Full Circle

At this moment I find myself sitting propped up in bed, bathed in the cold blue-white glow of my laptop in the darkness of Lindsay and Bob’s guest room in Atascadero, California.  Five months ago we embarked on day one of the Walkabout and made our first stop here. It simply blows my mind that we started our trip here on May 21st, and have since then lived a thousand lifetimes over 14,000 miles and 15 weeks. Over summer we explored the far reaches of the United States, delving into some of the most remote and the most populous locations it has to offer. Readers of this blog will note that I have not posted since August 21. At that point it became too much of a challenge to take in everything I was experiencing, process it, distill it down to words and then pump the text out into digital form while still living in the moment. Instead, I continued to only keep a written journal. By Montana I had filled one small leather-bound volume and started another. These books hold irreplaceable memories of a transcendent journey. It is from these pages that I intend to tell the tale of the rest of the Walkabout, from Michigan to New York City and all the way back to the Pacific Northwest.

We’ve been back in California for a month, today, and I’m still processing all that transpired. So much has happened since returning, mostly in the last week. Over the course of four days I celebrated my 28th birthday, got engaged to Tim, signed the lease on our new place in Oakland and ran my first 5K (for which I had been training all summer long). Our new life is beginning, and the Walkabout’s success had a direct role in crafting it. As we settle down, I shall begin transcribing.

Day 4: This Boot Was Made for Walkin’ (Retro Post)

Any good visit to Los Angeles starts with a meal at Porto’s Bakery in Burbank. I’d been to Porto’s on a few prior occasions, enthusiastically returning each time for their famous potato balls. These things are pure magic – seasoned ground beef encompassed by mashed potatoes, breaded and fried to perfection. Breakfast of champions!
Porto’s promotes a calm, healthy and happy disposition
After breakfast our hosts Pat and Laura took us up the hills to Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory.  The park is a very popular filming location; you’ve probably seen it in multiple movies without even knowing it. Griffith Observatory is at its peak and well worth the trip up. Endure its parking fiasco, and you’ll be rewarded with a number of interactive exhibits and panoramic vistas of Los Angeles. Star Trek fans will appreciate the fact that the auditorium is named after Leonard Nimoy. On the way back down we drove through the tunnel from Back to the Future II, and I could have died a happy woman at that point. 

We zoomed up, down and all around the Hollywood Hills, narrowly escaping death at every hairpin turn. Mailboxes, garbage cans and oncoming vehicles threatened to send us careening down the cliffs, but Laura and her trusty steed became one with the road, leading us safely to the top. The road ended at a spot that provided a fantastically intimate view of the Hollywood Sign. 
Not pictured: “TURN BACK! NO HOLLYWOOD SIGN ACCESS!” signs
Being in a residential neighborhood, this unsanctioned viewpoint was cluttered with ominous warning signs for trespassers. This one was my personal favorite:
Well that escalated quickly
Now I don’t know about you, but every time I escape persecution, I like to celebrate will a 24-ounce boot full of fun.  So we made brief stop at the house to whip up a batch of walking potion and strolled through Thai Town to catch the metro. Alighting at Union Station, I experienced the same déjà vu I’d had at the park. Blade Runner and The Dark Knight Rises are just two of the many movies that were filmed here.

That night our worthy fellowship dined in the great hall of Palms Thai Restaurant in Hollywood. Palms is home to the best yellow curry I’ve ever tasted and a popular Thai Elvis impersonator. Unfortunately we did not  have an audience with the (Thai) King that night. Our consolation prize: two entertainers I had initially mistaken for karaoke participants. An entire set list of late 90s pop music poured forth from the stage with much enthusiasm. 

From there the evening progressed (or devolved, depending how you look at it) into hours of silliness.  We met up with more friends at a dive that was so dive-y its sign wasn’t even lit, averted a parking lot confrontation with a curiously-aggravated bro, and fell asleep chuckling to Bob’s Burgers. All in all a successful day.

Day 3: Morro Bay Rocks!

Tim and I took our time winding down 101 through the central coast, stopping at the waterfront city of Morro Bay. Approaching Morro Bay, I had these exact thoughts in this exact order:
“This is so cute.”
“That rock is huge.”
“What the hell are those?”
Morro Bay is visually defined by its quaint seaside town architecture, a 581-foot high rock sitting offshore, and three obscenely tall, visually jarring smokestacks that tower over the harbor. The latter belong to a natural gas power plant, which I later learned about from an oddly friendly informational sign out front.

Morro Rock itself is one of nine volcanic plugs that formed along this part of the California coast 23 million years ago. An informational sign (oh, there will be a lot of these. I love ’em!) explained that the rock formed from lava that hardened inside of a long extinct volcano, which eventually eroded away to expose the plug. There are signs all over the rock cautioning one against any attempts to climb it. Apparently a friend of mine has a friend who climbed it once and had to be helicopter-lifted off.

Circumventing this natural behemoth against powerful gusts threatening to blow us away, I concluded,
“Yup. That’s a big damn rock.”
Lazily continuing down 101-S we stopped in the town of Summerland to have an early picnic dinner. I had wanted to find a beachside picnic area for a while, and we stopped here out of the rising need for a restroom (and, by the way, you should never go to the gas station just off the Summerland exit, as the last thing you’d want to see when crossing your legs together and holding them tightly out of need-to-pee agony, is a 25-cent lock on the restroom door).
Restroom crisis aside, the little dog-friendly park we found not only had a terrific view of the late afternoon surfers, but also came with a delightful surprise. Watching the surfers do their thing, I noticed some movement and a little flash of something out of the periphery of my left eye. “Is that…is that?…Yes! A dolphin!” Not just one dolphin, but a whole pod of them, leaping their way up the coastline. I was blissfully entranced by a trail of arching bottle noses and dorsal fins until they finally passed out of sight.
Later that evening we made it safely to Los Angeles, happily easing into a night of rooftop hangouts with our good friends Pat and Laura who live in Los Feliz. A sign in their living room playfully mocked us through the night.

Day 2: Paso Robles, Firestone Walker and Drinking the Galaxy

During my last visit to Atascadero, I took a tour of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. While it was fun just seeing the home of my favorite happy hour beer – the Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale –  I was disappointed by the conspicuous absence of any beer actually being brewed or even bottled, leaving much to be desired in the way of captivatingly detailed tour guide spiels. This time the tour was far from lackluster.
The brewery was in full swing, a-hum with boiling, fermenting, pouring, bottling and labeling. We traveled through the exciting life of their beers from raw hops to the delicious libation we all know and love. Firestone Walker uses only three different yeast strains to make a variety of ales, lagers, and barleywines. My beloved DBA is created using a double-barrel fermenting process. This means its fermentation time is split between the oak barrels of Firestone Walker’s union brewing system (one of only two in the world) and the towering stainless steel tanks behind them. The brewery’s packaging process is no joke either; these machines can bottle 300 bottles per minute and fill up to 60 kegs each hour. At the end I had the unique delight of enjoying a crisp pint of unfiltered DBA, which is only available in their tasting room.
Beer continued to be the theme well into the evening as we took in a showing of Star Trek: Into the Darkness at Galaxy Theatres in Atascadero. No, there was no brown-bagging involved. This was no ordinary movie theater. It had a separate 21+ VIP wing, complete with a bar and lounge area. I took the opportunity to try the Firestone Walker 805 here (pints were only $6.00!). Nachos, popcorn and glasses of beer firmly in hand, we settled into remarkably comfortable oversized seats for the much-anticipated J.J. Abrams sequel. I must say, I was quite impressed by the comfort and cleanliness of this theatre. The movie…well, you’ll have to see it for yourself to find out. Live long and prosper, readers. Live long and prosper.

Day 1: Atascadero (and Why Douglas Adams Would Be Proud)

“Your order number will be 42.”
After finishing a marathon cleaning of our house and packing a spectacular load of gear into the car, we made a quick stop on the way out of Davis at the good ol’ In-N-Out. That the cashier bestowed upon us such a significant number surely means exciting times lie on the road ahead. Douglas Adams would be proud of us starry-eyed travelers too – we didn’t forget to bring our towels.
A friend texted me as we left this afternoon. “Nervous?” he asked. I realized that for once I’m not nervous. I have zero anxiety or trepidation about turning in the keys to my house and hitting the open road for the summer without having it all planned out. Me – an often-times Grade A worrier. Instead, as we rolled out of Davis an incredible sense of relief washed over me. There’s no stress, no doubt – nothing but infinite possibility ahead of me now.
Leaving Davis at 5:18pm, we drove through the Bay Area and down 101-S through Steinbeck territory. (The pastoral beauty of the Salinas Valley’s fertile lands surrounded on both sides by majestic mountains cloaked in mist is uncanny. One day I’ll return to hike the Pinnacles.) Arriving in Atascsdero around 9:00pm, we were welcomed by Lindsay, Bob, and three crazy dogs to a relaxing night of homemade pizza and Game of Thrones.

And now it’s time to sleep for about a day and a half.