Lost it All - Still the Best 10 Days of My Life: My Trip West (1 Viewer)

superphoenix

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Gather 'round the bonfire, because this story will take a while to tell. Good for a read if you're waiting.

I need to kill some time while waiting for my train, so I thought I'd take a little time to tell you about my journey out West last year.

Note: This story will have some West/East Coast generalizations, which have just been my experience
---------
I was hanging out with my former boss the year prior, and she said I would be a great companion to take on a backpacking trip.

"Don't put the idea in my head, because I'll do it," I said.

We figured we didn't want to see the Midwest or the South, so we would have to go out West. We decided to, within 10 days, hit up Lake Tahoe, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

And then I opened a map and saw how far those places actually are from each other.

To make matters worse, she was starting to lose contact. I decided I would go on my own, and I would have a great time. The one place I did decide to still reach was Lake Tahoe, as my friend's father called that his favorite place in the US, and because Mark Twain had ventured out there. As I rode the airport shuttle to catch my flight to Reno, all I knew was that with nothing booked or planned, I had no idea what the next 10 days would hold.

While I was at the airport, I made a decent-sized book sale and had added a few hundred to my bank rather than near-zero, so now I could splurge on things like a budget motel and a few Uber Pools rather than camping out in the woods and walking everywhere.

A word of advice for flying into Reno: don't. The plane goes over the mountains which sends the plane into a wave of turbulence, and people around you start screaming which freaks you out. It might be fun for the kind of person who likes roller coasters, but I'm not that kind of person.

Immediately off the plane, the first thing I noticed was slots. I left the airport and got a cab out to downtown Reno, hoping to see the town. I tried to find a nice parking garage to sleep in, but not before seeing a casino and dropping a $5 into a paper shredder (aka slot machine). While I was in the casino, security accosted me and asked to see my ID. They said people weren't allowed to be here with large bags (a policy after the recent Vegas shooting) and the guy looked at my ID and said "You're a long ways from home."

It was time to find a better spot. I popped onto a few other parking garages until I finally found a spot I wanted - it had a raised helicopter launchpad that I could sleep under, so nobody would bother me. The desert area was chilly and the birds were loud, but I managed to sleep, and the next day I caught a bus back to the airport, which had a shuttle bus to Lake Tahoe.

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When I got to Lake Tahoe, I checked into a motel for 3 days and decided to explore my area. I saw some hill to my side and immediately thought to climb them. Apparently, there's a funicular (?) to reach the top of that near-mountain, but it costs around 40-50 bucks, and I could climb for free. I walked up a sloping road, so high that I could see the lake from there, and it seemed like the highest point in the world, except that there was a ridge ahead of me. I climbed up and enjoyed the view, and at the other end of the lake, I saw an even taller mountain with snow on it (keep in mind this was almost June) and I decided THAT was the one to climb tomorrow.



On the way down, a dude hiking with his dog offered me a hit of weed from his vape - a welcome entrance to the West Coast and a tempting offer, but I had to get down with full control of my body, given how far down it was.

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The next day, I walked about a mile miles to Stateline, the spot on the CA/NV border, and found a bike rental shop that let me get a bike all day for around 40 bucks. I rode out to that area, known as Mt. Tallac, but because it had been cold at night and I had been on the road, I started getting sick, and I had to stop every mile or so to spit my phlegm out. I cycled to an entrance, tied my bike to a tree, and started up the mountain. I knew I had to return to the bike shop by a certain time, and I paced myself accordingly. At some point, I had gone off trail and instead of ascending at a gentle 20 degree slope, like most hiking trails, I was walking up a suicidally steep cliff, probably around 70 degrees (I later learned that this was off-trail and a very bad idea). There's a spot in my state called Breakneck Ridge, and this route made that look easy by comparison. I clung to weeds by their roots and dug my hands into rocks, but 90% of the way up the mountain, I decided it wasn't worth dying for and it would take too much time to reach the top. I slid down the side carefully, trying to make my way back. I had gotten lost and gone off-trail, so it took me a little while to pick up the route back to my bike. Finally, I returned to my bike and wheeled back to the shop.

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The next day, I was tired and still sick - not much to report. I did, however, go to a farmer's market to pick up fruit and rent a kayak to row out onto the frigid lake. Most of the day was spent recovering and relaxing.

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The day after, I opened a map and found the nearest city - Sacramento - and decided that's where I was going. I took a bus out there and crossed through a beautiful forest before finally arriving in Sac. I put my clothes in a laundromat, went to get food, and went to bathe in the Sacramento River on this 90-degree day. I returned and my clothes were all still there. It was time to get a drink somewhere. I looked up bars with a pool table, one place I feel comfortable behind, and walked up into the bar hollering with excitement. Everyone glared at me. There was a comedy show going on, and I had interrupted it by using the front entrance rather than the back. I slunk back, embarrassed, to the back of the building, and stuck around for the show. I was probably supposed to pay for it, but oh well. Then I decided to find someplace else with a crowd my age, and a club seemed like a decent place to go. However, I remembered the scene of the Reno security guard eyeing my bag suspiciously, so I decided to drop my stuff off in a residential dumpster where no one would get to it (or so I thought).
This place was where I saw friendliness that didn't exist elsewhere in my travels. People (including girls) were going up to ME and BEING INTERESTED IN WHAT I HAD TO SAY?!? To someone who's grown up in the biggest East coast city, this is a shock. Normally, you don't stop to talk to someone unless absolutely necessary, because there's always the guard up that they have other intentions or are trying to sell you something, but nope, none of that here. On top of that, the drinks were less than half the price I was used to paying back home (I had to ask the bartender to repeat himself to make sure he wasn't fucking with me). This place was pretty sweet.

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I ended up spending the night at a girl's place, and when I told her I dropped my stuff off in a dumpster, she asked if I wanted to get it.

"Nah," I said. I judged it would be fine in the morning. For all its faults, nobody on the East Coast has ever taken my bags when I just dumped them somewhere.

The next morning, I went to the dumpster and saw the damage: the bag was missing and my other bag had been ripped up completely by what seemed like a knife - the thief only left my socks and underwear.

This was horrible: I had lost my large bag, sleeping bag, two cameras, my passport, my keys, my glasses, my jacket, a nice thermos, and, I'm sure, multiple other things I'm forgetting at the moment. (If you're the person who stole it, fuck you, but also, at least put it to good use).

I only had my phone and wallet, which I smartly stuffed in my pockets. That would be enough to rebuild my life.

The first step was to get a charger for my phone, and then I took the light rail to Walmart to piece my life together. Bought a backpack, sleeping bag, and other stuff for only 60 dollars. I shaved in the bathroom to make myself presentable for catching a ride. I forgot to remove the backpack tag, so security accosted me until they figured I hadn't stolen anything. I made a sign asking to go East on highway 80, but it was too hot (100 degrees) and I wasn't asking in the right places, so I took an hour and a half break. Then, after waiting for 20 minutes, I got a ride to Roseville by this guy named David around my age - his cousins were petrified in the car and wouldn't say anything but I was making conversation.

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I got dropped off at another spot by the highway and met a black trainhopper named Jarvis, and I said I'd join him wherever we went. He gave me 20 bucks and bought me food. Stellar guy.

We went to a Japanese spot, a huge step above the fast food in the area, and talked a lot. Finally, after a looong walk, we reached Roseville yard. A Eugene, OR bound train came by but it was picking up speed and I didn't feel like hopping over two fences with my heavy pack to catch it. We ended up finding an open boxcar, jamming it shut with wood and a metal pipe, and camping out inside. A guy named Troll came by with his dog Rosaline, and shined a light into the train. We thought it was a worker at first, but instead it was Troll being loud and carrying excessively heavy bags. Troll was very noisy and I worried about him blowing up our spot. He ran out and asked workers for water, and asked where the train was going. At this point it was near midnight. Apparently the train was headed to maybe Medford, which apparently sucks. One moment, Troll got off the train to pee and the next minute, the train rolled by at around 15 miles an hour downhill, picking up incredible speed, and all of Troll's stuff (including his dog) was in there as our train rolled South. Eventually it slowed and stopped, and Troll wasn't far behind, probably running alongside it all the while. For the rest of the night, the train ferried in and out of the yard but didn't end up anywhere, and somehow I was able to sleep through it. Noticing that the train wasn't going anywhere, Jarvis and I walked through the yard. The Sunday night vs Monday morning yard was a world of contrast in terms of activity. Having gone nowhere for the night, I bought a Scamtrak ticket to Salt Lake, as I couldn't just wait even longer for a train going nowhere.

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When I got to Salt Lake around 3 a.m., I hit a deli for some food and the woman told me to be careful around here.

"I'm from Brooklyn," I said. "Nothing here is worse than what I've dealt with."

"Mmhmm," the woman agreed. She was from a rough part of Chicago. "Never mind, then. This is kitty town."

She told me where I could find a shelter, but I didn't want to sleep in a place anybody could fuck with me, so I climbed onto some bricks a camped out on the rooftop of a CrossFit building. It was actually brilliant - who would be suspicious of someone climbing by a gym?

The next morning, I found an easier way to climb down, via some metal pipes, and I found another bike rental spot. I was hoping to see the lake, but apparently it was a good distance from the actual city.

Let me just say that I've biked through about a dozen states, and no spot has been less bike friendly than the part of Utah I went through. Drivers cut me off to spite me, and one dude gave me the finger just because. Still, I wasn't going to let these Christian values get in the way of my good time. I cycled 20 miles through red dusty roads that smelled industrial, but it was worth it when I finally reached the lake.

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A couple of takaways: This was the warmest water I had ever been in, the shallowest water I had ever been in (the line never passed my hips, even though I'd walked half a mile out), the saltiest water I'd ever been in (my eyebrows were later covered in salt), and there were tons of tiny gnat-like insects buzzing by the lake.

I biked back to the shop, making it there just 2 minutes after the store closed,and returned the bike. Then I walked around to see more of the city (and as usual, stopped by places where I could write while charging my phone). Finally, I ended up by a beautiful building inside a spot called Madison Square Park. Some guy came up to me and
asked if I knew what the building was called. I wasn't sure. We talked for a bit and learned we were both traveling to some degree - he was moving all his stuff from Portland to Houston. He needed company on his long ride, and I needed a ride. We exchanged number and told him that if I didn't get to catch out in the morning, as was the plan, he could drive me partway with him as we both wanted to head east. That next morning from the roof of the CrossFit building, he called me and I took his ride offer. We drove for 11 hours through the red rocks of Utah and the greenery of Colorado. Finally, he dropped me off in Grand Junction, where I hoped to hitch north to Denver. I flew a sign and got a ride within five minutes, and by a woman traveling alone! (Note from more experienced future self: This isn't as rare as you think it is).

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When I reached Denver, a thunderstorm was clearing up and I reached a building I heard had easy roof access. 100 feet above the heart of downtown Denver, watching purple clouds shoot lightning at the distant mountains, it all made me realize that the work I chased at home, the material gains, even social media presence was all vanity. The true value of everything was the beautiful connections with people we formed along the way. Life was beautiful.

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My plane left from Reno in a few days, so I decided I would take Amtrak back to make it in time. I boarded the train and saw the beautiful scenery of a beautiful state. Then, the train chased the Nevada desert and I was back in Reno. With a few hours to kill, I went into the "mountains", which were really just a series of hills behind some subdivisions that were under construction. I looked out at the city from this height and saw the planes flying around. It had been a good adventure, but now it was time to head home.
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superphoenix

superphoenix

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Sucks to hear you lost your stuff that time. Hope your back on track now! An entertaining story!
Yeah, I had a shitty minimum wage job that summer for a short while after but I saved up and eventually got enough money to replace all my gear with even better stuff. Plus, I got better work shortly after complaining to my friend's and I got to quit early. Sometimes it's good to complain!
 
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superphoenix

superphoenix

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Loved your story and the pics!

Next time don't stash your gear by dumpsters!

Look for a wooded area away from trails and people traffic to stash your stuff!

Again, nice story!
I've learned the hard way. No wooded areas around, but I'm sure I would've found somewhere better if I had just looked. Maybe next time up a tree - no crackhead is going to risk breaking their bones for a backpack.
 
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