First of all, I’m back! Yes, I disappeared for a little while there. Besides dealing with the not insignificant post-PCT soup of emotional/physical/logistical weirdness which I’m sure EVERY hiker goes through to some degree returning from a six month stint in the wilderness, my website had been hacked. I couldn’t get access and all kinds of crazy stuff was happening. I had my first trollers, the graphics were everywhere (my Madlib looked like a Mensa puzzle), error messages in day-glo squatting the header, it was confusion and powerlessness all over the place. As within, so without.
But now it’s fixed. And I’m fixed (mostly). Before I was fixed, I found pleasure and solace in buying and rigging a van. I hadn’t intended to. I was actually shopping for a fuel economy vehicle, as I figured a societally savvy someone would, when I saw the ad. It was for a 1997 Toyota Previa LE/SC, a bean with an enormous space shuttle windshield, a long sunroof, darkly tinted windows, origami seat folding possibilities, and new tires. It was a rich forest green in color, just like the vine laden trees I had just walked through, with a desert dust leather interior. Also, it had 155,000 miles on it and only got 21 miles to the gallon. Hmmmmm… adventure or practicality? I drove it, got that wiggly feeling in my soul, and bought it. Again without intending to, truly with a Noah-like mysterious drive, I began converting the interior. I bought a bed, bedding, and a fluffy new pillow. My dear friends helped me make blackout curtains for it (honestly THEY made the blackout curtains for it while I held stuff in place here and there). I bought power converters, made front curtains, and fitted it with storage devices. During this time period, it was damn near my only joyful activity. I had become ill. I hate to say that it was allergies, because saying you are sick with allergies seems similar to saying you are injured by a bug bite. But I indeed became quite ill with allergies, bedridden ill, every single moment of every single day for weeks on end. I had to run, run away as fast as I possibly could from the Sedona, Arizona desert that used to be my home. And I now had a seriously attractive van to do it in.
Thankfully, I had an invitation from a dear and loving friend to move in with her in Portland, Oregon, the Portland where a strangely large number of Pacific Crest Trail hikers end up after completing a thru-hike. An immediate social group of awesome people, opportunities to make real money, and NO juniper trees made Portland an obvious joy choice. And the terrain. The terrain I would have to travel through to get there, IN THE VAN, was the magic anti-depressant pill I so desperately needed to get myself out of bed. I was all maps again. A 20-hour drive was turning into a 4 day vanabonding venture and it felt terrific.
Day one ended in Las Vegas. The pull of gold-painted acrobats and the Bellagio fountain show would steer me right off the highway. There was a $20 room (upgraded even) at Circus Circus with a free breakfast buffet. Even though I felt a genuine emotional longing to sleep in the van, Vegas wasn’t the place to initiate it as a living space, and, as it turned out later, I discovered how valuable casinos can be while vanabonding. Because of how singly tracked my mind had become, all I could manage to do in Vegas was to sit and watch the Bellagio fountain show over and over and over again, maybe 8 times (I REALLY like the Bellagio fountain show). It was a good walk and a good submersion into man-made mania for the purpose of contrast. I was about to be in amazingly beautiful and soft places.
It was shortly after flying across Death Valley, which, by the way, a fly across Death Valley will clear ANYTHING out of a cluttered psyche, that this happened:
I was fascinated with how a tire could just spurn a demon boil from its deepest innards, a new tire even, without preclude or drama, but incredibly grateful that it happened in a populated area along 395 and NOT on my off-the-grid Death Valley fly. As most apparent misfortunes seem to evolve into Grace for me, I had a decent spare (with air in it even) and two nearby park rangers loading up their mountain bikes nearby who were willing to help me. They happened to be “van people” themselves and turned me onto a website that will find you and tell where the nearby free campsites are that you can park for a night without getting hassled ( www.freecampsites.net). They also mentioned that they were expecting 8-12 inches of snow that night at the elevation the hot springs I was attempting to get to were at. Sigh. Maybe it wouldn’t be a stellar idea to head into a canyon on a dirt road with a questionable tire in the middle of a snowstorm. I’ve done worse. But I wouldn’t on that day.
I headed down into Carson City, Nevada, where I could at least be close to a tire place should the spare fail. Freecampsites.net steered me to a large casino there that had a parking lot just for RV’ers and van dwellers. I found my spot and made my home there, waking up to a hearty snow storm with enough accumulation to panic the population, even at 4,800 feet. It was fine with me. I was in a casino parking lot. There were bathrooms, another breakfast buffet, and penny slots. AND, my absolutely insane friend from the San Francisco Bay area was slapping his snow chains on to come over and say hello! Let it snow, let it snow, let snow… By 2pm, all my pennies were gone, the tire was replaced, a bakery had been invaded, and my friend and I both had to get back on the road. I didn’t have enough time now to get to the next set of hot springs I wanted to camp at, but indeed there was another casino that allowed van dwellers just north of Klamath Falls I was able to make it to. This turned out again to be a misfortune turned into Grace, not because of the clean bathrooms and hot coffee, but because the road to the hot springs that I just wasn’t going to give up on was a single 44 mile sheet of pure compact ice that really would have been un-fun to drive on at night.
If you’re going to learn driving on ice skills, you might as well do it in paradise, which is what Oregon Hwy(?) 138 turned out to be. I couldn’t be stressed, because there were these towering old growth trees and waterfalls popping into view all over the place. I wanted to get out and hike CONSTANTLY, but one of the important commandments in driving on ice is to “try to avoid coming to a complete stop. ever.” And I don’t know that I could have anyway unless a snow bank jumped out in front of me. I kept going down to lower elevation, hoping the hot springs would be accessible and I could safely take the van to them. They were. And I’d love to tell you how worth it they were, how the walk through the old growth forest in the mud and across the river sent happiness running through me, how no one was there and I had six pools of varying temperatures on a bluff overlooking the river all to myself and my nakedness and that little tiny snowflakes starting falling onto my face making the intense heat even more insanely pleasurable, and how I didn’t want to leave but that I fell so in love with my van on that drive that I just wanted to go back and make sure it was comfortable and unmolested in that little parking area, and what an exquisite welcome to Oregon the day was, but I don’t have to tell you. Just look! (and maybe even go: Umqua Hot Springs)
So now I am here, in Portland, just in time for a rare Portland snowpocalypse. I am happy to be in my new home and can’t wait to explore this incredible state and see what’s around me that’s not the PCT.