So, as you might have ascertained by the title, my trip to the Tetons and Cali has not gone as smoothly as planned. About 5-6 hours down the road, right outside of Rexburg, Idaho (about 70 miles West of Jackson, WY) my van started pulling to the left and smelling like burnt rubber. I took it back to Rexburg and a shop swapped out a caliper for 180 of my gas dollars and then decided that wasn’t the problem (though it was getting old). Better yet, the problem was a brake fluid proportioning valve. Never heard of it? Of course not, because it’s an obscure part that never goes out, making it very difficult to find, especially in a city the size of Rexburg (pop. 24,500), forcing my mechanic to go to Idaho Falls to get it. So this all went down on the Wednesday before the 4th of July and the mechanic told me that he wouldn’t get down to Idaho Falls till Monday the 6th of July, 5 days stranded at the least. Not too mention, it will cost another $50-$100 dollars, which on the low end empties my checking account and on the high end overdraws it (and the shop doesn’t accept credit cards). So starts my stay in Rexburg.

As I sat in the mechanic’s shop my head whirred with the implications: “Where am I gonna get the money? I’m not going to ask my family, who are either too poor or will put conditions on the money. Even if I do fix it, can I still make it to California? If I make it to California on my credit card, will I be able to get work in time to make my next credit card payment? I thought this was the right path, is this some kind of bad joke, God?”

On the positive side, there was a free campground that the Teton river runs through where I was able to park my van and stay. At the campground I started reading my book Living on the Devil’s Doorstep: From Kabul to Amsterdam, which is about a missionary family on the hippie trail in the 70s (highly recommended BTW) and the chapter I read  starts out with a memoir of their bus breaking down multiple times while driving across Afghanistan. That was a bit encouraging, I decided that maybe I still am on the right track and this is just a temporary setback, though I’d be lying if I said I was immediately comforted.

The first order of business the next day was to find some way to scrounge money. I checked with an employment agency in town, closed till Monday. I also checked craigslist and stuff at the library, dead end again. So I tried something I had never tried before: panhandling. A city that is 90-95% LDS and has the slogan “America’s Family Community” is not the best place to make a panhandling debut. I was a bit conflicted about doing it anyways, since I have a pretty good work ethic, but then again, it’s not too different from hitchhiking in some ways. I also didn’t feel too bad about it because I have given plenty of money to homeless people over the years and even the clothes off my back. I feel like God has a cosmic mutual fund of generosity that one can draw dividends from if it is invested in, kinda like karma. Jesus did say after all “he who gives others water will receive water” (not that that is the ultimate motive for giving). I also consoled myself with the thoughts that it would be a social experiment to help me understand what it is like being in the shoes of the desperate and it could be a practice in Franciscan spirituality (St. Francis of Assisi was dedicated to poverty and supported his order by begging).

I figured that I would take a humorous approach, after all, it would sort of be like getting paid to be a comedian. So, making fun of a homeless cliche and taking advantage of the time of year, I held a sign that read “Revolutionary war vet, anything helps, happy 4th (almost)”. In addition to this, I donned my very homeless looking army surplus jacket, a baseball cap, and an eye patch. I started at Wal Mart at about 9 AM and continued until about 12 or 1, overall I made 4.50 — pretty weak.

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My first patron was a kid of about 16 named Fisher and my other Donor was a middle-aged man. Besides them, only one other person stopped. She offered me food (which I understand, I have taken that approach with homeless people as well) but I declined. She then thanked me for serving my country, which took great effort not to laugh at; after all she did just thank me for fighting in a war over 200 years ago. I’m not sure if she didn’t read my sign closely, was having a blonde moment, or legitimately didn’t know what the revolutionary war was. I heard another guy arguing with his wife in the parking lot: “We’re not giving him any money, Goddammit!” I almost died laughing — ok, Scrooge. Other then them, most people just ignored me or pretended to be on their phone — “maybe if we don’t look at him he can’t see us.”

Like hitchhiking, getting ignored by hundreds of people in the hot sun takes its toll — one starts to hate people and make generalizations about them, as they were probably doing of me. “Nice Corvette sir, did that cost you 50,000 dollars? Do you think you could spare one dollar you stingy bastard?” Such were my thoughts, and worse I must admit. I kept thinking that if 50 people gave me a dollar or 100 people 50 cents, then I would be home free. While I was mad, I also could understand where they were coming from. I have given a homeless man a twenty and taken him to a “health clinic” only to see him walk down the street to a bar.

Yet, addiction isn’t always the cause of homelessness, sometimes it’s the result. The overwhelming sense of isolation, alienation, insecurity, meaningless, shame, and not to mention scorching sun and hunger can definitely get to one. I’ve never struggled with alcohol, yet in my hitchhiking chronicles from last summer I noted how at times I felt a strong urge to drink due such feelings.  It’s hard to sleep outside too and one guy told me that getting drunk helps.

Anyways, I went “home” discouraged to return back that evening and try another scheme. This time I tried to dress the part of a pirate to draw attention. I wore bandanna, the eye patch, a tank top, and some jorts (jean-shorts). My sign read “Marooned . . . need booty ($50) for ship repairs.” After a while I got bored with that and wrote “Why is the rum gone? Need $ :)” on the other side, hoping that someone would pick up on the Jack Sparrow reference and the attempt to poke fun at another homeless stereotype. No luck though. Some people laughed, but no one gave anything. After a while I wielded the “rum” sign as a cynical jest towards my audience. I imagined them saying “see all homeless people are worthless drunks” and moving on. I laughed inwardly at their misinterpretation, scorning their middle class Mormon values and judgmentalism. I went back home, pissed and cynical. The next day I stayed in bed until 11 or so, which I never do, but what did I have to get up for? Folgers, that was it, Folgers in my cup was the best part of waking up that day, or so I thought. I hung around camp almost all day scheming about how to make money and trying to avoid exposing my sunburns to the scorching 96 degree heat. I didn’t succeed in making up any new schemes, but I had something of an epiphany that evening.

I had been arguing with God and myself about the experience (these arguments had been going through my head for days by then):

I told myself “These people aren’t obligated to help you, you know. They didn’t force you to get in a rickety old van and drive across the country.”

“yeah, but it’s not about obligation, it’s about love. I was never obligated to help out a homeless alcoholic, I could say that he had his chance and blew it. People should held one another out.”

Then I feel like God said, ” Maybe that’s how it SHOULD be. But do you really expect this world to be as it should be? I tried to help people and they hated me, even killed me, yet I still loved them. Maybe you should focus on loving them instead of yourself. You whine about not having provision but didn’t I say in my word ‘If we have food, water, shelter, and clothes we should be content with that?’ But you aren’t content, you want what you want how you want when you want.”

I pushed these thoughts out of my head and went fishing and wading on the Teton and had a pretty good time, though I didn’t catch anything. The thought occurred to me “Would it really be so bad if I had to live here a couple weeks, or for the summer?” I just got a sense of how inflexible and nonspiritual I had been acting. I began to realize that this little episode was bringing out deeper fears about my future, family, career, etc. I realized how much I had put my security and happiness in things like recognition, having a nice middle class life, having a family, a career, etc and really how unimportant the love of God and loving others was to me at that point. I told God that if being in unimpressive circumstances, not having recognition, and having a poor simple life was what it would take to be perfected in the love of God, then so be it. I’ll stay in Rexburg forever if I have to ( I cringe a little as I write that). God was taking the steel wool to my soul and it hurt good. There is a reason my van is called The Cosmic Monastery.

With a more positive attitude, I wandered Rexburg and talked to the locals, mostly Mormons. I had many spiritual discussions with them and even read about 50 pages of the book of Mormon (all that I could handle). There really are Mormons from all walks of life though — they aren’t all skinny, white guys with wire rimmed glasses and bikes. I met a hippie Mormon in the store, some hipster Mormons in the park, hick Mormons, intellectual Mormons, artistic Mormons, even a party boy Mormon. The last guy asked me for some weed. I shared with him a bit about the spiritual joy and altered states of consciousness. I shouldn’t be surprised, people are people, despite having a weird religion.

I discussed with some about why I don’t accept Mormonism: Joseph Smith was a dirt bag, the formulation of the book of Mormon is very suspect and it seems an unnecessary addition to the Bible, and the theology is whack (Jesus is the devil’s brother?). I didn’t convince many, but perhaps I helped some think about it, since that was probably the only conversation they had had with a non-mormon for months.

I was able to find a Baptist church (though I’m not Baptist) a stone’s throw from my camp site. It was small but I really liked the people there. One of the interesting guys I met was “Ping”, he was a Chinese guy who went to BYU and used to be a Mormon, but became a Christian. He told me that it was empty and had a bunch of weird doctrines and that Mormons try to convince themselves it is true, while he knows Christ is true, because He set him free. He enthusiastically showed me all the weird doctrines in “The Doctrines and Covenants” book, which is Mormon holy writ.

Eventually it was that church that bailed me out of my predicament: I helped them with some yard work and they paid for my van’s part. I did about 3 dollars worth of work for probably 100 dollars worth of work on my van. Ironically, on the way out of town I met some broke travelers who said they made 30 dollars in one hour panhandling. Perhaps I just suck at it. Anyways, I drove out of that town as fast as I could.

I have been in Eureka for a couple weeks and have more to write about but little time to write, so I will try to keep you posted as much as I can.

 

Cali or Bust!

Posted: June 28, 2015 in Adventure, Travel
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It’s finally time for an update! I apologize for my long absence, but I just haven’t been traveling much lately because I was wrapping up school and stuff. I graduated with my AA in chemical dependency counseling this June and I am now supposed to do an internship somewhere (eventually). As I noted earlier, I am planning to head to NorCal this summer, as I got a strong impression that I’m supposed to go to the Humboldt area several months ago. I was actually planning to be there about a month ago, but life happens. My car crapped out and I was hoping to get a camper or van or something I could live in. As the end of the school year approached I realized that I could’t afford to buy anything nor even qualify for a loan. Initially I panicked and bought a bus pass down there, but realized that was stupid idea (how am I going to work with no transportation?). So I shaved a hundred bucks off my already slim budget. Meanwhile my family members were repeatedly advising me to do something practical like get a high-paying summer job here in Montana. This put me into a bit of a crisis state. After all, I had little money, no job prospects in California, and no reliable vehicle, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to go there. So I began working oddjobs and waiting. Then a guy offered my grandpa a camper van for free. But there was a catch . . .

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It had been sitting for 10-15 years, so long that the wheels had sunk into the ground and a tree was growing through the engine. I had my doubts, but I felt that God was going to do something with this. It took us three days to get it out, I will spare the details of towing, jacking, digging, etc. To our amazement, it started right up when we put a new battery in it, but smoked horribly. After draining to ancient gas and tweaking some stuff it was running decently but a bit weak. Next order of business was to get some of the rust off and paint it.

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Of course my grandpa wanted me to paint it a “respectable” color, which I get, but I have been wanting to paint a car flamboyantly for a long time, and I wasn’t going to pass up this canvas since I may not have got a second chance. After painting it, we wanted to get it running better so we took it to a shop. It sat there all day and no one looked at it. Needless to say, I was worried this might go on for weeks. However, when I went to check up on it at the end of the day, the mechanic started it up and fiddled with some crossed wires and it started running fine! No money spent on buying the van or fixing it! Fifteen years of sitting and rusting and now it’s this sound running beauty. That’s the blessing of God! So now I am fixing to set out and I’m going to stop in Wyoming to visit some family at the Grand Tetons on the way. I’m debating whether to take the extra scenic route through Yosemite and San Fran; I would like to but I am still on a budget.

What awaits me in California? Not sure. Hopefully some kind of job — perhaps logging, mining, or agriculture (but not the kind that Humboldt county is famous for). Humboldt grows a buttload of weed, in case you didn’t know. It seems like a misfit and hippie community with weather ranging from 50-70 year round. Not a bad start. Mt. Shasta and the redwoods are nearby too, so hopefully I can do some sightseeing. I’m thinking this will be sort of an unofficial chemical dependency counseling/missionary trip, given the prevalent drug scene of Humboldt. In any case, it will be an adventure. So stay tuned!

So, it’s been quite a while since I posted anything, because I’ve mostly been going to school. I have, however, been on spring break, which has allowed me to get out a little bit. I originally planned on hitchhiking to Great Basin National Park in Nevada, but I decided that it was a bit ambitious and there were some things I wanted to do here in town too. I started my break off by helping out with a youth retreat, which is a great time of sleep deprivation, caffeine, dancing, shenaningans, and of course prayer, bible study, and worship. After retreat I slept for 14 hours and hung out in Polson for a few days.

I did decide to go south on highway 93, just not as far as Nevada. I initially went to some hiking areas in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, an area of hiking trails that straddles the Montana and Idaho border. It was still pretty snowy for hiking, but it was pretty cool all the same. One of the areas I went to, Blodgett Canyon, is pretty popular for rock climbing, so I went there and scrambled around. I don’t know if there is a designated area or something, but I had to cross a beaver dam and go up some random hillside. Being the poser that I am, I didn’t climb anything too serious; it was mostly semi-vertical formations and a little bit of legit bouldering. Nonetheless, if I slipped this could have been me:

Some of the bouldering was legitimately scary for me. It was quite a beautiful area, but given that I only had my camera phone, I didn’t get any nice pics. Here is one I found on Google though:

Photo cred: Bigsage.com

After Blodgett Canyon I headed further south down 93 into Idaho. I wanted to go to some hot springs down by Salmon. It is not the most well-known spot, so it was a bit hard to find. At first I couldn’t remember if the turn off was near mile 292 or 282, so I fumbled around a bit. I eventually found it by 282, but there is no sign or anything. It’s a mile or two to hike up to the springs and it was getting late, so I just set up camp. Side note: my homemade camping stove worked pretty well. It is made out of a cat food can, a tuna can, a piece of fiberglass, and is fueled by Heet. It is very lightweight and affordable. Here is a link if you want to make one yourself : http://zenstoves.net/CatCanStove.htm

Complete with 32 oz soup can pot and wire hanger pot holder

Complete with 32 oz soup can pot and wire hanger pot holder

I got up fairly early the next day to head to the springs, thinking it would be best when it was still a bit chilly. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the springs, so you will just have to go there yourself! They are nestled in a little, rocky canyon. There are about four pools up there varying in size, mine was about the size of a big bath tub. I think there is a bigger one but I didn’t go to it because it was occupied by a couple and I didn’t want to walk into something like this:

“My lover and I always crave salted meats.”

So I was content to alternate between my little hottub and the ice cold stream that flowed down the mountainside. I had some fun climbing up the creek bed that was strewn with boulders. I made it up to a little waterfall and put my head under it. Instantly numb, I hurried back to the hottub. I left late morning/early afternoon and at the perfect time. On my way out about a dozen people passed me headed for the springs.

I headed back to Polson that day via a circuitous route up by Hot Springs and then returned to Hot Springs the next day to soak and go to a rave. Kind of a random place to have a rave; Hot Springs is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a cool little town. It was a pretty small rave that didn’t necessarily play my kind of music, but it was fun nonetheless. I met a Jehovah’s Witness guy there and we talked about God for quite a while, which was cool until I lost my voice. That JW sure could dance too; I didn’t think they were allowed to go to raves.

Despite that the party went all night, I went home “early”, about 3 AM. 2 days after the rave I was grocery shopping and picked up a hitchhiker. He told me that he was Missoula bound (about an hour away) so I told him I would take him. His eventual destination was Seattle, and after some deliberating I decided to just take him to Seattle (about an 8 hour drive); I had nothing better to do. So I drove the guy to Seattle and we got there at about 2 AM Tuesday morning. He showed me around a bit and took me to a cool viewpoint of the city. I opted to not do the space needle since it costs 15 bucks or more and really isn’t even that high. That night we pulled into a park and slept in my car. Well, he might of slept, I tossed and turned and maybe got 2-3 hours.

The next morning we got up and toured the city more extensively in the day time. We went to the main parts of town and to a cool park called gas works, which I heard of on this blog http://www.valisemag.com/a-day-in-the-sun-gas-works-park/. All was going well until I burnt out my clutch on a steep road. I was able to get my car, which smelled like burnt toast every time I shifted, to a transmission shop. The short of it: new clutch in Seattle= 900 dollars. I considered selling my car for parts, but decided against it. So I left it in the shop and wandered down 4th avenue.

I figured I would hang out with some of the local homeless people and drug addicts, since I saw many while I was driving around. It wasn’t long before I found some. There were a few emaciated people who I knew right off the bat were on heroin, but others didn’t look like they were. In the part of town I was in there is a clinic that gives out clean needles to heroin users. I happened upon a free-spirited looking guy of about my age sitting with his skateboard and made some small talk with him (I’ll call him “Jackson”). He said he heading to the needle exchange and asked if I wanted to come, so I walked with him.

A couple young, black guys met up with us at the building. After Jackson got out of the needle exchange, the group started walking down 4th avenue again. I started to talk to one of the other guys “Tim” a little bit. He had been on heroin (or black as he called it) for about two years, and shooting it for about 6 months. I told him it was dangerous, to which he agreed. He said he was having trouble getting his life on track and he blamed himself for a lot of stuff. He said he needed a change of scenery, so I told him to come to Montana. I wish I could’ve brought him back and gotten him a place to stay away from all of that.  I shared about the Lord with him a bit, which he was pretty open to. It seemed they had a lot of errands to run, so I didn’t get to talk with him too much.  While we were walking a black guy in about his thirties with a 20 something white guy in a hoodie asked us for “shards” (meth). We stopped and talked with them a bit too. Another guy asked if I wanted to buy some “clear” (meth).

After a bit, I parted ways with the group and just hung out on this block that was overrun by people tweaking out, selling drugs, sleeping, etc. There was a security guard nearby, but I guess he didn’t notice or care that some dude was selling pills out of his lunchbox. One of the guys buying looked like a high school English teacher or something. I offered a limping guy prayer, to which he refused. The whole scene was overwhelming and sad. I met back up with my friend on this block and we headed back to the shop to await my car. After spending an hour or so in the waiting room, we drove back downtown to drop my friend off at the homeless shelter. The traffic was atrocious though because there was an accident on a freeway. He eventually got out and walked, which goes to show how slow we were going.

I headed out of town, hoping to make it Spokane, but actually making it all the way home in the wee hours of the morning. I would’ve liked to stay in Seattle for a few days, but I was over sleeping in my car, and after maxing out my credit card to fix my car, I wasn’t going to stay in a hotel. I suppose I could’ve found a place to camp, but I had stuff to do in Polson anyway.  After spending so much to get my car fixed and learning of numerous other expensive problems, I am wondering if I am going to be able to much this summer. I am still planning on going to California, but I’m not sure if I will still be able to hike the John Muir Trail, go to Burning Man, or climb Mt. Shasta; it seems doubtful right now. We will see though, ten more weeks of school and I will be out of here! Stay tuned.

Gouryella

Posted: February 8, 2015 in Spirituality
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Gouryella*

As I walk into the forest, surrounded by such beauty and innocence

my heart is stirred by the faintest memory of a place

a place where the land was honored, not pillaged

where the fields were strewn with lilies, not corpses

where the grass was wet with dew, not blood

where the sky was lit up by stars, not missiles

a place where hands built up and didn’t tear down

where arms embraced and didn’t strangle

where legs danced and didn’t trample

where hearts were free and not buried in shame and pain

where people laughed and didn’t cry

a place where people were inebriated by joy, not intoxicated by poisons

where people drank from the river of God’s bliss, not from bottles

where people were enraptured by a divine embrace, not lustfully grasping

where God’s love warmed the soul, as the sun warms the sky

where God’s light brightened the mind, as the sun brightens the day

Oh, how my heart yearns for this place.

This place will be restored when all revolves around the Son**

as the planets revolve around the sun.

* Gouryella is the aboriginal word for heaven and one of my favorite trance songs (below) that carries a heavy Utopian vibe

**i.e. Jesus

Mission mountains

Mission mountains

Don’t Except Jesus

Posted: January 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

Originally posted on Pilgrim's Map:

One of the common sales pitches in Evangelical Christianity is “Have you accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?” Unfortunately,  for many accepting Christ equates to excepting Him from any meaningful role in one’s life. This mode of acceptance is akin to someone accepting that their great-great grandfather’s name was Herbert; it gets thrown into the compartment of other useless, irrelevant information except on the rare occasions when it needs to be taken out. For many, this rare occasion is after death when one presents his “admit one” slip to get into heaven. Such an idea turns God into a glorified travel broker. What a shallow spirituality, if it can be called that.

This phrase, “accepting Christ”, is not found in scripture. It is deduced from the erroneous notion that the Gospel is a mere legal transaction. Subsequently salvation is viewed as being saved from God, rather than saved from sin and death…

View original 633 more words

As we were heading North from Sedona, we thought that we might want to stop at the Grand Canyon. I had never been and Kyle has only gone there once a long time ago. It wasn’t too far out of our way so we decided to stop there. On the way to the Canyon countless Navajo art stands lined the road and the Little Colorado River Canyon prepared us for the big one.

 

Little Colorado Canyon

Little Colorado Canyon

 

 

I had to cringe a bit for paying $25 to get in, since we had paid only $10 for all the other parks, but it’s the Grand Canyon. It is probably the most visited national park and it is pretty cool. The North Rim is closed for the winter but the South Rim is open year round. We got some spectacular views near the visitor center and on the way to the other end of the park. Kyle tried photobombing some people from the viewpoint and then I offered to take their picture. The camera they had was one that I have been considering buying, Fujifilm XD (or XP?), a rugged, water and dust proof camera. That might be a good investment considering my little point and shoot crapped out so fast, they also recommended it. We drove on to some of the other view points.

 

The bigg'un

The bigg’un

 

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It was getting late and time to start thinking about camping. The park was out of the question, we weren’t going to pay for a patch of dirt on top of our $25 entrance fee. We exited the park on the Western side and found what seemed to be a forest service road. A lady who owned land near there said it would probably be okay if we camped there. For the first time we actually had a camp fire, which was good because I dropped Kyle’s stove in my soup and it stopped working.

It took us a bit, but we got it going and I kept it going all night so I could sleep by it. The next day we worked on finding a hiking trail and eventually landed on one called Bright Angel. We thought of camping in the canyon, but apparently it requires a permit that is hard to get. The ranger at the desk said that it would take 12 or so hours to hike to the Colorado river and back in one day and that it shouldn’t be done. Given our experiences at Xenolith and Painted Desert, we were fairly desensitized to ranger warnings by this point. Kyle was set on going to the river, a 15 mile round trip, I was a bit unsure, because of a lack of water, but we would play it by ear.

The first 20 minutes are so were pretty icy, Yak-traks helped a lot though. The trail was also pretty populous for winter. After the ice, we used gravity to our benefit and jogged down the canyon. We learned that there was a water station midway to the river, so we would go the whole way. We jogged about 2/3 of the way or so. It was beautiful, especially the parts where the trail was cut into rock on the second half of the trail. We got to the river at 12:30 or so and hung out down there. There was a nice sandy beach on the muddy Colorado.

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We laid on the beach a bit and ate our lunch of a half a bag of peanuts. After 30 minutes or so we started back up the trail and made it to the midway point at about 1:30, good time. The next checkpoint found us a little winded but still going strong. It started going down hill for me after that checkpoint (or rather very uphill). The lack of food started getting to me. The last mile and a half were just brutal. Kyle, freak of nature that he is, wasn’t even fazed. I walked up the hill old man style cursing and muttering to myself. I asked the Lord not to listen to me because I was no longer a human in that state of mind.

I questioned my ability to make it up; it still seemed so far. I hugged the inside of the trail so that if I fainted I wouldn’t fall down in the canyon. Feeling desperate, I searched my wallet to offer anyone and everyone $20 for a Clif bar. No wallet! I was worried for a minute, but then decided to just trust God with it and be resigned to the loss of my wallet. As I leaned against the wall to rest, I saw this encouraging sign.

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Do not hike from the Canyon Rim to the river in one day, risk of fatigue, exhaustion, death, etc

 

 

I pointed to it and said, “I’m that idiot,” to a passing guy. He offered me water, but I asked if he had any pizza instead. He said no, but he would share it with me if he did. For some reason in that frame of mind I was really sentimental about the simplest friendly encounters. Every smile or sympathy that a stranger offered was moving.  Pizza didn’t even sound good though, 5 PBJs and a milkshake sounded good. I pressed on and eventually stumbled to the trail head with Kyle to greet me. He was surprised at my condition. I had him open a can of garbonzo beans for me, because I was too weak to. Those beans revived me a lot. This ranger warning was the only legit one, but then again, I would have been fine if I had a real lunch. Going to the river and back in one day during the summer heat would probably be out of the question though. Kyle drove us out of the park to the nearest gas station to fill up, where I filled up with 4 PBJs and a bottle of chocolate milk. I figured that ate about a half pound of sugar –shouldn’t have got that fakey Smucker’s Goobers garbage, oh well, I think I burnt it off. We headed up north towards Utah, planning on going to Escalante National Monument. The road was closed up there so we ended up going the way past Vermilion cliffs.

Since we didn’t want to pay, as usual, we stopped at some random patch of dirt behind a residential area. We set up the tent and soon realized it would be an interesting night. The wind was howling and pushing our tent walls down on us almost constantly. Kyle decided he would try to sleep in the car and stupidly decided I would try to sit it out in the tent. I tried to laugh it off and ignore it for a while, but eventually the ceiling ended up as the floor and I just started to get really pissed. I found myself kicking the walls when the wind pushed them in and in general acting like a 2 year old having a temper tantrum. As Kyle was trying to get comfortable in the car, he kept accidentally honking the horn while repositioning himself. I eventually collapsed the poles and lay in the tent in an uncomfortable heap, but it had less wind resistance. After my little meltdown I felt really low and unworthy. I prayed and asked forgiveness. It was another one of those moments that reminded me how hard it is for me to receive gifts. I forget that it’s okay not to be perfect.

We got up in the morning and looked in vain for the entrance to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Eventually we paid an exorbitant price to get into the the Lees Ferry Recreational Area and from there were able to hike up a wash into the cliffs. It was a beautiful walk, the wash had very high walls, interesting rocks, balanced rocks, and crusty dunes like those in the painted desert. We stopped hiking at a large spire. After we got back to the car we just drove around the recreation site a bit and looked around. After the cliffs, we headed West to shoot up to Utah via the 380. I wanted to take this way because I wanted to pass through Colorado City, the seat of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church that has been a source of controversy. I read about this place a bit in Krakaeur’s Under the Banner of Heaven and have been intrigued ever since. Supposedly they still practice polygamy there. We just drove around the town for a few minutes; it looked pretty normal except for the ankle-length blue dresses that the women wore. It is actually a pretty beautiful area.

Since we were running low on time to get back to Montana in time for Christmas eve, we decided to skip Zion. We pressed on up to Salt Lake City and Kyle did some last minute shopping. After that we pressed on, potentially aiming to get to Helena that night. After repeated coffees and candy bars, we got too tired near Idaho Falls. We pulled into this semi yard and I slept outside and Kyle slept in the car. I never thought I would sleep outside in a place like Idaho in the winter, but I was actually pretty warm, it probably didn’t get colder than 20 something.

The next day was pretty uneventful on our drive home. We had a brief disagreement about the last tank filling. I thought it was Kyle’s turn and he seemed to think it didn’t matter and we didn’t need to reckon so exactly given the informal way we had been pooling resources. I figured that gas was its own category and should be reckoned just by alternating fills. It’s not a big deal; I was just trying to be fair. However, Kyle didn’t expect me to replace his stove that I broke even though I offered, so I felt stupid about bringing up the gas. I bring this up because I think it ties in to my difficulty of receiving gifts. I’m better at settling accounts than giving and receiving gifts. This bleeds over into my relationship with God and also my understanding of Christmas. Someone gives you a gift and you  give back an equivalent gift, it becomes an economic exchange. If you receive a gift you cannot pay back, then you feel guilty and avoid the giver even. But a true gift has no strings attached. Christ’s love, forgiveness, and eternal life is free and I cannot repay it or earn it with any amount of good works. He knows that I’m imperfect and that I’m a work in progress. Growing in goodness is part of the gift, not a purchase price of the gift. I hope that I will grow in generosity, even in informal partnerships and grow in the ability to receive gratefully, not guiltily. So there’s the little Christmas blurb for my Christmas break adventure.

The drive from New Mexico to the Painted Desert was pretty desolate. There are also a lot of Indian Reservations in the Southwest; in fact, I believe the Navajo nation is the biggest in the country. We drove through the Zuni Rez in NM and it was probably the rezziest rez I’ve ever seen: ramshackle, cookie cutter houses surrounded toy cars, Indian Taco stands off the road, and tribal members wearing the same Tribal hoodies with social campaign slogans on them. I couldn’t tell from the outside if it was a ghetto rez or if the houses were just ugly. I’m not an expert on Indian reservations, but I do live on one after all. Northeast Arizona also has a couple reservations, but we didn’t drive through very populous areas.

We arrived at the Petrified forest at about 3 or 3:30. Given the fact that the sun sets around 530, we knew that there was no time to see the park and we started thinking about camping. We inquired about camping permits at the visitors’ center and learned that they were free. Good start, but then the rangers proceeded to lecture us about how cold it gets at night, how muddy the painted desert is, and that we had better leave for our campsite by 4 and camp at least one mile away or the law enforcement might stop us. They also told us we could camp for free near some rock shops at the South end of the park. I was a bit ambivalent, mostly because they were rushing us. We decided that we would at least check out the Painted Desert. As we drove towards the parking area, chalky pinkish red and reddish pink clay dunes came into view. We parked and looked out over the endless sea of dunes. The parking lot is perched on a hill overlooking the desert. We ran down the hillside in search of a campsite and the conditions. It was pretty muddy, but not “ankle deep” like the ranger said. In the ravines between the dunes were piles of petrified stumps. Before this we were confused as to where the forest was, as we turned in the park we saw no hints of trees after all. The stump piles seemed pretty random in these dunes, like some computer programmer just arbitrarily spawned them there.

 

Reminds me of the stumps lol

Reminds me of the stumps lol, not this copious though

We found one tall dune to camp on. I was skeptical because it didn’t look like a mile away; I wanted to go further. Kyle, being the rebel he is, convinced me though. We went back to the car and packed up our gear. At about 4:30 the “law enforcement” (aka ranger) rolled up. It wasn’t either of the ones at the desk, but we wondered if he would be as overprotective. He didn’t care that we hadn’t left by 4 though; he just said “have fun and be safe”. We set up our tent on the dune overlooking the desert and ate our dinner of peanut butter tacos. After dinner I went and frolicked down the side of a dune, and after a few moments my feet slid out from under me. Thankfully, somehow I did a ninja move and caught myself on my hands and sprung myself back onto my feet before I could paint my pants. I washed my hands (as best as possible) and then settled down into the tent for the night. I wondered if our tent would slide down the dune during the night. Remembering the stars I had seen in New Mexico, I got up a bit later to survey the sky, but the whole desert was shrouded in a thick mist. I was hoping this mist would last until sunrise and make an awesome picture.

Unfortunately the mist did not last, but the sunrise was still pretty neat. I took a walk around the desert and found some pretty cool rocks. Kyle joined me after a while and we followed a wash that did a loop into the desert and back towards the camp. The little pools of smooth clay under ice looked really cool. It was strange how big groups of little rocks were frozen in place. I imagined tubing down one of the washes on a paint river, how cool would that be?. It is a very otherworldly place, like much of the Southwest.

 

Interesting formation

Interesting formation

 

Petrified stump

Petrified stump

 

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After our walk, we packed up camp, ate some food, and started the main tour. There are a lot of nice view points off the road. We stopped at a natural sandstone bridge and played around, jumping over washes and gaps, climbing rocks, and the like.

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Kyle jumping a gap

 

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Me jumping the same gap

 

 

 

When we came to the Blue Mesa area, we took a walk around the dunes. They looked just like the ones in the Painted Desert except they were greys, purples, and blues — very neat.

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The further South we headed, the more petrified stumps there were. We saw a ton, or probably a few tons, at the Crystal Forest. In the parking lot a woman approached us and told us to buy petrified wood at a turquoise house outside the park because it was really cheap. I definitely registered this moment because a.) I seem to get led to rock shops a lot on my adventures and b.) she mentioned something about Humboldt county, which has come up incessantly — I keep meeting people from there and that is where I plan on moving next summer. She had very long, red hair and sort of reminded me of a Disney princess, funny that we met her in the Crystal Forest, a very fairy tale-esque name. We finished touring the place and stopped at the major rock shops, which were expensive so we moved on to the turquoise house.

The petrified wood was about twice as cheap at the turquoise house than at the other shops. We browsed a bit and chatted with the owner. He was very friendly, apparently his family owns the land around there and they get petrified wood there, since it can’t be taken from the park. He mentioned how his wife had dropped a petrified stump on her leg the last spring and had lost most of her foot as a consequence. I offered to pray for her, he was grateful but not convinced it would help. He is a Christian but seems to think that God doesn’t heal anymore, especially a missing foot. Yeah, it seems weird, but if God created the universe and all therein he can recreate a foot. The guy gave me some Bibles and an extra piece of wood for free.

From there we headed towards Flagstaff and then Sedona. On the way to Flagstaff we stopped at a rest stop that had a bunch of boulders to climb on. We ended up staying there for about an hour climbing around — best rest stop I have ever been to. Flagstaff is also cool, I wouldn’t mind living there one day. It is colder than Phoenix though because it is more northern and sits at about 7,000 feet. The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona was a steep descent on a two lane highway into Oak Creek Canyon. A very impatient person was tailgating us and honking at us, but I don’t know they were thinking because we were going around hairpin turns. Probably locals ticked at the stupid tourists who don’t know how to drive there. The valley was also fairy tale-esque, quite beautiful. As we neared Sedona all kinds of resorts kept popping up and we saw several California plates. I didn’t know it was so touristy. We also drove by a beautiful place called Slide Rock State Park. It had pine trees and red rocks, a good introduction to the scenery of Sedona — which looks like the the offspring of Arches and Montana.

As got on the main drag of town, we saw just how touristy it is. Little gift shops, restaurants, psychic readers, and tour companies were everywhere. We walked around the main street for a while and then ate at a pizza place that was pretty good, overpriced a bit, but not horrible. The beer was really overpriced; I unintentionally got a $7 beer. I figured it would be 4 or 4.50 like other microbrews (which is already too much) so I ordered it without looking at the price. After dinner we walked around a bit more and found some marimba type things that were part of the city’s infrastructure. We hammered away at them for ten minutes or so, probably to the chagrin of the other tourists. Kyle even asked passerbys for a tip, we didn’t get any money though. It was getting about time to find a campsite, so we drove around a bit and after some dead ends ended up at the Little Horse Trail head. We chilled out there a bit and then I thought it would be cool to walk around town and do a little treasure hunting (ie being led by the Spirit to divine appointments with people). I figured that since Sedona draws so many spiritually oriented people that it could be a good opportunity for me to offer prayer, prophecy, and love encounters with God.

I drove back into town and it was surprising subdued for being about 10 pm. I don’t get the vibe that Sedona is a big drinking/nightlife town, of course it wasn’t really the right season for that either. My oil light came and I realized that I had drove 1,200+ miles without having bothered to check the oil. I got fuel, oil, and a snack at a local gas station and ask the attendant about hiking trails. He told me about Boynton Canyon and Devil’s bridge. A bunch of the customers chimed in too, very friendly people. These seemed to be the true Sedonians, down-to-earth people dressed somewhat like Indiana Jones. I ask the cashier if he needed any prayer and he thought I asked if he needed any herb hah! I said, “no that’s better than herb”. He said he was okay though. I went back to camp and got in the tent. A few cars pulled in during the course of the night, so I got up to make sure we weren’t getting jacked. There were some signs warning of car break-ins, but it was probably just teenagers making out or smoking weed — they left soon enough.

The next morning I got up to take a little walk and discovered that we were near a pretty big trail system. I didn’t want to hike too far without Kyle, so I watched the sunrise over the red rocks and then met up with him.

sunrise in Sedona

sunrise in Sedona

We soon learned it was also a pretty populous trail. We followed the trail for a bit and then came to an opening of slickrock. Kyle suggested we go up by these cliffs and we found a small trail that led up there. The trail got pretty gnarly though, like an Alaskan trail. After some pretty steep hiking, we were at the top and had a pretty nice view of Sedona and the rocks. I think we were near Bell Rock, but I’m not sure. We hung out there a bit and then hiked back down. By this time, the parking lot was full of people and we found a slip on our tent warning us that it was not a camping area. We felt pretty silly, two drifter looking types camped out by a hiking trail frequented by trendy looking tourists. I saw an older lady wearing an Alaska T-shirt with wolves on it, which highlighted her to me because that is spiritually symbolic to me.

I started talking to her a bit and learned she was a snowbird from Alaska. She had actually grown up on a rustic homestead in Alaska before there were even paved roads. We talked a bit about rocks and minerals and I gave her the piece of petrified wood that the guy at the rock shop had given me. She gave me a little piece called Sonoran Sunrise. I also learned that she had gotten in a devastating car wreck and miraculously survived but developed diabetes and other pains as a result. I offered her prayer and she said I could pray for her but not there because she was eager to get on the road.

Kyle and I laid around the lot a bit and ate breakfast. We were actually pretty tired so we headed out of town towards Utah. We thought about going to Slick Rock park, but it was ten bucks and we were too tired to hike around anyways. I like Sedona; it is an interesting mix of spiritually oriented people, down to earth outdoors enthusiasts, and well-dressed city folks. As I mentioned a bit earlier, it is also a new age mecca. There are a bajillion psychic readers, yoga practitioners, intuitive healers, and weird blends of all of the above, like Shamangelic healing. I’m not into that stuff; spiritual power either comes from the Holy Spirit, all other doors are dangerous and from the darkness. I do, however, respect that people are spiritually hungry and long for an experiential, powerful, and intuitive spirituality rather than dry religion, rituals, and dogma.  It would be cool to live and work there for 3-6 months; I’m not sure I would like to live there long term though. Hopefully I will cross paths with Sedona later on.