Seahawks FEVER!

Twelfth man represent!
Photo from http://seattletimes.com 
Seattle and I have SEAHAWKS FEVER!!!! I’m damn lucky to be back in Seattle to experience the Seahawks stellar 2013-14 season. We are in the Superbowl, baby! 
For those less familiar with Seattle sports history, let me spell it out for you: we need this. There has not been a championship of a major Seattle sports team (to me this means Mariners, Seahawks, Supersonics) in my lifetime. Seattle has won so few major championships ever:
  1. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans became the first American hockey team win the Stanley Cup.
  2. In 1979, the Seattle Supersonics made it all the way to win the NBA Championship. 
  3. The Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship twice, in 2004 and 2010, but I’m sorry (and I feel awful saying this, but it’s true…) does anyone *really* care about the WNBA?
All to say, now is the time! This year of all years, today of all days, our Seahawks can make it happen. And we the fans are psyched, we are ready, we are hungry. We are the 12th Man. We are the extra player beyond the eleven on the field, cheering our heads off, and kicking up the decibel level at the Clink with the loudest roaring fans in the league. The city has been lit up the with 12, 12th man flags fly high atop the Space Needle and in what seems like every window. But some local spirit that is baller? Boeing flight #12 flew a path over the state of Washington in true twelfth man spirit:
Look familiar? So freakin’ awesome! Image via flightaware.com
I like to represent too, in my own way. Laura and I had a craft day before the NFC Championship game: we made Seahawks themed feather hair pieces for us sisters. Oh yeah. Super stylish. Girls throughout the pub were jealous of mine. 😛
Don’t they look so lovely?
All the cultural institutions are getting in on the action. The Twitters are blowing up with smack talk and challenges. The Seattle Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum have placed a wager: whoever wins get to display on loan a piece from the loser’s museum representing their defeat. If Seattle wins, they get to show off the aptly titled “The Broncho Buster” by Frederic Remington. If we lose, Denver gets a screen print depicting a seahawk, “Sound of Waves”. The zoos have a similar wager. If Seattle wins, the Denver Zoo Curator of Birds will deliver a case of trout and feed it to the Woodland Park Zoo’s sea eagles while wearing a Seahawks jersey. The science museums and even the airports want a piece of the rivalry.
Sport in art. Images: Denver Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum
Photo courtesy of the Woodland Park Zoo.
Science burn!
The Space Needle of course is a center icon in displaying team pride, flying the 12th man flag every weekend. I love the energy of working the Space Needle before a big game, bantering with Hawks fans and whoever their visiting rivals are for the week (thank you playoff home field advantage!), and leading cheers in the elevators.
Seattle pride!
Photo by @rodmarphoto.
Before the last playoff game, Q13 Fox came to the Space Needle for a brief shoot. I got to work *just* after all the fun ended. Literally. I was the elevator operator who took the hostess and camera man all back down to the ground. Good lookin’ Space Needle bunch, hey? 😉 

Today’s the day. The one we’ve all been waiting for. Kick off is 3:30pm PST. Put on your best blue and green, and GO HAWKS!!!!

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Why I love Seattle

Back in the 206, what what! Seattle. My beautiful, funky city. I adore you! Yes, I admit up front I am biased. I am a native fourth-generation Seattleite, born and raised here, but have been essentially absent for the past twelve years. Since moving back six weeks ago I have been getting reacquainted with the city, seeing the changes and what has stayed the same, loving her ever more for both. I am head over heels and here are a few reasons why:

1) Funky grown-up Seattle. I left Seattle when I was 18 so never experienced any city nightlife. But on this trip that has changed dramatically. One of my top priorities is to get to know this side of the city, and it is fantastic. I flit around the city every day/night discovering something new and fun. There’s the weird, the curious, the fun, the delicious. It is alternative, enough to fascinate but not so much to alienate. Bars have heaps of personality. Clown pinball, mythical creatures, chill loveliness, barrels of fun. Speakeasies are apparently a thing, and I love buzzing in to a virtually unmarked door into a warm room with a vintage vibe and great booze. Knee High Stocking Company and Bathtub Gin & Co (ask for a dealer’s choice with a flip!) are two favorites. There’s music of all types either in concert form (Seattle Rock Orchestra!) or in bars on theme nights that race the gamut. So many different sounds and weird art, I want to bar hop every day just to hear/see them all. Art and performance is fabulously funky. I love the crazy themed video mash-up Collide-O-Scope at Re-Bar and can’t wait to check out Dina Martina‘s holiday drag show there too. Cherry on top is the burlesque scene. I went to a two-night only burlesque show called The Naked Show (From the Stranger: “Are you irked by the few clothes that remain on the bodies of burlesque performers throughout the show?…”) and it blew. my. mind. Ask me in person for stories. 😉 Need to get my butt over to the Pink Door after dark…

Knee High Stocking Company on Capitol Hill, which serves the aptly named “Cup of Awesome”.
Photo from seattletimes.com.

Celebrating the repeal of prohibition at Zig Zag Cafe.

2) Logistical ease. Compared to living in San Francisco, Seattle logistics are a DREAM. Nowhere is too far away (max 30 minutes), there’s plentiful parking (often free), and drinks/tickets/going out is comparatively cheap. Seattle’s fanciest cocktail will run you $10; I’d call $14 normal for SF. Throw in a happy hour (which many bars do on weekends too), and I feel like going out in Seattle is a steal. Other people laugh at me when I say this, but for what Seattle offers it really is quite a reasonable city.

3) Seattle fashion. It’s so grungy, colorless, alternative, dear to my eyes. It general we’re casual: I admit, here I wear pajama bottoms and leggings out in public far more than I really should. Now I understand where my historical fear of color came from; the grey-black-khaki color scheme is alive and well in Seattle. Two years ago I made a personal resolution to embrace brightness and haven’t looked back. Here in Seattle, I’m now on a crusade for COLOR, bright from the toenails on up. It may be ultimately futile, but wearing a hot purple dress with neon tights does make me stand out in a bar amid all the grey hoodies. And the outerwear… I remember arriving in Boston for my freshman year in college and being surprised that mountaineering outerwear isn’t actually the norm in other parts of the country. But here in Seattle, I get tons of compliments on my magenta North Face micropuff jacket, it’s ridiculous!

Breaking out the caboodles to create some stylishly colorful accessories. Cousins may recognize these from my grandma’s Kennewick bead shop back in the 1990s.

4) Natural beauty. The Pacific Northwest is a gorgeous setting. The mountains, lakes, sky, evergreens, Puget Sound… they surround Seattle in a picturesque embrace. Everywhere you look–when the sky is clear–there is beauty. And it’s all shockingly close by. Day trips from the city to the peninsula or mountains are easy. Under an hour to Snoqualamie Falls, 90 minutes to Mt. Rainier or the Cascades.

View from the top of Crystal Mountain.

Snoqualmie Falls. Photo courtesy of JD Andersen.

View of Lake Washington and the Cascades from my mom’s hot tub. Something I take advantage of often.
Tea over Lake Cle Elum at my family’s cabin in Ronald, WA. Less than 90 minutes from Seattle, it’s incredibly easy to escape to the mountains. (Notice the stylin’ jacket?)

5) General happiness. If you believe depression rules Seattle, I think you’re wrong. Yes, light boxes are a thing, but people here wouldn’t put up with the grey if they didn’t adore the Pacific Northwest. Natives stick around and Microsoft transplants soon fall in love with this place and stay even after they escape Redmond. People appreciate the city’s beauty, culture, and quality of life; residents are genuinely happy to be here.

6) Nostalgia. The Seattle of my childhood bubbles up as part of the landscape, a familiar brand, a landmark, a comment. I love driving past downtown and seeing the Edgar Martinez Drive exit leading to Safeco Field. Yeah, I still have a childhood t-shirt of his jersey in my dresser. Not to mention Dave Niehaus Way! I picked up a job as an elevator operator at the Space Needle, where my family used to always go at the end of the summer to celebrate going back to school. The Stranger’s dating personals (no, I’m not on them so don’t go looking) ask for your route of choice: are you I-5 or Aurora? At the Seattle Rock Orchestra Pink Floyd show, a singer reminisced about going to the Pacific Science Center for the Floyd laser shows as a teenager. I cheered to share that memory. Moments like that happen to me every day. No place else can the natural history of my early life come back to visit me and give me such joy. For me, there’s only Seattle.

EDDDDDD-Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

7) Casual quality. The Seattle food/drink scene is good. And you can enjoy it in your grungiest grey hoodie! Beyond just edibles, I feel so much of Seattle follows this mantra as well. Quality can come without pretension.

Freemont Food Truck Rodeo!

8) Neighborhoods. Seattle is divided into neighborhoods with their own centers, and each have a distinct flavor. One of the first things I asked when I arrived was where are the cool places? I was shocked to hear of the ride of two neighborhoods during my absence–Ballard and Georgetown. What? How is Ballard a thing now? And Georgetown I hadn’t even heard of before, but is apparently the land of warehouses filled with beer! Since then I’ve hung out significantly in both, plus Rainier Beach, West Seattle, Capital Hill, Freemont, Belltown, U District and of course my home base: the ghetto LC! Ah Lake City, home sweet home, land of the far north (yet still in Seattle proper) gloriously filled with strip joints and used car dealerships. Still lacking in sidewalks, but I’m just going to say, we do have a Dick’s. Take that West Seattle. 😛

9) The people. I love that for the first time in twelve years my whole immediate family lives less than two minutes away from each other. Laura and I have impromptu beers and hot tub dates often and it is awesome. Every week there’s a Seahawks viewing party at my dad’s with a growler of Lucile IPA from the Georgetown Brewery. I live with my mom and stepdad so enjoy their company often. I love Seattle burners and that a solid chunk of my camp is based here; it’s a community I am delighted to explore more. I love old friends and new, who I have been lucky to get to know better as they introduce me to their favorite hip Seattle haunts. And perhaps share Trekkie or Lord of the Rings or zombie geekery with me. 😉 Adore.

Mermaids in the menagerie catastrophe at SeaCompression 2013.

Impromptu home hair cut adjustment (with beer!) from Laura. 

Halloween with my beloved Seattle Sacred Cows at Casa Marsh-Posh.

Cheers! Beer with my awesome dad and sister at the Brick–the longest continuously running saloon in the state, complete with a running-water brass spittoon trough along the bar–in Roslyn, WA.

And I’ve just scratched the surface. The dangerous secret about my Seattle experience is that I might want to stay here…

Central America trip CliffsNotes

As I meet people now who are curious about my adventures in Central America, I want to share this blog with them but my prolific 100+ entries from the trip are a daunting pile to sift through. So to help I have put together a collection of entries that to me represent the essential narrative, the most important/meaningful/highlight moments of my trip. It’s not the whole story, but they are my favorites. It’s still a good chunk of reading (it was a crazy six months ok? There are a lot of stories!), but hopefully it is more a digestible guided tour. Enjoy!

Let’s get this fun in the sun started!

Origins story
Safety concerns for a solo woman traveler
What’s in my backpack
Mexico: Day 1, arrival in Merida
Mexico: My first cenote, the beginning of a water love story
Mexico: Tulum ruins
Mexico: Tulum cenotes
Mexico: San Crisobal de las Casas
Guatemala: Border crossing and arrival
Guatemala: Hiking Santa Maria volcano
Guatemala: Colored chicks, the first sign of Semana Santa
Guatemala: Lake Atitlan
Guatemala: Bugs
Guatemala: Chichi market
Guatemala: On traveling solo
Guatemala: Semana Santa in Antigua
Guatemala: Alfombras
Guatemala: Semuc Champey
Belize: I decide to get SCUBA certified
Belize: Open Water course, day 1
Belize: Open Water course, days 2 and 3
Belize: Caye Caulker, sunset at the split
Belize: Cat calls and drug dealers
Belize: Erin’s Caye Caulker food manifesto
Belize: Just say yes
Belize: Crystal Cave
Belize: Iguana photo shoot
Belize: I heart stew chicken
Honduras: Epic transit to the Bay Islands
Honduras: Roatan
Honduras: Deciding to extend the trip
Honduras: Settling in to Utila
Honduras: Advanced Open Water
Honduras: Le sigh roommates
Honduras: Makeshift rum cake
Honduras: Rescue Diver
Honduras: Falling in love with Utila
Honduras: Perpetual illness
Honduras: Snorkel vanity shots
Honduras: Stability in Utila
Honduras: Thunderstorms
Honduras: A birthday party
Honduras: Photo dive
Honduras: Nico’s 100th dive day
Honduras: Last Utila dive
Honduras: Leaving Utila
Nicaragua: Erin gets a travel buddy
Nicaragua: Lady at a cock fight
Nicaragua: The Fourth of July
Nicaragua: Granada
Belize: Epic three-day transit to Long Caye
Belize: The Blue Hole
Mexico: Diving cenotes
Mexico: Swimming with whale sharks
Mexico: Isla Mujeres
Utila throwback
Erin’s top 5 Central American hostels
Gratitude

Route 1 Road Trip Day 4: Hello San Francisco!

I continue my road trip with the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out days onetwo, and three.


DAY FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN

Finishing our time on the road with a morning two-hour drive from Pigeon Point and a nutritious breakfast of cinnamon rolls and cappuccino It’s Its, we arrived in San Francisco. We were in my hood; the city proper was my home for the last four months before I left for Central America and I also lived forty minutes south for four years. We started Nick’s San Francisco experience with an afternoon walk through Golden Gate Park and a driving tour through some of San Francisco’s most iconic neighborhoods. The sun was shining and the Painted Ladies on Alamo Square dazzled. Nick asked if I knew where the Full House house was and admited I had no idea! Great tour guide I turned out to be.

Painted Ladies on Alamo Square Park. *

Our tour finished in my old neighborhood, the Mission. We got out on foot to stroll Valencia and Mission streets between 16th and 24th. The stark gentrification divide between Valencia and Mission–two blocks apart–never ceases to amaze me. Valencia is a hipster beat with funky vintage shops and trendy restaurants. In contrast, Mission is grungier, noticeably a lower income bracket, and much straight out of Central America. Both streets ofter great shopping and dining, it just depends on what you are looking for. Our walk terminated in dinner at a place I knew Nick would dig: El Farolito, a hole in the wall Mexican joint at 24th and Mission known for cheap, awesome food–particularly burritos. Nick was tempted by the quesadillas, but I steered him in the right direction and he was not disappointed; he said it was the best burrito of his life. Booyah. We paired it was Pacifico, his Mexican beer of choice, and left no hot sauce behind.
Rockin’ the Pacifico once again. Me perfecting my bunny-nose squinch. *
Nom nom nom nom!!!

We checked in with our lovely hosts Hilary and Austin, spent far too little time chatting (to be rectified later!) before rushing off to San Francisco Nerd Nite to see my brilliant and snarkily charismatic friend Simran educate all us drunken geeks about old-school British handwriting manuals. Within minutes, she had the room eating out of the palm of her hand.
Aw, check out the midgets learning how to write. If only they had some workbooks…

We woke up early the next morning and hustled through rush hour traffic on the Muni to get to Pier 15 for our 9:30am Alcatraz cruise departure. It was a gorgeous day. From the moment you board the boat, visiting Alcatraz is a great experience. The ride to the island offers brilliant views of the city and the bay; for us this also afforded sightings of the America’s Cup boats just days before the Americans upset the Kiwis.

Pro tip: Alcatraz tickets ALWAYS sell out days in advance. We booked three days prior and were incredibly lucky to get tickets at all; Thursday at 9:30am was the only boat available for the five days Nick would be in San Francisco. 
Drinking ill-gotten coffee on the way to a maximum security prison… something about this seems like a bad idea. *

The Rock.

Alcatraz is a place of layered history. It was originally a military base built in 1853 to guard the booming gold rush town of San Francisco and its lighthouse is the oldest on the west coast. It was later recast in 1868 from a fort to a long-term military detention facility to house prisoners form the Civil War and Spanish American War and then in 1933–its most famous incarnation–one of the most infamous maximum-security civilian prisons in the United States. After the closure of the prison it was the site of Native American protests from 1969-1971. The tours exploring the varied stories of the island are fabulous, the history intriguing, and the views stunning. The jailhouse audio tour is particularly quality with interviews with guards and prisoners and details of daily prison life and dramatic escape attempts. It is well worth the trip for visitors and residents of San Francisco alike!

The cell block. *

A typical cell.

So close and yet so far. *

Yes, this was staged. But he looks so realistically sad! *

We returned from Alcatraz feeling rather tuckered out, but after lunch and a siesta we rallied! And a good thing too because we had baseball tickets. I didn’t have Oakland colors, so instead showed off my inner Bostonian. Red Sox Nation represent! Nick is a baseball lover and all about hometown pride, so we arrived a full hour early specifically to go baseball hat shopping. We went on the hunt, visiting every souvenir store in the Coliseum, but nowhere was selling the hat of Nick’s choice at the right price. Probably should have opted for one of those $5 knockoffs being sold outside the subway. 
Root root root for the home team! *

West siiiide! (Or is it east side, since we’re in Oakland?… I’m so confused!) *

We are ridiculous, and very fashionable.

After a thorough assessment of dining options (including the discovery of the mother of all hot sauce–a one gallon jug of Cholula!), we both got sausages and Sierra Nevada beers and brought them back to our section. The stadium was virtually empty, an odd thing for a team about to secure the division title and head to the playoffs. No one was seated in the front five rows of our section, so we hung out for a few minutes for a photo op. I was about to make a joke to Nick about the American baseball custom of squatting in empty seats when an usher kicked us out. Flustered, I spilled my $11 beer.

There’s a yuppie foodstamp’s worth of beer and sausage. Do you know how many bottles of Flor de Caña I could buy for that?! That answer is two and a half. Two and a half!!*

I pouted. $11 is a lot to loose on my daily budget. I really wanted a beer to go with my sausage, but could I really justify the expense a second time? I decided to plead my case to the bartender, an older woman who Nick had charmed not ten minutes prior. But when I got there she was nowhere to be seen. I spotted a gentleman bartender I had talked with briefly and decided to try my luck with him. I had my story prepared, ready to jog his memory and then launch into my tale of woe. “Hello again,” he said, already remembering me thus rendering the beginning of my speech moot. Thrown for a loop, I stuttered into the body of my argument, and he shook his head with disapproval at us sitting in other people’s seats. My chances looked grim. Just as I was getting to the punchline–will you please give me another beer for free?–a stout man wearing a traffic guard-orange vest labeled “ALCOHOL POLICE” came up behind him. Oh shit. I turned my attention to the alcohol policeman, concluding my statement with, “…and it made me really sad.” I gave my very best puppy dog eyes. He leaned in closer and grunted, “what kinda beer wereya drinkin’, honey?” YES!!!!

Over the course of the next few hours, Nick melted into a puddle of baseball-appreciating ooze, illuminating to me the most important person on the field. “The pitcher is the heart of the team. He’s the one who puts it all together.” Ten minutes later: “Now, the catcher, oh, he’s the brains behind the whole operation.” Another ten minutes went by: “But you know who’s really in charge out there? The third base coach!…” I had fits of uncontrollable giggling, fueled by mascot Stompy the elephant appearing next to us and whipping the crowd into a frenzy. “Erin, I know it’s just a man in an elephant suit, but the people are responding to him like a pagan GOD!!!” We aren’t allow to talk anymore, this is all just too funny. Tell me in broad strokes… how are we getting home?

Take us out to the ballgame! *

Deliciousness. *
The morning after we were headed to wine country. First, we fortified ourselves with a brunch of bialys and Reuben sandwiches at one of my favorite spots, Wise Sons deli in the mission. Their bialys are crisp and chewy, their pastrami delectably savory. Extra pickles please! Mmmm…
One of my fave spots, off the beaten track in the Mission. *

One of Nick’s passions is wine, and California wine country was always a draw for him on this trip. (Offering them up *may* have been one of my early tactics to get him on board with a trip–bwahaha! :-P) While it was cloudy in the city, it was beautiful in Sonoma! We headed to Russian River in search of pinots and were quite successful.


Pro tip: wine tasting in Sonoma and Napa is expensive, running $5-20 a pop. Two ways around this: pick up free tasting coupons at a visitor center or flash your Visa Signature credit card for two free tastings at dozens of wineries. (Most of the time they don’t even ask for a card, you just mention the deal and they start pouring.) Doing so turns a pricey day into a cheap one!

Not a bad way to spend a Friday. *

Gorgeous Russian River countryside. *

Entering a wine cave. *

Cheers! *

There she is! *

Ah, Sonoma. *

Our traveling duo temporarily parted ways for two days, and I headed back to wine country sans Nick, this time to Napa via Sausalito with a fellow burner for a red wine and crawdad party. Threatened by rain earlier in the day, the evening ended up picturesque and a pleasure. We drove up in a car still covered in playa dust with bins of gear still in the trunk, sharing stories from the burn. We arrived to a beautiful diner set out in the vineyard of Hall winery, were welcomed and beaded a la Mardi Gras. We quickly found wine and made friends, eating cornbread with our fingers while huddling under a heat lamp at our secret VIP table. And even at a posh Napa wine party, a couple of burners can find amusement  in quirky large-scale art, in this case large huts made of twisted branches like giant bird nests. The evening was a treat of great wine, gorgeous ambiance amongst the vines, and delightfully mischievous company. 
“Childhood Dreams” Not the one I saw, but beautiful and captures that nighttime ambiance. Photo credit: stickwork.net
On Nick’s last full day in North America before returning to Australia, we reconnected over–what else–football at the pub. We enthusiastically caught up over the happenings of the past two days, then the mood turned nostalgic. It was the end of his seven-month trip in Central and North America. We realized this trip that each of us had been the other’s #2 travel buddy in terms of time spent together on both of our respective trips, not too shabby. 
It was truly fun and also a bit weird to have Nick in California, my old home; it was like two worlds colliding, Central America and “real” life, me now and me then. Though we traveled for weeks together in Central America, I feel this leg of the trip solidified our travel buddy awesomeness and friendship. With a sincere farewell I dropped him off. It was hard to see him go. I felt withdrawal immediately. Mi vida, I love ya and miss you already! See you on the flip side of the world soon.

Travel buddy love. Heart! *
* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

Route 1 Road Trip Day Three: from beautiful Big Sur to picturesque Pigeon Point

I continue my road trip up the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out Day One and Day Two.

DAY THREE

After our big night out in Cambria, we took the advice of our new local friends and hit up the Redwood Cafe for breakfast. Nick was tickled by the brown leather bar stools, Americana kitch, and bottomless coffee. We ordered California benedict with hash browns (a must!) and Nick’s first order of biscuits and gravy. We were sparing no calories on this trip! The hot sauce bandits struck again.

Displaying the goods. Why yes, I will take another refill, thank you. *

Serious about my biscuits and gravy! To the uninitiated they may look ugly, but they are cheap, tasty, and even better with hot sauce. *

We left town, but not before a celebratory jumping pic in front of the town sign on the side of the highway. Discussions of proper jump-photo variations and techniques ensued… these are the top priorities that our traveler minds are occupied with.

Jumping for love of Cambria!

Our 4 hour route for the day, Cambria to Pigeon Point. Better get moving!

Ten minutes up the road from Cambria is Hearst Castle, the mega-mansion of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. I had seen the little brown signs on the highway and was all about checking it out. Little did I know what I was getting us into: it is an Attraction, with a capital A. I thought we could pull up, see the house, be on our way. But no, it’s a $25 ticket with guided tour and the house is only accessible by tram. Instead of a pit stop, this would be a three hour major detour. So we played in the ridiculous enormous and random gift shop, looked at postcards and calendars to pretend we had actually seen the grounds, and rocked out.

Because what better says I visited (or in our case, didn’t) Hearst Castle than a giant pencil or whale shark toy?
Shortly up the road we stopped to gawk at a beach full of elephant seals chillin’. Question is, do they have a gift shop? Indeed they did, in the form of a volunteer selling elephant seal mugs and stuffed toys at a card table.
Elephant seals taking it easy. Occasionally one would splash itself with sand, or an energetic youngster might hop a few feet. I cheered them on.
The drive up was perfectly picturesque. The sun, the water, the land… all incredibly beautiful. Driving through the neighborhood of Big Sur–with a full tank of gas, mind you–was an utter joy. We stopped at many a lookout point to enjoy the scenery.
Utterly gorgeous coastline. *

Check out that beautiful kelp. If we can gotten our acts together, we would have gone diving in it. *

Me and the ol’ Honda. She’s doing pretty great! *

Stunning views for hours. *

Nick took a turn at the wheel, happily navigating the racetrack-like curves of Route 1 through the oceanside cliffs. I DJed, introducing him to one of my favorite bands of all time: super-mega group 2Ge+her. 2Ge+her is the Monkees of my generation, a made-for-TV parody boy band who had a movie and show on MTV in the late 1990’s. And they are FANTASTIC. If you are unfamiliar, you must improve your life immediately and watch this and this. We grooved to their sweet beats, doubling over laughing more often than not, with most of the lyrics and dance moves coming back to me easily even though I hadn’t listened to many of the songs in years. Then Nick remembered that he lost his driver’s license in Vegas seven months prior. Whoops. Time for a driver change.

Sharing driving responsibilities, briefly.

I love the California coastline hills. *

Big Sur, you are lovely!! *

We pit stopped in Monterey for a late lunch. Out on Old Fisherman’s Warf, we sampled chowder slurps from various restaurants, then had a mediocre chowder and fish and chips lunch with a pithy “VIP” calamari appetizer. Oh well, not brilliant cuisine, but part of the experience I suppose. We watched the gulls, pelicans, and sea lions from our window table. But the far and away highlight of the meal? Nick’s fantastical instruction of his personal strategies and opinions on how to eat an Australian meat pie. From his well-versed description, I came up with my own (perhaps foolhardy) ideas of how to eat my first meat pie down under, stubbornly different than his tried-and-true technique perfected over three-plus decades. He cautioned me on the many obstacles ready to thwart an unsuspecting novice, but I’m ready to take it on… sounds like an adventure to me!

Monterey Bay harbor. *

Sampling chowder along Old Fisherman’s Warf. It’s apparently a thing. *
We arrived at Pigeon Point, just north of Santa Cruz, home to a historic lighthouse and cozy hostel. We checked in, were instructed on all of the Hostel International rules (and their lax enforcement), dropped our things off in the dorm, and then went out to the lookout to check out the sunset. As we approached the boardwalk, Nick pointed, “look!”. A grey whale was breaching right off the point in front of us. He continued to frolic until dusk, delighting the many whale watchers on shore. 

Stunning Pigeon Point vista. *
Nick taking in the sunset.

One of the hostel “rules” is no alcohol. We had been given a nudge nudge wink wink on this at check in, so I snuck some beer from the cooler in the trunk and sipped it discretely from a coffee cup throughout the night. It was so relaxing to quietly chill out on our spectacular balcony. When finished, I weighed my options: put beer bottles in the recycling or discretely pack them out. I opted for the former and laughed when I opened the bin; it was filled to the brim with wine and beer bottles. Guess I wasn’t the only one ninja drinking!

Just ninja drinking beer out of a coffee cup at sunset, nbd. *

Pigeon Point was a peaceful retreat. Nick and I criss-crossed periodically throughout the night, but spent most of the evening having individual quiet time, a travel necessity periodically. When our paths did cross, one of us would say out of the blue “Don’t do it! It’s a bad idea!” with a bit of a smirk. We had had enough DNMs throughout the trip that we both knew what the other was thinking without talking anymore. I curled up in a wool Army surplus blanket and talked on the phone out on the porch for over an hour, then actually got into the kitchen and cooked dinner. He found a spot on the couch and caught up on Dexter episodes (you still owe me a bag of chips and a Black Books viewing party, man!). The evening closed with a hot shower and soft bed; it felt wonderful.

Our adventure continues on Day Four when we arrive in San Francisco! Coming soon…

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

Route 1 Road Trip Day Two: Near Catastrophe, Hot Sauce Banditry, and the Coolest Kids in Cambira

I continue my road trip up the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out Day One of the trip.

DAY TWO

I awoke to the sounds of the ocean against the rocks just feet from our tent at Faria Beach. Being the portrait addicts we are, we spent a few minutes taking panorama photos (I needed five tries to perfect the pivot-method) on the beach before quickly breaking camp down and booking it back to the highway.

Nick is so much better at the panorama pivot technique! 

Neither of us were crazy hungry so we decided to forgo an immediate breakfast and drive to Santa Barbara. But you know what, there are *no* backpacker budget spots in fancy-schmancy downtown Santa Barbara! None at least that we could find. After driving around the posh main streets, we cut our losses and drove out of town, sure we could find something on the road north.

So we drove. And drove. But no luck. My gas light came on, but every station we passed was incredibly expensive. $4.50 a gallon?! They’re selling it back in Oregon for $3.65, and you get full service. We kept going. The next town listed on highway signage was Gaviata. If has a sign then it must have a gas station, right? Apparently not when your town has a population of less than 100… we blew through the two buildings that comprised “downtown”. After about a half hour we reached a fork in the highway: Route 1 or Highway 101? This is a Route 1 road trip, is it not? It was just a few miles after we took that fateful fork that I started truly worrying about gas. The next marked town was over 30 miles away and there was nothing but beautiful countryside around us. Gorgeous, but in our case potentially disastrous. I began fuel conservation techniques and coasting downhill. Nick quietly contained his panic in the passenger’s seat. The car jerked when I floored it going uphill. We had a team meeting. There were cars on this highway, scattered houses in the hills; if we needed it we could get help. I have AAA roadside assistance. We had food and shelter with us. Hell, we could live out here for a week if we had to! Still, we both hoped for salvation in the form of the town ahead of us–Lompoc.

1.5 tense hours before breakfast…

Signage appeared: Lompoc, the town of arts and flowers, population 42,434. It has a nickname! If it has a nickname, it’s pretty sure to also have a gas station. And surely all of those people need to eat somewhere! We coasted into town, filled the car with gas first thing, then stopped at the attractively named Budget Cafe for a late breakfast. Hash browns, pancakes, and bad coffee, here we come! The heavyset man in the booth across from us was wearing farmer overalls and marbled rainbow crocks; we probably looked just as odd to him with our traveler singlets and unusual jewelry choices. To each their own. Walking out of the diner, Nick quizzed me on the name of the town. Um, Lanpinc? It’s got an N and C in there somewhere, don’t tell me… turns out he didn’t remember either. It took us days to accurately remember the name of the town that saved our butts.

Relief and refreshment in the form of coffee, pancakes, hash browns, poached eggs, and breakfast meats. *

Perhaps it was our near brush was danger. Perhaps it was the caffeine from cup after cup of diner coffee. Perhaps we just needed a mission. But here a prank elevated to a crime spree. We set a goal: sneak (ok, steal) a bottle of hot sauce from every restaurant we visited along the road, the fuller the bottle the better and no duplicate brands if at all possible. The hot sauce bandit gang was born.

We continued to drive. Less than an hour later, we hit Oceano and the holy grail of Nick’s search for classic American diners appeared: a 1950’s themed rock ‘n roll diner in an old railroad car. It didn’t matter that we had eaten recently. There was no way we were missing this.

Diner in a railroad car? I literally turned the car around. *

One half of the hot sauce bandits, casing the joint… and ordering milkshakes. *

Vanilla malted for me, cherry oreo for Nick.

I bounced on the red and silver vinyl seat to oldies tunes. We got thick milkshakes with the overflow served up in a cold steel mixing container. The hot sauce bandits were almost foiled: there was no hot sauce on the table and asking for hot sauce when ordering only milkshakes might seem suspicious. Still, we exited victorious.

Success! So begins the littering of my car with bottle of open, pilfered (dare I say “hot”?) hot sauce.

We decided to stop driving in the early afternoon so we could siesta and then have a big Monday Night Football pub crawl in some cool small town. Our pick: Cambria. Described in our tourist literature as “Rising from a rocky shoreline into pine-covered hills, the arty village of Cambria has a creative, natural spirit shaped equally by ocean and forrest. In many ways, Cambria is a throwback to simpler times. A lawn bowling pitch occupies a prominent place in the heart of town, and numerous historic buildings survive from Cambria’s early days as a center for whaling, logging, and mining…” Words were thrown around like ‘irresistible’ and ‘perfect base’. We scoped downtown and were satisfied by the number of taverns on the main strip that would likely be showing the game.

We pitched the tent on the windy hills of Washburn camping area in San Simeon State Park with the help of a pretty killer rock, then took a quick nap/journal break. The site was properly Californian with those beautiful dusky browns and scrubby greens that I love, clouds rolling in from the Pacific but never quite reaching us, and just the right mix of sunshine and breeze.

Our pretty and peaceful campsite at Washburn campground.

By the time kick off came around (Steelers vs. Bengals), we were at a great pub called Mozzi’s Saloon with pints in hand, asking what’s the deal with Stonehenge, buying Alcatraz and baseball tickets online, and giving requests of our favorite country music to our new friends with jukebox DJ power. I noticed a crockpot and hot dog buns at the far end of the bar, which can only mean one thing: chili dogs! And for $1.50 too. Love small towns with their reasonable pricing. I learned back in Utila that chili doesn’t exist in Australia–shocking!–but had forgotten until Nick began to question me. (He would later return the cultural-exchange favor with tips on how to eat a meat pie and properly cuddle a koala. I can’t wait to do both!!) I gave him the low down and set him free to pop his chili dog cherry. He did so with gusto. Another round of beer, and we were talking in Southern accents like I, I say, I never ever do! Oh, and I must mention that their selection of hot sauce was phenomenal. 😉

About to dig into my chili dog!

My word, look at all that beautiful hot sauce… *

From there we crawled. Enchilada happy hour where we had another DNM and added to our hot sauce collection again, a steak house that we rejected as too expensive, a pie joint where we made new friends fast, and finally to the Cambria Ale House, the perfect ending point. A cozy yet happening pub all about the beer, I got a great sampler of local brews and Nick had a stellar double chocolate stout. We went home happy after a kick ass night out. Everywhere we had gone the locals were friendly and the beer was cold. Cambria, you are one awesome small town that can rock it on a Monday night. Oh, and I think some football happened too?

On Day Three we drove the most picturesque part of the trip through the stunning Big Sur coastline. More coming soon…

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

Route 1 Road Trip Day One: Travel Buddy Reunion, Beach Camping, and Sunday Night Football

The next adventure during the fall of my Glorious Return to America was a California road trip months with one of my most favorite travel buddies, Mr. Nick Cooper. We realized we both had the interest and availability in such a trip way back in April, shortly after we met on the road in Guatemala for the second time, and had been brainstorming ever since. Our plan began as a three-week American west National Parks road trip (which still must happen, Nick!) and evolved into a California Route 1/San Francisco trip. We were both super keen and had already tested our travel buddy compatibility in Nicaragua. September was the perfect time; let’s go for a road trip.

The thing about me and Nick is that we get on like gangbusters. We could spend the entire day drinking beer, a mix of talking shit and DNMs (for the non-Aussies, that’s “deep and meaningful”, conversations where Australian men actually open up about their feelings), and laughing our asses off. Actually, we could do that for multiple days and in fact did on this trip. It’s a beautiful thing to find someone who you both adore and travel well with. We’re so on the same page on travel interests and decision-making it’s ridiculous. Yes, my posts about this trip are going to be travel buddy love-fests, so it is the perfectly appropriate time for me to give the following note of caution…

WARNING: This Route 1 series of posts contains a high concentration of super adorable team pics. It may be too much awesome for some people to handle. What can I say, it’s how we roll. 😛

Team Nick and Erin! Kicking things off at the Getty. The first of many rockin’ duo selfie photos. *

DAY ONE

So. I picked Nick up in Burbank, where he was visiting one of his countless friends around the globe met while on another beautiful travel adventure. He jumped into my car and we immediately fell into non-stop talking and laughter. It felt amazing to be in the company of another true traveler again, someone who was THERE in Central America, someone who understands! Someone who rocked up to my car wearing a goddamn Skid Row t-shirt. LOVE! We had much catching up to do since our last parting two months prior in Nicaragua so grabbed pumpkin beer and sandwich fixins from Trader Joe’s and went to the Getty Center for an afternoon picnic.

On the Getty lawn, enjoying capsicum and smuggled in pumpkin beer, the perfect picnic.

First team meeting: discussion of goals for the trip. Nick is from Australia and California was his last stop on a seven-month Central and North America trip. He has a passion for experiencing the epitome of whatever is local wherever he is. On this road trip, the name of the game was classic Americana culture–think bad diner coffee, football, beer, and bar food–and Californian natural beauty.

Progress, day one.

We intended to camp in San Louis Obispo on night one, but spent longer than anticipated having too much fun catching up all afternoon at the Getty. Driving along the coast, we just escaped the greater Los Angeles surrounds at dusk and hunted for anywhere to pitch the tent. We found Faria Beach, five minutes north of Ventura. We quickly pitched my palatial 10’x12′ tent, still dusty from Burning Man, and hit the rocky beach with beer in hand just in time for sunset.

Route 1, here we come! *

Not a bad first night spot. *

After watching the sun set over the Pacific, we drove through Ventura searching for the Yelp-recommended greasy spoon diner Nick had selected. The one we wanted was oddly closed, but as luck would have it right next door was a Red Robin, a Seattle-based burger institution and one of my old high school date-night standards. I am constantly amazed at how many things that I used to do in high school to save money are back in vogue for me personally now that I don’t have an income. Sometimes I feel like such a kid! One of Red Robin’s major thriftiness selling points is their bottomless french fries. As another cheap backpacker, Nick appropriately appreciated the awesomeness. Pro tip: order your burgers, then ask for your first batch of fries as a free appetizer. To top it off, we had some great local beer and the Seahawks annihilated the 49ers. Even though we’re celebrating California this trip, I felt Seattle pride!

First beers at the bar in front of a football game, but far from the last! (I think we did 4 in 8 days.) *

Hello bottomless fries and varied array of condiments. Red Robin, I love you. *

That night, I fell asleep happy to the sound of the ocean crashing against the rocks just outside the tent.

On Day Two, the adventure continued–with a near brush with disaster–from Ventura to the super cool small down of Cambria.

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.