Eastward expansion, part 1

Now that I’m about 2700 miles away from where I spent the last year, I’m sort of swimming in the retrospect. It almost feels as if that year in Orange County was an extended road trip. Since getting back to Virginia, I’ve kept stumbling over this sense that almost no time has passed, and I’m just picking up where I left off last October. That maybe, after my mom and I drove to Irvine and she flew back to Northern Virginia, my dad met up with me in Thousand Oaks just a week later, and we drove back together.

It’s an idea I find interesting in a lot of contexts: what if the reality you think you’re living is not entirely … real? If perception is reality, then this is both true and untrue.

This sense also may be a sense that comes with the territory when you travel through a thousand towns in the space of a week or less. And at a time of year, too, that drags along with it a particular breed of nostalgia that no one can seem to escape.

Road trips, man. They make you think. (Maybe too much. Or maybe not enough.)

abandoned train

My dad (Tom!) and I left Southern California on a Friday; on that Friday, we landed in Mammoth Lakes. We had our first (gentle) encounter with plans and un-plans there. (For this trip, anyway.)

It started with our campsite, Lower Deadman: I found out just a few days before our departure that it was closed. Apparently, it likes to snow in the mountains. That was easy to solve, though: we just decided to look for a new one once we were near Mammoth.

hot springs sunset

Once we arrived to the beautiful gorgeous place, no exaggerations, we started asking around about the Hilltop Hot Springs. We ended up finding not only the route, thanks to the clerk at the health food store, but also the Mammoth Brewing Company. Not exactly a secret spot, but not a place either of us had heard of, either. In an age of Internet research and experiential travel, that’s kind of refreshing. Serendipitous.

We didn’t taste but a few, but if you get the chance to try the fruits of their labor, I heartily recommend their seasonal beers, especially the Owens Valley Wet Harvest Ale. I thought it was the perfect fall beer – a black IPA with just enough bite and a warm, toasty finish. Just be sure to be really hydrated if you’re drinking it at altitude. (Another new lesson I learned…)

As for the Hot Springs, they can be found by turning off the 395 by a green church just south of the Mammoth Lakes airport. If you drive down the dirt road and pass two cattle grates, at the bottom of a hill, there they will be. Not to be missed if you’ve been hiking, skiing, or sitting in a car all day (ouch).

hot springs folks

And you probably will be sharing the space, so get ready for good conversations with strangers, which was what we got, too. I always get nervous at those kinds of situations, anticipating what people will think, but maybe everyone gets like that. Either way, there was no need: our group was wonderfully relaxed, welcoming, and happy. We even got to meet the Internet-famous Anais + Dax (pictured above!).

Planning the trip was exciting, perhaps only because I didn’t have much else to do at the time, but each day, I learned again that the best parts are the detours that you could never plan. A platitude? Sure. But a true one. Maybe that’s why it’s a platitude at all.

Part two to come!

People and places in this post:

Quote of the day (or: first post! yikes!)

There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.

– Edward Abbey

Some words are more true than others. These words have been sticking with me lately, probably because this is the month that I bid farewell to the Golden State. (That, and “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” It’s a big state, okay?) It’s been just a year, but what a year it’s been.

laguna beach waves

To explain myself, if you’re reading and wondering: in October of 2014, I drove across the country, leaving Northern Virginia behind to live in Southern California. It was exhilarating, as such journeys are, the drive especially. Along with my driving companion (hi Mom), I saw those Great Ol’ Plains, the beauty of Wyoming, the unconcerned mountains of Utah. And then the gorgeous cliffs at Laguna Beach.

It was the ocean and the idea of opportunity that drew me here, mostly, after a few months spent living in Hale’iwa, Hawaii, and a few more questioning how to go forward in a writer’s life. What are you when you’re not exactly a journalist, or “real” blogger, or novelist (yet)? Why was California the answer? I’m not so sure I know anymore, but I tried, and learned quite a lot for it.

So after 12 months, five (!) jobs, awesome new friends, and too many Korean fusion tacos to quantify, I am throwing in the Bear Flag towel and returning to the Commonwealth of Virginia to live in its capital, aka Outside magazine’s favorite city in 2012, aka Richmond.

Starting over (and over and over) is something I’ve done a lot of over the past few years, and maybe it’s something we’ve all got to do to keep learning and growing. Maybe that’s something we should tell ourselves regularly. After all, even if we are always the same people at heart, we are always changing.

What I will miss: the gorgeous waves and the cold Pacific. the dusty mountains. good vibes and better friends. the laid-back way people say hello. the loose approach to life. the deep cultural diversity. Los Angeles. Encinitas. Santa Barbara. and, yes, the weather.

california mural

What I won’t: traffic, traffic, and traffic. plus the egregious lack of turn signal use. high taxes and other nanny-state tendencies. the highest cost of living in America. the safest city in America. and maybe, just maybe, the amount the weather gets talked about. (but everyone does that everywhere, i think. maybe scratch that last one…)

So to finish this explanation, what is this blog? It’s a chance to start over (again), and to turn my and others’ explorations into stories. Maybe about rock climbing, or the James River. Maybe about languages and cultures. Maybe about food, too. (Definitely about food.) And family, and friends, and perhaps you, too? If you’re coming along, anyway, and I hope you are.