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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mission Accomplished

4809 miles (7739 km) on my first USA Road Trip!
Not too shabby...

We have done it: we arrived in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon. Our iron steed is still "in optima forma" and we aren't doing too bad ourselves either :-)
But lets go back to where I left off, Memphis. Of course known as the home of "the King", but we were there to visit Shosh's family. So we stayed with her grandmother, aunt and three cousins. The first days we just relaxed, talked, took a dip in the swimming pool, had a couple of beers and so on.
But on Wednesday we had the best day... we went to the Bigfoot Lodge and afterwards to Beale Street. What is the Bigfoot Lodge? Well, nothing extraordinary except that the portions are big (both drinks and food and they serve the biggest hamburger in the world!!! And if you finish it in under an hour it is for free... Far before we even arrived in the US I decided I wanted to do this extremely American thing. So I accepted the challenge and a mere 40 minutes later my Sasquatch Burger arrived!

And you know what I had a hard time finishing almost half of it... haha! The most amazing thing is that one of America's competitive eaters finished that entire thing in 7 min 36 sec.!?! Can you imagine? I had the leftovers for both lunch and dinner the next day. Afterwards we went out for a couple of drinks on Beale Street. It happened to be Wednesday which is biker night, so the entire street was filled with motorcycles, adding to the great atmosphere on this street.

On Friday morning we headed for Atlanta. An easy ride and we arrived at 19.00 at Rodney's place. He lives in Midtown which is a beautiful part of town. Lots of nice eateries, bars, coffeeshops, a big park and so on. Soon after getting there we headed for a couple of bars to catch up on stories and drink a couple of beers. Great night!! The next day Rodney wasn't feeling too well and Shosh and I wanted to explore Atlanta a little. So we went downtown and visited the Dome, the CNN tower, Bicentennial Park and the Coca-Cola Museum. Of course you can do tours in every single one of them, but we aren't that rich so we stuck to buying a combo-ticket for the Coke Museum and the Atlanta Sea Aquarium.

That night we went out for pizza and another drink, but had a relatively quiet evening. The next day Rodney brought Shosh and me to the Aquarium. We spent a good three to four hours in there admiring all of the different fish and other animals. It is a beautiful aquarium and definitely worth a visit. Piggy enjoyed it a lot as well, although at times he was afraid the fish saw him as food...

In the afternoon the three of us went to see the new Batman movie - American Style: So an enormous drink and a huge bucket of popcorn :-)
On Monday we left Rodney and Atlanta and drove halfway to Chicago. It was a long drive (about 400 miles) but we were rewarded with a beautiful campsite at Hardy Lake.
The next day we drove the remaining bit to Chicago and arrived at around 15.00 at Sophie's parent's place (Sophie lived in Kunming with us for the last year). More about Chicago next time! We'll stay here till Friday morning when we'll fly to New York.

Before I say goodbye I have to say one more thing: Thank you very much Collin!!! Without your little, but strong, 1993 Toyota Pickup Truck this trip would have been impossible! Cheers (as you always say...)!

Dat was ie dan weer voor deze keer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Route 66 , Cars and Beyond

From the Grand Canyon through the Big Middle via Route 66 & the I40 to Memphis!
It took us 5 whole day and an awful lot of driving but it was totally worth it, especially with the stops with made along the famous Route 66.
We could have driven over the Interstate 40 and than it would have been about 1500 miles of big roads with nothing special to see. But since we decided to get off that road every once in a while we saw a lot of fun things. For me Route 66 is just a name and I don't have any bonding with it. But for many other people it is one of the most important routes of that time. So some research taught me a thing or two and I had a rough guide on where to stop and what to see. For example the "corner in Winslow, Arizona" and the "Jackrabbit Trading Post Sign".

We also drove through the Petrified Forest with its "Painted Desert". Nice views of this amazing countryside.

The first night we camped in the Bluewater Lake State Park. But when we woke up we found out that one of the poles of our brand new tent broke during the night so we again had to go and find a Big 5 Sporting Goods Store to replace the thing... Luckily we were going to Santa Fe and we knew that there was one right there! No hassle, just give the broken one back and pick another.
Then we visited Santa Fe, known for all the art... and there is a lot of it! Not my favorite thing to do, but there also happened to be a carshow and I loved seeing all these cool, old cars. The town itself was nice to see as well ;-)

That night we camped in the Conchas Lake State Park. Again a good campsite where you can put up your tent for just a few bucks.

Later that day we followed several parts of Route 66 and came across some of the best sights. First we saw a ghost town (a place that used to have actual people living in it, but is entirely abandoned now...) and then we came across the Midway Point. From here it is 1139 miles both to Chicago and to Los Angeles. The best part, however, was that the cafe that is there was the model for Flo's V8 Cafe in the animation movie "Cars". Inside we met the woman/girl on whom Tia (from Tia & Mia from Cars) is based (her sister was Mia... I am not kidding you). From her we heard a bunch of stories and learned that the mountains in the background of the movie are shaped like Cadillacs just as the Cadillac Ranch where we would be later. And also that we would be driving past the Cars place "Ramone's House of Body Art", or at least the building after which it was modeled. And of course the famous Wigwam Motel. Check it out below!!!

And like I said, a little later we drove past the Cadillac Ranch an idea of eccentric (and filthy rich) artist Stanley Marsh. Just get a bunch of Cadillacs and bury them halfway in the ground in an open field along Route 66 and have people put graffiti on them.

That night we "checked in" at a campsite in Foss State Park. Only to continue early the next day. the day before we were just too late to get into the Devil's Rope Museum (a.k.a. barbed wire). The stupid timezones keep changing here and it is hard sometimes to figure out in which one you are... Today (Sunday) we wanted to visit the Route 66 museum in Clinton. But since it was Sunday and we are in all Christian Middle America it only opened at 13.00 (while we were there at 10.00). So no museums for us. The good thing is that Piggy felt up to coming along with us again. The evening before he had major surgery and besides a big scar on his back he is good to go again!!!

We had a couple more stops at Route 66 places, such as the restored Philips 66 gas station and some diners, but that's it. The rest of the day it was driving, driving and driving until we came to Ozark National Forest where we would be camping that night.

On Monday we drove the remaining 300 miles to Memphis. No problems, but it got really hot and humid so driving was a little less fun than it used to be... But at around 14.30 we arrived at Shosh's grandma's place and could enjoy the airconditioning! More about our stay in Memphis and Atlanta later!

De groeten uit de VS!
Pigster, Shoshy and Rudi

Friday, July 18, 2008

Yosemite, Las Vegas & Grand Canyon

This part of the trip consisted of total opposites!
After we left San Rafael we drove to Yosemite. A nice trip with no difficulties and some nice sights along the way. A little later than expected we arrived in Yosemite around 15.00. We had to spend some extra time on buying a new tent since we were stupid enough to forget the one we had in San Rafael...
We set up our tent and left for a nice 3 hour hike. But we hardly left the campground and the thunder (which was already present) became louder and the skies turned darker and darker. And five minutes later the first raindrops fell from the skies. We decided to return to our tent and wait for the rain to stop. And glad that we are that we did... ten seconds after we jumped into our car heavy rains started coming down on us. Another ten minutes later that rain turned into hail and the campground into a swimming pool. Luckily we were high and dry in the pick-up.
After the rain stopped we started a camp fire (yes, we had dry wood!!) and prepared dinner. We ate our sandwiches and drank some hot tea with rum together with our neighbour campers. But when we wanted to go to bed we found out about the worst part of the rain... our tent "leaked". Sleeping bags, pillows, tent: soaked! That night we spent in the car, a very cold car! But we survived. The next day we drove out of the park and were rewarded with some amazing views.
This day we drove all the way to Las Vegas. It was also the first time Shoshannah drove (and the first times she actually had to drive a car with a manual gearshift...). She enjoyed it and the good part of driving in this part of the USA is that you easily see where the road leads to (check the right picture!).

We booked a hotel room in the Las Vegas Club and Casino via the internet (hotels.com) for just $19.96... so we weren't expecting a lot, but after we checked in and saw our room we both were amazed. It was huge, clean and had everything in it that we could wish for! Great deal! I already started to love Las Vegas :-) And it just got better! The entire evening/night we walked around the old downtown area of the City enjoying cheap drinks, watching people and checking out the huge overhead "screen" over Fremont Street.

Later that night we took a bus to the new part and again I was amazed by the size of all the casinos and hotels. I could talk about it but if you like going out, a little gamble and a drink or ten Las Vegas is the place to be. I wouldn't mind spending a couple of more days there but we had to go on to the Grand Canyon.

When you drive to the canyon from Vegas you have to cross the Hoover Dam which isn't too bad at all! We stopped and walked around to check it out and liked it. We did not take the tour into the dam since they charged $30 per person for it... too bad. Continuing we drove through some amazing areas again. High mountains, a lot of nothing, forests and so on. A very diverse environment.

That night we stopped just before the Grand Canyon entrance at a campground called Ten-X. Set up our tent, started a fire and made spaghetti! The next day we drove the remaining 10 miles to the Grand Canyon, parked, got out of the car and walked the remaining 50 meters to the edge of the canyon. And all I can say is that it live up to its name: it is GRAND!!! We took a hundred pictures, but again it is a place you just have to see for yourself to experience its grandeur.
We hiked around the rim, but did not go down. You have to prepare for it and we weren't... Some fun facts: if you want to ride a mule down into the canyon you have to reserve it over a year in advance, camping in the canyon is allowed but permits are booked up to four months... But we have our obligatory pictures and I did was I was "asked" to do by Collin to keep his family tradition up: I peed off the rim of the Grand Canyon ;-)

But then it happened... we were all set up for a series of three pictures of the three of us made with the camera's timer, the first two were fine and then Shosh decided to swing her arms sidewards... right over my knee on which Piggy was posing... and Grand Canyon ground is hard and now Piggy is in intensive care with a broken back! Today we hope to find the necessary surgical equipment (a.k.a. superglue) to get him on his feet again :-)
Now it is time to drive all the way through the middle of the US to Memphis to see Shosh's grandmother, aunt and cousins. Luckily we will be able to drive parts of the old Route 66 which should add some fun to the otherwise pretty boring trip of 1500 miles!

Ruudje, Shosh & Piggy