1/2 -hour flight to the tropics.

"The Happiest Place on Earth"

Me, Mike and Thomas
I revisited Disneyland today!  It's a traditional outing my good friend Thomas and I do when I come out to visit him - not only does Disneyland rock the hizzy almost as much as HE does, but thanks to generous Thomas I usually save the $100 admission and get in for free  :)  This time, we had a new acquaintance of mine with us.  I met Mike when I was staying with my friends Brandon & Heather in Washington state, and he happened to be visiting family down in San Diego, so I thought it would be nice to invite him along, especially since he said he was going to Disneyland anyway - and what better person to show Mike around (he was a first-timer) than Thomas, a self-professed everything-Disney geek (he has special memberships to online clubs to prove it, lol). 

"Opened on July 18, 1955, Disneyland is the only theme park to be designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney.  He came up with the concept of Disneyland after visiting various amusement parks with his daughters in the 1930s and 40s.  With nearly 600 million guests since opening day, Disneyland has a larger cumulative attendance than any other theme park in the world! In 2009, 15.9 million people visited the park, making it the second most visited park in the world that calendar year." 

Never have I seen Disneyland more beautiful than today,  brilliantly adorned with holiday lights and decor.

Today, "Disneyland has eight different themed areas or 'lands' that host various rides, shops, restaurants, and live entertainment.  These areas are known as Main Street, U.S.A. (patterned after a typical Midwest town in the Victorian period of America), Adventureland (designed to recreate the feel of an exotic tropical place in a far-off region of the world), New Orleans Square (a themed land based on New Orleans in the 19th-century), Frontierland (recreates the setting of pioneer days along the American frontier), Critter Country, Fantasyland (styled as a Bavarian village), Mickey's Toontown (partly inspired by the fictional Los Angeles suburb of Toontown in the Disney film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), and Tomorrowland (designed as a living blueprint of our future)."

Adjacent to Disneyland Park and part of the larger Disneyland Resort is Disney California Adventure, which "opened on February 8, 2001, with 55 acres that consist of five areas: Sunshine Plaza (the main entrance into the park, designed to evoke the sensation of stepping into a California postcard), Hollywood Pictures Backlot (styled to appear as Hollywood boulevards and movie backlots, with Hollywood, television, and movie-themed attractions), The Golden State (allows guests to experience California's natural settings), A Bug's Land (seen from the point of view of a bug), and Paradise Pier (themed after a Victorian-era California boardwalk).  "In 2009, the park attracted approximately 6.05 million guests, making it the 11th-most visited theme park in the world, its highest ever attendance total for a calendar year."


"To all who believe in the power of dreams, welcome. Disney's California Adventure opens its golden gates to you. Here we pay tribute to the dreamers of the past: the native people, explorers, immigrants, aviators, entrepreneurs and entertainers who built the Golden State. And we salute a new generation of dreamers who are creating the wonders of tomorrow, from the silver screen to the computer screen, from the fertile farmlands to the far reaches of space. Disney's California Adventure celebrates the richness and the diversity of California... its land, its people, its spirit and, above all, the dreams that it continues to inspire." ~ Michael Eisner


Thomas got the three of us free "Park Hopper" passes, which allow us entry into both parks.  

In Disneyland, we: 

"Rocketed into the outer reaches of darkest space" on Space Mountain
"Payed our respects to the 999 ghostly residents" of the Haunted Mansion
"Joined the Pirates of the Caribbean on a bayou bateau for a swashbuckling voyage"
"Went for a bumpy ride through a lost temple" on Indiana Jones Adventure
"Caught an enhanced version of the 3-D film musical Captain EO," starring Michael Jackson.

In California Adventure, we:

"Ripped through the air" on California Screamin'
"Sailed 'round the glimmering face of Mickey" on Mickey's Fun Wheel 
Went Soarin' Over California on a "simulated hang glider"
Took "the elevator ride of our lives" on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Of course my day at Disney wasn't complete without "marveling at the stunning effects that erupt against the broad night sky as beloved Disney Characters join the reverie of Mickey's active imagination in Fantasmic - a musical, pyrotechnic spectacular where the forces of good and evil battle in his dreams!


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*To view my photos, click HERE
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California PART 1 - "Eureka!"

Mount Shasta

Monday, November 15th
Today I entered northern California from Oregon.  The first notable landmark was Mount Shasta, which is so big and rises so abruptly without connection to any other mountains, that it looked like an optical illusion sitting on the clouds - seriously, it looked photo-shopped!  "A colossus of four volcanic cones, the highest rising 14,162 feet above the flats of upper California, it's the crown jewel of the Cascades, a snow-capped peak that is one of the state's most beautiful landmarks, visible from as far as 100 miles away."

Tonight I stayed at the White House!  Okay, fine, not THE White House, but I just wanted to keep your attention, lol.  The White family was generous to let me crash at their place in Ukiah.  I was no match for her kids in a game of Clue, and Battleship, and I felt a little guilty having the whole loft to myself.  

                                                                 Tuesday, November 16th
Champagne Bath
This morning I took a "Champagne Bath" at the historic Vichy Springs Resort.  The 157 year old carbonated spring bubbles into the sunken tubs, and dilates the pores of your skin, creating a warming sensation, making it the only naturally warm and carbonated Vichy mineral baths in North America!  The property is located out in the country, surrounded my mountains and trees, and it was a beautiful morning, so it was nice that the baths were outside with a view, and even better, I had the place all to myself!  The water is said to contain therapeutic and medicinal properties, and can be used both internally and externally.  Read a blurb about it hereAs a bonus, I got to fill up my water bottle with the stuff!  If you can get past the sulfuric, rotten egg factor, it doesn't taste that bad :P

After taking a dip in the hot tub, my spa day took me down to Calistoga, where at Indian Springs Resort I immersed myself in my first-ever mud bath!  I checked in at the lobby, where I was provided slippers, a key, and a robe (a whopping $75 fee is charged if not returned!), and led to the locker room.  I killed a little time before my treatment in the Olympic-sized mineral pool, set at 102 degrees (bliss!).  Now it was time for the main event.  I undressed, changed into my white, flannel robe, and my attendant led me to the baths.  He helped me into the tub, and covered me neck to toe in hot volcanic ash.  Here I would lie for the next 10 minutes.  
Mud Bath
Take note that this is not a treatment for anyone with claustrophobia!  The mixture of wet ash and peat is heavy, and you're not going anywhere.  Think of it as a therapeutic straight jacket, lol.  I rinsed off in the shower,  then soaked in a claw-foot tub filled with "pure Indian Springs' geyser water, rich in minerals and salt," for roughly another 10 minutes or so.  The bathing room was very humid, and they provided me with cucumber citrus water to keep me hydrated.  Next I enjoyed the steam room for a bit, then was led to a simple, private room, where the attendant put on some relaxing music, and wrapped me in soft flannel blankets.  I cooled down for 15 minutes, before ending my experience with a little time at the tranquil Buddha pond out back.  I mean, it WOULD have been tranquil had a construction crew not been jack-hammering! :)

By late afternoon I made my way down to "America's most famous wine region," Napa Valley, for some serious touring and tasting.  "Packed in shoulder-to-shoulder along a narrow, 35-mile valley bounded by two mountain ranges, American wine-making's greatest and most famous names are all found in the verdant valley Napa Valley."  With over 300 wineries lining little Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, the drivers-side views of the vineyards alone, were mouth-watering.  So many wineries, so little time, lol.  
                                                                                    
Distinguished as the first large scale winery established in the valley before prohibition, I decided on the Signature Tour & Tasting" at the Robert Mondavi Winery.  "Approximately 75 minutes in length, this in depth winery tour follows the path of the grape from the vineyard to the cellar to the finished wine.  Guests walk into the To Kalon Vineyard, visit the wine-making cellars (including fermentation and barrel aging) and receive a seated educational tasting of three wines with one of our wine education specialists."  Now I'm no sommelier, in fact the only bit of knowledge I ever really knew about wine was that red is usually paired with red meat, and white wine with fish.  However, by the end of the tour I felt like a pro!  Felt, being the operative word here, lol.

By nightfall I crossed over the iconic 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge, an engineering marvel whose 4,200-foot central span set a record for suspension bridges unchallenged for 27 years."  I drove down to Daly City to leave my car with Jonah, a perfect stranger from couchsurfing.org who let me park my car at his place the next five days.  Thanks Jonah, you ROCK!  Having a car in San Francisco sucks; I was so happy to take Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) there.

Golden Gate Bridge
Justin met me at the station and we walked to his place as we caught up - it was SO good to see him!  We became good friends while I was living in Minneapolis, MN, but he recently moved to San Fran to continue schooling in the Japanese language.  Already a fluent speaker of Japanese, the course he completed allowed him to teach, which he is now happily doing :)  His place is in "Tenderloin" a sketchy neighborhood in downtown (aka "Skid Row," or 'Wine Country,' an allusion to "winos" (street-dwelling alcoholics").  Basically, when you step out your door you should expect to be repeatedly asked for money by beggars, see many homeless, and, as with what happened to me, be shouted obscenities at for walking by.  So anyway, it's a good place to experience a side of San Fran that the tourists don't often see (or wish to talk about, lol).  After dropping off my bags he showed me a couple points of interest in his area, including an over-the-top cathedral. 

                                                                 Wednesday, November 17th
SF Public Library
This morning Justin went to work and I blogged at the San Francisco Public Library, boasting SIX floors that fill over 376,000 square feet of shelves, offices, study rooms, a wing for children, 300 computer terminals, and room for 1100 laptops!  All this for only $140 million - what a bargain, lol.  When Justin got home from work we went to the 6th annual "Mole To Die For" contest at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, offering the public a chance to "taste dozens of different moles, and vote for your favorite."  The event was scheduled from 7-9pm, and we arrived at 8pm with our $7 entrance fee.  They gave us a $2 discount, and we soon realized why - ALL but two moles were completely devoured and the voting was closed!  We were totally ripped off, but at least the two sauces we did get to taste were delicious, and it was cool that the event shared space with a gallery displaying art which celebrated Day of the Dead, a Spanish holiday that remembers deceased family and friends.  The art displays ran the gamut of sad, dark, fun, festive, wild, wacky, and tacky, and many of them included personal altars with photos honoring their loved ones.

When we got back to Justin's, he introduced me to one of his favorite TV shows, a mockumentary-style comedy centered around an immature news crew with no clue what they're doing.  Damn it, I forgot the name of it!

Thursday, November 18th
Today I visited my old high-school friend Britta, who I got
caught up with over some frozen yogurt (or "Froyo" to the cool kids, lol).  It was short and sweet, and not at all awkward as I feared it might be after nearly a decade without contact.  It was no surprise that she is doing well for herself being happily married with a great career.  To me, she's always been of those rare, "whole package"-type people.  She's successful in everything she does, and while she could be a super model but for a couple of inches, she has an awesome sense of humor, a brain, an inspiring attitude and zest for life, and I've never heard her utter an unkind word about anyone.  Britta, let's trade lives, haha :P

After froyo, I explored the area by foot some more, before hopping a cable car back to Justin's. 

                                                                 Friday, November 19th
Japan Center
Tonight after Justin returned from work we went to Japan Center in Japantown; "The Gateway to Japanese culture, cuisine, and shopping" and one of Justin's favorite places.  I had never been in Japanese mall before - it was fun!  The decor was cool; there were staircases imitating Japanese bridges with zen rock gardens underneath them, and it was my first time in a Japanese dollar store (I bought an umbrella).  Afterward, we grabbed food at the grocery store for the potluck party at my friend of a friend Justin Lee's house.  We first met when our mutual friend Andy invited me over for a send-off for Justin Lee and his friend Patrick's cross-country bicycle trip.  It turns out Justin Lee's bike broke down in San Francisco, and he loved it here so much that when his bike was repaired he decided to stay!  With an open mind, you never know where you'll end up :)

Saturday, November 20th
Today is the day for Alcatraz Island, yay!  We decided to walk down to the pier instead of taking transportation, since I'd get to go through Chinatown and see more of SF.  We passed by the iconic needle-shaped TransAmerica Building, "the tallest and probably most 
Grant Avenue, Chinatown
recognizable skyscraper in the San Francisco skyline," on our way to Chinatown, which was just like I remembered it - fun, festive and clean - of all the Chinatown's I've been to, this is my favorite.  It's also the "the largest one outside of Asia" and "the oldest in North America."  Apart from the herbal and souvenir shops, pagoda roofs, and culture, attractions include the Tin How Temple (the oldest in the U.S., founded in1852), the Sing Chong Building (one of the first places rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake), and the Gateway Arch (the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America).

Despite our best efforts (e.i., a lot of running), when we reached the pier, we found that we literally missed the boat!  To add insult to injury, the representative was completely unsympathetic and would not re-book us for the next boat :(  I was super bummed, but after Justin let me vent for 10 minutes we had a fantastic day of exploring.  

Lombard Street
We saw Lombard Street, famous for having a steep, one-block, one-way section consisting of eight tight switchback turns that have earned the street the distinction of "crookedest street in the world."  Bill Cosby described like this: "They built a street up there called Lombard Street that goes straight down, and they're not satisfied with you killing yourself that way—they put grooves and curves and everything in it, and they put flowers there where they've buried the people that have killed themselves."  LOL!

We visited Coit Tower (a 210-foot monument to SF firefighters) with panoramic views of Alcatraz Island, Saints Peter and Paul Church, the Ferry Building, and the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges.  Inside the tower, the walls are painted with beautiful murals of San Francisco back in the day.  Then we went down to Fisherman's Wharf, a historic area on the bay once populated by fisherman and their fleets, now full of shops, restaurants,  and tourist attractions.  We ate at Neptune's Palace on Pier 39 - we had great food (yummy seafood sampler plate) and a window seat right over the water with spectacular views.

View of Alcatraz Island from Coit Tower
After dinner, we got ready for his friend's birthday party over in Oakland.  The party was great!  His friend has a beautiful home (the gays know how to decorate, lol), and had an awesome spread of delicious h'ordeurves, plenty of booze and bevs, his unusual friend recited an abstract poem that made me go "Huh?," and instead of singing the same old birthday song, we each chose a song at random in our heads, and on the count of three sang it simultaneously, creating a vibrant cacophony of ill-sounding noise from around the room (I won't call it music, lol).  I believe I sang "Pretty Woman," lol.

                                        Sunday, November 21st
Justin the thinker
We had to get our butts up early, and this time didn't walk, lol, but we were able to board a boat to Alcatraz Island, woo-hoo!  Not only does the island provide a fascinating, narrated self-guided tour of perhaps the most famous federal prison in US history, but also shares the less-popular history about early military fortifications, and later occupation by American Americans.  Oh, and the island also lends killer views of San Francisco!

When we were finished we caught a boat back, I said my goodbyes to my good friend Justin, picked up my car from Jonah's, and headed down to Los Angeles.


Tuesday, November 23rd
I went to "The Happiest Place on Earth" today - Disneyland!  Read about HERE.

Friday, November 26th
I've been staying up at my good friends Alida & Kyle's house the past couple of days, about 30 minutes north of Los Angeles.  Alida's quite persuasive (i.e., dominant, lol), and she insisted for months that I be at their place for Thanksgiving, so I actually rerouted my trip to be here in time.

The game is on - Kyle's happy :)
Alida & Kyle were my first good friends I made when I lived here in Los Angeles.  I met them when I started working at a luxury boutique hotel in Burbank. We bonded right away by sharing experiences about our useless boss, and stories about our crazy coworkers and the eccentric business guests and celebrities.  When my apartment lease in the ghetto with Satan was up I took Alida up on her offer to move in with her (I even left my apartment a few weeks early because it was so bad).  About a year and a half later Alida & Kyle were in a relationship (aww...), and I was ready to move out on my own, so it worked out quite nicely for them that when I moved out, Kyle moved in. 

"Aunt Alida" w/ baby Jacob
They're both a bit older than me (40's).  Alida's a blonde bombshell (think Stiffler's mom if you've ever seen American Pie) who cusses like a sailor and drinks like a fish. When she's not out shopping she's at home watching garbage gossip shows like "Real Housewives of New York" (oh why did she have to get me hooked?!), or cooking enough comfort food to feed the Chinese army. Kyle is her exact opposite - a frugal, more introverted, bookish guy, who organizes collections for ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, "the world's largest research library on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered heritage and concerns." I like to think that he basically sorts porn all day (my dream job, haha). They're quite smitten with each other, and are going on a few years now. Their place is like a geriatric center for pets. If Alida takes in one more sickly old stray she could register as a non-profit. 

Jenny & I
Today we celebrated Thanksgiving. Apart from the usual feast for the masses that Alida whips up just for Kyle and I, she was having extra company, so she upped her game, and though I took only a little sampling of each of the 20,000 dishes she prepared, I must have had at least two plates full!  Kyle turned on the football game, and neighbor Liz brought baby Jacob over, former neighbors Sandy & Tim came, as well as Jenny - my sweet friend from Montana that I met when we both worked for a premium cellular phone company.  I introduced Jenny to Kyle & Alida before moving back to Minnesota, and they've since become good friends.  I like to think of it as a parting gift, lol.

Tomorrow I fly to Hawaii, woo-hoo!


PHOTO ALBUMS



               -----------------------------------Fun Facts & Trivia----------------------------------- 


~ The California Condor found in the Santa Lucia Mountains in Central Coastal California is North America's largest land bird with a wing span of 10 feet. 
~ One out of every eight music festivals in the United States is held in California.
~ If California 's economic size were measured by itself to other countries, it would rank the 7th largest economy in the world.
~ The state motto is Eureka!, a Greek word translated "I have found it!" The motto was adopted in 1849 and originates from the discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada . 
~ The first motion picture theater in the United States opened in Los Angeles on April 2, 1902.  ~ Reputed to be the most corrupt politician in Fresno County history, Vice-leader Joseph Spinney was mayor for only ten minutes.
~ One out of every eight United States residents lives in California.
~ The largest oil can collection in the world, of 10,000 cans, is found in Santa Rosa, CA. 
~ The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has enough steel wires in its cables to circle the earth at the equator 3.5 times.

Oregon - The Maine of the Pacific

Yaquina Head Lighthouse
"From the rugged seacoast to the high mountain passes of the Cascades, in the lush greenery and magnificent waterfalls, and in the stony lava beds and Ponderosa pines of the high desert, Oregon is a dramatic land of many changes."

"Oregon's nearly 363 miles of pristine, public coastline is made up of diverse terrain that changes from rugged cliffs to evergreen forests to Sahara-like dunes and boundless sandy beaches. From Astoria in the north to Brookings in the southern tip, follow the shoreline past a smorgasbord of one-of-a-kind attractions including scores of quaint towns, historic lighthouses, and breathtaking viewpoints. Mild temperatures, dramatic scenery and a wide range of recreational activities make the coast one of the state's most popular regions."  It is here that I decided to focus my trip.

Saturday, November 13th
I entered Oregon from Washington to the north, via the Oregon Coast Highway, aka U.S. Hwy 101, over the monolithic Astoria–Megler Bridge.  "The bridge, which was formally dedicated in 1966, stretches 4.1 miles from Point Ellice, Washington, across the mouth of the Columbia River, to Astoria, Oregon. Its construction was an impressive feat. The bridge’s main span is 1,232 feet in length, the longest “continuous truss” in the nation. It is designed to withstand river flood speeds of nine miles per hour, and wind gusts of 150 miles per hour."  If I could do it over again, I would just drive back and forth over the bridge for a day, lol.


First, I visited Cannon Beach, "northern Oregon's most beautiful seaside village," to check out the "sandy beaches that stretch for miles, interrupted by massive basalt sea stacks, particularly the iconic 235-foot Haystack Rock, one of the largest sea stacks on America's Pacific coast, and the third largest coastal monolith in the world."


It was raining when I arrived in Tillamook, "home to dozens of dairies and the famed Tillamook Cheese Factory; here, the highway tucks inland, passing forests and dairy and artichoke farms before rejoining the Pacific at Lincoln City."  I took the short, self-tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory, with interactive kiosks, videos, and viewing windows that provide a "bird's eye view of their cheese-making and packaging teams in action, churning out 167,000 pounds of cheese each and every day."  Of course MY favorite part of the experience was the free cheese sample buffet, offering up six of their tasty cheeses: Squeaky Cheese (a squeak in every chew!), Medium Cheddar (awarded 2010 "World's Best Cheese"), Vintage White Medium Cheddar (aged over 100 days), Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar (aged over 2 years - my fav!), Pepper Jack (with real jalapeno), and Garlic Chili Pepper Cheddar (flavor explosion - my other fav!).  Shameless, I went through the line multiple times, lol.  I didn't know they made ice cream, but before leaving I tried a 3-scoop combo of Marionberry Pie, Mountain Huckberry, and White Licorice.  This was a tasty stop!  I didn't make any couch-surfing arrangements for tonight, because I wanted to take today at my own pace, so when I was tired I pulled off the road into a large turnout, and slept as well as I could, given the noise of the passing cars throughout the night.
                                                        
Sunday, November 14th
This morning I entered the town of Newport, "central Oregon coast's largest city and hardworking seaport."  I visited the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, active since 1873.  It took one year and 370,000 bricks to construct, with 114 steps to the top of the 93-foot tower; it's Oregon's tallest!  "Below are two unique intertidal areas, one of which is the nation’s only wheelchair accessible tide pool."


Then I drove down to the port and walked around, admiring the bigger-than-life, amazing scenes of Newport's marine and port life painted on the sides of its numerous buildings.  The noise of honks, trumpets, and roars beckoned me down to the docks, where I was surprised by over a dozen sea lions!

Back on the road, "south of Yachats is the most rugged stretch of the Oregon coast, where ancient volcanoes and lava flows meet the Pacific.  Towering 830 feet above the roiling waters, Cape Perpetua is one of the area's highest points."  I pulled into the scenic overlook to get a glimpse of "Devil's Churn, which began as a small fracture - a weak area in the volcanic rock.  Thunderous waves have gnawed at the rock for eons, eroding it away grain by grain, enlarging the rock into a chasm."  It was neat, but pretty tame.  The water pounding against the rock walls is a bigger spectacle during high tides and winter storms.

"Just south of Cape Perpetua is Haceta Head Lighthouse, probably the most photographed vista in all of Oregon. This stark white, functioning lighthouse on a rocky headland 205 feet above the Pacific is jaw-droppingly dramatic, and is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in the United States.  It shines a beam visible for 21 miles, making it the strongest light on the Oregon Coast.  The beautifully maintained 1894 lighthouse keeper's home is one of the very few in the U.S. that is open as a B&B."  I walked the short trail (about a quarter of a mile maybe) up to the lighthouse, and even though it was foggy out, I was able to appreciate its beauty, and managed to get some decent shots with my camera.

Just a couple miles south are the Sea Lion Caves - "a natural sea grotto, the largest in the country, populated by smelly, shrieking Steller sea lions, with the world’s only mainland viewing area.  A 208-foot elevator descends into the sea cave, where you can watch hundreds of them clambering onto rocks, jockeying for position, and letting loose might roars (bulls can weigh more than a ton."  The sea lions don't always show, and today was one of those days :(  The staff offered a meager discount to go down and sea the caves empty, but I didn't see the value, so I viewed the caves through their live webcam instead, and looked at a few photos, before heading out.

 I got hungry and spotted something at a little convenience store that I hadn't ever seen before: "Creamy Clam Dip."  I thought, wow, this sure doesn't sound very appetizing, so I ought to give it a try, lol.  I grabbed some dinner rolls to go along with it.  Sure enough, a few miles down the road and a couple bites later, I discovered it was actually even more nasty than I had anticipated! 

After putting the clam dip out of sight, I saw a hitchhiker with a sign on his back, reading "NEED FOOD."  When I pulled over he jumped and took a couple quick steps into the woods, before realizing I wasn't a distracted driver about to kill him.  I handed him my bread, and he asked me for a ride.  He was a short, slender, bearded man, probably around his 50's, though he looked much older.  It was wet and gloomy and I thought what the heck, so I made some room and let him hop in.  A few miles down the road I was hearing a lot of complaining, which threw me, because I was helping him out and he was being ungrateful.  I gave him my food, then I gave him a lift, but he wanted more!  He kept repeating that he didn't have any money, and played the "poor me" game.  What a downer.  This guy gives other hitchhikers a bad reputation.  Needless to say, I let him off at the next stop.  Lesson learned: Don't pull over if you can't see their face.  Next time, I'll get a good look at someone and make a sound judgment before taking any action.

Not long after, I made my way to the South Jetty area of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, "among the largest oceanfront sand dunes in the world, extending along the coast over fifty miles.  Hiking trails explore this unusual ecosystem, linking scrub forests, small lakes, and some 14,000 acres of mighty, ever-shifting dunes, some measuring up to 500 feet high."

"From Charleston south to the California border, the beaches are increasingly flanked by high cliffs and craggy teeth of rock."  I entered the quaint town of Bandon, to visit the Ocean Wayside, a great place for whale-watching.  Alas, it was still a little too early in the season to spot any, but it was the perfect place to putz around.  There's a little peninsula that was fun to explore, and I found a spot at the edge of the cliff to sit down, and admire the beauty of the ocean, the beach, and the sea stacks.

Just a few minutes after getting back on the road, I found myself continually pulling off of it, to take in one of the most beautiful sunset scenes I've ever witnessed.

A few hours later, I reached Ashland, to meet my couch-surfing host, Matt.  Earlier he informed me that he'd be getting back home before me, but he gave his roommates a head's up to expect me, and they were all very nice and welcoming. When he arrived home he was enthusiastic to learn more about my trip, and gave me lots of recommendations for my upcoming visit to Hawaii (he even got me in touch with one of his friends on Maui).  The atmosphere of the house was very laid-back, and I got a good night's rest.  I was honored to be his first formal couch-surfer, though after leaving the next morning I was really embarrassed to have to go back THREE separate times to retrieve forgotten items!

I left Oregon quite reluctantly, not able to fulfill my plans to visit Crater Lake National Park due to unfavorable weather conditions, but on the bright side, it gives me yet another reason to come back someday!


 

-----------------------------------Fun Facts & Trivia-----------------------------------
~ Oregon and New Jersey are the only states without self-serve gas stations. According to Oregon state law, an attendant must pump your gas.
~ It is against the law in Myrtle Creek to box with a kangaroo.
~ The hazelnut is Oregon's official state nut. Oregon is the only state that has an official state nut.
~ While it is illegal to buy or sell marijuana in Oregon, it is legal to smoke it on your own property.
~ Oregon has no sales, restaurant or liquor tax.
~ In Stanfield, Oregon, no more than two people are allowed to share a single drink.
~ Oregon is home to the world’s shortest river. The D River is only 121 feet long.
~ In Portland, people are banned from whistling underwater.

Washington - The Evergreen State - PART II

Wednesday, November 10th
Last night I flew back to Seattle from Alaska (great time!), and found my car stored safe and sound at Lance's, who let me keep it there while I was away.  Exhausted, I gratefully crashed at his place before heading to see my friend Brandon a couple hours away in Hoquiam this morning.

Brandon and I were good friends throughout high school.  We enjoyed a lot of the same things, always quoted funny movie lines, and were in the same musical theater production or two.  He went out of state for college, I moved to Los Angeles for a few years, and our lives took different directions.  We lost contact for a handful of years, but reconnected a couple years ago while him and his wife Heather were visiting his family in Minnesota.  We didn't have as much in common as we used to, but we still laughed at the same things, and the 3 of us got along great.  They currently live in Hoquiam, where they flip homes to rent or sell, since finishing college in Colorado.  

The 2-hour trip to Brandon's was awesome.  After only an hour outside of Seattle I was driving past the greenest trees I've ever seen.

Hoquiam, which has designated itself as "The Friendliest City," is a town of about 10,000 people, located on the Pacific Ocean's 'Grays Harbor,' at the mouth of the Hoquiam River.  Its name comes from a Native-American word meaning "hungry for wood".  Hoquiam is the home of the internationally acclaimed Loggers' Playday, celebrated with a parade and logging competition every September.  It's also home to dozens of species of migratory birds which nest along the water's edge during the milder months.  The Grays Harbor Farmers Market and Craft Fair is one of only two Washington State farmers markets open year-round.

When I got to Brandon's he happily came outside and greeted me, and he and Heather gave me a tour of their cute little home, pointing out all the beautiful updates they've made to get it into its current state, and showed me to the guestroom, all thoughtfully made up for me.  They took me out to lunch at Casa Mia, their favorite local pizza place (ridiculously good), where we got all caught up, and a few of Heather's friendly relatives stopped by.  Then we stopped for yummy ice cream at a little diner stand (order from the window only) on our way to Lake Sylvia State Park.  Before we started our evening hike, we checked out a giant wooden ball carved from a single log by a local logging legend.  Story has it the logger could stand atop the floating ball and 'walk it' from one end of the lake to the other.  The area is rich with logging lore and history."  


Thursday, November 11th
This morning Brandon and Heather took me to a house they recently bought.  They plan to either flip it and sell it, or if they love it, move in.  Either way, it's in need of some serious TLC, and Brandon valued my opinions on what to renovate to get the most bang for their buck.  Finally, my faithful years of fan-hood to HGTV were put to the test, lol.  The house seemed to have good bones and lots of potential, and I'm excited to see what Brandon & Heather make of it.

This evening we visited Snoqualmie Falls, "one of Washington state's most popular scenic attractions."  The rain didn't dampen our spirits; we happily explored the two-acre park under our one umbrella, lol, and checked out the 270 foot waterfall from the observation deck, and then by trespassing on private property for a closer look, before browsing through the gift shop.  We're so gangsta, lol.  On our way out of town, we stopped to get a better look at a HUGE section of log on display from the town's old lumber mill.  If you look closely, you can see the type of carriage that was used to haul these massive 10-15 foot-wide logs.  Upon arriving back home, Heather graciously put her culinary skills to work, preparing a super delicious salmon dinner.  Yum!

Friday, November 12th
It's not every day that I get to spend with people who have the same energy level and desire to cram as much as possible into one day, but Brandon and Heather are no ordinary couple!  We started the day off with a bang: Olympic National Park.  "The remote and rugged Olympic Peninsula juts into the Pacific from the western flank of Washington State, its moat-like isolation allowing for the development of natural and human history all to its own.  At the center of the peninsula is 1,400-square-mile Olympic National Park, a preserve of rare, primordial ecosystems that has garnered the park the rare dual designation of World Heritage Park and International Biosphere Reserve.  The longest wilderness coastline in the Lower 48, the 57-mile Olympic Coastal Strip is accessed by roads at only a few points.  Otherwise this expanse of rock and sand belongs to hardy backpackers who negotiate the tides, beaches, and treacherous headlands on foot.  This is some of the most picturesque coastline anywhere; sea stacks and islands parade out into the pounding surf, often capped by miniature forests."

 
We entered through the southwestern entrance, to check out Quinault Valley.  "The lake's quiet isolation is perfectly captured by the woodsy 1926 Lake Quinault Lodge, with a spacious wood-paneled lobby, massive fireplace, and comfortably old-fashioned rooms."  This is where Brandon & Heather got married!  Then we hit the trails to the World's Largest Spruce Tree.  At 191' tall, and a circumferance of nearly 59', this 1000 year old Sitka Spruce is one of the Quinault Valley's six champion trees.  Also in the valley are the World's Largest Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Mountain Hemlock.  The trees are well watered, with an average yearly rainfall of 12 feet!  After giving the old guy a hug, we moved on.

Continuing on, we drove up to Ruby Beach"Although this is not a beach for sunning, surfing, or swimming, there is no lack of stunning scenery at Ruby Beach.  Mounds of bleached driftwood have been tossed carelessly on the shore like handfuls of pick-up sticks.  This log bone yard derives from forests up river where floods undermine the forest, cause trees to fall, and then deliver them to the ocean.  Rocky ironshore at the water’s edge plays host to tidal pools where visitors can examine a host of marine critters struggling to survive in the ebb and flow of the tides.  Offshore, sea-stacks thrust up from the depths, their tops covered with the barest vegetation."  We played for a little while, and Brandon and Heather laughed as they watched me get totally soaked by the tide that came in while I was climbing on the rocks.

We ventured onward through the western slopes of the park to the Hoh Rain Forest, "where annual rainfall is measured in yards.  This heavy precipitation, coupled with mild temperatures and dense summer fog, provides perfect conditions for temperate rain forests, such as the primeval moss-bearded woodlands in the Hoh River Valley.  Bigleaf maple and vine maple host an abundance of epiphytes (plants growing upon other plants) that give the rain forest its characteristic look and ethereal quality. A plethora of mosses, ferns and plants compete for space on the forest floor, and grazing elk keep the understory open.  Dead and downed trees decay slowly and support new life as ‘nurselogs.'  The Hoh is one of the finest remaining examples of temperate rain forest in the United States, and is one of the park's most popular destinations."  I picked up a park map at the Visitor Center and we hiked the Hall of Mosses Trail.  Well, we didn't find Bigfoot, but I've never seen such lush vegetation in all my life.  WOW!

We wrapped up our day with a visit to the little town of Forks.  "A large percentage of Forks visitors are fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, which is set in the town.  As a result, Forks has seen a 600% increase in tourism since the books' publication.  Tours are available of locations that resemble the places described in Meyer's books, although the movies were not actually filmed in Forks.  Locations include the Cullen house, the house where Bella lives, the hospital where Dr. Cullen works, etc."  We stopped in at the Chamber of Commerce, where I snapped a few pictures and picked up Self-Twilight Tour directions, map and trivia sheets.  None of us were huge fans, but we checked out a couple points of interest, a shop or two, and grabbed some din-din at Sully's Burgers (cheap, yummy food!).  We took a couple photos next to the now-famous Forks welcome sign before heading home to grab a couple things for the birthday party we attended. 

Saturday, November 13th
This morning, with a feeling of reluctance, I said my goodbyes to my good friends Brandon and Heather.  This is always the hardest part of my trip :(  Until we meet again!


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