Fire update

Just a few of yesterday’s blow-outs.

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State of the Ranch

It’s been a moon or two since my last real update here from Montana. The weather has warmed considerably since April/May and the white has turned from brown to a lush green aided considerably by the late May rains. On top of this, the group of summer interns started coming mid May and has converted the quiet wilderness into a happening place. Granted, they’re on their way out now, and as we just evacuated the place due to a fire, things are quiet again.

A few things I’ve done/ been doing.

In late March I went out to Yellowstone with some old English teaching co-workers from Chile. I usually dislike this National Park as it’s simply a tourist trap in the summer, but going back country camping in the winter left me with a positive opinion of the park.

Bear guard.

Bear guard.


Morning steaks.

Morning steaks.

Yellowstone the way it was found. Person-less.

Yellowstone the way it was found. Person-less.

Rock climb from time to time.

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Camp a bit.

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Hike a bit.


Warren Peak. 10,400 or so feet.

Parties in Pburg.


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And at the moment, avoiding getting burned. A forest fire started about 5 miles from us from lightning and grew pretty rapidly. We’re not in harm’s way but the problem is the road we take to get here might be hit. We “evacuated” the interns off the ranch (minus one who decided to stick it out) and they will be staying in Philipsburg. Some might be crashing on the floors of various staff members while others will likely occupy the high school gym. Don’t worry about me, we’re situated in a good spot with a meadow, lake, and a few fire crews. I’ll keep you updated as long as the fire doesn’t burn down the power lines.


Thursday afternoon.


Sunday at noon.


Sunday at 4.


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Another look back

To think this was almost 2 years ago…

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Crushing Pow

Here’s a glimpse at what some weekends have brought.

Crushing Powder

Warren Mtn.

Warren Mtn.


Knee deep powder isn't as fluffy as it seems

Knee deep powder isn’t as fluffy as it seems

Partially up Senate Mtn.

Partially up Senate Mtn.

Hot rodding ®Emma Clohessy

Hot rodding ®Emma Clohessy

Noble steeds

Noble steeds

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As I’m not particularly busy at the moment on the adventure front, I’ve decided to share with you a bit of what really happened on my trip last year. Now you’re wondering “Did Sark just lie to us the entire time about his trip?”, let me explain. As I was tramping around down south, there were a few things I wanted a few people (my Mom and Grandmother) to not know about. Not because I wanted to hide the truth, but because I wanted them to sleep more comfortably at night. For the next few week’s I’ll share some stories from my “real” blog. It’s a bit more “artistic”.

From Buenos Aires to Ushuaia.

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The Project

My last note probably left a few of you wondering “what is this Project Vote Smart place?” allow me to explain:

In a few short words we are a political information database. Our system has info on all candidates and officials down to the local level for every state in the union (and basic info on the colonies). Believe it or not, we are completely non-partisan. As we don’t accept funding from any organization with a political agenda, we are almost completely dependent on personal memberships. If we were taking money from any organization, I can assure you my paycheck would actually weigh something. As well as doing things in the research department, I’m currently running day-to-day operations at the lodge, which usually entail cleaning a lot of dirty dishes making sure residents are on top of their chores, and taking Costco trips to Missoula.

Here are a few more winter wonderland pictures I’ll leave you with.

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Gonna be a Dental Floss Tycoon

The day after I got home from Louisiana I was off to 46.049N 113.529W. I had never been to Portland so decided on the straight North then straight East route. With more than a few miles of road debt to repay, I found a few good souls to share good conversation, talking of everything from Neitzsche to Ninkasi (the brewery not the Sumerian goddess of beer).

My last stretch from Portland to Philipsburg, Montana was going well but by hour 11 and 4 miles left to my favorite dive bar in the States, the tachometer started bouncing down to zero. I coasted into town and out of cell range because Cingular is fond of keeping the atmosphere free of it’s service. A few $3 craft beer draughts and whiskey chasers later, I was re-inaugurated to small town Montana life.

My car ran long enough to take my junk out to the ranch and a one-way run into town before the ignition coil decided to crap out and left me less auto-mobility. Not to worry, things were quite busy with the election upon us and nothing felt better than casting my vote with the most value it’s ever held (it feels satisfying not voting with the crowd).

The election party…was the election party.

Let me break the ranch down for you. This place is usually populated with interns and a few staff but now there are only 5 of us inhabiting the place with a cat (Cleo) and a few horses in the pasture. Come January there should be a good crop of new interns to explore with and stir us out of “Wilderness Fever”. There is a stocked fish pond and natural lake that have now frozen over and will soon be the stadium for our curling league.

As of late I’ve been getting accustomed to snow, rain, ice, repeat, but judging Friday’s storm and temperatures in the teens it seems to have finally settled in. We warm ourselves with a boiler, going in shifts of seven hours to face a pine-fed inferno. Running has been mostly treadmill monotony but I bundled up and took a jaunt down the snow-covered road today without much problem, just a few frozen beads of condensation on my beard.

We escape to a few nearby cities and towns on the weekends and I’ll get some profiles on the Montana denizens and development as I learn more. Here are a few photos of the neighborhood.

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Cabrio Cabrón!

Many thanks to Carol and Doug letting me shlep the car across country!

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Montana update on it’s way.

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Highway 101 Revisited

An update to ceased travels.

May was a good half-year ago and it seems as though I’ve finally stopped thinking in Spanish although a few words still linger. My first weeks back were spent seeing old friends and grandparents, I made my way up and down California a few times before July hit and was planning a bit of bike touring but a fractured radial splinted those dreams. I cut my hair and beard, and started daily running again. I drunk nightly craft beers and started a batch of my own (an oaked imperial brown that was left in the hands of my dad a few weeks ago…we’ll see how it turns out).

Every now and then, I would join my dad and his cronies at the bars. I remember my first Friday back in the States particularly well. Shooting a few stories of my trip, the dads related their days of hitchhiking back a few decades. Of the many subjects disagreed upon, the general consensus was that throwing your thumb to the wind was a lost form of transport here in the world before the third. I made a mental note. What people should have figured out by now is that I live off of people telling me about mission impossibles.

Labor day weekend I was invited to the “slough” up near Elk Grove on the Sacramento delta. Given my recovering elbow, my plans to cycle north were clearly not going to happen. So I decided to thumb it. I figured 5 days would be plenty to make it and I knew that hiking out of LA would be all but impossible given my window, so I decided to drive up to my uncle’s place in Ventura as a good start.

The warmth of nostalgia filled me as I stuffed my hiking pack. It bore the signs of my South America trip in every ripped seam, worn pad, and hastily repaired strap. My previous experiences spared me from overpacking and the fact that I wouldn’t have to carry more than a few liters of water maximum (unlike my max of 7 before) resulted in a much more comfortable weight.

A couple of white lies to Mom and Dad (which you guys really should have seen by the way), a few text messages to Brother and Sister about my real plans, and I was soon on my friend the 101 North, the same I had taken so many times to school.

Uncle gave me a ride to the hitching spot in north Ventura and I was back on asphalt! My wardrobe that day included a strategically chosen Cal Poly cap to hopefully catch some sympathetic students. Well I caught a student, aged 60, going to Summerland, returning some library books as he was working on his PhD thesis.

“Hay!” he yelled in mid conversation about dorian and mixolydian chord progression.
“No, hay!” he said again as he pointed to a truck loaded down with horse-feed. “I’ve taken a few road trips with my family and I always liked getting my kids with that one. Nowadays they’ll send me texts saying the same thing. I get a kick out of it every time!”

I checked out Summerland for the first time in my life, a quaint little tourist trap I never would have stopped for if driving. Another short wait and I was soon taken to Storke road in Goleta. I had picked up people here before and thought I’d take a stab at it; 10 minutes later and I was on my way to Buellton. Quick break in Taco Bell and I was back in front of the onramp; 5 minute wait and on to Santa Maria.

“You know what the problem with people these days is? Nobody helps anyone out anymore. I was at the airport and my cell phone died, all I needed was a call for my family to pick me up so I asked around for a phone. You know what this one guy said to me? ‘I’d rather not’. What, did he think I was going to steal his phone in a crowded airport?! People have been conditioned to be afraid nowdays. Trust has become expensive and false.”

I was hit with my first setback on a ramp near the suburbs south of Santa Maria and waited an hour before I was taken downtown. Here the luck was much better and found a ride into San Luis.

After spending the night on the couch of my old digs (thanks to Kelly and Guy!), I headed out early the next morning to meet my old supervisor, Pam, at the campus market. I hadn’t seen her since I left Poly a year and a half earlier and I got a free breakfast burrito on my way out.

I walked out to where Santa Rosa Street becomes the legendary Highway 1, deciding upon this route north rather than the 101 figuring it would be more thumb-friendly. A few months before, I dropped off someone at this same spot and he was instantly given a ride, as I stood there in the warm midmorning sun I hoped my luck would be just as good. 5 minutes later I was proven worthy.

Cayucos was looking pristine that morning and a low marine fog offered a picturesque photo-op.

Cayucos pier

Beautiful Morro Bay

I got a quick little hop into Cambria and a short while later, some Swiss tourists pulled over.
“Where you going?”
“To Big Sur”
“Ah, well we are going north, is that to where you are going?”
“Well yea… and I guess I can be your tour guide for the afternoon”.

So off we went to pass the elephant seals at San Simeon and Hurst Castle while twisting along the coastal cliffs in a rental car. To no surprise, they were also Couchsurfers.

I arrived to the park in the early afternoon and reluctantly paid $5 for the biker/hiker campground. The decision to ease up the pace was necessary otherwise I would be arriving at the slough two days before anyone else even knew I would be there. It had been a few years since my last Big Sur stay so I took the day to burn off my few bars of granola that I had left in my pack and hiked down to the beach. I washed the day off with a refreshing dip in the creek.

Putting the tent through the paces

Hiking in Big Sur


Marine layer over Big Sur beach

Tide poolin’

A brisk morning met me as I packed up the tent and tramped out of the park. It was a bit difficult for people to sufficiently slow around the curve to see me, but I eventually found a little lift with a mother taking her daughter to preschool. She had actually passed me up before turning around, her reasoning? “You had a nice smile.” Thanks for the braces Mom n’ Dad.

The day was full of short rides from the start. I made it into Monterrey with good time and checked out the wharf watching great brown pelicans swoop down into the water. I got myself a can of tuna and loaf of bread at the Trader Joe’s and had my first meal other than a granola bar in days.

Once on the endangered list

Getting out of Monterey

The ride out of Monterrey took me to Pruneville, or “Prunetucky” for those in the know. Then it was a quick hop to outside of Hollister. My ride dropped me off at the intersection of the 101 and 156, most definitely not an ideal spot to get a ride. Here I found myself on the first long walk of the experiment. I knew I wasn’t too far from Hollister but I also knew it was illegal to be walking out on the highway. Under California Vehicle Code Section 22520.5 it states:

(a) No person shall solicit, display, sell, offer for sale, or otherwise vend or attempt to vend any merchandise or service while being wholly or partly within any of the following:
(1) The right-of-way of any freeway, including any on ramp, off ramp, or roadway shoulder which lies within the right-of-way of the freeway.
(2) Any roadway or adjacent shoulder within 500 feet of a freeway off ramp or on ramp.
(3) Any sidewalk within 500 feet of a freeway off ramp or on ramp, when vending or attempting to vend to vehicular traffic.
(b) Subdivision (a) does not apply to a roadside rest area or vista point located within a freeway right-of-way which is subject to Section 22520.6, to a tow truck or service vehicle rendering assistance to a disabled vehicle, or to a person issued a permit to vend upon the freeway pursuant to Section 670 of the Streets and Highways Code.
(c) A violation of this section is an infraction. A second or subsequent conviction of a violation of this section is a misdemeanor.

The law is mostly used in cases of prostitution but as sticking out your thumb for a ride is also considered “soliciting a service” I could get hit with a fine if I happened to run into a grumpy officer.

About 30 minutes had passed before I saw a car pull over to the shoulder and begin to reverse in my direction. “You could get hit out there!” were the words I was greeted with as the door opened.

I was left at the most touristy of traps, Casa de Fruta, and was incredibly out of place with my tattered pack as out of staters bought dried fruits and candies for 3 times their normal price.

This was a bit of a complicated spot to get out of, and it wasn’t until a bus full of migrant workers pulled over that I got myself out of there.

“Saca la pisola guey!” (Drop your gun man!) One of them joked as I sat down.
“Yaaaa? Y qué te importa?” (So what’s your deal?) I smiled back, surprising the rest of the van that this short white kid could understand what they were saying. They had been picking garlic in the area since early morning and were headed back to Modesto via Los Baños. They let me off at the intersection of the I-5 and 152, a big mistake on my part.

From 3 until dusk I stood at the north ramp without so much a bite. The central valley was a desert of rides that never came. It became a joke. I started dancing, jumping around, and making a fool of myself just to get a smile from some of these people who probably though I was a meth-head. None of this worked and I resigned to the fact that I would be spending the night roadside. It would have been a pleasant full mooned night too, had the semis and trailers not roared past every 30 seconds.

Skunked on the interstate outside of Baños

Moon coming up on a highway night

Another 15 minutes of fishing the next morning and I was fed up with the spot. I backtracked it to the 33 and walked through the road stops of Santa Nella Village. The idea was to catch the cars at the stop sign going north rather than attempt to slow them down from 80mph. The tactic paid off and within 30 minutes I had found a ride that would eventually take me all the way to the ranch campsite.

“I always wanted to pick up somebody but my husband only said if he was with me” grinned the woman sitting shotgun with an eastern European accent. Turns out their daughter graduated UCSB the same year as I had at Poly and taken a few months down in South America as well. Apparently I came off as a stand-up citizen as they gave me their number and told me to call anytime I was in Laguna Beach to stay at their beachfront home.

Sharing the back seat with Yogi

The weekend was a blast seeing old friends and recovering from whiskey tasting hangovers; the Amtrak bus and train rides back to Ventura weren’t.

Whiskey tasting on the slough

Storming the pear orchard in the Caddy


I left a day later for Louisiana in a VW Cabrillo. While the tales weren’t as adventurous, I was still able to knock off a few states from my list and see a bit more of ye ol’ USA.

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