Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eehern Road Trip: Parts 2 1/2 and 3 - Utah and Arizona

Utah, really not a fan.

I'm not sure they even wanted me there in the first place. The first hotel we tried was booked. The second hotel was also booked. Finally, the third hotel had rooms and we were finally able to go to sleep.

The next morning I tried going online with hotel wifi. A short while later I got a virus and my internet was completely pwnd. This wasn't a seedy hotel or anything, it was actually a pretty nice La Quinta. Officially, this is the reason why I couldn't blog pseudo-realtime, although we all know I probably wouldn't have anyways. Also, this meant I couldn't get photos from John's camera. Honestly though, I wasn't too concerned, since I was crashing with John in SD after Phoenix, so I could get the photos later and deal with the virus. Until then, I was basically cut off from internet, but I was fine with that. Besides, I couldn't risk the virus stealing the password to our LMP blog, and making up stories about me.

It also started storming so a bunch of flights were getting delayed. John audible'd and booked a new flight online, literally an hour before takeoff as we were driving to the airport. All on his phone. Impressive.

On the way back from the airport, a tiny rock hit my windshield about 2" from the left edge. It barely made a sound, but immediately cracked to the edge, and then propagated the other direction to form about an 8" crack.
Dumb crack
It turns out I was close to an Auto Glass and Body shop. Really close. It was literally on the next block .. 

Anyways, I stopped and asked for advice. It turns out they didn't actually do glass on site, so the receptionist gave me a phone number to call, which led to a guy in Minnesota. Unfortunately, they couldn't repair cracks larger than dollar bill lengths, so that meant I needed a full windshield replacement. They needed a day to order the windshield, and a second day to install it. Catherine was arriving that next morning, and we were heading out of Salt Lake immediately, so I really just wanted some sort of a quick fix to get by for now. 

I found another Auto Glass shop with Goog411. They also said the crack was hopeless to repair, but that they could probably stop the crack from growing by filling the ends. It had to be off the books, since they couldn't warranty it, so the guy told me he'd do it for free and I could tip him if I wanted to.

The guy kind of looked like Derek Jeter.

When he finished, it actually looked pretty decent, so I gave him everything in my wallet, which was $31.

Anyways, that was pretty much Day 8. I was a little bummed with the hotel, the virus, the weather, and the crack, but I was still pretty happy to have averted disaster and that the trip was still on.

On Day 9, I picked up Catherine.

First we went to get brunch in Provo at a place Aaron suggested, Cafe Rio. It's a Mexican restaurant, and surprisingly it was really good. Aaron had also suggested the Nauvoo Cafe in Salt Lake, which was extremely tasty. They had Coke-marinated meat in one of the specialty sandwiches, which was really good. But I'm not actually sure Coke-marinated foods are Mormon-approved.

Anyways, Cafe Rio was also really good food. Mexican food. In Utah. So "half and hour" for lunch ended up stretching closer to an hour. But it was worth it.

Next, Arches. We couldn't quite decide whether we wanted quantity or quality, so we talked with the ranger. For quantity, we could go see North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch, which were all close together, but for quality, we had to see delicate arch, which required a couple mile hike in. We decided to compromise and do both.

First, quantity:
Turret Arch
Well to be honest, I thought the arches were kind of lame. The other rock formations were a lot more interesting:
Maneki Neko (aka Chinese lucky cat)
Creepy Michelin man and friend
Next stop, delicate arch. On the hike up we saw some mini-arches:
The hike took us right up to Delicate Arch, which was actually a pretty sweet arch. It's right at the edge of a cliff, and really makes you wonder how in the world it got there.
Delicate Arch
Once we returned, we were pretty much exhausted. It is hot in Utah.

Originally the plan was to drive all the way to Bryce and camp there, but we made it halfway and it was already getting dark. We stopped at a gas station to get fuel, and asked the attendant about camping options nearby. Apparently it was bow-hunting season, which meant all the campsites were probably full. She also told us all the local motels were infested with bed bugs, except for the Super 8 next door, which she used to work at. We gave it a once over. Then we went to the next big city on the map.

We found a nice hotel, and were able to hold off porta-potties for one additional night. That was Day 9.

Day 10 started off poorly.
Utah state trooper
I got busted along a stretch of straight highway at about 8a in the morning. There was absolutely nobody on the road and the roads were totally straight, although over rolling hills. The patrolman came over the hill from the opposite direction .. game over.

The cop was actually surprisingly polite. We think he was Mormon. He told me that they actually pull anyone going +5 over the speed limit. So much for my +9 theory. 

To be quite honest, on the rest of the way to Bryce we saw a ton of camouflaged cops in pickup trucks pulling guys over. So chances are I probably would have been busted there anyways if I wasn't already panicked and driving the speed limit.

Anyways, Bryce. Bryce was cool.
Unique Bryce rock formations
More awesome rock formations
I got a little obsessed about wanting to touch the rock.
Hand modeling
When Catherine was growing up, her parents actually told here they found her out of a garbage can. Come to think of it, I think my parents might have told me that same story too. Maybe it's a Chinese thing. Anyways, my theory is that she came from this hole in the wall. 
Pretty good fit
And this is where Catherine used to play as a kid.
Random tree in the canyon
Anyways, I really liked Bryce. Aaron told us to see Cedar Breaks next, so we complied. In fact, everything Aaron told us was really good advice. Quite possibly, his suggestions were the only good parts of Utah. Anyways, I'm a firm believer of not backtracking, and by going through Cedar Breaks, we were able to enter Zion from the west, and exit it from the east.

On the way to Cedar Breaks, we saw a biker and thought of AJ. There were actually signs warning of a bike race going on.
This guy was either at the very front or the very end
Once we got to Cedar Breaks, it was a nice place to stop and picnic for lunch.
Cedar Breaks
About this point, Catherine decided that I wasn't listening to GPS Samantha. Supposedly it's well documented that men don't actually respond to women giving directions (or orders or any kind). It has something to do with evolution. So GPS Samantha changed to GPS Jack. Little Jack was no more effective than Samantha, so we concluded my filter was impartial to all backseat drivers.

Next we went to Zion. The Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce make up the Grand Staircase, since the top of one is the bottom of the next. Zion is in the middle, but I really wasn't too impressed. The rock formations looked pretty normal, and the murky river wasn't too attractive. Zion really has nothing going for it, except for its water, which tastes really good.
Also, Zion kind of screwed us too. And yes, Zion is still in Utah. We went to our campsite, setup our tent, and as we were about to head out to hike, the rangers came around and told us they had accidentally sent us to the wrong site. We ended up having to move our tent over to a new smaller campsite with a giant ant hill. Fortunately, it was actually closer to the bathroom, which had running water and flush toilets. So it turns out Catherine got to avoid porta-potties for the entire trip. Success.

Another cool attraction of Zion, is the moon coming over the top of this peak called the Watchman. We were lucky and it was pretty close to a full moon when we were in Zion.
Watchman moonrise
Sunrise was kind of nice too. Although, I was actually asleep. Fortunately Catherine took pictures.
When I finally got up, we headed out. Zion was the last stop in Utah, and I've never been more happy to leave a state in my entire life.

Oh yeah, I hit a bird at some point in Utah too, I felt really bad. I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure it was actually on this stretch out of Utah. The guy flew towards my windshield, hesitated, and then tried to double back. He didn't make it. Yet another reason you should never backtrack if you can avoid it. 

Anyways, it was nice to be out of Utah, and on our way to the Grand Canyon. North Rim was the first stop.

Catherine wanted to take pictures of wildflowers. We took a picture of wildflower pictures, so we could identify them.
Picture of wildflower pictures
The Grand Canyon looked pretty cool, especially from the North Rim since it was higher than the South.
North Rim
Group picture.
Vubag West
It turns out, the Grand Canyon still looks about the same, even if you drive an hour to a different part of the park and take another picture.
North Rim again
Catherine got a little obsessed about taking pictures through my sunglasses.
The goal was to try to get Canyons in both the background and the reflection.
More sunglasses
One thing North Rim really got right was bench placement. A lot of the other national parks/monuments had benches where you couldn't really see anything.
North Rim bench placement
Catherine also got some of her own flower pics. I can't remember the name of this one, but you can cross-reference it yourself with the photograph above.
Flower pic
There was this neat hike on the Cliff Springs Trail which took you alongside the cliff.
Cool undercut
The view at the end was pretty sweet.
Canyon view
It was getting kind of late, but it was worth it. Definitely.

Our next stop was South Rim. If we could go directly across the canyon, it would only be 10-12 mi. Instead, the only way to get there was all the way around this horrible 58 mi loop.
North Rim, South Rim
And the view from South Rim was ... the same.
South Rim
But we got it checked off the list. And got to see it at sunset. So that was nice and completed the national parks portion of the trip.
Leaving Grand Canyon
The rest of the night was spent driving to Phoenix, which Catherine had warned would be "literally, hot as hell". And that was an understatement. We got in around 11p, but it was still completely miserable. And humid. Luckily, everywhere is air conditioned, so as long as you stayed indoors you were fine. We went to an In n Out for dinner, and that was the end of Day 11.

By 8a on Day 12, it was already unbearably warm, so I packed up and left for CA. A couple fruit and border inspections later, I was pretty much home again. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Girl's Night Out!

Last summer the girls of the LMP had a couple girl's outings - once to Felt, where they served three-course $9 dinners for girls on Wednesdays, and once just out for a bite to eat in Central Square.

But now we are losing Anjuli to California, so we decided to take ourselves out for a last hurrah.

(Also, we were jealous of all the stories of the boys' nights out at Pat's house. Although we would never replicate what happens at Pat's house. Quotes like, "Is that wrong?" only come along once.)

Maria and I found a couple options for ladies' deals around Boston, and we ended up going out to Red Sky for free dinner (with $10 drink purchase, of course there is a catch...).

Figure: The ladies of 35-135
Of course, we picked a miserable day to go - rain and puddles everywhere. I discovered that the right foot of my rainboots is not actually waterproof anymore, but oh well - we all dried out eventually!

I have always felt so lucky to be surrounded by such fun and smart people in 35-135 - and it's just a bonus that so many of them are girls! A good looking group we make, I think. :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alternate Eurotrip 2010: Alps and Interlaken

Saturday morning I woke up early and caught the first train into the Alps. It turns out it's really hard to take a good picture from a moving train.
View from the train heading into Zweisimmen, with annoying reflections from the train window.

I got off the train in Interlaken to have lunch. I ate at the restarant on the top floor of the tallest hotel in Interlaken and enjoyed the view. It was about 11:30, and the Swiss are very precise about eating lunch at noon, so I had the roof deck to myself. Paragliding is big in Interlaken. About every 10 minutes or so, someone would jump off the cliff above the city and glide down into the main park.

View from the roof of the Hotel Metropole in Interlaken, with paraglider.
Again it was amazingly humid, and the haze really reduced visibility. I could just barely see the taller snowy Alps in the distance.

After lunch I caught the next train out of town.
Brienzersee, one of the lakes that gives Interlaken its name.
See the waterfall?
 When the hill gets really steep, the train converts to a rack-and-pinion system like a roller coaster.

Panorama of Sarnen coming down from the mountains.
That afternoon, I arrived in Luzern.
My jail cell in Luzern

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eehern Road Trip: Part Deux

First, I would like to apologize to everyone who has patiently been hitting F5 for the past two weeks. Consider this your first lesson in Asian time, but really, you all should have known better.

Anyways, I think some of the blame actually falls on Utah, but I'll let you judge. We'll get to that.

Thanks Melinda for blogging. I'm really anal retentive. It's all true.

Anyways, after Melinda left us, we were sad so we decided we needed another comedy show. The first one we saw with Melinda was a B-act at Second City. They were terrible. Tonight though, Sai Hei took us to a dark alley somewhere in Chicago, where I was positive we were going to get our organs harvested. Surprisingly, there was actually a club there, and the standup was really funny. One guy bombed, but there's always one that makes everyone else look good.

Of course, once we got back, we played some more Street Fighter. I used to sell my lunch in elementary school, and play Street Fighter after school at a local 7-11. After years of missing lunch, I thought I got pretty good. Sai Hei destroyed the both of us. In retrospect, I probably should have ate. Day 3, complete.

After Chicago, first we headed out of Illinois and into Minnesota. We left at "6 am". Apparently Spam is a big deal in Minnesota, so they devoted a couple of blocks to the Spam Museum.

Spam museum
After Minnesota, we headed into South Dakota. We made a short detour to see the Corn Palace. It turns out that the entire state of South Dakota shares my love for corn. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed when I learned the entire base of the Corn Palace was formed from bricks, and we couldn't actually touch any of the corn.
Corn palace
This was the closest I got to corn, and they put a glass barrier between us.
South Dakota into corn
We saw South Dakota also had a ton of dinosaurs camped along the highway. I don't really understand this obsession, but I like it.
.. and Dinosaurs
At the end of Day 4, we entered Badlands. We got in late so we didn't get to use the parks pass.
When we got up on Day 5, we did a hike. The Badlands look pretty awesome. Like you're on a different planet. There are some trails that take you to the top of these mountainous formations, but once you reach the top, it's the strangest thing. You're expecting to see a nice view of other peaks, but it's completely flat. Like the ground's literally shifted straight up. I think technically they might be buttes or something. I enjoyed it. There were a bunch of these miniature Badland formations too, made out of the sand. I felt like a giant.
Mini Badlands
After Badlands, we saw a bunch of signs and billboards advertising free ice water at Wall Drug.
Wall Drug
Actually, they post these signs all around the world, and I guess it's now a thing now to write how far away you are from Wall Drug. They really hook you with the free water. And the deluxe restrooms.
Deluxe restrooms
Our next stop was Mt Rushmore. The monument itself was free except for the $10 parking fee. The heads are really not impressive as you'd think. They're actually quite small. Jefferson's nose is very prominent though. A lot like Jerry Seinfeld's.
"The pick"
Everyone tells you that Crazy horse is right next to Rushmore, but they really mean it's a 30 minute drive away. Unlike Rushmore, Crazy Horse is funded exclusively by visitors and donations, so the entrance fee is also twice as much. I think I got my money's worth, since I napped for a few hours in the parking lot. Although the monument isn't completed yet (you can sort of make out the head and the arm below), the size of the project is understandable. Crazy Horse's head is bigger than all of Mt Rushmore. They could carve faster with more money, but they refuse to take federal funds. So at this rate, we figured the over/under to be about 50 yrs from now. As usual, you know my stance on wagering.
Crazy Horse
That night we pulled into Devil's Tower. Again, we arrived after hours and avoided showing the parks pass. I was starting to believe I could play the parking game with the national parks too.

The next morning (Day 6) we did the loop around Devil's Tower. The tower actually reminded me of some sort of a three-dimensional Ruffles chip. Or a giant head with dreadlocks. If you use your imagination, it can even look a bit like Elaine from Seinfeld. Kind of poofy.
Devil's Tower
We heard rumors Montana had no speed limit. But that was really just an excuse to cross Montana off "the list". There are actually only two things in life my friend John needs to accomplish: 1) hit every state in the U.S. and 2) stay in every hotel on the Vegas strip. John's much closer to the Vegas achievement. This meant we had to go off schedule. And although I enjoy going "off the reservation", for the record, this was not completely my idea. It was a good idea though.

In Montana, there were a couple National Parks/Monuments we could visit too. First we went to Little Bighorn, and arrived at a reasonable hour to use the parks pass.
Little Bighorn
The rangers there really hyped up Bighorn Canyon and told us they had "the best fishing in the country". In order to get there, we had to travel through some country roads. They had construction on some of the roads, so we got to experience the "pilot car". My theory is that people in Montana realized that nobody paid any attention to their speed limits, and so it was necessary to implement the pilot car system.
Pilot car
I'm actually fairly confident that the pilot car took the worse route possible. Anyways, we made it. It was kind of cool.
Bighorn Canyon
Nothing spectacular, and we didn't really see many fishes, but we got to talk to another ranger. In case it's not already clear, I love talking to rangers and doing exactly what they tell me to do. We were looking for a good place to camp that night. The original (new) plan was to hit Bozeman and camp near there. Instead, the ranger suggested entering Yellowstone from the northeast entrance and bypassing Bozeman altogether. However, what this involved was taking a HARD RIGHT before an unpaved gravel road. The hard right would take you on a packed dirt road. Not surprisingly, I missed that hard right. For about 11 mi I painfully launched rock after rock into my undercarriage. There was also an obscene number of insects on this road, and the front part of my car really took a beating from them.
Bug splat
Finally we made it to camp and managed to grab the last site available. It was right next to a river and a small pond, which was stocked with a ton of fishes. Fishes were jumping across the entire surface of the pond around sunset. Pretty spectacular.
In the morning, we continued onto Yellowstone. Day 7. Going through Montana was a nice drive. Real nice.
Yellowstone secret entrance
Again, we experienced the pilot car. Montana is really big on pilot cars. They really don't believe in road signs.
More pilot car
The cities around these parts also really think that they're hot shots.
"Top of the World"
Finally we entered Yellowstone. Since we detoured to Montana, the new plan was to do all of Yellowstone in a single day. The Yellowstone ranger suggested the "7 mi hole" trail down Yellowstone Canyon, since we'd get to see the canyon from a perspective not otherwise accessible. The round trip distance was actually 11 mi. Surprisingly, getting down only took us 1.5 hrs. I think this is Bob's "normal" pace.
Yellowstone River
Yellowstone canyon
At the bottom we feasted.
With chilled water.
Chilled water
There was a nice hot spring at the bottom too. 
Hot springs
The way back was much more brutal since it was all uphill. After 3 more hrs of pure punishment, we made it back to the car.

It was already 5p, so we really only had time for one more event. For some reason I thought Old Faithful erupted every 10 minutes, so that seemed like a nice driveby for our way out. It turns out it's every ~2 hrs +/- 10 minutes. Luckily, we caught the tail end of one as we did the driveby.
Old Faithful
Yellowstone, complete.
Yellowstone out
It was late, but we made it into Grand Tetons before sunset.
Grand Tetons
And we made it out. There is actually not very much to see at the Tetons. Next stop, Salt Lake.

I've always wanted to see if those 5 hr hand grenades really worked. They don't. What actually works extremely well, is listening to episodes of "How I met your Mother". John had all of season one on his laptop. I did not know this, but the voiceover is actually Bob Saget. Which actually makes a lot of sense now. We ended up in Salt Lake at about 2a.

So part two was pretty sweet. We managed to camp out in three places, avoid hotels, and survive bears and escaped convicts. Mission accomplished.

Alright. So Utah ...