Laura Fortune

Roadtrip

I'm on a boat!

Family, U.S. Travel, RoadtripLaura Fortune1 Comment

August 12

Back in Austin and back with my uncle and aunt.  It felt most like a homecoming than I might feel anywhere.  When I was last here they helped me so much to build my display.  At the beginning of my trip, I arrived after a 24 hour day of my Jeep breaking down and having a new van rental.  I feel like a totally different person than when I was here on July 2nd.  I am a different person.  Unplanned, I drove close to 9,000 miles all over western side of the United States and into Canada.  I took it day-by-day and never could have imagined I would have the experience I did.  

Seeing them again and their enthusiasm for my adventure was so sweet.  It's nice to have people that realize what an undertaking it has been and feel excited for this moment in my life.

We packed up and went out onto their boat at Lake Travis and had a wonderful day and evening floating in the lake and sailing with their friends and just enjoying all being together.

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Carlsbad and Big Trucks

U.S. Travel, Roadtrip, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

August 11

I drove further east in New Mexico to Carlsbad Caverns.  I arrived in the afternoon and walked 90% of the caverns for 2.5 hours.  I love sunrises and sunsets and seeing rain showers in the distance and night skies.  The phenomena of a cave and how it is formed over time is fascinating, but dark, cold places don't inspire my deepest feelings.  So I was more like, Holy Crap this place is just crazy, like fake-looking crazy.  Also impressive about Carlsbad Caverns is that it was discovered in the 1930s.  That is just so recent and I think of my Grandma who was alive and loved nature and maybe heard of this amazing discovery in New Mexico.

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I left Carlsbad and began the final leg of the drive to Austin, TX.  There was no sign that indicated that I had entered into Texas.  But there was a long stretch of a single lane road, leading me to I-10 where I noticed, EVERY automobile was a huge truck.  Not just work trucks, but giant pick-up trucks.  I had never seen such a continuous succession of truck after truck after truck.  Out of 100 automobiles, I saw 4 cars.  I am still baffled by this.  I stopped at a gas station and there were 20 pumps and each one was in use with a giant pick-up truck.  I looked at the map and I was well into Texas.  Inside the gas station I found men and women that looked like the truck was probably the most expensive thing they owned and it may be nicer than their home.  I'm amazed by this very American sentiment.  These huge automobiles and the need to have them.  But I digress, and all I could think was, everything is bigger in Texas.  Very true.

White Sands

U.S. Travel, Roadtrip, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

August 10

I left Tucson around 7am and headed east.  There were two places that were suggested, for me to see, on the way to Austin.  White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns.  As I looked at the map, I could stop to see these places and split my 13 hours drive to Austin into two days.  With the chance to see more, I was sold.

I messaged the friend who suggested White Sands (which I had never heard of), to tell him I was on my way, and he immediately said, "backcountry camp there if you have a tent."

I arrived to White Sands at 1pm, and in my experience with campsites, nothing is ever available after 10am.  Knowing there are only 10 backcountry campsites available, I was expecting to be told it was full and I'd move on to reach Carlsbad that evening.  

I went into the Visitors Office and asked if any sites were available, and she chuckled and said, I have 9 available.  I was taken aback and had to take a moment to think about it.  I'd never backcountry camped alone on this trip.  I had thought of it, but it seemed a step into ever riskier territory, hiking everything in and being totally alone.  

I called my brother.  He was at work and immediately looked up websites to inform me of the meteor shower that was close to it's peak, and he said, don't even sleep in a tent.  He encouraged me and I secured Site #8.

I packed up what I needed and hiked in a mile to find my site.

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The sand is bright white and pure, fine and soft.  It's actually made from gypsum that has been tumbled down by the wind over time.  It's bright, but it's not hot and I walked barefoot for my entire time there.  Site 8 was surrounded by shrubs and plants and so I found a spot nearby that seemed a little softer and I set up my tent.  I walked around on the dunes nearby and sunset was on it's way.

 

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I was totally alone, a few other campsites were used, but I was by myself.  The night never seemed to darken as the stars filled the sky very quickly, and it was by far the most stars I have ever seen in my life.  I saw shooting stars and moving satellites and the Milky Way so clearly.  A bright light appeared over the horizon it was the moon rising.  Once it came up in the sky the stars faded a bit with the intense light that lit up the area around me.  I didn't need my tent.  I took my sleeping back out at one point early in the night and laid high on a soft dune and fell asleep looking up into the sky.  It was one of the most incredible nights of my life.  And I woke by the morning to see the light of the sunrise and the soft colors of the morning that reflect all over the white sand.  I packed up and hiked out after the sun had fully introduced itself to the sky.

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Keep It Light

Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

Somedays I just need to "keep things light" and see the humor around me. Take a deep breath, smile and it just happens. My surroundings are light and I inevitably meet people that I have a little laugh with. I am thankful for this.

Today was a day like that, and on top of it all, I was equally thrilled to find that Tucson has a radio station dedicated to playing my favorite music, Classic Hip Hop. 97.5 FM, thank you. I needed that too.

As I cruised around this place, here's some of what I saw today...

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Miracle Mile.... 

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Bathroom in the Historic Corbett House (thanks for the tour, Bonnie!) 

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Amazing.   

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Decoration at the Mexican Dentist

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A Sweet Treat

Vegas to Tucson

Family, U.S. Travel, RoadtripLaura Fortune3 Comments

August 8

It's a 7 hour drive. I'm not sure any drive under 8 hours will feel long to me ever again. I arrived in no time, it seemed.  

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I'm here to visit my uncle and aunt again and to go to the dentist the following day, in Mexico. 

The dentist office called to confirm my appointment and I asked the question that had come to my mind this week.  

"Will this procedure be fully completed tomorrow?"

"No, you will need to come back for the second part of the procedure in 2-3 months."

Well, damn.

And with that answer, I began researching having a single dental implant in Portugal.  

All the Lights

Art, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

August 6

This morning I woke up in a Wal-Mart parking lot for my last time on this trip. 

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Today I drove to Las Vegas.

I’ve never had much of a desire to experience Vegas, but there has always been one spot I have been interested to see. 

I reserved myself a ticket to the Neon Museum.  It is an outdoor museum that houses old hand-painted and handmade neon signs from the old Las Vegas stripe.  It was everything I imagined.   

Seeing all of these national parks and natural beauty has been epic and inspiring, but as my inspiration for my artwork, I am drawn to grime and grit of man-made objects.  To color and humor and shapes and decay, and boy, did this place have it. 

I chose a guided tour that had the sun setting mid-tour, and it was perfect to see the signs in the daylight, twilight, and dark, as the lights came on the signs.

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By 8:30pm, I had done all that I wanted to do in Vegas, so it left the evening open to however it rolled out.  I wanted to find some old dives and crusty ladies glued to the slot machines and some kitschy Americana and a nasty buffet.  I can say I made the most of it.  I found a BINGO hall and a rooftop view.  The crusty old ladies and kitsch Americana were part of simply existing in Vegas.     

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Zion to Grand Canyon

Life Learning, National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

August 5

I was up early and off to Zion National Park.  Zion wasn’t on my radar of places to visit and it was added onto my trip a couple days ago.  It is absolutely mind-boggling beautiful.  It is a spectacular sight and the best way to see it is by hiking.

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The night before I stopped into the Chili’s across the street from the Wal-Mart lot I was staying in, and the waitress saw my NY License and asked if I was touring the National Parks.  I told her about my day in Bryce and how Zion was next.  I was looking up hikes at that moment.  She suggested the two I was reading about, and one of them is called Angels Landing, with a steep climb and narrow walking cliffs that drop-off on each side and you need to hold onto chains for.  I thought this would be the most epic hike to end this solo and unpredictable journey.  It is not for children or people with a fear of heights.

I never thought I had a fear of heights until one trip to Yosemite with my brother.  He took me on a secret hike and there was one part where you walk out on a ledge about 3 feet wide.  I followed my brother anywhere, I trusted him and he always encouraged this bravery.  But when I got out to the ledge, I froze.  It’s dizzying and one wind gust or loss of balance felt like I would blow off the side like a piece of paper.  I couldn’t move back towards the place we started, he had to coach me back, and when I was off the ledge, I was paralyzed for the next hour. 

I hiked up to Angels Landing with this knowledge.  It felt like a fear I wanted to conquer, much like sleeping in a tent alone, or hiking in bear areas alone, or driving around this massive country by myself.  I wanted to end this epic National Park tour with a crazy hike, solo. 

I made it to top of the mountain and began up the chain portion. I stopped and thought about it, and decided to give it a try, I didn’t want to regret not finishing the hike. My sneakers had no grip, and I was slipping as the sloping steps created by redstone sediment were covered with sand.  I didn’t take another step, and said to the person behind me, “I’m sorry, I’m having second thoughts.”  I felt alone.  I felt the fear and my body beginning to freeze up.  I didn’t have my brother or anyone with me to coach me or for me to follow and trust.  As I turned around to go down the first set of chains I had climbed up, my sneakers slid more and I lost total balance and began sliding down, my hands and knees slowing me to a stop.  I heard gasps and a stranger holding the chains reached out his hand for me to take and helped me up to grab the chain.  I was done. 

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I hiked down the mountain and couldn’t hike any longer, because I had improper shoes.  It was such a defeating feeling.  To be in the most beautiful park, and to not be able to experience it the way I would like, with hours and hours of daylight left.  

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I took a look at my map, and began the plan-dance.  The Grand Canyon was no longer in my plans, but I looked again.  Within two hours, I had found a shower at a nearby RV park and began the drive to the Grand Canyon to arrive a couple of hours before sunset. 

It was perfect.  As I entered Grand Canyon National Park, the first sight was a herd of Bison.  This immediately made my detour worth doing.

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I entered at the North Rim, a less populated view of the canyon, and I found the most perfect spot to sit and watch as the sun set on my final stop on this National Park frenzy.  What a time of my life.

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Bryce

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

August 4

I drove over to Bryce Canyon National Park for a day of hiking.  I hiked up and down the canyon and experienced four different trails.  The colors are just incredible, and the weather was gorgeous.  Huge thunderclouds rolled in, but it never did more than sprinkle.

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This trip was rolling so well for the past week that it was today when I was hiking all day that it really occurred to me that I left Tallahassee on July 1st, and absolutely did not pack for this type of trip.  I didn’t pack my hiking boots, a hiking backpack, hiking clothes, or a even a pillow.  I suppose if I knew I would have been on this type of trip I would have packed more than I needed.  I have been fine, but I really wish I had my boots.

I took a shower at the camp store, and returned to the canyon as the rain began.  I sat in my van for a bit waiting for it to pass, and I looked up to see three young girls running for the canyon view.  There was a huge rainbow over Bryce Canyon.  I sat and watched the sunset and thought, how I just couldn’t believe what I had done.  I couldn’t believe where I was.

 

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Passing Through

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

August 3

I packed up and began to drive down the rest of Yellowstone.  What a strange place.  Geysers and smells of sulphur and crowded roads and families everywhere and Old Faithful and I’m glad I did it.  It’s a sight to see, but I was good to move on.

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The strangest part is that the separation between Yellowstone from Grand Teton National Park is subtle as a state line.  These parks are completely different.  Yellowstone seems other-worldly and Grand Teton is picturesque mountains and lakes. I drove toward Lake Jenny and the crowds were apparent, and it was very clear that I had missed any opportunity to find a campsite in this park.  I drove through, walked around Lake Jenny for a bit, stopped for a pizza and ice cream at the suggestion of a good friend who lived in Jackson, Wyoming, and decided today I would continue to drive as far as I could. 

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I passed through Wyoming in the light hours and saw the real Wild West.  This land has wild horses and ranches and land for days and days.

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Once I made it to Utah, it was dark.  This was the first time on this trip that I drove at night.  It’s a surprising idea to me, that I have been able to avoid nighttime driving.  

 

I made it to Cedar City to a Wal-Mart parking lot, plotted out my plans for the next 4 days, and had a great nights sleep there.  It was clear that tent camping and car camping take some getting used to, but once I got past the noises and fear, it’s actually really cozy spot to be.  Just like Matt Foley, in a van down by the river.

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Weirdo Yellowstone

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

 

August 2

 I left Bozeman at 6am and headed down to Yellowstone National Park.  These summer months, it can be tough to secure a campsite within the park unless you are there first thing in the mornings, but I was determined. 

My campsite was set-up at Indian Creek campground in Yellowstone by 9am, and then I took a nap.  When I woke up, I saw that a guy about my age had set up his site across the way, and he was camping alone, too.  I’m curious about people that are alone amongst these places were family camping abound, but I’m the same looking freakshow.

I headed to Boiling River Hot Springs.  A small hike to the point where the Gardner River and Boiling River meet, the ice cold water meets boiling hot water and creates a strong current hot springs along the river.  I soaked for a long while.

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In the afternoon I hiked up Mount Washburn, a steady climb with a great views, but this is major bear area.  Hiking alone with a dull pocket knife and pepper spray feels inadaquet, but I’m glad I went because it was big horn goats I came across, no bears.

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This evening I had my first campfire and a good night’s sleep. 

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Sticking Around

Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

August 1

I’m in Bozeman, Montana and I’m staying with an older sister of a best friend of mine from Tallahassee.  I asked her how she ended up in Bozeman, 26 years ago, and she told me she was on a roadtrip and when she drove into town, she just stayed.  I wondered if I had done this trip a couple years ago, if the same would have happened for me with a town.  Probably.

I didn’t plan to stay in Bozeman longer than one night, but I decided to stay for two.  It’s getting difficult to get this timing right.  There is a lot to see between here and Mexico, and I have 8 days.

I wondered around downtown and then took a drive up to Fairy Lake, but never made it to the lake.  In order to get to there, I was going to have to manage 7.5 miles of off-roading on a rocky dusty road.  I made it 5 miles in, which took about 30 minutes, and after one really bad dip, I gave up.  No cell service and off-roading in a rental van, just didn’t add up for me.  I’ve seen beautiful places.  I needed to keep the van intact, and uh, wash my cooler out.  So I went back to the house and did that.

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I had a great time visiting this family friend and I’m so happy I extended my time there.  It was special to spend time with her, see her home, places she has worked and to meet the special people in her life.  On her turf, the Bozeman she’s known for 26 years.

The Stop and Go

Art, Roadtrip, Studio, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

I lazily left Glacier and headed toward Helena.  These areas of Montana reminded me of the long stretches of road in Texas.  80 MPH and no one around.  The little towns are filled with western kitsch and saloons and small museums showcasing dinosaur fossils and western lore.  I badly wanted to stop and document this type of Americana, but I am starting to feel myself stopping a little too much, and this drags out my time on the road.

But as I passed this particular field, stopping for a long stretch was absolutely forgiven.

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I continued on to go and visit an old and dear college friend from my early days at Alfred University.  She is an artist-in-resident at Archie Bray Foundation, a ceramic art residency in Helena.  She was one of my first friends in college.  She, a funny and honest Puerto Rican/Dominican girl from Queens, New York who took on a friendship with me, a sheltered duck-out-of-water girl from Tallahassee, Florida.  It was a strange and perfect match. 

Our six hours visit felt like we could have used three more days to talk and talk and laugh and laugh.  But it was a special trip to find her in Montana and to be able to see what she is working on at the residency and with life.

Detail of a piece by April Felipe

Detail of a piece by April Felipe

Sneaky Night in Glacier

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, Life LearningLaura Fortune1 Comment

 

I left Golden, British Colombia and I drove towards Montana, my destination for the evening was Glacier National Park.  I arrived around 5pm, which is plenty of daylight, but tight to expect to find a campsite, for such a popular park in the summer. 

The attendant at the West Glacier entrance informed me that no sites were available and the entry fee was $30 for 7 days, and no option to pay a daily rate.  Whether I spent the night in the park or not, wasn’t on my mind as much as how I was dead-set on driving one of the most scenic drives in America, Going-To-The-Sun Road.  It is a 52 mile road that goes from one side of the park to the other and from what I read about it, I was willing to pass over $30 to just drive across the park. 

After some exchanges between the lady attendant and I, she understood that I was only in the area for the evening, and I just wanted to drive the road.  She leaned in and said, “Well, it looks like it’s going to take you about 52 miles to make the U-turn.  Hint…hint…”  At first, I didn’t quite understand her sentiment, but she shoved the maps and pamphlets towards my car window and said, “Welcome to Glacier.”

I drove in and immediately slowed down, and feel into a trance of the sights and smells.  I had no rush to get through this park, and I wanted to leisurely enjoy it at my own pace, now that I had pasted the velvet ropes and gained a renegade entry. 

My first stop was Lake McDonald where I took my first fresh water swim of this trip.  It was a hot day and I floated in the clear water flanked by mountains with large pebbles under my feet.

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I moved forward and stopped every time I felt the urge, and that was a lot.  By 10pm, I had only made it half way through the 52 mile road.

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When I know I am just passing through or taking a scenic drive, I know that the best times are at sunrise and sunset.  I considered the lady being nice enough to let me in, under the guise that I would just drive straight through. 

It was dark now, and my options were to drive the second half of the road in the dark and exit Glacier to find a place to park and sleep, or maybe, I could just slink back into a side road, and park at a picnic area.  So I did.  And in the morning, I drove the rest of Going-To-The-Sun Road in the light of the sunrise.

The morning view from the van at my nighttime parking lot

The morning view from the van at my nighttime parking lot

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Feeling Better in Banff

National Park, Roadtrip, International TravelLaura FortuneComment

 

Well, I did it!  I recovered and watched enough “Say Yes To The Dress” to make me want to run to the hills and I did!  The sun sets here around 10pm, so when I felt comfortable enough to leave, I hopped in the van and drove over to Banff National Park with many hours of daylight still left.  I’m so glad I did.  It felt good to see such beauty, go on a hike, and to feel refreshed again.

 

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Lake Louise is the most picturesque place I have ever been.  It’s the type of place that looks like you are taking a picture in front of a screen at Sears.

It’s not selfie worthy, you need the whole shot, so I was asked by three different couples to take their pictures and in return, I say, yes, will you do the same for me?  And then I add, but I’m going to get silly with it…   

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No Sugar Coating

Life Learning, Roadtrip, International TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

Let’s be honest, this is hard. 

Anyone who thinks this trip is all gorgeous views and sunsets and that I just magically float in a self-driving car from place to place is just wrong. I think about all that goes into each stop I make, each mile and route I chose to take, when to get gas, how to stay hydrated, eating healthfully and driving hours and hours at a time.  I have to listen to my body and decide where and when to stop when I get drowsy and need a nap.  I have to consider where to sleep for the night, how to feel safe and good in my surroundings.  Also, I am not totally free with time, I have places I need to land at a certain times.  I mean, I have a dentist appointment in Mexico and I am currently in Canada. 

All that was difficult, but manageable for me. I enjoy the challenge and adventure and I like these problem solving moments, I was getting by. 

Until I got sick. 

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There has been no scarier situation than waking up in the middle of the night in a parking lot in a small Canadian town and needing to find a restroom fast, but not being able to sit-up, much less climb into the front seat to drive to who-knows-where.  I made it to the one open gas station, and I used the bathroom, bought some medicine and made friends with the attendant, Tamara, as I thought I might be seeing her again that night.  As I returned and re-parked in the parking lot I was staying at, I climbed into the back of my van and thought to myself, “I deserve a freaking scout badge for the past 30 minutes.”

Another relief to see the sunrise as the morning came.

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I have been sick for the past two days, and with all the strain I have put my body and mind through for the past month, it’s not a surprise that my body has said, “stop, I need a real rest.”  I also needed proximity to a real toilet.  So I drove until I needed to make the next decision.

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I am currently at a hotel room smack in-between two gorgeous and famous Canadian National Parks.  Glacier and Banff.  It’s heartbreaking, but I have to accept that I still have a long way to go and a lot more to see, and I need to be healthy for the journey ahead of me.  So drinking water, Gatorade, sleeping and watching trashy TV is how I’m rolling for these 36 hours. 

 

 

Hey Canada

Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, International TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

I took care of some business in the morning, making two post office runs and a trip to Whidbey Pies to have a piece of Strawberry Rhubard a la mode. 

Then I headed north to the top of the island and onto to the Canadian boarder.

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I realized as I waited my turn, how unprepared I was for what I might need to get through the boarder passing.  I had my passport and drivers license and nothing illegal, so I figured to try it out and if I don’t get in, I’ll just take a sharp turn east.

I handed the man my documents and we began our dance:

“Where do you live?”

“Florida”

“You drove here from Florida?”

“Yes”

“By yourself?”

“Yes”

“How long will you be staying”

“Four days”

“Where are your reservations for tonight?”

“…the Wal-Mart parking lot?”

Well, I was honest.

And I got in.

As I began driving in Canada, it finally hit me just how far away I am from everything.  Farther from friends and family, and none to see in the near future.  I've been far away and alone many times, but for some reason it felt more heavy.  Knowing how I've driven all this way.  And I have so much more to go.  I felt like a cat who climbed up a tree and has to figure a way down. Maybe firemen will come save me, or even better, a Candian lumberjack.  Making it to Vancouver felt like a celebration to me.  'Started from the bottom now we here!'

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I headed to Stanley Park, it's a 1000 acre park in Vancouver and I think I only saw a couple acres.  Geez.  The most beautiful city park I have ever seen.  Hands.  Down.

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After dinner, I headed to the nearest Wal-Mart.  Tonight would be my first night van-camping in a parking lot.  The sun was setting, so I went inside to buy a few things and use the restroom.  

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That Wal-Mart doesn't allow overnight parking, but the RVs began pulling in around the perimeter of the parking lot on the street, so I found a spot and began using my homemade window covers that I made back in Sacramento. Foam and duct tape.  Just like home.

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On the Rock

Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

July 24

I drove my van onto a ferry to Whidbey Island.  The night before, I had reached out to some friends of a friend from Brooklyn who now live on the island.  I had met this couple once in Brooklyn, but that’s it. 

I received a response as I sat in my minivan on the ferry ride.  It was a very generous offer to stay at their place on Whidbey Island.  I did a little scouting of the camping at Fort Casey State Park, and thought, why not take them up on the offer to sleep in a bed?  And then I did a little exploring of one of the most beautiful places I have been.

No 'Welcome to Washington'

Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment
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This morning I took the opportunity to swing by my friends business he has with his business partner.  They are J & S Signs of Portland.  I have been really interested in sign painting and I wanted to say Hi, and also see what their studio is like.  It was a nice visit and they were generous with their time and information.  It was cool to see them in action for a little bit, and they even let me mess around on a sample board.

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I pressed on and drove back to the northeast tip of the Oregon coast.  I wanted to check out Cannon Beach and Astoria.  Cannon Beach was cute, but it was a gorgeous Friday afternoon and it was busy with visitors.  I had seen this environment before, it’s a upscale beach town at the beginning of a weekend.  It was the Hamptons of the west.  I moved on to Astoria, and after having the best crab melt sandwich, I headed north towards Seattle.  There was no “Welcome to Washington” sign upon my entrance, only a small “entering Washington State” that was barely noticeable.  But I made it to Washington State.  In Seattle, I was to have one more Renegade show and to spend sometime with my cousin.  This evening he built a fire in his backyard and we talked until late night.  I had a good visit with him.

Trail of Ten Falls

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

July 20

I continued along the coast of Oregon

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 Today I took a right turn and headed east to the middle of Oregon.  I drove through beautiful farmland as the landscape changed drastically from the coastline.

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I made it to Silver Falls State Park where someone told me of a hike where you can see 10 waterfalls.  I took a shorter version, as I had to land in Portland by early evening.  I hiked for 5 miles and it was so prehistoric.  So much of Oregon is covered in giant green trees and green moss and huge rocks and it just seems like one can imagine dinosaurs being nearby.

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I made it to Portland this evening and stayed with a friend who had just spent 6 months of last year on a roadtrip around the US in a Westfalia Van with her boyfriend.  She got it.  We talked about life on the road and life after being on the road and life after NYC and just life in general.  I am so thankful for these moments I’ve had to really connect with people along this journey.