Friday, 24 September 2010

San Fran-bloody tastic

Up early but already a hot day so we headed for one last dip in the pool before hitting the road again. This was the final leg of our journey toward San Francisco and we were excited to meet up with Jus, Lee, Jack and Katelyn and Seren (the dog).
To celebrate, we stopped in Sacramento for breakfast. On advice from the web we chose the Fox & Goose. You might think that sounds like the name of a British Pub – you’d be right. But reviews were all good so we entered. What we found was a fairly good attempt at a brit themed pub but maybe a bit too… British. But the reviews were accurate and the food lovely. One of us had bacon and eggs, the other fruit and yoghurt and stuff (I’ll let you guess which was which).
By now we were fairly accustomed with travelling long distances so the last 100 miles were easily covered in our wonder-van. The few miles to our new home were slightly trickier as the sat-nav and I entered into a heated debate about who exactly was right… it turns out he actually had a fairly good idea of where he was going but just didn’t explain himself very well.
Never mind, we eventually arrived at the Sheridan household and it was so lovely to see Jus and the young ones (Lee still working). We had so much to catch up with, home life, our travels, Jus’ life as a mother of 2, last time we saw her she was a new mother of 1, and now there is little Katelin, who took an instant love to myself, she’s only human after all.
It was so very lovely to feel settled instantly, just fitting into whatever was going on. Jus had lots of books and maps which made our planning easier. We’d decided to venture in San Francisco town the following day. Lee arrived home that evening and we decided an Indian take away was in order, something we hadn’t had since leaving Ruislip, and we miss those Indian meals……uuummmm India food….sorry you lost me there, so yes had a lovely evening eating and drinking. Jus & Lee had put us upstairs in the penthouse area of the house, as we would be furthest away from the little people and they have a very comfy sofa bed, quite frankly being able to stand up to go to bed was a novelty after Jeremy sleeping, not a lot of standing room in there. A good night sleep, Katy got up and headed out for her run with her GPS, an hour or so later a sweaty hot Katy arrived back, saying it was hot out and hilly, and looking slightly crazed.
After breakfast Jus dropped us off at the BART (the train) telling us it would be chilly in San Fran and to make sure we had enough layers on, so our first BART journey was fun, some great people watching, our favorite was a blind lady who had what can only be called a voodoo hat on, with dead stuff and feathers etc but no dog, ok maybe she was partially sighted but you’d know if you’d put a dead thing on your head, so we came to the conclusion she was just extravagant in her millinery choice!
When we got our stop off we got and Oh My God! It was so cold, what were we thinking wearing shorts for crying out loud. The sky was grey and it was blowing a gale, who’d of thought that in only a few miles the weather can change so rapidly, well Jus that’s who. So we marched down to the waterfront to book our trip to Alcatraz, as tourists it is our duty to do as many touristy things we can, so rocking up at the counter to book we we’re informed that the next boat was on Wednesday, not too bad until he told us it was the 3rd Wednesday in August, now at the time it was still July, so alas Alcatraz will have to wait until next time. We could see the famous prison, the rock; as they call it, and that’s as far as we’re gonna get, it does look quite impressive. Carrying on along the water front we saw some great sights a tour a San Fran water front on Segways, which looked very dorky and not cool, no matter what the literature says! We went down to pier 39 where we saw lots of harbor seals just hanging out on the deck, a very funny sight to see, and a tad stinky too. By now we are both somewhat freezing and track down a nice little Italian place and had something hot to eat while we walked the streets of San Francisco, I must say all that up and down keeps you warm, it was just like being in a movie, we kept expecting a car chase to come flying over one of the roads, but alas just the odd tram, which also looked very cool, if packed full of tourists, (we didn’t get onboard looked far too much like the central line at rush hour! ) So after a chilly day we headed back to Pleasant Hill, and the Sheridan’s. Jus came and picked us up, and it was once again really hot. Next time we go in it’s going to be long trousers and layers.
Now our time with the family Sheridan was an education for both of us, it meant we got to hang out with little people most of the day, and you know they’re hard work and a tad needy, but quite fun at times too. Jack is trying to talk but would mainly say,” hoy diddly toy toy toy!” and Katelin is eager to move on her own accord but just now she’s more of a watcher than a player. Jus is a great mum, seeing her juggle children, husband, dog and guests was an eye opener. We tried to help out as much as we could, I put on my chef hat and started baking bread, much to everyone’s delight as the bread in the US isn’t great. The recipe has been give to Jus who probably just needs the time to be able to actually get round to make it. Katy tried to have conversations with Jack but neither of them were getting anywhere……
So we ventured into to San Fran again this time to hire bikes and bike over the Golden Gate Bridge, this time long trousers and layers, ready for the San Fran weather to be greeted with blazing sunshine when we exited the BART, ho hum, so an up and down hike to the bike shop, the one Maurice had put on our hand drawn map from Courtney, Blazing Saddles it is, we got our bikes, not quite the Moab mountain bikes but they did have a handy bag on the front for our stuff. Off we went on a lovely bike ride, and only a few up hills, along the water front passing the Rock and Wind Surf competition going on, very cool. Then onto the bridge passing the lovely lady who wanted to pray for me, I said I was fine and really didn’t need a prayer, Katy came along and got the same invitation with the come back, “no thanks, I’ve just put one out” and peddled away. So over the bridge we go, and it’s a windy bridge but a great view of the city. On the other side we treated ourselves to an ice-cream, we’d just missed the very full ferry on that hour so would have to hang around for another hour. Not so bad, good view, nice weather and ice-cream, happy man :) Dropped the bikes back and got on the BART back to “home”. Our culinary time in the US of A had been varied, Katy trying to get us eating healthy but there are so many good foods here, and Lee took it on himself to show me best of the fast food franchises and pizza places, what could I do I was a guest in his house, it would have been rude to turn him down, so now I have the knowledge that Jack in the Box makes great Oreo Milk shakes (Carls Junior apparently have the best burgers but haven’t got there yet), i’m sitting on the fence when it comes to Pizza’s, Lee’s favourite, Round Table was an experience and a good pizza but nothing to write home about, (although I am!!) Lee has introduced us to Tritip and Carne Asada both a meaty feast, and very delicious, thanks Mr Sheridan.
It was also about this time that we experienced another first: I happened to mention to Lee that our to-do list included going to a drive-in movie and he pointed out that there was a pretty good one just a few miles down the road (though his actual words were “It used to be pretty rough but I think its OK now – let me know how it goes”). So as early evening approached we headed down to what is essentially a big car park and waited…We had decided that as a realexperience we had to experince the food, Katy was hoping for a salad or something not "beige" what she actually got was a pretzel while I had a Polish Hotdog with the works and we got a bucket of popcorn, ready to go. Although already filling up, we found a perfect spot right in front of the screen. Once it got sufficiently dark the first movie started and we tuned in the stereo in the van to the FM signal… instant movie (though not quite THX surround sound)! First movie of the night was Despicable Me after which several car full of young ones left, this was followed by Inception, so not a bad couple of films for our first drive-in. As they didn’t start until gone 9:00pm, we didn’t make it back ‘home’ until around 2:00am… good job we’ve got nothing else to do the next day, eh?! Less fortunate were those many drivers who had flattened their batteries during the performance and ended-up running around asking fellow movie goers for jump-leads. We fired up the rocket and rolled out of there feeling ever-so-slightly smug.
We thought we’d only be staying for a couple of days but ended up staying for 2 weeks and it was so hard to leave, but the time we had with the family was so lovely, just nice to be settled for a while. We had our last weekend up in Chico,which is 157 miles away from Pleasant Hill, it's a lovely town, full of college kids, and river running through it, we stayed in the family house, a big house, ideal for small people to run around, although it was even hotter up there than in Pleasant Hill. I was helping Lee do some work on another property he has, mainly demolishing a kitchen and bathroom (when I say ‘help’ I actually mean that I watched as various items were sledge-hammered into submission). Katy found the park and was off running early before the heat hit, luckily it was very shaded with trees apparently! The first morning we went to the lovely farmers market, where I got breakfast burrito and Jus got a back massage, Katy hung out with Jack and the weirdest thing we saw the strange "blind" lady with another crazy hat, small world or what?!? Katy & Jus later went off to find a sausage shop that Mr Jerem had found online, and a big thank you as they were indeed a fabulous sausage. The following day we went out for breakfast at a lovely place called Moms, where we had a huge meal good to see us through the day.(as you can tell food is very important to our trip at this point)
On our way back we headed into an adventure sport shop where Lee and I eyed up a pair of leather flip flops, Jus agreed they are the best ones as she had had a pair for years, well until Seren ate one, (bad dog!) later we went back and did a deal with the chap and got us each a pair, thanks again Lee, I owe you for those, invite to Ruislip is still open for you :)
Also you may or may not have noticed that through this trip so far may have let the hair go as it were, just seeing how long it would get before I looked too much like an 80’s rocker and the time had come when my fringe was sticking to my forehead in the heat and it was getting very hot around the collar literally! So I was taken to what can only be the best barbers ever. Both Jack and I went for a cut, Lee and Katy came along as support for both of us, Jus got to have some quite time with the little lady and the dog. Now this place is awesome as you go in they have bar where you can get good glass of chilled beer, and then you get sat down chatted too, and scalped. Jack was a star, just for the record he wasn’t drinking, the nice lady Sierra, asked what I wanted I tried to explain that it had been awhile and it needed a good hack and off she went, clippers in hand and a big comb and I was transformed into what Katy called a new husband :)
oh the delight of not having hair on your neck or forehead, and a cold beer, I was one happy man, now only one lady wasn’t so pleased and that was Katelin it took her a while to figure out who I was again, but with smiles and charm she came round, like I said only human!
And then it was time to move on again; too many things to see and do. After some last minute laundry and a teary farewell we loaded up the van and left for pastures new… Thank you The Sheridans for making us feel so at home and looking after us so well - we miss you all!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Salt Lake city and then some............

This part of our journey consisted of driving many miles in blistering temperatures. It was hot, so we’d wind down the windows; even hotter air would blow in so we’d close them again and so on. We tortured ourselves like this for a while by avoiding using the air conditioning for the sake of fuel efficiency. Then we decided fuel efficiency could take a running jump and pressed the button marked ‘AC’ (which I think stands for ‘Ahhhhh cool’).
Talking to people beforehand, many had questioned our reasoning for going to Salt Lake City (SLC). In their words ‘Why bother?’ but it is one of those USA landmarks that had to be ticked off the list. The journey from fairly featureless desert drifted into suburban sprawl, through to huge shopping malls and yes, we’re in Provo, Utah. Stop for lunch, get lost, argue, find supermarket, sulk, get food, eat food, reconcile, keep on driving.

Not too much later we reached SLC, by now tired and in the late afternoon sun we headed for our new home, a KOA campground. By now we’ve stayed at quite a few campgrounds, several of them KOAs (Kampgrounds of America, I think). They are a bit like KFC: they’re everywhere, they’re a known quantity and they’re a bit better than MacDonalds! Unlike KFC they are also invariably close to railroad crossings where the train drivers delight in honking their train-horns. Anyway, they have showers and a pool and they’re cheaper than staying in a hostel.
By now we were also getting used to the strange looks from people with their massive RVs. The one in the photo was home for just two people… the car they’re towing is as big as Jeremy! We don’t care… Jezza does us just fine :o)
The following day we ventured in to SLC itself; taking advantage of the free shuttle bus from the campsite. Only as we were about to board did we realize it was operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints… yes, the Mormons! The place had seemed quite normal up until this point but as we sat in the bus and listened to the well honed patter coming from the old lady all I could think in my head was ‘CULT, CULT, CULT!!!’. It took all of my will-power and self-restraint to keep from making any comments (it was too far to walk!). The good mannered agreement for the free bus was to agree to tithe 10% of my earnings to the church… oh no, hang-on, that comes later. For now, all we had to agree to was a guided tour around the mormon tabernacle and associated church buildings… as we were going to do that anyway, we agreed – it seemed like a no-brainer (also an apt description for a mormon from what I could tell).
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not particularly religious but I have no problem with those who are. But the two young women that met us at the drop-off point were like puppets – no, cyborgs (but without the cool electronics and lights)! They didn’t seem to be able to have an independent opinion and to me it seemed like a classic case of brainwashing, but each to their own. I asked them if they had converted from any other sort of religion but they said that they had been brought up Mormon their whole life. Ahh, I see. Nice buildings though.
Anyway, we toured the grounds whilst they provided the historical backstory. Everything was pristine and oozed friendliness; we ooh’d and ahh’d in all the right places but all we could think about was the bit about Mormons in Dave Gormans book, Unchained America. We finally got to see the Tabernacle which was good but a bit underwhelming (maybe it had been a bit too hyped). They finally got around to asking us whether we would be interested in joining their flock (my words). I said that I found the whole thing a bit far-fetched and unless they had any actual evidence my answer would have to be ‘no’. So they walked us to the exit (I couldn’t even see the wires) and we went to hit the City.
‘I think the City is closed’. It had all the normal glass and concrete buildings, even the occasional cafĂ©… but no LIFE! We figured we were just on the edge of town so wandered a few more deserted streets… ah, a policeman, we’ll ask him! Alas, it turned out we were indeed in the town centre and this was a fairly typical day. I now started to understand peoples point of view. Boise, Idaho was quiet but it was clean, tidy and pretty… this place was just quiet and dull. Quite possibly the most disappointing city of the journey so far :-/

So we didn’t bother wasting any more time in SLC and started heading west again. As we left the city we found the actual salt lake, on the way passing the Bonneville Salt Flats and a place called Wendover which was as far from the UK version as its possible to be – very flat, very hot, very deserty.

Anyway, as we approached the Salt Lake shoreline we had plans of donning our trunks and floating in the lake. This planned changed as we parked-up in the dusty, hot, dry, windswept car-park. ‘We’ll just go and dip our toes’. This plan changed after we’d walked the half mile of crusty shoreline to the water’s edge… as we walked closer to the water, vast swarms of flies buzzed around our ankles – not biting or stinging, just very annoying… we didn’t stay long!
So, back on the road, we ploughed on past the scrubland and tumbleweed for as long as we could before the heat wore us down. This point occurred just outside a place called Winnemucca, a place you’ve probably never heard of and never will again. There is nothing particularly good to say about Winnemucca, but it is the kind of non-descript small town that I wanted so see. Now I’ve seen it, I don’t need to see another! All you need to know is that it had a campground and a pool – which has become a basic requirement in these parts. After a quick dip we hunted for food. The BEST we could find was Pizza Hut. The floors weren’t particularly clean, and it took us a while to figure out why the seats were so far away from the table, (it’s because people in these parts are on the LARGE size!) but the pizza was massive and cost just $10; enough for both of us with enough left over for lunch the following day… we’re starting to get the hang of this living on a budget thing!
Winnemucca was just a stop-over so the following day we continued our journey. We were eager to get San Francisco to see Justine & Lee. We’d planned to stop in Reno next as its another one of ‘those places’ you hear about but once we reached it and found casinos, other bland buildings and not much else we decided to drive straight on through. This turned out to be a good move because instead we ended up somewhere else we didn’t plan to be: Lake Tahoe.
We already knew of Tahoe as a snowboarding destination but as we entered the valley via winding mountain roads we reached the valley floor to find more picture perfect scenery: high cliffs, trees everywhere and a lovely flowing river. Actually, what was flowing was more rafts and inner tubes than I’ve ever seen in one place before. At one stage there was gridlock.
We found a nice spot by the edge of the lake and had lunch: the remains of the previous night’s pizza. Luckily the van’s engine casing is big, flat and runs fairly hot… a perfect hotplate! We put the pizza on, went for a stroll by the lake and when we got back, lunch was ready!
After lunch, more driving.
Getting tantalizingly close to San Fran now but not quite close enough. So we found a campsite in Placerville. This was a real diamond in the rough… not far from the freeway but it was still quiet and this time no railroad. The place was pretty quiet, we found a lovely shady spot for Jeremy then headed for the pool; the nicest one so far and we had it all to ourselves. So we stayed in until we got pruny then headed to the camp kitchen which is sooo much nicer than trying to cook on our dinky little bbq. The rest of the kitchen was being used by a big family which seemed to have convened from several different states so we had fun listening to them talk, laugh, bitch about non-present relatives and finally bicker (in that order).
I won’t lie to you, this part of the trip was fairly uneventful, but San Francisco is just around the corner!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Far East.....(of Western America)

So, we “did” 4th of July in yeeha! Cody and the time had come for us to head back into Yellowstone to see some more of the animals, scenery & breathtaking geysers. Now, Yellowstone is a big National Park, with just one road looping the park in a figure-of-eight, so you’re kind of limited to what you can see from the road, especially as the Americans tend to tow with them their homes and another huge truck on the back of that just in case!

So, we ventured into the park. Now, the rules are do not approach animals and do not feed animals, keep the animals wild, which are very wise words until you’re driving along and you see in the corner of your eye a couple of bears… the breaks go on and you hop out of your car and go bear watching. I did think Tim was going to become lunch he got pretty close. Bears are cool, I know they could rip your face off, but they are so fluffy!!! Just like a teddy bear but a hell of a lot bigger. So this was our first bear viewing since getting into the park and it was fab, until the rest of the vehicles catch up with you and you’re no longer alone, time to move on.

Now, Bison or Buffalo or whatever you want to call them (are they the same thing?) they are huge too, and they are the ones that cause most of the hold ups in the park - they do literally own the road - and when they decide to cross you stop and wait, and they don’t go fast they just kind of ponder along with the rest of the herd, most of the older ones were shedding their fur/hair which made them look a tad rough but the little ones were very funny to watch as they tried to keep up, now they moved quicker. It did get to stage that when you’ve seen one Bison you’ve seen them all. Which is a shame as they are awesome beasts but also “common” beasts in Yellowstone, bring on the bears! Yogi, Booboo where are you? Probably hanging out with Mr Ranger I’d imagine or stealing picnics, just like in the cartoon…….
In Yellowstone you also see the odd Coyote, and I got a special photo of one… everyone has the crossing the road photo but mine I like to think is more natural! We drove round the whole of the park, which took quite some time, not just with the Bison maneuverings, but with the road works that you get to sit in for nearly an hour sometimes, but you do have one hell of a view while you wait, so not all bad. We had to go and see Old Faithful before we left, which is the most well know Geyser in the park and also the most reliable (hence the name) erupting every 10-15mins, so we drove over to see the old chap, where we met Steven a nice ranger who told us all about the old fella! There we’re loads of people sitting round waiting, it was fab, and when it went off it was very cool, although we like to think not as good as Grand Geyser that we had seen a few days before. On our drive we also got to the snow line one day, Tim insisted on getting out in shorts and flip flops and surprisingly it was bloody cold (as ice)!

So that was Yellowstone, time to head to the Grand Tetons. This National Forest is connected to the south of Yellowstone but a lot smaller, with plenty of places for us to camp. We entered the park and met Cathy a very helpful ranger who gave us lots of maps and info in return for our knowledge of British TV. She’s a big fan of Monarch of the Glen, Midsommer Murders and James Herriot! We told her she should try and get her hands on Doc Martin and Bergerac. So armed with our knowledge of the Tetons we headed off and only 10 mins down the road we came across a welcoming committee of bears, just chilling out in the trees, we pulled over (just one other car saw them at first, so we had them to ourselves for a few mintues) and took a few shots… a special moment.
The back drop of The Tetons are the mighty Grand Teton mountains, still with snow caps on the higher peaks, we fancied a bit of a break from our self-imposed rationing and Cathy suggested that we go to Jackson Lodge for a drink on the balcony and the most amazing view… good move. We splashed out and I had got a glass of wine, still not getting used to chilled red wine, I know Dad, who’d of thought I would ever say that!??!? Tim had a very cold beer; just a wine and a beer but it all felt so extravagant! The lodge itself was very grand (another place to return to if we ever have money again!). We had a lovely evening just watching the sun go down over the mountains; I even got my sketch book out which was a novelty and something I’d like to do more during our trip.
Ansell Adams took a lot of his great photos in this area; there is even a gallery at the information centre which is great. I tried to copy some of them we’ll see how they look once we get home and see them on a larger that 10inch screen. You can never have too many photos of barns!!! Or as Tim says, ” you have too many photos of barns”.

The Tetons are beautiful; the views truly are breath taking as is the wildlife. We did our drive round the whole park, right up to the top popping out at the South entrance ready to head onto Denver, where we had been told by a nice chap in Cody we really should go, if we’d come this far, and as with most of this trip so far we take peoples advice, fuel Jeremy up and drive.

So Denver, well we ended up in a hostel which was a culture shock after having our own Jeremy space for so long, and quite frankly the place was a dive – an expensive dive - , but hey ho.
We headed out of said dive and wandered into town. Denver is really nice, lots of bikes, the people are smiley it’s quite a cosmopolitan city, with parks and a river and big shops and lots of art dotted around the city. We liked the knitted flowers in the fencing to take the attention away from the building works, (Nerys I know you’ll going to like these). I personally loved the big blue bear that towers over the conference centre, looking in through the window. The city was a lovely place to spend a couple of days; somewhere we said we’d like to come back to… another one for the list (but not the hostel)! After visiting the info centre we we’re told of the natural amphitheatre - Red Rock. Never heard of the place before but many famous rock bands have played there over the decades, so on our way out of the city we headed that way and it is truly a magnificent , if really hot, structure and somewhere we would of loved to of seen anyone “rock” apparently U2 were awesome….(let me see those horns!?!??).

We continued our travels… after a very hot, long drive and we came along a place called Grand Junction, a lovely campsite with a very inviting pool, and great wifi connection. We stayed a couple of nights and while we were there we decided that it was time to get into the Colorado River, we found a great canoeing place, it’s not Wye Valley Canoes granted but Catfish Canoes was close. So off we went with a laminated map, life jackets, paddles and a Canadian canoe, or for you Canadians out there, just a canoe really! It was great, Tim was rear gunner, and rudder control, I was on forward paddling. As a team we did very well, and even surprised the chap when we called him to pick us up, even though we’d stopped for lunch and pottered, even slowly passing the young people who just get into the river miles up then get on inflatable devices from inner tubes to crocodiles to inflatable chairs and just float on down!

After the river we decided it was time to head to the hills, well mountains really… we were on our way to Moab! Now, Moab for you people who don’t know is mainly full of amazing red rock formations, and mountain bikers. I remember sitting in the hostel at Lake Louise and Mike saying, via Skype, we should go there, I had an atlas had a look and thought, “don’t think so…it’s too far over to the right!?!??” but hey ho and as much of this trip has been so far, full of no real planning, and mainly getting our next destination either from people we meet or going to the information centre, we end up all over the place, and along the way we get to meet nice people:) so on that note we found ourselves in the hottest place we’ve been to so far. Deciding that a hostel would be a good idea rather than frying in our red metal box, we turned up and we’re so pleased to find A/C in the rooms, so we booked in then went and hired ourselves some bikes, after chatting to the lovely lady at the Chili Pepper bike shop (Freja hope you’re growing into your t-shirt) we we’re informed that the best time to get out and do the slick-rock was REALLY early, before the sun comes up too high & hot. So bikes on the back of Jeremy, (they suited him) and time for an early night for the alarm to be set at 5am. A great night’s sleep, up early ready and raring to go, so excited, and off we went, driving up to the rocks, just and as the nice lady had said, cooler and as the sun came up amazing. Bikes off and away we go, making sure the camel backs we’re full of water. The views were amazing looking into the massive gorge, and riding on the slick-rock was great fun, trying to follow the trail was interesting as they were marked with rough bits of wood and stones but then there is a lot of that sort of stuff that isn’t trail. But we did just fine (except for the occasional section composed of sand where you just sink no matter how hard you pedal). Finishing our ride just when it was warming up. I wasn’t ready to stop but Tim was, so after asking a ranger where else we could go, as we had the bikes until 1pm and it was still early, we found a track that was a rubble dusty downhill,
I got my fab Marin bike back off the back and Tim followed me in Jeremy, my own back up crew. It was great a thrashing downhill, but as it went on I noticed that it was getting quite bumpy for me and I feared for Jeremy, he’s good but not that good! So I stopped and waited and eventually and carefully they arrived. We agreed that we should go back, and me being me, decided I would see how far I could bike back up, and so slowly started climbing with the sun beating down on the back of my neck, Jeremy following, every now and again Tim would come up level to see if I’d had enough, but I was on a mission and eventually made it back to the top, hot, thirsty and sweaty and so very happy…
So that was Moab, red rocks, hot sunshine, awesome views and mountain biking, fun fun fun… hard work and so very hot but any of you mountain bikers that read this, you’d LOVE it!!
Just for info, this section of the trip (Cody - Moab) was just over 1,000 miles!