Tag Archives: nature

Don’t hold your breath.

Now that we separated ourselves from the situation in the living room, we got ready and hit downtown Austin. If you’ve never been to Austin, go there. It’s awesome. We headed to 6th street which is packed with bars and, on the weekends, is closed to vehicles. Also no open container laws exist. Which is heavenly for the drunk on the go.

We bar hopped a bit until finding our way to Pete’s. Pete’s is a dueling piano bar. We stayed there for a while, listening to the best live piano I’ve ever heard and having a few beers. We decided to check out a few other bars, but alas, we ended up going back to Pete’s and (poorly) singing the night away.

Pete'sAt one point Betz rode a mechanical bull. Those pictures (and the video) mysteriously disappeared from my camera roll. I have my suspicions as to where they went.

Anyway, the next day we got up and headed out for our longest drive of the trip – a nearly 9 hour trek to New Orleans. We woke up at 10, so needless to say we got a much later start than intended. And, as always, we had to suffer through the desolate landscape. Only this time my old friend Mr. Hangover poked his ass into the car. Dick.

When we were nearly out of Texas, we realized that we hadn’t gotten any true Texas food. We stopped in Beaumont to pick up some brisket. It was one of the best choices we made on the entire trip. It melted in my mouth and was the perfect hangover food. I ate it so quickly that I may or may not have eaten a few pieces of the paper wrapper and my fingers.

Although I crossed the Mississippi in Iowa on the way out to LA, I was excited to see it down south where it’s the behemoth that I’ve always heard it to be. I checked the map every so often to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Then I zoned out and missed it. We passed through Baton Rouge and I kept staring at the buildings instead of checking out the river or snapping any pictures. I’m not sure if I have some type of mental disability or am just really, really stupid.

Finally, for the first time since we left Los Angeles, we saw grass. Grass! Turns out, Louisiana has a ton of it. And it’s always soggy. That state is really low. Like super low. Below sea level low.

A cool thing about the change in scenery is that we got to see a lot of bayous – something neither of us have seen before. They’re basically lakes with trees growing out of them. Cool for 5 minutes, just there for the next 3 hours. And it was pretty irritating that I didn’t see any racist Disney characters floating along in a canoe playing a banjo.

The BayouSee – lake with trees sans Disney characters. I assume there is an alligator or two in there.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally saw the New Orleans skyline. You can see it from miles and miles away as you cross a huge bayou on a raised highway. When you’re in southern Louisiana, it’s like you’re always driving over a bridge.

I can’t imagine how many little kids have passed out trying to hold their breath.

Prepare for liftoff.

With the gas debacle over, it was time to find a place to sleep. The only way to camp at Carlsbad is to skip the bat show letdown, so we made a great choice there. At the Visitor’s Center we were told that all around the entrance to the park is what’s called “public land”. It’s exactly what it sounds like – land that anyone can use for anything. So we found a dirt road and started up it.

We crept up a hill until we found an opening to camp. We could clearly tell it had been used recently because of the various beer cans laying around and the abandoned fire pit. Just like the night before, we set up camp using my car headlights and cooked a mediocre meal over the flimsiest gas stove ever made, anywhere.

The night sky was amazing. There were no lights for miles and the clouds had disappeared. We laid on the hood of my car (which now has a huge butt shaped dent in it) and stared at them for a while. I imagine it’s what the Badlands would have looked like if the clouds wouldn’t have been there.

Bedtime turned us into 3 year old little girls who wandered away from her Mom and just now realized she’s alone in Target. It was pretty scary being solo in that wide open space with nothing around but the wind and mysterious wildlife. And by mysterious wildlife, I assume there were flesh eating mutants roaming the land searching for 22 year old guys camping alone driving a 2002 white Honda Accord. These mutants have very particular tastes. Good tastes, obviously, but particular.

After a sleepless night waiting for the foodie mutants to arrive, it was time to head to Austin. We entered Texas to see this glorious sign:
True

Never in my life had I seen a speed limit so high. It was like God reached out and touched my soul. Pedal to the metal – we were getting to Austin ASAP. (I recently heard that they raised it to 85. At that point, is there even a need for a speed limit? Strap some wings onto your car and prepare for lift off.)

Unfortunately, the drive peaked there. Texas is terribly flat and boring. At least in Arizona we had cacti and mountains to look at. Texas has sporadic brown grass. I’m not sure why everyone that’s from there has so much pride it in. Sure, it’s big, but so is Montana and you don’t see them waving their flags in your face.

Of course about 7 people live in Montana.

Hours and hours later, we finally saw signs for Austin.

AustinThat’s a view of the city from an overpass. There are a ton of overpasses in Texas, and they’re really big.

We used AirBnB (if you don’t know, now you know) to find a place to stay. For those unfamiliar with the service, you essentially rent a room from someone’s house. They let you stay there for however many nights you want, and you pay them. It’s way cheaper than a hotel, and way more authentic.

Luckily, the guy we were renting from was in Mexico for the night, so we got to use his bedroom instead of the couches. Unfortunately, his roommates were not in Mexico for the night. They were nice enough – casual, helpful with places to go, etc. – but then, as Betz and I were having a drink before we went downtown for the night, Tim showed up.

Tim walked in wearing an ensemble that he most likely stole from a fry cook who just got off of work, part of which he then exchanged for the contents of a homeless man’s trash bag. His long curly hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in ages, and most of the things he was saying sounded like some sort of euphemism neither of us understood. When he realized we were there, he sat down beside Betz, stared forward, and introduced himself. Then, without missing a beat, he offered us drugs.

Betz and I took our drinks to the bedroom.

 

Cavesicles and Bat Flights (or lack thereof)

It amazes me that one day someone walking in the barren wilderness of New Mexico stumbled across Carlsbad Caverns. That person had no idea the amazing piece of land that they found. Because it’s dark in there. And I doubt they had a flashlight.

There are two hiking trails in the caves and we managed to get there before the first one closed. We kicked off the hike at the cleverly named “Natural Entrance”:

DA MOUF

It’s really quiet going in there because anything you say echoes very loudly. So much as a soft fart can be heard by all. Trust me on this one.

The caves are beautiful. There are facts along the way that describe what you’re looking at, how it formed, and so on. All of it was interesting, but I can’t remember anything of significance. It’s also enormous in there. So big that they only let tourists in certain areas of the cave. Apparently they’re still discovering new parts in the places where tourists aren’t allowed. Also, there’s a part that’s called (and I kid you not) the “Bat Cave”. I think it’s where Christian Bale lives. But more on that later.

As expected, there were stalactites and stalagmites all over the place. Or as I like to call them, “cavesicles”.

Cool cavesicles

Pretty sweet right? These bad boys were everywhere. It was hard to get good pictures, so I had to just use my memory instead (which sucked).

About 2 hours of hiking later, we made it through everything we were allowed to see, so we headed to the surface (oddly enough, on the elevator we met people from my hometown).

At the visitor’s center, we were told that they were having a “bat flight” showing at dusk, so we had some time to kill until then. On our way in, we noticed there was a “scenic route” for driving. We headed that way. This is what we saw.
Barren wilderness

For 9 wonderful miles, this was it. Cool? Yes. For 9 miles? No.

Then we realized we had a problem. The car was almost out of gas, and we weren’t even a third of the way done. There was no way to turn around as the road was a single lane rocks and dirt with nature to the left and right. And when I say out of gas, I mean the needle is ON the line for empty. Was the gas light on? No. Because the gas light in my care doesn’t work.

Panic mode sets in – all I can think about is us getting stranded miles from civilization for the night. After about 30 minutes of anxiety, we made it to the exit. Back to the visitor’s center and done crying in time for the bat flight.

Apparently, thousands of bats live in the “Bat Cave” inside the caverns. When the sun is setting, they fly out and go hunt. There’s an amphitheater there to sit and watch. I know what you’re thinking – “That sounds awesome!” “It’s probably just like in Batman!” “I hope they don’t poop on you!” Well it’s not awesome, nothing like Batman, and they do poop on you.

Well they don’t poop on you. The bats trickle out for minute after painstakingly slow minute. There’s no climax, no rush of wind from flapping wings, and definitely no crazy Batman-esque appearance. We gave it a shot, but after a while decided it was time to go.

We hopped in the car to head to our campsite. Then we realized that, although we made it out of the scenic route alive, there still was no gas in the car. Which is a major problem, because the closest gas station is at the entrance to the park, 7 miles away. Anxiety returned as I started the car and saw that the needle was not BELOW the empty line. We headed out and naturally got stuck behind the slowest driver known to man. At a roaring 20 mph we made our way down the winding, hilly road. Each tap of the gas pedal felt like it would be the last. With all my fingernails bitten off and sweat pouring down my face we finally reached the gas station.

Little did we know that wasn’t the last of our issues that night.

2 months of life in 43 pictures.

I promise this is my last post about being in California. I was going to detail every single day from waking up to going to sleep, but decided that everyone would be so overwhelmed with excitement that you’d pass out before making it through every post. So I compromised. Below are 43 pictures that pretty accurately describe my time in SoCal. Enjoy.

LA. I used a filter, but it’s about that smoggy anyway.

They have the coolest street names.

And some of the most famous.

The generic tourist pose. Not getting the sign in your hands.

Chinese Theatre filled with tourists.

Once again, I’m a tourist.

They really put us interns to work.

We didn’t really work much though.

See? Told you. This is at 9:30 AM.

And then at the end, we had a beach party.

Our team enjoying the last few days of our internship.

Oh and one day this is where we ate lunch. No tables. Kind of a bitch.

Each Sunday I sat, read, and normally fell asleep underneath this palm tree on the Santa Monica cliffs.

Leo Cabrillo State Park  has awesome rocks and cliffs that often collapse on people.

EVERYONE OWNS A SAILBOAT.

There’s no way you can live here without taking the generic lifeguard stand beach pic.

This dude didn’t even care.

Venice Beach.

Those are my feet because I’m artsy.

The snazzy Santa Monica Pier.

Why is it awesome? Free Thursday night concerts on the beach.

And this badass Ferris Wheel.

One weekend I went to San Diego because my girlfriend was visiting.

This is the amazing house we were at. That’s an outdoor living room. Such a thing is unheard of in Pittsburgh. And mostly everywhere in the country.

Another concert on the beach.

Mmmm eating a breakfast burrito and watching surfers.

This house has no relevance to my trip except that it’s sweet.

But this is more awesome.

One night I went to a bar with some friends. One by one, Waldos walked in until they filled three-quarters of the bar. I have no idea who any of these people are or why they were there, but as you can see I’m thrilled about it.

Burgers. In my mouth.

Fourth of July rocked.

A girl at work wore these. They’re as cool as America and as impractical as a phonograph.

‘MURICA

I lived really close to Malibu.

So one day my roommates and I took a hike.

This pond was cool.

And so was this view. However to get to this view, we took a wrong turn but kept going. Essentially, we free climbed up the side of a very, very dry mountain, hopped a fence into private property, hopped two gates that said “No Trespassing”, then walked about 2.5 miles until we could hitchhike back to the car. So that was a weird day.

Pepperdine University is in Malibu. Most beautiful campus I’ve ever been on. There’s absolutely nothing around it though.

Malibu Lagoon. Ignore the woman reading. She snuck into the frame.

One night there was the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen. I was running on the Santa Monica cliffs as it set over the water and made the clouds orange, yellow, pink, purple, and blue all at the same time. Every single person was taking pictures of it. I turned and looked behind me to see a huge rainbow on the other side. It was incredible.

So naturally I didn’t have my phone and missed it. This is what my roommate got from a golf course.

There’s nothing like seeing the sunset behind the mountains.

Or over the ocean. (This was my last run of the summer there, down on the beach.)

Lots of other things happened while I was there, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. Work, beach, play. All day everyday. It’s definitely not the worst place in the world because it’s actually the best place in the world. Well, at least for two months in the summer when you’re 22.

Next up, the trip home. Spoiler alert: we didn’t go to Toledo.

And if you’ve stuck it out this far through the post, I give you this Fourth of July gem. Go America.

Are those carrots from California?

The final day was here and I couldn’t have been happier to finally be arriving in La La Land. Not that the trip was going poorly, but over seven hours in the car each day doesn’t exactly bode well for personal hygiene. Or lumbar support.

We headed out of Williams and towards beautiful Southern California. Jokes on us though, to get to Southern California you have to go through Eastern California which is comparable to the setting of The Hills Have Eyes without deformed hellbent mutants trying to kill you for no reason.

As we entered the final state of our trip, I finished strong with state welcome signs:

REALLY?! Eleven states later and I still didn’t learn to turn HDR off.

A few minutes later we encountered something in California that we didn’t elsewhere in the country – in order to cross the border into the state you have to go through a “border control” that checks to make sure you’re not bringing in any foreign plants or animals to the state that can harm the ecosystem. Surprised? Neither was I. Hippies.

After convincing the border control lady we didn’t bring in any carrots from Colorado we drove the few hours into the city. Finally, after 7 days and over 50 hours of driving, we got our first glimpse of the City of Angels:

I was elated to finally be there. As expected, it was sunny, warm, all was right in the world.

As the trip entered its last 20 miles, I reflected on everything that I’d experienced over the past several days. Things that many people never get to see in their lifetime. It made me realize that this country truly is amazing. Lampshades in Toledo, Chicago, the Great Lakes, vast cornfields, the Midwest, Omaha, the Badlands, the prairie, Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, Wyoming (even Lusk), the Rockies, Denver, I-70, Arches, the Southwest, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles. And it’s not just a gorgeous place – it’s incredibly diverse. Every area where we stopped seemed like it could be a country in itself. The people we met were all so different that you’d think they could never live in the same county. Yet they do and, at the risk of sounding cliche, together we form the melting pot that makes America so great.

What makes it even greater is that I knew I was doing it all over again in two months.