Fall in the Pacific Northwest: On the Road in 2012

This is an excerpt from my travel journal. In 2012 I took a year of leave from my union job in New Zealand and spent 12 months travelling solo around Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Canada and the US. In October I travelled through Seattle, Portland and San Francisco…

Seattle passed in a blur of dancing and dubstep. Syncopated bass in my hostel dorm room, carefully applying eye liner, hair in bunches, tapping parts of my body to the dissonant beat. It’s lunchtime and I’m getting ready to go to a boat party, where I will dance for 3 hours while cruising around Lake Washington.

I’m travelling solo, but as usual, I meet people on the boat- the woofing New Yorker, the new Dad with a constant smile and funky moves, the smoking photographer, the Oregon Burner with holes in her fishnets and purple sparkly eyelashes. Splashes of conversation, Facebook contacts exchanged. I see two of them again.

I spend my last day hiking, out on a windy bluff, heated just enough by late summer sun, jutting bluntly out into the Lake, with views of Mt Rainier on the hazy horizon. Eating peanut butter and Ryvitas I lie in blissful solitude on the shore of the lake, kick my shoes off and read a book about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for over an hour. I hike almost the whole park, and feel bizarrely close to tears in the military cemetery. All these bodies. All for…what? An ongoing mess in the Middle East? Defending a country with high levels of unemployment and low levels of personal responsibility?

I realize I’m being unreasonably cynical and leave the cemetery, silently kicking autumn leaves, taking with me lingering sadness and regret. I arrive back at the hostel and realize I haven’t spoken a word to anyone for the entire day. Wonderful.

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Disposable camera selfie from Discovery Park, Seattle, Oct 2012

I dodge offers of socializing and travel plans from the hostel’s resident alcoholic- Jesse, age 25, unemployed, never shuts up, reeks of hard liquor and resignation. I catch a ride to Portland with a wonderfully open and friendly female driver from Craigslist. She also picks up a musician and a comedian. The car is filled with laughter and snacks, and when we arrive in Portland we go straight to see the comedian perform. It’s a sparse venue, filled with Portland hipsters: plaid, skinny jeans, long hair, nose piercings, inky dark tattoos. And that’s the men. The show is more hit than miss, but the beer is cheap and I revel with my new found friends. We enjoy the novelty of only having known each other for a few hours, and that’s enough to give a special sparkle to the evening.

We bar hop: first a hip hop club filled with hipsters and gangsters. It’s incredibly eclectic, incredibly beautiful and incredibly trendy. I shimmy to the bathroom to tuck my white t-shirt into my short, navy, 60s style skirt, push my hair up into a higher quiff and apply a bold coat of red lipstick. I may not be in heels and a sparkly dress, but I know I can dance.

Delighting in my body. Circling, gyrating, undulating my hips. Watching my body move with wonder and pleasure. Making love to myself, flirting, drawing myself in. Fuck, I am sexy! Closing my eyes, feeling my chest conduct a beautiful roll, opposite circle to my hips. It feels so good I draw out the movement, playing with the rhythm, almost off beat and then double time, opening my eyes, smiling slyly at my play. This- THIS- feels so good. I amaze at my body’s ability to move so right, in such good time. I trust in it, and it moves, directed from a place within, rather than from my head.

Different club, different music…dubstep! The syncopated bass brings a rush of adrenaline, a high that makes me laugh out loud, grin broadly at myself as I ride the air with my hands. Fingers twisting delicately with the electronic treble, feet planted widely and broadly on the ground, knees spread and hips grinding with the beat. I pick up and drop off at exactly the right points, feeling where the DJ is going, matching my muscular rhythms to the beat. The music is absorbed into the sweaty crowd.

My new friends head home one by one. The last one, the comedian, tries to kiss me and I shrug out of his embrace with a small smile and determined lack of eye contact. Then I’m free again, to dance completely alone! Bliss! I’m aware of the stares of men, but there are always stares of men and I view them from underneath half closed eyelashes, delighting that none of them will enter into this space, no-one will know how sweet it is to be in my gyrating, undulating, shimmering bubble. I am self-love.

Portland continues much in this fashion. The Wednesday night comedy and dancing combo turns into Thursday hookahs, Friday dubstep with acrobats added, Saturday house party with more acrobats, Sunday backstage passes to The XX, Monday a dinner date with the smoking photographer from Seattle…followed by a collapse into bed with fever, chills, and an awful head cold. Wipe out. Portland kicks my ass.

After dosing myself up with rash-enducing amounts of Emergen-C, I grit my teeth and embark with cautious excitement on the next leg of my journey- the road to San Francisco. I hit road-trip gold, finding Adam on Craigslist, a dieting transient driving Jezebel, a green VW van. He’s keen to make it a two day trip, sticking to the coast road, delighting in a lack of agenda. I’m not the only one attracted by this proposition and at the train station in Portland I meet Steve, the traveling, guitar playing Texan with a love for alcoholic Australians and Paul, an organic farmer from the East Coast.

Again, as I’m discovering happens on the road, we connect instantly and intensely, and our two days blur in total delight at finding each other. We camp on a desolate, wind swept Oregon beach. Light a bonfire, play and sing nonsensical music, drink cheap local beer, laughingly kick up the sand to see the sparkling phosphorescence under our feet. Adam pops the top of the van and we fall asleep in Jezebel, sharing two sleeping bags and a blanket between us. No one propositions me. I’m thankful for that, and I relax around these men, not feeling their eyes on me.

We enter California, and the majestic redwood forest. We turn off the main highway and drive a story book road called The Avenue of the Gods. In a spark of traveler frivolity we throw open the side door to Jezebel. Paul and I lie on the floor of the van, our heads out the door, whooping with total delight as we watch the towering trees pass over us. The enthusiasm grows and Adam suggests we lie on the roof. He drives the twisting, empty road and I brace myself on the roof of this van, grinning widely, laughing and shouting pleasure. I feel giddy with freedom and recklessness, passing slowly beneath these giants, the California-blue sky barely peaking through their ancient foliage. We swap, and I find myself in the drivers’ seat, steering, braking and clutching while Steve beside me changes gears. The idiocy of me driving on the right for the first time is equal with Adam and Paul on the roof, and like two negatives, both cancel each other out and It’s All Good. 

We charge down the motorway and hit the Golden Gate bridge late evening. It’s perfect. Paul tries to hold his breath, Steve is playing and singing, Adam leaning over the wheel like a trucker, baseball cap on backwards and I’m reclined in shotgun, painted toenails bobbing with excitement on the dash. I couldn’t arrive in San Fran in more style, with better company.

The night passes in a blur, a fitting end to this epic road trip. We park in the gritty Tenderloin district, and Hazzard, a friend of Adam’s, takes us from a grimy Korean bar with the giggling waitresses matching the drinkers shot for shot, to a transgender strip club: a happening place on a Wednesday night in the Tenderloin. The guys are hesitant, and then with growing admiration, attraction, boners (and confusion) approach the stage. I smile a redlipsticked smile at everyone and enjoy the show and the blurring of gender and sex in equal parts.

I wake up early Thursday morning, in Jezebel, on the side of a Tenderloin street. My hangover, combined with the growing effects of my ‘too-much-fun-flu’, motivate me to do what’s best for my body and in an organized half hour I find a train to my cousin’s in Northern California, where a hot shower, fresh food and my own room in a hay bale house awaits.

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Baker Beach, San Francisco, Oct 2012
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