I took off from my parents house at ten in the morning with a heartfelt goodbye and a few laughs at the way a goodbye always plays out between mom, dad, and me.
The running joke is mom’s tears; they’re on standby to be launched into action from the moment she gets out of bed on a day that I’m leaving. Sometimes there’s nothing much to do in a situation but laugh at the silliness of it all, of love turning a person into a smiling, sniffling, blubbery mess. Saying goodbye is often one of those times.
First, a quick pit stop in Cartersville, to snag a picture of Brandon and me. Then, off towards Crossville, Tennessee. It’s not exactly in the direction I’d planned on going; The end destination is Bishop, California. But the only style of climbing in Bishop is bouldering, and I’m planning on sticking myself there for quite a few months. It would be best to grab a boulder pad. Alan offered me a boulder pad for fifty bucks, back in November. I landed in Alan and Kaylee’s driveway mid-afternoon that day. Four hours or so on the road.
Alan was already out front of the house when I arrived. He was wearing a welding cap with his fuzzy, golden hair sticking out on all sides. He had grown his facial hair out a bit as well. It was now some sort of a goatee with wings traveling up his jawline. His look reminded me of Judd Omen, the guy who played Mickey in “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure.” He was wearing matching jeans and jean jacket with a pair of tan boots and black square-cut glasses. We said hi, hugged, and joked about the flip-flop of my appearance and his. A month and a half ago, he was clean-shaven with a tolerable haircut and I was scraggly with a year’s worth of hair and beard. Now, he’s looking like he crawled out of a cave somewhere and I could pass as working in a cubicle in some metropolitan high-rise.
Kaylee came out of the house shortly thereafter, giving her “hey it’s been a while and good to see your face” speech with her usual comical enthusiasm and zest. The speech trailed off as she started digging through a pile of stuff on the floor in the front hallway of the house, standing up at last to present me with an obligatory bag of goodies. Every time I visit their house, I leave with all sorts of odd food items. Kaylee’s mother collects food like Jay Leno collects automobiles, which is great and all, but I don’t think there are very many people with a detailed interest in items such as granulated sugar and steel-cut oats. But apparently I have a disturbing amount of interest in both of those items, because Kaylee was ever so sweet to (forcefully) offer them to me as she stood up from the pile of stuff in the hallway. All three of us laughed as we were reminded of the times past where she has gifted me with similarly unique foodstuffs.
We sat around and caught up on events which happened over the past month and a half, did some slacklining, and went inside for pizza. Then Alan suggested him and I head up to the climbing gym in Crossville for a bit of bouldering. Two hours went by as we bouldered, me reminding myself what it felt like to hold on to things, as the last time I climbed was before Thanksgiving. When we returned to the house, it was dark outside.
Kaylee had spent the past two hours cleaning their van. She had electronic music blasting out of it. Alan and I had been listening to EDM while climbing, so we were delightfully in an EDM mood when we got to the house. I went inside to grab a beer and when I came back out, their front yard had turned into a sweet rave party! Alan had put a funky, multicolored light-emitting disco ball in front of the house, shining various colors all over the white wood siding and the trees surrounding the yard. Kaylee brought out her light-up hula hoop, and I pulled out my poi. We danced, drank beers, and laughed at stories until around nine, then shut things down and went inside to watch a climbing movie and play the new Grand Theft Auto.
That night was the first night I slept in Dumbo in forty days. It was raining outside, the weather was cool but comfortable, and I slept like a log. As much as I’ve enjoyed the luxuries and creature comforts of living in houses over the past while, I went to sleep with a solid smile on my face. I’m glad to be back home.
All of us woke up the following morning and drank coffee in the living room for the first few hours of the day. It was raining off and on outside, with temperatures in the muggy sixties. Alan was supposed to start work that afternoon, but his job kept him on standby. Around eleven, he started firing off ideas of things to do for the day.
“Wanna go climbing? Tieranny wall is prolly dry.” He glanced at me, waiting for a reply.
“What part of Tieranny? The spot with all the tens?” I hadn’t climbed in a month. I wasn’t about to go big on the first day back. Tens would be more than okay with me.
“Yeah, all of that stuff. Unless it starts pouring, it’ll all be dry.”
“I’m down for climbing then. Let’s do it.”
Kaylee overheard our conversation from downstairs and began yelling up to us. “What are you boys scheming without me?”
“We’re going climbing!” Alan yelled back.
“No. Alan, look at the weather. It’s going to rain. We aren’t going there if it is going to rain. I don’t wanna be stuck out in the rain. What about caving?” said Kaylee.
Alan looked at me. “I’ve never been caving,” I admitted. I was excited to climb, but I was a bit more excited to go wander in the depths of a cave and be dry in a temperate fifty nine degrees all afternoon. That had a slightly better ring to it. After a bit of discussion, we agreed on going caving.
We arrived at the cave shortly after noon. The woods leading up to the cave reminded me of being in Scotland, with all of the damp fog, soaked ground, and low sunlight. Although I have to admit, I’ve never been to Scotland. But if I went, I think that the woods would look exactly like it. The only thing it was missing were the random people in plaid gowns or overalls walking aimlessly between the trees wearing plastic smiling bunny masks.
So we crawled in this cave. We spent a total of nine hours crawling in this cave. We brought plenty of booze in case we got lost; a rope and some climbing gear, for rescue missions; and a little bit of food and water in case we ran out of booze. Most of the time in the cave was as you’d expect: wandering with no direction in mind, while commenting random thoughts all the way along. We stopped in one cavern for an hour or so to do some bouldering. The ceiling and floor were about six feet apart, and the ceiling was littered with holds dangling from it like gigantic globs of hardened snot. Everything was a hold, and there was tons of stuff to work with. The idea was passed around to come back to that spot with food for a few days and a boulder pad, living in the cave and bouldering. I couldn’t imagine staying underground for long enough to forget the rhythm of day and night.
We finally emerged from the cave around 2100, exhausted and covered in dirt. It wasn’t raining any longer, and the air was warm and welcoming. The drive back to the house was a bit quieter than the drive there, and once we got back, it wasn’t long before we were all sound asleep.
I spent half of the following day prancing around on a slackline with Alan in front of their house as Kaylee did womanly things, like stacking firewood. Around noon, we said our goodbyes. I jumped in Dumbo after one last check for stray items I might have left behind, then hit the road. I didn’t exactly know where I wanted to go next. I mean, I know that the end goal is to get to Bishop, spend some more time hanging around Morgean, and try out this “job” thing that so many people find utterly irresistible for reasons they insist on keeping a secret. But Bishop is on the other side of the country. Why speed across the country and miss potential cool things on the drive over? Baby steps. For now, I would jump on highway 40 and head west. The rest will gladly be left up to fate.
I remember the first day I was driving north on Oregon’s highway 101. There were two grungy, backwoods fellows wearing packs that survived the Vietnam war. One of them was short and stocky, the other tall and lanky. Typical male duo in action. The short one held a sign made out of cardboard. I could read the sign, but by then it was too late. I was already pulling over to the side of the road.
That was the first time I picked up hitchhikers. Then, I did it because I felt it was essential to preserve the tradition which rides with VW buses, whether from the hippie generation or beyond. I wasn’t going to be that dick who drove right on past, watching the faces of those on the road as they thought to themselves “well, I guess hippies really are a thing of the past now.” As I turned onto highway 40 this morning and began my trek westward, Jason locked his sights on me as he sat in the chilly air, holding a sign which read “WEST?” I don’t pick up hitchhikers because the hippies did it anymore. Now, I’ve realized why the hippies did it, because I do it for the same reason.