Thursday, June 30, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Five: Hello from the Desert

Vegas looked a bit less sinful by morning light. On our way out of town, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up the day’s food rations: rolls, cheese, and Fuji apples. Feeling decidedly European, we munched on bread and cheese and we drove southeast.

We also drank plenty of water along the way, because of all the ways to die in the West (and there are a lot of them!), dehydration is the silent killer.

It's fun to hydrate!

Also, here's a Roadtripping Word to the Wise: if you are going to keep cheese in your car, invest in a cooler or eat it all in one go. Just trust us on this one.

A few miles out of Vegas, we began seeing signs for the Hoover Dam. Allissa became strangely excited about the prospect of seeing it; however, since we hadn’t planned sufficiently ahead nor understood the very clearly marked signs along the way, we merely drove over the top of the dam rather than getting a good view of it. Still, Alissa took a classic souvenir picture of the guard rail, so that counts for something.

On the drive between Vegas and Flagstaff, we were once again stunned by the view. Having lived in Florida for over twenty years, I find that it doesn't take much now by way of natural scenery to stun me: a mere change in elevation or the sight of mountains of any kind seems to do the trick.

Welcome to Arizona!

At any rate, when the scenery didn’t have us riveted , Alissa read aloud from The Loneseome Gods. Also, I drove over my first tumbleweed at this time. The excitement was palpable.

Upon our arrival in Flagstaff, we bypassed the city and drove straight out to Wupatki National Monument and something something Sunset Crater, where we played among lava floes and 11th century adobe ruins.

Alissa Climbs the Lava Flows

Land Ho!

Hello from the desert

Wupatki National Monument


Fortunately, the wind did not blow us away.

Wind Tunnel


Sunny with a chance of hair

Our hotel being along “historic” Route 66 should have lent it some charm; however, I’m sorry to say that it was, in a word, a dump. We locked ourselves in our room at The Knight's Inn well before sunset and settled down to hope that our little red VW would still be there in the morning.

It was.

See the rest of the Day 5 pics HERE.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Four: Viva Las Vegas

DAY FOUR: June 5, 2011 SUNDAY

Race Day had arrived! Our plan had been to be up and out of the hotel by 5:15, hopefully beating some of the race traffic. Our plan was half successful in that we did manage to leave by 5:15—a bit earlier, in fact. What we had not foreseen was the sheer volume of traffic that 32,000 marathoners would produce. Even by exhibiting all of my keen motocross skills, I was still barely able to get Alissa within a few blocks of the start line before the last corral entered the race. The poor girl had qualified in the tenth corral, but late-comers can’t be choosers. She went in somewhere in the 30+ corrals, happy to have made it.

While Alissa began her 13.1-mile odyssey, I began a journey of my own: an attempt to find all of the public viewing stations afforded me by public transit and beat her to the finish line. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Persistence and fortitude, however, were the watchwords of the day, and when AKB crossed the finish line, I was there to cheer her along.

Nearing the finish line

Actually, I was a block or two away from the finish line—which was mobbed. But you know what I mean.


As soon as the Half Pint finished her race, we had to book it down to the free shuttle, which we rode back to the trolly, which re rode back to the stadium where I’d parked the car, which we then in turn rode back to the hotel, where we checked out. It was about time, too: the toilet flusher had stopped working, the shower drain had clogged, the room keys were still glitchy, and we had both begun to take a real dislike to the place. To say nothing of the birth-defect-causing chemicals.

And so began the second phase of our trip: The Road Trip phase! I can’t tell you how much I had been looking forward to this part. Although, due to Alissa’s waning energy levels, it began as a bit of an anticlimax. She slept a bit while I tooled us north and east through the stunning mountains toward Las Vegas.

In the desert, Alissa woke from her nap seeming refreshed. After accustoming herself to the orange barrenness of our surroundings, she snapped out the Kindle and read aloud a few chapters from Louis L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods, which is a fantastic book even when not read while driving through the desert. ButI won’t lie: being in the desert added immeasurably to the reading.

Around 5:00pm, we arrived at our resort hotel in Henderson, just a short freeway drive from Vegas Proper. Since Alissa was in need of another high-carb meal (and I love carbs), we splurged on cheap, fatty foods at Denny’s to fortify us for the night ahead. The plan: do everything we could to prepare ourselves for sensory overload and head down to check out The Strip.

The Streets of Vegas

We arrived at The Bellagio around dusk, pulling all the way to the roof of the parking garage for a bird’s eye view of several glittery city blocks. We waited in the pleasant evening heat to see the famous fountain show outside The Bellagio, and saw a thirty-something rich kid do his best Backstreet Boys interpretive dance on the sidewalk. In my opinion, those two experiences alone would have made the trip to Vegas worthwhile.

Fountain Show

After that, we meandered a few blocks up and down the strip, being jostled on every side. Street performers, evangelists, tipsy tourists, flat-out drunks, the unfortunately-dressed of both genders, and advertisement-flicking shysters vied for our attention as we tried to walk, look, and not have light-induced seizures at the same time.

It was also at this point that a drunk on the sidewalk saw us taking jumping pictures and hopped in with some photographic advice, demanding that I adjust my ISO. (To hear the fully story, you must apply in person... it's long and may qualify as one of those "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" clauses...)

Las Vegas Street Jump

After hitting the interiors of Ceasar’s Palace and The Bellagio, plus walking up and down a few blocks without actually entering anything, our enthusiasm for Las Vegas began to wane.

In Caesar's Palace

In the Bellagio

Night Stroll

We hadn’t seen nearly a fraction of the “must-see” attractions in the downtown area, but Alissa’s long run and my drive through the desert both had sapped us of considerable vim. We shuffled through the even-more-tipsy-and-excitable crowds back to The Bellagio and pointed the little red bug for Henderson, attempting to navigate the strip without hitting any stray tourists.

Mission accomplished.

"Do you want to come in here??"

For the full Vegas photo set, see here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Three: One Perfect Day

June 4, 2011

Saturday may very well go down in GAWA history as a perfect day.

After an early-morning jaunt downtown for Alissa to retrieve her race packet, we headed out to see the sights.

Next on the agenda was the Cabrillo National Monument, which blew us away with its stunning views.

Cabrillo National Monument


Cabrillo National Monument

Tourist Ruth Discovers the Pacific

Pictures don't really do it justice, of course. You will have to go see it for yourself.

This was also where we saw a guy with a really nice camera and lots of gear turn his ankle and slip, falling face-first into a rocky tide pool. His camera and gear broke his fall, but somehow this didn’t seem to cheer him. (Witnessing this was the one blot on our perfect day.)

From Cabrillo, we traipsed across town to Balboa Park: a meandering assortment of museums, gardens, and other places cultural enrichment.

Balboa Park


Having had such good fortune thus far, we decided to try our tourist luck once more at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site in Old Town. I will say this: the museum is very well done and entertaining. We did not imagine then that this was but the first of many Mormon encounters we would have during the trip (although considering history, this is not surprising).

Looking to the Future

Since the next day was race day, Alissa needed to carb up for energy and I needed to carb up because I love carbs. (Carbs are awesome.) We rounded out our evening at The Olive Garden, stuffing our faces with 1,000+ calorie meals and sipping excellent coffee.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

GAWA2011, Day Two: Leaps and Bounds

Friday, June 3

Both of us passing a somewhat fitful night (hello Jet Lag, my old friend), we answered the morning bell with less enthusiasm than a grim determination to ignore the confused and wooly-headed states of our consciousnesses and sally forth to enjoy the California sun.

After a brief pit stop at the local Wal-Mart to acquire the necessary provisions of bottled water and snacks, we bumped across the city in our little red beetle to redeem our vouchers for free admission to the World-Famous San Diego Zoo. On the way, we stopped briefly for some photo ops down by the waterfront:

Tourist Ruth Is Inappropriate

Not long after we’d entered the zoo, we were joined by the provider of the vouchers: Alissa’s friend *Mitch and his girlfriend *Maggie. The four of us wandered amongst the exhibits, trying to avoid being caught up in clusters of jostling youths obviously exhilarated to be at the zoo for field trips. Sights such as a monkey’s butt would send these throngs of miniature enthusiasts into whoops and shrieks of frenzied enjoyment.

San Diego Zoo

Around noon, our little party of four broke up for the day, with Mitch and Maggie returning to their regularly-scheduled lives, and Alissa and I returning to our sightseeing. A quick drive across an impressive bridge took us to Coronado Island (really a peninsula), where Alissa had her first toe-dip into the Pacific Ocean.

AKB looks forward to driving over the bridge

After a brief jaunt around the island to grab a bite of lunch and ogle the fantastic waterfront homes, we showed our appreciation for the beauty of the day in the best way we knew how:

Coronado Ballerina Jump

Coronado Superhero Jump

A quick nap back at the hotel gave us the fortitude needed to venture forth for an evening round of adventure. I must say that though our evening fell slightly short of our initial expectations, it turned out to be both relaxing and enjoyable. Our original intention had been to visit a quaint little Thai restaurant on Pacific Beach and soak up some of the local atmosphere; however, a lack of parking dimmed the glow of enthusiasm for this particular plan, and instead we soaked up the local color at a nearly-deserted IHOP. Instead of bemoaning our fate, we slurped up some high-carb comfort food while enjoying the spectacle of a table full of typically California-style surfers flipping their hair out of their eyes as they gulped down their dinner and gossiped like girls.

A short drive back to the hotel did not end our adventures, though. From the beginning of our stay in our Travelodge, the disadvantages of that hotel had been pressing themselves upon us: the sign warning of dangerous chemicals, the spiders in the bathroom, the musky aroma of the carpets... but by far the most worrisome problem had been that our plastic room card keys seemed only to work intermittently. Arriving back from our dinner, we found that our key would not work at all. Tripping lightly down to the reception area to request assistance, we found a fantastic spectacle: a true Western Man. Behind the counter of the reception desk sat a slick young man in his early twenties sporting a buttoned black vest over a dress shirt, a fancy belt buckle, and (best of all) a gloriously lush handlebar moustache. Although nearly overcome with glee, I kept my countenance and communicated our dilemma. This was not a case easily solved, however, even for someone with such an intelligent-looking moustache. This required two trips to the front desk, key changes, and eventually his presence at our doorstep. Eventually, though, the Case of the Cantankerous Key was solved, and he walked down the steps from our door and was enveloped in the cool dark of the night, never to be seen again (so far).

Friday, June 17, 2011

GAWA2011, Day One: Two-for-One

Wednesday and Thursday, June 1-2, 2011

I know what you’re thinking: how can Wednesday and Thursday both be one day? I understand, because mid-way through those two days, I asked myself the same thing.

Wednesday night after church, I popped round to Clearmont street, stowed my car in my parents’ driveway, and bumped my rolling suitcase down the block to the house of my travel buddy Alissa. My plan to sleep a few hours before our departure was foiled: instead we shot the breeze until 1:00am, when the time finally had come to truly begin our Great American West Adventure!TM

Except for the moment during which Alissa suspected that small rodents were using one of the tires of her Prius as a hamster wheel, our drive to West Palm Beach was uneventful. In West Palm, we picked up Alissa’s man friend Joe, who had kindly agreed to lose a night’s sleep and drive us the rest of the way to Ft. Lauderdale.

Upon arriving at the airport at 3:00am, we wandered about its echoing, empty vastness searching for someone who might be able to tell us where we were to check in (as we were supposedly flying United, and they don’t have their own counter in Ft. Lauderdale). This accomplished, we were forced to wait until 4:00am to check in; however, we made good use of the time at hand. Alissa dug her travel guides out of her cavernous backpack, and we spent a happy forty-five minutes visualizing (among other things): 1- What it would be like to run across an elephant seal on a deserted beach (we later did), 2 - Which of us will be likely to slip and fall while climbing the supposedly difficult trail to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (to be continued!), and 3 – Why sandwich prices in California are so ridiculously high.

Our first flight of the morning—a short one to Charlotte, NC—proved by far the most entertaining. This is due largely to Alissa’s seat partner, a gentleman (I lose the term loosely) named (we think) “Ceno” who was very obviously high on something more than life. Among other various and sundry hijinks, he:

· Offered to keep Alissa warm using his own body (so awkward...)
· Was up and down out of his seat many times: very antsy.
· Made repeated smacking noises with his lips.
· Asked the stewards for many, many sugar and Equal packets.
· Carried on running dialogue with himself.
· Kept telling us his favorite parts of the flight (takeoff being the “biggie”)

I shall draw a veil over the four hour flight from Charlotte to San Diego, only observing that although it would have been in our best interest to sleep for those four hours, Alissa was the only one of the two of us who got any real sleep. By the time we landed, I was going on 30+ hours of no sleep. This had the surprising effect of producing in me a vast, mellow calmness that I have not experienced since having minor surgery in high school and being put on some very powerful anti-pain medications.

Upon securing our rental—a cherry-red VW bug—we passed some time in Old Town San Diego.

Feeling Nerdy

We then checked into the affordable (and chemically toxic) Travelodge on Hotel Circle near downtown SD.

Sketchy Hotel #1

Priority 1 – eating at In-n-Out. Priority 2 – showering and sleeping for several hours before meeting a friend of Alissa’s friend *Mitch for dinner.

Aforementioned friend very kindly picked us up in a sleek black Mustang and tooled us down to the waterfront, where he treated us to a delicious dinner. The noteworthy event at dinner was not so much that our waiter only had one hand, the other being a tiny nub at the end of his arm, but that Alissa did not even notice.

Upon finishing dinner, we zombie-walked back to our room and collapsed in our birth-defect-inducing room.


*Some names have been changed.