Friday, November 5, 2010

Around North America in 80 Days

Trip Reflections:
Somehow, I managed to travel around this western portion of the world in nearly 80 days, but it was never a race and always enlightening.  Its interesting because there were times when people I spoke to had no idea where I had been, so I wanted to plot a lot of points on a map and show you the extensity of my trip.  I drove exactly 14,027 miles.  I inadvertently followed the Continental Divide for most of my trip, but since I was in search of mountainous beauty and great fishing it makes sense.   Now that I am back home I get to buckle down on the more real aspects of life after college and take care of some well-worth-it debts.  

Courtesy of Apple screen shot and Google Maps.
Courtesy of 
Thanks Yous:
I want to take this chance to thank my parents because I had their enthusiastic support the ENTIRE time and I am sure that they were worried a few times.  You guys made the trip possible for me.  Gracias, como siempre.   

For those who were particularly generous and hospitable to me, thank you: Ben in Fort Worth, Lisa & Kurt and Frank & Barbara in Pagosa Springs, Grandma in Ennis, Bug and Randy in Helena (thank you for putting me in touch with great fishermen), Sussie and Tom in Kalispell, Dennis and family in Kenai, Monica and Richard in Calgary, Tod on the Bow River, Kent in Juneau, Bill and Nick in Ketchikan, Chester in Vancouver, Jen in Tofino, the Wilsons in Portland, and Javi in LA.  I learned that as much as I created this trip for myself, you guys enriched it.  Thank you. 

I want to thank the rest of my family and friends for supporting and hosting me along the way as well.  It was not only encouraging for me to here your optimism when we spoke, but it was necessary when things got lonely. 

Thank you to the following fly fishing guides and helpful people: The Reel Life in Santa Fe, Let It Fly in Pagosa Springs, Dan’s Fly Shop in Lake City, Madison River Fly Shop in Ennis, Fish Tales in Calgary, Adventure Guiding in the Kenai Peninsula, Darcy in Anchor, and Kenai River Fly Fishing in Cooper Landing.   

I want to personally thank Toyota Motor Corporation for providing the best possible vehicle created to roam the US and Canada’s more wild terrain.  I began my trip with 240,000 miles and never had an issue.  Originally owned and exceeding 250,000 miles is unbelievable and yet I never doubted it.

**I hope that this adventure and online journal is one of many that I will have the chance to share with you.  It has been a pleasure keeping you guys informed.  

Headed Home

Days 77-79
I stayed the night at a Motel 6 in Phoenix and slept in since I had a cold that was brewing inside me.  I checked out minutes before my cut-off time and began my drive home.  It would be 1,200 miles from Phoenix to Houston and initially I was determined to replicate the Ennis to LA trip.  I was stoked for coming home, but I did not have to push it since I had all the time in the world to carry out my trip. 

All I will say is that after months of “being on the run,” I was more than ready to get home, sleep in my bed, shower consistently and not worry about re-icing my cooler.  Around midnight I was exhausted, had driven through a couple seedy West Texas towns, one of which had the full service gas attendant smoking a cigarette.  I told the guy he was a fool, but he didn’t care.  Inside the same establishment, the custodian mopping the floors plotted my pathway and then the cash register lady told me I was not welcome there!  I drove through a miscellaneously located Texas border patrol that included drug dogs and a search at 1AM. 

Within a few miles of the stop I chose a rest stop to sleep at.  At 3AM, I was rudely awakened by the shining lights of a large diesel truck that was parked behind me.  It sat high enough to blind me from inside the car and was loud enough (since it was idling) to wake up a sleep deprived and medicated patient.  I was furious.  I asked them if I could pull my vehicle up and ask them to turn off their engine.  But I could not fall back asleep.  I drove another hour, found another rest area, and slept until dawn. 

My last eight hours of driving were forgettable, but coming home was awesome. 

Grand Canyon

Days 74-76
We arrived hours after dark, but luckily I had a simple two-man tent that assembles in ten minutes.  I put Claire in charge of sorting out the bedding while I made my most cooked meal of the trip: Ramen noodles.  My chef’s touch added cabbage, three eggs, zucchini, and mushrooms.  Seconds after dinner we passed out.  I have to give Claire props because she was tough for enduring the cold.  I did not know how cold it would be either night that we were planning on staying and both nights it was 28 degrees or colder and there were no complaints.

The next morning we made scrumptious pancakes with blueberries, coffee, and eggs.  We packed a tuna sandwich lunch for our day at hiking and set off to see the Grand Canyon (we took liberty in pronouncing it with a French accent to reaffirm our tourist tendencies and to be funny).  All of a sudden we realized that we had been sleeping on the South Rim of the Canyon and that the mile deep crevasse was within ½ a mile of where we camped.  We got direction for where to visit and what to see, but I quickly learned that your time at the Grand Canyon should not be spent seeing things, but doing things.  We hiked along the Hermit Rim road for a few miles stopping at a number of picturesque viewpoints, but the really cool, cliff-edged hikes were much longer.  There are a few hikes like the one to Plateau Point that were visibile from a lot of the viewpoints above and it killed us because we had not planned better.  But I have to say, I do not regret the trip because we did everything that you could see from a car, including the Dessert Road and we maximized our time there.  Some of the cooler hikes were about fourteen miles one way so in reality we played it well. 

Cute baby
We took some sunset shots from the South Rim and then had time to shower before the facility closed.  That evening, we made a chicken fajita feast.  I made a fire while Claire made her impressive Guacamole and grilled veggies.  We feasted and roasted smores in lieu of it being Halloween. 

Yesterday, we woke up fairly early, packed up, and chose to hike part of the South Kaibab trail, which was a portion of one of the more “fun” trails.  See, we did not know that to hike all the way down the South Rim and to the hotel at the bottom required six months of planning in advance, so the lesson is that were coming back. 
Our tent scene.
The Grand Canyon is unbelievable.  It is insane because the huge tectonic plates bleow the earth’s crust vertically shifted a lot of square miles.  So if you look away from the Canyon you see miles of tree-lined plateaus, but if you look down the canyon (which is deeper than a mile) or across the canyon (wider than than a mile as well) there is the North Rim which stands at 8,000’.  The point is, that the Colorado River, erosion, continual tectonic movement, gravity, volcanic activity, and God’s touch created one of the MOST amazing terrains in the world.  My interpretation of the Grand Canyon is calling it a reverse mountain, but it is definetly one of the world’s wonders and I am happy to have squeezed a small portion of it into my trip with Claire. 

Later that day, we drove the Desert Road, which loops east and then south towards Flagstaff.  A nice couple recommended that we drive through Sedona to get a glimpse of the dessert and the monstrous natural earth outcroppings that are there. 

That evening we drove down to Pheonix to take Claire to the airport since she had to return to work in New York, but thank you for visitng me and being part of my trip.  Vegas and the Grand Canyon would not have been the same without you.      

Las Vegas

Days 72-74
Claire got in at about midnight and the party started immediately.  I had a bottle of champagne chilled and waiting so that we could have a few drinks before dinner.  It had been over three months since we had seen each other and although I had turned into somewhat of a mountain man, car-sleeping bum, we meshed all over again.  We had a snack in the mall-like food court in the foyer of the casino and then played a few slot games that amounted to winnings of 20%... which meant about $2.60. 

The Fountain Restaurant.
Cesaer Salad
View from the top of Mandalay Bay.
The following morning we used a 2-for-1 buffet coupon and vegged like we used to.  Claire informed me that there was a shopping outlet mall, which ended up being great for me since I had no dress clothes.  We spent a few hours there until we went back to the hotel and made plans for the night.  Within the next eight hours, we purchased the Lion King theatre tickets, had dinner at The Fountain, which was immaculate and in Mandalay Bay, watched the show (which was stunning), checked into a few clubs that we got into for free, then went back to the hotel, changed into our clubbing attire, went back out to club Pure in Cesaer’s Palace (which was overrated), and finally we crashed around 5AM.  Las Vegas is essentially a grown man’s playground.  At first its kitschy nature was overwhelming and a bit much, but it is fun to have a vast array of party options every night of the week, especially since the shows are so impressive.    

Our last day in Vegas was also eventful.  We woke up in time for a massive and delicious brunch buffet.  Then I took my stab at Texas Hold’em Poker, which was good to me.  I won a few hands right away and ended up breaking even, but poker is a game that cannot be hurried, so next time I will spend more time. 

Bellagio Botanical Gardens
Trying to rehydrate... man thinks I'm crazy.
Flowers I got for Claire.
Fountain show. 
We then saw the fountain show at the Bellagio as well as their botanical garden and blown glass display.  The Bellagio was simply more snazzy that our spot, but given our budget we were still very pleased.  A few hours out we hit up the Hoover Dam and were immediately shocked by its grandeur.  I thought it was the perfect model for something that Howard Roark might have built in The Fountainhead.  Even the bridge overhead was impressive especially at sunset.  A few hours later we got to our next destination: the Grand Canyon.  It was a wonderful transition from one of man’s most incredible hand made wonders (Vegas) to one of God’s most surreal places on earth.   

Hoover Dam
Structural grandeur... makes you appreciate and respect engineers. 

West Hollywood

Chilled mugs.

Days 69-72
Essentially, we chilled just like we did when we were in college and remembered our “peak years” since they are long in the past now.  We woke up around noon and went to IHOP for breakfast.  West Hollywood is an interesting town, its right off of Sunset Blvd. and is loaded with wealth, trendy people, and incredible weather.  After heading back to catch up on sleep since the drive was exhausting, we went to a local sports bar and watched the phony Lakers inch off the Houston Rockets late in the forth quarter.  Then he showed me some new cool video games for a few hours.  Our itinerary mimicked my visit to Buenos Aires when we were studing abroad: he in Argentina and me in Santiago, Chile.  The schedule went: go out, stay late, sleep in, eat, nap, go out again.  But this time, Javi hooked us up. 
Street art.
He had just finished an internship with a fancy hotel and knew the owners of a Hollywood Star Homes tour.  We checked that out for a couple hours and saw the homes of the richest of the rich on Beverly Hills; you name it, we saw it.  We then had dinner at a local Chinese spot and watched a terrible movie.  DO NOT watch Paranormal Activity 2, I do not recommend it at all. 
Santa Monica Beach
For our last day, we chilled around town some more, checked out Santa Monica Beach at sunset, had dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp place (themed after "Forest Gump"), and then went to one of LA’s most sought after clubs.  Drai’s was outstanding because it has a number of outdoor cabanas where people host private parties. Given the Halloween theme, costumes and celebrities were out and about.  Javi and I had a great last night in a big city and crashed at an un-godly hour. 

The next morning, I washed a load of laundry and booked it for Las Vegas to check in to the Monte Carlo, pick up Claire, and start enjoying the rest of my trip.  

Ennis, MT - Los Angeles, CA

Days 66-68
I rearranged my gear in the vehicle and headed south to Ennis to visit my Grandmother and run a few errands.  I returned Bill and Nick’s inflatable one man and checked in at Grandma’s around 4PM.  Her house had just been completed from a two month long, exterior makeover.  Her home, which now stands out from the mailbox half a mile away, is utterly beautiful.  Most of the features that were camouflaged before, like the logs and general architecture are now apparent.  I filled Grandma in on some of the more incredible moments of my trip and then, as a treat, we watched Wall Street, the film, in the Ennis movie theatre, which only plays one movie at a time.  Afterwards, we had a special dinner at Sportsman's and crashed after a long day. 

Opening day of hunting season.
The following day, I agreed to rearrange some of the furniture in her home because we were turning a small den into another bedroom.  Little did I know that it would end up being an eight hour project.  But hanging out with Grandma is always a blast and we ended up laughing quite a bit.  Before dark, I chose to see the boulder that had crushed part of the Ennis Dam.  I thought they may be able to remove it, but now it seems that it may indefinitely be part of the dam.  I was pleased to see that Ennis Lake retook a healthy amount of water and then headed back home.  We watched the start of a movie until we both dozed off. 

The next morning, Grandma was nice enough to treat me to an Ennis Pharmacy breakfast (its actually called Yesterday’s) at 7AM knowing I would try to drive the entire way to Los Angeles in a day.  It was great to see Grandma in such great shape and, again, she's STILL got it!  I know that I was planning on driving down highway 101 through Washington and Oregon to then catch Highway 1 in California, but it just was impossible to do it all.  In fact, its been a major lesson for me, not to overbook myself with plans when you may want to spend an extra day in an unexpected place like Tofino or spend an extra day with family. 

Sunset over Arizona/California border.

Anyway, I did it.  After 1,060 miles and eighteen hours of driving, I made it to LA to see my good friend Javi from Amherst College.