Sunday, October 28, 2012

How's the bartering going?

When I was planning on setting out on this journey I did a lot of reading and researching on how people make money to keep on traveling. It is a necessary evil if you want to travel full time. Money runs out and I knew I would have to think about the practicalities of continuing on at some point.

Much of what I read talked about using your skills and interests to generate income. Being an art school grad my skills are all creative-based so I have to work with that. This is when I came up with the bartering idea. It was my intention to trade my art and photography skills for things I need, like food, showers, power hook-ups etc. It was quite naive and probably a bit egotistical of me to think the things I make or do are of value to other people, especially with the economy being the way it is. Apart from me leaving gifts for people who have let me stay with them, business owners and such need to feed their families and pay their bills, not get a postcard or a piece of art from a traveler wandering through.

I have had a few successful trades with people though, including a package of my postcards for a t-shirt from the American Sign Museum and another package for a room for the night in an old motel turned apartments. I attempted once to barter with a route 66 motel, photographing the place and then offering to make postcards for them to sell. I thought it would be a great way to have the luxury of a room every now and then while getting some of my work out there. Although the caretaker of the motel and I became friends, he wasn't interested in my proposal and we ended up talking more about the fact he had just lost his job and how tough times are. I think that was the moment I realized my naivete.

Another part of the problem with this idea is my shyness when selling my craft. Most artists, and this definitely includes me, are terrible at self-promotion. I hadn't thought through the idea of how to approach people or even what I was going to approach them with. Yes, I take photographs but not really ever of people so what was I planning on doing for them? I am someone who doesn't always think things through and tend to fly by the seat of my pants, with a logical head of course.

So, I am at a point where I need to re-evaluate the bartering idea or come up with another plan altogether. I'm not disheartened by any of this but reality is different than what I dreamed up before I hit the road. Suggestions are welcome.

Onwards and upwards!

Friday, October 26, 2012

What a week!

This past week has been a true test of my strength, spirit, smarts and sense of humor. I think I've failed as an intelligent tourist but excelled at keeping my wits about me.

While still in Utah, Okie and I went for a walk behind the land we were camped out on. About 30 minutes back on the trail I stopped once again to give us both water. It was a hot, sunny desert day. I'm very diligent about checking for creepy-crawlies before I put down my pack or let Okie stand still for any length of time. This time I failed to see the red ant hill beside me. I was getting our water out when I saw Okie trying to shake an ant off her paw. I immediately swatted it off. She wouldn't put her paw down and when I got her to walk she limped. The first thing that rushed to my mind was fire ants, poisonous fire ants! I scooped Okie up and started jogging back to the van. I'll admit I panicked. I kept repeating out loud, 'this is all my fault, please don't die on me'. She became limp and her eyes were closing but I wasn't letting her go to sleep. At this point I'm holding back the tears. I'm hot, thirsty and fear dehydrating but I'm moving as fast as I can. Back at the van I put her down and she slumps onto her side. I then run to the camping spot next to mine, huffing and puffing, to see if they know where a vet is when out of nowhere Okie is standing next to me, tail wagging. I don't know if she was just tired and wanted me to carry her but I finally allowed myself to cry. I was so happy to see her ok it didn't matter why she was so unresponsive before. Now I know she's learned to jump out of the van.

Two days later, now just outside of Death Valley, it's getting dark so I pull over into what looks like a gravel alcove. I figured I would be off the road enough to go fairly undetected for the night. As soon as I drove 10 feet in I could tell the gravel wasn't as hard-packed as it appeared to be. I was stuck. There was no going forward or backwards. My tires sank deeper and deeper into the ground. The road, as desolate as it was, had a fair amount of traffic so I decided to give up for the night and hopefully flag someone down in the morning who could pull me out. It struck me as funny, the idea I was in the situation so many people warned me about. I was in the middle of the desert, van stuck in the ground and my cell phone had no reception. I made a peanut butter sandwich and went to bed. In the morning I made coffee and prepared myself for the possibility I would have to dig myself out. Thank goodness for friends who think of things I don't. I was given a bag of survival stuff by a good friend and in it was a shovel. I could have kissed him if he was there...and not married. I didn't need it though, this time. The first vehicle I flagged down happened to be a highway patrol truck and he had me out of there in 10 minutes. What a feeling it was to be back on the road.

I had wanted to go back into Death Valley that morning to go hiking but my mind was on the 'check engine' light that was now on. Before getting stuck however, I had spent the day in Death Valley and let me tell you it's quite the place. I've never seen such a vast expanse of nothing and felt so destitute, even though there were sporadic cars carrying other tourists. Okie and I did go for a short hike to a location I believe was used in one of the Star Wars movies. Okie is quite the adventure dog. She is often ahead of me, scaling rocks and then looking at me as if to say, 'are you coming or what?' She's the one who gets me exploring when I'd usually still be thinking about whether I want to go in, up or under there. Who says little dogs aren't good for hiking?!
The hills looked like they were oozing towards the road.

The badlands where I wanted to hike.

Our hike to the natural bridge.

Okie climbing a dry waterfall.

Not snow. It's salt forming on the dry lake bed.

262 feet below sea level.

Freed from the gravel, we were cruising along towards the San Bernardino National Forest. I had been driving through so much desert I wanted to balance it with a hike through some trees. On the way I stumble upon an abandoned water park. In the desert. I can't imagine why this place went under. (insert sarcastic tone). But, lucky for me it did and it made for a fun little excursion for the two of us. It was surprisingly clean and free of glass so I felt perfectly at ease letting Okie explore, as she likes to do. She's a wonderful companion and loves to wander and check things out but always has her eye on me, following wherever I go. We had the place to ourselves and spent a good amount of time walking and taking photos. 

After spending the night 7000 feet up in the National Forest I cut through San Bernardino and headed for a drive on a secondary highway towards Quartzsite, AZ, where I hear there is more BLM land to camp on for free. On the way I drove by the Imperial Sand Dunes recreational area where people drive like crazy over the dunes. I have never seen or been out on real desert sand dunes and could hardly contain my child-like excitement about running around on them. I parked and the two of us went tearing around like crazies. It's like a giant sandbox for the little one and she was having a blast right along with me. 
Okie and my footprints

Just down the road I saw a bunch of trailers and RVs parked and since it was getting late I chose to stay there for the night instead of trying to make it to Quartzsite in the dark. After all, this spot was free camping too. Then, I become the uneducated tourist again and decide to pull over in an area which is far away from everyone else. Turns out there is a good reason why no one else had decided to set up there. Yup, you guessed it. Stuck again. This time in very soft sand and I knew it was happening but I reacted too late. What else does someone like me do in this situation? Make another PB sandwich and take long exposures of the van stuck in the desert.
I woke really early in the morning knowing the sun would get hotter as the day went on and I imagined I would have a long morning of digging ahead of me. The digging wouldn't start until after I made the morning pot of coffee though. This is when the shovel was a much appreciated gift. After letting a lot of the air out of my tires to give them more surface to grip I dug out the wheels and made a path under the van. This would get me about 15 feet before my back wheels would spin and get buried again. Coffee break, then repeat the digging and moving 10 feet. I kept thinking of all the ways this could be worse and it kept my mood up. It could have been mud I was stuck in. It could have been raining or I could have stopped in quicksand. I knew I would get out eventually.  It took me a good two hours to make it to hard land and what excitement when I reached it. We danced and jumped around in the sand, clapping and cheering, even though Okie had no idea what was so exciting. She had spent the last two hours chasing the sand I was throwing and digging holes net to me to bury sticks I had dug up. At one point she had me laughing my head off as she barked and chased a tumbling plastic bag across the dunes. Having her around really does help make light of things. Oh, to be a dog.

The sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally got the van out was pretty awesome. There's nothing quite like feeling you can do things on your own, especially when it involves vehicles. Once on solid ground I had to put air back in the tires and this time a friends thoughtful trade at my last yard sale saved my butt. He had traded me a tire pump that plugs into the lighter of the van. Still drinking coffee, I hooked it up tire by tire and re-inflated them. Again, how awesome I felt to not have to ask for help. I am safe and have learned much, all while keeping a strong head and I will never pull off the road without checking things out again. Time to be a smart tourist.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thanks to my donators

I wanted to take a moment and thank all the people who donated to The Barter Van. As you can imagine I have a ton of images to go through and plan to sit down and get to business when I arrive in Florida in December.

I hope to have your postcards/original works to you by Christmas. Not only do I thank you for helping me and my venture but also for making it so I HAVE to be creative in order be true to my offer. I will be at my fathers place for at least a month and will have the space, time and facilities to get things done.

I am very fortunate to have the support I do, so once again, I thank you.

Angela & Okie

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Greetings from Utah

Just a short little post since my battery is dying and I'm without power. I have been camping just outside Zion in Utah for the past couple of nights. I stumbled upon some BLM land (public land, free to camp on). It's like a little hobo village with all sorts of individuals camping there and I was lucky to meet some wonderful people. I was invited over to my neighbors camper last night for dinner and wine. Pauline and Phillip are two people I find very inspiring. They seem to live life to the fullest and Pauline's energy and attitude is magnetic. She did an amazing bike trip from the Dead Sea to the top of Everest (obviously hiking up, not biking). Her book, The World's Longest Climb, is not only an account of the journey but a commentary on the kindness of people even in the places we are taught to believe are dangerous.  She is also a motivational speaker and talks a lot about overcoming fear of failure and pursuing your dreams. Inspirational woman! If you buy her book, 50% of the sales go to charity. I've seen it, it's a great book.

Yesterday was one of my favorite days so far. I did the narrows hike through the river. It was absolutely stunning. The only complaint I have is there were too many people making it hard to have any kind of solitude to just sit and listen. It also made taking photos without people in them difficult but in the end having figures in the shot show just how huge the surrounding walls are. I rented the full river walking gear which included neoprene socks, hiking shoes and a dry suit. The second I stepped in the water my feet were wet. I thought the shoes were made for keeping your feet dry but it turns out they are to keep your feet warm, which they did for the most part. I really dislike the feeling of having wet feet inside shoes but I certainly didn't let it ruin the walk. Half way through I noticed a fair amount of people doing it in bare feet or with sneakers and shorts on. I felt like a tourist asshole. Obviously I didn't need to spend the $30.00 on all that gear and in the end would have really enjoyed being barefoot as it's my favorite way. I like being able to feel what's under foot. I don't think the photos will do it justice but here are a few anyways.

Not sure where we're headed today but I'm sure it will be another wonderful adventure!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Grand Canyon and beyond

As my last post said, I ended up getting a little cabin to myself for a couple of days at the Grand Canyon. My plan to stay one night turned into four. I met another employee of the park just up the road. William was actually the man who I talked to at the Back Country office about what trail to hike etc. The first day there I was doing my laundry and he stopped to say hi on his bike. That night he made me supper and we talked and laughed into the evening. His little backyard was fenced in and gave Okie tons of space to run around in.

The next day, again I planned to leave. I walked up to give William a post card and say thanks for the hospitality and was invited to go into Flagstaff with him for the day. I accepted and we had a wonderful day doing errands and such. He suggested a great Mexican place for lunch and I had the best tamale I've had so far. The drive there and back with William was like having my own private tour guide. He has worked at the Canyon for 12 years and is a wealth of knowledge, answering every little question I could come up with. I thoroughly enjoyed his company and am grateful to have met him when I did.

I left the Canyon yesterday and drove north to Zion National Park, where I sit just outside the entrance of now. The drive took me through another part of the painted desert and past the vermillion mountains, both incredibly beautiful. The day was cloudless and couldn't have been more enjoyable. I'll leave you with some photographs of the landscape as I get ready now to see what Zion has to offer. Onwards and upwards!

Vermillion Cliffs

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pushing myself.

Let me share some personal info. It is a bit hard to put out there but I feel it's important to this story. For as long as I can remember I have dealt with blues, or 'low mood' as some call it. It is not something I am ashamed of admitting but I do think diagnosing people with clinical depression (which I have never been) and prescribing meds for it is WAY overdone. I have my own theories about why it seems to be such a wide-spread problem. My main hypothesis is that we, as individuals, have been sold the idea we can be or do whatever we want. So when we aren't fulfilling our dreams or making millions we feel like failures. I also think in our industrial, commercial age, we have far too much time on our hands to think about things and ponder our 'purpose' in life. The reason I am sharing this is because since leaving on my journey there had only been one day where I felt a bit lost and wondered what the hell I am doing....until this past Friday evening.

I arrived in Flagstaff on Friday and felt that lost feeling again. I wasn't sure which direction to head in. The nights are getting much colder so heading north to Utah, which is what I wanted, seemed like it may not be a good idea. I sat on the floor of the van for hours, drinking coffee and not doing much else but staring into space. I called a few people to get connected again with home. It was great to hear their voices but it made me feel more lonely in the end. Looking at the map I decided to stop being a wimp and head north to the Grand Canyon first. It was on my way and I wanted to see some places I missed when I was there last May. 
I made it to Sunset Crater but the sun had already set. I pulled over where another RV was parked and crawled into bed for the night. We were asleep early and therefor up at the crack of dawn. It's always great waking up and seeing the place I've parked in the daylight. I was surrounded my mountains and the air was crisp. Sunset Crater is a dormant volcano that erupted a long time ago leaving the landscape forever changed. Okie was not allowed on the trail over the lava flows so I walked it alone with coffee in hand. Half way through I stopped and sat in the silence for a while. It was a wonderful way to start my day and I thought I had beaten the blues.

We arrived at Grand Canyon around 3:30 so I paid for a campsite and made dinner in time to get to the canyon edge to watch the sunset. I don't know what came over me but as the sun went down I started to weep. It wasn't because it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen or other tears of joy. I felt an overwhelming sense, looking out over the vast, slowly darkening canyon, of how alone I actually am. How little and insignificant. How far away I am from everyone I love. I made a promise to myself to get up early and hike a ways down into the canyon.

I woke at the crack of dawn again. What should have happened next is I spring out of bed all rested and pumped to get out there but I couldn't make myself get up. This is one of the things about feeling blue is you have absolutely no energy to do anything. I laid there making all kinds of excuses about why I COULDN'T go hiking; I don't have the proper shoes, I don't have a back-pack to carry provisions, I have nowhere to put Okie for the day, and so on. I wasted a few hours lying there feeling shitty. Then I forced myself to get up into the cold air. I walked to the washrooms with my toothbrush in hand and in my path stood a herd of elk. They looked so majestic in the rising sunlight. We stood and looked at each other for a while then they moved on. It was a bit humbling.

I got us all packed up and headed over to the back country hiking info office to ask some questions about proper footwear and such. The man there told me my running sneakers were fine. What about Okie though? He advised against the kennel services offered in the park and suggested I do a shorter hike, leaving her in the van where she would be less terrified and constrained. What would I carry my water etc in? I remembered I was given a picnic backpack before I left and if I took all the dishes out it would work just fine. So, I had no more excuses. I took Okie for a walk, grabbed a coffee and hopped the bus to the trail head, arriving at 10:30.

Upon descending, the first woman I passed asked how I was doing. I said I was good but wished I had started earlier. Her response was. “well, at least you started”. She had no idea how true her words were and how much I needed to hear that. The hike down was amazing and fairly easy but each step I took downwards would inevitably be a step back up and I knew it would be an arduous climb. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the further down I got the warmer it was. I made it to the first rest area where I planned to turn around and go back up but I could see the next point and I wanted to go. I would make a decision to turn around there but when I arrived I wanted to see what was around the next bend. If it wasn't for Okie being in the van I would have been gone for a long, long time. 
half way to turning point

view at lunch break
On my agonizing climb back up I met Joe. He's a 23 year old who works in the canyon, hiking the trails to manage the compost toilets placed in the canyon. We hiked up to the first landing together and chatted about the usual things; where are you from? Where are you going? Etc. He then extended an invitation to stay in one of the cabins back at his living quarters. The rest of his crew were laid off for the season and he was the only one left. I had planned on leaving the canyon that evening but the best thing about traveling the way I do is I can always change my mind. I accepted. I made us some supper and we drank beer and shared travel stories. He has now gone off on a two day hike into the canyon for work and left me here to do laundry, wash my dishes, cook, take a shower and basically help myself to whatever I want. It doesn't escape me the way things turned out. Because I pushed myself to go, because the man suggested a different trail, because I left so late I met Joe and ended up having a great night and now have a little cabin, with heat no less, to hang out in all by myself. It amazes me that I eventually seem to get what I need with a little bit of pushing on my part.
my own cabin
It's common knowledge that exercise is one of the best things for getting your serotonin pumping and I can tell you it's true. I am feeling like myself again and am so proud of myself for pushing through the feelings I would have let overcome me in the past. People who don't have problems with the blues don't really get it and I'm happy they don't. I am lucky that mine is manageable but it takes work on my part to keep it under control. There are so many amazing things in my life I have no reason to spend time wallowing in any kind of self-pity. So, if you ever find yourself feeling lazy and unable to push yourself, do it! You'll feel so much better in the end. I know I do.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Acuma Pueblo aka Sky City

I'm not a tour kind of person but when I arrived at Sky City and there wasn't an option for a self-tour I had to board the bus with the rest of them. As I waited in line I could feel the man behind me getting impatient because he wanted to get on the 11:30 bus which was just departing. When it came to my turn he unapologetically walked right in front of me like I wasn't there. Since he was clearly more important than me I let him finish up his business and then politely thanked him for walking in front of me. His response? "Oh, sorry. Well, we didn't make the 11:30 bus anyway". Sigh.

I was asked to cover up because my tattoos are indecent and disrespectful to the elders there. I was happy to do so. The bus was just about full and I was the only single passenger which you get used to when traveling alone. Our tour guide forgot his phone to communicate with the buses once we're dropped off there. The other tour guide on the bus said, "Don't worry, if there's an emergency we'll send smoke signals".... I love that kind of humor.
On the way up
 I wasn't sure what to expect but I knew there were still some inhabitants there, although a lot of it is vacant now. There are 5 caretakers and they are expected to serve one year without leaving the mesa. Their family members bring them provisions during that time. While on the tour many of the people  set up tables to sell their art. I wasn't aware of this so I didn't bring my wallet but I did manage to pick up a little figure of a deer that looks like Okie for the $5 I had in my back pocket.

The first vendor I met was wearing a Motley Crue T-shirt so of course I had to comment. He almost looked embarrassed and then said smiling,  "Hey, it was a good concert". We chatted a bit, Motley was on tour with Kiss when he saw them and they were in full make-up. I think everyone else was appalled by how I was talking to the "natives" but it felt very natural. There was another artist there with full black-work sleeves and I commented on it. He told me they were done by a tattoo artist in Gallup, whom I will try to find today. (sorry dad). I found people on my tour to have a bit of buyers guilt. I'm sure you've seen it before where people are afraid to even approach a vendor because they have no intention of buying. A good conversation doesn't pay the bills but when you are stuck on a mesa for a year you probably welcome it.

There was a woman selling fry bread, which I hadn't tried yet. A lady from my group made a comment about not eating fried food so of course I had to step in and buy one. Which, by the way was amazing; drizzled in honey with icing sugar and cinnamon. The same woman told me later that 'they' all decided it was ok for me to eat it because I'm so skinny. I told her I just wanted to try something new in a place like this.

The view from the top was fantastic. This is one of my favorite types of landscape.
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Church in the center of the pueblo
 The church in the center of the pueblo city was off limits for photos but I could snap one from the outside. The inside was white and pink with paintings gifted by the King of Spain in the 17th century. There was also a crucifixion cross with real hair for jesus' head. They didn't know who's hair it was though.  I may get some of this info wrong but from what I remember our guide, Robert, informed us that the people who brought up the large trees for the ceiling had to carry them on their shoulders all the way up the stairs without letting them touch the ground. If it did the wood was deemed not sacred for the church and they were punished and sent back down to do it all over again.

We had the option to take the natural stairs down instead of riding the bus. I was the only one from my group who chose to do this but clearly not the only one to ever do it since people before me left their garbage behind. Man, that really irks me. I relished the time I had to walk back down by myself in the quiet of the rocks. It gave me a sense of how they must have lived and how hard it must have been to get all their provisions up to the top. Everything up there was carried up on shoulders or on top of heads. It puts things into perspective when I experience these things.
first stairs descending

The stairs get a bit steeper

View from the stairs half way down

The day was gorgeous and I enjoyed the tour, despite the tour guide being like a robot with his information. I almost ditched him for a guide we passed because he seemed so funny and relaxed but his tour was moving in the opposite direction to things I already saw. If you're ever in the area I would recommend this place as a stop along your way.