Thursday, 4 November 2010

Good day to you all from Washington DC National airport. A lot has happened since last updating. We left USA and entered into Canada. I'm aware that doing so and writing about it renders the blog title slightly redundant, but that's just a small matter. Unfortunately I can't load photos right now and my plane boards in 20 minutes so it's not the most thorough of reports on our final days road-tripping.

To save repeating myself and at the same time maintaining the smallest level of suspense to make you come back to read again, I'll give only a few details.

We spent 2 days on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. I'd never been to Canada before so this was fun. We stayed in our first hostel of the trip in downtown Victoria. It's a pretty place, very British and well the sun shone while we were there during the day time so we have fond memories.

On our drive to Nanaimo to hop across from Vancouver Island to the mainland, we took a mini pilgrimage to a town called 'Duncan'. The myth of our Duncan had grown throughout the trip and locals along the way now knew him as an 8 foot 12 giant. Canadians, however, heard of this and busted out many humungous totem poles and placed them in Duncan, thus making our trip to Duncan with Duncan more special.

Once on the mainland we went to Vancouver - the first time we'd been without reservations, friends, GPS or any clue where we were going. I did find myself driving up a bicycle path at one point, but we'll smudge over that for now. It was a very international feeling city, with plenty of accent from far-off places around the world. Downtown, where we hosteled, was a nice size and allowed easy walking days. Only easy if you decide not to walk all day and cover about 20km. Walking through Stanley Park in order to stay warm, we covered almost every trail. This allowed us to recall every place we had stayed on the trip and truly appreciate what we had accomplished.

On the day of my Canadian departure we had a mini mistake as I left without taking Duncan's car keys but managed to fight my way back through traffic to find the hostel and the keys.

I spent one more night in Seattle before flying over to Washington DC - just over 2300 miles in 5 hours. That sort of pace rivals Mabel's driving power! I left Mabel in Seattle to sell with friends for those concerned about her well-being. In DC I re-visited some of my favourite sites as well as some areas we'd not been able to get to earlier in our trip. Thankfully I didn't pick the Air + Space museum, otherwise I'd have been evacuated yesterday afternoon due to a security breach leaving an entire section of The Mall teeming with Police, tv camera crews and 'do not cross' tape everywhere. I also got to spend some time with a friend I hadn't seen since 2004 who we'd planned to meet earlier in the trip but hadn't been able to. We had much to catch up on and it was definitely a good way to end my trip.

I know find myself in DC National airport about to board the 1st of my 4 flights in the next 30 hours: DC - Atlanta; Atlanta - Detroit; Detroit - Amsterdam; Amsterdam - Aberdeen. Once the jetlag clears back home I'll fill in the details of what I've just written.

Scotland here I come!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Would YOU like to buy Mabel?

Greetings! The sun officially shone in Seattle today. Not that it's anything to shout about as we spent a day away from the city. I last updated you on Thursday from Clatskanie, Oregon and you've been able to look at some of our photos from the time after then.

Our time in Portland was the beginning of the end of shorts and tshirt. Our camping experiences, while still enjoyable, had been starting to get a bit frosty and wet, and generally all-round chilly. So we made a trip to REI (Recreational Equipment Inc) to buy some clothes that were warmer and more waterproof than what we already owned. Portland itself was a fun city even though we only saw it on a soggy wet day. We spent time in the Pearl District: once famous for industry and warehouses, the old buildings remain - their interiors filled with young, fresh and vibrant art galleries and up-market restaurants. Weird dressing and questionable fashion seemed all the rage, so walking around a cold city in shorts, carrying a banana and 4 bagels seemed pretty much the norm. You will have seen my bizarre "Caution: Authentic Japanese Garden" photo in the last post, but we kept coming across the poster in favour of pets. We got to the river front and saw Mill Ends Park that at 452 square inches is the World's Smallest Park. We rode the free bus that zooms around the city centre and then headed up the hillside to a giant rose garden and the aforementioned dangerous Japanese garden. In the car park of a giant arboretum we spotted a HAWAII registration plate! Now, normally under the rules of the registration plate game you need to: a) be driving your car at the time, b) see a moving a car. Neither of these rules were met, yet we still claim it. It was a big day as we also crossed 12,000 miles and hit our 35th state as we crossed into Washington briefly on the way to Portland. That evening we camped in a campsite just inside the Mount St Helens National Park.
Friday and at altitude it was really starting to get cold. Armed with new warmer clothes, we were able to really wrap up on top, but push one more day out of the shorts. Mount St Helens National Park was a very enjoyable (and educational) day out. Two visitors centres had educational films to watch and displays to walk through. I wasn't even a twinkle in my dads eye when it erupted in 1980. Having studied geography and geology at university back in 2001 and 02 I found it all to be quite exciting. Even though it wasn't a giant lava eruption, the evidence of damage even to this day, 30 years later, was staggering. Trees that weren't bowled over and snapped like matchsticks by the ferocious mudslide in the local vacinity still had their branches singed off up to 10 or so miles away, leaving a vast forest of dead, branchless, ghost-like trees. Unfortunately, the cloud never completely lifted and we didn't get to see the entire volcano. That evening we had dinner in a diner in Aberdeen! Many of the roads along the Olympic Peninsula reminded us of the A9 at night - soggy roads, little traffic and signs for Aberdeen taking forever to count-down. Camping that evening was by far the wettest - reports of a storm surge hitting the area over the weekend with swells in the ocean of 25-30 feet would leave most clammering for the hills away from the ocean - we camped right next to a beach in wet and windy conditions. Thankfully this was our last night of camping as conditions were really starting to push the limits of our balancing of the ratio of 'space in sleeping bag' versus 'how many clothes you can physically wear at once'.
Saturday was a day in a rainforest! Olympic National Park is the most westerly of mainland National Parks in America and so experiences a wet and mild climate most of the year round allowing for this rainforest to survive. At times it did just feel like a forest in the rain, but there were so many impressive trees with giant beards of moss hanging from their branches making it hard not to imagine the trees coming alive at night and slowly ambling around complaining about the rain and how the cold wind made their joints hurt. We made it to Cape Flattery where the most north-western point of mainland America meets the Pacific Ocean. Aware of the impending storm and the 5.30pm ferry across the Puget Sound to Seattle, we raced across the north of the peninsula and onto the ferry at a very satisfying 5.26pm. Friends of Duncan were hosting us for the final stage of our journey. Any lack of detail or miscommunication I put down solely to the near-constant food-induced coma that I experience here - thanks in no part to Colin and Jenny, very able chefs with a fine grasp of cooking all things well and all things in big portions. Just tonight, we were referred to as "the dogs", which after further investigation explains how the 2 of us eat for 6. It is safe to say that right now I am truly in love with food. Like a bear stores food for the harsh winter ahead, Duncan and I are preparing our bodies for the harsher and more northerly climes of Canada.

But I digress. I blame the apple/pear/cranberry crumble and ice-cream we had for dessert tonight. Sunday, we made it to Mars Hill church in Bellevue, a large district of Seattle. To every new person we meet now, we pose the question "do you want to buy a car?" - sadly we were not able to make any as yet successful contacts for Mabel, but do hope to be able to off-load some of the camping equipment with someone. We put Mabel in for a service and much-needed oil change and she came back all perfect. We then gave her a good ol' clean and left her in the incessant Seattle rain to wash off. We spent a lot of Sunday and Monday trying to better our chances of selling Mabel. One lady responded to our posting on craigslist and seemed keen, only to chicken out after realising Mabel doesn't like women drivers.

On Tuesday, we ventured out into Seattle on the "duck tour" - a truck that goes on water, driven by a certified US Coastguard and all-round nut-job. We toured round the down-town, through Fremont and onto the Lakes, before cruising back up past the Public Market and approximately 4,389 Starbucks. Many massive companies originate in Seattle: Expedia, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, etc. Busses and shuttles again operated for free in the main city area, while most ran underground in the busiest and most congested parts of town: the benefit of building your city from scratch, rather than shooting roads through already-established cities like in Europe. In the market, I saw quite possibly my favourite sign of the entire roadtrip - Brussel Sprouts being advertised as "Little Green Balls of Death"! Seattle was another fun city - one which we'd like to see when it wasn't raining, but fun nevertheless.

Today (Wednesday 27th October) is our last day as a happy family - there is no knowing when Mabel will be sold, but as a full day of Duncan, myself and Mabel in America - there will be no more. We headed out to Mount Rainier National Park where it was clear from the views that a fair dumping of snow had happened while we were getting all the rain in Seattle. Most of the park had closed for winter, but we were able to get up to about 5,000 feet and see the impressive dormant volcano that is the 14,000 foot Mount Rainier. At 5,000 feet we were now among 4 feet of snow and impressive views of the surrounding Cascade mountains. At points off the trails, we were able to stand above the tops of trees, but only just because the slightest of heavy footsteps left you waist-deep in cold cold snow with the prospect of neck deep snow if you weren't careful!
So what is next? Our American road-trip will end tomorrow! As we were unable to sell Mabel, we shall be taking her on the ferry into Canada. We will spend 2 nights on Vancouver Island before spending 2 nights in Vancouver. I will then bring Mabel back to Seattle and leave her in the capable hands of Colin to sell on our behalf. We have one potential buyer who needs to be gently coaxed into parting with his money, even if it is in installments. We're working on him.
I fly to DC for a couple of nights before heading back to Detroit via Atlanta (as you do) and then home to Aberdeen via Amsterdam on the 4th/5th November. Duncan will be venturing across Canada for another 7 weeks, mostly on his lonesome. We both have awkward travellers beards to keep us company. I guess we just got lazy the last week or so, or we like to hold on to every last ounce of available warmth. I've floated the idea with Duncan that I should post updates for him every once in a while with my own made-up stories but I don't think his friends and family would be too impressed to find out upon his return that he didn't actually get a job for UPS delivering packages or become the first ginger man to skydive naked during the Northern Lights. So in terms of updates - I'll try posting one more to detail our Canadian exploits and then probably another sometime after my arrival on home soil to conclude our adventure and sum up the best and worst of our road-trip.
Thanks for reading. I do believe that todays mass moutain of food has settled enough for me to stand up and go to bed!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Recent photos

So here are some photos from the last few days of our trip.
Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California:

Sunset on the Oregon coast:

Spouting Horn, on the Oregon coast:

Giant redwood trees in Redwood National Forest, Oregon.

Another sunset on the Oregon coast:

More of the Oregon coast (we could have spent a lot more time along US101 up the Oregon coast):

The world's smallest park. Portland, Oregon:

Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon:

The world's smallest river, Oregon:

View of a slightly cloudy Mount St Helens:

A funny phone box in Olympic National Park, Washington:

View from Cape Flattery into the Pacific Ocean - the most northwesterly point on mainland America:

Hope to be able to fill you in on a few more details of the past few days when I get more of a chance. Things are busy here as we try and sell Mabel.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Whales, Elks and Giants.

As I look through my photos to try and remember what we've been up to the last few days, I'm starting to realise how much we've done. Mabel sits at just over 11,800 miles and today we cross into state number 35. All in under 8 weeks - it's quite something.

Lassen Volcanic National Park was fun - we saw geothermal activity overload, as water bubbled at the surface, mud glooped and splattered and sulphur filled the air with that horrible stench of out-of-date egg sandwiches. We survived Bumpass Hell without falling in which was a bonus, as we kind of need our legs for the rest of the driving.

We'd been sort of warned away from KOA campgrounds (Kampground Of America) before we left, being told they are not great value for money as they offer way too many services for those in a tent. Well, Monday night in Eureka! (unfortunately the signs for the town didn't have an exclamation mark) we decided to go to a KOA as it was close by, not too expensive now that Winter rates applied, and yes it was over-serviced but that's ok. We were treated to an average size plot, but with the bonus of free mini-golf on site, hot tub and outdoor heated pool. Hot showers were also free. Given that it was mid October, the site wasn't too busy so I can't say I would have liked sitting in the pool with 30 other sweaty travelers. We met a group of Swiss cyclists in the hot tub who had been cycling down from Alaska to Mexico, and a girl from Boston cycling all the way across from east to west.

Tuesday was the day we had to bite the bullet and leave California. Having hit the coast again, the sun was out once more, the shorts and sandals were looked out again and it felt like summer. On the coast was cooler than the valley but so much warmer than in the mountains. We continued up the Highway 1, but now slightly faster as it became US101. We stopped along the way to see massive waves smash the coast; to see elk eating in a meadow; to see giant monoliths stand tall and proud on the beach shores; to watch 100s of sealions run into the sea (if selions can run that is); and most exciting of all - to watch whales hit the surface, spout water into the air and turn over, before disappearing again for 20 seconds. Incredible stuff. We've seen quite a few now, so consider ourselves to be expert whale-watchers! We took a walk on a path to see "Big Tree" - a Giant Redwood tree almost 300 feet in height and with a girth bigger even than the largest of all Americans we'd seen. These trees rocket up and seemed to merge with the sky, tall as they were. At the Trees of Mystery, we saw a giant Paul Bunyan who was bigger even than Duncan and some frankly plain odd stuff. Tucking into a giant Safeway sandwich which lasted 4 meals each, we watched yet more whales swimming in the bay area. Crossing into Oregon in the darkness, the mist started to once again roll of the coast. We had to let someone else fill up Mabel - gas stations in Oregon have to do it for you. Finding a remarkably busy campsite we stopped for the night near a lighthouse - no free hot tub or pool here though - back to good old fashioned camping.

Yesterday we continued up US101 along the entire Oregon coast. The views were great and sort of reminded me of Scotland. Huge waves and rocky shores, with sandy beaches dotted along. The only difference being that the waves crashing and smashing did so with the warmth of the sun and blue skies. We found ourselves at the "D" River - the shortest in the world, at 120 feet long! Continuing up the coast we were disappointed to realise that it would be darkness before we made it to Astoria - filming location of great films such as Free Willy, Short Circuit, and The Goonies.

Last night we were in Clatskanie and as I type, Julie is cooking us breakfast! We head into Portland today (Thursday, 21st October) and then on up to Mt St Helens and possibly Mt Rainier before Seattle on Saturday. Mabel is in dire dire need of a proper clean, and I dare say we are too.

Monday, 18 October 2010

California part 2

Having enjoyed our time spent in San Francisco, we were looking forward to spending some time in Yosemite National Park. The last time I was in California, I was at Alyssa's the evening before heading to Yosemite and her dad Steve got out loads of photos to show me what to expect. Well, this time Steve got out the photo albums and the maps and was equally as enthusiastic about us going to Yosemite. For such a magnificent park, it is a shame that more Californians don't share such a passion for the towering granite structures within its boundaries. I got my hair cut in Ripon on Tuesday and my barber had stayed locally all his life and had never been to Yosemite. A very minor detail, but when you're not used to it - getting your hair cut while not facing the mirror is an odd experience. Not that I didn't trust him; I'm just used to seeing what's going on up there on my head.

Packed up, we set off to Yosemite and upon arrival in the park there were 2 pieces of bad news. Firstly, there were no free campsites within an hours drive. Secondly, the cables had come down for the summit of Half Dome the day before. Having failed to complete the walk last time due to a combination of old and crumbling shoes and a newfound respect for 4000 feet drops, I was really pumped for getting to the top this time. Alas, we hiked a small way up the John Muir Trail to a waterfall and then drove to Glacier Point hoping to see the sunset. By the time we'd got there we were able to see most of the valley features, but by moonlight and not the glow of the sunset. At about 8500 feet, we'd climbed from virtually sea-level; we were going to drop down to about 6000 feet for camping; and our proposed summit the next day was just under 10000 feet. Our bodies were starting to get a bit confused but were glad of Mabel's big engine getting us around effortlessly. Before driving to our campsite, a voice from the dark called out "do you want some cake?" So we rejoiced in free birthday cake courtesy of some kind revellers before driving down to our campsite, not before spotting our 2nd bear of the roadtrip.

Having survived a fairly chiily night and relieved to find that bears hadn't picked open our bear-proof food storage locker we set about the drive to Tenaya Lake at about 8200 feet. The sky was a delightful dark blue, void of any clouds save a few wispy strips high above far-off peaks. Our first 2.5 miles were steep but shaded and by the time we plateau'd we had attained half of our ascent height. The following 5 miles peaked and troughed through wide granite slabs, giant red trees and finished with a pancake-stack of rocks forming a knife edged ridge to the summit at 9925 feet. The sky was still crisp and dark blue giving a great view down to Yosemite Valley and across to Half Dome and Glacier Point. Hiking back down after lunch we were glad of shade as it had been hot at the top. At the bottom was Lake Tenaya, beautifully calm and still and spectacularly cold - perfect for a 10 second swim. On the way back to Ripon we stopped at a previous host family of mine when I coached here in 2007. We surprised them and enjoyed sitting outside in shorts and tshirt after 9pm in mid October - never in Scotland!

Thursday was a fun and relaxed day and we made use of my coaching contacts by going swimming in the Todds pool. That evening we cooked our hosts a Scottish meal of shepherds pie, brussell sprouts and neeps, followed by our somewhat made-up dessert of shortbread and Ambrosia creamed rice with Tetley tea. In search of haggis we had found a Scottish import shop in San Francisco that shut early the day we were there, and in the hunt for oatcakes at Savemart, we were asked if we had just moved here because they could add them to their next order going out! We planned to leave on Friday but were so relaxed and enjoying life in California that we stayed Friday as well, enjoying a great breakfast at Franks and finalising the end-stages of our roadtrip. This was the end of our 7th week travelling and it was also a big day for Duncan - riding in a truck for the 1st time and wearing a full UPS uniform. That evening we had a good home-made burger meal followed by home made apple pie at grandma's 2 doors down the road! We also popped to the cinema to see 'The way life should be' - a fairly easy going storyline with a definite rom-com tag, where I also met David, a guy I'd coached with 2 years ago.

Saturday morning we awoke to the sensational smell of 'Monkey-bread' - mum, if you're reading this, learn how to make it and have it ready for breakfast on Saturday 6th November when I'm back home! Dad will thank you for it too. As a recently graduated nutritionist I can say that there is nothing healthy about this dish. But that is why it tastes so good! We said our goodbyes to the Hawkinsons who had made us feel very welcome, despite their best efforts to brainwash us into staying in Ripon. On the road again to Lake Tahoe, Steve informed us we should check our oil which was not even registering on the dip stick so we topped up Mabel. As we headed to Lake Tahoe we were leaving behind the good sunny low 90F (32C) weather and climbing into the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The roads and fuel prices were getting gradually steeper. South Lake Tahoe was our first destination - we saw a crazy golf sign and looked at each other. Further inspection uncovered a playing fee of $11 each, but one glance at the course and we knew it was worth it. Unfortunately this update is on the phone so we can't post photos. If we could, they'd all be of the golf!

That night we camped on the shore of Lake Tahoe on the west. This was the last night of camping, so we had just timed it perfectly before all the sites close. We needed a late night walk to the lake and up a road to warm up though it was kept brief by the thought of lurking bears. We had a conversation en route about what our action plan would be if one of us were to be attacked which probably wouldn't have come to much if it had to be put into action given that it involved the onlooker looking for objects such as "sharp sticks" to hit the bear in the face with while the attackee held off the beast.
We awoke several times in the night to very low temperatures and were then awoken at 715 by the park ranger needing payment for the site. "Sorry to be so early - I've a lot of work to get done in 5 hours" he said. "I've got 2 campsites to do"... There were only 2 other tents in our park. His other park must have been in Canada. After a breakfast buritto and a look around Squaw Valley where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held, we found our way to a small but friendly church in Truckee. The americans we tend to meet who we don't already know have had a field day with Duncan's name. That morning he was introduced to the congregation as Dunigan. This is an improvement from Dunkin' (as in the doughnuts) and Na.

Sunday afternoon we drove up into Lassen Volcanic National Park and saw some volcanic outcrops and boiling, bubbling sulphur springs. We've seen lots of amazing scenery on this trip but nothing coming out of the ground! The weather in Ripon was a mirky 57F yesterday - apparently we hadn't taken the good weather with us - it was due to drop to 32F on sunday night (0C). It was certainly chilly - hot by the fire but a walk to the toilets left you feeling cold. Talking of walks, this was cheaper as it was a 'walk-in' site - this typically means a hike of at least a couple km to the campsite. This campsite, however, was about 20 metres from car to site; 25 metres if you went via the toilet and ran around in circles for 10 seconds to warm up. Sunday had been a day in jeans, shoes and long-sleeves. Today (Monday 18 October - day 52) we will explore the park and the intriguingly named volcanic springs: Bumpass Hell, named after a man who lost a leg falling in it. No jokes.

With the weather turning colder (due to altitude) and the rain and shortening day-length, it is starting to feel a bit like Scotland. Last night there was a frost on the ground and trees by 730pm. We should warm up on the Oregon and Washington coast when we lose the altitude as we head up to Seattle, due in on Saturday 23rd Nov. I was sad to leave Ripon as it was the last place on the trip where I knew people and had been looking forward to seeing them. We've both enjoyed California and I could definitely live and work here for a few years! Still, there are 2 weeks of our roadtrip to go, so here's to more Pringles sandwiches, campfires and bear-spotting!

Friday, 15 October 2010

California part 1

Greetings once again! This blog update comes fresh from mid-California where it is remarkably warm. Both Duncan and myself today were commenting on how we've never experienced an October where we were able to sit outside at 9pm in just shorts and tshirt. It's a far cry from the autumnal chill which we're accustomed to back home in Scotland. We last updated you from Los Angeles and were about to head head out into LA and visit some of the more touristy things. Well, it was a little bit of a let down. Thay day in LA experienced the most rainfall since 1916 according to the weather reports that evening. We went hunting for the giant Hollywood sign and we found it, but it's not really as big or exciting as I had it in my mind. Perhaps the rain dampened our overall experience. We went into the Hollywood district which we'd been informed isn't actually a particularly well-off or attractive area. There was a "black ho-down" as Duncan called it - a gathering of hip-hop enthusiasts crowding round a stage while the camera crews gee'd up the audience ready for the live performance of someone we had no idea who they were but was clearly quite well known. Driving round LA was fun as the bumpy roads and rain reminded us somewhat of home. We visited a few up-market areas round Beverly Hills and stared out the windows at shops we had no idea what they sold.

That evening we visited old church friends from Aberdeen who had just had a little baby girl, Agatha. It was fun to catch up with them and talk about all the strange oddities of American life that they've encountered in the last year they've been living here.

Thursday 7th October we headed for the Pacific Coast and Highway 1 up to San Francisco. We started in Santa Monica where we'd heard Baywatch was filmed. Sitting inactive in a car for 45 days causes you to lose any muscle tone you once had. Running on a Baywatch beach, nice white un-muscly bodies on show, we didn't exactly fit in, but it was fun anyway. Heading north along Highway 1 we really felt like this was the dream. We had been looking forward to this drive for months and it didn't let us down.

Cruising through Malibu with the windows down and the California beaches lapping the side of the roads was very enjoyable. We made it up to San Luis Obispo for the evening where we found a farmers market. Along the route we'd stopped in Santa Barbara for some seaside ice-cream. Camping here was easily the most expensive we'd found. However in the morning we headed down to Morro Bay and found a quaint little kayak store with rentals. We popped out into the estuary and floated alongside harbour seals intent on showing us how to truly relax - floating around on their backs, seemingly un-interested in us whilst still being fairly inquisitive.

Iris, who was running the shack, was the most Californian person we'd met - with the Southern Californian attitude of no-time-to-sit-around-and-relax, she couldn't have been more different - she told us about a little rock festival going on up the coast that we should visit. Sent away with the instructions of "dance with some hippy fairies for me" we thought we knew what Jade Rock Festival was about. Less of the musical rock and more of the geological jade rock greeted us. There were plenty of free-spirited individuals there and we listened to a fairly hill-billy rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Later in the afternoon we hit the milestone figure of 10,000 miles for the trip, midway along the Big Sur. There was a chill breeze in the air as we looked over the road down to the sandy shores below. Waves would crash on deserted beaches, while in others elephant seals would lie lazily soaking up the sun. The winding roads that hugged the shore would bring another great view each time we turned a corner. One such beach was inaccessible to tourists and while it seemed a great shame to leave it untouched, there was something about the great beauty of the pristine sand and the waterfall which crashed down and into the ocean.

That evening we stayed in Monterey, in a park, in the middle of the city - it was a proper campsite, but seemed a little odd - I can't imagine a campsite working in a park in the middle of a Scottish city. The following morning we drove round Pebble Beach before continuing up the coast to Santa Cruz where we unexpectedly met our soon-to-be host for the next few days. I'd been saying to Duncan all trip long that I wanted to bump into someone over here that I wasn't expecting to see. Alyssa had said she'd be at Santa Cruz but it was still a surprise to see her there. From there we drove north into San Francisco which by now was basking in the early evening. I'd been to San Francisco twice before when it was foggy and so had never seen the Golden Gate Bridge and now it was too dark to see all of it. Getting lost in a city which apparently doesn't allow left turns anywhere can be a source of annoyance on a busy Saturday night but we managed to find our way into Ripon where we were staying a few days.

Sunday in Ripon saw us being put to work with Crossroads Grace church, who had teamed up with 2 other local churches to get to work in the nearby town. Suited out in a lovely bright green tshirt, about 1,000 people of all ages set about to clean up the streets, weed plant beds, lay bark and do little odd-jobs in old folks homes. There was a mini-concert in the park afterwards as we both did our best to stay cool in the near 90 degree heat. Monday we headed into San Francisco to see it all by daylight. This was a big day as we dispelled our 2nd Californian myth - it never rains in LA; and, it's always misty in San Francisco. We took the trolley car down to the Wharf and walked all the way over the Golden Gate Bridge and back again. We took a big trek up Lombard Street - a widely photographed windy hilly street. It is a nice city, if a little odd and eccentric. It was also surprisingly warm for a coastal hub for foggy days.

That's you up to speed until Monday 11th October. More has happened since then, but tiredness catches up with you and the unfortunate necessity of re-typing the blogpost due in part to my near-philistine understanding of how to operate a Mac computer starts to irk, so the past couple of days will have to wait. The formatting is also pretty shady, so I hope it reads properly!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

How do you sum up Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and Vegas in a title?

Greetings from a very Scottish-feeling wet, windy and cold Los Angeles, California. Today is day 40 of the road-trip and so much has happened since we last blogged - we've been camping 9 days straight so have not had much chance to update. The basics - we've done just over 9,500 miles and have reached our 33rd state, California.

One of the reasons we didn't update the blog while on the road these past few days was that a text update simply wouldn't do. Being in the 'Grand Circle' (National Parks and National Monuments in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona) merited some photos too, so here goes.

We left you in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, watching the moon rise. Sunday (Day 30) saw us having our first real gripe with the GPS on the phone. When trying to find a church in Albuquerque, it told us that we were actually at one, despite being in the middle of a cross-roads in the middle of a residential area. This was the first and only time we've been let down by the otherwise essential GPS device. Albuquerque was a pretty place. Clearly influenced by the neighbours across the southern border, there was a clear Hispanic feel as the Rio Grande flowed through town. Our first National Monument that we visited was Petroglyph National Monument. At the time it seemed quite cool, with all these ancient drawings on volcanic rocks. What was original and what was just vandalism was difficult to decipher.

From there we headed north into Colorado. We had never really planned to visit there, but our guide books and general intrigue told us we should at least cross the border to tick it off our list. We stayed in Mesa Verde National Park, among the bears and the deer and at several thousand feet high, it was certainly the coldest night we'd had camping.

Day 31 we awoke to the almost wintery sensation of seeing your breath in front of your face. We took a trip into the Mesa Verde National Park where we saw some ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings. At 7,000 feet these dwellings hidden in rock faces were pretty incredible.

Native American tourism can be pretty tacky looking to the untrained eye. Many clearly depend on tourism as a livelihood, but at times their janky old caravans and dilapidated mis-spelt signs littering the road up to a sight of interest start to get a little annoying. We bit the bullet and paid $3 each to go stand on a plaque where the borders of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado all meet. Only later in the car did we realise that this site is actually 2,000 feet away from the actual "4-corners" location.

The drive south-west toward Monument Valley was one of the most hotly-anticipated of our journey. It seems like months ago we stuck a pin in the valley on our giant map back in Aberdeen and here we were, driving toward it. Picture-postcard perfect it was. The sun was setting just after we arrived. We took Mabel for a spin on the dirt tracks round the valley and after 2 miles gave in to the fact that she's not an all-terrain vehicle and we trundled back to the campsite. And what a view. Perched on the edge of what was basically a glorified dirt carpark, we watched the moon rise and in the morning got up early to watch the sun do the same. Best view from a tent ever? Quite possibly. Starved and slightly delirious from an early morning, we parted with $11 each for an all you can eat buffet. Unfortunately, the waitress tidied away our plate before we got chance to photograph them, but there were 6 empty plates on the table once we'd finished. It should be noted that we spent 80 minutes eating!

From Monument Valley to Natural Bridges National Monument, we drove along what was probably the most exciting road I've ever had the pleasure of driving. Faced with an insurmountable mountain that we simply couldn't go round, over, through or under, yet we found ourselves slowly climbing and looping back on ourselves, until eventually we reached the top alive. An unexpected little adventure but exciting nonetheless. Natural Bridges was a cool little place, with lots to see but unfortunately we had to keep moving and headed further north to Moab, mountain-biking captial of the world. We were quite excited to get a little campsite right on the edge of the Colorado River. Literally. We were able to throw stones across the Colorado River.

Camping is always fun, but after 4 days of minimal clothes-changing and zero-showering, it can get a little bit funky. So for $5 each we had the pleasure of showering, shaving and being clean, if only for a little while. We headed south to Canyonlands National Park during the day and Arches National Park in the afternoon / evening. Both were spectacular: Canyonlands in terms of wide-stretching views; Arches in terms of incredible shapes, structures and angles.We stayed the night at the same campsite by the Colorado River having enjoyed our time in the Moab area. Thursday 30th September (Day 34) we headed south and west to Bryce Canyon National Park.
We decided to buy a National Parks access card as we were beginning to clock up quite a few and taking slight advantage of the confused sales-man we got ourselves a good deal. Quite a few of the National Parks have roads leading right to the viewpoint and then trails for the more adventurous. We consider ourselves quite young, healthy and adventurous, but a drive from 8,000 to 9,000 feet is far easier than walking. The views of Bryce Canyon were amazing. We were becoming quite accustomed to giant views and it was becoming hard to appreciate and take it all in. Nevertheless, this a view with different things to please the eye as the needles somehow managed to not fall over despite some being so thin. We did find a trail down into one of the valleys being surrounded by needles and it was a little like walking through NY City looking up at all the tall skyscrapers. Camping at 8,000 feet was incredibly cold and the weather forecast for the area suggested rain/snow later in the week. It was time to move on.

Heading east a few miles on day 35 (Friday 1st October) we came to Zion National Park. Having been to Yosemite a couple of years ago I wasn't expecting much better. But it was amazing. These huge sandstone cliffs rise out of lush green valleys to heights almost invisible given the glare from the sun. We split up for the day as Duncan took on the adventurous Angels Landing which involved a walk along a 3 foot wide precipice with drops of 1,500 feet back to the valley floor. I opted for a few of the smaller walks and took things slightly easier. There was a shuttle bus which ran every 8 minutes up the valley with onboard commentary which not only kept the area free of cars, but allowed you to dot about to loads of cool walks and views. We headed into Springdale that evening for some much needed food as pringles-sandwiches were starting to get a little tiresome. These National Parks don't seem so big on showers but we knew that our future night in the Grand Canyon had showers which was an exciting prospect.

We got to Page in Arizona about midday on Saturday. Finding out that Antelope Canyon was a costly venture, we headed to Lake Powell nicknamed "Americas Natural Playground", yet it is a man-made dam which created the Lake. Second in size in America only to the Hoover Dam, a large lake was available for some much needed swimming and some nearby cool views over the Colorado River.

And so... the Grand Canyon. We'd seen the photos and heard the facts and figures. But we'd also spent the last week admiring amazing views, vistas and landscapes. It didn't fail to live up to expectations. Most surprising of all was the lushness of the surrounding Park as we drove to our vantage points. Yellows, greens and almost-reds dotted the sides of the road making it a very enjoyable place to hit the 9,000 mile mark.

Again, most view-points were drivable and you would then get out and walk a small trail or simply try (usually unsuccessfully) to take in the vast views. It's called the GRAND Canyon for a reason. We were at the North Rim and so were able to get to the highest point in the Canyon with more great views. A thunderstorm was definitely brewing as the winds started to pick up along the rim. We saw a few forks of lightning, but not much else. At 3.45am I was awoken by some epic rumbles of thunder. Seeing my tent light up before me I decided to make a run for the car before the rain started. I was then treated to a 1 hour 15 lightning extravaganza.

It's always nice to be clean and dry in the morning, so we were thankful to be both the next morning having showered and found none of the tents to have been vapourised by the previous nights lightning show. Our National Parks tour had taken it out of us. We were shattered. There appears to be truth to the saying 'too much of a good thing'.

We had always planned a night in Las Vegas and so we managed to get ourselves in a giant Egyptian pyramid hotel on the Vegas Strip. We had battled a big thunderstorm to make it there, and were grateful that the rain stayed away as we looked round Sin City. There is really nothing there that made us want to go back. It's a must see for any roadtrip but there is not a lot to do if you don't gamble, smoke or drink heavily. Coming from the previous days journeys into the beauty and wonder of the natural world, the contrast was laughable. So, in true roadtrip style, we lived it up in Vegas and went to bed at 10pm, sleeping right through til 9am. Having a bed, shower and swimming pool had been needed.

We always planned to go to Death Valley, or Joshua Tree / Sequoia National Parks, but were keen just to get to Los Angeles, California. So we by-passed those and arrived in a cold and windy LA last night. Today, day 40, it's raining, cold and windy, but we're still heading off to see Hollywood and some of the other more touristy things.

Aagin, well done if you read this far.