Rich and Crazy

Oh to have unlimited funds and unlimited opinions.

Between San Francisco and Los Angeles, I went to see both the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, and the Hearst Castle at San Simeon. The Winchester House was built by the daughter-in-law of the creator of the Winchester rifle. The story goes that after a year of particular strife, she was told by a spiritualist that she needed to appease the spirits of all those killed by the rifle. She was told to start building a house – and to never finish. Carpenters worked non-stop for over two decades.

Main House

The Winchester Mystery House belongs next to the Oregon Vortex in terms of things I saw over and over again on the Travel Channel growing up. Visitors can see the house by tour only, which after seeing it makes a lot of sense. An ordinary person would be lost within minutes. The house is absolutely insane. Supposedly Mrs. Winchester would commune with the spirits each night in her seance room (a room with one entrance and three exits), and they would give her the instructions for the next day’s work. The house has a million different levels, staircases for no reason that go nowhere, and more doors in and out of rooms than I ever imagined. Some just open to brick walls.

The most striking thing is the size of the rooms. Everything is small, as was Mrs. Winchester. The biggest room I saw was about the size of your average Starbucks. Most were small enough that three people would make it too crowded. She had gorgeous, expensive, Tiffany windows positioned to never have sunlight show through, and all the columns are installed upside down.

Front Gate in the FogIn contrast, Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul who had a lot of money and knew exactly what he wanted. The large, ornate mansion sits in the middle of nowhere on the California coast. Hearst had a penchant for Gothic art, which makes a person feel displaced in time when standing in the castle. It’s easy to question if what you’re looking at was built in the 1920’s or the 1490’s. There are 12th century choir benches from Italy lining the room as “wallpaper,” and ancient Egyptian statues used as paperweights. Hearst Castle is a museum meant for Gatsby parties.

Choir StallsMy favorite thing however, was the ride up to Hearst Castle. All guests must park at the Visitor’s Center and be bused up for their guided tour. The bus ride is rather long, winding up the hill into the California fog. To keep guests entertained, there is a narration from Alex Trebek playing the entire trip. Mr. Trebek reminds you of the rules, and then regales the group with stories and explanations about the location and the long ride up. What’s funny is that because the narration is pre-recorded, he will sometimes mention things that aren’t there. “And to your right you’ll see the spectacular view that Hearst enjoyed so much,” but when you look, all you see is fog. “To the left you might be able to catch a glimpse of the wild Zebras that descended from the original Hearst Zoo…” No zebras. I couldn’t help but think of that first jeep tour in Jurassic Park: You go through a set of giant gates and a famous voice tells you to look out the window at nothing. Whadda they got in there, King Kong?

StairsWalking through these two testaments to unbridled spending, I couldn’t help but want an extravagant home of my own. This is strange for me, because recently my aesthetic has leaned more and more towards the small and simple. Knowing both homes were built from scratch, I can’t help but feel like I don’t have enough opinions for such a place. Which Greek God should be the centerpiece for the indoor pool fountain? What 13th century ceiling should be used for the library? How many libraries should there be, anyway? Four?

I should start looking for an architect now.

Feminism and The Castro

Castro TheaterAs part of my whirlwind public transportation tour of San Francisco I rode the street car over to The Castro. These days every major city has a gay district of some kind, but The Castro was one of the first. It is a banner they wear with pride (no pun intended), and you can sense it walking down the street. Every single shop has a direct tie to gay culture. There’s a men’s only day spa, and a nail salon called “Hand Job.” I saw a little kid’s shirt for sale that read, “If Dad says no, ask Dad.” I stopped in a bakery called Hot Cookie and ordered a Butch Bar. The sex shop has the widest collection of same-sex specific items I’ve ever seen, and they hide the heterosexual stuff in the back. Even the sign at Walgreens that reads, “Beauty” shows a picture of a man shaving rather than the typical woman putting on mascara.

After a while I started to notice how comfortable I felt. I realized it was the safest I’d ever felt walking down a city street. It took me a second to piece it together. After all, I’d been in plenty of very safe neighborhoods before. What made this one, a place where I am so specifically in the minority, feel so different? I cringed when it hit me.


Like most people, I don’t walk around in everyday life terrified of everyone and everything around me. But like so many, I am more at ease at home than in public. And I realized that the thing that makes me nervous in normal life is men. Heterosexual men to be specific. I don’t mean that I view every man as a potential assailant, rather that if I am going to have trouble of any kind with anybody, it’s probably going to be one of them. I’d consider it less of a fear and more of a Yellow Alert. Many would call it street harassment, but I feel like that term is limited to catcalling and this is larger than that. It includes things as seemingly harmless as when strangers ask me to smile. I hate when strangers ask me to smile. I’ve hated it ever since I realized that no one ever does that to guys. Men’s emotions are their own, but my happiness is something people are entitled to demand at their discretion.

I have honestly never thought of it this way before. Not until The Castro. But there are virtually no straight men on that street. There is no one who has any interest in bothering me whatsoever. There is no uncomfortable interaction I will have to deal with. So when a man smiles at me, I’m not concerned that it’s going to lead to a come-on that I will have to politely refuse and then be accused of bitchiness or racism (I’ve heard both). He’s actually just a friendly stranger who is being polite. Most importantly, the interaction will stop there. I don’t need to be preemptive in my treatment of this person. That’s a kind of certainty that I don’t normally have.

I’m not quite sure how to handle this new piece of personal insight. It’s still a bit unsettling that deep inside me is a quiet fear of almost half the population. A fear that I know the other half doesn’t share. A part of me says it’s my fault, that there’s no reason to be worried since in the end, these interactions are just bothersome and almost never dangerous. I should just get over it. But when I hear that in my head, the voice sounds so familiar. So much like the voice that tells me to be polite when being hassled, or worry about my hair, or laugh at guys’ jokes even though most of them aren’t funny. What an awful voice that is, and what grief it’s caused me over the years.

The other part of me says this is a problem with men, that we need to stop raising boys to believe it’s okay to hassle women. Teach them that they are not entitled to another person’s attention. But it sounds so accusatory and negative, I don’t much care for that voice either.

I’m reminded of “The Heidi Chronicles” by Wendy Wasserstein. Early in the play, Heidi talks about how she keeps letting her boyfriend account for so much of what she thinks of herself, even though she knows she shouldn’t. She asks another character to promise that their daughters will never feel that way. Promise that their daughters will feel worthwhile.

“The Heidi Chronicles” was written 30 years ago, and the scene was set 50 years ago. One look at The Castro will tell you that a lot has changed since then. But walking through it, I can’t help but feel that so much is exactly the same.

One Short Day in San Francisco

Having been told that using the public transportation system is an integral  part of the San Francisco experience, I set off on my second day in the city using BART, the subway-style train system. I wish every city could have a train. They make getting around so simple, and while I know using an unfamiliar system is a pain to some, I always look at it like a puzzle to be solved.Cable Car

My first task of the day was to ride a cable car. After seeing a few of them jam packed with tourists the day before, I wasn’t very excited about it. But a friend of mine described the cars rushing past you as you hold on and remarked, “In this day and age, you feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to do something that dangerous.” So I was sold.

I was able to get fairly close to the front of the line, though it would easily be fifteen minutes before the next car would arrive. In the meantime I watched the line behind me quadruple in size, and was forced to listen to a busker do the most horrific cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” I’d ever heard. I considered paying him to stop, but was worried the insult would just make things worse.

I said I wish every city had a train, but I kinda wish every city had a cable car. They are so terrifically fun – like an amusement park ride. And because they are started and stopped by a driver and brakeman, and the sides are completely open, people get on and off almost at whim. I rode the cable cars around all day, sometimes just mentioning to the driver that I wanted to get off and having the car stop right then and there. Other times I wasn’t meaning to get on a particular car but, well, there it was. I’m sure they are a dangerous hassle for the city, but they are certainly a fun way to get around.

Looking up at the Bridge

I wanted to see about getting on a boat to visit Alcatraz, but when I got to the pier the next available ticket wasn’t until the following Monday. I hopped a bus over to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was my only personal requirement for what I had to see in San Francisco. The bridge was obscured in fog, which I’ll admit was a bit disappointing, but it made for some cool photos even so.

On my list of places to go I had written down the phrase “eat lunch at Tommy’s Joynt.” Part of the beauty of my list is that I rarely list authorship on any piece of advice, so I have no idea who told me to go there. Tommy’s Joynt is the type of establishment that is able to paint “World Famous” directly onto the side of the building. You go in, and you see the cook slicing meat directly off the slab to use on sandwiches. I order the BBQ Turkey Sloppy Joe, and it is just heavenly.

Picnic SpotI stopped by The Castro, which ended up needing a blog post all it’s own, so you’ll see that soon. Afterwards I made a Full House pilgrimage to Alamo Square Park, where any real fan can instantly recognize the spot the cast sat to film the picnic scene in the opening credits. I also made a stop by the house used to depict the outside of the Tanner home, where a fellow tourist asked if I wanted her take take a picture of me in front of the house. I declined, as I was starting to feel sorry for people who currently live in formerly famous places. They have to keep their blinds drawn at all times.

I saw the name Grace Cathedral on my map, and since I love walking through churches, I thought I’d stop by. This is where a person’s typical self-awareness and intelligence comes into direct conflict with the uneasiness of navigating a foreign city. As I stood in front of the monumental building I assumed, as I later found most people do, that it was Catholic. I put on a sweater to cover my shoulders (a custom I picked up touring the Catholic churches in Rome), and headed inside. I kept my quiet reverence and began to look around. Not once did I pay attention to any of the signage, since I usually read about the church after I’ve had a chance to walk through. I moved towards the front, intending to take a quiet moment in one of the pews. I could hear off to my right a small service was in progress in one of the side chapels. That’s when I heard the phrase, “Oh Lord, make haste to help us.”

I recognized it instantly. It was the frickin’ Book of Common Prayer. I was in an Episcopal Cathedral.

Grace CathedralFor those who don’t know, I’m a lifelong Episcopalian, and a Sunday School teacher. I recognized evening prayer so quickly because I was teaching the kids about it a mere two months ago. And I know Grace Cathedral. I’ve never visited it before, but I’ve heard about it many times. I’ve seen footage from services inside, I’ve met clergy and parishioners. I know it, because being in San Francisco it is at the center of our current movement towards the full inclusion of our LGBT members. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me sooner. I was so convinced about what I thought I was visiting, I disregarded all evidence to the contrary.

Not one to miss a sign that it’s time to slow down and pay attention to what’s around me, I walked over to the chapel and joined the service already in progress. Afterwards I heard a few people complimenting a transgender parishioner on her hair. “God fashioned me different today!” she said, and practically bounded out of the church.

At this point I’m getting pretty tired and figure it’s time to head back to the loft. I catch a cable car up to Powell Street station, and on the way serve as the absolute expert in helping out four British tourists on how to ride the car. I rode my first cable car nine hours ago yet I’m able to answer every question they have.

As we approach Powell, I see a huge crowd. I get off the cable car and head for the center, thinking there must be something going on. But there’s nothing. A few guys are setting up some speakers and and few more seem to be dressed up for something, so I figure a performance of some kind is about to begin. I hear a few people talking amongst themselves, speculating about when they’re going to start. Several minutes go by, and at this point I’ve been standing there looking like I know what I’m doing for too long to ask anyone what they’re all waiting for. I see one of the guys who had been setting up the speakers drop his pants to reveal a pair of gold hot pants, and he adds an over-the-top stylish coat to the ensemble. I stay near him and the speakers to get a good view of whatever is about to happen.

BreackdancerThe music starts. It’s the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song “Can’t Hold Us,” though I’m not paying much attention. Instead I’ve got my camera raised in the area, grabbing as much photo and video as I can of a couple of really great break dancers. After a few dancers take their turn in the circle, a woman who is both flamboyantly dressed and walking with the air of authority steps in and starts motioning everyone to get back.

And then the flash mob starts.

I hollar and shout with the rest of the spectators as all the planned participants break out their choreographed routine. After a while it occurs to me that any dance taught to a flash mob can’t be terribly difficult due to the wide range of abilities in the participants, and the need to join them takes over. I hop in just in time to get in a few moves before the song fads and the crowd begins to cheer. I’m bummed that I didn’t think of joining sooner, but I figure hey, at least I tried. That’s when the people start to chant “one more time.”

Flash MobThe second round I joined in immediately. As I suspected the routine wasn’t so hard to figure out, and I danced the whole thing with the rest of the crowd. I even talked to the organizers afterwards and took photos. People kept referring to the hot pants guy as “Macklemost.” I get to the train platform just in time to see two cops run off to arrest a man who had jumped on the tracks, and I head back to the Circus Loft where I sleep on a couch under a pair of electric guitars.

So this is my life now.

Flowers in Your Hair

Per Andrew’s suggestion, I drove over to the mission district my first morning in San Francisco for some delicious Mexican food. I hadn’t bothered with breakfast, which made the 10AM soft taco at Taqueria Cancun that much more delicious. I continued up and down the district, checking out the various sites Andrew had pointed me toward. I was still full from the taco when I arrived at yet another restaurant for a pupusa, a filled El Salvadorian tortilla that reminded me of Indian naan. I was stuffed, but it was worth it.

Buena Vista ParkMy car was in a two hour zone, so after too much food followed by some unusual high-end ice cream, I drove up to Buena Vista Park and lucked in to an unrestricted space right next to a park path. I walked up the hill, snapping pictures each time a new view came into focus. When I got to the top, I briefly considered taking a nap on the grass, but realized I hadn’t put on enough sunscreen for that. Believing by some form of magic that I wouldn’t need sunscreen just to walk around in the sunshine, I moved down the hill toward the highly recommended Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

I wandered for a bit, lost in the residential area. I made it to Ashbury Street, and having seen nothing of note thus far I headed north towards what I later came to realize was The Haight. This was clearly the place everyone meant when they told me to visit Haight-Ashbury. I recognized it instantly. Mostly I recognized it because I used to live near it, or rather the exact carbon copy that exists in Seattle. From the thrift stores to the record shops to the Whole Foods on the corner, The Haight was brick for brick the same as Broadway on Capitol Hill. If there was any difference it was that The Haight had tourist shops.

The HaightI know Haight-Ashbury has history. I know it used to be “The Place.” When I was growing up, I was infatuated with the counter-culture of the 1960s. I used to think I was born 40 years too late, since everything would have been so much better if I lived back then. I thought there was nothing left to fight for, no civil rights or Vietnam. I was wrong of course, but I was twelve.

Over time I became less infatuated and more disillusioned with the Baby Boomer generation as it became clear that their failures could be just as monumental are their victories. So while 12-year-old Katrina would have been in absolute heaven staring at tie-dye Grateful Dead shirts and peace symbol necklaces, 27-year-old Katrina can only mourn both what The Haight once was, and what she used to believe about such places. I guess the consequence of changing the world is that you make yourself commonplace. As I made my way towards Golden Gate Park I tried to picture a flowerchild braiding the hair of “her old man,” but the thought was interrupted by a man reporting to two police officers that someone on the corner just offered to sell him crack.

AIDS MemorialSomewhat dismayed, I walked for too long in Golden Gate Park. I had this silly notion of going to the nearest lake and back, not realizing it would take me over an hour to get to that point in the massive park. I did manage to go through the beautiful AIDS memorial grove, and even managed that nap that I apparently now was able to take, despite nothing changing since my previous decision that it was a bad idea to sleep in the sun.

My evening ended at dinner with a few of my dad’s friends, and a hilarious incident that I won’t repeat here for their sake. I drove back to the Circus Loft, presently surprised that the toll on the bridge only goes one way. You pay to get into San Francisco, but no one cares when you leave.

The Circus Loft

I  knew the drive from the redwoods to San Francisco was one of my longer ones, and I wanted to make good time. I would be staying with Andrew, an old college friend, and I knew he and his Lady Friend (his term) typically had their date night on Wednesdays.

IMG_0764While I know several people in the San Francisco area, I chose to stay with Andrew because of the description of his home. He said he shared a loft with several circus performers. Andrew does what’s often referred to as a Blockhead act, where he performs feats like hammering nails into his nose and eating glass. He originally came down to the Bay Area to participate in a Burning Man Opera, and found what turned out to be a huge circus community in San Francisco. He said in addition to his loft, there are others in the same part of town that go so far as to specialize: a loft for jugglers, another for fire-spinners,  one for aerialists, etc.

Which brings me to the part of town Andrew lives in. If I were to make a Hollywood movie about a young kid who moves to the big city and can only afford an apartment in the “bad part” of town, I would dress the set to look exactly like Andrew’s neighborhood in Oakland. There’s graffiti on every wall, trash on the street, eight auto chop shops but no pharmacy, and it’s right next to the railroad tracks. From the upstairs window of his place, you have a perfect view of the subway train going by every few minutes.

My concerns about the neighborhood were not assuaged when I first arrived and right after our hug hello Andrew told me we should take everything out of my car. “Everything?” I asked, knowing I had an awful lot of stuff. “Anything you don’t want to get stolen,” he said.

Dinosaur SinkThe loft itself is part of a community of building that used to be an old factory or mill of some kind, and was rezoned to allow both commercial and residential units. Luckily for me and my car full of stuff, they have plenty of room in their building as a result. They also have free reign over what they do with it. Andrew showed me around, pointing out the extra bedrooms they built, the studio dance floor, the aerial hangs, and a few projects in the works. My favorite was the second bathroom, which didn’t have room for a sink. Instead, when you flush the toilet, clean water automatically pours out of the mouth of a plastic dinosaur to allow you to wash your hands. The used water drains directly into a shiny metal drain dish to fill up the toilet tank in preparation for the next flush. Andrew indicated that using the dirty hand washing water to fill the toilet appeals to their hippie sentiments. I think it’s brilliant.

Neither of us had eaten, so Andrew took me to a different building in the complex that hosts a Thai Restaurant. The restaurant in also the home for the family who runs it, so when we walked in, their 8-year-old son was playing in the dinning area. The place was empty and had a TV running “How I Met Your Mother” on mute. We ordered at the counter and sat down. Andrew told me about his life these days, living completely off his freelance work. While he still does circus performance, he gets the bulk of his money by dressing up as a superhero and going to the birthday parties of young, rich children. His Lady Friend does something similar as a Princess. Midway through our meal the young boy asked us in his most official sounding voice, “Is the food delicious?” He has a promising future ahead of him.

Andrew went to a movie with his Lady Friend, and I set up shop in my area, which was the DJ loft that overlooked the dance floor. I was told I could sleep on the couch there, or I could sleep on one of the Crash Pads. In this instance the term Crash Pad is both literal and figurative, as the large cushions are used for aerial practice safety as well as out of town guests.

I loved staying in the circus loft. My car was fine the entire time, I got to watch a man get his mohawk touched up, we talked about The Singularity and the sexual appeal of Peter Dinklage, and I woke up to the sound of juggling pins hitting the floor and a baby crying. No babies live in the loft, so I’m not sure why that baby was there.

Out On the California Coast

I left Bandon and headed down the coast bound for the California Redwoods. When I was in junior high my family went on a vacation driving down the coast, and I remember stopping to see the strange and massive trees along the way. While I don’t remember exactly where we stopped, I’m fairly certain it was at the Trees of Mystery. The name may have eluded me, but I certainly remember the 49-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan statue out front, with matching Babe the Blue Ox. I pulled over to take some photos, and an eight-year-old boy was talking to the giant statue.Jaden and the Ox

“What’s your name little boy?”



“No,” he laughs. What a silly mistake to make. “Jaden! J-A-D-E-N!”

“Jaden, my mistake.”

“Does your bull talk?”

“It’s an ox, and no he doesn’t.”

“Have you ever been to Canada?”

“I did once, but I didn’t much care for it. They talk funny up there.” The adults all laugh.

“What does your bull eat?”

“It’s an ox.”

“Can I ride your bull?”

“It’s an ox. And no you can’t.”

This went on for several more minutes, and included more repetitions of the dry statement “It’s an ox” before Jaden’s mother intervened to suggest to him that perhaps someone else would like to talk to Paul Bunyan for a while.

I went to check out the Trees of Mystery ticket prices. While the idea of reliving my old family trip was intriguing, the prospect of doing it alone wasn’t. Neither was the prospect of being around that many screaming children, or paying $15 to do so. Besides, I didn’t have reservations at the campground I wanted to stay at, and since it would only be my second attempt at camping I wanted to be sure I had a spot in plenty of time.

Big tree towards the sunI got to the Elk Praire Campground around 3PM, and picked out my spot (as it turns out, the spot across from me was never filled, so I could have arrived at any point and still gotten a site). Elk Praire is great, because despite being a fully developed campground, you’re surrounded by huge old trees and all the trappings of the forest. There was even a small, slow-flowing creek right by my tent.

With so much of the day left, I decided to go on a hike through the surrounding trees. There are many hikes around Praire Creek Redwoods State Park, ranging drastically in length and difficulty. I knew I didn’t want to go too far, and I knew that I was most interested in seeing the biggest, oldest trees I could. So I picked a three mile hike called the Cathedral Trees Trail, which seemed to fit my qualifications. I drove over to the trailhead and filled my backpack with some light hiking gear: water, a few snacks, a sweater, camera, small journal for notes, and a whistle. The whistle is for safety, since I’m hiking alone. For those interested in doing anything similar, keep in mind that your whistle should be on your body, not in your bag. The times in which you’ll really need it are the times when you might not be able to reach your bag.

The trailhead for the Cathedral Trees Trail is at the home of what’s known as “Big Tree.” It’s absolutely huge, and anywhere from 1500 to 2000 years old. I overheard the ranger explaining that they can’t know for sure, since tree rings aren’t reliable on very old trees due to breakage, internal rot, and new growth. I snapped a few photos and headed off on the trail.

Me and the Big TreeThe forest was beautiful and serene. You can hear the trees creaking under their own weight. The park is so large and there are so many trails, it doesn’t matter how crowded it is, you still won’t see many people. I was hiking for two hours and only saw four people on the trail.

I got back to camp to find a large high school group had taken up residence not far from me. Nothing makes a person want to have children less than being forced to be around other people’s kids on vacation.  It’s difficult to keep your tranquil reverence for the beauty of the forest over the sound of screaming 16-year-olds. At least my campfire was a success.

Be Yourself, Camp Yourself

Depending on your measurement criteria, I have come close to solo-camping twice before. Once was a few weeks ago in preparation for this trip. However it was on my parents’ lawn, I had plenty of company (though by my request I had no help), and I didn’t have to start a fire. There was one other time when I went to Mt Rainier with my sister and her boyfriend, but they arrived much later than I did, so most of the camp setup and fire-starting fell to me. Still, I had other people eventually. So as far as I’m concerned my first true solo-camping experience was at Humbug Mountain State Park.

View From the Road

Humbug Mountain sits right on the edge of the Oregon coast. The campground for the park is in the shadow of the mountain, just a few minutes walk from the beach. As far as I could tell, the campground offered the only access to this particular beach. It was, of course, quite windy out by the water.

Being my first night camping, I was anxious to try my fire-starting skills. I have started and maintained my fair share of fires in the past of course, but usually not alone and usually using a match. A few years ago I started to get very interested in survival skills (though often more in thought than in practice), and I felt a summer full of solo-camping would be an excellent chance to practice starting a fire using a flint and steel.

I purchased some firewood from the camp host and took it back to my site. I was never officially taught or trained on how to start a fire. I learned by watching my father do it, and by observing how campfires work. I’d always heard the terms “tepee” and “log cabin” used to describe ways in which a person should start a fire, and generally understood the concepts. However I’d never used either setup. My method was more freeform, and usually based on the logs at hand, the purpose of the fire, and me treating it like an animate object with desires. “I want this log here now,” says the Fire. “I need more kindling,” it demands. Still, I felt like maybe it was time to try it the “right” way, so I began building my tepee.

FireNow, despite what most movies would have you believe, you can’t just strike a flint and steel above something reasonably flammable and have it burst into flames. You need your sparks to fall on something especially flammable. Newspaper, the most common campfire starting material, is reasonably flammable, but not especially flammable. That’s why I saved up the last several loads worth of dryer lint from home to bring with me on the trip. The sparks catch on the lint, which catches on the newspaper, which catches on the kindling, which catches on the logs. And you have a fire. In theory.

The flint & steel part wasn’t too difficult. It certainly takes some elbow grease, and my calves got tired of squatting down next to the fire ring for so long, but eventually the sparks caught and I was on my way. Sort of. My tepee wasn’t doing so great. The flames looked fine, but the logs just weren’t having it. After spending too much time waving away smoke and trying to get the thing going, I gave up on the traditional wisdom and went back to my old, haphazard style of arranging logs the way I think the Fire will find most appealing. It worked instantly, and the fire needed almost no maintenance the rest of the evening. In fact, it was a little too hardy, and I ended staying up late waiting for the fire to die.

Cooking DinnerIn the end, I did eventually start a successful fire using a flint and steel, and as a bonus I cooked my dinner over it. I suppose sometimes life is about trying new things, and sometimes new things are there to explain why you always did it the old way. As for me and my flint, we will stick with the old way.

Cape Blanco

It came as a surprise to me that the most western point of the United States is actually a contentious issue. The debate is between a point in Oregon and one in Washington, and apparently between land shifts, measurement anomalies, and whether or not you measure at high tide you can switch between the two as to which should hold the honor.

But I’m not in Washington right now, so I’m picking Cape Blanco in Oregon. It was so windy I had to lean against a pylon just to keep from falling over.

Bandon: The Place That Wind Remembered

Bandon, Oregon is the windiest town I’ve ever been to.

Welcome to Old Town BandonI went to Bandon because it had shown up on one of those “Best Beaches in the World” lists. I had talked to a few Ashland locals about what else I should see and do in Bandon, and they suggested going to the old town area, which due to prominent signage is pretty hard to miss.

Old Town is pretty touristy and pretty kitschy, but it has it’s charm. I stolled through candy shops and pet paraphernalia stores. I saw a man playing a harmonica. Not for tips.

However the most distinguishing feature of Bandon is the wind. I had to hold onto my hat when walking along the docks just to keep hold of it. At one point in order to find some refuge from the gale I ducked under the awning of the fish cleaning station, which managed to keep it’s particular scent despite the constant opportunity to be aired out.

kitchI stopped for lunch at Tony’s Crab Shack, and had a sandwich made with “Bandon’s Famous Crab.” I’ve started a policy of always ordering whatever item on the menu includes the word ‘famous,’ and it’s served me well thus far.

I stopped by the visitor information booth, where I received some assistance from fellow travelers in keeping the front door from slamming into my face. A nice old woman behind the counter gave me instructions on how to get to the beach, and asked me three times if I had a windbreaker. I asked her if it was worth it to wear my hat and she shook her head. “That’s Bandon. We can’t keep a hat on and we don’t carry umbrellas,” she said.

Evacuation Route

I parked on the beach and put on my hurricane jacket. I tightened the hood around my face and started to walk along the rocks. The beach I was on sits right across from the old lighthouse, and is home to what I assume is the new hornhouse, based on the noise it made every 24 seconds. I read the Tsunami warning and was suddenly filled with absolute dread and certainty that a deep ocean earthquake was happening at that exact moment, and I would never be able to make it to the evacuation route in time. What a way to go. Oregon’s nice but it would be a real shame to have only made it this far.

The wind was so strong I could barely keep my balance, let alone hold the camera steady. There is a kind of beauty to it though. A kind of very specific, dangerous beauty. The waves and the wind are so high and strong, they crash up against the rocks like scenes from a movie about a storm. The mist blurs all the edges, from the rocks to the horizon. The Oregon Coast is not the kind of place you idle, it’s the kind of place you haunt.crashing waves

Rafting Down the Rogue

Ashland, Oregon gave me my first experience with Couchsurfing (, and I’m happy to say it was a great one. The couple I stayed with were roughly the same age as my parents, and they reminded me a lot of the old Montana hippies I grew up around every summer as a child. They go river rafting and pick wild mushrooms in the hills and have that same giant collection of books my folks do – the kind that’s a mix of Oprah Book Club novels with obscure plant books and a few from whatever genre has titles like The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.

Slippery RocsIn fact, all of Ashland reminded me of Montana. The rolling hills on either side, the festival, the fly fishing, the fact that everything closes at 9PM. The Rogue River was on my list of things to do and see in Oregon, though the recommendation never came with any specifics on where I should go to enjoy it. I was a little worried it was the kind of knowledge only people in the area would know, and I was afraid I might miss it. I was relieved when I came across a couple viewpoint spots along the river on my way down to Ashland. I hoped that seeing the old lava flow features and the natural land bridges were what people meant when they said I should see the Rogue.

But then of course my Ashland hosts, David and Kerry, have their own inflatable raft and offered to take my on a float down the Rogue River itself. For those who’ve never had the opportunity to go rafting down a gorgeous river, the way it generally works is you have two vehicles: one is towing the raft and gets parked at a public boat ramp up stream. The second is parked downstream, so when you arrive you can use it to go get the other car, and come back to pick up the raft. We dropped off Kerry’s adorable Mini Cooper at our pull-out point, and after a brief detour to go on a nature walk for members on the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, we took the truck up river to start our float. We were about 90 seconds down the river when Kerry realized she’d left the keys to the Mini on the backseat of the truck, and we paddled full steam to get over to the shore as fast as we could. We met an old man trying to start up the engine on his fishing boat at his private dock, and asked if one of us could walk up his property to go back to the put-in spot and get the keys out of the truck. “Sure,” he said, “Just pull up on the side of the dock there.” He pointed to the north end of his dock, then turned back up to the house and yelled “Norma!”

David and I stayed at the dock with our new friend Ted, while Norma drove Kerry back to the rest area to get the keys out of the truck. According to Norma this sort of thing happens to them about five or six times every summer, and we’re welcome to walk through their property if ever this happens when they’re not home. When told that we would never be forgetting the car keys again, Norma replied, “Well you just don’t know that!”

Dark splashingWith keys in hand, we continued our float down the river, talking politics, my trip, and the giant ornate houses along the river that were built by a man with “Vegas money.” When we’d hit some rapids, David would start calling out commands to the two of us in front for how we should paddle. Kerry was smiling and I thought she was going to sprain something with how often she rolled her eyes at him. Such is marriage.

I couldn’t help but smile myself, remembering my worries about missing the river. Here I was sitting in it, basking in the hot southern Oregon sun. David mentioned he had this dream of floating the whole length of the Rogue one day, from the head waters up by Crater Lake all the way to the Pacific. Two days after my float on the Rogue and four days after my day at Crater Lake, I was driving along the Oregon coast and saw the end of the Rogue River as it spilled into the ocean. So I guess that was my Rogue River journey. Hopefully David will find the time to go on his.