Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Chelan to Portland

Wow, what a day.

I wrote the previous post in the morning at my new friends' house. I said goodbye to two of them who were at home, then walked a few blocks to the cafe to say goodbye to the one who was working there. Then I walked to the highway heading west out of Chelan.

I waited about 20 minutes for my first ride. An older man picked me up, and he said he used to drive the Stehekin ferry for 5 years. He'd just gotten back from a trip to Alaska. Living in Costa Rica for 8 years was a highlight of his life. He never enjoyed staying put for too long so he traveled often.

He went a bit out of his way, west of Wenatchee, to put me on the right highway where I could hitch toward Seattle. I stood here for about an hour; it was hot, dry, and smoky from the fire near Leavenworth.

I got picked up, for the first time, by a mom with two kids in the back seat, 7 and 5. They saw me hitching when they stopped to have a picnic, and I was still standing there when they left, so they decided to give me a ride. They were great, I really liked her parenting style and the kids were pretty funny sometimes. She was involved in biochem research at UW. They had camped in Chelan. We stopped at Snoqualmie Pass for a bathroom break and I went and chatted with a few of the PCT hikers who were hanging out there.

I got off at hwy 18, where I thought I'd make a left turn and avoid going into downtown Seattle. I felt a bit tired. I went into the woods next to the shoulder for a while - instant invisibility. I relaxed there and probably ate some food, and looked at my route options for hitching from there.

Back at the highway, I held out my thumb and within 2 minutes someone pulled over. He was a construction worker, a Latino guy living in Kent, who has 4 kids. He told me a couple stories of times his car broke down and he needed rides from strangers. So he didn't understand why people would think hitching was somehow wrong. What was cool was that we fully accepted each other's choices though our lives were so different.

I asked to be dropped off in Covington, and this turned out to be a bad move on my part because hitchhiking was prohibited on the onramp (for good reason, as there was not enough room for it to be safe). I tried to get a ride next to the right-turn-lane leading to the onramp, in front of a gas station, for the better part of an hour with no luck. I put a ride-wanted ad on Craigslist -- $5 for a 20 minute ride to I-5. The few responses I got were too little, too late. I decided on a different plan: I'd walk about 2 miles to a different onramp, and since it was getting late, I'd camp in the nearby forest before hitching in the morning. I wasn't in an absolute rush to get to Portland.

I went into the convenience store to see if I could find some chips. I was looking to spend no more than $3.50 and also acquire a large bag of chips that I liked, but I did not find this combination so I left.

Now I needed to cross the busy intersection to start my walk to the next onramp. I'd watched this light cycle a couple dozen times already so I was familiar with the pattern. As I waited for the walk signal, I had one more round of oncoming cars, so I stuck out my thumb just for the hell of it. I was in an even worse location to get picked up than before. But then this guy who was waiting for the light called me over! He asked where I was going and eventually offered to take me there, even though he had only been planning to drive across the street to his home. He shoveled a pile of random junk from the passenger seat into the back seat. Basically, as soon as I stopped giving a fuck about getting a ride, I got a ride.

So off we went. He wanted to talk a lot about music, asked me what I listen to, and was then super excited about showing me an artist he likes. I was pretty sure I'd seen a Bible in that pile of stuff so I braced myself for some Christian emo-core or something equally offputting, but actually what he played wasn't bad at all. It reminded me of Dream Theater without vocals so I recommended that band to him. He wanted to learn to play 6 or 7 different instruments. I liked his exuberance about his musical life. Most people I meet are only casual consumers of music but for some of us it means everything.

I told him what kind of onramp I was looking for and he decided to take me to Federal Way. It was a good idea. The onramp was adequate and there were areas where I could stealth camp nearby if I didn't get a ride before dark. But before dropping me off he wanted to smoke some weed with me, so he drove a few blocks over to a park area and we had a couple hits. I got his email address. Then he took me to the onramp and I was on my own again.

Something about the sudden turn of events, from the defeated feeling of being at the bad onramp to suddenly being exactly where I needed to be on I-5, encountering this kind of silly and helpful guy, and being a bit stoned, put me in a more carefree mood for this hitch. I was laughing at the possibilities; it felt like something epic was about to happen. What if Rock Ocean and Kimchi showed up in Stanley the VW right then? How crazy would that be. That's how it was on the trail sometimes though. So why not again? The sun went down behind the buildings, and I surveyed my sleep spot options from where I stood.

[...honk honk!]
Hmm still just hitching, yep I hope someone pulls over soon.
[Honk, honk!]
Wait, what?

I turned around, and halfway down the onramp was a car that had stopped for me, trying to get my attention. Nice! I grabbed my pack and hobbled over there.

It was a gal in her early 20s who, I found out within a few minutes, had also attended Beloved festival earlier this month -- the 2nd person from there to pick me up! It was the first time she'd picked up a hitchhiker while driving alone but she could tell I was safe I guess. We talked about the festival, and what our lives were like, as she drove me to Olympia. She had to turn around and go home to get some sleep before work the next morning, so I looked up a good spot and she took the exit and pulled into a Chevron.

Immediately after getting out of the car, a guy parked nearby asked us if we had a lug wrench. He needed to tighten his wheels. So she found the wrench in the back of her car and he tightened all the lug bolts on his front wheels which were, indeed, extremely loose. As he was thanking her, she asked where he was going, and he said Hillsboro. Hmm... and I was going to Portland. She made faces at him like "you should give this guy a ride" and once he understood the situation he invited me to ride with him.

So I got dropped off there and after a quick stop at the convenience store I was cruising down I-5 again, all the way to Portland. This guy was 26 and had taken the Greyhound to Seattle where he bought the car. They'd done some work on the CV joints and forgotten to tighten the lug nuts, so when the ride got really rattly he pulled over at that Chevron. Tightening the lugs helped immensely. It was funny because I did the same thing in my car not too long ago, though I only made it a few blocks before having to stop. He was pretty stoked to have a car again, having been through a really rough year, losing some friends and being homeless for a while. I appreciated that he shared his story with me. It was his first time giving a hitchhiker a ride too, and his first time up to Seattle.

He dropped me off in downtown Portland near 405 and I looked up the bus route to my friend's house in Oregon City. Luck was still with me. I walked hastily to the bus stop and just caught the bus I needed to make my connection. It was a bit of a wait for the next bus, but it came early - or so I thought. It was actually an earlier bus running late, and soon received orders to skip a bunch of stops to catch up to its schedule. So I got to Oregon City faster than anticipated.

10 minutes of walking and one hill climb later, and I was at my friend's house, where a basement room was waiting for me. It was around midnight. I smiled in relief at having finished a successful hitch and finding a peaceful haven for the night.
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Monday, August 29, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hospitality in Chelan

After writing the last post, I was sitting in the coffee shop charging my phone. I had told the barista of my plans to camp out in town and she said she'd try to think of a good spot close in. After a while she came over and said she couldn't think of anything, but had talked to her roommate about it and it would be ok if I camped in their yard! So I waited until the cafe closed and went back to their house.

I spent 2 nights there, it was a good relaxing time and I rested my injured knee. Made some new friends. 3 of them are planning a PCT thru hike in the next few years, so I did show-and-tell with my gear and answered questions. Swam in Lake Chelan, played with a kitten, watched some shows. It's kind of a neat town, right on a big lake, just far enough east to be in the rain shadow of the cascades (semi arid climate) but still really close to some of the most beautiful sections of WA that I hiked through.

Soon I'm hitching southwest to Portland, kind of don't want to leave! But I'm also looking forward to the next chapters.
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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Joe Omundson

Completing the last 108 miles of the PCT

I spent 2 nights in the Portland area. I slept on my mom's couch the first night and when they left for the weekend the next day, I got to borrow her car, so I visited friends in town, eventually crashing in the back seat of her car in St. Johns so I could go to an early yoga class the next day, the one I used to work-study every Saturday. (My mom is one of the few subscribers to my blog. Hi Mom. Thanks for letting me use your car. I put in some gas before I returned it.)

Soon I needed to think about getting to Stevens Pass to finish my PCT hike. I knew the best way to get a ride there would be from the PCT Days event in Cascade Locks which was ending the next day. So I started looking for a way to get to Cascade Locks from Wilsonville which was not an easy task until I tried the Craigslist rideshare page. I paid $20 which was probably too much, but there was a guy going from Sherwood to Stevenson and he was a super kind and compassionate human. So I got there, after dark, didn't recognize any friends and I set up my bed and went to sleep.

Next morning, I had some breakfast and packed up. I'd made a sign reading "Stevens Pass" and I went to the event exit and sat down. I was there for less than a minute. The 2nd or 3rd car that drove by pulled over. It was a guy from Illinois who is thinking about doing the trail in a few years. He was flying out the following evening and had no plans until then, so he agreed to drive me 4 1/2 hours to my destination! So my hunch about finding a ride at PCT Days was right. We had some good conversations along the way, and he bought me some chips and then lunch at Stevens Pass. He was in the real estate business, had been an English teacher for 10 years and now is in the process of retiring from his real estate investment education gig. So I think (I hope) it was a mutually beneficial ride, as I shared some of my own experience and opinions about the trail.

Soon I hit the trail. It would be too hard to describe each day. In short, it was a beautiful section, difficult and grand. I had planned to hike the trail with a couple friends and they both had to cancel last minute, so I was kind of bummed about that because I didn't want to hike it alone. Fortunately I didn't have to - a hiker called Trooper joined me my first night out, and we camped together the rest of the way to Stehekin, often hiking together and chatting to pass the time. We averaged about 20 miles per day. She had a very positive attitude and helped keep me focused on the present moment rather than stewing away in my brain too much. In some ways we were similar, like our approach to lifestyle and ethical opinions, but I felt like our personalities were very different. In Myers-Briggs language I'd say she is very much an Extroverted and Sensing type while I am strongly on the the Introverted and Intuitive side. Most of my friends are Intuitives so it was interesting to get a glimpse into the mind of a Sensor.

We arrived in Stehekin yesterday, and it was fun to be in a town with a bunch of hikers again. Trooper was really enthusiastic about celebrating the completion of my thru hike (even though she was so close to finishing the whole thing herself, in 1 go!) and generously bought my broke ass 3 meals in Stehekin. One hiker was wearing a Moab Brewery shirt, and so I talked to him, and we had dinner with him and his wife who had recently retired and started some intensive traveling. They don't live in Moab but will be traveling through there in a month. It was very warm in Stehekin that night so cowboy camping was practically a necessity. The next day I met another hiker living in Moab so it was cool to make that connection. Trooper caught the 8:30 bus back to the trail, and I got lunch and raided the hiker box for some free food before taking the ferry down the 50-mile lake to Chelan. Stehekin can only be accessed by foot, ferry, or float plane. The ferry stopped randomly at the shore to pick up a trail crew worker, and it ended up being a friend I knew from the PCT in 2014! We got to catch up for a while.

Now I'm in Chelan, at a coffee shop charging my phone and writing this blog. I'm planning to find a stealth camping spot in town and then hitch out tomorrow morning. I'm not totally sure where I'm going next. I have loose plans to meet a couple friends for some more camping/outdoor adventures.

So, now I've officially hiked from Mexico to Canada. I have made a virtually continuous set of footprints connecting the borders. I'm glad to be done. It feels like I'm finally released from this 2 1/2 year journey. I'm looking forward to the future and remembering my past adventures fondly. Basically I can do whatever I want next.
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Friday, August 19, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from the coast to Portland

I waited about an hour for my ride out of Neskowin. And older guy picked me up (a theme for the day), dressed completely in camo, probably a hunter, smoking a cigarette, taking freely of places he'd lived and things he'd done.

He could only take me about 12 miles up the road, so he dropped me off and as I was crossing an intersection to get to my new hitching spot, I stuck out my thumb and the first vehicle pulled over for me. This guy was probably in his 70s, rather quiet, somewhat pessimistic, but still kind of sweet. He drove me to Tillamook, where I needed to switch highways to get back inland to Portland.

Another hour of waiting before I got picked up by a 60 year old guy who couldn't have been more different from the previous driver. This guy was seriously hyperactive which he blamed on the energy drink he'd had before picking me up. He was very opinionated about politics, an oil industry worker for decades, and also very excited about getting some weed. He was disappointed that I didn't have any but was then elated at the idea of stopping at a dispensary. Hillsboro was his final destination, but he decided to drive me to Wilsonville because he had nothing else to do.

We picked up a gram in Hillsboro and packed a bowl of it on the freeway. He started bragging about his life, his crazy college experience as a football star, his $800k house and $150k car in Anchorage, all his career accomplishments and accreditations. I listened politely and responded, "Wow! Great, sounds like you're really happy with your life!" which immediately caused him to falter and reveal what seemed to me like deep insecurity. He was so used to judging life by the standards of society that he lost track of what real happiness means. He referenced his wife several times, but he also had plans to find a "hot bar" that night and see if he could "get lucky". He made a number of sexist comments along the way. So, I got a ride directly from Tillamook to my mom's house, which was awesome, but I paid the price in the form of remaining very patient with someone who triggered a lot of frustration for me. He dropped me off and gave me a business card, and said I'd have a place to stay in Alaska if I was ever there. I'm not sure I'd want to stay in his house regardless of how much it cost.

Such different characters you meet. Yet they all have something in common, they all decided it was a good idea to give a stranger a ride, and I am always grateful for that.

Now I'm in Portland. Soon I am leaving to go hike my 108 mile PCT section.

A bit of a blog milestone: this is post number 50, after ~6 months of working on this blog. I'm pretty content with that :) I look forward to sharing more thoughts and stories.
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking on the Oregon Coast

From Newport, I got a ride with a guy several miles north to Beverly Beach where I wanted to camp for the night. He was from Mexico, had been in Newport for 15 years, had struggled with alcoholism and painkillers in the past but is now clean. Interestingly, being a bartender works well for him because he still gets to be around the "party scene" but isn't allowed to drink while working. He was extremely kind and open.

After getting dropped off I walked past the campground and onto the beach. I was a little nervous about finding a campsite, as the coastline was rather steep, but I explored the first area I saw that had potential and found a lovely (if somewhat sloped) campsite. Camping in coastal forests is ideal because there isn't much undergrowth and they shield you from the wind.

On the last day of the festival, someone gifted me with some MDMA and LSD. I decided to use these here at Beverly Beach to process some feelings about my step mom (Beverly) who passed away last December. It was my first time trying MDMA (other than a couple small doses before that I couldn't really feel) and it was quite an experience, especially combined with the acid. I've never taken a drug that imparted a certain concrete emotion in the way that MDMA gave me absolute warmth, empathy, and euphoria. It was interesting. I had some cathartic processing on that beach, walking in the warm wind, full moon glowing among passing clouds, laughing and crying and making sounds as I walked and ran. My sleeping place felt like the heart of the forest mother and I was like a forest fairy. The LSD kept me awake past 4AM but I didn't mind too much. I like an occasional dose of insanity to provide contrast to my sober life.

The next day I packed up, took a shower, visited a store, and started hitching again. After 36 minutes - which has been a very consistent amount of time here on the coast - I got picked up again, this time by a gal who had also been at Beloved fest. Her car smelled great and was decorated with lots of new agey kinds of details. Getting picked up by a female at all is rare, and wow she was beautiful and we had a good conversation. She was heading up to Washington to do some hiking as well. She offered to drive me to Portland and I almost wish I'd said yes!

Instead I rode to Neskowin, my last stop along the coast for this trip, a town I visited many times as a kid. Again I was uncertain about finding a camping spot but I walked far enough, got past the houses, and found a small forest area over the sand dune ridge. I camped without a tent this time and I slept amazingly well, falling asleep before 10 and waking up only once in the night before rising after 7.

This morning I splurged on breakfast at the Hawk Creek Cafe, and I'm about to travel to Portland, where I will stay for a few days before hitting that last PCT section.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Joe Omundson

Beloved festival

I rode to the festival with 3 other volunteers who I found on the volunteer Facebook group, arriving on Wednesday evening at around 6:00. I was there until Monday evening. The experience was, like usual, heart opening and full of many interesting details and surprises.

I'll likely write a separate blog post about it once I've had more time to process. For now: the highlight for me is usually an unexpected encounter with a new person. The first time, it was a couple people I met in a workshop who taught me that I am seen and I am acceptable. The second time, I met Jackie and it was the start of an intense relationship. This time, I was able to explore some of my desire for physical closeness without needing to make it a sexual thing or hold on to it long term. I had a couple of cuddle sessions when I needed them most and it was lovely. I also got to spend some time with the friend I met in Moab who is from New Zealand and staying in Oregon.

After my last volunteer shift ended on Monday, I started walking down the road to the main highway and sticking out my thumb again. A guy named Seth who had been a vendor there picked me up and drove me to the coast. He was from Pennsylvania but had happened to live in the small coastal town we drove to, and he dropped me off at a state park where I was able to find some great camping. The ocean held me sonically all night and it was blissful. I have missed the vast and dynamic nature of the ocean. I'm slowly making my way up the coast to Portland again, taking some time to soak in the salty air.

This morning I got a ride to Newport from a chill guy named Ben. I'm at the library reconnecting to the digital world and charging my phone. Soon I'll go get some food maybe and then find another campsite for the night.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Portland: Day 3

I wanted to describe day 2 in more detail before I go on to the next part of the story.

So... I spent the night in that sleep spot I took a picture of. I had no problems there and I woke around 6:30 as it was getting light. I walked to the onramp and started hitching by 6:45.

Within 10 minutes the police showed up. Apparently this onramp was deemed too dangerous to hitch on. They checked my ID and let me go. So I stood in front of the gas station near the onramp instead. I waited here for 2 hours, 58 minutes, 58 seconds until a young Mormon guy, a recent high school graduate, picked me up on the way home from church. He drove me maybe 5-10 miles up the freeway before he had to turn back.

This was to be a theme for the rest of the day: short rides with long waits in between. I got picked up by a guy who loved fishing, a very positive ex-inmate, a guy who talked about music, an older woman who was super into Mormonism, a silly guy about my age in a jacked up truck with his young daughter, and a guy who works in a gold mine along with one of his interns. My shortest wait was probably 28 minutes and most of them took 1-2.5 hours.

My low point came waiting for hitch #5. The previous hitch moved me only 1 exit down the freeway and had taken a couple hours to get. Now I was waiting 2+ hours for the next ride, the weather was constantly alternating between thunderstorms and hot sunshine, and after holding out my thumb for that many cars and being ignored I really wanted to start holding out a certain other finger instead. Sometimes it would rain and I'd run over to the overpass and just sit with my head in my hands, trying to cope with the frustration and feelings of rejection. When so many people ignore your existence for no good reason it can start to get to you. Yet, you're more likely to get a ride if you look positive and happy, so it's a tricky thing.

So, eventually I made it to Snowville, 20 miles from the Idaho border, after 12 hours of hitching and 7 rides. The sun was getting low but I was hoping for 1 more ride that day. Wow, I definitely got it.

I'd been waiting for nearly an hour when this crazy looking bus got off at the exit. The driver leaned out and shouted across the road, "Where are you going?" "Portland," I yelled back; "what about you?" "Portland!"

They went to the truck stop and performed what I quickly realized was their typical routine: "jugging" for diesel and "spanging" for cash. They would take a 5 gallon jug around to the truck drivers who were filling up their tanks and ask if they could spare some diesel to help us get to Portland. I was amazed at how successful this was. Sometimes we'd get 15 gallons of diesel for free at a stop. It was at least quite honest, and they never pressured anyone who said no. But I didn't feel comfortable asking people for money or fuel personally.

My ride with these 7 travelers was full of cognitive dissonance. In a lot of ways I could relate to them and enjoyed their company. Yet their top priority once getting in to Portland was to find some meth and heroin, and in my opinion those are just kind of the wrong drugs. I had to sort out some of what I believed about people, substances, group dynamics, risk, and asking for help. It was good that I had that opportunity.

We rode through the night and made it the 658 miles to Portland in 22.5 hours. It felt more like 2-3 days. Constantly being at someone else's whim in terms of where we went and what we did was hard for me, it felt trapping. There was little opportunity for an introvert to get alone and recharge. But, we made it here super fast so I was willing to accept that.

Here's how I feel about hitching in general. The lows are very low and the highs are very high. It's quite fun to meet the people who are kind and generous enough to pick you up. Since I'm in a position of being a guest in their car, and I appreciate their willingness to stop for me so much, I feel like I basically have no place to criticize anything about them. It's a unique opportunity to practice radical acceptance and learn to see the beauty in all kinds of people, even ones who do things you don't like or are part of a social group you don't often think of positively. Picking up a hitcher requires a certain level of spontaneous openness and generosity. And it's not only one group of people who has it - it's liberals and conservatives, religious and atheist, old and young, hippies and pirates. Most people are too afraid or apathetic to pick up people who need a ride.

I've been seeing a couple friends here in town and tomorrow I will ride down to Beloved festival. So the journey continues and I'll update when I can.
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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Portland: Day 2

I wish I could describe my day, but my battery is about to die. Long story short I spent 13 hours hitching, got 7 rides, and still didn't make it out of Utah. Hoping for 1 more ride, this bus pulled up. I am passenger number 9 plus 3 dogs. They're going to Portland. We'll see how this goes!

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Portland: Day 1

Today I have begun a journey that's a little different than any of the ones I've taken before. I'm doing a 3-week trip to Oregon and Washington, where I will attend a festival, visit Portland, and hike the 108 miles of the PCT that I missed last year.

Those are all familiar activities, but the way I'm doing them is what's new (to me). I'm on a tighter budget; I have about $200 for these 3 weeks. So, I'm not taking my car, and I'm hitchhiking instead. I put on my backpack and walked to the highway in Moab at about 10:30 this morning, carrying an extra gallon of water.

Hitch 1
I held my thumb out for 14 minutes and 8 seconds. A 45 year old guy in a road-maintenance truck pulled over. "Where ya goin, young man?" Hyrum shouted out the window at me. He was missing most of his front teeth, a loud burly guy who chain smoked and talked non-stop for the next 3 hours. We made 2 stops at gas stations, he bought me a juice, and took me to Arby's. A 4th generation Moabite, he shared the location of some secret caves with me, along with plenty of stories from his personal life. I liked his openness and generosity. We drove up 191 to I-70 to I-15, where we actually turned south to the town of Beaver because he thought I'd have better luck getting a ride from there. He continued on to St. George.

Hitch 2
Beaver is apparently home to a lot of Mormon families who like to pile the kids in the SUV and haul the boat to the lake on Saturdays. That and old, sour, nearly-dead looking couples eating ice cream cones and staring with repulsion at the hitchhiker on the onramp. Spence picked me up after 2 hours 33 minutes and one second. "You don't kill me and I don't kill you, deal?" He's a 23 year old BYU student. Whereas Hyrum hardly asked me a single question about myself, Spence and I spent most of the ride to Provo talking about my life. We got into some interesting talks about Mormonism, which perhaps unsurprisingly seems to be a theme when hitching in Utah. He brought me to a gas station so I could use the bathroom before standing out for my next hitch. I enjoyed his curiosity and his willingness to be honest about the questions he has about his faith.

Hitch 3
I stood at a busy-ish onramp, by a stoplight, for probably only 5 minutes before getting picked up by a gal whose name I think was Alex. She took me about 50 miles north, past Salt Lake City, to the suburb of Bountiful. We also discussed religion and traded stories of our experiences with it, which had brought us to similar conclusions. She wants/plans to hike the PCT next year, and has spent time hitching around the country, so we had some things in common.

After Alex dropped me off in Bountiful I needed to find a place to camp, as the sun was setting. I walked back to a promising-looking patch of greenery I'd spotted near the offramp, between a bank and a school. It's fairly private and I expect to sleep well here. This is my first time urban camping.

Today was good progress! I need to get to the festival in Oregon by Wednesday. So making it past SLC was a good goal. 240 miles down, 890 to go.
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