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The Epic Road Trip and the 48-hour Film Festival

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 18/08/2007)

Woo! It’s been a crazy August. I’ve made some incredible memories and now I’ve got tons of great stories to share with my new friends in Japan. Here’s how it went down.

It all started, strangely enough, on the 1st of August. Rae, Callie, Reid, and Kira showed up at my house at 1:00AM and thus began The Epic Road Trip. Somewhere in the bleak wastelands of Idaho, Rae made a comment about how she could imagine seeing a giant off in the distance. “You’d just look out there and say, ‘Wow! That’s a really big person!'” After a grueling drive fraught with danger across Idaho and Utah we arrived in Arches National Park – in the middle of a thunderstorm! When we reached the campground we found that it was full! With nowhere to go, we desperately sought help from the campground hosts. Begrudgingly, they agreed to let us set up in the group campsite. So, with lightning flashing off the rocks all around us, we set up our tents and wondered about our sanity as we huddled under metal tent poles. Nobody really slept well that night. The storm moved on after the briefest of sprinkles and the tents remained hot and humid the rest of the night. Unfazed, the next morning we set off to explore Devil’s Garden – a fantastic trail with arches around nearly every bend in the path. It’s about a 7-mile roundtrip but we took all sorts of detours and probably ended up hiking about ten miles instead. Hardly two miles into the trip I had already broken the hiking pole lent to me by Rae. What was really impressive was how many people in the park were from European countries. I heard German, French, and Spanish being spoken all around us as well as some quick bursts of Chinese. Anyway, we spent the morning running up and down rocks in the hot sun and used up all our water. When we got back to the trailhead we were all pretty bushed. After a quick lunch where we frantically tried to ingest as much salty food as possible we all agreed that we just wanted to find a nice quiet place out of the sun where we could rest for awhile. We drove out to Sand Dune Arch and spent a couple of hours resting in the sand. Unfortunately, while performing one of my “Sand Quill” moves I ended up getting just enough sand into my pockets to wreck my new digital camera. I’m still working on trying to get it fixed and I’m getting nervous I won’t have it repaired by the time I return to Japan. Ugh. While we were relaxing in the cool sand, a really cool French dude and his two little girls came in and began playing some sort of hide-and-seek game amongst the rocks. It was really cute. I hope to be as good a father as this man was. They all seemed so happy together. Callie fell asleep in the sand and the rest of us decided to climb on top of the arch. We scrambled up on top and realized it would make a good picture. We called down to the French man and asked him to wake Callie up for us. He approached her carefully, leaned over and yelled, “Hey Babe!” It was a priceless moment. After we were all rested we left and set out for Delicate Arch. On our hike up this most famous path we were all beset by many ailments. Rae’s strep throat began to rear it’s ugly head, Kira became disturbingly short of breath, and the rest of us began to notice an array of blisters on our feet. Delicate Arch was beautiful in the late day light and the clouds that remained from the previous day’s storm were lingering in the background. It was quite busy up there and I was able to pick out a Japanese family in the crowd. One of the men was clowning around a bit and knocked over his water bottle. “Aa! Abunai!” he yelled as the water bottle slid helplessly into the round stone bowl far below to lodge permanently with other lost items in the impassable pit.

The next day we hit the road again in our pursuit to reach the Verde Hot Springs near Camp Verde, Arizona. It’s a long, bleary drive through the Navajo reservation. Pockets of thunderstorms surrounded us as we sped through the Four Corners area, much different from the endemic rains familiar to us in Oregon. We arrived in Flagstaff and stopped in at an Irish pub to quench our sudden craving for chips. Once we reached Camp Verde we found ourselves bouncing around on a primitive dirt road for sixteen miles! After swimming a bit in the muddy river swollen by recent monsoon rains we set up camp and a friendly couple came by and offered to take us to the hot springs because it was unlikely we would be able to find it by ourselves in the dark. I’m really glad they did! We hiked up the road a bit and then strode out across the river. The river was quite swift at the fording point and it was a bit of a struggle to get across. We made it up to the hot springs and it felt so good to soak in the slimy-walled pool. The water had a very strange flavor, almost like hot mineral water (which is probably what it is, come to think of it). The stars were amazingly clear as we sat there soaking and watching distant flashes of lightning downstream. I explored the old soaking house with my flashlight and enjoyed the graffiti. Someone had made mosaics on some of the old pillars using small square pieces of glass and tile. It was pretty amazing. We returned to camp and passed a merry party that smelled of the leaf on their way up to the hot springs. Reid planned to sleep out under the stars and the rest of us didn’t put up our rain flies, figuring that if it rained it would be like the night before and last for only a few minutes and then stop. Well, we were wrong. Partway through the night it began to rain and it continued to rain for three hours – hard. At first, I held my rain jacket up to the top of my tent and attempted to redirect the flow of water from my sleeping bag. When I realized it was not going to let up anytime soon, I grabbed the fly and slung it over the top of the tent. This didn’t really stop the rain from coming in but it sort of moved it to the edges of the tent. I wondered for a moment what Reid was doing out there but in my state of half-asleep delirium I just sought out a semi-dry area of my pillow and went back to sleep. We spent the next morning drying out our stuff during breakfast and then packed it up, mud and all, and headed for Sedona. We stopped partway along the dirt road and cut a fruit from a prickly pear cactus. After making sure we had removed all the spines, we cut it up and passed it around. It was very pulpy and would have been better with some sugar. Unfortunately, we seem to have missed one spine and it got lodged in the roof of Kira’s mouth. We spent an interesting couple of minutes attempting to remove the pesky spine. Upon reaching Sedona we became embroiled in a traffic jam. Never go to Sedona on a weekend. We attempted to find a place to park somewhere in Oak Creek Canyon but to no avail. Finally we pulled over in a picnic area and lay all of our stuff out in an attempt to dry it a bit more. Rae’s strep throat had worsened and we all became nervous as more giant thunderheads were building at the head of the canyon. So, we packed it all up again and drove around Sedona for a little bit before heading up to Havasupai.

We arrived at the rim near dark and cooked our meal in the parking lot, surrounded by semi-feral dogs. Reid and I slept in the parking lot and Callie, Kira, and Rae slept in the van. A party of hikers arrived after dark and spent about half an hour banging around and celebrating their successful ascent. A drunk man was wandering around and singing to himself about how he was nobody’s fool. I watched several satellites pass by overhead and some impressive long and bright shooting stars falling from the heavens. We got up at 5:00AM with the sun and began our descent into the Grand Canyon. It’s a long way down there! I packed more stuff than I needed and began to regret it almost right away. A skinny black dog went the whole way with us and we nicknamed him MacGyver. It’s a very nice trail down the canyon bottom dotted with giant boulders and marked by horse poop but it gets pretty hot really fast. We passed the leg of a mule on the side of the trail and soon enough we reached the river. The water is a most brilliant aquamarine and is a shocking contrast to the dusty red of the rest of the canyon. Once we reached the river everyone’s spirits picked up and before long we were in the village of Havasu. Poverty is a hard thing to witness. The people of Havasu seemed very downtrodden and dispirited. Garbage littered their yards and they all walked around with their heads down. We reached the tourist office and got our camping permits and then continued on another two miles to the campsite. It was a gorgeous walk but by this time we were all hot, sweaty, and tired and our feet were blistering and/or bloody. We finally reached Havasu Falls and took a moment to enjoy the reward of the strenuous hike. It really is an oasis down there. We set up camp and then continued on a little further to Moony Falls. It’s really hard to describe how amazing it is there. We climbed down a primitive trail along the cliffside, hanging on to chains and iron bars as we descended through tunnels in the sandstone cliffs. It felt so good to get into the clear blue water! We found a swimming hole with a rope swing and I ended up losing my sunglasses in the pool after leaping in. We spent the rest of the day lazing about in the water and then explored an interesting little side canyon. It was hot and tropical and we did some fancy bouldering work to get up and down the canyon. Later, back in camp, as we were having dinner a guy came over and asked us if we could boil some water for him in exchange for some food. So, I boiled a pot of water for him and he gave us fixings for s’mores. Fires aren’t allowed in the canyon so we ended up eating semi-raw s’mores but it was fun. Due to some miscommunication the next morning, we spent some time waiting at the tourist office in the village while Reid waited for us down by the swimming hole under the falls. We decided to ship most of our packs up by helicopter since we spent less money on the camping permits than we were expecting. I’m really glad we did because it was a hard enough hike without the added burden of packs. Well, we finally all made it up to the top about midday and then we drove on in to Kingman. By this time, Rae’s throat was even worse and she couldn’t even swallow anything so after stopping for pizza we decided to find an Urgent Care center. The people there thought it was either Strep or Mono and they gave her a prescription for Strep. It took us awhile to get everything in order and we stopped to look for a new charger for Kira’s cellphone. Anyway, it started to become late and we realized we weren’t going to make it to camp at Zion that night as we had originally planned. We ended up driving out to the Hualapai mountains just outside of Kingman and camping there during the night. During the night, two skunks visited our camp and Reid and I were sleeping without a tent. One skunk nosed around Reid’s pack for awhile, right next to his feet. Later, the other skunk came along and climbed up on our picnic table looking for scraps. When it didn’t find anything, it ran back and forth across my feet a couple of times before leaving. It was pretty crazy. The next morning I got up before everyone else and went to use the restroom. As I was walking along I almost walked right into three deer just standing in the next campsite. We looked at each other for awhile and then after sizing each other up we decided to go on about our business.

The drive through Las Vegas was hellishly crazy, as it always is. We got to Zion eventually and rode the shuttle bus all the way to the end. Our bus driver and “tour guide” was a sarcastic man who seemed to have become somewhat jaded to the park. We hiked along the Virgin River for a couple of miles despite our aching feet. We didn’t make it all the way to The Narrows but it was still a great walk. We cooked some dinner in the parking lot – spaghetti and garlic bread – and then Reid and I arm wrestled for the last piece of bread. “I should warn you, I haven’t exercised in awhile,” said I, flashing a grin at Reid. “I type a lot,” came his stoic reply. While we were wrestling, Rae quietly took the last piece for herself. She could barely eat it as she was choking from laughing so hard and everyone dissolved into fits of giggles. Neither Reid nor I came out victorious and we called it a draw. We drove through Zion after dark and ended up going the wrong way for about an hour. We finally arrived at our campsite about 2:00AM and collapsed.

The next day we got going pretty late. We had a leisurely breakfast and attempted to patch up our feet. I had ended up ripping off a large chunk of skin from the top of my right foot and it looked really bad when I took the bandage off. The cold water we poured on it to clean it hurt like crazy but once I got the Neosporin and the new bandage on I could walk relatively easily. The slot canyons at Escalante National Monument may be the coolest part of our trip. It’s really hot and flat and empty on the drive out to the canyons and even when you’ve arrived at the trailhead it doesn’t seem all that spectacular. If you weren’t looking for them, it would be very easy to just keep walking and completely miss the slot canyons. The first canyon we traversed was Peek-a-boo Canyon. You have to climb twelve feet up a rock face to enter the canyon and the entrance is capped by a natural arch. I don’t know how to explain how amazing these canyons are. They twist and turn, go up, go down, and become narrower than they should. The patterns in the sandstone are so beautiful and the temperature in the canyons is soothingly cool and much more bearable than the insane desert heat directly above and to both sides. We hiked up to the top of Peek-a-boo and then walked across the desert to reach the top of Spooky Gulch. We ran down a sand dune as though the hounds of Hades were on our heals and then paused to empty scorching desert sands from our shoes. Spooky Gulch is instantly narrower than Peek-a-boo. It raises the insanity level three-fold. One of our party members began to feel claustrophobic and commented on her desire to be out of the canyons “with the sage brush, the jackrabbits, and the clear blue skies.” It became very tight and we had to take off our Camelbacks to squeeze through a few places but we all made it. There were some interesting points when we had to climb down through holes into lower parts of the canyon where it was hard to see footholds. We all made it out and agreed that we wanted to go back through both canyons the other direction. First though, we trekked a mile and a half down the sandy wash in the intense midday heat to Brimstone Gulch. Brimstone was shorter in distance than the other canyons but taller in height and quickly becomes impassable because of how narrow it gets. We hiked a small ways into it and saw tadpoles swimming in little pools and a bat flying about overhead catching insects. The mud and water in this canyon halted our progress soon and we turned around and went back. Callie decided not to return through the two canyons with us and walked back up the wash to meet us at the entrance to Peek-a-boo (in the process, she ended up seeing two rattlesnakes). We were all very low on water by this time and we hiked back through much quicker this time.

The next day we drove back all the way to Oregon. We passed through some beautiful country early on in the Capitol Reef area. I think it would be a great place to camp in and explore someday and maybe to do a biking trip through. We all made it back home safely (but exhausted) and the next day we started the 48-hour film festival! I will be posting some pictures of the road trip sometime soon.

There were 57 teams competing this year in the Portland area. We were given 48 hours to make a movie after we received our prompt. Our genre had to be horror, we had to include a character named ‘Roy Schwartz – The Quality Control Expert’, we had to include a balloon as a prop, and we had to include the line “Do you smell what I smell?” It was a great experience and I think we made a pretty good movie. I’ll post a link to it soon once it is uploaded somewhere online. You can find out more about the competition at http://www.48hourfilm.com/portland_oregon/

I hung out in the Portland area with some friends for a couple of days after that. I ended up losing my glasses at one point and then after much thought remembering that I had taken them off at an arcade while playing DDR. Luckily, I was able to get them back from the arcade the next day. While I was in Portland I was able to realize what really great friends I have. I will miss them while I am in Japan. It’s hard to make friends that are this amazing and it’s hard to keep in touch when you’re separated by half the world but these are friends worth hanging onto so I’m going to fight to keep the friendships alive despite the long-distance barriers.

That said, I’m really looking forward with eager anticipation for my return to Japan. I have new luggage, new pants, and new yen on order and I’m feeling ready for this adventure. It’s going to be a busy week-and-a-half as I get ready but I’M GOING BACK TO JAPAN!!!!!

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