Life in Brooklyn

We live in Brooklyn.  Technically part of NYC, but also very different.  So far, Brooklyn is kinda like inner city Melbourne on steroids.  I am sure there are other parts that I haven’t been to yet that are different.  But so far.

I, Jeffrey O. Gustafson CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Arc de Triomphe

We are living in the area known as Pro-Cro.  For those that know, it’s the edge of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.  The equivalent of where we lived in Melbourne really, if you wanted to call that Carl-Fitz.  Which is dumb.  But Pro-Cro it is.

We live in 6 story apartment block.  We have a fire escape (on which a squirrel has a nest in a disused plant pot).  We have a subway station right beneath us.  There is parking out the front (even though we have to move the car 6 times a week, but that’s another story).  We have a cart to wheel our laundry 2 small blocks to the laundromat (but we do not have the proper laundry bags like everyone else).  We do not have a mail box, so my friend M is letting us use his address instead (so far this hasn’t proved inconvenient for either of us, unless he’s not telling).  The library is just up the street and it is glorious.  And even more glorious is the Arc de Triomphe, I mean the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, also just up the street in the middle of the ‘wheel of death’ roundabout, I mean circle.

Many mornings, we get an egg and cheese roll from Sal’s Restaurant.  Sal and Mo(hammed) have been running this place forever.  When we first started going in, I was unsure of the system.  There is no proper queue (line, as they say here, if I say queue folks get confused).  I would just wait confusedly until Mo or Sal eventually took my order.  But now, as soon as I walk in, Mo sees me and says “2 egg and cheese?”  Surely a sign of being a local.  (Whilst A is in London, I sneakily ordered one with bacon.  Bacon made it worse, not better.  I don’t really want to contemplate why, but I shall revert to egg and cheese.)

Here is our street

Usually we eat it sitting on one of the benches in the picture above.  I’m not sure how long this will be sustainable.  Right now, even when cold, it is sunny and lovely.  But I am aware that I’m quite oblivious as to what it really means to be cold here.  The other day someone told me that between November and April one cannot feel one’s face when outdoors in NYC.  I hope it’s not true, but the other New Yorker agreed with him so I suspect hoping won’t help.

Things I love about being here

Prospect Park.  If I lived uptown I would probably say Central Park.  But Prospect Park, designed by the same dude whose name I forget, is just as big, and quieter, and around the corner.

Ice rinks.  The first one opened last weekend, and the rest open next weekend.

Halloween.  In Australia Halloween is a bit shit.  But here, everyone is going all out with the decorations.  We are behind with ours, but I do have pumpkins ready for carving when A comes home.  I will have to keep them long into November to make up for all the pre-Halloween time I missed.

There are trains under the street.  Like, just there.  Layers of them.  Yesterday in the park, a small child was dancing excitedly on the sidewalk grate shrieking “train, train”, excited about the sound and the gusts of hot air.  Just like me (although I only dance on the inside).

Punkins. Not mine.

Things I love less about being here

I can’t buy things I want.  Even though I can buy an ASSAULT WEAPON, I cannot buy Phenergen, or Voltaren Gel, or panadeine, or Kinder Surprises (I don’t want to buy Kinder Surprises).  Also I cannot get a credit card.  (I don’t even want a credit card but I do want to start getting a credit rating.  Don’t get me started on the credit rating system here). This country does have things ass-about here.

Things ARE expensive.  Whilst it is easy to live frugally, stuff is expensive.  For example, I finally gave up trying to self manage my tight hip muscles the other day.  They’re chronic, and aggravated by sitting in the car for too long over the last few months, and by stress (all that worrying).  I needed a massage.  The cheapest I could find (without resorting to something that looked like it was in the business of supplying happy endings) was $90 an hour.  That’s USD of course.  Plus 20% tip.  And I’m not sure it will fix me up.  But the Rolfing that I really wanted to have starts at about $180.  USD.

We don’t have a cat.  But I just discovered we could foster some temporarily….Life would be perfect.

I have a plan to capture the squirrel when she is sleeping by putting an oven tray over her pot and bringing it inside.  Kind of like catching a spider, except in that case it’s going outside.  A says there will be biting and scratching.

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Living the dream

If, of course, it had been a dream of mine to live and work in NYC.  Which it kind of wasn’t.  My dream, actually, was to live and work overseas, I never thought it would be NYC.  And because I never did it as a gap year, I kinda thought I’d missed my chance.  But then A came along, and he can’t stay in one place for long.  So here I am, living the dream.

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For the last few months I’ve been obsessing over being able to sell myself, being able to articulate clearly what it is I do, what it is I like, being able to state my PURPOSE.  I still can’t do it.  But I need to be able to, right?  I need to be able to meet with new people – recruiters, contacts, friends and tell them who I am, what I do.  I need to update my resume, have it sharp and to the point, work my LinkedIn connections.  Or who will hire me?  No one here knows me.

So I’ve been worrying about how to do this.  Worrying that I can’t, that I won’t do it right, or well enough.  I’m great at worrying.  I’ve been worrying that I have to fit in with THE WAY THINGS ARE DONE or I won’t get a job.

WRONG.

The thing I have learned, by coming halfway across the world, is that the way I operate at home, when I am just being me, works.  Of course.  I don’t have to be able to articulate my purpose beautifully, be able to sell myself.  I still want to work on doing these things, as I reckon they’ll be helpful.  But all the worrying about HAVING to?  Bollocks. My way works just as well here in NYC as it does in Melbourne.  No worrying needed.

So what I am actually reminded of is that I should always trust my gut.  Because I usually do what my gut says anyway, whilst all the while worrying that it is wrong.

Fxx

(All the folks reading this who are rolling their eyes, shaking their fists, supportively thinking “I told you so”, I know who you are.  And one day maybe I will believe you).

Teeny, tiny houses

Inside a tiny chapel!

Hmmm, time flies. I’ve been meaning to post some thoughts about the Tiny House Jamboree since we went to it 6 weeks ago in Colorado Springs. 6 weeks. Yikes! Since then we’ve travelled half way across the country (the second half of it) and visited three real life tiny houses en route. Seeing, and more importantly, going inside of, tiny houses alters one’s thinking slightly. So this blog post is a summary of my impressions from the Jamboree, and from getting to climb inside some tiny houses there. And from visiting tiny houses in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and also staying in a tiny, off-grid container house in Detroit, and also staying in a tiny loft in NYC. (Apologies for those reading who are not tiny house enthusiasts, regular programming will resume soon).

Tiny House Jamboree

Boulder, Friday. As I‘m clearing out my overfull inbox, some tiny house news catches my eye. A Tiny House Jamboree. Starting today. In Colorado Springs. Surely that’s in Colorado? Yes it is, about two hours south of Boulder. Let’s go!

The first annual Tiny House Jamboree ran for three days, and more than 40,000 people attended. It was free and promised more than 20 tiny houses to see, and a program of speakers. We only managed to get there for Sunday afternoon, so unfortunately didn’t hear very many of the speakers. There are some great reviews written by folks who did attend. Just search for Tiny House Jamboree to find them. Here are a few I like:

http://unboxedhouse.com/2015/08/jamboree-houses-part-one/

http://fynyth.blogspot.com/2015/08/1st-tiny-house-jamboree-wrap-up.html

http://silverbullettinyhouse.com/2015/08/21/meditations-on-the-1st-national-tiny-house-jamboree/

Queues were long :-(

The weekend left me thinking differently about the compromises needed in a tiny house.

Most of the tiny homes on display were from commercial builders – there are so many options from commercial builders here in the US compared with Australia. On paper, lots of the tiny houses look fabulous. But interestingly, when actually seeing them and climbing inside them, nearly all of the commercial Tinies didn’t feel very homely. Rather, they gave the impression of being (very nice) utility rooms. I think this was because most of their interior was taken up with the usual trappings of kitchen and bathroom, which then didn’t leave enough living space. I suspect commercial builders often design a ‘regular house’ on a smaller footprint – putting in the fundamentals (like standard size fridges, ovens, microwaves, sinks, big bathrooms, washing machines) of a house, and therefore compromising on liveability in the rest of the space. On paper these can appeal as we are accustomed to thinking they are important. But in practice I don’t think it works. The house still needs to be liveable – and so the compromises need to come from these things that we take for granted that we need. I think Selene’s outside shower design is a total winner in terms of compromising.

On the other hand, the owner designed and built homes, where people have customised to solve their own problems were just lovely. Not all were what I would do, but all worked for their owners. Things that stuck out to me were:

  • Living outside of the tiny house is very important – the ‘homiest’ houses had outside living areas separate from but set up around the house. A little deck, some plants. Alan and I have always been thinking along these lines, and it’s what we were trying to achieve with the van/horse float set up back home.
The outside space around this tiny made all the difference to how it felt. No need to be self-contained inside (unless maybe you live in Michigan).
  • I was reminded that not all functions may need to happen inside the tiny house. For example cooking outside with a barbecue, separate bath house block, etc.  If you’re not moving the house then a small collection of buildings would be a great option.
  • Stairs to a loft beat the ladders hands down. I have always thought I’d choose a ladder because it takes up less room and I’m young and fit enough to manage. But the reality of clambering up and down a ladder for a week in Detroit changed my mind. Yes it was totally doable, but the extra effort did take away from the liveability. The best stairs we saw had bookshelves and open shelf space
Best stairs I saw. I like ones with drawers too, but these helped give an open airy feel.
  • Tight lofts are unliveable – if you can only sit up in one end, or in the middle under the crest of the roof it really feels like you’re in a crawl space. Those dormer roofs, whilst tricky, are done for a reason. We saw loft beds and downstairs beds. Loft beds left more room downstairs, or allowed a smaller footprint, whereas downstairs beds crowded the floorspace, but did allowed a really airy feel. I think a tiny house for one person could get away with a well-incorporated downstairs bed, but for two people the separate space a loft provides would be really important.
This downstairs bed has another bed that pulls out above. Took up quite a lot of floorspace though. http://www.ggcdesigns.com/
This downstairs bed has another bed that pulls out above. Took up quite a lot of floorspace though. http://www.ggcdesigns.com/
  • The bathroom/kitchen side by side at one end under the loft is my preferred design. We saw a few slightly different combinations of this and whilst they each some pros and cons in their individual design, the thing they had in common was leaving an airy, open feel at the other end of the house. The more floorspace with height you can keep, the less cramped the house felt.
  • A side entry door helps to create a cosy living space. I think this is because it allows you to tuck the living space into one end of the house, and the loft/bathroom/kitchen into the other. We did see one design with the kitchen across one end and the bathroom at the other. The kitchen felt lovely and spacious, but it did compromise the living space a lot since it felt like you were perching in between the door, the kitchen and the bathroom. Houses with the door at the end felt a little too closed in for my liking.

Real tiny-housers

After the Jamboree I was really inspired to see a few more tiny houses and I realised how much I missed the building we had done before we left.  So I joined a facebook group called Tiny House People and enquired whether there was anyone living in or building tiny houses over the rest of our planned route through to NYC who would be willing to let us visit, maybe in exchange for help with building.  That was how we came to visit ‘Moose’, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and Rich, in Pennsylvania.  Neither of them wanted any help with their building, but they were pleased to see visitors.

Moose, so-called because studying moose is his calling, had been in his house only a few months, and technically it wasn’t quite finished yet (the heater is only going in as you read this, just in time for freezing Michigan fall temperatures).  I reckon moving in before totally finished is a great idea because you can get a feel for how you might actually want to finish it off – from practical experience rather than theory. The main things we learned from Moose were that his small bathroom and kitchen felt just right (an inch of headroom below the loft rafters is enough) and that if you build it, they will come – both figuratively, in the case of finding somewhere to both build and then to park his house, and literally, in the case of nosy passers-by who want to tour your house all the time.  (Moose assured us we didn’t fit into this category since we already knew all about tiny houses).

Moose’s outside living is minimal because he’s planning to move soon, but a small deck and chair still made all the difference.
Kitchen beside the bathroom setup (the best I reckon). Unfinished with plans evolving as Moose uses it.
Open stairs with different sized storage spaces.
Clever double-sided shelves accessed from the living room and from the bathroom. They are tucked in the space behind the fridge.
Moose’s loft is really nice. Headspace to sit up all the way across.

Rich had an even tinier camper on some land in central Pennsylvania, and a dream, fast becoming a plan, to drive it to Florida for the winter, returning north each summer, eventually with another slightly-larger-but-still-tiny house in each place.  A carpenter by trade, his house has cost him a grand total of $120, for nails and hinges, everything else was recycled and cleverly re-purposed from jobs.  The result is a beautifully crafted, unique tiny house that benefits from his skill, patience and attention-to-detail.  Recycled looks so much better than buying new materials.

Rich really did live outside most of the time. He’s also experimenting with a larger tiny house – that’s the frame you can see around the camper.

In Detroit we stayed in a converted shipping container.  It was a great space.  A major difference from other tinies was that the furniture was not built in.  This gave it quite a different feel to lots of tiny houses.  I liked it.

Loft bed. The interesting thing about it was that it was narrower at the foot than the head. Didn’t make a noticeable impact on sleeping. The ladder was annoying though. And if you do have a ladder, make sure you have flat rungs, not round.
Freestanding cupboards and benches worked really well.

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Here’s some other relevant tiny pics and links.

SimBLISSity were one of my favourite of the commercially built options.

Check out the chicken coop on the front of this tiny house!

Tiny House Expedition was the only non-commercial tiny we got to go inside (I think some of the others had left by Sunday afternoon).

Great shoe storage behind the door.
Good headroom in the loft.
Good headroom in the loft.

Canoeing in Canyonlands

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After a brief sojourn in Las Vegas, which both exhilarated and depressed me at the same time, we headed north to Utah and a date with a canoe on the Green River.  The Green River flows from the Wind River Range in Wyoming and wends it’s way south to meet the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon.  It’s been home to the Anasazi (think ruins high up in the cliffs), to Butch Cassidy and his gang (think bushrangers) and also the scene of a Burke-and-Wills-esque expedition by Powell, the first European to navigate the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869 (and who was such an atrocious leader that he was deserted by some of his team who could stand him no longer and quit the river to head north into Utah only to be killed by Mormons, Powell however made it).  Although this canoe trip had long been on our hit list, we’d only got around to booking the trip ten days before.  This is something of a novelty here, where trips (and campgrounds) are normally booked months and months in advance.  I realise how lucky we are to be able to travel this way, stringing together mini-trip after mini-trip, any one of which for others would be the focus of their year.  Blessed.

Petroglyphs

Rivers in the US are proper, wide, fast-flowing rivers, not the intermittent creeks and streams more common at home. In fact, from what I’ve seen so far, at least in the west, almost every town is on a river.  It’s easy to see how the density of towns and population are possible in this country – water supply everywhere.  By the time it hits Canyonlands NP the Green River is flowing at 8000 cubic feet per second (faster than usual since it’s been a wet year in Utah).  That equated to about 3 miles per hour.  As we soon discovered, this had the unexpected but rather pleasant effect of meaning that we didn’t actually need to paddle at all in order to cover our 15 miles per day.  In fact, there were other groups we passed on the river who were doing nothing but sitting in their boats and floating all day whilst they drank beer – could be the ultimate bogan camping trip!

We did paddle (well, a bit) because we also wanted to hike up some of the side canyons.  There were Anasazi houses and granaries to see, petroglyphs to discover, Butch Cassidy’s fort, an unexpected waterfall to cool us off; and amazing views to be had once we’d climbed out of the main canyon – although the river is actually two canyons deep, when we hiked up we were still looking up at more canyon walls.

Anasazi ruins
Anasazi ruins in the cliffs

20150719125652As some will know, I hate being dirty.  Have since I was a child.  (I know, I’m tarnishing my rugged outdoor image here). Since the reason canyons exist is because rocks and dirt are washed out of them, the Green River carries so much silt that it looks like coffee and your hands and feet disappear into it when you dip them in.  And when we swam in it we came out less sweaty but covered in gritty sand.  It was impossible not to get muddy feet (especially when Alan insisted on landing in side creeks that had quicksand-like properties and left us with mud to our calves) and I soon gave up trying.

Camping when canoeing is a bit of a luxury when compared to hiking.  Weight isn’t really an issue so as well as camp chairs we were also carrying an esky.  Bliss to be able to have cold beer in such hot weather.  Campsites were wherever we could find a place – sometimes on sand banks/islands rising from the river, sometimes on rock ledges up above it.  There was much arguing about where to camp – Alan keen to be on the sand banks, which were often muddy, me keen to be up on the rocks and out of the dirt.  Often the river moving so quickly that after a minute or two of discussion the question became moot as we were carried along and had to start looking for the next promising site.

Sandy campsite

The Green River finally meets the Colorado River at a place called Spanish Bottom.  Downstream from here the Colorado becomes a more serious whitewater river trip that although long on my wish list to do, does require booking long in advance, and would also necessitate a group trip, of which we are not fond.  Whilst we’d been driven in to the start of the trip, there’s no road access to Spanish Bottom so we departed in style, collected by a jet boat, our canoes loaded above us, whisked upstream on the Colorado back to Moab.

Canoes loaded up top
The meeting of the Green River with the Colorado

Postcard from Sequoia NP

In a box at home I have a postcard.  In fact I have quite a few postcards but this is a particular favourite that I used to daydream over when I was young.  I like to think it was sent by my well-travelled Nan, but memory being the tricky beast that it is I guess it could have come from another travelling friend or relative.  It was of a small, blonde girl, in a blue dress, standing in front of giant California redwood tree. In my imagination it was me.

Finally it is me!

Meet Astrid

Meet Astrid, our ’98 Chevy Astro Van.  She’s a little beauty.  Alan is a wee bit in love with her.  After we got her we spent a couple of days in Jon & Tam’s driveway in Palo Alto, tricking her out with some storage and a sleeping platform (including our first ikea hack).

We scoured Craigslist for weeks looking for just the right car to go roadtripping in.  I was dreaming of a wood-panel sided station wagon a-la Brady Bunch, but they just weren’t big enough (or reliable enough).  Or a VW Vanagon, but they were a bit pricey.  Or a Subaru Forester, but they seemed too same-same as home.  Or a big campervan, but they have V8 engines and would eat gas.  We’d never heard of a Chevy Astro until we saw one drive by.

When it came down to it we spent three days looking at Astros until we found Astrid.  I mostly picked her because I liked the 4’10” Mexican lady with four kids who’d bought her as her first car when she moved here and driven her for nine years (nearly all the Astros on Craigslist were being sold by Mexicans).  Alan mostly picked her because she looks a bit mean.  And of course she was purdy and had many bells and whistles and (almost) all her parts.

Astrid ticks all the boxes…

American – for authenticity, as in ‘drove my Chevy to the levy’.

Big, but not too big – V6 to get us over the high mountain passes, but not too much of a gas-guzzler.  (Turns out we’re getting almost 20 miles to the gallon, and she’s actually shorter than a people mover although at 7’2” we have to watch it when we park her under cover).

Can sleep inside – very important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the ability to stealth camp when necessary/practical.  She’ll come in handy when we sleep in a Walmart carpark (it’s a thing here and I have a hankering to try it) and in order to bush camp on Bureau of Land Management lands, as well as #vanlife ‘overnight parking’ which is allowed in some states.  Also, many RV parks don’t have tent sites, and we’re finding that those that do can sell out fast.  Astrid lets us camp on a concrete slab if we need to.

Comes with TV and VHS.  I didn’t even realise this was on the list, but it really tickles Alan’s fancy, and I think is the thing he loves most about her.  Even though the TV doesn’t work because it’s too old to get digital reception, and we have no videos to play in it.  In fact, Jon was most enthusiastic about taking out the TV and mounting an iPad in it’s place, but that is a step too far for Alan.  I reckon we’ll get to journey’s end without having used the TV at all!

One might think that the first thing to do after buying a car is to register it?  Maybe service it?  But no!  The first thing to do is kit out the inside for sleeping and camping!  Luckily Jon & Tam’s driveway is wide and vacant.  We spent a day building a platform in the back, pulling out one row of seats and some seatbelts, hacking a support for it from Ikea furniture and rigging a removable sleeping platform.  Lucky we had a lot of practice before we left home, and lucky Home Depot cut wood to size – although there was still a lot of hand sawing to be done.

With this important work completed we turned to bureaucracy.  One of the difficulties with buying a car can be registering it (for which a social security number and an address is needed, tick) and insuring it (many insurance companies won’t insure you on a foreign license).  If I’m moving here for good and should therefore act like I mean it, and since you can only drive legally on a foreign license for up to 3 months, it seemed prudent to get myself a Californian drivers license.

There were three challenges to this.
1. When you come to the USA, any electronic history that could do you any favours ceases to exist.  I’m sure that anything incriminating follows you around, but as far as credit ratings and driver licenses – zap!  It’s like you just turned 18 again.  So, despite having driven for the past 26 years, I found myself having to sit a written road rules test and also doing a behind-the-wheel test.
2. Getting an appointment can be half the battle.  The San Francisco office had waits of 6 weeks, and the Palo Alto office had waits of 3 weeks.  So it became a game of where-are-the-small-town-DMV-offices-that-are-remotely-near-where-we-might-want-to-be?  After a couple of false starts, I ended up with one appointment in San Jose where we registered her and I sat the written test, and then a second (bookable only after you have passed said written test) two days later in a town we had never heard of, called Visalia (chosen purely because it was en route to Bakersfield and had a timeslot).  We ended up seeing more of Visalia than we hoped, but more on that later.
3. One must bring a car that is roadworthy.  Awesome as Astrid is, she is not technically roadworthy due to her very attractive windscreen chip and also a busted side mirror (since fixed).  So we hired another Yaris to do the dirty work.

I want to say that I passed both tests with flying colours.  But I just scraped through the written test due to not studying the section on fines combined with my general confusedness around line markings (yellow, white, dotted, double, eek!)  I did ace the behind-the-wheel test though.  I managed to stop at all the right lines and only lost marks for things that are habits learnt of driving on the left (like checking over my left shoulder too much and my right not enough) and for driving too slow because the speed limit signs blend in to the roadside too much (hello? heard of red paint here?).

Something we discovered is that despite Americans being proud of how well their cars are looked after, generally speaking, this seems to mean they’re washed often, and the oil is changed.  But anything more – forget about it.  Astrid had a very impressive sheaf of papers for her service history – but turns out nothing but oil had been done for 9 years.  We were worried that we were losing coolant, an important consideration when about to drive across desert in 104 degrees, so whilst we were in Visalia and had a hire car for the day we decided to get her checked out.  Turns out the cooling system was cactus.  Leaking gaskets, faulty water pump, busted thermostat, dodgy radiator, the works.  The good news was that everything else was OK.  So we ended up getting a whole cooling system overhaul, spending half again what we paid for her and having three days with the Yaris (luckily Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs were close by) before finally getting her on the road.

And now we’ve roadtripped her through to Moab and we’re snug as a bug inside her while it rains outside.  It’s just a like a lounge room, red wine and all.  She’s running great.  65 miles seems to be her top speed, after that she gets a good shudder going and rocks around quite a lot.  The engine will handle it, but the suspension won’t!  But it’s a fine top speed for us, although it does mean we’re often doing 15 miles less than the rest of the traffic, and also the google maps arrival time estimates never pan out.  She does need a new tire/tyre so we might get an alignment too and see if that helps her out.  A superb side effect of having the engine pulled apart was that the drivers’ side air conditioning, previously cactus, is now working.  Thank goodness, I was dreading the desert without air con.  If only the TV worked…

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Yosemite

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Dirt under my fingernails.  This is the worst thing about not showering for almost a week.  Although, for a week of camping, hiking and swimming in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, I guess it’s worth it!  But let me start over…

Arriving into San Francisco was humbling.  Flying over the suburbs of a new city I’m always struck by how ‘same’ the world is.  Why do I leave Melbourne to come to another big city, filled with more people, all working to pay for their material things?  All these people on the other side of the world, just doing the same thing as the people at home.  I’m reminded that what I am trying to escape, to find, when I travel is myself.  And I’m still with me!

The generosity of friends meant that we had use of an apartment in the Lower Haight – very central, and very cool (thanks J and V).  And thank goodness.  Jetlag and the culture shock of not knowing how anything works always zonks me for about a week.  It was so lovely not to add to that the pressure of expensive accommodation and no internet to our days (I am resigned to the fact that internet is pretty damn important to my way of life now).

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In San Fran we took it pretty easy – hanging out in local cafes (I may be the only Melbournian who actually likes American coffee), lots of walking through the new-and-yet-strangely-familiar streets, catching the Muni up and down (didn’t manage to catch the tram from Melbourne, although we rode on ones from Milan, Lisbon, Philadelphia), realising how big the city is even though it looks kinda small on the map, visiting the Castro (to see the rainbow-coloured crosswalks), Haight-Ashbury’s hippie shops and street festival, Alamo Square (disappointing as the houses weren’t nearly as colourful as in pictures [link to Jannie’s pic]), cycling through the parks and over the Golden Gate Bridge (windy).   The Presidio park is home to a number of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculptures and I was pretty happy to see these in real life.

Traveller, or immigrant?  I feel torn between being a tourist, and the thought that, actually, we might stay here.  I can stay here. How will that work out?  I’m finding it difficult to play both roles.  As well as playing the tourist we have begun to navigate the bureaucracy of living here – bank accounts, a credit record, drivers license, car purchase and registration.  I am not sure whether the bureaucracy here is worse than at home, or whether it’s just that I don’t understand it.  Either way, it is driving me mad.

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Despite being told to keep my social security card safe at home, that I would only be required to quote the number (both the USCIS and Janet told me this), the bank wanted to see it in order to open a resident’s account.  Not because they need to see it, but because it’s so new, and has not much activity.  And the DMV want to see it in order that I get my California driver’s license.  Since my card was stored so safely (!) at J&V’s place that I could not find it, I opened a non-resident alien bank account for now but the delights of sitting my drivers’ license written test, and taking an actual driving test on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD still await.  The good news is that I did find a company who will insure our yet-to-be-purchased car without me having a local license.  Yippee!  Alan is giving Craigslist a workout as I type.  I am dreaming of this.

The June gloom meant that the days were cool and foggy, not quite the summer we had been expecting.  That changed pretty soon though.  We hired a car (like this) for 10 days and headed out of San Francisco and straight to the hills.  The big, beautiful, granite ‘hills’ of Yosemite National Park.  It was sunny and warm and perfect.  And the hills were 9000 feet high with snow on them.  And it was still sunny and warm and perfect.

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20150620111725Being summer, it was ridiculously busy.  The campsite reservations book out months in advance, as do a lot of the backcountry walk permits and the gold Wonka tickets themselves – permits to climb Half Dome (only 300 of these are available per day and they go fast).  But, there is a quota reserved for ‘walk ups’, on a first-come first-served basis.  Get into camp before lunchtime and you should be able to score a site, queue for 2 hours the day before your hike and you might be able to score a backcountry permit.  This caused us great angst on our trip in – would we or wouldn’t we have somewhere to sleep, were we prepared to queue despite our anathaema about queuing for anything, what was our back up plan?  In spite, or perhaps because, of our worrying we easily got a campsite – we’re not quite in peak season yet.  And, when we went to the Wilderness Office about 4pm we discovered that there were still permits available for our chosen hike starting the next day (no queuing necessary), and, something I hadn’t even entertained, we could add on a permit to climb half dome.  Plus we were entitled to cheap camping the night before and after our hike.  Score!

So w20150619154734e walked for three sublime days (OK, two and a half as we spent the afternoon of the first day lazing around a perfect alpine lake and being eaten by mosquitos) from Tuolomne Meadows, at a height of 8000 feet, up over Clouds Rest and Half Dome at nearly 10,000 feet, down to the valley floor at 4000 feet.  Yes, I am glad we walked down rather than up, but that descending was hell on the thigh muscles!  We were struck by the lack of snow.  At this time of year there should still be quite a lot about, but California is into it’s fourth year of drought (the news here is filled with reports of water-saving initiatives – oh so familiar) and the snowpack is scanty – the iconic Bridal Veil Falls was reduced to a slight mist of water that had almost blown away before it reached the end of it’s long drop and a stream without water meant we had to make a three hour backtrack for water – the longest water run either of us have undertaken.

20150621084935The water run was needed so that we could camp high up on the north east shoulder of half dome in order that we might get onto the cables to the summit before the crowds of day hikers arrived and the climb becomes something of a slow upwards shuffle.  Our ploy worked and after a glorious night camped on our own (!) overlooking an amazing granite-filled valley 4000 feet below us we were climbing by 8am.  The climb to the summit is quite something.  45 degrees most of the way up, the granite is slick from so many feet and despite best intentions we found ourselves hauling our weight up the cables using our arms (climbing tip 101: legs have more power and tire less easily).  Exhausting, especially in the thin mountain air.  The trip down, by contrast, was dead easy.  In Europe this would be a ‘via ferrata’ route that requires wearing a safety harness and clipping to a cable for safety, but here there is only my strength and balance preventing a long slide down the mountain.  And yet there are many less fit than I on this route.  In fact, they are also almost all younger than I, and almost all dressed in the same outfit of brightly coloured, running clothes.  It’s kinda like being in a gym.

20150622130602In other news, we saw a bear!

I have been quite concerned about bears, and to Alan’s eternal amusement most diligent with bear-proofing our food each night.  We had to carry a bear canister whilst hiking (all food goes in it and it goes 50ft away from the tent) and use food lockers in campsites.  I imagined the bear fronting up to us for food and ripping into our bags and tent (which can and does happen).  But this cub was minding it’s own business and foraging happily in the bushes near the backpacker campsite.  So cute and cuddly-looking.

My crush on Yosemite began 20 years ago – it was love at first sight when I saw an Ansel Adams picture on a friend’s wall.   It’s a little bittersweet to realise that if I had come here 10 years ago I would have been climbing the rock faces rather than hiking the trails.  There’s a sense of regret that I never made it during that stage of my life, but who knows what comes next?  I might just have to get my rack out of storage for next time!  But first, I’m off to have a shower to get that dirt out.

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