So, I finally did it. I am currently typing this entry from a motel room in Eugene, Oregon. Well, okay, "currently" for me. I suppose by the time you're reading this, my version of "current" will have become your version of "past." Of course, that's generally assumed when reading things written in the present tense, but given that I still have people to this day who comment on my posts with a sense of alarm about how my tiny house will fall apart and kill me if I do what I was thinking about doing without stopping to realize that the post was written well over 2 years ago and disaster failed to strike, I should probably take more efforts to clarify. Maybe I should just switch to past-tense?
I was in Oregon.
Okay, if I'm going to write in past-tense, I should probably start at the beginning... or, at the very least, where I left off. That was several months ago... does anyone still remember it?
THE MONTH BEFORE
So, the last time I posted I had decided that I was going to drive to Oregon. Why Oregon? I didn't know. What was I going to do there? I had no clue. Where in Oregon was I going to end up? Who knows. In spite of all of this haphazard planning and all of the unanswered questions, most of you were incredibly supportive. "Follow your dreams!" you said. "Everything will turn out great!" you reassured me. You people are SUCH enablers.
So, I left for a month for work (leaving Barney with my folks in Florida) and then came back to Michigan to figure out a plan. Only the planning didn't go nearly as easily as I had hoped. The options available were overwhelming, and the parameters I had set were few. I had no idea where to even begin, and even less of an idea of how to proceed from there. In the end, I ended up doing what most 20-35 year old men do in situations like this - I played video games.
Me: "So, I was supposed to spend the month of March looking for apartments and jobs in Oregon. Instead, I spent hours each night playing 'Lord of the Rings Online.' I've killed enough enemies to max out every virtue except 'wisdom!'
Friend Jillian: "There's a lesson here, you know..."
Probably not the best course of action to take, but at least I'll admit it happened. In my defense, I also spent my days doing handyman tasks for family and friends. I replaced no fewer than four faucets in that time, and I installed some electrical outlets and replaced some sink traps as well. I also mowed some lawns, cleaned out 2 garages and a basement, and finshed numerous other projects. I was not idle! I also was not focused on my primary task, which was to figure out my future.
In the end, I decided that the variables were too many for me to come up with a plan with any sort of reliable framework, so I instead threw caution to the wind and just went, anyway. This is called the "screw it, I'm lazy" form of decision-making, and it is a common, time-tested and well-respected method. Of course, it's intended to be used in situations such as figuring out what to have for dinner or other such frivolous decisions, but a clever mind such as mine can adapt it to suit more life-altering scenerios.
I am so screwed.
Anyway, I packed the car full of everything I figured I'd need - a suitcase full of clothes, a bunch of my tools, my cookware, my flatware, an inflatable mattress, some lumber and rope for building a bed frame, a pillow and comforter, my bike, my computer, several coats and jackets, my suit (for job interviews,) a file-folder with legal documents, several vacuum-packed cookies (thanks, Mom!) a dog-crate full of dog accessories, and one dog.
Yes, I decided to bring Barney along with me. Not only would it be traumatizing for him to be left behind, but I realized that I also need him, too. He gets me out of bed on the mornings where I don't feel like moving. He gets me outside on the days I don't want to face the world. He makes me smile after bad things happen (most of which he causes, but he's cute enough to where I forgive him, anyway,) and he's there for me when I'm feeling alone... which, when you're driving into the unknown across the vast expanse of featureless Nebraska, is a feeling that can happen with incredible desolation.
So, on the morning of April 19th, I was ready to depart. I loaded everything into the car, checked my oil and tire pressure (yes, Dad, both were fine,) and got on the road. I had a few stops planned out to make the trip a little more bearable, and also to help prevent the immensity of what I was doing overtake me all at once. The first night was going to be spent in Iowa, the second and third with my friends Nikki and Jim in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the fourth in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the fifth in Boise, Idaho with fellow tiny-house enthusiast Macy Miller. After that, my goal was to reach Portland. Why Portland? Because it's the biggest city in Oregon and should therefore (theoretically) have the greatest opportunities.
The first day wasn't really all that interesting for me. I had driven along the stretch of I-69 that leads across Michigan hundreds of times, and the route along I-80 through Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa isn't entirely unfamiliar to me, either. Besides, it was still the first day, and I knew that I had friends to look forward to the next evening.
That being said, the trip did eventually start to wear on me as I reached Iowa. Illinois, after all, can start to get rather plain on the western side, and Iowa isn't much better. To entertain myself, I started posting "Oregon Trail" themed updates to my Facebook page from my smartphone when I stopped at rest areas. "Oregon Trail" was a video game that most of my generation was forced to play in elementary school to help us develop both computer skills and a knowledge of history. It was pretty fun, but could also be fairly ruthless. I was never able to finish the game, not only because we didn't have enough time in the computer lab, but also because all of the people in my wagon tended to die of dysentery or drown in rivers along the way.
Jonathan says: "Attempted to ford the Mississippi river; lost all of my oxen. Now in Iowa."
It may have been because 8-year-old me didn't know what the verb "to ford" meant and was too proud to ask. You'd think that, at some point, those oxen would have banded together and refused to enter the river, regardless of what the child at the controls was commanding them to do, but I guess the will of animals faced with imminent death wasn't written into the programming language of the Apple IIe. Regardless, I have since learned what the term means. I have ALSO learned that peoples' imaginations can sometimes get the better of them when faced with comments outside of context, so after posting the above statement to my Facebook account, I felt the need to clarify it.
Jonathan says: "(For those who don't know, I'm playing a real-life version of Oregon Trail. I wanted to play as a banker from Boston, but ended up as a bum from Flint. I'm guessing that's hard mode?)"
So my path continued on through Iowa. I had been through Iowa only once before in my life, and that was on a family trip to Colorado. I don't remember much of that trip (I was very young) but I do remember that my mother found the rolling hills in western Iowa to be really pretty. What I don't remember was the number of windmills that dot the Iowa landscape. Practically all of I-80 is lined with windmills! It was pretty neat, honestly, and at least gave me something to look at.
Jonathan says: "Stopped to hunt for food. Went through 2 boxes of bullets and ended up with 4 McNuggets. Stopping for the night in Stuart, IA."
Jonathan says: "A thief came in the night and stole 3 sets of clothing and a wagon tongue, all while my guard dog licked his toes. Departing for Cheyenne, WY."
The night in Iowa wasn't too bad. It was boring, but not too bad. Some of you may be wondering where Stuart, Iowa is. It is along I-80 between Des Moines and Omaha. It is the ONLY place along I-80 between Des Moines and Omaha. Aside from windmills and hilltops, there is nothing else. In fact, the only things in Stuart were a gas station, a McDonald's, and a Super 8 which fortunately allowed dogs. After that, it was a long, boring drive of nothing. At least, that's what it seemed at the time.
Jonathan says: "Honestly got excited over a bend in the road; I was in Iowa for far too long. Now in Nebraska."
Ha ha! Silly me! To think that I was actually looking forward to getting out of Iowa, knowing full-well that Nebraska was before me. Now, as I said before, my family actually drove me through Nebraska before when I was younger. However, I am fairly certain that I had slept the entire time, for had I not, I am certain that I would have DIED from overwhelming boredom.
Jonathan says: "Nebraska is so boring that Barney has taken to fighting with his own leg to entertain himself. I'd threaten to turn the car around, but then I'd have to drive through it all again."
Remember the old Looney Tunes cartoons, where Bugs Bunny would be running from Elmer Fudd, and the same trees and houses in the background would loop over and over again? Nebraska's like that, only there are no trees. Or houses. Also, there's no Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd. There is just grass and sky. Nothing else but grass and sky. If you're lucky, and it's fall, you might have some corn to look at. Given that I took my trip in April, I did not have the
luxury of being entertained by corn. I had nothing... except grass... and sky. And that's it. And it goes on like that for 9 hours. 9... unbearable... God-forsaken... hours.
Oh, and instead of having clever music to listen to, you just get stinky cows to smell. You can't SEE the cows, but you can smell them through the entire state. Nothing but empty landscape that reeks of cow. If you've been through Nebraska before, you know what I'm talking about and you have my sypmathies. If you've lived in Nebraska before... well, no. Having experienced it, I am certain that one does not "live" in Nebraska. One "survives" Nebraska, as though Nebraska itself is a punishment. Nebraska is the rock that Sisyphus has to roll up the hill. Nebraska is the lake that recedes from Tantalus's lips. Nebraska is torment, and anyone who claims otherwise is trying to sell you something... probably something he got in Nebraska.
Jonathan says: "*gasp!* I've discovered time-travel! Entering Mountain Time Zone."
I remember saying once that I always wanted to drive across and experience the Great Plains. Having done so, I realize now that my desire was, instead, to be able to claim that I had done so, not to actually experience it. There's a slight but distinct difference, and it's important to point that out. In Nebraska's defense, the state does start to get mildly interesting near the end. Of course, that's precisely the point where it stops being Nebraska and starts becoming Wyoming, which has its own problems. However, the landscape does begin a transformation from flat grasslands to dry rock, which at least offers some variety.
Jonathan says: "Barney has dysentery. Now in Wyoming."
I didn't really get to experience much of Wyoming before reaching Cheyenne. It's not far across the border, and the excitement of no longer being in Nebraska was enough to carry me through to my destination. Also, I hadn't seen my friend Nikki in almost a decade. We used to be really close, and I was excited about catching up. I had never met her husband Jim before, but my sister used to work with him at the Michigan Rennaissance Festival when she was a teenager. If my both my sister and my friend Nikki approve of him, he's got to be a stand-up guy.
Jonathan says: "Broke a wagon wheel; staying a day in Cheyenne, WY for supplies."
Meeting up with my friend Nikki was great fun, and I truly enjoyed seeing her again. We had known each other in high school and for a few years afterwords, but had lost touch due to certain events in life that cause people to make the decisions they do. It's really not worth getting into; I'm sure we all know that these things happen. However, like with any good friend, we were able to essentially pick up right where we left off. I don't want to say that Nikki hadn't changed, because to say so would be to deny the growth of character that both she and I have experienced over the years. However, she was still the same friend that I remembered, and we stayed up talking much longer than we really should have. Fortunately it was a weekend, so nobody had to work the next morning!
The next morning she and her husband Jim (a great guy by any account) took me out on the town to experience the exciting metropolis of Cheyenne! Except Cheyenne... isn't really a metropolis. It has 60,000 residents, tops. I had always thought that Cheyenne was bigger than that, but apparently it's not. While wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, I had expected that at least its largest city would have a skyline of some sort, but that simply isn't the case. It's still Wyoming, and that means wide emptiness... and a vast expanse of sky. It was strange to me to think that a place could have so much sky, yet so little air. While I had seen brighter stars and clearer skies before, the ability to see so much of the night sky at once, with no trees to interfere from one horizon all the way across to the next, took my breath away for a moment. But I'm getting ahead of myself; that happened at night, and we're still at the morning.
So, Nikki and Jim took me to see the old train depot, an actual western store, and a neat little park with an outdoor arboretum, a cute little lake, and a children's section with a focus on sustainability. Afterwords we got ice cream, then went back to their house to prepare dinner. Some friends of theirs stopped by to visit and we all spent the evening playing "Apples to Apples." We were more interested in how clever we each could be, so we didn't bother to keep score, which is about the only way you can get me to play games anymore.
Barney spent the whole time being tormented by (or perhaps doing the tormenting of) their two cats, Seamus and Loki. Barney has a fascinating interaction with cats. On the one hand, he recognizes that they're his own size, so he gets excited and wants to play with them. At the same time, he also knows that 5 of their 6 ends are sharp and pointy, and when they hiss it means bad news. Barney can be very energetic, and when he's constantly going from "play" to "flee" modes, it can quickly wear him out. After a while, I think he just wandered upstairs and slept on their bed, which did NOT please the cats (who were hiding underneath) at all.
After the game we all pretty much called it a night. I, after all, was already 2 time zones removed from my normal sleep schedule, and Nikki had a meeting to drive out to the next morning. They put me up in their guest room for another night (so hospitable!) and we all pretty much zonked out.
Jonathan says: "There is so much sky out here... Departing Cheyenne, Wyoming for Salt Lake City, Utah."
The next morning, Nikki and Jim cooked me a fantastic breakfast, loaded my car with Mountain Dew, pretzels, and other supplies, provided me with a list of suggested areas to stop, then sent me on my way. I wasn't really looking forward to the departure; not only had I enjoyed my time with them, but Nikki was the last point of familiarity on the whole trip. True, I was meeting up with my friend Macy in Idaho, but we had never actually met in person before, so even that was going to be new. I've met people online before who turned out to be totally different in real life, so I was kinda nervous about that meeting. That wasn't going to be happening for another day, though, so I had another night in a hotel to look forward to.
Jonathan says: "Well beyond Laramie, Wyoming. Time to flip the disk to side 2!"
Wyoming, well... to be honest, Wyoming isn't much better than Nebraska. Instead of a featureless green expanse, it's more of a featureless brown expanse. To its credit, Wyoming does have occassional rocks to break up the landscape. It also takes about half the time to cross as Nebraska did, and it still had the novelty of being "new" to me. After all, I had been in Nebraska before, not only when I was younger but also for a few weeks for a job in Omaha some years back. Wyoming was a new state for me, and meant I could mark it off of my "states to visit" list. Only 7 more of those sucker to go, by the way!
Jonathan says: "Just crossed the Continental Divide. Does that mean it's all downhill from here?"
Like Nebraska, Wyoming truly starts to get interesting near the western end. By the time I got into Utah, it was starting to become downright gorgeous. I remember stopping at one point at a rest area - large, rolling green hills loomed up on one side of the expressway while giant walls of red rock stood on the other. I stopped to take pictures, but the shots honestly don't do the area justice. Each vision was pretty enough on its own, but it was truly the juxtaposition of both of them that made the region truly unique.
The goal for the night was to make it into Salt Lake City, which is in a beautiful area. Let me tell you, if I was in a group of settlers wandering the west, I would not have needed an eagle eating a snake on a cactus to tell me where to live! ...Okay, that joke is probably lost on a lot of you, but that's the symbol that the Mormons used to let them know where to settle back in the day. I think. It's kinda hazy, I may have missed part of it, but I still think my joke is funny. Or potentially offensive, if I do have it wrong. Either way, the area around Salt Lake City, with all the mountains and hills and scenery, is gorgeous.
Jonathan says: "Barney stopped to hunt. He caught 100 pounds of squirrel, but could only carry 2 pounds back to the wagon. Stopping for the night in Salt Lake City, Utah."
I ended up staying the night in another Super 8 in Salt Lake. It was a nice room, and the lady at the front desk was very friendly, albeit frightened of dogs. She actually jumped when she noticed Barney, which still makes me giggle a little.
Jonathan says: "Dropping pace from 'Grueling' to 'Steady.' Only about 5 or 6 hours of travel today before Boise, Idaho."
The next morning pretty much started like the others - a trip to the gas station, checking the oil and tires, texting a bunch of people that I was still alive, and all that. The fifth day was the shortest travel day, and I actually had to stop a couple of times along the way to make sure I didn't arrive in Boise too early. I was going to be meeting up with Macy right after she got out of work, so I didn't want to get into town any sooner than 5:00pm.
The rest of the drive through Utah was pretty, but things started to become a little more plain as I approached Idaho. Macy warned me that I was taking the least interesting route into Boise, though, so I'm not complaining. It was still better than Nebraska, by any account.
Jonathan says: "Barney has Cholera; entering Idaho."
Honestly, I didn't want to give my little dog a horrible affliction, but catching dysentery and cholera are pretty much staples of the Oregon Trail experience. I also assumed that dogs can't catch dysentery or cholera, so people who didn't catch the Oregon Trail references wouldn't freak out as much as if I had said I had them. I basically assumed it was all just a harmless joke, but just to be safe, I followed it up with another Barney status.
Jonathan says: "Barney has recovered. Stopping outside of Boise, Idaho!"
That makes it all better, right? RIGHT?
We'll get to that in a minute. Before that, the trip into Boise was rather uneventful. I had a bit of rain to drive through, but nothing too torrential. Right before I got near my destination, I texted Macy to let her know I was getting close. I ended up being closer than she was, so I drove around the block a couple of times so that I wouldn't get in too early. I realized I was being silly, though, and eventually pulled into the drive and knocked on the door. Nobody was home, which is just as well... It wasn't Macy's house, anyway; it was her folks' house, which is much better suited to entertaining and hosting guests.
I only had to wait a minute or two before Macy pulled in. She got out of her car, I introduced myself, and we went into the house. Her folks had two dogs, which immediately freaked Barney out. Barney, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, does not like having his butt sniffed. Unfortunately, that's the first thing any dog does upon meeting another dog. To ask a dog not to sniff another dog's butt is like going to the mall and screaming at all the other patrons "DON'T LOOK AT ME!" Okay, honestly, I've been in cities where I've actually run across people doing that, but I'm sure you get my point. Regardless, Barney was not comfortable. I'm sure you can see where this is going.
Now, while the dogs got to know one another, Macy showed me to the guest room. After that, she asked me if I wanted to see how her tiny house was coming along. Given that we met because of the whole tiny house phenomenon, I naturally said yes. It was then that I realized that Barney and the other dogs were no longer in sight.
In retrospect, I suppose I should have paid more attention to my poor little dog. I know other dogs make him uncomfortable initially, and I also know his usual routines. That morning, there was one usual routine that he had failed to follow, and had it not been for the fact that I was driving across the country, meeting a new friend (a hot chick at that) and being generally out of my element, I probably would have noticed it and acted accordingly. However, I did NOT notice it, and while Macy was showing me the guest room, Barney was in her parents' master bedroom, taking care of what was usually his morning ritual.
Jonathan says: "So, I graciously accepted my friend Macy's offer to put me up for the night. As I am meeting her in person for the first time, Barney is busy relieving himself on the master bedroom carpet. Most. Awkward. Introduction. Ever."
I was mortified.
I really couldn't blame Barney. After all, he had just gotten over both cholera and dysentery and had been shut up in a car all day. I've also seen him react to other dogs at the dog park before, and when too many noses try to sniff his butt at once, he has a tendency to squat and, well... make his butt worth sniffing, I suppose. But regardless, I was now in the company of this girl who, having never met me before, had offered to let me stay the night for free, and I now had to explain to her that my little dog had just dropped a load on her parents' bedroom carpet.
And let me tell you, it was quite a load. He had been saving up.
Fortunately, Macy (and later her entire family) found the whole tale to be rather humorous. She got me some cleaning supplies and let me take care of the mess while she watched Barney and the other dogs outside. Afterwords, she showed me the progress on her tiny house (you can see it for yourself at http://minimotives.com,) then after some of her family showed up we left the dogs and went on a tour of the town. Boise, like Cheyenne, is smaller than I expected, but it's still a nice place! Still semi-arid, which is hard for this Michigan boy to get used to, but it has some neat places and features. Macy likes to promote the place, and since my dog defiled her carpet, the least I can do is promote it, too. Go see Boise! She showed me one of the buildings she designed (she's an architect,) the old train station, and we had a nice dinner at a pizza parlour.
When we got back to the house, her dad was there, and we ended up talking for quite a while about all sorts of things. We took some pictures, checked out the tiny house again, and admired how much hair my dog managed to shed all over their house (SOOO mortified!) It eventually got late, and since Macy had to work the next morning, she had to leave and I retired to the guest room, my embarrassing little dog in tow.
Jonathan says: "Passed a cemetery. Not a single tombstone had profanity on it. Not the Oregon Trail I remember! Departing Boise..."
The next morning, since Macy had to work, her dad was my host. He cooked me a satisfying breakfast, we talked some more, and eventually Barney and I were on our way. It wasn't too much longer after leaving Boise before I found myself in Oregon. Oregon! That was the destination! That's where I was trying to go! That's where this whole journey was leading! That's where... that's where the panic set in.
I ended up calling a few friends trying to find someone to talk to, because that whole sensation of BEING in Oregon was just too much for me. Eventually my friend Jillian wisely advised me to experience the discomfort, to know the awkwardness, and to just be in that uncomfortable space for a while. Sometimes, trying to talk your way through things or to ease a situation by modifying it doesn't help. Sometimes, you just need to experience what it means to be uncomfortable to know what it means to you.
I was eventually able to calm down. That was in part because of the landscape. Being from Michigan and knowing nothing of Oregon, I guess I had always assumed that Oregon and Washington were all mountains and forests. I didn't expect the wide, long, semi-arid stretch that I found in Oregon. Granted, it was beautiful - cut with gorges and hills with white-capped mountains on the horizon, but it didn't have the trees I was expecting. Not that far east it didn't, at least.
Jonathan says: "Bartered 2 sets of clothes to an Indian guide to help me cross a river. Only a few hours to go!"
So, if the trip across eastern Oregon was beautiful, the path along the Columbia River Gorge was down-right astonishing. If I hadn't already spent all of my alloted hyperbole in describing the bleakness of Nebraska, I'd use it now to extoll the grandeur of that gorge. It truly is a gorgeous (ha! Gorge-ous! Get it?) drive, and if it was any more densely populated, I'm sure I would have stopped at many of the points along the way. However, if they were more densely populated, I'm sure the natural beauty would have been marred, so it's a hard balance. Perhaps later, after I've found a girlfriend, a career, and a path in life, that would be a fantastic place to stay, but for now I think I need to pass it by.
Jonathan says: "Got distracted by Multnomah Falls. Half-hour to Portland (traffic permitting!)"
Multnomah Falls were also fantastic, and I can see why it's a popular icon for Oregon. Barney and I hiked our way to the top, even though the viewing platform was closed due to a landslide. It was still good exercise for the little pooch, who went from having about 5 miles' worth of walks a day to having a couple strolls through hotel parking lots and a few breaks at rest areas to stretch his legs. In spite of the fact that we've been sedentary in the car for the last week, we still managed to pass most of the hikers both going up and coming back down the trail, so I feel pretty good about that. Barney enjoyed it, at least, and was able to nap the rest of the way into Portland.
Jonathan says: "I am in Portland, Oregon. I never survived while playing the game. Good thing I was able to make it on my first try in real life!"
So... so yeah. I made it. I actually made it. I told myself I'd do it, and I did it. I am now in Oregon.
And now I realize that was the easy part.
It's one thing to "go," it's another thing to "be." "Going" and "doing" are easy - there are well-marked paths to follow, and maps to show us the way. We can focus on the visible and tangible progress to provide ourselves with motivation to continue. "Being" is so much more subtle. There are paths to follow there, too, but they're not as concrete... and I mean that both literally (roads! get it? ha!) and figuratively. When it comes to "going" and "doing," I'm now on the other side of the country. I've traveled over 2,400 miles through all sorts of terrain. As far as "being" is concerned, though, I'm still right where I started.
Or perhaps not. In the going and the doing, I think the being has advanced, albeit slightly and beyond my capacity to identify it. But I think that the potential to advance that being is here somewhere. I spent 2 days in Portland and started to get a bit discouraged. I drove to Bend and didn't feel much better there, but right now I'm in Eugene. In spite of the rain, I dunno... it might not be so bad here. I still haven't ruled out Portland, but I can see that there might be some opportunity here. We'll see how I feel in the morning.
But, anyway, that's my story! Sorry it took so long to get to it, and sorry it all had to go up at once. At least this way, though, it's all together. That should make it easier for me to look back on it later and say "what was I THINKING?!"
- My Trip to Oregon