Adventures at home, abroad, and online

Category: Cross Country Page 3 of 7

Space Cadets

Spent the last few days at the NASA Next Generation Exploration Conference. Yeah, I’m a dork. But unlike say, a Star Trek convention, the people at this epic gathering of dweebdom actually know something about seeking out new life, and boldly going where no one has gone before. The opportunity to chat with the chief mars scientist at JPL over a couple of beers is the impetus I need to continue pursuing an engineering education. Grades be damned, full speed ahead.

Ames Zepplin Hangar

Day One – Woodbridge SP, Corning CA

After departing with my head full of stars, I stopped by Walnut Creek for a goodbye dinner with John and Joanne. Went to a very nice Thai place in Lawrenceville, where I ordered a dish that was far too hot. John told me I look like his maternal grandfather, who he will track down a picture of. It’s so funny making these new family connections, discovering genetic links I hadn’t known before. Worth more thought than these pages will hold.

Drove north from the Bay Area, out of the last real city I’ll see until Minneapolis. Sped across the central valley on I-5, where the average speed seemed to be 85. It’s hard to concentrate at that speed on a straight road at night, so I pulled off in Corning at a small state park. It’ll cost $14 to pitch a tent in a field, but that’s better than some dirty motel for thrice the price. Sitting in the dark, writing to the chirping crickets and the passing cars. Nice to see the stars again, after the interminable fog in Monterey. Off tomorrow to Lassen Volcano National Park, and then to Portland, where James awaits my triumphal arrival.

Day Two – Portland, OR

Devil's Bumpass

Devil’s Bumpass

Boiling Lake

Boiling Lake



Lassen Peak


I was awakened by the voice of the Park Ranger, demanding my campsite fee at 7 in the morning. Why it couldn’t wait until I had pants on, I’ll never know. I paid the man my $14, and departed poste-haste. Driving North on I-5, I reached Lassen fairly quickly: up and up and up the mountains, past fields strewn with lava rocks. I took one quick hike into the Devil’s Bumpass, joining countless German and Indian tourists on the boardwalks, safe above the sulfuric gases. The boiling ponds and churning fumaroles partly sated my need to see Yellowstone.

Leaving Lassen, I stopped at a neighborhood (read: empty) Pizza Joint in some mountain town. The teenaged pizza girl shyly took my order, and I waited for the pie. In my haste to go to the bathroom, I neglected to lock the door, leading to an exceedingly awkward encounter, with a now even more shy girl. I tried to make light of the situation, but she just blushed and handed me my food, never to speak of it again.

Further north on I-5, I passed by the staggering mass of Mt. Shasta. I stopped in the rest area in Weed, CA, but wasn’t brave enough to ask a fellow tourist to take my picture in front of the sign. I thought they’d infer that I’m the immature college student that I am.

On to Portland, where I met James at the Mexican wedding he was bartending. I had expected a certain level of stereotypes at this event, but nowhere near the level of the truth. All James was dispensing was a keg of Coors Light. The men all wore polyester pants, gigantic belt buckles, and cowboy hats-cum-sombreros. The dancing seemed to consist of the women whirling and the men whooping. I resolved to serve only cheap beer at my wedding, to ensure the appropriate level of enthusiasm displayed by this crowd.

Day Three – Yaak SP, MT

Got on the road at 11, which was pretty good given the previous night. We went to an excellent breakfast place in Portland, and began the drive east. Along the mighty Columbia, past the dams that tame it, and the requisite reminiscing about the MECC game Oregon Trail and the rafting of said river. Into Washington, and had dinner at Jake’s Cafe, where I got a heaping pile of roast beef, and an equal amount of sass from the waitress. She threatened to sit on James because he ordered a milkshake; her mass was sufficient to cause him serious harm.

James Peeing on Idaho

James Peeing on Idaho

Across the panhandle of Idaho, where I took an excellent picture in which James happens to be peeing. He claimed a need to mark his territory. Just across the border in Montana, we stopped at Yaak campground, where there wasn’t another soul.

Yaak River


We scrounged wood from other campsites and made a fire. Neglecting to take any bear precautions, I began getting a little anxious as the night wore on, and we munched chocolate cookies by the fire. Then the train came through, which I swore was bearing down right through the campsite. We wandered toward the river, and saw the next train illuminate the valley with its headlights, reminding me of the Polar Express. There was also the claim that we saw the Northern Lights. We did each see the same colors, of the same shape, in the same area of the sky. However, our minds were not completely clear, and one cannot dismiss the power of persuasion. Either way, the sight was breathtaking, before I remembered that we were being stalked by bears. James tells me I slept fitfully.

Day Four – No Name Lake, Glacier NP, MT

Departing Yaak, we drove further into Montana, and up to Glacier National Park. My parents still talk about the hike they took here thirty years ago, so I figured it was a must see. We got our backcountry permits, having to sit through an instructional video detailing exactly how to avoid seeing, and then be mauled by, or fight back against a bear. The message wasn’t entirely clear. Around to the other side of the park, where our assigned campsite was, and five miles in, we didn’t see any bears. The scenery, though, was spectacular.

No Name Lake

No Name Lake

The lake (which apparently has no name), sits at the base of a tremendous sheer cliff, the subject of much later discussion as to its climbability. The consensus was no, although our 25 feet of food-hanging line might be good enough to attack an imagined Nazi bunker on the other side of the lake. Those Germans are everywhere. As the stars appeared one by one, and the temperature dropped precipitously, we postponed our assault for the morning.

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