Category Archives: Lost on a Journey

Road Trippin’

Thanks to President’s Day, I recently had a 3-day weekend in the middle of the week. (I work during actual weekends.) I decided to take a quest to find some wildflower blooms.

I began my journey at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge just outside Las Vegas, NV. No flowers.

DNWR Lizard

Desert National Wildlife Refuge: lizards yes, flowers no

Next stop was Death Valley National Park. Actually, “stop” isn’t strictly accurate. Really I just entered the park via Death Valley Junction and drove south on Badwater Road. There were a couple creosote bushes starting to show yellow flowers, but nothing too exciting.

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The creosote bushes at Death Valley (code Name DEVA) were just starting to bloom.

I left Death Valley through the south entrance and found myself in Tonopah, CA. Now, I moved out West almost a year ago, and ever since Day 1, I have been hearing about China Ranch and their date shakes over near Tonopah. So, naturally I had to check it out.

The shakes were pretty good! Still no flowers, though.

I decided to continue south through Baker, CA to Mojave National Preserve. The Preserve has 2 visitor centers. The closest to Baker is the Kelso Depot, which used to be a train station back in the day. Trains still pass through, but they are all for freight–no passengers.

Day 1 ended at Hole-in-the-Wall campground (and still no flowers).

I began Day 2 with a short hike on the Ring Loop Trail near Hole-in-the-Wall campground in the Mojave Preserve. You basically hike around some rock formations and into a canyon. Then you use metal rings to climb out of the canyon. The climbing part was tricky. I’m 5’2″ and I really could have used a tall person to help me scramble up the top part. I banged up a knee and a pinky toe, and then decided it would be best if I didn’t die. So I clambered back down and walked back to my car the long way around. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is admit defeat.

Hole-in-the-Wall

I still hadn’t found any wildflowers, but decided to try one more spot. I exited Mojave Preserve and drove to Amboy Crater. I spent quite a bit of time at Amboy last year when I was a botany intern in California. There had been wildflowers this time last year, so I figured there was a chance. (Of course last year was a Super Bloom, so it wasn’t exactly the norm.)

Amboy Crater

There were no flowers to be found at Amboy this time around, but it did make a new place to stop for lunch. I briefly considered continuing south to Joshua Tree, but decided to head back instead so I could treat my car to a well-deserved oil change and a wash.

I backtracked through the Mojave Preserve and stopped for gas in Baker. I had neglected to register the day before that Baker happens to be the home of the world’s largest thermometer.

Baker Thermometer

Baker, CA is home to the world’s largest thermometer.

 

As I was driving past Death Valley on my way back home, I noticed a large white “DV” on the side of a mountain. Someone must have painted a bunch of big rocks white and formed them into the gigantic letters.

DEVA Rock Initials

So I did not fulfill my quest to see lots of wild flowers on my President’s Day road trip, but there was still plenty to see!

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One Wild and Precious Life–Part 3

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I meant to post this a while ago, but life, moving, and limited internet access got in the way!

I recently took a solo train trip from the Mojave Desert to Portland, OR. For details on why on earth I thought this was a good idea, please read One Wild and Precious Life–Part 1 and One Wild and Precious Life–Part 2. This post recounts, the final leg of my journey.

My train wasn’t set to leave until 2:30PM the day after the Dear Sugar Radio Live taping. It may have been wiser to spend that time sleeping since I would be spending roughly 30 hours riding in trains and buses, but I had never been to Portland before. I opted for adventure. The first thing I discovered is that nothing opens in Portland before 10AM. Except the coffee shops. After strolling through mostly-deserted streets for an hour, I found my way to Pioneer Courthouse Square and finally found people.

After a while, I found Powell’s City of Books, which claims to be the biggest new and used bookstore in the world. I believe it—the store takes up an entire city block. Needless to say, I was in heaven. I allotted one precious hour to wander the shelves, but really I could’ve spent the entire day there easily if I hadn’t needed to catch a train. On the top floor, in the Pearl Room, I found an autographed copy of Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren—a book I’ve been wanting to read anyway. It was like the Universe was telling me to buy the book. Who am I to deny the Universe?

I made it to the train station not long before my train started boarding. Before I knew it, I was speeding back to the desert. Sort of. After a few hours, I made my way to the observation deck and found a seat. While I knitted a blanket, I listened to Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering What I Drank to forget. At some point, a woman from another car sat in the seat next to me. We didn’t talk much. I was knitting with headphones and she was reading Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Still, there was an unspoken comradery between us that made me wonder if she was traveling alone as well.

Sunday was a marathon. It started at 6AM when the train I’d caught in Portland arrived in Sacramento. From there I took a bus to Stockton, then a train to Bakersfield, and another bus to LA. I arrived at the Los Angeles Union Station about an hour before my final train left for Needles. I was exhausted.

The very last leg of my journey was a six-hour train ride. I was hoping to spend most of that time sleeping, but my body had other ideas. All the travel and sleeping in quasi-horizontal positions was starting to take its toll. Only a couple of hours in, my left leg started twitching. My calf muscles were so tight that my entire leg would jump to the left at random. This was a problem since there was definitely someone sitting in the seat to my left. Luckily, the back half of the car was empty at that moment, so I ambled over to the set of seats just behind the staircase where I knew there would be a little more room to maneuver and I stretched. Toe touches, hamstring stretches, quad stretches, cow/cat poses, child’s pose, lower back stretches, shoulders, triceps, forearms, neck, upper back. At some point my nose started bleeding and I had to stop. Once the bleeding had stopped and my face was clean, I walked back to my assigned seat, reclined it as far it would go, and lost consciousness.

The next thing I knew, the conductor was announcing “Needles in ten minutes.” I folded my blanket, made sure I had all my belongings, and made my way down the stairs to the loading door. The train slid to a stop. The doors opened. I dragged my luggage and my sluggish feet to the cars where my roommate was waiting to pick me up. I had made it.

During the podcast taping in Portland, Cheryl explained a concept she called “retrospective fun.” Essentially, it means that you aren’t necessarily having fun in the moment, but when it’s all over and you’re looking back on the experience you can say yeah, actually that was fun. A few parts of my train adventure to Portland definitely fit that bill. Overall though, it was a great trip—fun, inspiring, and empowering. I’m glad I went.

 

P.S. I pay my own electricity bill.

 

One Wild and Precious Life-Part 2

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

Dear Sugar Radio recently taped two podcast episodes in front of a live audience in Portland, OR. I decided to attend–even though I live no where near Portland, OR. For details on how that happened see Part 1.

I made it to the hotel with plenty of time to walk to Revolution Hall.

“You walked?” My grandma was utterly scandalized when she heard that part.

“It wasn’t very far and Portland is a very walkable city.”

“Alright then—keep going.”

It started drizzling on my way over, but not much. I was surprised that there were more people queuing outside the building even though I arrived only about 10 minutes before the doors were set to open. To my surprise, I was allowed to enter the building right away. I made my way upstairs to the theater and suddenly understood—a long line had already formed in front of the main theater doors. That’s the part that would be opening in a few minutes.

I wandered over to the back of the line and resolved myself to a long wait. After just a few minutes, though, an employee clued those of us in the back that there was another set of doors with almost no line just around the corner. A few fast-paced steps later and I was near the front of the other line. A few minutes after that, the doors were open and I found myself in the 5th row from the front. I was ready.

There was a huge backdrop reading “Dear Sugar Radio” across the back of the stage behind large red armchair and a beige love-seat. The arm chair was for Cheryl Strayed while Steve Almond and the guest speaker would sit on the couch. I had originally thought that I would be watching one episode with two guest speakers, but it soon became apparent that there would be two episodes taped that night. Works for me!

Each episode of Dear Sugar Radio starts with a voice-over of Cheryl while the theme song plays. For the first year or so, the theme was “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” by Nina Simone, but sometime around January they switched to an original song played by the band Wonderly and sung by Angela Freeman. I got a little thrill when Wonderly started playing the song live at the start of the first episode. Then Angela Freedman strolled on stage, belted into the microphone, and sauntered away. And so it began.

Both episodes followed this format: opening song, introduction of the episode’s theme, introduction of the episode’s guest, reading and discussion of a letter from a listener, and Dear Sugar-style Q&A. Each episode ended with a live song played by a musical guest. I’m not going to give a complete summary of each one because I think it would be better to just listen to them.

The first episode focused on the idea of reinvention and featured writer Lidia Yuknavitch. I had read Lidia’s novel, The Small Backs of Children, on the train to Portland, so it was very fresh it my mind. There is a chapter in that book called, “White Space”. It is only six pages long, but it is some of the most beautiful and complex writing I have ever read in my life. I am a better writer just for having read those six pages. [Thank you, Lidia! P.S. I loved your red boots!]

Lidia Yuknavitch and The Sugars

Lidia Yuknavitch and The Sugars

 

The second episode focused on addiction and featured writer Sarah Hepola. Sarah spoke about her own experiences as a recovering alcoholic in response to that episode’s letter. I started reading her memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, the next day. I have never drunk to the extent that Sarah describes, but I definitely related to many of the insecurities that she cited as reasons she drank such as building up courage in social settings. I also loved her writing style. Steve read a few excerpts from the book during the podcast that he especially loved, but really the entire book is full of beautiful sentences.

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola helps The Sugars answer a letter from a listener.

Like I said earlier, both episodes ended with a Dear Sugar version of a Q&A. Rather than having audience members ask questions in a microphone, someone had gone around with blank index cards while we were waiting in line so to allow questions of a more anonymous and intimate nature. Cheryl and Steve gave advice that night regarding such topics as infidelity, hiking, writing real-life events, and parenting. I didn’t ask a question that night. I thought of a couple I could have asked over the next few days, but in the moment I was too full of euphoria to remember that, just like everybody else, I have problems.

I walked back to my hotel in actual rain, rather than just drizzle, but at that point I was way beyond caring. There was a piano in the parking lot of Revolution Hall and some was playing in the rain. I didn’t recognize the tune, but in the moment it was magic.

Tiny Beautiful Day

The end of a tiny, beautiful day.

One Wild and Precious Life–Part 1

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I moved to the Mojave Desert to escape my comfort zone. (Also, because I got offered an internship which would give me some much-needed field experience.) I wanted to live up to my own lofty ideals of “going where life takes me” and “living with no strings attached”. I’ve learned a lot out here so far—mostly in regard to plants and field work and desert life, but also about myself. I’ve also gotten a little braver.

Whipple Wash

Monitoring rare plants in Whipple Wash.

One of my current heroes is Cheryl Strayed of Dear Sugar/Wild/Tiny Beautiful Things fame. When Cheryl was 26, she spent the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from California and Oregon. She did this alone. Solo. By herself. Sociologically speaking, women in our society are not expected to do things alone (ie: go to bars, eat dinner at sit-down restaurants, travel, walk through miles and miles of wilderness). Through reading her work, I have come to the understanding that Cheryl is not only brave enough to do all of those things, she is also compassionate and a very attentive listener.

So, I’m in the desert. I am an avid listener of Dear Sugar Radio (a podcast featuring Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond). I found out that there would be a live taping of Dear Sugar Radio in Portland, OR in July. Can you see where this is going?

The idea seemed crazy at first—I came to the desert to find plants, not to go gallivanting off to see writers. Portland was still a long way away—closer than it would be from Wisconsin, but still. It was on a Friday, I would have to take time off from work. I would have to drive to the Las Vegas airport. It would be frivolous—I should be saving money. Who would go with me? I casually mentioned the upcoming event to one of my friends who also loved Dear Sugar Radio, but she didn’t bite. So much for that idea.

I couldn’t shake it though. I really would like to go. My friends were going places on the weekends—Vegas, Death Valley, Iowa, Florida. Sure they were either reasonably nearby or places they had once called home, but still I didn’t really want to drive through Vegas. I tend to get lost a lot. You could take a train—you’ve never been on a train before. I looked it up—I could easily catch a train that would take me where I wanted to go. You said you wanted to be more adventurous.

It was like I dared myself to do it. I looked up the price of a ticket to the event, a round-trip train ticket, and a hotel nearby. I could do this. So I did. I bought all three in one day. Then I started telling people: my roommate, my parents, my friends back home. By that time, it was too late for them to talk me out of it—I already had the tickets. Actually, no one did actively try to talk me out of my trip. They said they were worried about my safety, that they wished they could go with me, that I was very brave to go all by myself. But no one said, “Don’t go”. For which, I was grateful.

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Ticket for 1 to Dear Sugar Radio Live!

My parents did request regular updates, though.

It wasn’t until I had already purchased the tickets and started informing people of my upcoming trip that I started seeing the parallels. Cheryl grew up in Northern Minnesota. I grew up next door in Northern Wisconsin. Cheryl started her hike in the Mojave Desert. I was travelling all over the Mojave desert for my botany internship. (Mostly in 4-Wheel Drive vehicles, but there was definitely some hiking involved.) Cheryl was 26 when she hiked the PCT. I’m 26 now. Cheryl ended her hike at the Bridge of the Gods, about 40 miles away from Portland. I was going to Portland. Basically, in my own way, I was kind of, sort of maybe, ish, following in Cheryl’s footsteps. That thought alone was empowering.

My grand solo adventure was supposed to start at 12:30AM on a Thursday, but the train was delayed. It finally pulled up to the station at 1:32 AM. By that time, I was exhausted. I found my seat, stashed my luggage and fell asleep. Done.

The proper part of Thursday (the part on the other side of sunrise) was a blur arriving at LA’s Union Station, finding some breakfast, waiting for my next train, boarding said train, finding my new seat, and PA announcements about dinner options, and this is a non-smoking train, and our next stop will be.., and seriously people—don’t smoke on the train. I had a window seat and watched graffiti melt to mountains which gave way to the ocean, then vineyards, which later vanished into evergreen forests and misty lakes. I’ll admit that I didn’t pay as much attention to the scenery as I maybe should have. I was too busy reading The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch. It was a little more difficult to drift into dreamland the second night, but I managed.

In the morning, I woke up to a seat-neighbor—it had been empty up until then. The lady next to me was retired and off to visit her family in Seattle for 2 or 3 weeks. I figured she was okay when I saw the book she had brought with her—A Mercy by Toni Morrison. We talked about her siblings and her grandchildren and her plans for the next few weeks. She asked where I was going and why. She seemed pretty impressed. “I love that your generation is encouraged to do that sort of thing. When I was your age, it was all about finding a husband and raising a family. Even working outside of the home was a big deal.”

When the train arrived in Portland, my seat-neighbor wished me luck and reminded me to “call your mama.” I stepped off the train. It was gray and less than 80°F—I wasn’t in the desert anymore.

 

 

We Made It!

Sorry for the delay…I blame long days and a lack of WiFi. But in case you were wondering WE MADE IT TO NEEDLES!

We left the Blue Swallow Motel around 8AM. Well…make that closer to 8:05AM (they almost left me in Tucumcari!)

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After a couple of hours, we found the singing highway in Tijeras, NM.

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The blue sign says “Reduce speed to 45 MPH to hear the song!”

Soon after that, we arrived in Albuquerque where we made an extended pit stop for donuts, thrift shops, and lunch.

The tricky part about finding lunch was it was a Friday during Lent (no meat!) While Mom popped into one last thrift shop, Glenda and I decided to cross a busy street with no crosswalks to a restaurant on the other side called The Grill. One glance at the menu told us there was no fish to be had. We asked the lady at the front counter if there was a place nearby that did have fish. She said to ask the man sitting behind us, so we did. He said, “Yeah, here!” We were slightly confused, but it turned out that he was the owner of the restaurant. He had some fish in stock for his own personal use, but he offered to make us 3 servings just because we asked! (Thanks, Phil!)

After Albuquerque we drove almost straight to Laughlin–our goal for the night.We arrived in Laughlin, NV late Friday night and drove the final half hour on Saturday.

JOURNEY TO THE MOJAVE DESERT–DAYS 3&4

HOURS DRIVEN: 10.5

MILES DRIVEN: 703

STATES VISITED: 4 (New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California)

Current Location: Needles, CA

We’re FINALLY Not in Kansas Anymore

Hello Beautiful People!

Today was a long day and I don’t have the greatest internet connection right now so I’m going to keep this short. I’ll hopefully be able to catch you up on particulars in a day or two, but here’s the short version:

Kansas takes forever to drive through. And it mostly looks like this.

Kansas Countryside

This was the view from the window for most of the day today.

We stopped for the night at this really neat place called the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, NM.

I’m pretty tired and this chair in my room looks very inviting, so I’m signing off for now!

Comfy Chair

Doesn’t this armchair look super comfy??

 

We should reach our final destination tomorrow evening after a mere 10 hours of driving!

JOURNEY TO THE MOJAVE DESERT–DAY 2

HOURS DRIVEN: 13

MILES DRIVEN: 796

STATES VISITED: 6 (Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico)

Current Location: Blue Swallow Motel (On Historic Route 66) Tucumcari, NM

My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades

Hello, Beautiful People!

My apologies for the 6 month hiatus. I haven’t gotten around to typing much since I discovered the connection between Emily Dickinson and Harry Potter. I could give you a detailed account of my life in that time, but I think I’ll just go with, “I bagged a lot of groceries,” and leave it at that.

Now, though, I’m foreseeing LOTS of new blog posts because (drum roll, please ./././././././)

I’m going to spend the next 5 months as a botany intern in the Mojave Desert! That means new sights to see, a new ecosystem to learn about, new plant species to identify, and lots of new roads to get lost on! Oh, and I start on Monday.

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My mom and I left the house at 7AM. One day down, two to go before we reach Needles, CA!

I set off from Phelps, WI this morning with my mother at 7AM. We drove for most of the day and ended up in Des Moines, IA. According to Google, we only need 24 more hours of straight driving time before we make it to our end goal of Needles, CA by Friday evening!

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Rounding out our merry band is my Aunt Glenda who agreed to move me halfway across the country!

The plan for tomorrow is to drive for 13 hours! I’ll hopefully report back then!

JOURNEY TO THE MOJAVE DESERT–DAY 1

HOURS DRIVEN: 9

MILES DRIVEN:507

STATES VISITED: 3 (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa)