A Year In America – Matt Williams

I spent my third year at University exploring America, and all it has to offer. It is such a huge country, and so diverse I understand why many people never leave it.

Though the year was also full of work, the most exciting parts to read about are the non-academic ones.  Here’s a brief recap of some of my adventures.

THANKSGIVING

My wonderful friend Sophie was kind enough to invite me to stay with her family for Thanksgiving. This was amazing in two ways. First, Thanksgiving is just like our Christmas, but with more food and more (American) football. What’s not to like!? Second, she saved me from staying in an empty dorm and wondering what I was doing with my life.

Highlight of the trip: Sophie’s aunt made a baked brie that I would do unspeakable things to get hold of again.

ESCAPING A WINTER STORM

Between Christmas Eve and January we took a trip along the east coast. After spending Christmas and New Years in Manhattan, we proceeded down the coast, then in across the Smoky Mountains to Nashville and New Orleans.
I just so happened that we were about a day ahead of the huge winter storm that decided to turn up along the eastern seaboard. Have you ever been so cold that your ears are physically hurting? I have.

Photos below range from Manhattan to Washington DC, Nashville, New Orleans and Chicago.
Highlight of the trip: having the whole crowd singing along as I performed Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ and Montell Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’ at a Kareoke in New Orleans.

SUMMER TIME: GETTING TO THE WEST

Eventually summer arrived and it was time or me to begin my trip of a lifetime. Starting in Toronto, I made my way across endless fields and a few cities in the northern states to reach the start of where all the action would happen: the Rocky Mountains.

Highlight of this section: Somehow I ended up staying with the artist Tim Holmes. We had some long conversations, shared some food, shared some stories… All in all he was an impeccable host!

THE BADLANDS

Eventually, I arrived at the first of my extended geography lessons in The Badlands. Sitting between two endless prairies on two levels it is completely jaw dropping. Photos don’t do it justice.

Below you can see my wonderful chariot and luxurious accommodation for the trip, Mark the Third, in all his majesty. He stuck with me the whole way and didn’t break down once!

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On the second night I camped in the wilderness. After wandering around for hours I decided on a spot and slumped my pack onto the ground. The fantastic thing about all these places is you can’t help but feel envigorated whenever you’re in them and I quickly recovered and settled in for the night.

In the early hours of the morning, however, the badlands began to live up to their name. A torrential downpour same out of nowhere. Come midday, with no sign of the downpour ending, I had to try and pack up in a lull in the heavy rain. The dry, cracked surface you see in the pictures completely transforms under rain into a sheet of slippery mud more treacherous than any ice. As fate would have it, the van was parked at the bottom of a ravine. Instead of ending my life early, I thought it was best to take the long way round, adding four hours onto my hike out.

I left with a new appreciation of the settlers who first crossed this area. They definitely had some screws loose.

Highlight of this section: Sharing breakfast with the Buffalos.

YELLOWSTONE AND THE GRAND TETONS

Next up on the trip across the Rockies was a joint venture into the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks.

After a brief day in Yellowstone and camping out in the wilderness around Heart Lake I headed down into the Grand Tetons. In contrast to the consistent height of Yellowstone, the mountains of the Grand Tetons are a much grander sight. They jut out of the earth with little warning, often cradling a lake at their base. I hadn’t even planned to go originally, but my wonderful National Geographic guidebook to the National Parks made sure I didn’t miss out.

Highlight of this section: After chatting with a girl on her way down the chasm we had both just hiked, she offered to pay for my ride across the lake – cutting three miles out of my trek and getting a nice little boat ride out of it. Wherever you are, Laura, you rock!

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Yellowstone. ‘Nuff said.

SEATTLE

After being alone in the great outdoors for so long, I thought it was best to splurge a little bit and have some social interaction. Seattle treated me very well. I tried sushi for the first time (amazing), met a medical marijuana supplier, and it didn’t even rain!

Highlight of this section: Half price mains after 9pm at a restaurant around the corner from the hostel. Had two meals in one sitting. Both yummy.

THE OLYMPIC PENNINSULA

The Olympic Penninsula is a wonderful area. Probably my favourite of all the places I visited. The National Park encompasses everything from mountains, to rainforests, beaches and islands. It was all gorgeous.

Highlight of this section: Visiting the natural hot springs and having a good old soak. Great after a long walk.

WASHINGTON TO CALIFORNIA

Some stories are better in person. I will tell you I got to fly that plane…

A REALLY BIG TREE

And that’s only about a third of the way up!

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SAN FRANCISCO

I’m pretty sure you have to pay a toll to go over the Golden Gate Bridge… I didn’t. Whoops!

Despite becoming a petty thief (not by choice), San Francisco didn’t punish me in the slightest. In fact, the weather was grand! This let me wander its various hills and parks to my heart’s content and get a good feel for the city. Though its under constant threat of impending doom from the fault line it sits on, the only vibe you get from this place is one of relaxation. That is, after everyone has rushed around the city, they can retreat to their own little hideaway; be it the beach or the forest or the various wooded parks.

I also HIGHLY recommend deep fried oreos. Don’t judge me.

Highlight of this section: Having a read in a nice square and witnessing a little dog party.

THE BIG SUR

An exceptionally good drive. Considered one of the best in the world by many… I could see why. The twisting road leads you along the coast for miles and miles of breathtaking cliffs. Constantly trying to steal looks away from the road got quite risky towards the end!

VENICE BEACH

I ended up spending most of my time by the skate park here. The boardwalk was interesting, but probably a lot better if you had a party lined up.

4TH OF JULY!

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SAN DIEGO

Marking the end of my trip, I ended up staying here for quite a while. I had to sell Mark the Third to be able to afford my plane ticket home. I was couchsurfing with a guy, Jeff, working at the university. He put me up for over a week and was a brilliant host. We had some good times together and even managed to go on a weekend adventure. Hopefully we’ll see each other again sometime in the future.

Highlight of this section: Visiting a Man vs Food location and having, by far, the best burrito I have ever eaten.

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

We managed to get away for a weekend amongst these magical trees. I had driven through the redwoods in Northern California on my way down, but I got to spend more time amongst (and inside!) the trees this time. They really do create this wondrous sense of age and humble everyone who visits.

Highlight of this section: Driving through a tree!

Then it was home time 😦

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