Tag Archives: Cross country

A Eulogy for the Rainbow Frontier

In 2006, Tim bought a new used truck, a Nissan Frontier. It was an act of faith on his part. He had just decided to leave his hometown of Keene, NH and follow his heart to Northampton, MA. Leaving his hometown meant leaving his jobs — one as a farmer for a CSA, the other as a salesman at his family's clothing store — and all of the security that they provided. He moved for love, to discover what might happen between us, to see what a shared life might bring. Little did either of us suspect.


Just over three years later, we were acting on faith once again. The world economy had been pummeled by the Credit Crunch and it was clear to me that my small business would suffer in the coming year. Not wanting to sign another lease — much less for the increased rent that our landlord was demanding — we had decided to give away most of our earthly belongings and hit the road. While the world contracted, we would expand. While everybody else guarded their hordes like dragons, we would open our wings and fly toward the horizon.


The three of us — Tim, Mazy and me — loaded what few belongings survived the Potlatch and started driving. The Frontier had started off as a pickup truck; now it had become a home. We started off a family; we became a pack. We renamed the Frontier Rainbow, for it is a most auspicious symbol. For 22 months, we rode the rainbow, traveling back and forth across the country. We slept in a tent and cooked on a camp stove. We did everything together, as together as together can be. We occasionally crashed with friends or house-sat for traveling friends, but for most of those 22 months, we spent every waking hour with each other, learning each other, solidifying our bonds of love.


Rainbow handled the thousands and thousands of miles without complaint. Apart from the scheduled maintenance, we rarely concerned ourselves with her. She was our faithful pony, carrying us wherever we desired, from the San Juan Islands to Cape Hatteras; from Acadia to Patagonia. We decorated her with feathers we found along rivers, with rocks we dug from the desert soil.


When we decided to put the traveling life on hold and settled for a while in Santa Fe, Rainbow had a much-deserved rest. For two years she sat in front of our little house on Brae Street, suffering the indignities of the occasional ding, the minor decays brought on by the desert's incessant sun and insatiable dryness. And still, we thought little of her health. Just as we rarely worried about the health of Mazy, the golden heart of our pack. We assumed, as all lovers do, that we would be together forever.


Mazy died unexpectedly and suddenly in May of 2012. It was a terrible time, one that I am not brave enough to return to now. She died in the bed of the Rainbow Frontier, the truck that became a home, a home that, consecrated by her death on the Supermoon, became a heart. It was a shock that disrupted our sedentary lives and sent us careening on a new trajectory. We would return to the nomadic life, would let the The Endless Roadtrip carry us even further, beyond the boundaries of our home country.


We had dreamt of this leap for years, but were unwilling to leave our dear girl Mazy behind. With her death, a new freedom was possible. We had lost some of our easy faith in the benevolence of the world and we needed to reacquaint ourselves with its power. We would once again act in faith, step off the precipice, and trust that the universe would rise up to meet us.


Two years — to the day — after we arrived in Santa Fe, we left it in our rear view mirror and returned to the open road. We drove all the way back to the place we first met and fell in love. All that was left to do was drive across the country one more time, so that we could catch the flight that would take us to Bangkok and beyond.


On that western return, we only got as far as Sandusky, OH. There, Rainbow's engine light came on, followed by her oil light, and then, on the shoulder of 80/90, she shuddered to a halt. We had her towed to first one mechanic and then another. We spent three nights at hotels, hoping that she would be fixed and that we could resume our journey. The estimates for how much it would cost to put her right began to increase alarmingly. What started off as $1000 became $4000-7000. And just as suddenly and unexpectedly as Mazy was taken from us, we found ourselves saying our final goodbyes to the Rainbow Frontier.


She was a fine pony and and we loved her. It is impossible to know if we made the right decision; all we know is that we had to decide and so we did. Perhaps the mechanic we brought her to lied to us so that he might have a few extra dollars in his bank account. Perhaps he saved us from a more difficult circumstance. But in the end it doesn't matter. We were asked to surrender her and so we did. It was not easy. Saying goodbye to family — flesh or fur, metal or meat — never is.


Here is to the Rainbow Frontier, our peaceful warhorse, our four-wheeled haven. We thank you for the countless miles and the infinite vistas. We thank you for reminding us how little we need to be happy. We thank you for revealing how love and faith and adventure can forge two men, a dog, and a used pickup truck into something that transcends loss and absence: a soul family; a karmic pack.


bryce canyon national park in springtime ~ 26may10

so it’s been almost nine weeks since we visited the amazing, the awesome, the unbelievable bryce canyon national park, and i still haven’t gotten around to posting anything about our time there. why? well because really, what can you say? i mean, it really is beautiful; truly and profoundly beautiful. if you’ve been there, you don’t really need me to remind you of how insane the landscape is because you probably have a million photographs of your own. if you haven’t been there, then no amount of adjectives, no matter how artfully arranged, will provide even the tiniest glimpse of the beauty that this place tosses about with such wild abandon.

so let me just encourage you to find your way to bryce canyon at least once in your lifetime. not only for the nature, which let me repeat, is sublime, but also because witnessing the cross-cultural chaos that occurs when thousands of foreign visitors — from india, germany, japan, france, the uk, the middle east, australia, spain, mexico, brazil, china, russia and yup, even canada — collide with southern utah mormonism and the good old american tourist. imagine a table of parisians at an all you can eat buffet offering classic american items such as: chicken fried steak, pot roast, canned corn, baked beans, and dinner rolls more like giant marshmallows than actual bread. imagine overhearing an interaction between a red-faced german couple and their teenaged waitress that begins with a heavily accented, “vat exactly iz a pickle pie?” it’s an awkward, hilarious and touching parade of all the absurd variety that human culture has to offer.

fortunately, we did not camp at the park itself, or i’m sure that the aforementioned parade of humanity would have driven me absolutely batty. we stayed here , about 14 miles away from the park. (i’ll get around to posting some photos of this place sometime soon because it, too, is outrageously gorgeous.)

so if i were to summarize this post in three bullet points, they would go something like this:

  • bryce canyon is so crazy beautiful it almost makes your eyes bleed.
  • the people watching is outstanding.
  • get your ass in gear and go!
  • comfort food at the goody goody diner ~ st. louis, missouri

    while we were passing through missouri, we followed the interweb’s advice and went to have breakfast at one of the st. louis’ landmark eating establishments, connelly’s goody goody cafe . we pulled up to the restaurant on a hot, muggy mid-morning and were surprised by two things: 1) the location. 2) the size of the crowd.

    for against a patchwork background of decaying industry, struggling businesses and post WW2 tract houses, as unexpected and as incongruous as a giant toadstool, sat the goody goody. its parking lot was full, the surrounding streets were lined with cars. and when we walked in, we were confronted by the sight of a small foyer jam-packed with folks waiting for a seat and a dining area overflowing with good vibes. my first thought was, wow, i bet this is going to be good!

    goody goody is one of those rare and happy places that cater to people of every race, color, creed, sexual orientation and credit rating. having spent months in many places where i felt like the only brown person within a hundred mile radius (hello northern idaho!), entering a room chock-a-block full of this much diversity always makes me happy. add to that a menu featuring chicken and waffles, greek omelettes, and something called a hobo bowl, and you’re pretty darn close to diner-style ecstasy.

    i had the spinach and cheese omelet with rice (instead of hash browns or grits), a biscuit (instead of toast or pancakes), and a side of sausage gravy. i would have posted a picture of this delicious meal, but in the excitement of its arrival, i lost all composure and devoured it in a way that would have made mazy proud.

    the following audio offers a sample of goody goody’s happy clamor. we were seated between two young african-american women discussing their love lifes (one was beginning to wonder if the dude she was pursuing might actually be gay) and a group of middle-aged folks exchanging office gossip.


    allergy season ~ albuquerque and santa fe, new mexico


    back in the early 1990s, i spent about four years living, working and going to school in albuquerque, nm. i was in my early twenties, and to be perfectly honest, i was not at my most emotionally healthy. in the common parlance of the rom-com, i had a lot of growing up to do. there are memories of my time in new mexico that can still bring moments of sweaty, gut-cramping embarrassment. i wore a skirt? a miniskirt? i fooled around with an aspiring model named clint? i sent secret admirer notes? ergh. sure, there were wonderful times and unforgettable experiences as well, but even those were fraught with the self-absorbed angst that only a twenty-year-old, semi-closeted, recovering seventh day adventist could muster.

    tim amy hiking santa fe nm.jpg

    what i’m trying to get at with all of these terrifying revelations is that new mexico and i have a very intense emotional history. under albuquerque’s chronically sunny skies, i experienced more than my share of awkwardness and inflicted more than my share of cruelty. i could go into more detail, but really, what would be the point? suffice it to say that whenever i go back, i can’t help but feel that there’s a shit ton of karmic payback waiting for exactly the right moment to serve notice.

    glowing mysterious cloud.jpg

    that moment was april 2010. it may seem overly dramatic to assert that the allergies i experienced during this visit to new mexico were a sort of cosmic retribution for my past sins, but i was there and i lived through it, so i know. this was some serious heironymus bosch shit. being eaten by a bird-headed creature while crows fly out of one’s ass could hardly be more terrible than the life-sapping combination of congestion, leakage, migraine, insomnia, dehydration, bloody nose, and puffy face that new mexico’s flora inflicted on me. apparently, other people suffered as well, this being the worst allergy season in years. new mexico had seen an unusually wet winter and pollen and mold counts, so i was told, were through the roof. such knowledge proved a cold comfort. misery may love company, but i would prefer to keep misery at a safe distance.

    nomads partners lovers.jpg

    luckily for me, i stumbled upon a remedy so powerful it not only does away with allergy symptoms, it also eradicates bad karma. my friend carla suggested it when my eyes, nose, mouth and throat first began to leak, but i foolishly chose to ignore her advice. it was only after i had hit my own rock bottom and realized i was helpless before this seasonal affliction that i finally surrendered to a higher power: the power of apple cider vinegar.

    for those of you who are afflicted by allergies, bad karma, or both, i recommend the following brew:

    2 C bragg’s apple cider vinegar
    2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly
    4-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
    several dashes of cayenne pepper

    bring the above ingredients to a boil, turn heat down and simmer for a while. turn off heat and add:

    2-4 teabags (stinging nettle, breathe easy, gypsy cold care, etc.)
    enough local honey and warm water to dilute and make the brew palatable.

    drink this stuff all day long. drink it til the people around you begin asking if you smell something weird.

    how do i know it works on allergies? well, in my case, about two days after getting serious with the vinegar, my symptoms had all but disappeared. it verged on the miraculous.

    how do i know it zapped my bad karma? because even though i started my tenure in new mexico as an insecure, awkward, unnecessarily cruel, sometimes vicious, skirt-wearing, closet case, i somehow managed to end up with the coolest, kindest, smartest, funniest, most talented and generous friends in the entire state. so to m, a, w, c, z, h, and e: thanks for putting up with my endless bitching and moaning about my damned allergies. you guys made new mexico more magical – one might even say enchanted – than ever.

    dinner party santa fe nm.jpg

    Posted by Wordmobi

    the unknowable vol. 1 ~ amboy, ca

    route 66, that much-mythologized mother of all roads, has been shattered into a broken line of asphalt and sun-baked paint that stutters across the american landscape. it was only when i lived in albuquerque, nm that i learned that parts of it still existed, first because of a 50s-style diner that served the best chicken fried steak ever, and then through the series of small, sometimes seedy motels/apartments that lined the west end of main street, out where i’d go to see the lowriders cruising. at night, elaborate neon signs shouted names like ‘the apache’ and ‘ desert rose’ into the indigo sky, reminders of a time before highways were super.

    other fragments of that same road, stretch through southern california, sometimes as frontage roads, sometimes as arrow-straight secondary highways. on one of these sections, just south of the mojave national park, is a ghost town marked on the map as amboy. amboy is known for two things: the amboy crater — an unusually symmetrical cinder cone that the lonely planet guide warns against climbing during high winds and/or summer months — and roy’s motel — an abandoned mid-century modern motor hotel.


    as enigmatic and as creepy as roy’s motel may be, it is not the sole subject of this issue of the unknowable . there is also the strange sight that awaits you just outside of amboy heading towards las vegas. i was so startled by its appearance that i made tim stop so i could investigate.


    are they prayers to lady luck left by pilgrims on the camino to las vegas? are they unwanted memories discarded by kids hoboing their way across america? what can this behavior possibly signify? some believe this is just one of dozens of shoe trees scattered across the globe. what a startling idea! what shared human experience does this speak to? what collective emotion vibrates into this manifest form?

    about two weeks after the above photographs were taken, tim, mazy and i passed through amboy once more, this time heading east. i had planned on stopping at the shoe tree again to take a few more pictures, but as we approached, i realized something had changed. at some point between february 21 and march 9, 2010, the amboy shoe tree finally gave up and collapsed under the weight of hundreds of dreams, wishes and prayers.


    outside a ghost town, a phantom tree stands beside a forgotten highway. the memories of one thousand desires sway in the thin desert breeze, as potent, as puissant as prayer.

    Posted by Wordmobi

    fresyes! ~ fresno, ca

    to be frank, fresno is hardly the biggest or the most sparkling jewel in california’s tourist tiara. the lonely planet’s california guide begins its description of this little city with the words, “swelling like a blister,” and goes on to say little more positive than that. the san joaquin valley, in which fresno is situated, is a broad, flat, arid land that seems to be undergoing an awkward and unappealing transition between industrial farming — think miles and miles of nut orchards and endless, graceless heaps of orange trees — and exurban sprawl — gigantic, misproportioned houses that seem more extruded than constructed. just north of fresno sits the central valley burgh of modesto, rumored to be the epicenter of the housing crisis. a recent piece in the nyt’s opinionator estimates that one in eight houses in this community are currently in foreclosure.

    i didn’t know any of this as we descended through the limestone strewn canyons and narrow valleys of gold rush country. all i knew was that one of tim’s best friends from high school — a woman who had played marcia to tim’s greg as part of a high school musical revue — lived there and had invited us to stay a while. so as mountain gave way to plain, and as the darkening landscape began to twinkle and sparkle with the sodium glow of streetlights, i had nothing but good thoughts and curiosity about fresno.

    which, it turns out, is all you need.


    we stayed with bethanie, lars, and an old white cat named miami for a little more than a week; one of the longest spans we’ve spent as houseguests (not including housesitting gigs). needless to say, outlining our day-to-day activities for such an extended visit might prove daunting on my end — typing is slow on a numeric keypad — and tedious on yours — do you really care to know what i ate for lunch every day for a whole week? and so in order to keep things manageable, i’ve decided to focus on just three of the many and varied forms of entertainment and enjoyment that fresno offered us.

    1. skiing at sequoia national park.


    notown, as fresno is sometimes called, sits just an hour away from one of the most spectacular and majestic places i’ve ever been to, sequoia national park. one warm, sunny morn, tim and i sorted through our winter gear and ski stuff and then headed out through the exhausted, smog washed land of the san joaquin valley. our destination lay beyond the orange groves, nut orchards, and grapevines that seemed to spread across almost every undeveloped acre: the distant snow-covered sierra nevadas lurking just beyond the heat hazed horizon.

    the snow was thick and high, just beginning to give way to the flickering warmth of the coming spring. several inches of freshly fallen snow obscured the path left by previous skiers, so we wound our way through the forest, keeping an eye out for trail blazes and trying not to get too lost. the moment we encountered our first sequoia grove, we were dumbfounded. the only appropriate response seemed to be laughter. what immense, enigmatic beings! what ancient, crackling life!



    2. a night at the roller rink


    although lots of folks talk about how much they miss going roller skating or how much they want to go, only a few actually follow through. skating at oaks park with matt was tremendous, but seeing bethanie and tim dressed in matching fuschia blouses and attempting synchronized dance moves verged on the epic. alas, because of my selfishness, do footage exists of their final routine. suffice it to say that by the end of the night, small children were dancing along with them.

    if you look closely, you may see two pink blurs. if you’d like, feel free to imagine them reenacting their version of the brady kids’ good time music.

    it looked something like this, only way groovier.

    3. discovering the joys of south fresno

    bethanie and her husband, lars, live in what is known as the tower district. nestled in south fresno and surrounded by craftsman bungalows, spanish revival apartment buildings, and mid-century office complexes, the tower district is the best that fresno has to offer. sure, north fresno has an outdoor shopping mall with both borders and barnes and noble, a 22-screen megaplex, a macaroni grill, and more overly-made-up-teenage girls than you can shake a pair of uggs at, but its anytown corporate blandness can be a bit wearing. the tower district, although humbler and grittier, has enough personality for a dozen river park malls. scattered throughout its few scant blocks are dinner theaters presenting revivals of oklahoma!, restaurants devoted to basque, hmong, mexican, thai, french and american cuisine, a microbrewery, a new age store complete with comprehensive herbal apothecary, an antique mall, several tattoo parlors, a head shop, and of course, the tower, a restored 40s-era movie theater that gives this neighborhood its name. while we were there, there was a mardi gras parade in the tower district. as we stood amongst the crowd of onlookers, i asked lars if there were any other parades going on in fresno. no, he said, this is the only place in fresno where anything happens.


    there’s even a one-day-a-week chicken and waffle spot. be warned: it takes forever to get your food, but we were there on mardi gras and the combination of zydeco music and good cheer was just barely enough to get us through. barely.


    but more persuasive than the humble mardi gras parade or the brass unicorn , or even the tower itself, was bethanie’s gentle, joyful, generous vibe. that a girl from keene, nh from should find her way to fresno, ca via taiwan and germany is singular; that she still has the ability to sing, laugh, fall down, and play like a little kid is flat out wonderful. south fresno is awesome; getting to know bethanie, lars and miami was even better.

    here, she and tim relive a melodic moment from nostalgia.


    and here she relates a story from her time in taiwan. extra points if you can provide a translation!


    even mazy found a playmate!



    so what if fresno isn’t san francisco or big sur or yosemite? thanks to our three lovely hosts, we left this forgotten, sun-bleached town feeling renewed, refreshed, and full of love. thank you so much, guys! come traveling with us when you get the chance!

    Posted by Wordmobi

    wintry mix ~ lake tahoe, ca


    somehow, perhaps by the power of grayskull, everything worked out and we found ourselves heading due east out of sacramento towards the snow-capped peaks of the sierra nevadas. andy’s niece, celia, had graciously agreed to host the three of us for a few days in beautiful tahoe city, ca. we arrived on lake tahoe’s shores just as dusk gave way to night. we stopped at a scenic overlook of emerald bay and marveled at the deep velvet color of its water. we had left sacramento just as spring had begun it’s headlong charge, and to find ourselves back in full-on winter was a physical shock. mazy was surprised and thrilled to feel snow beneath her feet. momentarily a puppy again, she ran circles and pounced in the darkling air, barking with glee.


    despite completely contrary plans that would have taken them south towards sunlight and warmth, our dear friends pati and andy found themselves at lake tahoe as well. it had been almost a month since we parted ways in crescent city, ca and it was awesome to see them again.they are also living as nomads right now, and when we are together, there is a sense of ease and comfort that comes from this shared perspective. our paths have crossed at james gilliland’s ranch on the flanks of mount adams, in portland over the holidays, and again in north bend and crescent city. they are, without a doubt, part of my soul’s family. the lessons they have shared with me, through thought, word, deed, and example will stay with me forever. the knowledge that two of the people i love and respect most in the world are following a similar path does much to assuage the stress of our uncertain future.

    the five of us encamped on the first floor of the apartment that celia shares with eddie (her boyfriend) and mike (a good friend of theirs). it was cozy and sweet; part slumber party, part old home week, part dorm lounge.



    while we were in portland, tim’s brother davi told us about a magical place called royal gorge . purported to be north america’s largest cross-country ski resort, it occupies some 1000 acres of the sierra nevadas. after some initial problems with my ski bindings (which we dealt with in a most macgyver-like fashion), we bundled up and hit the trails.




    the day was beautiful. tim had been out on his skis several times, but this was my first time out since march of 2009 and i was a little out of practice. still and all, we had a great time.


    on the way back to tahoe city, we went through donner pass and as the sun settled behind the mountains, we caught a glimpse of donner lake. as we stood shivering in the frigid, lavender air, a train passed in the distance. tim informed me that we had passed this way just a few weeks earlier on the california zephyr! who knew?



    the next day, tim got to ski squaw valley. it was the first time he had been downhill skiing in three years and when he came back down from the mountain, he was glowing. i didn’t go with him, but perhaps i’ll get my chance to try downhill sometime in the next couple of months.

    while we were in tahoe city, celia was getting ready for a big interview with teach for america. as part of her presentation, she prepared an awesome song about the classification of animals.


    thanks to celia’s biology song, i don’t think i’ll ever forget that insects have three small sets of legs! musical talent runs thick in the johnson gene pool. after celia finished practicing, andy brought out his fiddle and played us one of my favorite tunes, stuart’s waltz, written for andy’s nephew and celia’s brother on the day of his birth. once, andy played this song for us as we sat on a bluff overlooking the headwaters of the mississippi. as we listened, a pair of eagles reared up into the sky and rose until they were two tiny dots in the massive, blue sky.


    in all the bustle of socializing, catching up, and skiing, we didn’t get around to checking out lake tahoe until the last day of our stay. we drove around the perimeter of the lake, stopping occasionally to take short hikes in the snow or snap pictures. it is a beautiful beautiful place.



    the day we said our goodbyes to tahoe was the same day that eddie and celia were heading to san francisco for celia’s big interview. i’m sure they loved you, celia! how could they not?


    i wish i had taken more pictures of our kind hosts, but i flailed. oh well, perhaps i’ll get the chance if and when we pass back through this beautiful country.

    as we left, we stopped one more time at the emerald bay overlook; a sun saturated bookend to our dusky arrival.



    we curved and wound our way through the snow covered wonderland of the sierra nevadas. the sun played hide and seek with low clouds and the occasional flurry, smudging the landscape with light.



    we descended into the foothills, down past the snowline and into california’s goldrush country.

    Posted by Wordmobi