Category Archives: Travel

2005, the way home: day 5

Original post: 2005-05-28: Return from Mojave, Day 5


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


Hey—I'll tell you another thing I hate about getting older: you're expected to shower. If you stay in campsites in desert Nevada and California, it's not an option. There's no water—not enough to waste on washing yourself, at least. It's the kind of dry where you wash your camp dishes with a tortilla instead of water. 

So, Day 4 of the trip was Day 1 of staying under a roof—Day 1 of having a shower. It's not a milestone-level of shower-free life, it's just that it's a weird normal from a different era. Live in the suburbs for a while and you lose a bit of that nerve—every day is shower day, and every other day is gross.

For the rest of the trip there would be relatively little camping. On that fifth night I stayed with some friends up at the University of Washington in Seattle. The details escape me—I met them in person at MIT the previous fall, or I knew them online. Either way, they were in a different chapter of the same student group I was in at Illinois: Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

Here's my favorite caveat to the pleasures of solo travel: whenever possible I try to tie it in with meeting up with other people that I know. And, along the way, I often meet and talk to other people who I don't know. When I started typing this paragraph I thought I was going to deconstruct the contradictions between traveling alone and meeting together. Now that this paragraph is nearing its end I don't feel anything to say about it. Traveling alone isn't about being alone, it's just easier to convince one and only one person that it's time to go here, time to go there, time to eat this, time to do that, and so on. So we're really comparing two different things here: convenience and community.

Solo: on the way up to Seattle, I took a detour to Mt. St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens is a myth. It blew up a few months before I was born (i.e., I didn't do it) yet I have a jar somewhere (I hope) of Mt. St. Helens ash that fell at my Aunt Sandy's house in Missoula. I didn't have time to give the place much more than a drive by, and a quick walk on the Hummocks Trail. It was surprising how much evidence remained of the eruption 25 years later—the remains of trees sheared off at the base, lengths of tree trunk jammed upside down into the dirt, and the enormous house-sized chunks of mountain called hummocks that were left out of place where they were deposited in 1980.

Community: I went with the UW kids (we were all kids then, eh?) to watch Star Wars Episode III at the theater.







2005, the way home: day 4

Original post: 2005-05-27: Return from Mojave, Day 4


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


By the third or fourth day of travel, the muscles start to relax, and the mind and eyes and heart open up a little. Things are easier—and easing. There's less of that hesitation before heading off—even if you still don't know where you're going, there's less friction involved in going there.
Some of it is for simple reasons: after a few days of tent folding, you get to be pretty efficient at doing it. And, no matter what it is that you've packed, the stuff that you don't need has packed itself into harder-to-reach places where it is out of the way of the stuff you do need, which is packed, although somewhat un-neatly, right where the trunk or back doors open. Reach in, grab it—put it back, shut the door, and go.

Where should you go? Drive across Oregon. In fact, do it twice—but we'll come to that later.

Before heading out from Lava Beds, there was one curiosity—representative of many curiosities across the US if you know where to look for them—that I saw on the way out. Captain Jack's Stronghold—one of the last stands of the Modoc out west. I had never heard of Captain Jack, the Modoc, the Modoc Wars, etc. I mean, it makes sense intellectually that there were people were there in California living before other people came across the land from the United States or across the water from Spain or wherever, but it's visceral when you get to pause somewhere and consider what it means. Captain Jack's Stronghold is interesting. It's just a bit of volcanic land that the Modoc had prepared into a series of sunken pathways and small caves and otherwise unfriendly territory—unfriendly if it's not your home, at least. When it's your home, you know it, and you can use the land to your advantage to hold off a much larger army—for a while, at least, longer than expected.

I don't understand it. I just appreciate the underdog nature of the thing, the resistance to a manifest destiny that claims your manifest homeland. When you walk through those volcanic passageways, what else could you feel but to feel like the defender?

From there: north to Oregon.

I had never been to Oregon before—couldn't tell you about anything that was there other than Crater Lake, which was still mostly closed due to snow at that time. I just assumed that Oregon was covered, south to north and west to east, with big ass trees. Total lumberjack country. 

But the high desert covers about two-thirds or more of the state, from the Cascades all the way to the eastern boundary. There are trees, sure, but along the route I took the trees had to fight for purchase with another long stretch of old volcanos and lava flows.

It's so weird. I didn't realize how much of the country was a wasteland—and I mean that lovingly. I mean that as someone who would drive to Death Valley anytime I was within six hours of that fantastic hellhole.

Everyone knows Portland, Oregon is weird. That's no surprise. But that's the people. The rest of Oregon is also weird—not in any remarkable way, just unexpected, I guess.

So, on that drive across Oregon, north to south, one short partial day, I stopped at a few places in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. Moving at top speed across the lava lands, there wasn't enough time to stop and see anything that was far away from the more touristed parts of the trails, which is a useless bit of self-pride, but—hey—stop and see what you can while you're getting to where you're going.

One thing I wish I had visited was the Lava River Cave, a mile-or-so-long lava tube that wasn't yet open for the season (not until after Memorial Day), but offered a "you're on your own if you go" kind of guarantee that I declined to take them up on—an unusual act of forbearance for me, but I seem to remember a residual bit of freakout from exploring the lava caves in California that appealed to my more cautious brain cells.


Black Crater
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Big Obsidian Flow
Paulina Creek Falls
Lava Butte
Benham Falls, Deschutes River

2005, the way home: day 3

Original post: none


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


Day 3 was underground at Lava Beds National Monument, for the most part—that's what you should do, should you find yourself surrounded by lava caves.

I've been sifting through the old pictures and the old maps here, and there's one thing that has been bothering me. In 2005, I hadn't yet started playing with long exposure photography yet. So there's nothing but Very Literal Photos from this day--whatever could be captured with a flash or limited natural lighting. But there are very few photos overall, and no good ones.

Something to keep in mind for a trip there: pack your own bump camp and lights. You'll need them. Some of the walls and ceilings are ridged like fishspines and they will fillet your scalp. I bought a cheap bump cap on site at the visitor center—something with LBNM stamped on the front. And I'm pretty sure I just went into the caves with a single Maglite Mini flashlight, although it seems pretty unlikely that that would have allowed me to see anything in the caves. I see that I bought 4 D-batteries at the visitor center also, so I must have had the old Coleman flashlight I got from selling Boy Scout popcorn—so long ago I know I got that as a prize when we were still in St. David.

I would go in there like a pro now—headlamp and helmet and kneepads—and really get back in the corners.

Isn't it silly to float backwards to a time where you did something and think about how you would optimize the experience? Don't take it so serious—it's just a picture anyway. And even just looking at the existing pictures and maps lifts thoughts and feelings and memories and smells and textures and so on.

What I want to do when I go somewhere new is go go go. Hit the ground running and don't stop. But it's the wrong way to do it, really. I know it but I feel the pressure to move anyway.. What I did at Lava Beds makes more sense: spend a few days and get your feet wet. (A curious thing to say in the high desert, but...) Let the tent stay in place for more than one night. Find a place to sit with a nice sunrise or sunset—and then do it again the next day. The most surprising memory flashes are the ones where I know I was just sitting somewhere for a long time doing nothing—watching, writing, thinking, nothing. At the campsite, on top of Schonchin Butte. In front of Symbol Bridge Cave. I don't think I prefer solo travel, but this is the part of travel that I prefer solo: doing nothing. Just soaking in whatever environment. Hearing whatever sound. Tasting whatever taste (in the desert there is that metallic taste in the air—or maybe not metallic, what is it?). Watching small things crawl or fly from here to there. Blending in. Disappearing.


Valentine Cave
Valentine Cave
Hopkins Chocolate Cave
Hopkins Chocolate Cave
Skull Cave

2005, the way home: day 2

Original post: 2005-05-25: Return from Mojave, Day 2


Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005


On day 2 I drove from the campsite near Reno to Lava Beds National Monument in California. (Now that I'm looking at a map, I see that I was very close to Lake Tahoe, which I didn't even notice at the time.)

Here's how I like to travel: (1) find a destination; (2) find the national parks on the way to that destination (and the destination itself can be a park—bonus). I had never heard of Lava Beds NM. I only knew that I was driving north. Lassen Volcanic National Park was my first choice, but it was still under snow from that wet 2005 spring. (Finally made it to LVNP in that firesmoke summer of 2008: photos.) The next available park was Lava Beds.

(Can we just stop here a moment and admire the consistent simplicity of National Park Service park URLs? Lava Beds is nps.gov/labe. Lassen Volcanic is nps.gov/lavo. Yosemite is nps.gov/yose. And so on. *chef's kiss*)

Sometimes it's nice to know what you're getting into before you go somewhere. Other times it's nicer to just wing it. I know I've caused some of you more than a few gray hairs with my approach to things—but let's be honest: if you have the basic things you need, and you're flexible in your approach but prepared in your fundamentals (and you have enough common sense to self-evaluate honestly), serendipity will treat you well. US-395 into California from Nevada—what do you really need to know? How to identify campsites on a road atlas (it's easier than searching for them with your phone, he yelled at the kids on his lawn). How to use a credit card to buy some groceries. How to acquire a sleeping bag, tent, and cookstove before embarking. The rest is set up for you. Two hands, one wheel, two feet, two pedals (three for you adventurous souls), and off we go.

Here is a dilemma: would I recommend that you visit Lava Beds?

Give me a moment to think...

...

What is Lava Beds NM? It's a pile of lava tubes, lava caves, shield flows, cinder cones, and other volcanic debris. And rattlesnakes! The main attraction is below ground: you can crawl around in the lava tubes.

But would I recommend it? No. I know you. You're looking for the big thrills: El Capitán in Yosemite; Old Faithful in Yellowstone; the Grand Canyon. Are you really going to get pumped about looking at another lava tube, another lava bed where another crater pumped lava out to create another area of still-after-thousands-of-years not-able-to-support-life stretch of rock? You would hate it

I could have spent another month there, poking around, first getting as far as I could in every cave I could find, then testing out the mountain lion and rattlesnake warnings on the above ground trails. (Who was that guy talking about common sense earlier?)

It occurs to me that I've never posted any pictures from this trip, so I'm adding them to Flickr as I go along: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Valentine Cave

Schonchin Butte

Mount Dome, from Schonchin Butte

Mammoth Crater

From Schonchin Butte

From Schonchin Butte

There are few things better than sitting on the peak of something and watching the sun set or the sun rise.

2005, the way home: day 1

On 24 May 2005 I left Mojave, California on an indirect, two- or three-week journey back to Illinois. I want to commemorate it—without judgment, without nostalgia. I can still see, without intentionally recalling, flashes of what I saw on the road. Coincidentally, it aligns with some of the earliest posts on this site, so I'll link back to them [1].

For reasons beyond my ken, I can strap myself into an automobile or a pair of shoes and wander without seeing anything of value—to other people, at least. I can tune into it just fine. Grass and rocks and highway all the way. There's something else there—there's a feeling. I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm curious about what it is, but at the same time I don't want to kill the magic by figuring it out—and then one day we evaporate like magic and there is no magic anymore. Selah.

So—

Find a spot in my gold 2003 Pontiac Grand Am [2] among the bags and camping gear. It's a long slow trip from the moon to the heartland.


Original post: 2005-05-24: Return from Mojave, Day 1

I left a little early from the summer internship with the X PRIZE Foundation in Mojave. We were building replicas of SpaceShipOne using the original tooling from Scaled Composites there in Building 51 at the airport. So, the starting point of this journey is Graziano's Pizza (which closed in 2011—so, 16870 Highway 14, Mojave, CA). Do I remember much of that lunch? No. But I know that Fernando and Brooke aren't with us anymore. I don't know what to say about that. The people who go before you, but shouldn't go before you, are some kind of memento mori. Remember: one day you will also die. Fernando lives on in our memories. Brooke lives on in the Brooke Owens Fellowship

I'll tell you what I remember of that day: the right music at the right time.

There, pointed north on CA-58, and then west, in that scrub of creosote bushes and sand and wind turbines, ready to head up through Tehachapi and north through the Central Valley—put in the right music, the music that fits the moment, whether intended to reverberate across all these years or not:

Beck, "The Golden Age", Sea Change (2002)

Put your hands on the wheel
Let the golden age begin

So, listen—the choice of music was 100% on the mark. Driving north through the valley? Maybe the only wrong note on the entire trip. Knowing now what I wish I would have known then, I would have driven up US-395, the same road I drive in my dreams now. But I didn't know then, and opted for the fast route. But where was I headed? I didn't know. I drove north a ways, then I decided at Sacramento to drive east a ways. Up in the mountains, east of Sacramento on I-80 in May in a heavy precipitation year, it was still partially under snow, not all that suitable for camping in May. So I ended up in Nevada.

Listen—

I'm OK with growing up. I mean, the pay's better, right? If there's anything I miss of the old times, other than the people, it's the freedom to just move. Where? Wherever. Justify what? No boss, no wife, no voice of reason. A vision quest—a lunatic fringe. I don't miss that now—I mean, I don't want to do it now, although I love to think about it. To evolve from that stage of life to this stage is fine—if you have principles. If you ask me now if I want to drive three weeks across the country, and if you ask me then if I want to spend my time planting a garden, you'll get the same answer. No. Same person, different times. But. Is that change abrupt? Is that change hypocritical or incompatible? No, I don't think so. But, yes, sometimes. You travel through time and you travel through space and—hey presto—there you were, here you are.


[1] This site, kirkkittell.com, dates back to... 2007? But it incorporates some other sites and blogs from before that time. Unfortunately—fortunately—not all of them. Some of them are lost to the sands of time. Lucky break.

[2] A gift from my parents—thank you. They don't make 'em like that anymore because... well, Pontiac doesn't make anything anymore. It just occurred to me that this car had its own nickname, from a spontaneous trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras conceived in Murphy's Pub in Urbana, the source of all good ideas. The name? Coffin on Wheels. Hey. I mean. It's just that. Well. It fit.

We serve good mornings all day

Away, as at home, I have a default greeting: howzitgoin.

Away, as at home, the mental wheels slip a little when the default doesn't match with the situation in reality.

Here in Italy, buon giorno—"good day"—works for just about every hello from good morning until some fuzzy part of the late afternoon. So I get in the habit of buon giorno-ing everyone. Buon giorno. Buon giorno. Ciao. Arrivederci. &c.

In the evening it's a little different: buona sera—"good evening". It's not difficult to hear or say. But in that moment when the taxi driver or the waitress says buona sera there is a little bit of scrambling internally to hear something different than buon giorno and say something different than buon giorno in return. I have been in Italy for eight days of my entire life, so the rut isn't that deep, but the rut is comfortable and easy and takes some energy to leave nonetheless.

Lago Maggiore, morning - from Hotel Ancora

Planning for China trip, February 2019

I'm taking a trip back to China in February. This one will be a short one: 10 days total, including flights from and back to the US. Taking such a short trip is... not ideal, but that's how much time I have available from work. Hi ho.

Looking around at the website here, I can see that I haven't posted anything from my prior two trips: one in 2014, which was a kind of wedding trip, where I got to take a large circuit through Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuhan, Baoding, Xian, and Beijing; and one in 2017 up in the northeast, Changchun, Changbaishan, and Hulunbuir. One of these days I'll post information and photos from those trips. In the meantime, I have some photos here on Flickr, and some information here at /travel/china. But it's rather incomplete.

Anyway, this time I'll be based in Shànghǎi上海, with a side trip up to Yángzhōu扬州.

I've been to several of the well-known places in Shanghai (see: /travel/china#shanghai for more): Zhujiajiao, the Bund, Ba Jin's house, Tianzifang, Yu Yuan, the Shanghai Museum, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Mostly, though, I just followed my wife and in-laws around, eating and eating and eating. I'm glad they handle that part of the itinerary because I never think about it. I'm looking more for bookstores, natural areas, and breweries. The heart wants what it wants.

I've got about three more weeks to plan, so I expect there to be the occasional post here about things I've found, or asking for help finding things. It also means three weeks of crash-course Chinese, which might also show up here, as well as finding a bit of time to learn a little Shanghainese for the performance value.

List: eat in Canada 2018

Here's a list of places where we enjoyed eating during our trip to Canada...

Calgary

Banff

Victoria

Vancouver

What did I miss

Molson Canadian. Tim Hortons. Good night.