Northern Idiocy, Part III

I woke up in the middle of the night absolutely frozen and in a tug-of-war over blankets. I'm from Canada. I believe I am an expert in cold. I don't need to make up stories for my grandkids, I actually do walk to work when it's below -40 degrees celcius. So it's simply naivety that I, of course, knew it got cold in the desert at night but I didn't realize exactly HOW cold it got. It is downright bone-chilling! Having said that, I'm from Winnipeg so naturally I won the battle for the comforter. 


If you've never been to the Grand Canyon, let me describe the experience: if visiting the South Rim—the most popular location to view this natural wonder—you will start your day, preferably early, driving in from either Flagstaff or Williams. The journey will take just over an hour on a single lane highway in which not a single vehicle will pay heed to the posted speed limit. There are few places to stop. You will, however, pass a Flintstones campground that looks like it was constructed in 2018 B.C. (it might be enjoyable to visit for nostalgic purposes if it weren't so damn depressing). As you near the national park entrance, the landscape will change from desert to thick forest. Afterwards, you will be met with several supersized parking lots. Even if you arrive early, like we did, they will all be near capacity. 

I managed to park in the last row of the last lot which was near some trees that I hoped would provide a bit of respite from the blazing sun. HA! Northern idiocy redux. Both my car and myself would feel like they were set on fire at the end of the day, the non-covered parts of my skin turning a hue comparable to Pantone 186. What you might not realize is how few amenities there are next to these giant parking lots at the Grand Canyon, just a visitor centre and a scenic overlook. To get to the township and other points of interest, one must get on one of several bus lines that takes visitors around the park proper. Of course, during the summer these have longer line-ups than Disneyland. It makes for a long, sweltering day of mostly just standing around. I did about an hour's worth of hiking, took a few selfies to prove I was there and then left with a souvenir bottle of Canyon Cutter white wine

The Grand Canyon is, undoubtably, spectacular. But I did not feel relaxed there or in touch with nature. I felt hurried. I felt stressed. At the end of it, I didn't feel any deep connection. For me, it paled in comparison to the isolated, howl-at-the-moon wild of highway 89A from the previous day. That was very much the highlight of my trip. 

The evening was spent back in Williams, Arizona, only this time at a hotel rather than a teepee.  Williams is a small town located on historic U.S. Route 66., also known as the "Main Street of America". It is, perhaps, the most iconic highway in all of the United States, previously acting as the main thoroughfare for people who migrated from the midwest to southern California during the Great Depression. The town of just over 3,000 citizens definitely caters to tourists with a nod to Americana; there are more classic fifties-style diners within its boundaries than any major city I've visited before. As well, the imagery of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe appear to still resonate, symbolizing a feeling (or idea) we collectively aim to capture. 

We walked the streets as sunlight transitioned to dusk, conversing about what America was and what it's become. We later returned to our hotel room to drink. 

 Me at the entrance to the Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Me at the entrance to the Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

South Rim, Grand Canyon (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Route 66, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interstate 15, Part II

I like Montana. I like the mountains and crisp air and postcard panoramas. The first night of our road trip we stayed in its capital, Helena, which has less than 32,000 citizens. This statistic nicely details just how sparse the population is within the state. It's very ... breathable. Outside the natural scenery, the capital is somewhat nondescript in appearance; being two hours delayed from the unexpected detour, we made our way to a wood-fired pizza place and then just retired to our hotel room for the night not feeling like we missed anything. For future trips, I feel Butte would have been a better overnight destination. With snow-capped peaks framing it in the distance and historic architecture steeped in legend, the word "majestic" seems well-suited to describe its beauty. 

One can take Interstate 15 all the way from the Canadian border to the Mexican one. It's a nice drive with lots of rest stops, fuel stations and, within Utah at least, numerous billboards reminding people that God is watching and you should atone for your sins. 

Outside of having an ultra-conservative religious base that practices polygamy, I didn't really know anything about Utah. Ignoring the influence of creed and instead seeking enlightenment from mother nature, I was completely in awe of the rock formations in the southern portion of the state which includes a number of protected areas, national and state parks such as the breathtaking Grand Staircase National Monument. Eventually turning east off of Interstate 15, we were in the thick of it while enroute to our next stop: the biggest tourist destination of them all – the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  

Highway 89A in particular, a scenic route that runs through a Navaho reservation in Arizona, was the highlight of my entire trip. Driving through it was a showcase of some of America's most iconic landscape; landscape which has featured in many a Hollywood western to represent our storied, brutal history. I half-expected the ghost of John Wayne to manifest on the horizon as we drove this isolated stretch of roadway. Or perhaps hear the distant call of the roadrunner. Meep Meep.

Our adventure-filled day ended on a magical note as we slept in a teepee under a galaxy of visible stars. Living in a city with constant light pollution, this reminder of the scale of the universe (and my place within it) was a cathartic ending to a long, tiring, immensely memorable day. 

 Start of Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Start of Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Hiking off Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hiking off Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Our accommodation for the night, a teepee in Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Our accommodation for the night, a teepee in Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Interior of teepee, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interior of teepee, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Teepee selfie, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Teepee selfie, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Also the first BBQ of the season, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Also the first BBQ of the season, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Roadtrippin' Part I

I took a few weeks off this summer to do something I haven't done in a really, really long time:  road trip! As with all my vacations, if wasn't entirely spontaneous – I methodically did my research and planned my route ahead of time (only going the wrong way once), setting forth from my home base in the heartland of Canada to explore the American Southwest over the course of a much-too-brief ten days. With all that has happened since I've last been in the United States, I wasn't sure what to expect; this was, after all, my first real visit into Trump's America. 

This trip marked a test for me to get over some of the anxiety I've had behind the wheel. As previously written, last year I was driving behind a semi-truck when it fatally collided with a car overtaking the oncoming lane. The first day we hit the open road on this excursion was also marked by tragedy as another major vehicle accident with six deceased, including an entire family, occurred on one of the same highways we were traveling. As we drove through the small prairie town where it occurred, we happened upon the aftermath as a tow-truck transported one of the nearly unrecognizable SUVs. It was another poignant reminder that life is fragile and precious. 

The trip was also a time to reflect on my dad and the times we shared in my youth taking road trips with our family's wood-panelled station wagon—an 80s kid staple—and Bonair trailer. It seemed like such a simpler time. One where the realities of adulthood, stress and loss had not yet been introduced. But as I am now the age my father was back then, I realize that sense of wonder can always be recaptured if your spirit is open to it. Despite our current era, which shows an increasing lack of empathy, regard and shame, the world remains a magical place. You might have to squint at times to see it, but once you catch a glimpse, faith can be restored. 


I can't drive more than nine hours a day. That is my limit. Being the sole driver on this excursion took a lot out of me, as this was the distance we tried to span almost every day from prairie to mountains to moonscape-mirrored desert. Even though one is just sitting, glancing at scenery and singing along to Elvis, it does become fatiguing after awhile. I don't know how my father managed to do this all the time with no complaints (especially when I was acting a right shit in the backseat). I tried to emulate this zen-like state while watching the terrain evolve. In Montana, this was easy; there is hardly any traffic at all. In other parts of the country, though, becoming one with my inner Clark Griswold was more satisfying. 


After crossing the border into Montana, we turned off our phones to escape unnecessary roaming and data charges, relying instead on a Garmin GPS. I also relied on my natural sense of direction which was only overruled once. 

"Are you sure we're supposed to turn east?"

"The GPS shows we go east for a bit and then south."

"...But the time to reach our destination has increased by two hours compared to what the phones stated before we turned them off. We're heading in the direction of North Dakota ...."

"The GPS is correct. Just follow it."

And so I did. Adding two hours to our trip through the backwoods of Montana. It is beautiful country, this big sky country. 

But there's no fucking gas stations. 

 Wind farm somewhere on the back roads of Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Wind farm somewhere on the back roads of Montana (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Big Sky Country (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Big Sky Country (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

❤️

Birthday memories of an amazing man whom I will always hold dearly in my heart. My dad will be forever loved and missed.

 My dad in New York City, one of his favourite places (2012 ©Deborah Clague). 

My dad in New York City, one of his favourite places (2012 ©Deborah Clague). 

Hong Kong X

Every morning after waking up, I would open the curtain from the window and flood my room with light from the rising sun. I wanted the view of the city—my impeccable view of Victoria Harbour—to be the first thing I saw. It was a sight that would fill me with motivation and gratitude. And as my trip was nearing its end, I wanted to soak up every minute of it in hopes that the feeling would carry forward long after I left Hong Kong. 

Beyond the view, there was something else at the window that elicited wonder from me daily. A bird would often circle around my window, perhaps able to see movement behind the glass and as curious about me as I was about him and his urban adventures.


A bird wouldn't be the only creature that I held silent conversation with. 

Visiting Buddhist temples and pausing in the presence of their serenity was a most welcome respite from the constant traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Outside, people just stared at the screen of their phone (like most everywhere else, just amplified here amongst 7+ million citizens). While inside, one couldn't help but take stock of their surroundings as the feeling of peace carried over the air with the wisps of incense. Man Mo Temple was a highlight but I also wanted to return to Wong Tai Sin, the "good luck" temple. I wanted my trip to start, and end, there in the hopes that its myth might rub off on me. 

On my second visit, I had a strange encounter. One that I should preface with a brief story because I know it's going to sound strange and unbelievable but is not, perhaps, entirely unprecedented. A few years ago, my best friend was on her own spiritual journey and found herself delving into the world of crystals, even attending a conference to learn about their supposed healing power and other mystical properties. One strange experience she shared with me was participating in a breathing exercise circle. As she paced her exhalation, eyes closed and deep in thought, she felt the sensation of someone poking her stomach. Immediately exiting her zen-like state, she darted her eyes to see who it was. And there was no one present. Admittedly, I thought she may have, ahem, also been researching other "natural" ways to seek enlightenment during this period but it turned out to not be the case and she swore by the story.

And now, back to mine. 

On my second visit to Wong Tai Sin, I again paid respects at the alters, each representing one of the five geomantic elements—metal, wood, water, fire and earth—and ended by pausing in the Good Wish Garden. It was here that I took a few moments to reflect on my newfound love for the city of Hong Kong, the hardships I've experienced over the past few years and my hope that the future would continue on a path of light ... when I felt a poke. It DISTINCTLY felt like someone's finger poking me near my ribcage. I, like my friend, immediately exited my trance and looked around to see who it was. 

But there was no one there. 

I looked down at the pond, at the koi swimming around, and for the first time I saw a turtle perched on a rock staring at me.  


At Wong Tai Sin, I returned to the same fortune teller I visited ten days prior. On this occasion, he had a line of two women awaiting his seer services. I joined them by sitting patiently on a stool outside his tiny storefront and recollecting back on the futurities he previously shared with me. After involving myself with some dubious characters over the years, that initial inquiry specifically related to my love life. People these days act like love is an archaic concept and feelings don't exist but I am not wired that way. I value honesty, integrity and respect and lament how rare they increasingly seem to be as people treat the emotions of others like commodity to be traded for ego. This toxicity can, unfairly, also taint future relationships as well and while I have met someone who possesses the strong character traits I desire in a partner, I don't want my past to hold any influence on my view of who they actually are. 

"They will travel to meet you. You will meet at an event relating to dance."

And so it was written.

My partner is originally from Kerala, India, but has lived in Australia, South Africa and South Korea performing scientific research. I met him three years ago at a salsa dancing class neither he, nor I, was planning to be at. The chemistry was immediate. All night, I noticed him staring at me (and I'm sure he did likewise). When my friend wanted to leave, I implored her to stay just a little bit longer as I felt I wasn't leaving without his number. Too shy to approach him though, I felt I could will it into fruition. Sure enough, a few minutes later he asked me to dance and the rest was history. While we've had our ups-and-downs, our ons-and-offs, we always return to each other as we are best friends. 

I waited in line for around thirty minutes and then made the decision to leave. The original fortune I received could have been somewhat vague to anyone, but there was an eerie specificity to my life that gave me hope I already found the answer I was looking for. 


The last image of my trip that will forever stay with me is flying over the red lights of a ferris wheel illuminated against the stark countryside of Taiwan down below. Sometimes the perspective you need can only be found at 20,000 feet. 

 Hong Kong sunrise (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong sunrise (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Hong Kong's famous trams, Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Hong Kong's famous trams, Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Rainy afternoon in the Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Rainy afternoon in the Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Back alleys of Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Back alleys of Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 Walking along the promenade at night, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Walking along the promenade at night, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

 Various amulets available for purchase at Wong Tai Sin Temple (you best believe I now own a "get rid of scumbag" amulet) (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Various amulets available for purchase at Wong Tai Sin Temple (you best believe I now own a "get rid of scumbag" amulet) (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

 One last selfie from the top of Hotel Icon (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

One last selfie from the top of Hotel Icon (©Deborah Clague, 2018).