The Great White North
Standing on a granite boulder in the middle of the creek, my neon green flyline whipped back and forth in ten-and-two motions overhead. In one final throw, I set the fly upstream of a large boulder and let the current carry it past what was sure to be an underwater lair filled with hungry fish. Moments later my line was taut, having coaxed a large native brown trout out from under the boulder. After a short battle, it jerked hard and broke my line. Sheena and Lauren had given us one mandate before we stepped out the door: bring back enough trout to eat for dinner. After two hours of fishing in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon, we had managed to catch and release a couple dozen six inchers, and the one edible-sized one had gotten away.
Later, while standing downstream of the bridge to Garland’s Cabins, a vacationing Mexican family walked past me and stopped to watch. I put a halt to my unfruitful fishing and excitedly recounted to them how we had left Mexico five months ago, and that I had spent every night since then crying myself to sleep thinking about the Mexican food we’d left behind.
I told them how on my recent flight home I had stopped over in Hermosillo, Mexico, with only one thing on my mind. I recounted how after the plane had landed, I had bolted away from the airport on foot, how the heat had enveloped me as I left the terminal, and how the air smelled like nostalgia. I was alone; for reasons not worth mentioning Sheena was on a different flight. Despite the absence of my navigator, I knew where to find my fix. I ducked into the first neighborhood I came across looking for a dealer who could feed my addiction. I wandered only a short time before finding what had been haunting my dreams, like a crack addict finding his next fix. As I approached the open air taco stand the husband, wife, and son were just setting up for the day. It was eight o’clock in the morning, the crock pots of beef and pork let off a hint of chili-scented steam. I dropped my backpack and melted into a familiar red plastic chair. A fly buzzed around the table, and the wife started slapping dough between her hands to form the fresh tortillas that would be the foundation for the many tacos on which I would gorge myself. The endorphins coursing through my veins put me into a stationary runner’s high. True happiness, I told the family as they sat on the bridge straddling Oak Creek, is a Mexican taco stand.
We returned empty handed to Mike and Lauren’s cabin on the banks of Oak Creek. Fortunately, Lauren was an avid reader of our blog, and knew that this would happen. She and Sheena had gone to the store while we were out, and nodded an unsurprised nod as we came through the door with nothing but our fishing rods. Without grocery stores we would have starved to death long ago.
A few days before hopping on the plane in Bogotá, we had put the word out on our Facebook page that we were looking for a car to use for a month to travel between the corners of our eje familiar; our families and friends were scattered between three locations in Arizona: Phoenix, Prescott, and Flagstaff. A few hours later, my good friend Brian – the one who introduced me to mountain biking in 7th grade, whose family had been good friends since elementary school, and whose sisters would host us in our final stop before crossing the border into Mexico at the onset of our trip – offered up his car. “No problem, I’ll just ride my motorcycle for the month,” he said.
With gas in our little car and freedom in our little hearts, we set off from Phoenix to the Great White North: our adopted hometown of Flagstaff. After a quick and, of all the excellent establishments we could have chosen, utterly unexplainable stop at Carl’s Junior, we knocked on the door of our good friends Brigit and Bret. We had crashed at their downtown home for the week prior to our departure, and when we arrived our room was just as we had left it; the same books were stacked on the desk, and the Flight of the Concords poster hung inanimately on the wall next to the bed. Bret, a magician when it comes to baking, hastily got to work making a fresh batch of his famous chocolate chip cookies.
In an uncanny display of perfect timing, we had arrived in Flagstaff just in time for the annual Clips of Faith festival; an outdoor gathering to celebrate brews and short films put on by New Belgium Brewing Company. Accompanied by our friends Nathan and Claire we made our way over to the park, bought a handful of wooden tokens, and passed the evening sipping remarkable beer, catching up with friends, and being entertained by this year’s selection of short films.
Fittingly, the last film of the evening was one we came across a couple of months ago, which puts into words and images our feelings about the importance of doing the trip we’re currently doing. Car trouble be damned, we’re doing the right thing.
The day after Clips of Faith we decided to continue the celebration. Being that the New Belgium crew was already in town, we threw together a beer tasting at Nathan’s house and invited some of the New Belgium crew. Nathan supplied a few bottles from a recent business trip to the East coast, while Grant, a New Belgium sales rep, supplied several experimental New Belgium brews and an especially rare and expensive bottle of 2002 Stone Vertical Epic, of which he had found an entire case buried in his garage. Matt, a brewer from New Belgium, spent the evening ensuring that our palates were well calibrated to the treats he expertly brewed up back in Fort Collins.
Before we started eight months ago, Nathan had brewed a special batch of Belgian Quadrupel for us; a beer he called World Wide Quadrupel. We took a case of it on our trip, temporarily occupying our toilet paper cabinet. After being hounded for a very long time by friends and fans of his beer, he finally pulled the trigger and decided to start a microbrewery. We dropped by the brewery to see how things were progressing, and found the place full of equipment, ready to be plumbed together into a beer wonderland. If all goes well, Wanderlust Brewing Company should be distributing in Arizona within the next couple of months. With the goodness he’s about to unleash on the world, Nathan is soon to be, I don’t know, the fifth most famous person I know.
The sixth most famous person I know is Delia Withey. There exists a natural foods brand called Annie’s Organics. Annie, as it turns out, is Delia’s aunt. When Delia was but a wee child, she had a rabbit named Bernie. Buyers of Annie’s foods will know that all Annie’s products come adorned with a stamp on the package depicting a rabbit. This is “Bernie’s Stamp of Approval”. Delia’s childhood pet is thus depicted on millions of boxes of Annie’s Organics, making Delia the sixth most famous person I know.
We spent our time in Flagstaff catching up with good friends and eating good food. We paid the exorbitant and shocking price of $18 for a hamburger and a drink at Diablo Burger, had the world’s best breakfast burritos at Tacos Los Altos, induced food coma over a plate of Fratelliquiles at Martanne’s, and gave ourselves wasabi headrushes at Karma Sushi. See the girl second from the right in the first picture below? That’s Delia. She’s the sixth most famous person I know.
The climax of our “Reacquainting with Long Forgotten Foods of Home” tour was a visit to our favorite restaurant, the Himalayan Grill. Arriving for dinner was like coming home from war; Ramesh welcomed us with a huge smile, Jit came out of the kitchen to chat and hear about our trip, and Karan and Jyotsna told us all about their newborn son. Ramesh brought me a beer from a local brewery, and Karan made Sheena a melon flavored coctail, which he delivered with a huge smile. “I always wanted to be a bartender in New York when I was growing up. This is a drink I made up.” The food, as usual, was awesome.
As we headed for the door, Ramesh corralled us into the bar and sat us down. “We must drink a toast!” Several shots of tequila and rum later, we were fully toasted and ready to walk home. As I clambered out of the bar to pay for our meal, Ramesh waved his hand. “We’re glad to see you, it’s on the house!” He then reached behind the register and produced a bag containing two dinners to go; Sheena’s favorite: saag paneer. “Now you don’t have to cook tomorrow,” he said, as he whisked us out the door. Some people just exude awesomeness.
After the first couple of weeks at home it was clear that the fourth option was the right one. I was enjoying a much needed respite from Vanagon maintenance and transmission problems, and a steady diet comprising mostly Mexican food had put a temporary end to me crying myself to sleep. While it is no exaggeration that true happiness is a Mexican taco stand, there is no denying the fact that no number of taco stands can rival the happiness that time spent with friends and family can deliver. Now, if only traveling halfway across a hemisphere could heal a man’s inability to catch a fish worthy of eating.