MOUNTAIN TRAIL 2015

Mountain Trail came and went, and it was the best Trek America experience yet!

I spent a week in Chicago after the trip ended, but I’m back in London and I’ll get the journal published here as soon as possible.

Thursday 30th July 2015 - Travelling To Seattle or Why You Should Just Stick With The Closest Airport To You

I messed up just to save £100. I strongly advise not doing what I did if you value sleep, dignity, your soul.

Let me flick back to circa 6th June, 2015. My inimical optimism didn’t intend to fudge future Dean over, but it did and still usually does.

“Oh, future Dean won’t mind travelling from Manchester Airport to save some money. And he definitely won’t mind the 11pm train from Euston that lasts 3 hours. And he won’t mind waiting in Manchester Piccadilly Station until 4.21am to catch a train to Manchester Airport to wait around until his flight at 11am, which also happens to be a connecting flight consisting of one 7 hour slog and another 6 hour fun ride in the sky.”

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The first plane ride, Manchester to Philadelphia, was your standard flight. 7 hours, food, wee bit of turbulence. But I hadn’t slept all night and parts of my brain that medical practitioners would define as ‘pretty useful’ were slowly shutting down. I had small bursts of sleep mixed with long blasts of sleep-anger. WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST FLY FROM HEATHROW?! YOU LIVE IN LONDON!

Luckily, Philadelphia Airport made life easier and non-Dean, so getting through the process of security and baggage check was a doddle. It was a 2hr 15 layover, so by the time I’d checked into America land, it was roughly 20 minutes until my connecting flight.

Now, this flight was a right slap between the kneecaps. American Airlines didn’t offer my flight complimentary food. Because, like, who the hell needs to eat for 6 hours? I didn’t really have time to grab food during the layover, so I was getting hangry. Getting hangry made getting sleep harder. Getting sleep harder made the flight seem longer. Wah.

Seriously, I’m not trying to sound like a moaning Mary (sorry, Mary). It’s my fault. I tried to be clever and save money, but at what cost, Dean? AT WHAT COST?

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I made it to Seattle around 7pm. The view from the plane’s window was absolutely breathtaking. The mountainous landscape was gorgeous and looked unlike anything I had witnessed of American terrain.

I soon called for a shuttle to the Clarion and It arrived within 10 minutes. I checked into my room that I was sharing with Liz and sat on the bed as those familiar feelings possessed me. I was in America. I was very close to starting my third Trek America tour. AHHH!

Liz had left a note for me saying that she had gone for food with Adam and Stacey, two fellow Trekkers that we met on Facebook before flying. Unlike me, they were smart and flew earlier from Heathrow.

I went for a short walk (clocked a 7 Eleven for supplies) and then met the guys! Meeting Stacey and Adam was easy, mostly down to the fact that they are really cool people! They were both from the UK and shared the same weird sense of humour as Liz and I. Welcome to the circle of trust, guys.

We had a few beers at the hotel bar. I had Two Beers IPA, which the bartender liked to joke and say, “Okay, two beers coming up!”

“No, I asked for one.”

“Yeah, one two beers?”

We spent the time speculating about Trek, guessing how tall Natalie would be, and trying to see how far we could set the bar for socially acceptable conversation.

We retired around 11pm to prepare for our big day in Seattle, and I felt better knowing that I had learned a valuable lesson. It was this:

Next time, book a flight closer to where you live!

Friday 31st July 2015 - Here's How You Seattle! Mountain Trail Eve

We live in a world where the economy is as fragile as a Hanson’s fan’s heart (say that fast). So, being the generous souls we are, Liz and I made our way (in the early hours) to the 7 Eleven sat lovingly around the corner from the Clarion. We added 99c to America’s economy via a Big Gulp and felt we had done our bit to boost it. You can thank us later.

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Between the drunken mumblings from the night before, myself, Liz, Adam and Stacey had agreed to meet in the morning for a day trip to Seattle. Due to jet lag, we were up earlier than our scheduled meeting time, so we met Adam and Stacey in the lobby for 9am. This would be the first and last time that me and Liz were punctual for a meeting.

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Getting from the Clarion to Downtown Seattle is not only incredibly easy, but the sights along the way are pleasant and make for an enjoyable jaunt. It costs just $6 for a day pass, which takes you from the airport to Westlake. We were given a recommendation of getting off at Westlake as it’s pretty central and very close to Pike Place Market.

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There was no concrete plan for the day. We did have select areas in mind that we wanted to visit, such as the Space Needle, Capitol Hill and Pike Place, but we didn’t rush nor stress and simply let Seattle guide us wherever it wanted us to go. We also kept the plans loosey goosey because we considered the fact that other Trekkers may well like to join us.

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After Liz bumped into some guy selling eternal hope bracelets, we gently strolled towards Pike Place Market. With the glorious sun trying to scratch a burn into my neck (good luck, factor 50 has my back) we took shaded shelter inside the market. It was so beautiful. A bright palette of colours and a hefty variety of fruit and fantastic food was visible from the get go. There were countless fish stalls, flower stalls, food stalls and odd bits in-between. It was delightful. It was busy. It was immense!

We found a quaint yet quirky cafe that overlooked the sea. It was called Sound View Cafe and I decided to eat until I hated myself. This way, I’d only need to purchase one meal to last the best part of the day. Like I said, the economy ain’t great so you’ve got to think economically. Plus… I needed to save as much of my budget for Vegas!

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I ended up eating one brunch plate and three quarters of another. Reason being, I was almost finished with my meal when I discovered that the pancakes weren’t cooked throughout. They were gooey! It wasn’t a major problem, but I had saved those bad boys until last because pancakes. So I told the waitress and they brought out a whole new meal! It would have been rude not to try and stuff my face all over again, so I ate every little bit and immediately regretted it.

Our next little stop was at the Starbucks near Pike Place Market. Now, I’ll drink Starbucks, but it isn’t my go-to coffee hangout. However, Starbucks did get me into changing my mind about paying silly money for cups of borrowed coffee, so I wanted to check their store. ESPECIALLY considering they started life in Seattle.

Although we had a day pass to zip around the city, we all decided to take it slow and bask in Seattle’s glorious weather and laid-back vibe. The city reminded me of San Francisco in a way. Both cities carry this sense of safety, intrigue, cute architecture and unbridled optimism. So we walked and talked our way to the Space Needle in hopes of going up the thing.

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Turns out nope. The queue was massive and we’d be waiting a good few hours to get to the top. I wasn’t entirely bothered about this and happily snapped pictures of the Needle from the ground.

With Adam on comms with Josefine, a bold Danish gal we hoped to meet today, we decided to relax on the grass near the Needle before tackling the ridiculously steep roads that led to Capitol Hill. This was another reason why I felt Seattle was similar to San Fran – those bloody hills! Hill detest aside, we confirmed a meeting point with Jo, slapped on more sun cream and powered on.

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Capitol Hill is a welcoming and diverse area of Seattle. Its proud pride agenda is visible everywhere you look – it’s such a refreshing thing to see! Rainbow flags make up for the best part of the colour scheme for the area, and there was even a kind message displayed on the church on Broadway. Another delightful thing (which thoroughly entertained me) was the feet markers on the sidewalks that show you different dance styles and how to perform them.

We met Jo near the north end of Broadway and then turned back to find a restaurant to relax. Graham, Trekker number five, was also planning on meeting us at Capitol Hill, so it made sense for us to stay put and for me to get five cans of PBR down me. IT MADE SENSE.

Graham joined us and we spent some time having a few drinks and still figuring out how far we could set the bar. A few sailors came into the restaurant and Stacey managed to get a snap with them!

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Before we came to Seattle, Liz and I had heard of the pride crosswalks dotted around the city. We desperately wanted to find one, so we googled a location and headed there after our quick tipple. The crosswalk is such a great idea, and it looks absolutely great!

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Our final major stop for the day was the Seattle Waterfront. Located here are restaurants, bars, stunning views and the Seattle Great Wheel. We popped into Fishermans Restaurant that was positioned directly under the Great Wheel. As day waved away and night-time came, the Great Wheel displayed a magnificent carousel of colours which repeated for hours on end. It was stunning.

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After a few ales to top up the PBRs, Dean was getting giggly. It was around nine when most of the guys decided to head back to the hotel to prep for the 7.30am Trek meeting in the Clarion lobby. Being the bad influences we are, Liz, Jo and I decided to stay out and enjoy every last minute of Seattle. We wouldn’t have time to explore the place tomorrow (down to the fact that we had a huge drive to Yellowstone on the cards) so it made even more sense to stay out late. MORE SENSE THAN ME DRINKING 5 PBRs AT 3PM.

Okay, so I’ll warn you. A lot of these journal entries might end the same. By that I mean, things get fuzzy and blurry and I can’t explain how certain events unfold. So, on this glorious Seattle night, Liz, Jo and I managed to (somehow) navigate the streets of Seattle to Jo’s hostel. We then (somehow) carried her incredibly large backpack/tank/house/country to the train station where we (somehow) made the last train. We then (somehow) made it to the Clarion and (somehow) we didn’t vomit.

And that, my friends, is what I call a (somehow) successful night.

Day 1 - Saturday 1st August 2015 (Montana)

[su_quote cite=”Dean, Day 1″]One definition of freedom could well be the act of stopping at a random souvenir store and being able to purchase medieval weaponry and a Coca Cola[/su_quote] [su_heading size=”18″ margin=”0″]01/08/2015 [/su_heading]

I managed to bank a good two hours of sleep and gamble about five hours of potential sleep on the metaphorical alcohol stock market. It crashed and burned, and so would I later on in the Trek van.

A wonderfully strong smell was wafting in from both an easterly and westernly direction. It was probably my armpits. Or Liz’s. Or both. The bad news is that there was no time for a proper shower. The good news is that I am well trained in the quick-pits wash and decided to go ahead with this option. I figured that the rest of the Trekkers would eventually get to sample my smell (whether they liked it or not!), so it was totally acceptable and not at all lazy or disgusting of me shut up stop judging me Jesus Christ Lord okay fine I’ll go shower jeeeeepers creeepers.

The phone in the hotel room screeched harsh in our hungover ears. It was Adam/reception wondering if we were still alive. The rest of the group were already in the lobby, so technically we were late for the 7.30am meeting. However, if we intended to be late, does that actually make us late? Think about it. Hashtag latecrewforlife.

Liz, Jo and I plodded along to the lobby and joined everyone. We were situated in a funked-up kind of circle with our luggage and excited hats stuck firmly on our heads. Our tour leader, Devon, was also there. He’d later turn out to be the greatest tour leader/Kanjam player/limousine picker/hat collector I have met thus far in my life.

We didn’t spend too long in the lobby as we needed to get on the road as soon as possible. It was going to be a mammoth 480 miles of driving today. That’s roughly 770 km. Or probably 207 Hagrid lunges. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The extra time in the van granted us the perfect opportunity to get to know each other.

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After loading the trailer with our luggage, we each picked a seat and got the hell out of Seattle. Conversations in the van flowed way too easy, like water escaping through a destroyed dam. It was so effortless to strike up a conversation with almost anyone. It was weird. In a good way.

Meeting and chatting to Trekkers before the tour started helped with our crazy bonding. What helped the most, however, was the fact that the Trekkers shared the same sick sense of humour and contagious kindness. A great mix!

The characters that made up the Mountain Trail Massive were Charlie, Ros, Laura, Saskia, Josefine, Graham, Liesbet, Fred, Natalie, Adam, Stacey, Liz and me. And Devon, of course. The UK had a strong presence in the van, accounting for eleven of the thirteen Trekkers. Belgium and Denmark made up the remaining two.

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We stopped for our first group lunch at a lake near Sprague. It was very hot and very dry, but our mouths were soon watered with a delicious assortment of picnic grub. It was a peaceful place and it helped rejuvenate us after a long slog of driving.

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Graham had front seat privileges for the first half of the day, so I offered to swap to let him get his banter on with the backseat crew. He agreed, so I spent the second half of the journey in the front seat next to Devon.

I put some music on and Devon and I got chatting. Turns out, he was reading the same book as me. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Now, if you haven’t read this one then you should totally add it to your reading list. But, as Devon and I agreed, it’s a meaty mission to get through. The prose is so poetic. The sentences are crafted with precision and make for literature perfection! This makes the book a bit of a task to get through. If you let your mind wander for a second, you’ll find yourself reading the same passage again because every word counts in Blood Meridian.

Devon and I also discussed the podcast phenomenon that is Serial. If you’re one of five people on Earth who haven’t listened to Serial yet, then stop reading this explosion of tasteless writing and listen to it! We ended up doing so on the trip via the van’s speakers on our long driving days. I found that it’s just as addictive on the second listen as it is on the first!

We soon left the state of Washington, and I quickly entered the state of sleep deprivation (haha wordplay). At one point I nodded off for a second, slapped my thumb on my iPhone screen and changed the current song halfway through to Bon Jovi. This is what top university professors would call a ‘Bon Jovi Bomb’ or a ‘Bomb Jovi’.

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We entered Idaho for a short while and then left it behind after spending just an hour and a half there. I’m not sure exactly what Idaho has to offer, but Idahope there’s some interesting things to see (haha wordplay).

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Montana was going to have to put up with us for the night as this is where we planned to finish up for the day. More specially, Jellystone Park in Missoula. But before we graced Yogi Bear’s home with our presence, Devon stopped at 50,000 Silver $ Bar. Not going to lie, it was an unusual place, but very much welcomed. The place was part casino, part motel, part restaurant, part RV park, part souvenir shop and part bar.

Devon went to fill up some gas, so we all headed inside to browse the shop. It was massive, and it sold pretty much everything and anything, from glasses that could fit a whole wine bottle to morning star clubs. It was random stops like this that have become mini highlights for me during my travels across America. These type of places were typically America and very expressive, boldly exercising their right of freedom. And you know what? One definition of freedom could well be the act of stopping at a random souvenir store and being able to purchase medieval weaponry and a Coca Cola.

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We weren’t too far from Jellystone, so it was an easy drive after the Silver $ Bar. We got to the campsite around evening and immediately set up the tents. Devon gave us instructions on how to pop them up, and we were also divided into tent buddies and groups. As mentioned in previous journals, you get split into four groups on Trek. Each group will have rotating responsibilities each day. A typical day could be this:

Group A – Cooking

Group B – Cleaning

Group C – Loading/Unloading trailer

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As this was the first day, Devon was going to cook for us. He ended up making some tasty tacos and briefed us on what to expect over the next fourteen days. We then finished grub, cleaned up, showered and sat around drinking beer and chatting.

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I should mention that Jellystone was a great little place. Quiet. Decent amenities. Statues of Yogi. TRACTORS!

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The only weird thing was trying to sneak past Yogi in the night. He looked well shifty.

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After Natalie managed to ‘wow’ everyone with her incredible effort at trying to throw the conversation bar over a bottomless pit, we soon retired for our first official night on Trek.