Sunday, August 31, 2008

Road trip, part 1

Three weeks. Just the two of us. Just the two of us. Alone. In a car. For three weeks.


Oh, we knew this was coming. It's not like this had been thrust upon us: we'd been planning the road trip for months. Only now it was here, we'd made plans, we'd bought tickets to the music festival, we'd told everyone we were coming, we'd packed our bags and loaded up the car. It was too late to back out now.

So what if we got into a fight? We had a lot of driving to do; sitting in sullen silence in the passenger's seat of a car is hardly how I want to spend my vacation. We'd been going out for eight months at this point and not had any serious fights, but three weeks of long days of driving, camping, meeting new people -- that would tax anyone.

And then, of course, there was the judgment. I was meeting L's friends, L was meeting my friends and entire extended family (at once!). Of course, our friends and family are decent people and it would be silly to expect too much drama. But no matter what, that's a lot of time for both of us to keep our game face on.

So, with some trepidation, we started off our journey.

Our first few days were spent touring along the Pacific coast, courtesy of our good, slow, windy friend, the PCH. Starting off with a little bit of touristy camping seemed like a reasonable way to get things started.

L and I being us, of course, we decided to bypass the Hearst Castle for the somewhat less renowned Nitt Witt Ridge, a private residence constructed from the leavings of its more famous neighbor. It's a crazy, convoluted concoction of a house, with random knicknacks and gew-gaws slapped together in some semblance of order to construct a house. Sadly, we couldn't get a tour, and you'll have to make do with this picture taken from the roadside.

After a sadly poorly photo-documented couple of days exploring redwood forests and Berkeley, we found ourselves in the splendiferously cool Lassen Volcanic National Park. I don't really know what I was expecting out of a volcanic park. Lots of pumice, probably. But I got so much more than I was expecting.

Of course, there was just a lot of pretty scenery, like this delightful little waterfall we found after a short hike.

Mostly, I was happy to explore the magnificently named Bumpass Hell. A delightfully barren, ravaged piece of land, full of mudpits, sulfur plumes, and boiling lakes. The kind of place that has warning signs posted all around telling you that if you step off the walkways, you're pretty much guaranteed to die. Or at least lose your leg, as happened to poor Mr. Bumpass, the discoverer.

And, of course, when exploring strange forests, it's important to practice your tree impersonation so you can blend in with the natives. I've always found that candid photos work better than staged, and forests tend to be very suspicious and guarded if they know there are people around.

Our camouflage well-practiced, we headed down a hiking trail that felt like something out of Heidi. I damn well expected Shirley Temple to come traipsing down the path singing some godawful song about whatever-the-hell Heidi is actually about.

And then, finally, Crater Lake. Beautiful, stunning, gorgeous, blue Crater Lake.

And then, just like that, we were done with the easy part. A week in the car together, and L and I were still on speaking terms.

And then it was time to meet the family.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


And how's your summer been going?

[Yeah, some of you already saw it on Facebook. Sorry for the dupe, you guys.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Trouble at the beach

Remember: one day, this man could save your life.

A few weeks back, L and I went to the beach with some friends of ours. We showed up before the rest of the crowd and thought to ourselves: "Selves, what the hell? Let's go swimming." For me, swimming at the beach is still a bit of a novelty. Spending most of my adult life in Oregon means that I think of ocean water as a source of pain and misery, a place that one only ventures into as a right of passage and proof of one's masculinity. The idea that one might actually derive pleasure from paddling around in the breakers still seems surreal to me.

So, of course, I was thrilled to hop off the sand and into the water. And when L noticed a buoy a little ways off and suggested we swim to it, I was more than game.

I'm not an exceptional swimmer, mind you -- I was on the swim team while growing up, and have many seventh and eigth place ribbons from the myriad competitions I swam in. But still, swimming out to the buoy was a comfortable, easy little swim. After 10 minutes or so of gentle swimming, I was holding on to a buoy warning me that if I were a motorboat, I should be no closer to the Santa Monica Pier than I currently was. Not being a motor boat, I took the opportunity to relax and watch L swim the last few feet to the buoy. And then we rested and reveled in our triumphant swim.

Our celebration was quickly cut short. L: "Why is there a lifeguard swimming towards us?" Me: "What?" L: "Look. Over there. He's like 20 feet away." Me: "What?"

Needless to say, L was right. Lifeguards (two of them, as it turned out) had noticed our distress and been dispatched to rescue us from our plight. We tried to tell them that we were fine, and that we were just having a leisurely swimming outing, but they would have none of it. With no opportunity for rest, we were immediately turned around and led back towards shore. My lifeguard, in fact, was so concerned about my desperate state that he insisted on towing me behind him with his little red buoy (modeled above by Mr. Hasslehoff).

Being rescued for no apparent reason by the lifeguards was strange enough, but then we reached the beach. The beach that was now very conspicuously devoid of swimmers. Oh, there were plenty of people on the beach, but no one -- no one at all -- was in the water. For several hundred feet of beach on either side of us. Which only made us all the more conspicuous as we strode, sheepishly, out of the surf. In front of dozens upon dozens (hundreds?) of silent, judging stares.

After a remarkably friendly chat with my lifeguard (apparently he has friends in the undergrad CS department at UCLA), L and I finally managed to figure out what had happened from our friend I, who had cleverly decided to not complete the buoy swim with us. Apparently, lifeguards from several stations away had been called down to aid in our rescue, meaning that the now-unprotected beach had to be cleared of swimmers. And, apparently, they had considered sending a lifeguard boat out to rescue us, but decided our plight wasn't desperate enough (how should I feel about that? Flattered that they had sufficient faith in our swimming abilities? Or insulted that my life wasn't valuable enough to merit a boat rescue?).

After we'd finally been pulled ashore, we managed to finagle an explanation out of our lifeguards. Apparently, beach rules prevent swimmers from going out more than 200 yards offshore, which we had more than exceeded with our swim out to the 400-yards-distant buoy. Beach rules which, of course, are posted nowhere on the beach.

Perversely, of course, I'm glad that I didn't know the rules -- I would have felt more than a little bit guilty using up so many city resources for knowlingly violating a safety regulation. But now I've been the subject of a bonafide rescue operation and, hell, I didn't know any better! It was awesome.

And, for those of you who are fans of nostalgic, mid-90s song references, you may have realized that I went to Santa Monica and swam out past the breakers (I did not, however, watch the world die).