Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Grand Canyon!!!

Spring Break 2001 I took my first road trip across the grand landscape of the western United States. New to both living in the United States and also independently, I was in awe of the sense of freedom I felt as I watched the miles of highway escape into the distance and the unimaginable space and vastness of this country open up with each passing hour. The Grand Canyon was a halfway point to California and one of the most impacting sights I had ever seen, so much so that the rest of the trip seems a mute point more than a decade later. Short on time and money as twenty something college students, we just stared for hours, took photos and camped in the frigid near zero temps before heading on. The Colorado river, majestically prominent with it's shades of aqua blue and green stood out amongst the dry red rocks and desert landscapes. It seemed so far and unreachable, but yet realistic. The type of goals I always seemed to reach for. Since I was a child I have always wanted to hike to really faraway points, say that tree on top of that mountain. Probably possible, but unlikely without preparation. I have wanted to hike to that river since March of 2001. And I have thought about that river, in that canyon countless times in the last 13 years and talked about hiking to it, someday. So, that's how important this was for me. And I finally got to do it with the love of my life and the partner of my dreams.

Getting the permit was a bit of a hassle since we didn't have previous reservations. Day 1 we got on a waiting list and had to arrive at 8 in the morning the next day to see if we got a spot for two days later. They only gave away 4 per day. Luckily we made it and got a permit for two nights! We meandered around the park for a couple of days learning about geography and what not. Camping was free right outside of the park.

7 miles in and 10 miles out. Two nights of camping. The rangers made a really big deal about hiking in the summer due to high temps, but we were there in the middle of spring so the conditions were near perfect. Hiking in our energies were high, going downhill was swift and we often stopped to just look around and take it all in. There were several occurences of a pack of mules either with or without people coming up or down the trails and oftentimes we'd have to scramble to the side as to not spook them.  The further down we went the higher the walls of the canyon loomed over our tiny existence. Incredible and humbling.

We quickly learned that hiking downhill for 7 miles gets to be very painful as evidenced by our burning calves and the huge blisters on our big toes. All I could think was how amazing it would feel to just go up, even just a few minutes. Who would of thought. The next day we would get our share of up! The end of the hike was extremely satisfying as I finally got to touch the Colorado River! Goal accomplished.

We want to do it again, but a longer hike, more nights and away from the main trails. I guess ten years ago I wouldn't have known the difference, but after all the time spent in the Montana wilderness it was a little disappointing how much "backcountry" hiking was full of people. The first nights stay at Phantom Ranch was literally a rustic resort with a restaurant and cabins for all of the group tours. (We camped in a separate campsite, but we were right next to the cabins and bathrooms). The second night was just a campsite, but still pretty developed. We learned that if you want to get into back country you have to take the less popular trails. Good to know for the future. All in all an unforgettable experience and one that we are looking forward to doing again with a little more planning.


Colorado River Bridge

The Greener Side

Dusk from the Rim

Hiking Up!


Almost there!

Through this tunnel will be rest, food and  cold stream in which to soak our aching legs!

Descending the desert!

Seriously?! Our calves hurt already!

We made it!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Crossing into the desert

Nearly two and a half weeks in California and one thing was for sure. There are a lot of fuckin people in California. Whenever there is an abundance in people, there is limited resources at exorbitant prices. We were feeling the brunt of that limitation in multiple ways.

Water: once free and accessible in rest stops in Oregon. Now, non existent or costly.
Free parking: Our usual nightly parking at trucks stops like Flying J and Pilot were suddenly unavailable do to the endless numbers of truck drivers driving anything and everything to and from the bustling, overpopulated and extremely productive state of California.
Dump stations: Again, often free or for a nominal fee. Now hard to find and unneccesarily expensive. (It's just poop!)
Gas: Expensive! Especially when you only get 8 to 10 mpg.
Beer/Entertainment: Apparently you are only allowed to have fun in California if you're rich.

Food: The only thing that wasn't unrealistic. In fact, it was at times down right dirt cheap and delicious. You just had to look in the right places. And those right places were Authentic Mexican places and Taco Trucks. Oh boy. We were in the heart of Mexi-Americana and the food was amazing.

We might have been broke, not buzzed, and sleeping on side streets hoping not to get busted by cops, but we were high on hot salsa endorphins, which was good because we needed the extra happy juice to get us through the stress of an impending lull in work. We were at a crossroads and unsure of our next step.

Luckily, we have good people skills or phone etiquette, or something, but we booked two gigs in Arizona that weekend, so we were high on life again with a plan for at least the near future. We knew two things, well three. One. We had money coming in. Two. In was in the direction of the Grand Canyon (which was part of the loose original plan.) And Three. We had a friend in Lake Havasu that we were going to see.

So, for the third time since we left we got to see a familiar face! Specifically, a familiar face from Daniel's home town and childhood. Joanna had been living there full time for the last several years with her now fiancee Roy and as it turns out, the two of them were a ton of fun. We partied for two nights straight, drank every bottle of liquor within our vicinity (Roy encouraged shots, lots and lots of shots) and ran around the house like children playing random games and laughing hysterically.

(On a side note, as it turns out, Lake Havasu was getting primed for it's yearly Spring Break Party, a fact we were unaware of until we arrived. Although it wasn't the main week for it, we got a fair dose of half naked, twenty something, extremely drunk and relatively annoying people congregated in the 100's on the lake shore.)

Desert sunset in the rear view, we're headed east!
We were scheduled to play Mike's Route 66 Outpost and Saloon in Kingman, AZ on Friday March 14th for their St. Patrick's Day Party. We were feeling a little rough after our Thursday night of random shot shooting, but excited about a new gig. The people were as nice as can be and excited to be having an out of town band in their middle of nowhere off of Route 66. It sat isolated in the barren desert landscape, halfway between two towns that most people have never heard of. The place was packed with locals, mostly an older crowd and they all were attentive and listened. Probably one of my favorite shows so far.
A highly recommended watering hole on Route 66.

The next day with came into Williams, AZ and it practically like being back in Red Lodge. A quaint little town on the brink of a National Park and a total Tourist-ville. It was kind of a disappointment in comparison to the wild nature of the preceding AZ towns and it's people, but it was nice to get a good cup of coffee and micro-brewed beer. The landscape was shifting from desert to forest and there were small patches of snow reminding us of our increasing elevation. The show went fine, although it was pretty slow. The owner/manager was a total meat head, asshole  and although I clearly explained that we were a two person band that did a variety of music, he booked us for this huge venue with no promotion except a sign that said "dancing tonight". Kinda misleading. Although the small group was into it, even danced and bought CDs the guy had the nerve to ask us to stop 30 min before we were scheduled to finish. We silently packed up, clearly upset by the figurative slap in the face, but then silently satisfied when the remaining crowd, including the bartender, was appalled at his behavior and proceeded to leave the bar with us. Their positive remarks and support were a nice lift, but the experience was still a little hard to shake.

Deflated and frustrated we leave Williams to head into wilderness, natural beauty and hopefully solitude for the next week or so. Perhaps connecting with nature will reset our internal struggles.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Shenanigans in Modesto and Fresno

We start heading back inland and although it's quite a struggle giving up the beautiful energy of the coastline we are psyched to see our old friend, Scott, in Modesto, CA.  With nothing to do for a day or two as we wait for our friend to finish up some work, we find an open mic at a cozy little bar nestled into the perfectly gridded landscape of almonds and winegrapes in  a strip mall area that was a perfect place to hang for the night. And by perfect I mean there was a bar, a discount grocery store, a delicious Mexican Restaurant, a Glaceau water dispenser AND a real thrift store, at which I purchased 7 articles of clothing for 10 dollars. That, my friends, is what a thrift is supposed to be like.

"The Cow Track"  bar was full of eager musicians hoping to share a song or two, but the man running the show couldn't make it and nobody was really sure what to do. Capitalizing on the situation we offered to set up our gear in return for some beer and in turn saved the show. We met some really nice people and got a show out of the deal! We were set to play there Saturday night!

By the next day Scott was able to hang out so we head into the town of Modesto and spent the next couple of days, well drinking. There seems to be a running theme here? . Jeez. I gotta start writing about all the days inbetween these stories where we are doing yoga and booking gigs in our RV so we don't look like lushes, but that doesn't sound too exciting so I'll just get back to the story.

Scott is a fun guy. The type of person that makes you laugh so hard your sides are hurting the next morning. We had a nice time catching up. He gave us a painting that he called  "The Trumpets of Tonavich". I dont' know what that means, but it was funny. I guess you had to be there.

The second night in Modesto we went to watch Scott's friend's band: Greg Scudder and the Beer Thirty, whom we had actually met in Nashville some few years ago when we all lived there at the same time. We did some dancing to their nice country tunes. And since no evening is complete without a visit to another place, we went to "the Other Place" which was an interesting place to be, but not one in which we were extremely welcome. So we taxied home with an Iraqi man with whom I had a wonderful discussion about Turkey and Islam. Thankfully we were all experienced drinkers and nobody was a puker (note the fee).

Saturday, March 8th, in Oaksdale CA, we finally played another show at the Cowtrack. It felt like a millenia since the last time we played although realistically it had been a week and one day. The show went well, we sold some stuff, made some contacts and were happy to just be sharing our music with a new crowd.  We hit the sack early since we'd had a late night last night and had to be up early tomorrow to play at Sequoia Brewing in Fresno.

In Sequoia there seemed to be more talking than playing. We played, and people listened, but we also had a lot of interrupters who just wanted to ask us this or that, or perhaps wanted to tell us a story. Just as well. Sometimes it's nice to rest the vocal chords and listen to someone else's story. There was the groovin' Native man who insisted that we when we get to New Mexico " go find "Rolldy" and do the Peyote, to take your music to the next level" and he bought us beer before he left. Then there was the balding, overweight middle aged white man who was sad. His wife had left him after he'd worked so hard to make her happy. He paid prostitutes just to be held. He said he felt comfortable telling us this. He was lonely. Deep, dark and lonely and maybe just needed to hear that he was good. But I lost him in the crowd before I had a chance to tell him, which I regret. The Mexican dentist with the long, dark hair and laughing moustache, he by far was the most enlightening for my personal growth. He was happy and it was contagious. His very being was a lesson. And I left with a smile on my face knowing that I could do anything, but I should always be happy.

That night I drove the RV for the first time because Daniel had a few too many. In his defense people kept buying them for him, and Daniel has never been one to say no to a beer.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Old Princeton Landing and Recovery in Salinas

     Our next booked show was two days later giving us time to mend our livers and get some decent sleep. It was a sweet little spot right by the sea owned by a guy with a passion for surfing and music. He had no clue who we were. Our friend Moe recommended us to a man he knew, who told his son, the captain of a fishing boat that supplied the venue owner's restaurant with fish, who ultimately mentioned to him to expect a call from us. In some round about way here we were at a venue in which Neil Young had graced the stage 14 times or so, indicated by the owner, whether to boast or to intimidate us I am not sure, but I was hopeful for the former because he just seemed like a super friendly guy who wanted to have a good time, and good times are something to which we can relate. Admittedly, I did feel a little out of our element (I can't speak for Daniel), but not enough that I wasn't psyched at the opportunity. After Wednesday, we were not eager to imbibe alcohol, but sensing the oncoming tingling nerves and mild anxiety we didn't hesitate to except the delicious "liquid courage" both in the form of local micro-brewed beer and top notch bourbon. Needless to say, we were feeling nice when the show started and considering the relatively short two hour set ahead of us we played every favorite song with our best "knock em dead" approach.

It was a happy hour crowd melding and mixing with a late crowd, the already tuned and tuning up, some intently listening, some howling after every song. We felt good and the music flowed nicely with the only exception being the washboard insistently being turned up by the sound guys despite our request to not do so. I couldn't tell if was in the monitors or the mains, but it was a slight deterrent to an otherwise fun show, but once it was finally addressed properly, I felt much better and was able to let go.

The end of the show was flooded with many, many purchases of CDs, stickers and the like, tips and invitations for breakfast at people's restaurants. Oh you know, my restaurant down by the beach. It was definitely an affluent crowd, but an affluent and appreciative crowd at that.

We have found on our travels that once people discover that we are staying in our RV out back, across the street or in the parking lot etc, we are expected to get hammered with them. Period. Why wouldn't we? We just get to walk home! That's their take, not considering how awful hungover driving is, not  to mention dangerous. There insistence wasn't strongly opposed, as, well hell, we like to drink. We were invited to go skeet shooting or targets, or something which sounded sooo fun, but considering I could hardly stand, we graciously declined, only to stumble back to our RV at  11 pm? Shit. It was early. I guess that's what happens when you start drinking at 5 pm.

We had big plans for the next day to go to a place called the "the General Store" but all we could muster the energy to do was eat breakfast, mine being a delicious squid steak and eggs* and find a place to relax. Apparently the universe had alternate plans for us. Just as we were walking back to our RV from breakfast a dozen or so lamborghinis just drove by. You know, just people cruisin' around on their many hundreds of thousand dollars vehicles and they all park Apparently, the Lamborghini Club as in town and there were having a Lamborghini Lunch in the restaurant behind this lot. So, we decide to hang in town a little longer  in favor of not accidentally bumping into one of these as we maneuvering our 25 ft RV out of the lot.

There's the back of our RV on the right side and many very expensive vehicles being gazed upon right behind us.

Here they are closer up:

Daniel's favorite of the bunch probably because it looks like the Bat Mobile.

My favorite. Classic Red Ferrari.

Checking out the Marina.

Leaving Half Moon Bay and on to Salinas to get some rest at a nice little RV spot we found.

The Story of Salinas
Day 1
Slept in. Watched movies on netflix. Sat in our RV and booked shows next to a nice little lake. We went out in search of a grocery store and got lost in a mini mountain range of tiny windy roads that we should not have been on. We found a grocery store only to realize that our phone GPS led us miles in the wrong direction, but since we had already trekked up the before mentioned mini mountain we decided to go to the little town of to buy our groceries.

Day 2
Slept in. Booked shows. Drove around all day looking for propane because we were out. Apparently the town of Salinas must not have many RVers pass through because although every gas station had propane, none had it available to put into our RV tank, and nobody spoke enough English to explain this to us. Nor was my Spanish good enough to convey this specific need of propane for an RV.

During our random driving around we did stumble across this gem. Awesome Taqueria in Salinas. I have a feeling this was once an Arby's. LOL.