Chicago, Illinois, USA

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Two and a half months ago, I left Colorado for my first solo travel adventure. I have gone by train, plane, bus, boat, and car—south to Tijuana and north to Vancouver, then straight across the West to end in the quintessential American city, Chicago.

It turns out that 72 travel days is just about enough to break me. I feel like I could sleep for a year. Everything hurts. I’m cranky. I’m pretty sure I am dying.

At the start of my trip I was bubbly and excited, talking to strangers in the hostels, meeting all sorts of interesting characters from around the globe. Now, I’m a total travel grinch. I’m like:

“Hey Japan! Stop hogging the mirror!”

And “MUST you Skype with your entire extended family right next to me, Brazil?”

And “Put your shirt on, Italy! This isn’t an Abercrombie & Fitch store!”

But I managed to muster my last bit of energy to explore the Windy City (or as much as I could see in a day and a half…)Who knew that Chicago was so frickin’ beautiful? I mean, probably a lot of people, but I was not one of them until a few days ago.

I got my Art Institute on. It is the second largest art museum in the United States.

Five bucks to anyone who can explain what the big whoop is about Cy Twombley.

My other big touristy thing was to go on an Architecture Foundation boat tour on the Chicago River.

I had one fun night out on the town with a real Chicagoan. We ate bone marrow. There was Fleetwood Mac. Thanks, Charlie Goodvibes.

Overall, I have to say that Chicago is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to, and it was a great finale to my trip. Now I am going to sleep for a week.

Lewis and Clark Trail, Amtrak Empire Builder, Portland to Chicago

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I have spent the last two days on the Amtrak “Empire Builder” train, which travels from Portland to Chicago and follows major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail.

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Sure, my trip took two days, not two years. And I did not have to hike over the Continental Divide with a baby on my back like Sacagewea, but my seat didn’t recline all the way and have YOU ever tried to sleep sitting up with 20 other people farting in what is essentially a big tin can? And they didn’t even have WiFi on the train. Do you hear that, Sacagewea? No WiFi!

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I am unfamiliar with this part of the country, but thankfully, Tyler, sitting in front of me, drew a map of our route. About an hour into the 46-hour trip, he pointed out our approximate location. It didn’t seem right to me, but what do I know? I am not a mapmaker.

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I contorted into every possible position over the seats in an attempt to sleep. Prior to our departure, I had asked about upgrading to a sleeper car and was told it would cost an additional $588. Around 3 a.m., I wondered if it might have been worth it…

The next morning, around 7:30, this nice dude named Mark started a very loud and chipper sightseeing narration in the lounge car. He asked questions like “Who knows any of Montana’s nicknames?!” I was like, “Hmm, I don’t know, Mark. SHUT THE FUCK UP I ONLY GOT THREE HOURS OF SLEEP? No? Ok, I’ll go with Big Sky Country then…”

I wasn’t the only one. An elderly couple was passing through on their way to the dining car and the wife said, “What’s he doin?” Her husband replied, “I don’t know. Poppin’ off about something.”

How many blurry pictures can I take of trees, water, and buildings? Quite a few, it turns out.

This morning I met Gary and Debbie, from the Yakima Valley in Washington State. They used to raise sheep. During birthing season, Debbie had to reach into the mama sheep and pull out the lambs. If a lamb isn’t breathing when it is born, you swing it by its hind legs in a big circle. The centrifugal force pushes the guck out of the baby’s lungs. This is what I imagine that looking like:

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Gary grew up in a town so small that people used to write letters addressed to “Mom and Dad, Outlook, Washington.” The postmistress delivered the letters based on the return address because she knew where everyone’s kids were traveling.

Gary is a writer and he shared part of his memoir with me. He loves Shakespeare and poetry. He recited the beginning of the poem “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg in honor of our final destination:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders…

He got a few funny looks from around the train. I imagined if that elderly couple came back through right at that moment, they would have been like, “Now what’s HE poppin’ off about?”

Victoria, BC, Canada

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The final stop on the Canadian portion of my travels was the “City of Gardens,” Victoria, which is the capital city of British Columbia. It is about a 90-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. There’s a lot of flowers and boats and beauty and shit.

There are also a lot of expensive coffee shops and hipsters.

One of my favorite things about the city is how much signage there is about its history. As one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest (founded in 1843), Victoria has many impressive buildings, including their parliament, called “The Birdcages.”

Victoria is home to the second oldest Chinatown in North America. San Francisco’s is the oldest.

Yesterday, I went on a three-hour whale-watching tour, but, alas, we saw NO whales. At least I got to wear a fancy orange suit.

I also went on a walk through Beacon Hill Park.

I heard piercing birdcalls coming from the treetops. There were signs saying that it was heron nesting season, so I thought maybe this was normal. I glimpsed a heron, flapping its wings and stretching itself out above its nest.

When I got to the clearing, I saw a group of people craning their necks. I looked up just in time to see a huge bald eagle halting in the open for a moment, chased by darting missiles of little black birds, like fighter pilots attacking a much larger, more powerful enemy.

Having never seen a wild bald eagle before, I felt a rush of pride—an automatic reaction from a lifetime of nationalistic propaganda. For a few seconds, I was like, America … Fuck, yeah!

But then I overheard the onlookers saying that the eagles come to kill the babies, and that they are a huge threat to the heron population in the area. Apparently, some people thought the herons were under attack from a single adult eagle, dubbed “Birdzilla.”

So I turned to the other folks and said, “What’s that aboot? Take off, you hoser eagles! Go Canucks!” and slinked off to the other side of the park.

Today, it’s back to Portland and tomorrow I board a train for Chicago!

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Canada is like a PG-13 version of the United States. You feel like the worst thing that could happen is that you might see some boobs and hear a few swear words. Do they even have murders? I have heard more polite apologies in one week than in my entire life in the States. The country’s official motto should be “Canada: We’re sore-y.”

Within minutes of my arrival at my hostel, I met Anna, a lovely psychology grad from Germany. We had dinner at Yamato Sushi, which was not only fresh and delicious, but very cheap. And I found out that when Germans say Vancouver, it comes out “Wank-ooo-ver.”

The next day, we went on an all-day sightseeing tour led by Vancouver’s official 2012 “Volunteer of the Year”, Erik the Viking.

Tour guide extraordinaire, Erik

Erik is 72 years old and has been leading tours of the city for 18 years. His tours are even listed in the Lonely Planet travel guides.

Erik took us up into the hills and to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which stretches 450 feet over Vancouver’s rainforest.

If I ever lived in this city, I would start a subsection of my blog called The Vancougar Chronicles in which I dated my way through the city’s attractive young men. But I would not stay where my hostel was on this trip, because I deduced pretty quickly that it was the gay neighborhood. The men were far too clean and tank-top-adorned. Plus, the street is lined in rainbow flags and jaunty-looking sex shops.

Case in point: The other night we were walking back to the hostel and didn’t realize how close to home we were. When we turned onto our street, one of my new friends, an Aussie salsa dancer named Lisa, said she knew we were getting close because, “it was starting to get pretty sexy around here…”

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Example of the sexiness.

The next day, we met two more fun girls, Charlotte—another Australian—and Emma, who is a Brit. We walked all over town and back again. We checked out some of Wankoover’s funky public art installations, like these statues:

Then we went to Granville Island, where there is a huge indoor food/artists’ market. And this amazeballs shop that specializes in fancy brooms. Fancy BROOMS. Who knew?

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I bought this pin at the Granville Market

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This morning, Lisa, Charlotte, and I rode bikes on the seawall around Stanley Park. It was super fun.

Charlotte riding the seawall!

Charlotte riding the seawall!

What struck me is that many of the wonderful girls I met in Vancouver, including Charlotte and Emma, plan to spend six months to two years working abroad, often in the hospitality industry. It makes me reflect upon how far we have come as women in a relatively short period of time. One hundred years ago, they might have been working in estates (like Downton Abbey) or boarding ships and crossing the ocean to find opportunities in the new world.

How awesome is it that so many young women today are venturing out on their own, without the prejudices and restrictions faced by earlier generations? We are so lucky that we are no longer forced to into marriage and pregnancy, no longer sentenced to lifetimes of slave labor.

I realize that many of the world’s women do not yet have these privileges. But when I am looking on the bright side, I have to appreciate how far we have come. I just know that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers are smiling down on us and I can only send blessings up to the heavens for what all of them endured to make it possible. And I am absolutely certain that they would enjoy The Vancougar Chronicles.

Goodbye, Left Foot Farm

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Alas, my goat farming adventure has come to a close. I couldn’t even say goodbye to the goats today because it made me too sad. I will miss those little suckers.

I will also miss the humans. Like Anna, who always has the most creative, spontaneous ideas…

Why WOULDN'T we hook a Radio Flyer "chariot" up to Gypsy? It had to be done.

Why WOULDN’T we hook a Radio Flyer “chariot” up to Gypsy? It had to be done.

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One of Anna’s unique farm outfits

And Kaley and Gracie, who are just the coolest chicks around…

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Kaley loves to make Gracie laugh until she snorts and goes “woo-HOO-HOO-HOO! … woo-HEE-HEE-HEE…”

On my last day, Anna and Ella and I went to pick up a truckload of garden soil. At first we weren’t sure how to load the dirt into the truck. We are so used to doing manual labor on the farm that we were about ready to shovel it ourselves, but then this bad boy arrived to load us up…

Look at that Washington sky!

Look at that Washington sky!

Ella and Anna celebrating our soil acquisition.

Ella and Anna celebrating our soil acquisition.

For my going-away dinner last night, we made a cauliflower-crust pizza.

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Tara made the crust out of grated cauliflower, sour cream, and eggs. Gluten-free, yo.

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Tara, showing off the finished pizza…

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Jeremy, impersonating Tara…

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Then this happened…

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Jeremy mixed all of these hot sauces and a raw egg into a wine glass.

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And offered Kaley $30 to drink it.

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Mentally preparing herself…

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She was still pretty confident here.

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The only rule was that she couldn’t puke for ten minutes. I think this is the moment when she started to get worried.

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Oh SHIT…

Tara made $15 by drinking what was left in the glass, along with a shot of whiskey.

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In the end, Kaley prevailed! … Sort of…

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They dropped me off in Seattle today, and we had lunch at The Honey Hole, which is an excellent sandwich shop on Capitol Hill. I appreciated our booth’s decor…

IMG_1906I will miss you, Ladies of Left Foot Farm. Eat lots of Juani’s for me!

If only Kat could have been in this picture!

If only Kat could have been in this picture!

Tomorrow, it’s off to Vancouver. Canada. Eh.