June 19, 2012

The Gorge

Cruising down the PCH on my way towards LA, my cell phone cut out, ending my conversation with Dan.  I was in a talkative mood and tried call him back.  Nothing.  “The service is always shit here,”  I thought to myself and continued on my way to Malibu.

Up a head,  a slight figure walked d0wn the side of the road wearing a backpack.  As I passed,  I slowed and gave him the once over.  He was clean cut,  maybe in his late fifties, wearing a pull over fleece and running shoes.  Certainly not your standard variety of Tropical Zombie that wonderes up and down the California Coast looking like an extra from Waterworld.  Down shifting,  and pulling into the shoulder,  It took me a couple hundred yards to slow to a stop.

In my rear view mirror,  I watched has his slow gate pick up to a jovial combination of jogging and fast walking.

“Where  are you headed?”

“South, as far as you’re going.  I’m on my way to San Diego.”

“Alright, well I can take you to downtown LA or Santa Monica.  Hop in.”

“Thank you so much,  I really appreciate it,” he said as he slid open the back door and dropped his backpack next to my board bag.

“No problem man,  happy to give you a lift.”

“My name is Abel,  what’s yours?” He asked genuinely as he jumped up into the passenger seat.

“Like Cain and Abel?  My name is Foster.  Nice to meet you Abel.”

For the next hour, our conversation rambled without the limitations of acknowledged future interactions.  When time with another person is finite, conversations develop quickly.  We talked about our travels, where we’ve lived and surfing. When he asked where I was from, I told Abel that I was born in Portland but grew up in the Columbia River Gorge.  Looking like I just rattled off a name of a Mongolian provence, I then explain that it’s about 50 miles east of Portland on the Oregon and Washington border.

Outside of the Northwest, few people have heard of this region or its beauty.  Answering the primordial desire to explain your home, I take it upon myself to enlighten people about the Gorge to anyone that will listen.  Seeing that Abel was trapped in my van on our way southward,  he had little choice but to listen to my prosthelytizing.

Sunset on an old pasture.

The Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, Oregon.

The green room.

“She will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine.”

The Washougal River Valley.

Maddie is the most famous dog in Hawaii,  maybe even the world.

An orchard in bloom in Moiser.

Dock Life in Washougal.

High flows on the waterfalls.

The mobile changing room is back in action.

“Alright, anywhere hear is good.  I’m going to try to take the PCH down to Longbeach tonight,” Abel said motioning towards a parking lot on the side of the PCH in Santa Monica.

Pulling over at a Chevron,  I shifted into neutral.  “Good luck man.  Hope you get down to San Diego soon and if you ever make it up north,  check out the Gorge.  It’s a little slice of heaven. You won’t regret it.”

“Sounds like it. I can’t wait to see it.  Safe travel’s Foster,” Abel said shouldering his pack.

“You to Abel.”  Pulling out of the parking lot,  I watched in my rear view mirror as Abel marched down the Santa Monica Sidewalk. “Good luck!” I yelled out of the open window.

Here are some more links,

The Gorge (Facebook).

June 15, 2012

“Down Hill from Here”

The syncro’s starter cranked, lagging for a second before catching.  The liberally muffled exhausted echoed around the small mechanics shop in Arcata.  I grinned at John, the grey haired man poking his head into the engine bay.

“It’s still doing that slow crank thing… we cant really figure out what that’s about.. but it’s not cutting out any more,” John yelled over the rough idle of the syncro. “One of the guys went through and secured the harness with zip ties and checked all of the grounds.  Not sure exactly which one it was, but its not cutting out anymore.”

“Awesome.  I just need to get back to Portland.  I can handle a slow start and rolling her if she craps out.”

“Just park on hills,” John replied with a laid back tone echoing his roots in the far northwest corner of California.

“I’ve gotten pretty good at that,”  I laughed.

“The other option is that we order a starter from Go-westy,  but that wont be here until early next week.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“Thought so.  Safe travels man.”

After the better part of a week in Arcata, I tossed my backpack in the back seat of the Syncro and headed towards the 101.  The freedom of having a wheels again overcame my fear that the starter could crap out at any moment.  At the same time, it made me realize how good I had it when the van was 100% reliable.

Sticking to the coastal rout,  I followed the 101 up from Humboldt into Oregon.

“I can get 70 miles to the gallon on this hog…” My week in Arcata prompted me to pick up this hog.  She fits well in the back of the syncro and is perfect for motoring around town.

Memories flooded of all the times that a break down would have been a serious problem.  Middle of nowhere in Baja,  500 miles from the nearest van mechanic.  BLM Land in Utah,  50 miles from the nearest cell tower.  20 miles down a 4×4 road in Death Valley.  All of these scenarios would have required multiple day efforts just to get the van to a mechanic.   It’s best to count your blessings, I mused to myself.

Cresting the peak of the coastal range and the syncro descended into the Willamette valley.  In the distance,  the radio towers dotted the west hills.  Like a spot light singling an attraction,  these towers spelled an end to my mechanical plagued journey that started over a month before.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

“It’s all down hill from here,” I informed the empty passenger seat.

Here are some more links,

North (Facebook).

June 7, 2012

Mountain Dews for Breakfast

A  long hauler turned tow truck driver dropped us off in a large dirt parking lot behind a Chevron station some 100 miles west of the lonely stretch of road that we broke down in.  After three hours of sage advice on topics ranging from float shifting techniques to picking up women through Facebook, our tow truck driver shook our hands and headed back towards his “Old Lady” in Bullhead City.  It was 2:30 and  Tim and I quickly folded down the backseat and laid down side by side in the back of the Syncro.  We were unusually quite. Despite having lost its power of movement, the vans familiar smells were comforting, and I was asleep within minutes.

The 18 wheelers rumbled into motion shortly before sunrise and hit I40.  The change of their diesel engines from idle to load baring woke me from a deep slumber.  At 4:45, it was already 75 degrees.  “Fuck, It’s going to be a hot one..” I thought to myself before rolling over to sleep for an hour or two more.  By the time, my thumping bladder finally drove me from my sleeping bag at 6:30 in search of secluded place to pee,  only a few of the last stragglers were left.

Walking back through the empty parking lot towards the van,  a man in faded Levis and cowboy boots stood brandishing a Subway foot long and inspecting my strange vehicle.  He cracked a fresh Mountain Dew and took a long swing.

“You guys broke down?”  A thick southern accident crept past his grey mustache.

“Yup,  we got towed here last night.”

“Whats wrong?”

“Not sure,  but I think its the fuel pump.”  Turning the ignition,  the started cranked in vain.

“Yup, sounds like a fuel pump!” the man laughed in agreement, echoing years of constant smoking.

 Confirming my suspicions, I didn’t tempt fate a second time and left the keys in the ignition.  “We are getting towed to LA.”

“Plenty of places work on VW’s in LA.  You boys should be fine. Back on the road in no time.”

“So I hope.  Where are you headed?”

“Wisconsin.  Was supposed to be there…” He closed one eye and peered up at the sky, “….Five hours ago.”

“No shit?  how long will it take you to get there from here?”

“Well…” he closed the same eye and looked up at the sky, clutching the Mountain Dew in both hands, “…its about eighteen hundred miles, so if I beat feet I could be there in twenty five hours.  Which reminds me,  gotta hit the road.”

“Good luck.”

“You too.”

Here are some more links,

The Road Continues to Take (Faceb00k).

May 15, 2012

First Time West

The Syncro idled roughly in the arrival area of Portland International Airport late Monday night.  Glancing in the rear view mirror, I watched the lone police officer maker her rounds, motioning to stagnent drivers to continue their laps. I was already on my third and had little interest in making it a forth.

“Brrootherrr!!!” a deep voice echoed.

Sticking my head out of the window with hopes of spotting the origins of the thunder,  I spotted a red headed man wearing a leather jacket running out of a revolving door.  If the local Oregonians weren’t thrown off guard by the mohawk,  the boogie board dragging behind him put them over the edge.

“Uncle TTT!” I screamed back in an equally obnoxious but unthreatening tone.  Pulling the emergency break.  I opened the door and ran over to meet my college roommate, Tucker.

A few months after my 18th birthday, I told an admittance officer from a small college in Maine that I would love to attend their college having never stept foot in the state.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  That fall, I made the 3000 mile trip across the country excited to see a new place and meet new people.  I had never seen a lacrosse stick, heard Dispatch or watched a Red Sox game.  I thought about leaving my school for a more wordly place often but my connection with Maine and a handful of close friends kept me there.  I’m very glad that I did stick it out, because without that isolation and boredom, I probably never would have taken up photography or started this blog.

Despite having a relatively well traveld student body,  few of my peers had ever been west of a handful of posh ski resorts in Colorado.   Most people talk positively about their homes, but my experiences in New England compounded  my appreciation for the west coast and the Pacific Northwest in specific.  After six years of constant sales pitch resembling the late Billy Mays,  Tucker finally bought a ticket west and headed west for a 10 day safari.

Flying into Portland and then out of San Francisco 10 days later,  we planned to head down the coast.  Call it a best of trip.  It sounds easy enough, but the task of showing some one very close to you a place you love so well is a surprising daunting task.  I rushed to show him places that I thought were interesting.  We headed east of the Cascades,  spent a few days in portland and then meandered our way down the Oregon Coast to Northern California.

Wet campfire wood.

Tucker enjoying the signature Northwest rainwater by way of this barrel.  My guess is that it was in the mid 40s.

The green room.

Spring in Portland.



 Things I took for granted,  like Multnomah Falls or the size of the fur trees that ubiquitously dot the country side stunned Tucker.  I once heard that, “In the east, man is god,  but in the west,  nature is god.”  Now I’m not a religious person,  but this mantra speaks to me as I’m sure it does to a lot of people that have experienced both Coasts.  By the time I bid farewell to Tucker,  I could tell that he was starting to agree.

Here are some more links,

First Time West (Facebook).