September 29: Shooting Stars

Located just about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and largely devoid of what Angelenos would describe as “sites of cultural significance,” Bakersfield is not the typical Friday night destination.

As we pulled into town at sunset, we passed windowless buildings, chainlink fences, and oil wells. The air was dry and filled with particulate matter. While it’s population makes it the 52nd largest city in America, in 2015, Bakersfield earned the distinction of being the 2nd most polluted city in the country. We parked along the side of the road to avoid paying and joined the throng of Bakersfieldians making their way toward the large ferris wheel silhouetted by orange sky. The sound of mariachi music and arcade games became increasingly loud, and the breeze began to smell of fried dough. After a 2.5 hour drive and a ten minute walk, we had arrived at The Kern County Fair.

How, you might be wondering, did three good-looking, intelligent millennials with a car end up in Bakersfield on a Friday night? While the rest of our peers were heading out to bars and movies and art museums (or staying home and pulling up The Office on their parents’ Netflix accounts), we were on our way to see Smash Mouth, the one-hit wonder whose song All Star had spawned countless Shrek-themed memes.

I’d had to select my companions for this adventure with great care. It’s not just anyone who will drop everything, duck out of work early, and spend hours commuting at rush hour to one of the least exciting cities in California in order to see a band they don’t care about. Jared and Katie were temperamentally well-suited for this idiotic mission–good-natured people who are routinely kind to those around them. Katie’s the kind of person who’s up for pretty much anything out of the ordinary and has a good time no matter what. Jared DJs in his spare time and engages with music as a craft. He’d been ready to turn down my invitation until he learned that the concert was free with the price of admission to the fair ($10). In particular, I worried he would regret the decision to come.

Unlike Jared and Katie, I am as close to an un-ironic lover of Smash Mouth as a millennial can be. In early September, when I heard the lead singer, Steve Harwell (a Guy Fieri look-alike), had suffered from some kind of heart episode and had had to cancel shows, I knew I needed to act fast or risk never seeing Smash Mouth perform live. While in the early 2000s, the zenith of the band’s popularity, they’d won a Kid’s Choice Award, featured prominently in the Shrek opening credits, and filled stadiums, in 2017, they were mostly performing at county and state fairs. The Kern County Fair was the only place they’d be performing in California during the month of September, so it was either make the pilgrimage to Bakersfield, or gamble on Steve’s heart lasting into October.

We had some time to kill before Smash Mouth was scheduled to perform at the Budweiser Pavilion, so we headed for the second most exciting entertainment option listed in the fair’s program, The Great American Duck Race.

Robert Duck (who claimed that this was his actual last name), served as MC. He introduced us to his ducks who have won The Great American Duck Race hosted annually in Deming, New Mexico twelve times. He selected volunteers from the audience to come up and hold the ducks. When the whistle blew, the lucky duck-holders would drop their ducks into channels with water (like lanes in a pool), and the ducks would swim to the other side. The person with the fastest duck would move on to the finals.

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No matter how many times I raised my hand, I was never chosen. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was competing with 6-year-olds for Robert’s attention. The first round of racing ducks had names like Michael Phelps, Simone Manuel, and Katie Le-ducky. The next heat was filled with ducks named after NASCAR drivers. The third heat was a Duck Dynasty round. I was very impressed by Robert’s ability to tell all the seemingly identical mallards apart (how could he distinguish Michael from Simone every time?), until he let each kid name their own duck in the finals and I realized they were randomly assigned jokes. In the finals, most of the competitors selected duck puns for names, except for the two littlest kids who named their ducks Lucy and Jake. After a short but intense race, Jake proved victorious, and his temporary owner was crowned with a duck mask. After the ceremony, Robert said he wished he could give everyone a chance to race the ducks, but there just wasn’t time. However, for only $5.00, we could buy the right to race a duck. This $5.00 purchase included a complementary duck whistle. A tempting offer, but Jared, Katie, and I had places to be.

After purchasing the most expensive, least satisfying burrito bowl of my life (for $9.50 it only included meat, rice, and beans. Everything beyond that was an “add-on,” including salsa), we got in line to enter the pavilion. Jared and Katie were shocked by how many people had come to see the has-been band. Nearly all of the pavilion’s 3,000 seats were full. There was even a VIP section cordoned off with rope. Who these VIPers were and what exactly they were hoping to get from this experience remains a mystery. The band was scheduled to go on at 8pm. When 8:30pm came and went, and there was still no sign of the performers, the audience began to chant “Smash Mouth.” Logan, the eight-year-old in front of us, informed Katie that Smash Mouth was a fake band that did not actually exist.

Just as I began to despair that Steve had actually suffered the fatal heart attack, the man himself walked on stage, red solo cup in hand. The band launched into their first song, “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby,” and the crowd went nuts (several people were wearing Shrek masks). I’ve been to a number of concerts for bands I actually admit to liking, but this was the first concert where I knew the majority of songs on the setlist. I was embarrassed and proud at the same time. Up on stage, Steve didn’t seem to know how to interact with the audience. While he sang, he paced back and forth between the bassist and the guitarist. He’d encroach on their bubble of space, placing an arm on their shoulder and singing directly to them. At one point, he kicked the guitarist on the butt. I wondered if there were women out there who fantasized about being romantically involved with Steve.

Logan turned again to Katie and told her that the man on stage was not the real Steve Harwell. He pulled up images of Steve on his iPhone as evidence. It was hard to say from such a distance if the man on stage was really Steve. He’d lost weight since the band’s early years and was now bleached blond. He didn’t sound like the recordings, but then again, neither does Katy Perry.

As the performance wore on, the anticipation built. There was one song everyone there had come to hear, and it wasn’t Walkin’ on the Sun, Holiday in my Head, Pacific Coast Party, Road Man, or even their cover of I’m a Believer. The couple behind me started chanting “All Star” every time a song ended. What’s it like to be a band and know that the thing you’ve created far surpasses you in terms of significance?

All Star was the very last song of the night, and it was glorious. The people in the Shrek masks jumped up and down in time with the beat. The crowd lit up with cellphone screens as people recorded the moment for their Instagram accounts. 3,000 voices joined Steve’s for the chorus that has scored this milenium. The concert ended with Steve softly repeating, like a mantra or a prayer, the words “only shooting stars break the mold.”

“That was awesome,” Jared commented as we walked back to the car in the dark. Katie nodded in agreement. I felt inspired, rejuvenated, a part of something much larger than myself (like a generation or a social media platform or something). I looked up at the night sky, searching for a sign, maybe a shooting star. There were none to be found, of course. The air in the 2nd most polluted city in the USA does not lend itself to stargazing.

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August 2: Forks

Nobody wanted to plan the road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. My mom was burnt out after all the planning she’d done for the family vacation to Italy earlier in the summer (and still a little pissed that, though her ingrate children had refused to help plan it, they’d still reserved the right to complain about it after the fact). My sister and I had this romantic idea that we’d just flip through Auto Club books as we drove and providence would guide us to all the life-changing tourists destinations on the west coast. The date arrived for us to leave Seattle, and we had no idea where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. After googling “best tours in Washington state,” my mom and sister settled on touring the Boeing factory. I’d forgotten I lived with two airplane aficionados. To be accurate, one airplane aficionado and one factory aficionado. Whether it’s a candy factory, a shoelace factory, or an airplane factory, my mom wants to tour it. As my mom loves to remind me, I was a kid who happily toured museums and sites of cultural interest. I’ve since grown into a young adult with a short attention span and intolerance for reading plaques. I think this transition took place during the last four years (coincidentally the four years I was at Yale). “You can pick the next place we go,” my mom and sister promised. This was more of a burden than a gift since all of us were ultimately trying to get out of planning. If you plan things in this family, you run a high risk of getting blamed. “Ok,” I said grinning, “I want to go to Forks.”

Forks, WA is a small, economically depressed town on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s economic depression has been recently somewhat alleviated by the publication of the best selling series, Twilight. Forks is the setting for these page-turning novels filled with sparkly vampires and teenage longing. After my utterance, I waited for my sister and mother to call me out, to tell me that I didn’t actually want to go to Forks, but they didn’t.

“I want to go there because it’s where Twilight’s set,” I elaborated in case they were unaware. Still no pushback. They began looking for places to stay on the Olympic Peninsual. Their reaction left me disappointed. Why bother to make ridiculous pronouncements if people behave like they’re reasonable statements? Now, before you think that I only said this to start an argument with my family members or to get the burden of planning the trip lifted from my shoulders, there was some sincerity to this statement. Mid high school, I read the entire Twilight series on a dare. A friend gave me three months to read the series, thinking I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. I read the four books in a week. I waited a month before admitting I’d finished them, lest someone suspect that I’d actually enjoyed them. 

As with many things I do, I was somewhere between seriously wanting to make the pilgrimage to the Twilight promise land and wanting to go as a joke. This is probably why those close to me have such a hard time knowing when to take me seriously.

 After the Boeing factory tour (a tour I will remember thanks to this dude my age who informed our tour group he was a future Boeing employee and seemed to have memorized the Boeing book of trivia, the same one our tour guide got all his questions from. He monopolized the question asking parts of the tour, peppering our polite, midwestern tour guide with an associates degree in criminology with technical questions about engines.) we drove 4 hours in a northwestern direction to the Olympic Peninsula. We arrived in Forks. I hopped out of the car, snapped a picture in front of the “welcome to Forks” sign, texted it to a friend, and announced I was ready to leave. It was then that my mother and sister learned why I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula. And it was then that I learned that my mother and sister thought the whole Twilight thing was a joke, that I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula because of the rainforest and hiking and nature stuff. A lot of learning went on in the span of a few minutes. We then piled back in the Subaru and drove in a strictly southern direction.

Day 55 (July 29): Home Stretch

We climbed the morning of July 28. I got in some final moments of self-berating and crying, and sent a 5.11b on my third go. Mico attempted a “top 100” 5.13a titled “Ibiza.” My theory is that there are more than 100 climbs that round out the top 100, a rating the guidebook uses in place of five stars. They make an effort to spread the “top 100” throughout climbing areas in Squamish, and preference climbs that are “unique” for the area. Like the word “interesting,” “unique” is a rather bland word that can mean a good deal of other words. Sometimes unique means good or special, but just as often unique can mean atypical or strange.

We drove back to Seattle, stopping in Vancouver for ice cream and dosas. The ice cream place, La Casa Gelato, serves 238 flavors of ice creams and sorbets. They serve everything from the mundane–chocolate, mint chip, vanilla–to the utterly bizarre–garlic, spicy mango, cherry cotton candy. I sampled what amounted to many scoops worth of sorbet. Then, drowning in a sea of ice cream choices, I played it safe and paired an iced coffee sorbet with a chocolate one. Mico boldly paired spicy mango with cannoli ice cream, a combo he maintains he does not regret.

We read about the early east coast rap scene and the evolution of sampling on my cellular device as we drove down to Seattle. On arrival, we were greeted by the entire Suzuki family. Though it was pretty late, everyone was wide awake because they’d recently returned from Japan. We had a lovely breakfast with bacon and coffee, and cleaned the car in the morning. In the afternoon, we went raspberry picking with the boys while Chiaki and Keiichiro finalized the purchase of their ridiculously discounted minivan. Though Keiichiro works for Amazon, his true passion is haggling with car dealers. His face lit up when he talked about the prospect of spending an entire Saturday at the dealership. He says his goal is to reduce the dealer to tears. In the evening, we had an indoor barbecue and played Settlers of Catan. Mico is incredibly kind and attentive when he interacts with old people, children, and dogs. However, this did not stop him from mercilessly taking advantage of the boys while we played Settlers. After a late night nerf gun fight, we went to bed so we could get a few hours of sleep before our 4am airport trip.

 
 
 

Day 53 (July 27): A Change of Pace

Post-Opal, we were ready for a change of pace. We briefly discussed booking it to Smith in Oregon to finish out the trip, but quickly realized most of our time would be spent driving. The best we could do was drive north half an hour to the Cheakamus area. Unlike most of the climbing near the Chief in Squamish, Cheakamus consists almost entirely of sport routes. Mico was able to revisit and ultimately send a 5.13 he’d tried on a previous trip. I proved to myself that, while I can usually do all the moves on a 5.12a climb, I’m still not a 5.12a climber. We met a local named Dale, a large, barrel-chested dude who, in peak condition had climbed 5.12 while weighing somewhere between 215 and 230 lbs. For me, a woman built more for rugby than rock climbing, this was inspirational. I’d thought that all people who climbed 5.12 and above were of a naturally stringy build.

That night, our final camping dinner, we tried to finish most of our food, but failed when it came to consuming a tin of canned mushrooms and bamboo shoots, our two worst food purchases the entire trip. They were slimy and chewy in all the wrong ways. Would not recommend to a friend, or even a recent acquaintance. We spent the evening talking about friendship and fears. Though I’d joked about some of my fears in the past, I think this was the first time Mico realized they were serious concerns, that I am someone who will joke about the things that cause me the most pain. Perhaps this is an indication that I need to reevaluate the way I express myself if I want to be understood by those close to me.

Day 29: Face Value

Ceri loves the limestone cliffs of Ten Sleep Canyon. Short and tall, slab, vertical and overhung, pockety, edgy, and cracky, the cliff bands of bighorn dolomite that line the canyon provide endless possibility of adventure.

On arrival we saw a dirty green subaru full of unkempt youth circling around the ten sleep campsites. They drove up and down the road, stopping in front of white camper vans. Quickly they’d creep from their vehicle, glance around, and then dart into the depths of the sites. We naively assumed they were looking for bears. We’d seen one earlier, we were sure of it. Driving north out of the canyon a large black loping furry mammal trundled through the tall grass on the right of the road. Large, like a refrigerator or perhaps two harly davidsons. It was big and we were frightened so we drove on, eyes glued to the road.

We met a women. She was tall, slightly chinese, and in need of a shower. A vagabond we thought. As a friend of a friend we got to know her better. She likes whiskey and offers it around at the end of a hard climbing day. Once a masters student at UCLA, now a climbing celebrity, she’s an organizer for all things women + climber. On her off days she produces films professionally with three close friends.

In Tensleep, we’d heard that locals sleep late and spend long afternoons on the south east facing walls. While partial to this shade searching, we were tight on time and planned to make the most of every day. On our first day climbing we selected a small shady out of the way wall. Our first climb was an easy five ten up horizontal pocket bands. then a slightly harder ten using underclings and side pulls. More fun but fewer stars. While Ceri was leading the third route, a hard eleven arete, sounds of civilization, clinkying metal and janglying chains broke through the bird calls and bear growls of the forest. Oh yes, the serial killers had final found us. First their dogs appeared, one, two, three, four and finally five knashing hounds rounded the corner of crag. Their handlers appeared, six in totally, two where just there for the show. They tried to play innocent, which climbs did you like, what do you reccomend, how about this one? But then they asked about the festival, are you going? Growing up I was taught not to take candy from strangers, look for their lost dogs, or get rides in their cars, especially if the windows were painted out. Here they were offering a festival, great food from a cart, a raffle, silent auction on climbing gear, live music, fire works, and painted out vans galore. Ceri and I decide we had to outlast them. No way could we go back to the car, they’d follow us. We continued to climb.

Later Ceri led 12a, this one with four stars. Yet where ever we went, who ever we spoke with, they all ended their convesations with “Maybe I’ll see you at the festival”. How did they know I was going? Whats with this maybe, like maybe you’ll last that long? It was a cult we determined, a dog loving, thrill seeking, gear giving, climb climbing cult at which we would be initiates (hopefully) or ritual sacrifices (more likely).

Day 15: Double or Nothing or Ice Cream

We went back to the aircraft carrier boulder to see if our stunt doubles could finally send the V6- and V11 boulder problems they had been working on respectively. It would have been the hardest boulder problem either of our stunt doubles had ever sent outside. Mico’s stunt double had been one move away from sending, so there was a lot of hope there. All he had to do was catch and hold onto a rather sharp lip after launching himself from shitty little crimps with less than ideal feet. My stunt double had some extra work to put in but miracles are always possible, that’s what makes them miracles. We got a late start (characteristic of our time in Leadville), stopping in town to pick up a Leadville sticker for my beloved sister. By the time we got to the boulder, we had two hours to warm up and finish the problems before we had to leave for Denver to visit Mico’s geat uncle. We tried so hard and got so far and kept pushing back our departure time. We kept trying to bust through that ceiling, but by the time 2pm rolled around (an hour after we said we’d leave), we had time for one last attempt. I, though a move closer to the top, was still nowhere near sending. Mico, after exhausting all methods for reaching the lip statically, had resolved to try the jump and hold on really hard method. He went for gold, launching himself at the lip, and managed to grab it with his left hand. He held on for a fraction of a second while his legs swung out and I prayed for a spotting miracle, before slipping off. Safely on the ground, he was clutching his left hand, admiring a medium-sized flapper on his middle finger.

Because of his perfect genetics, this was the first flapper Mico’d ever gotten, a testament to the sharpness of the lip. Lesser humans would have been ready to throw in the towel, but not Mico. He wanted to give it one more go. Unfortunately, we had just finished our roll of tape. All the tape we had with us was on his and my hands. Stellar, supportive, beneficent, goodlooking person that I am, I immediately volunteered the tape on my hands. It was a shirt off my back moment. If he sent the problem on the next attempt, I would have felt like I’d just sent V11 as well. If this were a movie, this would have been the moment where everything came together, and against a ticking clock and bleeding hand, Mico sent. Sadly, there was no camera crew; everything in this blog is mostly nonfiction. His final attempt was unsuccessful. My spotting, on the other hand, was very successful. We got back in the car to Denver, pausing only at a supermarket for lunch where we each purchased a tub of ice cream. I did a good job with my pint of chocolate sorbet. Mico, however, struggled to finish his quart and a half of Reese’s peanut butter cup ice cream and had to throw in the towel somewhere around the quart mark. We think we’re going to give the ice cream a rest for a little while. Consuming it in such quantities is very exhausting.

Day 10: Bacon and Ice Cream and a Small Amount of Exercise

Today we took a well-deserved rest day. My fingers needed it. 8/10 had cuts on the tips that would start bleeding anytime I touched anything–granite, sandstone, my toothbrush, a banana–the texture of the thing didn’t really matter, just the fact that I was using my hands. Like all good rest days, we got off to a restful start with bacon followed by some core and upper body exercises done from rings we suspended from an unsuspecting pine tree. As with most things physical, the exercises Mico performed with ease, I struggled to complete; the exercises he struggled to complete, I failed to perform entirely. We had a 4+ hour drive from Durango to Leadville but planned to break up the drive with a fun activity. As we drove, we did some research. It came down to berry picking or a 9 mile round trip hike to a hot spring. Since it was our rest day, we thought it best to go with the 9 mile hike which started at just above 9,000ft.

The day ended with a blissful trip to Walmart where we feasted our eyes on the near-infinite power of Capitalism and shared a pint of chocolate cookies and cream cashew milk ice cream.