Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 20- MOOSE!!!!!! And Fort Collins

October 4th 2010 Day 20 Monday

We got back yesterday evening from Steamboat Lake and I was happy to get the time to relax by myself and write in my journal about all the crazy events of the weekend. Tyler went out with Joel for a little bit and I was going to watch the Giants football game if I could get it on a broadcast channel on our television but it didn’t work. That was alright because watching the Giants recently has just depressed me. I have faith that they can get better though!

We decided to spend Sunday night in Steamboat so we could head out early this morning. We had everything in the travel trailer pretty much together so it didn’t take long for us to be travel ready once we’d woken up. I was happy to get the chance to hike Hanz up the hill for his morning jaunt one last time. It really is so beautiful here.

Tyler and I decided it was highly necessary for us to return to Creekside one last time for a delicious breakfast before we left Steamboat. We sat in the same spot outside next to the wrought iron fence so that Hanz could lie down nearby and across from a stream that trickled softly in the background. I ordered what they described as a French toast breakfast sandwich: baguette French toast with two scrambled eggs, ham, and swiss cheese. Holy cow was that amazing! The Creekside Café (http://www.creekside-cafe.com/) in Steamboat Springs, CO is definitely in my top 5 best eateries of all time!

French toast with scrambled eggs, ham and swiss cheese from the Creekside Cafe!

Me and Tyler at the Creekside Cafe
They were hiring, which made me very excited, and for a second I was tempted to just stay in Steamboat and live for a while but that wasn’t a very practical idea and we still had a huge leg of our trip to do. Really, this is just the beginning. But I am definitely scouting as we go to see where I would consider living.
After a very filling breakfast (of course I had leftovers!) we packed everything up, hugged Rayne and Bear goodbye, thanked them for their generous hospitality and hit the road towards Fort Collins. We went over Rabbit Ears pass, which gave us a great view of Steamboat from above.

Once we passed through Walden we entered into Roosevelt National Forest, which added some much appreciated scenery to our drive. 

A Gorgeous View Into Roosevelt National Forest
Along Hwy 14 I waited in anticipation for the Moose Visitor’s Center and kept my eyes open for Moose, since there was supposed to be a lot of them in this area because they love water. We traveled for miles with my head craning out the window, determined to see moose. I had only seen one moose in my whole life and that was a couple weeks ago in Ennis! We were driving down a small, two lane highway, surrounded by conifers when I looked out my window and saw 4 moose! There was a bull moose with huge antlers and 3 cows (cows are female moose for all of you in NY! <3). OMG I was so excited! About 2 miles down the road we got to the Moose Visitor’s Center. We went inside and I excitedly told the woman at the front desk what I’d seen and I got to write it on the “Moose Sightings” board! The woman was also excited because she said that there haven’t been many sightings this year. I felt so lucky! Another woman who also worked for the Colorado Parks Dept came in a few minutes later and said she had also seen them, except she had also seen a baby that had been lying on the ground! I wish I had seen that but as it was I felt so blessed I couldn’t really complain.

There was an amazing statue of a moose outside of the Visitor's Center. A local family team of wire sculpture artists (Louis, Carl and Brian Gueswel) worked over 700 hours. They used steel tubing and barbed wire as well as a rust converter to give it a lifelike color and appearance. The statue is almost 7 feet tall and is modeled after the real size of a record moose from the area! It's quite impressive in person, the detail it amazing!

Barbed Wire Sculpture at the Moose Visitor's Center in Walden, CO
Moose are such cool animals. Their sheer size is enough to wow you but then if you know anything about them it just makes them that much more amazing. Bull moose antlers can actually grow to over 6 feet in length but despite their incredible size they are really good swimmers. They can even fully submerge while swimming, usually for 30 seconds or more. On land they can run up to 35 mph. That would be a sight to see! Although it would probably also be the last sight you’d see.

When we arrived in Fort Collins we realized there wasn’t anywhere ideal for us to park for the night. Tyler’s friend Aaron said there was a parking lot behind his house where we could park. It was a small parking lot behind a building that was being converted into a women’s shelter. Aaron’s backyard butted up against the lot so it wasn’t completely sketchy but we did get some weird looks from neighbors. I think if we’d stayed for more than one night someone would have complained but it wasn’t a big deal for just one night.

Fort Collins was an alright city. It's crazy how flat it is, since it's in Colorado I assumed it would be in a valley in the mountains but that wasn't the case. I didn't really get the chance to get a good feel for life in Fort Collins because we didn't stay for very long but it seemed very sprawled and not very appealing. There didn't seem to be a real city center that was walkable and where you could spend a lot of time. I must be missing something though because this year Money magazine voted it the #6 best place to live in the country. I guess one thing that is pretty cool about Fort Collins is that it has five microbreweries!  

Aaron had a midterm the next day so we hung out for a while but then he had to meet a study group for a while. Tyler and I decided to go see the new Oliver Stone film, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. It was pretty much what I had expected, entertaining but far from brilliant.

When we got back Tyler went over to Aaron’s to chill some more since it had been so long since they had seen each other. I was pretty tired since we’d gotten into the habit of going to bed early so I decided to lie in bed and read. I made the mistake of starting The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy and was quickly sucked in. Before I knew it, it was almost 1am!

I was kind of uneasy about sleeping in the lot because I was a bit worried that at any moment the police would knock on the door and tell us to scram but that didn’t happen. The anticipation was probably more stressful than anything else but it was only for one night so it was okay. And just in case any creepers came around I had my handy Costa Rican machete by the bed!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 19- Duck Feathers & Bear Messes with Tyler and Joel

October 3rd 2010 Day 19 Sunday

This morning I walked Hanz again along the shores of Steamboat Lake. This time we saw a deer grazing in the large riparian area. When I got back I went out on the speedboat with Tyler, Rayne and Bear. We cruised around the lake and saw a buck and a doe grazing on the banks across the way. They were so beautiful and quiet. 

Deer Grazing by Steamboat Lake

The only disconcerting thing was that we had heard gunshots yesterday from duck hunters and certain sections of the lake were strewn with feathers. Obviously somebody had hit their target. Some of the ducks had obviously landed fairly far from the shore and it's amazing to think that retriever dogs swim that whole length and back. Hanz can swim but I think it would be pushing it to send him several hundred feet from land. His head is so low in the water because he hasn't been bred to be an efficient swimmer so he ends up swallowing a lot of water. If you watch a lab or another dog bred to retrieve game they swim with their heads far above the water and their short coat makes them have less resistance while they swim. It is interesting to be in a situation where you can actually see a big difference due to selective breeding in dog species of similar size. 

Aside from feeling a bit bad for the ducks who met their end in the waters surrounding our canoe we had a good time. It was chilly on the lake, especially when the boat would speed up and the breeze would rip the heat away from our bodies. Tyler, Hanz and I lounged on the front of the boat and I was happy that Hanz looked to be enjoying himself. He would tip his snout up in the wind and sniff sniff sniff. He's a very curious dog.

It's Chilly!
For breakfast we went back to Hahns Peak Café because supposedly they have the best eggs benedict. It was indeed a very delicious breakfast. I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits that area!

Hahn's Peak Cafe has delicious food and is very close to Steamboat Lake

After breakfast we crossed the street to where the remnants of the town of Hahns Peak still stood. Unfortunately the jail that normally can be toured as a museum was closed for the season. I suppose that because the summer weather ends fairly early around here, and it's not uncommon to have snow in early October, they weren't anticipating many crowds at this time of year. Oh well, I'll just put it on the list of places to which we have to return.

Hahns Peak

We got our trailer all ready and then went back out on the boat, this time it was me, Tyler, Joel, and Bear.
Joel and Tyler decided, even on this overcast day, to go tubing off the back of the speedboat. Tubing in my mind is getting in an inner tube, hopping into the river, drinking a beer and relaxing but lake tubing is obviously something quite different. 

Joel and Tyler getting ready for extreme tubing!
Tyler and Joel both got onto tubes but since Bear wanted to mess with them as soon as they got far away enough from the boat he ramped up the speed until we were whipping across the water, both Tyler and Joel holding on for dear life. Bear would wait until it looked like they were starting to get a handle on things and then make an abrupt turn, throwing them over the wake and cackling at their struggles. At the same time Joel and Tyler were trying to knock each other off of the tubes. It was a crazy enough ride being on the boat so I couldn’t imagine what it was like for them out on the water! Hanz and I were sitting in the boat holding on for dear life. Or rather Hanz was staring at Tyler and I was holding on to him so he didn’t go flying out of the boat! Normally Hanz would have been terrified but he had never seen Tyler do something like this before so he was too busy staring at him the whole time to make sure he was okay to really be scared. It was only after Tyler got pulled back in and onto the boat and Hanz knew that he was okay that he started to show that he was a bit nervous. He’s such a good dog, our little adventurer.

Bear looks very happy to be throwing Tyler and Joel across the boat's wake!

Hanz making sure Tyler is alright. Notice the look of intense concentration!

When we got back to the campground we packed everything up and headed back to Steamboat for one last night. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 18- We Hike Hahns Peak & The Speedboat Runs Away!

October 2nd 2010 Day 18 Saturday

We woke up bright and early this morning with the sun streaming in through our window. I looked outside at the lake and in the quiet of the early morning the fog rolling across the top of the lake looked eerie and almost unreal. If you walk down to the lakeside about 30 yards below our campsite there is a really nice trail that winds around the lake and into the riparian area and woods. Hanz loved walking down there because there weren’t any other people so he didn’t feel like he had to be on guard to protect me and there were tons of new and interesting smell trails for him to follow.

After cooking up some breakfast with Bear and Rayne we headed out to hike to the top of Hahns Peak in the Elkhead Mountain Range. I discovered later that Hahns Peak would be the highest peak in the region, topping out at 10,839, but for one other peak nearby that is 8 feet higher! Ugh. But I argue that we really did hike the highest peak because at the top of the mountain there is a fire tower and we went up into it and it was definitely greater than 8 feet above the peak… so there! It is ironic but this mountain range is generally considered to be low elevation because there are so many 14,000+ mountains in Colorado.
Soon after starting the gradual but constant ascent I was miffed at how out of breath I was getting. My chest felt tight and each breath seemed like more effort than normal. Tyler was kind enough to remind me that at such a high elevation this was normal until your body has adjusted to the altitude. Above 8,000 feet is commonly when people start to experience the side effects of altitude sickness.

The view from our campground of the lovely Hahns Peak
The trail was absolutely gorgeous and again, the fall colors here are amazingly brilliant. There were several points from which the views were just incredible. We would keep thinking we’d seen an awesome view and then we’d climb higher and the next time we had a view of the lake and valley below we’d say, No, that is awesome, and so on and so forth until we got to the top. The last quarter mile or so switchbacks up a real rock scramble. I started to freak myself out by wondering how deep the rocks were piled on top of the mountain and imaging them crumbling from underneath my feet. Luckily I soon saw that you could actually see the ground beneath the layers of rock so it couldn’t be too deep. Plus, they wouldn’t have been able to build a lookout tower and have it last for so long at the top if the mountain was so unstable. Hanz was being really cute because he was so focused on where he was stepping. The top scramble definitely made him a bit nervous but he is a great adventurer: when we got to the summit he even climbed up the fire tower with us! He is so loyal. You really couldn’t ask for a better dog. One of my favorite things about summiting Hahns Peak was that in the distance you could see Steamboat Lake including our campground and even the tiny dot that constituted our travel trailer.

Beware of Lightning!
On the trail
That tiny dot is our travel trailer!
We headed back down and enjoyed the crisp weather. I love putting effort into hiking and sweating and feeling every bit of the hike because then when you go back down, especially if there’s some breeze, it’s so refreshing and just plain fun because the hard part is over. Now you just have to try not to kill your knees going downhill! When we got back to the campground by the Lake I was ready to hang out by myself for a bit since we’d been very active and social for the past week. Joel had gotten off from work so he and Tyler took off to have some guy time and I cleaned up a bit in the trailer.

Rayne had a couple friends join them for lunch and she invited me to come over to their campsite. I made some grilled cheeses on delicious sourdough bread and then sat down with them at the picnic table. After lunch they were going to take the boat out on the lake but there were four of them and a huge dog so that coupled with the fact that I really wanted nothing more than to curl up with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and finish it made me more inclined to stay behind. I went into the trailer and had just sat down when I heard Rayne remark, Where’s the boat?! Bear had taken the boat out for some early morning fishing and obviously didn’t secure it in the best way because sure enough if you looked across the lake there was the motor boat drifting across the lake and almost at the opposite shore. A minute later I saw Bear in our canoe making his way towards the boat. Crisis averted! 

Day 17- Steamboat Lake and Jarvie Ranch History

October 1st 2010 Day 17 Friday

Tyler and I had decided to stay for the weekend so we could go up to Steamboat Lake and camp out with Bear, Rayne and Joel. Tyler brought our camper up there early in the day to secure a couple of choice camp grounds and Bear followed up with his RV, speedboat in tow.

I stayed in Steamboat with Rayne, helping her to pack up the RV before Bear took it to the lake. We went to a great river-side restaurant for some appetizers and cocktails before meeting the guys. The person who owns this restaurant in Steamboat is a woman who went to a gas station to buy some birthday candles for her husband’s cake and decided, for the first time in her life I might add, to buy a lottery ticket. She ended up winning some absurd amount, I think it was around $20 million and so she bought this restaurant! Some people are just super lucky I guess.

I really like talking to Rayne, especially because we are both really interested in history and western culture. She knows so much about this part of the country and has tons of fascinating books that I’ve been combing through. One of them, a BLM Utah book about Brown’s Park and the old Jarvie ranch historic site, I would love to buy but it seems you can’t get it anywhere but at that physical site! The ranch is very close to the Colorado border in Utah, not too far from where we were at Steamboat Lake but unfortunately not in the direction we were generally headed. Although we are trying to be super flexible so we can stop in all the interesting places we come across we have some limitations since we get terrible gas mileage with the travel trailer. I wish I had known how cool that site was before we came to Steamboat Springs because we could have worked it then but oh well. I’m sure we’ll be in this area again fairly soon so I’ll have the opportunity at some point to check it out.  

The BLM book I mentioned is basically a compilation of many great stories from when John Jarvie was alive. Common characters in the stories are Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and many other wonderfully notorious individuals from back in the day. In such a lawless time and place everyone was pretty sketchy and questionably ethical but outlaws, Native Americans and laypeople in this particular area tended to live harmoniously. It wasn’t until the Sand Creek Massacre that relations between settlers and the victimized and understandably suspicious Native Americans started to deteriorate (For more info on that see the entry for Day 9).

There were several stories that almost had me in tears I was laughing so hard. One described Butch Cassidy, at the first formal dinner the town had put together, as being incredibly nervous having to formally serve the tea even though he was completely composed in such simple acts as robbing a train or bank. He had to be taken into the back of the dining area and taught how to pour the tea correctly but even still he was a nervous wreck. I loved reading real stories about the everyday lives of people like him who are so often shrouded in a cloud of mystery and legend. Reading about their personal quirks really humanizes them.

Rayne and I drove up to the lake in the late afternoon. I went out on the speedboat with Tyler, Joel and Joel’s friend for a quick spin around the lake once we got there. When contemplating the weekend we weren’t sure if we wanted to go up to Steamboat Lake because Tyler grew up camping here when it had not yet been decimated by the Japanese pine beetles and we were afraid it would be too depressing if it looked terribly unhealthy. Although the beetles have done a number on the pine trees out here it’s a slight consolation to see the trees growing back and we were glad to have come out. I guess the beetles aren’t fans of the young trees, which is great because it gives them some time to make a comeback.

Hanz contemplating Steamboat Lake from his bed

Tyler with the beetle-ravaged pine trees in the background
We all went out to dinner in the town of Hahns Peak at the Hahns Peak Café which wasn’t kidding with its old wooden sign stating “If you’re in a hurry you’re in the wrong place.” Hahns Peak is technically now a ghost town and it has a very small population of people that all know each other. In the time of Butch Cassidy and the wild, wild West it actually held the county seat and a large jail for housing prisoners. We spent several hours there because of course Rayne and Bear knew every single person there and they all wanted to know who we were. The food and company were both great so it wasn’t until fairly late that we got back from the restaurant/bar.

We made a fire at the campsite and sat around talking and making s’mores for dessert. I think I’ve had about as many s’mores on this trip as I have in my whole life, hahaha. I guess it’s because this trip has been super conducive to having campfires and s’mores are a natural extension of that! 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 16- Hot Springs and Steamboat History

Day 16: September 30th 2010, Thursday

Today Tyler and I checked out the nearby hot springs in the morning before it got too hot. It was the perfect time of day to go because there was still a chill in the air from the cold of night. The hot springs were developed but in the best possible way. They weren't like Lolo Hot Springs in Montana where it's basically just a pool that happens to be heated by geothermal energy. The springs in Steamboat were very extensive and stratified at different heights ranging in temperature from creek-water cold to scalding hot. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and because it was the off season and it was still early in the day there were very few people so it was peaceful and relaxing. 

The water feels so nice in the early morning chill

A view of the main hot springs pools from above

Steamboat Springs got its name because early settlers thought the spring, in the middle of what would become the downtown, sounded like a steamboat. Evidently it's a world-renowned winter destination because of the quality of the ski slopes on the mountains overlooking town. Even walking around the town in the fall, I could feel that winter would be a great time in Steamboat. First of all because there is a crazy huge ski jump that you can easily see from downtown. You could be hanging out down there and watch people take the jump, one after another. Steamboat also has a really cool sounding winter event called Winter Carnival, held I believe every February, which consists of various events like dog sledding, slalom, horse-drawn children on skis, and more, all through the main street. This tradition began in 1914 as a way to bring some cheer to the residents who had to live with a very long and harsh winter. I think having the event in February is a great idea because it's after Christmas and seems like a good way to mark that spring is kind of almost on its way! An interesting fact about this event is that volunteers get snow, approximately 400 tons of it, from surrounding areas and pile it up on the main street! Also the high school marching band performs and actually marches down the street playing their instruments while on skis; that is some skill! It's interesting that skiing became so popular in towns like Steamboat Springs because it was the easiest form of transportation in the winter.

The American Indian tribe that called this area home before white settlers came along, were the Utes. They would hunt in the valley in the summer. Trappers and ranchers started moving into the area around the 1800's and soon after, in 1879, the Utes were forced off of the prime land and onto a reservation in Utah, hence the influence on the state name. The Utes were never actually a unified "tribe" but rather consisted of individual nomadic groups that associated with one another.

Day 14 & 15- Steamboat Springs

Day 14: September 28th 2010, Tuesday

I woke up this morning and opened the door to take Hanz for his morning walk. When I looked outside of the travel trailer I was stunned by the incredible fall foliage. It's funny but this is the first place I've seen fall colors for a while, and it was intense. Bear and Rayne, like I said, live up on a mountain that overlooks Steamboat Springs. Nobody lives behind them so you can literally walk outside and start hiking up into the hills. I want to live somewhere I can do that on a daily basis!! Since Steamboat is so high up there are lots of pine trees (an unfortunately large percentage of which are affected by the Japanese pine beetle) and the beautiful fall colors come from the massive amount of aspen stands in the area. I have never seen so many aspens in my life! Since a group of aspens sprout above the ground from a single organism I wonder how many trees typically come from that organism?

The view from Bear and Rayne's house

A beautiful aspen stand
It's funny because we drove in at night, just after dark, so I wasn't able to see the scenery at all and even though we were quickly settled in as if it was our home (thank you Bear and Rayne!) I woke up in anticipation of actually seeing what this place looked like! I cannot rave enough about the view from B&R's property. It completely overlooks the valley that contains the small city so even at night it beautiful: you are far removed enough that you can see the incredible stars overhead but you can still look down into the valley and see the glistening lights of all the city dwellings. 

Hanz loved hiking up there because the landscape was made up of the two types of trees that I told you about but more importantly (to him) there was super long grass everywhere. He does this antelope-like leaping when he's excited and in long grass. He'll catch the scent of some kind of intriguing animal and follow it while running and occasionally leaping to better see if he thinks the animal could still be around. 

Rayne had invited me over for coffee in the morning, and since Tyler was still sleeping, I went over to chat with her. I really enjoy conversing with her. We had many interesting conversations throughout the course of the week we spent in Steamboat, especially in the mornings when it was just us. It's funny how you find good friends when you aren't expecting it. 

Tyler and I decided to go out to breakfast at the Creekside Cafe in downtown Steamboat.  This was a place that Tyler remembered going to as a child and it was his father's breakfast joint of choice. The menu at Creekside is ridiculously delicious sounding. They have many variations on the traditional eggs benedict. I got the "florentine" version which has poached eggs, ham, spinach and tomato on an english muffin, topped of course with hollandaise sauce. Oh my goodness, so delicious! After a filling meal and a pledge to return within the next few days we headed out. 

We headed further into town by foot and I noted all the places I wanted to stop back in when I had more time. There were a bunch of cool statues and really sweet little shops. We went into an ice cream parlor and general store that had an old fashioned soda fountain with scoops of ice cream for only $1.00! We would have to return there at some point so I could get some ice cream when I wasn't already so full. 

Oink Oink

Tyler and I ended up driving all around town so he could look at all the things he grew up seeing. Tyler hasn't been here in at least 7 years so I let him do his thing and I was content with hearing all the stories and seeing where he went to school, where he'd lived, where his friends lived, etc. We headed over to the old llama ranch that he'd grown up on which was just outside of town. It was now a horse ranch and the beautiful buck and rail fence that his dad, Neil, had meticulously put in by hand (that's a lot of work) had been ripped out in favor of metal fence. To make matters worse the man who had last owned it owed millions in taxes so now the bank had repossessed the property and was selling it. I think it was kind of disappointing for Tyler to go back to a place he had such fond memories of, especially since it was a special place for him in his childhood and it hadn't been taken care of the way he would have liked. It was interesting for me though, to see it, because Tyler has told me so many stories about growing up on the ranch, causing mischief with his brother. 

Tyler's childhood residence at the Steamboat Llama Ranch

Day 15: September 29th 2010, Wednesday

After my walk I went to a great little cafe in downtown Steamboat Springs to catch up on some of my writing. The downtown is super cute, with tons of small boutiques. It's nice timing, being here in the fall because the snow fiends who fill the town in the winter have yet to arrive but the summer crowds are gone. However, once you look at the price tags you realize Steamboat is indeed a resort town, with prices to match! It is still really nice to walk around in the town because there are several blocks filled with stores that are very conducive to window shopping. Even though it's expensive it seems like a great place to live because the city puts so much of its tourist-generated revenue back into the city. There is free public transportation on buses and there is even a bus that will pick you up if you call it and take you to the nearest bus stop! That service is probably mainly meant for the elderly but it's really nice that the city makes that kind of effort. There are also extensive bike paths through town and all along the river, as well as various parks for kids and bridges connecting different parts of the city to the downtown. There are geothermal features on the river at different points downtown. There is even a place where the water comes out of the ground, further from the river, and pools into what looks like a hot tub in the ground. The water would be way too hot to sit in though.

Hot Springs in downtown Steamboat

I have been hanging low in Steamboat and giving Tyler some space so he can catch up with his friend Joel. I did meet up with him for the afternoon and we took Hanz to the Yampa river which runs through Steamboat. Hanz loves to swim so we were chucking a tennis ball into the water and letting him swim to retrieve it. I love how he looks so tiny when he is soaked and he has little chicken legs because the usually fluffy fur is slicked against his body! He is so cute. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 13- The First Female Dr in WY was Kinda Strange, Not Gonna Lie

September 27th, Day 13

I stayed up late last night reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had not planned on it but it was a mixture between Tyler hanging out with his new friends so I was waiting for him, the fact that it was extremely windy outside with wind sweeping through the canyon and blowing from what seemed like every possible direction, making our trailer creak and at times even shudder. The final contributing factor was that I had gotten to two really creepy parts of the book and my imagination was a bit too vivid to just put it down and say, goodnight! I should have known better because The Girl… is not exactly a bedtime story. 

We had some trailer technical difficulties as well. We woke up to a ticking sound in the night and thought that meant we were out of propane so Tyler got up and disconnected it so we wouldn't die if it turned out the propane was malfunctioning in some way. First thing in the morning Tyler went to fill the propane tanks because our fridge needs propane in order to operate correctly, otherwise we'd lose our food! So it turned out that the battery had died and that the fridge needs some electricity, as well as propane, in order to function. This is just one of those things that you learn the hard way. I felt bad for Tyler because it was really annoying for him because he had to drive all around Lander trying to find somewhere to fill up the tanks, only to be told that they were full. He explained that he must have just gotten a lot stronger lately because the tanks didn't feel very heavy, lol. Gotta stay positive!

The rest of today was spent packing up, going over our route, talking to Tyler's two new friends, and finally hitting the road. As much as I liked Lander, I really did not like the roads leading to and from it. It was basically driving through an incredibly dry landscape littered only with the occasional casino and Native Americans' trailers. The way out of Lander wasn't reservation land so it wasn't depressing in that respect but it was still desolate and after 5 minutes you could fall asleep because you had just seen the whole five hour drive.

Of course, as careful as we are, we are human and we kind of forgot to fill up with gas before we left. We also kind of didn't think about it until we were about 3 hours away and not seeing any gas stations. We pulled over in some small, no tiny, I'd even say almost non-existent, town where people do who knows what to make a living. I don't even think it showed up on our map. Luckily we had two 5 gallon gas canisters that Tyler had attached to our rig so he got out to get as much gas into the truck as possible (even though the canisters are designed in such a way that you can't pour out more than half of what's inside of them because there's not enough room to tilt them all the way up- they just hit the truck and you start muttering about the lack of proper engineering, or even just common sense). Tyler managed to contrive a pseudo-funnel and get all of the gas into the tank. Well, almost all of it ended up in the tank. A good amount ended up on him, which I'm sure does wonders for his health. We proceeded on our way with the windows down to air out the gasoline smell, but not before I snapped a photo of the lone structure that still looked to be inhabited. 

I got to see how truly creative I could be to pass the time as we looked for a gas station. I took pictures of various things and with my photographer's eye I noticed that Hanz's adorable mug was reflecting beautifully on Tyler's cell phone, which was sitting in the center console cup-holder! See below!

Hanz's lovely fangs reflected in Tyler's Android phone
We attempted to stop for lunch in Rawlins. Literally, the first four places we checked out were closed. We ran into a game warden and asked if he had any suggestions and he said there was, supposedly, a great Thai restaurant. I say supposedly and probably doubtfully, as well, since it's in some random place on the outskirts of Wyoming, no traditionally known for its ethnic populations. Alas we never got to find out because it was, you got it, closed. 

The town's economy revolved around mining and it's obvious that in its heyday it was a bustling city but now it's just trying to keep alive the infrastructure that was built back in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were tons of old murals on the older buildings that made up the downtown and even a statue of a goat outside the courthouse! One of the creepier buildings was a huge Masonic lodge with barely any windows. What is up with the free masons???

We ended up finding a little diner with some people in it, which we took to be a good sign. Also there was nobody smoking, so already this place was like a 5 star restaurant in our hungry eyes. The only downside was the tremendous amount of dead animals covering every possible surface- beavers, coyotes, foxes, deer... Welcome to Wyoming!

It's interesting to note that this now slightly(?) depressed town of Rawlins was quite the hot spot back in the day. Rawlins was home to the first female medical doctor in the state of Wyoming, Lillian Heath, back in 1893. Rawlins was also the place where cattle rustler Big Nose George Parrott was murdered and turned into a pair of shoes! You read that right and I swear that I kid you not! You can look it up for yourself! Parrott was not exactly a saint, he murdered two officers of the law and was being held in Rawlins until he could be hung for his crimes in 1881. He tried to escape but when the patriotic people of Rawlins heard of this, 200 of them stormed the prison and dragged him out onto the streets, stringing him up on a lamp post and lynched him. Medical doctors at the time thought you could see what made someone a criminal if you just literally looked at their brain, so his skull cap was removed in order for this to happen. The sickest part of this (God, do I love history! People are so weird!) is that his skull cap was kept by Lillian Heath (at that time only an assistant because she was only 15 years old) and actually used alternately as an ash tray, door stop and pen holder! Like I said, look it up for yourself. And it does get weirder. One of the doctors, John Osborne, who later became the first Democratic Governor of the State of Wyoming had his skin removed, including his nipples and used that flesh to make shoes. Thank you very much I am ready to move on in to Colorado!

We didn't get into Steamboat Springs, CO until after dark but we had just enough light on the outskirts of the city for me to see the landscape change. Vast sage brush desert was slowly replaced with green shrubs and fuller vegetation. Cottonwoods dotted the skyline and mountains obscured the horizon. We drove a good while into Steamboat and zig-zagged up into a mountain-side neighborhood. We finally came to the house at the top of the mountain, and Tyler announced that we had arrived. We would be parking our travel trailer on the beautiful property owned by Bear and Rayne (pronounced Rain-ee), the father and step-mother of Tyler's childhood best friend, Joel. 

Bear must have seen or heard us arrive because he quickly came outside and greeted us warmly. He even had a completely flat place for us to park our travel trailer in front of his RV and hook up to electricity! He invited us to come inside as we waited for Joel to arrive. Joel is working as a logger and lives further north, near Steamboat Lake, so he was still making the drive down to meet us. We stepped into their warm and cozy log house and were greeted by Rayne, who quickly recognized Tyler despite the fact that his hair was so much shorter and he was a couple feet taller than the last time she had seen him when he was 13. We sat around their kitchen table and chatted until Joel arrived. I was instantly clued into the fact that Rayne was awesome when she offered me a shower "for as long as you want!" I gratefully accepted but wanted to wait to meet Joel first, despite my probably disheveled appearance. He arrived a few minutes later and after introducing myself and chatting for a bit, I excused myself so I could once again be clean and civilized. No, there weren't any showers where we were staying in Lander!

Joel is an extremely gifted musician- he plays 3 instruments! I got to hear him play the piano while I was in the shower, the sound traveled really well! Even though Joel and Tyler were childhood best friends they lost touch when Tyler moved to St. Croix so they had not really spoken in six years! It was really great that they were able to reconnect, I was so happy for Tyler because he was so excited. 

Two things I have come to seriously, seriously appreciate on this venture have been showers and concrete. There's really nothing like going from travelling on a bumpy pot-hole ridden dirt road to the sudden and silent purr of concrete beneath your tires, especially when you're pulling around a travel trailer. We have already had two flat tires, thank you very much, and we don't especially want to get anymore. We have proven (or rather Tyler has, hahaha) that we can change a tire on something that weighs almost two tons so since we already know that, no need to go testing ourselves in that capacity anymore. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 12- Reunion with An Old Friend & The Glories of Couch Surfing

September 26th 2010, Sunday 9pm

What a great time this has turned out to be in Lander! I ended up meeting Annemarie for breakfast at the Oxbow restaurant. It was such a treat to meet up with a friend I haven’t seen in seven years! Tyler and I were commenting about how we are now getting to be old enough that it is even possible to not see a friend for such a long time but to still remember them.

After meeting Annemarie and having delicious cinnamon roll French toast (it’s literally a cinnamon roll that they slice and then make into French toast. OMG) we had about an hour to kill so we went to the public park in Lander and played with Hanz who had been patiently waiting in the car. I had wanted to check out churches on Sunday mornings in the different areas we would be visiting, but I figured it isn’t often that you run into an old acquaintance and you have to take advantage of seeing that person while you can! Plus we have many more Sundays to come so I will have other opportunities.

So now I get to an explanation of Couch Surfing before I continue with my saga. Couch surfing is based off of the free website (www.couchsurfing.com) which is a global community of people who are travelling and/or providing free lodging for “surfers.” As a member you create a profile with your interests and however much information you’re comfortable with providing and you can post pictures of yourself, things in your life, the places you’ve traveled, etc. Since Tyler and I are traveling to a lot of places that we’ve never been and we don’t always know people in those areas I use the couchsurfing website to find people who seem cool to either meet up with for coffee or a beer or to get some advice on where good places are to get food, etc. It’s a way to have an “in” in the community because you’re getting advice from a local. It can help you to avoid tourist traps or to really take advantage of all the opportunities that you might not be aware of in an area.It can be a way to make travelling less expensive because you won’t have to pay for hotels, which is really nice. It’s a way of making travelling easier for people who don’t necessarily have excess income. It’s also just a cool way to meet some interesting people who often times have done a lot of traveling and have fun and entertaining stories about their own experiences on the road. Obviously I’m sure there are some weirdos on the website but you just have to use your better judgment and check them out a bit before committing to anything.

So anyways, I am a huge fan of couchsurfing, mostly just for meeting up with people who seem to have interesting lives or who I think I would be friends with if I knew them from somewhere else. What’s that saying, something like, strangers are just friends you have yet to meet? I mean, it is funny when you think about the arbitrary things that make it acceptable for someone to talk to us and become our friend. If you saw someone who looked really cool it would be unusual for you to just flat out walk up to them and say, Let’s be friends! Wanna hang out? Because that person would look at you like, wtf, I don’t know you, why are you talking to me? There needs to be something that acts as a segueway to conversation and possibly friendship. So usually, if I am going to be in an area, that makes it socially acceptable for me to look at the profiles of people in that area and then socially acceptable for me to send someone a message. Think about it, if I just randomly clicked on someone’s profile and thought they looked cool so I sent them a message telling them so and that I wanted to be friends, it would be kind of weird because it would seem totally random. I think the psychology of that is just fascination. There are just these little things that we have to do to make connections with people that we don’t know to make an approach not seem like creeping.

So when I was looking at Lander, WY on the couchsurfing site there were a few outdoorsy people who looked cool. I figured I would shoot them a message to see if they would want to meet up or at the very least tell me a cool place to hike in the area. Due to internet problems I only ended up sending out one message to this guy Travis about meeting up. It worked out that he liked football and Tyler and I had planned on watching the Giants v Titans game (which again turned into me being a bitter Giants fan, ugh!) so we invited him to join us. Tyler was definitely like, Wtf is this couchsurfing deal? Who are these people that want to hang out with random people? Don’t they have friends of their own? He cracks me up. I definitely had to do some convincing that they’re just people who like to meet people from other places, which I totally get because I think that is awesome, but I can understand how that might not be everybody’s cup of tea. I think it’s great because in very few other circumstances could you pull up to a parking space, get out and have a complete stranger smiling at you, ready to shake your hand and introduce themselves. The other side of this meeting total strangers business is that if I see someone who looks cool, especially if they are a guy, I can’t just go up to them and be like, Hey! You look cool! Trying to just talk to them or wanting to hang out with them to better get to know them would definitely be perceived as hitting on them and then that is just awkward because it’s like, Dude, I was so not interested in you that way. And then it’s awkward and you just sound stupid if you try to explain that you really did just want to talk to them and that you didn’t want anything more than a friendship out of it.

So conclusion to a long discussion of the pros of Couchsurfing, it ended up being a really interesting experience meeting Travis. No Mom, he wasn’t a serial killer and I didn’t meet him alone or in a deserted place! He wasn’t rooting for the Giants, which didn’t work in his favor, but I forgave him once he started telling me really interesting stories about his experiences living a short while in Vietnam! I wasn’t aware of this but evidently there are many retired American GI’s who have gone back to Vietnam after fighting there to try to help bring peace to the countries and probably themselves as well. I asked him about how it was being an American in Vietnam, a country we absolutely ravaged with chemical weapons like agent orange that don’t only destroy landscapes but genetics as well. Travis told me that the Vietnamese are actually very forgiving towards the American people. One of the most touching things that he told me about was when he was going to do a motorcycle tour of the Northern part of the country and he was trying to scope out the sentiment towards Americans to see if it would be too dangerous. He spoke with an older Vietnamese man who told him not to worry and that they understood that it was a conflict “between your government and my government” and they knew it was an unpopular war in America. I have so much admiration for people who can suffer so much but still be open-minded enough to be able to distinguish between the actions of a government and the people.

However, life as a tourist in Vietnam bodes not so well for the Aussies and the Europeans who have supposedly created quite an image for themselves as rude partiers. Large amounts of males from those places will rove up and down the touristy coast, hopping from bar to bar and party to party, starting fights and arguing over the already inexpensive prices of lodging and other expenses. So in comparison, as long as it’s clear you don’t fit into that category, being an American in Vietnam is actually pretty sweet.

Travis worked at a dive shop for a while on the coast and said his boss was a French Canadian who was heavily involved in the Thai sex market. Supposedly brothels in Thailand are often fronted by barber shops, given away by the fact that a dozen scantily clad women will be walking around inside. Having just read up extensively on sex trafficking this made me slightly sick, especially when he described the guy as being extremely charming, albeit a terrible person.

Ah, the wonders of couch surfing! You never know what kinds of stories you will hear. But you will definitely learn something! An afternoon well spent I would say. Thank you Travis!

When Tyler and I went back outside after spending three hours indoors watching football and chatting we realized how hot the day had become! We drove down to the river near Sinks Canyon and dunked under the freezing cold water to get some relief. It feels SO good to do that. I never want to just plop into the water because I think it is going to be too cold but then I do it and I definitely don’t regret it.

Afterwards we went to a Best Western in Lander and sat outside where they had outlets to charge our laptops and WiFi that we could steal. It has been fun traveling to these new places but it can be difficult to spend so much time with only one person so I am really glad that we ran into so many cool people within the past 24 hours! I mean, I love Tyler but seriously, living in a 17ft trailer and having one car (his) can be taxing. Considering this is just the beginning of the trip it’s definitely important to figure out something that I can do for myself and BY myself that will keep me pleasant and sane. Writing has been a good excuse for that. By now Tyler knows that if I say I’m going to go write, and he tries to talk to me, it had better be something pretty important or else he just gets glared at! We met two guys at the Lander Bar who are moving from Washington to Denver and driving a route similar to ours. Tyler hit it off with them and it turns out they are staying at our campground so he’s over at their campsite now, getting his quality time in so that he stays sane as well! J