Friday, 25 September 2015

The final leg

The last leg of our journey was a solid 1100 miles taking in the last of the Rockies followed by a long slog across the Great Plains of eastern Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma before finally arriving in Arkansas.
The Atlantic side of America....

From Rocky Mountain we decided to take the scenic route through the mountains rather than heading through Denver. We took a long loop south west of the city through a lot of the high level skiing towns of Colorado. The landscape and buildings reminded me rather a lot of Europe actually, towns even seemed like a town in Europe! I could even imagine not having to drive between shops as is usually necessary in America due to the ridiculous geographic size of even the smallest of towns. Once again the mountains here are spectacular and the drive was like an activity in itself. I think I'm gonna call Colorado as my second favourite state after Oregon so far!

The highlight was reaching Hoosier pass over the Rockies, marking the continental divide between the Pacific and Atlantic sides of America. Watching the sun go down over everything we had travelled through was a nice end to the Pacific part of my summer. It was also a pretty impressive reminder that despite having come so far there was still so much more of this colossal country to discover. 
True to form we drove on late into the night. Finding a campsite was hard, it was becoming late in the season and a lot of places were closed. We eventually found a quiet forestry road in some national forest and started heading up the dirt road to find a quiet spot and sleep. Several miles up this road out into the wilderness, we discovered a giant map of the area which revealed an actual campsite only two miles up the road!
Colorado is way too cool for mains water! 

 So we ended up spending the night in a small national forest campsite with an incredibly strange and very deaf man acting as the campsite host. After an incredibly awkward and confusing conversation we got a spot and cooked our emergency meal of tinned soup and pasta. It  actually wasn't too bad, we were pleasantly surprised after putting off eating it for about a week. A particularly amusing aspect of this campsite was the seriously old school metal hand pump which we had to use in order to get water. I felt like a proper frontiersman after that! 
The all american road food!

The next morning we quickly stopped at Florissant Fossil Beds. This is a national monument featuring the fossilised stumps of ancient redwood trees from when the now dry valley was lush and green millions of years ago. The fossils were formed after a giant mud flow from a nearby volcano obliterated everything in its path, apart from the giant redwood trees. Their stumps were buried in debris and entombed until the present day. Although it does sound a little boring, the stumps were pretty impressive, especially in their raw size. It was definitely possible to imagine the valley forested thanks to the many stumps scattered around the valley. Perhaps not worth going really far out of your way for but definitely worth a stop. 
The aptly named 'big stump' at Florrisant

On leaving Florissant we set our sat nav for Grandad’s house in Arkansas. 950 miles, 14.5 hours. 
It was lining up to be a dull 24 hours for us as we knew the famously featureless flatness of Kansas and Oklahoma was hardly going to be inspirational. 
True to expectations, as soon as we came down from the Rockies we saw nothing interesting for hours until nightfall. Just endless expanses of grass and very very straight interstate. 
Another road sunset in Kansas

As the sun started to set the horizon in front of us went from sunny to a solid wall of very dark cloud. After the very dramatic sunset over Kansas we could see there was a ridiculous amount of lightning on the horizon. After five hours on the road Alex pulled over to swap so I could take over the driving. While at this rest stop we noticed there was a radio broadcast playing. The general theme of it was “severe weather warning, half dollar sized hailstones, damage to properties and vehicles, stay inside”. Not feeling overly keen about the idea of driving in that we checked the weather map to see what was going on. 
The rather ominous looking storm.

We were on the edge of it, the Lightning was coming from that same storm. It was moving SE at 40mph. The same direction as we were. We bravely decided that we didn't fancy driving anywhere near anything with half dollar sized hailstones so we had a rest, cooked up some dinner in the shelter of the van and waited for the storm to pass. After a couple of hours I took over the driving and set off into the night. There was some pretty heavy rain but we managed to avoid any mega hail. Eventually giving up at 2am just over the border into Oklahoma. One of the quirks of night driving in Kansas is the synchronised flashing lights on top of the thousands of wind turbines. Every few seconds they light up your entire field of view with hundreds of tiny red lights. It's actually rather pretty. It took us a long time to work out what the hell they were! 
Cooking up some dinner as the storm passed ahead.

After an uncomfortable night sleeping across the front seats to avoid having to unpack the boards we soldiered on into the final leg of the journey. The last few hours were reasonably uneventful. We hit the Arkansas border in the early afternoon. Immediately the barren grasslands gave way to the lush green forest of the Ouachita mountains. Other southern delights such as the ever amusing message boards outside the millions of churches kept us amused. I think my personal favourite was “take the bread of Christ, or toast in hell”. 

Just ten miles from Grandad's house, Lizzy hit 166000 miles, that was the mark for me having driven 10,000 miles in one short summer. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Mountain lake swimming: Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain

Our next stop was the slightly less well known, but still spectacular, Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons are a sheer wall of mountains in Wyoming so tall that they are snow-capped even in September. At their base is a system of crystal clear lakes making for some impressive hiking and trekking opportunities. Unfortunately we could only spend one day there so we opted to take a hike.
On asking the lady in the visitor centre what she would recommend, she replied with “do you have bear spray?” the answer was no. “hmmmmm, (pause) there’s just the two of you? (long pause) … you might want to make a lot of noise.” After these kind words of encouragement we headed off to the hills to do some exploring!
The lake with the Tetons as a backdrop.

The route we chose was only short but took in a few different lakes and some incredible mountain views. The water was still and the colours deep green and blue, it looked so tropical we were tempted to swim, but then reminded ourselves how cold the water actually is here! Yet again we managed to escape the bears of death although at one point resorted to banging sticks together to make noise so as not to alarm them!

Grand Teton is epic but I think it’s necessary to take a trek of several days to really get amongst the wild areas high in the mountains. Unfortunately time was not on our side, with 1500 miles to Arkansas we needed to make some more headway.

That evening we drove until gone midnight through Wyoming until sleeping in a rest stop just inside Colorado. Our target was the next mountainous wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain is home to the highest continuous paved road in America. As we had come to expect from national parks the scenery is utterly insane! Once again we went for a hike, with no real plan we wandered around the many trails Bear Lake. More dramatic mountains and icy lakes were the order of the day. Some trails were narrow and clinging to cliff edges and the views were some of the most spectacular yet.

Ever since our walk in Grand Teton, Alex had been itching to go for a swim in a mountain lake. Unfortunately Bear lake is out of bounds for swimming so we had to climb up into the high valleys to find somewhere suitable. We eventually settled on one and after climbing over a massive glacial boulder field to get to the water’s edge we were ready for action. Due in part to the presence of a glacier in the valley above, I wasn’t feeling fantastically keen, so eager beaver Alex went first. After a lot of faffing he eventually committed, and dove in. It seems it was even colder than expected as he was back out almost immediately!
Alex taking the icy plunge.

There is a rule between brothers that states if your brother does something stupid, you are honour bound to follow. So off came the shorts and in only my boxers I was ready for action! As I hit the water I thought my heart had leapt out my chest. It was so insanely cold, I could hardly even breathe and pounded the short distance to the rock Alex was on. In the desperation to get out of the water I even managed to cut my leg on the rock. Only I now realised the lapse in judgment we had made, swimming to the rock meant we had to get back in the horrific water to return to land. In addition, before I climbed out of the water I hadn’t appreciated how windy it was on this lake. The wind on my bare skin made it feel like I was having the life sucked out of my very core, my skin all over was actually hurting from the cold. Eventually I manned the hell up and swam back the rock we started on. I have never got dressed so quick in my entire life! Even with all my clothes on and once again hiking uphill it took about half an hour before my skin stopped itching from the cold.

After another night where we managed to nab the last camping spot in the park we started the drive on the ‘highest continuous paved road in America’. Even by the lofty standards set by American National Parks the view was ridiculous. The road takes you all the way above the tree line up to over 12,000 ft, steep drops into mountain valleys, snow capped mountains and small glaciers were common features of this insane landscape.
The highest continous road in America,
it even somehow fixed the engine warning light!
Once at the top we embarked on a quest to spot an animal called a pika. Partly due to the enthusiasm of Sara, my uni housemate, for small furry animals and especially the pika, we wanted to at least claim we had seen one. After a short hike and around twenty minutes of starting at an inanimate rock pile we spotted a very small fluffy blob running around between the boulders. Pika ticked off the list!
Spot the Pika!

On reaching the bottom of the road it was decision time. Drive direct to Arkansas or devise some kind of scenic route? No prizes for guessing which we chose….

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


When we were little, Alex and I watched a lot of animal programmes on TV. Yellowstone was always in them and as a result we’ve been eager to go there for as long as I can remember.
Obligatory selfie at the top of Mount Washburn

One of the colourful hot springs in Yellowstone.

This trip we finally got to do it, get in touch with our inner children again and see some big animals!
We accidentally managed to time it so were arriving on the Friday night of Labor day weekend public holiday. This meant the park was going to be rather busy for the duration of our stay. We managed to luck out however and snuck into one of the last camping spots in the park at about eight at night. Even just on the drive to the campsite we saw herds of Elk and Bison right up to the road with the infamous Yellowstone traffic jams as everyone rushes to pull over and get out their cameras.
Getting rather close to some bison. 

Upon arrival we were subjected to our first of many lectures on bear proof camping. In areas around the park the bears are such an issue that tents are not allowed at some campsites as the bears will get into them searching for food. Everything with an odour has to be put in the bear proof boxes dotted around the campsite. This was a little worrying for us as we hadn’t showered for a few days and it’s safe to say that there were more than a few odours coming from our little mobile home…
The waterfall in the canyon of the Yellowstone river. 

Fortunately we didn’t get eaten by bears and the next day we embarked on our journey across Yellowstone. The park is massive, with winding roads and infinite things to see it takes all day to drive across it.
Some classic Yellowstone scenery.

 Our first stop was the famous geyser ‘Old Faithful’ so called because it erupts at regular intervals making it possible to time your visit to coincide with one. The rangers predict the eruption times to within ten minutes with a 90% accuracy. Alex and I didn’t find this out until we noticed a large crowd gathered around a rather quiet little puddle and went to see what the fuss was about. By accident we ended up being there at the right time! What happened next took us somewhat by surprise. We had already seen the other little geysers nearby and they resembled a poorly controlled pot of pasta. When old faithful goes off it’s massive, a 30-40ft plume of boiling water and steam lasting for a whole two minutes. With the crowd oohing and ahhing in time, it’s geology as a spectator sport.
Old faithful going big!

The surrounding few acres are full of hot springs and smaller geysers. The colours inside them are amazing. The different temperatures of water bubbling up from the ground support different forms of microscopic life each with a different shade. The hottest areas are light blue, the coldest are brown with a whole spectrum of colours in between reflecting the temperature gradients. The pools are a dazzling display of colour with deep holes disappearing down into the earth’s crust, through which the superheated water rises in bubbling plooms. The whole place has the strong smell of sulphur seeping through the ground from the volcanic activity deep below within this supervolcano.
One of the eerie bottomless pools,
showing the colour/temperature variation.

Our next stop was the Lamar valley in the northern section of the park, famous for being the best place to see the predators of Yellowstone. The rolling forested hills in the southern section give way to open grassland in the steep sided valleys of the northern section. This makes it easier to spot the large herds of bison as well as the bears and wolves that we were looking for. We didn’t see any wolves but we did see a bear on the other side of the valley.
Here's the bear from Mount Washburn.

The scenery in Yellowstone is incredible, high mountains, gorges, valleys, open grassland and Yellowstone lake. Driving through it is breathtaking. That night we found ourselves outside the park as the campgrounds were full. We headed a little way up the scenic beartooth highway before we found a small national forest campground to stay in. It was extremely beary, this was one of the places where only solid sided camping was allowed as the bears rip open tents. Also being no longer in the National Park there was a different calibre of tourist here. People go to national parks to see nature and enjoy it. It seems people go to national forests to shoot at it or tear around it on dune buggies and quads. Our minivan felt rather small compared to the enormous, jacked up and camouflaged pickups belonging to the other campers!
Cooking breakfast in bear country.

Yet again we survived the night, neither being eaten by bears nor shot by hillbillies. Today we decided to climb the largest peak in Yellowstone National Park, Mount Washburn. The view stretches from the northern mountains in Montana all the way to the peaks of Grand Teton national Park 100 miles to the south. It was a solid 1500 ft elevation gain to the top. The trail was great and it wasn’t a particularly tough walk. It took a long time though as once again the views were so ridiculous that I felt compelled to stop and take photos at every corner of the path. 
On our way up Mount Washburn.

Along with the ever amusing squirrels we came really close to a black bear on the way back down. We were within 40m of it. He seemed quite happy rummaging around in the forest and eventually he trundled off into the forest. We were pleased to see that not all bears are tent slashing maniacs after all!

It was Elk rutting season so the males were
antlered to the max.
For our final night in Yellowstone we managed to sneak into the last space in the good, less beary campground, it seems that they put the full signs up even when they still have space. If you don’t try, you’ll never know!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Beginning!

The second chapter of my America trip is a proper cross country road trip with my brother Alex, from Oregon to the Southern state of Arkansas to visit our Grandad who lives there.
Team Page ready to go!

For this we have changed Lizzie from coast going windsurf van into a cross country cruiser to sleep both of us. When we’re doing a long drive we put the kit inside and when we are sleeping or spending time at a place of interest we put it on the roof for some space to live. We have two beds, one on the floor and one on the bench seats we have arranged longitudinally down the car. It’s actually pretty hospitable as long as the temperature isn’t too high.
Cooking some pancakes outside Craters of the Moon

We got hold of the cheapest propane burner we could and after a trip to a thrift shop we were fully equipped with all the pans, pots and utensils we would need for some basic cooking.
Alex landed at 8:30 at night, I picked him up and we drove straight out to the coast, after spending all summer here it seemed a shame not to show him. His first jet lagged night was spent in the car in a car park outside a supermarket in Lincoln City. I got a bit worried when a Policeman came to ask what we were doing but he turned out to be reasonable, after we unleashed some British charm he let us stay.
Whoever made this sign has not been to Cornwall.

 Our destination for the next day was the whale watching town of Depoe Bay. Unfortunately the swell from the storm was preventing any boats from getting out of the harbour. I wasn’t feeling confident we would see any as I’d only seen one whale in all the time I’d spent at the coast. More than a little disappointed we started heading south on the 101 to see some of the rest of Oregon’s coast.
I wasn't surprised to hear that no boats were going out that day...

 However on the way out of town we spotted a couple of whale spouts just off the shore and it turned out to be about five whales feeding just off some rocks! We hung around trying to take photos for the next half hour. A tricky task when you have no idea where the whale is going to surface next! After several failed attempts with videos and photos of water where a whale was, we got lucky and managed to catch one!

After much effort we managed to get this very low quality shot of a whale!

The rest of the day was spent exploring the coast between Depoe bay and Florence, with a trip to the outrageously touristy “Sealion Caves”  which is apparently the largest sea cave in the United States and the second largest in the world. This section of coast is one of my favourite on the 101 with sheer drops, rugged headlands and some incredible views right from the road.
Heceta Lighthouse north of Florence. 

After our brief foray out to the coast we headed back through Portland and Hood River heading East toward Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. This made our second whole day a solid drive all the way across the extremely boring landscape of eastern Oregon and Idaho. We eventually gave up and went to sleep at some kind of historic waypoint off a small highway in Idaho.
You know you're a long way from Portland when you see this. 

The sun setting behind us in Idaho.

In the morning we woke to find we had actually camped right next to a massive lava field on the edge of Craters of the Moon National Park. This came as a bit of a surprise as for some reason I had imagined a valley was next to us, not a solid wall of black rock.
Our camping spot for the night.

Craters of the Moon was a nice place to spend the morning to break up the driving, especially after doing over 600 miles the previous day! It is the previous location of the geological hotspot that is now located under Yellowstone. It’s a large lava field in the middle of bleak, arid nothingness in Idaho. With some sizeable lava cones and craters to explore above ground, it also has accessible lava tubes underground that you can crawl or walk around in.
Alex and I climbing Cinder cone, the biggest volcanic cone at
Craters of the Moon. 
Alex surveying the lava enormous lava field. 

 The caves vary from large halls, hundreds of metres long, to small caverns to explore with a torch on your hands and knees. One of the interesting features here is the tree moulds. Apparently when lava from the eruptions was running through a grove of trees the moisture from the doomed plants was enough to cool the lava and solidify it. This created impressions in the rocks exactly mirroring the surface of the bark. There is also a little animal life to have a look at too, with some amusing squirrels and chipmunks running around!
Indian cave, the largest of the lava tubes.

Lava formations at Craters of the Moon.

After a morning of exploring we pushed on through the barren wasteland of Southern Idaho aiming to reach the much more interesting Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming by evening. 
Typically bleak driving in Idaho

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The First Storm

My time on the Oregon coast has come to an end. The first south westerly storm has just ripped through the coastal forest, signalling the beginning of the end for the summer North Westerly winds. However there is still a lot of sailing to be had here and I’m sure the local guys will score it big as the first of the winter swells start to hit in September.

I’ve had a ridiculous summer, the best waves I’ve ever windsurfed, the best jumping I’ve ever had. I certainly feel like I’ve been sailing at level that is new for me and I’ve had an absolutely awesome time. I learnt to surf, sharing the water with seals, sea lions, porpoises and a grey whale in the process. I lived in my car and drove an average of 1000 miles a week. I certainly got the adventure I was searching for!

Reminding me who's boss...
The incredible Cape Sebastian.
(Photos by Jason Diffin)

I think it is that sense of adventure that has set this summer apart from the other windsurfing trips I have done. I’ve been to windy places for a long time before but this is by far and away my favourite. The way you have to chase the wind up and down the coast here, the rough camping, the insane scenery, just sets it at a different level of excitement to the other places I’ve been. Testament to how much I enjoyed it is how I wasn’t even too bothered when there was no wind because there is pretty much always somewhere to surf, or something else to do. The spots at the coast are almost never busy. The sailors, and even the surfers (mostly) are friendly, and seem totally stoked to have someone visiting their patch from so far away. The rugged coastline and the inquisitive animals make it feel totally wild. I definitely have a sense of being just a visitor to the ocean here that I just don’t get anywhere else. At first it is a little intimidating but after a while you get used to it and it’s a very big part of what makes this place so special to me.

Jumping session at the rock. 

As much as I would love to stay, it’s time for me to start my journey home. But true to form I’m not going there directly. My brother Alex is here and we are embarking on a 2500 mile road trip to visit our Grandad in the southern state of Arkansas. We’re planning to take a couple of weeks and take in some of the land based wonders of this spectacular country. I’ll write some updates about that as it unfolds.
Alex and I at the coast. 

My elective has gone better than I ever could have hoped for. I’ve met so many people and they’ve all been totally awesome. I can honestly say there is no way I could have done what I have without the support of everyone who has helped me along the way. From Cristin letting me stay and lending me a vehicle in the first few days to Scott helping me break into my own car at Pistol River. Steve and Susie in Gold Beach for letting me do my laundry, shower and sleep in a bed after another weekend of camping at the beach. Anna Rohden, Wyatt Miller and the windance house for letting me stay during my stints in Hood River. Jason Diffin, Dana Miller and an unknown surfer in Florence for lending me an extension, a boom and a leash to get me back out there when it all went wrong. Leo for helping carry my gear back after I broke my boom at pistol and had a half mile walk into forty knots of driving sand. Dana, Trudy and Jason for the awesome photos which made this blog more than a series of boring GoPro selfies.Tom for the camping chair. Of course RRD UK, Whiteboarders and Spot on Water for the gear, including the luxurious boardbag that was my bed for the vast majority of the summer! 

Me starting to make a little bit of sense of surfing.
(Photo by Dana Miller/Boardhead International)

Most of all I’d like to thank Jeff Albright. Before I arrived I was just someone who got hold of his email through a friend. He welcomed me, helped me get on my feet, gave me lifts to the beach, a place to stay, various free meals, endless advice on where to go sailing or surfing, gave me an American driving lesson, lent me a surfboard to learn on (which got slightly run over by a car, sooo sorry about that…) As well as being my mentor for the medical attachment here, he truly made me feel like family. I don’t think there’s anything I can do or say to thank him enough for everything he has done for me. The guy is awesome, if you ever need an ACL repair or a knee replacement, he's your man! 
Jeff and I after our awesome Jetty session.