East to West
Day 1. Massillon, Ohio
The streets were uncomfortably quiet as we began piling the last of our belongings into the car. The residents of our Brooklyn neighborhood were sound asleep and cozy in their beds as the sun still laid beneath the horizon. In a few hours they would awake for work. They would grab $1 coffee at the local bodega, climb on the L train, and with the sand still in their eyes they would enter Manhattan.
We were leaving them and our neighborhood behind. Along with it, our careers, our amazing apartment, an awesome neighborhood, and most of all, a group of friends that felt like family. This flooded our minds as we packed our entire life into my Caliber that would take us clear across the Country. With full hearts and wet eyes we said our goodbyes to our friend and roommate, Dani. I slid the key into the ignition, and with a turn, the car fired its pistons. We were two explorers ready for take off. The radio came on and "I'm on Fire" by Bruce Springsteen filled our ears drums. As the tires of the car spun away from our apartment, we were unsure of the decision we were making. We were not about to embark on a whole new chapter of our lives, but a whole new book. We drove through Manhattan past all the skyscrapers that seemed to reach the clouds. We crossed over bridges, underpasses and through tunnels. Soon enough the architectural giants built by man turned into golden fields and lush orchards of trees created by time. We were on our way to the California coast, unsure of what laid ahead.
We traveled on through Pennsylvania and landed in the suburbs of Massillon, Ohio. There, Anthony's cousin Angie put us up for the night. For a day, we lived a cultured suburban life of steaks, beer, and children playing in the front yard. We laid our heads down for the night and knew there was not a $1 bodega coffee waiting for us in the morning. The future seemed uncertain but full of adventure.
Day 2. Berrien springs, Michigan
We drove along the Michigan and Indiana border for about 5 hours. We were at the start of middle of America. We continued on as explorers, lost in a sea of corn and cow fields with no life in site. Somehow in our minds, it felt like this was just another weekend trip, and we would return to Brooklyn. The thought of how awful it would be to unload everything from the car and back up into the apartment made our skin crawl. The local stations became the soundtrack to our movie, changing with every mile we drove. Sometimes a station would go out and the static of the radio would fill the car, as the endless corn fields entranced us.
Finally we made it to our island of refuge. We bumped down a dirt road and watched trees dotted with apples pass by us. We drove over the little hill, our camp laid at the foot of three huge trees that towered at the top of a small valley. It was there, nestled in the greenery and among the apple trees where we would sleep for the night. After a few minutes our hosts came rolling down the slope on a tractor bearing firewood and a watermelon. There were three men, sun-beaten and sweaty from their long day of work. They wished us happy camping and disappeared back into the trees. We walked up and down several rows of apple tress as the the sunset began to light the tree tops on fire with a vibrant orange.
The sun disappeared, and the night took its hold on the temperature. We stoked our fire hot and cooked soup over the red flames. The stars filled the sky and the whisky warmed our bones. We nestled into our tent as the temperature dropped to 35 degrees that night. Cold from the air and warm from the whisky, we were happy to be under the stars. We were exactly where we were supposed to be.
Day 3. South Bend, Indiana
Every weekend Notre Dame was the topic of conversation between me and my grandfather, Johnny Wonderful. Maybe it was his Irish guilt or Irish pride, but either way, he was a life long fan. My grandfather has been watching and following The Fighting Irish closely since the 40's. Now at 87 years old he has never made it to a home game. Maybe it was a bit of Irish luck, but we just so happened to be driving through South Bend on the first day of the season. As an ambassador of Irish luck and my beloved grandfather we went to see a truly breathtaking experience.
Our seats were in the end zone, opposite the famous tunnel. The energy in that stadium was unlike any other I've experienced. I'm a Notre Dame fan by default, but these people live and breathe it. Indiana is a state that hangs the flag of Notre Dame football high and proud. The energy and roar of the crowd was contagious. Their passion and motivation filled our lungs with shouts of encouragement. I phoned my grandfather during the game so that he could hear the roar of the crowd. He could not be there physically but in spirt, he filled the stands. Notre Dame was no match for Temple. We extinguished the air from our lungs until there was no air left. In celebration we followed the green mob of drunken college students over to a local pub down the street. A few beers down and an uber back to our La Quinta, we were ready to put a little more distance between us and the home we left behind.
Day 4. Mt. Morris, Wisconsin
It was 4:30pm when we pulled up to our next campsite, an animal sanctuary in the midwest. We pulled up to the 20' x 40' gate in the forest far away from any sign of civilization. Scared and confused as it opened like the gates of Jurassic Park I stared at True with a look of disapproval. We passed through a first and a second gate, of the same size. As both doors closed behind us, I looked at True and said, "just so you know we are locked in here for the night." We pulled further in and were told to pull over. Our camping gear needed to be shuttled down to where we were staying. I soon realized we were not in an animal sanctuary, but a game ranch.
A game ranch is a place where animals are raised for hunting, like cattle. Our road trip took a turn. We had landed in a place we would normally never be conformable in. We had confused feelings of what hunting should be or was supposed to be. What eating meat meant or should mean. Tony was our "concierge" of the game ranch and gave us a tour. He spoke so highly of the animals, the land, and what it meant to him to be part of it all. He was young, and full of wisdom beyond his years. We shared whisky by the fire and talked for hours until the embers burned out.
Feelings aside Tony was one of my favorite people I met along the road. I'm almost certain he could see two confused individuals in the midst of a moral dilemma. Either way he took us under his wing and showed us something we have never seen and almost certainly will never see again.
Day 5. Eau Claire, Wisconsin
People from Wisconsin love Wisconsin. To be born and bred in Wisconsin is to have the love of the State in your veins. It is probably what keeps Green Bay Packers fans alive in -23 degree weather. If Wisconsians love anything more then being 55 degrees below the freezing point of water, it is summer on the lake. We were lucky enough to spend our one day of summer on the lake with our our good friend Spencer Wells. His parents live at the water's edge on Lake Altoona.
When we arrived Spencer greeted us under a warm mid-western sun wearing a silky Packers Hawaiian shirt. He welcomed us with open arms, fine Wisconsin cheese, and cold beer. We threw our bags down on the futon and headed straight for the boathouse. We jumped onto the boat with gleeful anticipation and headed out to open water. We tore up the Lake with an inner-tube and a rope. We rode three at a time, and held on to each other with a death grip as the inertia of the turns tried to rip us off the rubber tube. Soon our arms became weak, and we sounded the alarm to head back to shore. Upon our landing, Spencer wanted to show us the epitome of a Wisconsin summer...rope swings. We took off in his parents' car like sophomores on summer break and headed to the local rope swing hang out.
We turned onto a residential street and parked at a cal de sac. We followed a pathway through the woods that led us to some cliffs that hung out over a lake. We didn't expect to see anyone, but we surely we weren't alone. There were twenty or so high school kids all crowded around the rope swings. They all screamed and hollered as 15 year old kids front flipped off 20 foot cliffs into the water. We stood there intimidated by the gathering of the lord of the flies. Our fearless leader, Spencer, would not be out done by a gang of young kids, who legally could not drive a car after 9pm without the presence of an adult. We walked around to the other side where we could feel we weren't being judged by a gaggle of middle schoolers. Feeling old and outshone by the young group we found the perfect rope hanging from a tree that sprawled out into the calm water. To us, the rope was a time machine, and with one swing we were propelled into the past as our bodies hit the ice cold water. With our stomaches full again, our descent into summer's past had a little gas left in the tank of the DeLorean.
Our next stop along the time line was a house show produced by Spencer's brother, Eric. The fee for this projection into the past was $5 at the door. We walked up the stairs to a small neon-lit apartment that, for one night served as a music venue. It had been a long time since either of us had been to a house party. We listened to Eric's set and as he rapped and rhymed, his fans danced and drank along with every beat. After the set we made our way down the street to the local dive "The Joynt", where you could get a miller high life for $1.50. Glowing beer signs and old dusty black and white photos covered the walls. The musty smell of years of college students binge drinking saturated the air. There we played pool until our eyes could no longer bare to stay open. We took a cab back to the house. Our skin was tender from a day in the summer sun, and our bodies fell tired from a life on the lake. That night, we slept better than any other night on the road. Our eyes closed and our minds drifted as soon as our heads hit the pillows.
Day 6. Palisades State Park, South Dakota
We drove by seas of soys bean fields on our way to Palisades State Park in South Dakota. The vibrant green of the soy beans met the bright radiant blue of the sky. It seemed if you set out into the field you would never return and be lost for the rest of time. Our long drive eventually led us to the small town of Garretson, South Dakota. The town boasted a population of just a little over 1,000 people. We were officially in the middle of nowhere. Nestled next to this small town was the perfect little camping spot that hugged the rivers edge. We pitched our 4’x6’ nylon home and decided to go for small hike. We followed a rocky path along the river. We walked under the shade from the canopy of the trees that towered over our heads. Soon we found ourselves in open air. The sunlight warmed our faces and we took it with admiration. The green trees that surrounded us were replaced with three feet of lavish golden grass that swayed in the fresh breeze. Across the water we could see beautiful red red rock boulders. They protruded from the earth, and hung over the water like prehistoric creatures ready to take dip in fresh water of the rolling stream.
Our stomachs roared with hunger so we headed back to camp. We lit the fire as the sun began to hide behind the tree line. We threw the cast irons over the fire and prepared a hot and hearty chili accompanied by rich buttery toast sprinkled with garlic powder. It was a full moon that night, the stars seemed so bright that they lit the forest beneath them. We sat by the flames until they turned to coals. We drank whiskey to fight off the frigid air and listened to the rushing water thought the trees. We connected with the environment that surrounded us and bettered from it.
Day 7. Spearfish, South Dakota
Still in South Dakota, we set off to cross the state to Spearfish. We continued on through the endless ocean of soy bean fields. These strange and uncharted lands became stranger as we witnessed a palace made of corn, and life sized sculpture of a titanosaurus. After around 200 billboards told us Wall Drug was coming, we were longing to see what all the excessive advertisements were all about. There we stared in astonishment watching retirees “ooo” and “ahh” at the stuffed buffalo and cheap western paraphernalia the lined the store windows. That day, we were one of the tourists mindlessly heading from one tourist trap to the next. Our road led us from the Crazy Horse monument to Mount Rushmore. We looked, took some photos, and raced out as fast as we came in.
Finally we made it to our end destination. In true South Dakota fashion we would be laying under the stars in a tipi. This tipi was outfitted with all the luxuries of the modern world. Complete with warm blankets, a mattress, and a comforter. Our hosts Brad and Lynn greeted us with open arms. They were two people who truly enjoyed the company of strangers. It was a nice change from the almost seven years of trying to avoid the eight million people that flooded the streets of NYC. We were far away from the noise and bustle of the city. We were half way through and slowly realizing that this was now our reality. As the sounds of crickets soothed us to sleep we drifted off staring at the moonlit canvas of the tipi.
Day 8/9. Bozeman, Montana
We continued west to Big Sky, Montana. Well into the heart of the mountains, we had forgotten the images of infinite stretches of green soy. We found ourselves in astonishment of mountain peaks that touched the clouds. With our backs stiff from the ground, our finger nails dirty, and our minds exhausted, we treated ourselves to two nights in a modern guest house. The warm shower seemed to rejuvenate our tired spirits while cleaning off soot and dirt from nights of sleeping outside. We settled into our soft bed that wrapped around us like a mother swaddling a newborn.
The next day was spent biking to town and weaving through windy roads as mountains in the distance slowly crawled by. The rest of our day was spent hiking the trails behind our guest house. The trail gave us an infinite number of views while it snaked its way through the trees and fields of our hypothetical backyard. One could not simply be there and not entertain the idea of living out the rest of your days there. To sip coffee every morning and watch the sun rise beyond the mountains seemed simple enough. But alas it was time to continue on to our West Coast dream. After all there was more to see, more to experience, and a lot of ground to cover.
Day 10. Victor, Idaho
Yellowstone was one of our biggest stops. Being there connects you to something greater and bigger than you have ever experienced. It is a land forgotten in time, unscathed by man and our need for destruction. We felt it in our bodies when we looked out at its bubbling gysers, grazing bison, and raging streams filled to the brim with trout. The evergreen trees in the distance bled into the brilliant blues, oranges, and browns created from the sulfur springs. At some point, we had to rip ourselves away from the vast and alluring landscape and continue on with Yellowstone at our backs.
We soon noticed the Grand Tetons to our right. The Grand Tetons are living breathing giants frozen into the horizon. They took all the air from our lungs, which made us realize how truly small we were in the shadows of their enormity. We remained speechless as we drove past these natural wonders and headed to our next bed for the night.
We ended up on a cattle ranch in Idaho, a small town called Victor. The nicest couple lived there with their three sons. We weren't the only guests though. Our neighbors were four young people from Thailand. So there we sat for the night drinking beer next to the fire, with a cattle rancher and his son, and four people from Thailand, in the middle of Idaho. As the sky turned black and the sparks of the flames blended in with stars, our new Thai friends picked up the guitar. They began entertaining us with traditional Thai songs. There are moments in life when you are in a moment and think, “this is special”. That was with out a doubt one of those moments. We laughed and sung our way through the night and couldn’t imagine what was in store for us next on the road.
Day 11. Salt Lake City, Utah
That morning we zipped up our toasty glamping tent and set out into the misty morning. Come noon time, we approached valley where a crystal blue lake laid. We were at the foot of purple mountains, yet for a moment I was back on the beaches of The Bahamas. We stumbled upon a Caribbean oasis. In no time we threw on our bathing suits and took a dip in the chilly water. I wrestled with the pebbles between my toes beneath the water. I felt the sun warming up my back and shoulders. We floated on the water's surface, thankful for experiencing this gem of a lake. With our suits drying out in the back of the car, we drove straight to Salt Lake City where we were due for dinner with Pete and Kelley, our family friends.
We pulled our bug-bombed car into their driveway alongside a handful of other cars. We could hear chatter and laughter inside the house and were excited to be around people again. We swung open the door and walked into what smelled like a Thanksgiving dinner. Sure enough Kelley had a turkey roasting in the oven and we couldn't wait to dive into a home cooked meal. The afternoon was filled with full plates, football, then full bellies, and more full plates. My system must have been shocked by all the fixings when, for the last ten days, we'd been eating like scavengers. Our food comas led us into a deep sleep that night. At an early rise the next morning, we jumped in the car with Pete, surfboards hanging out the back. We cruised through more red rock to a reservoir. there wasn't a sole on the water, which was a first for me. The water looked like glass and the wind hadn't picked up for the day yet. According to Pete, this made for perfect surfing conditions. His boat was waiting for us at the dock, begging to go out. At the a precise speed, the boat curled up the perfect waves. Anthony and I traded our sweatshirts for life jackets and took turns surfing the wake of the boat. The wave created by the boat pushed us along the water, creating a feeling of freedom like no other. Not too fast, not too slow, just the perfect formula to surf that wave until our legs gave out.
Day 12. Beaver, Utah
Several people along the trip mentioned a place called the Valley of Goblins. It was made out to be a must see. Without thinking too long about it, we marked it as a pit stop on our route. With the windows down we cruised further south. I watched the land scape become more and more rocky. We climbed mountainous roads to find desert wastelands on the other side. The freeway became a two-lane road where we'd only see a car every half hour or so. In the near distance, I could see mushroom-shaped towers of all heights impaling the horizon line.
At last we were inside the state park and pulled up to a look out point. We hopped out of the car and breathed in the dry heat. At the edge of the look out point, were thousands of red rock pinnacles. It looked like the underbelly of Mars. The sunlight hit them harshly which created sharp shadows and shapes that we got lost in. I climbed to the top of a shard rock formation and gazed over the smaller rock formations. To the west I could see the Caliber and dreamed of seeing all the way past it to the California Coast. I thought about how I had once stood beneath the skyscrapers of New York and that in that moment, I was standing taller than the desert's towers.
Day 13. Zion, Utah
It was Tuesday morning and the last adventure day of this two week journey. We sped down to Zion National Park with every intention to hike the Narrows. We had been dreaming of this upriver trek even back in Brooklyn. At the base of the national park we found little shop where we ordered some sandwiches for the big hike. The young girl behind the counter handed over gallon sized ziplock bags that incased our pastrami and chips. I appreciated their effort to aid against soggy sandwiches. Out the door and up the road, we entered an overcrowded parking lot.
Navigating through there was like playing real life Tetris. When we had driven so far, the last thing we wanted to do was battle for a parking spot. Eventually with a little luck, we pulled into a spot and got our backpacks and cameras organized. Map in hand, we found our way to the shuttle. Shuttles have never thrilled us, but if we wanted to get the hike, we had to endure a cattle ride up the canyon. For the duration of the ride, we looked up and out the windows at the sharp rocks towering over us. We took note of all the other hiking trails and thought that next time we would try some of the other more difficult trails. Maybe when we didn't have half our life waiting for us in the car. Delighted to be rid of the shuttle crowd, we hopped off and headed straight for the trail. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the river. The water level was up to our thighs, yet still we sloshed our way up the river for about two hours. The current felt stronger at times and what seemed to be shallow ground suddenly plummeted one or two feet deeper. Luckily neither of our camera's were submerged. We came to a sharp curve in the river where golden light poured from around the corner. We stopped there to have our lunch and watched the other hikers pass by. We admired how agile some of the hikers were and hope one day we would be as experienced and geared up as they were. We turned back after lunch for we wanted to get to our friend Dallin's family cabin before nightfall. It was about an hour outside of Zion.
The cabin rested at the top of a birch tree forest with views of white and dark green. We stood on the balcony and looked down the valley and smirked when we heard the occasional holler of the cows down below. We grilled up some Italian sausages quickly and washed it all down with ice cold beers as the sun set over the ridge. The cabin didn't have any electricity, so as the skies grew darker, we pulled out the lanterns and spent the evening playing monopoly in front of the fireplace. The flames danced until they didn't and by that time, we were fast asleep on the eve of our arrival to California.
Day 14. California at last
It’s difficult to write this and not feel like it’s a break up letter with New York. The lives we lived in New York gave us both so much. It gave us our relationship, our amazing friends, our careers, and of course this journal, Pine and Palm. As we sit here writing this story outside of a coffee shop in the California sunshine it’s hard not to love where we are. But deep down there will always be a place for New York in our hearts and we will always crave its electric energy. For now it’s the coast we crave, along with our passion to always be outdoors. We started Pine and Palm a little over a year ago. I think it’s pretty safe to say we never new our adventure would take us clear across the country. But with a smile on both of our faces we are sure glad it did.
With love from California,
Pine and Palm