Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Heading for the Coast ... 16th November

Originally I had the intention of reaching the West coast around the Big Sur area before heading back to San Francisco & the Bay Area. However this did not eventuate ...

Coming out of the (seeming) fresh air and hills of the Sequoia & King's National Parks into the San Joaquin Valley area saw a distinct change in both the scenery and the air quality. As a whole, this trip has been relatively (& surprisingly) free of the sense of a polluted environment. Now, parts of the New Jersey Turnpike area had provided probably the most industrial and perhaps polluted looking atmosphere for me on this journey, but it did not compare with what confronted me in this part of California. For one, it was hot and I imagine this did not help with the hell on earth scenario of smog and haze which filled every direction. I was in the open countryside, yet the hot sun was filtered through a smog the like's of which I'd only ever experienced in large cities such as Bangkok. Except for China, where the countryside's atmosphere can be tainted with coal smog, yet the mere fact that I was comparing California with China in terms of pollution haze seemed to shock (& interest) me. Also, being a valley does not help I would imagine, and this combined with certain unique natural weather features to the area compounds the effect.

According to the Wikipedia, California is the world's 5th largest supplier of food & agricultural supplies and you don't get to that level of production thesedays without some environmental casualty I guess...correct me if I'm wrong, but this area seemed like it would be one of California's main agricultural producers.

Besides the intensive farming and the occasional factory, there seemed to be a fair amount of population dotted around the valley, with alot of new housing going in as well. This area would be one of the last places that I'd live! I wanted to get out of there that afternoon, ASAP - so I headed in as straight a line as possible to the coast. The harvested cotton fields and other crop rows made for an interesting landscape as I sped through the fluffy white remnants on the State Route 198.

I left the valley area when I crossed the Interstate#5 and climbed into the Coast Ranges. At last, a breath of fresh air! The picturesque hills I was now winding through gave me a a real sense that I was finally approaching the sea. I aslo had a sense that my whole journey was close to coming to an end.

In fact, mentally I was running out of steam. I had probably driven close to 10,000 miles by that stage and the winding road approaching the elusive (for me) Monterey county was getting the better of me - scenically beautiful as it was. My loss of the hope for seeing the West Coast that day in the daylight was finally realised when the sun disappeared behind the range between me & the sea. It was getting dark fairly early thesedays - it was only around 5pm.

So I booted it up the highway 101 past the traffic jam that was the San Jose area into the now familiar sights of San Francisci & the Bay Area.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Land of the Giants, 16th November

That's General Sherman - the largest tree in the world ... the Sequoia redwoods were more impressive than I imagined. Standing in groves (like Kauris) they set themselves apart from the rest of the forest like red, thick-skinned (their bark can be up to 31 inches thick) giants.

Leaving Las Vegas ... 15th Nov

After the best breakfast buffet I've ever experienced, ... & a massage at the TI's spa I was all set to head off & resume the road trip. Not long to go now ... Vegas is about 575 mile from San Francisco & my flight back to NZ.

I'd always wanted to see the giant Sequoias - so I headed in their direction via Death Valley National Park. The Death Valley landscape was like nothing else - an amazing backdrop as I trundled through just as the sun was getting low and was casting that eerie dusk light onto the earth.
Getting into the Sequoia National Park proved to be a bit of a task late at night as I had to drive right around to the western side -there are no roads entering it from the east. My original plan of crashing in the back of the van in the park was eventually foiled (I was going to park in an orchard at 11pm, but I though better of it) - I found a cheap motel in Exeter, California & succombed to sleep.

I Got Me a Gun

More Vegas fun ... I could have opted for a machine gun, but you pay by the round & I wanted it to last a while. I was happy to play with the .38 & the 357 Magnum - interesting comparison (!)

Vegas ... 10 - 14 November

What can I say ... after driving in the desert all day, arriving at dusk into the apparition that is Las Vegas is ... cool! The traffic was mad, the neon a buzz and the hostel surprisingly easy to find - a huge neon coyboy pointed the way to the right street.

I seemed to have capture more digital footage then photos, but never mind.

The Treasure Island Hotel was great; I hung out by the pool, gambled a bit, boozed a bit, and got to see the TI Sirens in action. The MGM Grand was HUGE, New York New York had a good Irish Pub & a roller coaster, Caeser's Palace was visually awesome - as was the Venetian, the Mirage, Paris & the Italian themed one beginning with 'B' whose name escapes me at the moment(!)

The Hostel's end of town seemed to be populated with far more down & outers ...was a bit of a dodgy walk home at night ... Treasure Island's part of The Strip with wealthy holiday makers. MGM's part of town was by far the busiest. It has it's seedy side ... but Vegas seems America's ultimate destination to let go & have a good time. They've stopped marketing Vegas as a family destination over here ... the latest advertising slogan being broadcast all over the media now is : What Goes in Vegas ... Stays in Vegas. Enough said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To Vegas ... & a slight mishap #2 Friday 10th Nov

Ok, so the Grand Canyon was spectacular - waking up so early in my van I was able to take my breakfast part way down into it & sit in the morning sun. A great spot you might say.

I headed out of the Canyon National park in what I though was resonable time to get to Vegas ... I was attending a 3 day seminar (it was pretty leftfield and difficult to explain here - see www.stuartwilde.com - met alot of interesting characters...) & so had to get to a hostel I'd booked, park my van 7 be at the MGM Grand by 7pm.

Thing's started happening which seemed to hinder me ... a slight prang ( into a solid Chevy pickup - but no real damage) in Kingman Arizona, a police check for all traffic heading to Nevada (just a delay) , a big traffic jam around the Hoover dam, and a lasck of gas stations on my side of the interstate (couldn't believe it!) ... but anyway apart from all that it was a tremendously scenic drive.

After checking in at the hostel (My vegas stay will encompass 3 nights in the hostel while the seminar is on & then a treat of 2 nights at the Treasure Island Hotel) and an interesting sharedcab ride down the strip, I ended up jogging through about 2 miles of casino to the MGM's conference center. I was only 15 minutes late.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Another BIG drive ...9th Nov

Wow. Didn't leave Taos till the afternoon ... is a cool place to hang out. Headed out amongst some awesome desert landscsapes until it got dark. I then left New Mexico into the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation. A bit spooky at night ... just me, the road & the stars - plus the occasional lonely old pickup truck. The towns of Kayenta & Tuba city shone out like beacons in the distance amongst all the dark night. They were strange, quiet affairs when I passed through them tho ... got some Burger King at Tuba city (where there is a display on the WWII Navajo code talkers - funny place for an important exhibit like that).

I ended up driving LATE into the Grand Canyon National Park - the moonlight illuminating the canyon. Crashed out in the back of my van near the Canyon village ... a fairly cold night. Got some sleep in tho!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Taos, New Mexico

So now I'm up in the mountains ... it's a beautiful area, I got here (The Abominable Snow Mansion Hostel) late last night - even with the help of crossing into Mountain Time and gaining an hour. It's a pity I can't stay ... have to be in Vegas Friday - so will try & take in the grand Canyon on the way ...

Route 66, 8th November

I only realised mid morning after leaving Oklahoma city on the i40 that I was on the old Main Street of America - Route 66. I stopped off at the National Route 66 museum in Elk City, Oklahoma. It was excellent! It set the atmosphere for the road - the scenery had started to change dramatically from the night before, becoming more desert-like. It really felt like I was now heading west. I remained on Route 66 right through the Texas pan handle (where I saw road runners). The whole way was a great western stretch of road, sprinkled occasionally by some classic Americana kitch and some classic tunes on the radio. I loved it!

American Roads

All right, I'll say it - I think the roads I've been on here, the major ones (especially the interstates) have been mostly appalling! OK there have been some great stretches of road where the tarseal is as smooth as can be (eg Knoxville to Nashville) but they have been punctuated by vast stretches of potholed, concrete sectioned bumpy nightmares. Can't do the average cars suspension any good. No wonder there are so many SUVs here - the roads are so bad if you want to go any reasonable distance. Most of the other traffic on the interstates are trucks - sometimes it's just me & the trucks! Maybe that's part of the problem.

There's also a huge amount of road construction going on, so maybe things are getting fixed ... but sometimes, when you can't even hear the radio due to the bump-bump-bump of the road (it's like driving over speed humps) I think I'm in the 3rd world! New Zealanders who complain about our roads should check these out.

Memphis - Conway, Arkansas 6-7 Nov

I crossed a milestone after leaving Graceland - I went back over the Mississippi into Arkansas. I last went over the river exactly a month ago - West to East in Minnesota-Wisconsin. Seems like an age ago. Now I'm on my final run ...heading west again.

I spent the night in Conway, Arkaksas - interesting little town ... several images of Toads around the place with references to Toad Sucking. Still not sure what that means ...

Fall colours -all the reds & shades of yellow were out in spendour right until it got dark, whenI arrived in Oklahoma city. I have to be in Vegas for the weekend - got places booked, so I'm clocking up alot of miles at the moment ...

6th Nov - Memphis

The lady at the motel last night told me that Graceland would 'move me emotionally.' "It's really just as if He's still there," she said solemnly.

It was a grey day, which didn't help with the run-down look that Memphis was giving off ... also the sign-posts are not that great, so by the time I found Graceland it was getting dark. It didn't really want to go in, just check it out from the outside. There wasn't many people around (apart from the thousands of cars speeding along Elvis Presley Boulevard) and the fence was quite high. But there it was; a big house on a hill surrounded by trees and illuminated by many coloured lights ... the Heartbreak Motel was across the road and a host of other Elvis related type stuf lined the road. An aeroplane named after Priscilla (spelling?) is housed by the large car park.

Sorry Elvis fans ... I wasn't moved. It was getting late & it was time to move on.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The best road so far ...

Sunday night - I booted it as fast as I could - it was a great help that the i40 in Tennesse from Knoxville to Nashville is a great, smooth ride. (unlike alot of other roads I've encounterd here) An even greater help was that I crossed back into the Central Time zone - I got another hour. Late in the night sometime I called into a motel in a tiny place called Fairview, Tennessee. A heavy sleep ensued.

Ashville, NC 4-5th November

A big thank you to Sarah & Simka (hope this is spelled correctly?) for kindly putting me up & taking me on a tour into the beautiful mountains surrounding Ashville.

Ashville is a cool place - full of art & artists & surrounded by hills- I had a wander around the town before I had to shoot off on Sunday arfternoon. I also interviewed a guy on my handycam who happened to be protesting about American politics on one of the main streets ... interesting!

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Belated Progress Report

6,305 miles in the van
24 States covered
54 Burgers
11 Burritos
17 Tacos
19 Hot Dogs
58 pints of very good micro brewed beer
2 Bud lights - not recommended
47 Full American breakfasts
3 decent cups of tea
17 not so decent cups of tea
1/2 Moonpie (too sweet)
1 root beer (almost drinkable)
1/2 Dr Pepper (not drinkable at all) and
111,461 images of the American flag observed

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Life is like a Box of Chocolates...

I found Forest's bench! - Chippawah Square, Savannah.

The Lowland South ...3-4 November

Two of the places I definitely wanted to see were Charleston Sth Carolina & Savannah Georgia. I hoped that the salty marshlands, grand plantations and colonial mansions would give off a kind of Gone With the Wind mystique for me. I wasn't disappointed - once you got in past the usual road services areas of the periphy that is. (It's like that for most American towns that I've seen).
It was back to tee shirt weather (most of the time) and Charleston being a college town insured that there were a few noisy bars in the historic heart to patronise. The moss hanging off the tree lined streets was just as I imagined.
It was a bit cold for a swim at the beach on Tybee island out from Savannah, but at least I got to see the coast. Didn't get to see any alligators tho. I could have spent alot longer in Savannah, but time is marching on ...

2nd November - a big drive...DC to the Lowland

I had to be up early to retrive my van from the parking garage ... which was just as well as I needed to get to Charleston today. There was some amazing fall-coloured forest through Virginia, however I pretty much stuck to the i95. This was a bit of a shame as I missed out on alot of the Civil War memorials on the way, but I'm now finding out that I can't go everywhere that I originally intended. Started to notice alot more Country on the radio ... about 540 miles, 3 states & an impressive feed at a Cracker Barrel later, the night was approaching & I arrived in Charleton South Carolina.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Washington DC, 1st November

So, I had 1 day (2 nights) In DC. After arriving late, I fortified myself for the busy day ahead with a few locally brewed lagers at the Capital Brewing Company. An early start was required as I had to remove my van from th street before the parking restrictions started at 7am. Luckily there was a parking garage nearby - $15 to leave it there untill 7am the following day. A bargain!

My tour of the Capital's monuments was a walking marathon - but an an incredibly interesting marathon starting at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue - the President's address. (See one of his neighbours above on the left - she and her friend have been camped outside the gates of the Whitehouse since the 1980's). There wasn't alot of obvious security that I could see, but I decided not to lob my backpack over the (relatively small) fence as someone had done the day before as it resulted in a lockdown of the place for several hours & made the national news.

Do you like my new hat?

I know it's a daft photo & a corny joke, but ...

Better get a move on ...31st Oct

I've realised that I'm running out of time, so I'm have to make some drastic cuts to my schedule ...today I drove to Washington DC from NYC, a nice day & not a bad drive - although I did get a bit lost in New Jersey & so got delayed an hour while I tried to find the i95 amongst the backblocks of the not too savoury areas of Newark's surrounds... Also, I discovered Cracker Barrel off the interstate - for me the best of the franchise restaurants so far ... good ole country cookin (you can keep the biscuits'n gravy tho) & a breakfast menu all day.

From DC I'm going to have to boot it as far south as I can - I'll try for Savannah (always wanted to go there...)

The Late Show

Yes! I got into Dave Letterman's audience, for the taping of the Friday show. It was fun - a bit more of a class act than the Springer show in Chicago! It's was shown yesterday here (Friday 3rd) so I'm not sure when it is on Prime in NZ - Mum can you tape it??? You can see me clapping & whooping just like I was told to (at great length) by the audience-management type people beforehand. I'm in the very front row, behind the CBS band ...

Reality TV

Hey - I know it's back to front, but you can get the gist of one of the newest reality TV shows coming up over here ... Mr T helps fools get things into perspective. Damn straight.

The Big Apple 26th to 30th Oct

Manhatten is awesome! I wish I could be here longer. I've treated myself to a couple of nights in the Gershwin Hotel - a cool boutique type of place inspired by the work of Andy Warhol. A little overpriced for what I got tho...but it's just around the corner from the Empire State Building & right next door to the sex museum!

So far I have:
driven around Manhatten, which is quite an experience (even crazier than a Californian freeway); been to the sex museum (early 1900's silent porn!); been out boozing on 3rd Ave; wandered around Ground Zero (sobering - not recommended with a hangover); hung out at Moby's cool cafe in the Lower East side ( a very decent cup of tea); applied to be in the Late Show's audience; checked out the amazing NY public library; been out boozing on 5th Ave; been all over on the subway; walked 100's of miles around Manhatten; lost my cellphone; seen some crazy stuff in Times Square (and pretty much everywhere else really); checked out Macy's; been out boozing on 3rd Ave (again); amazingly recovered my cellphone from the security dept of the NY public library where it had been handed in - big thanks to all involved there!; cruised around the island on the circle line tour; biked around Central Park; and now have shifted into a very comfortable studio apartment on 64th St (less than half the price of the Gershwin, but just as comfortable - thanaks to www.lastminute.com !) for the remaining 2 nights - I'm staying longer because I got a phonecall (right after I found it again at the NY public library) telling me that I made it into the Letterman Show audience Monday night!


Just an aside - it's makes for interesting observation checking out people's license plates around the country - you can see who's far from home - ie there's not too many plate's like mine (California) where I am out east at the moment. Each State has it's own motto (Maine: Vacationland ... New Jersey: The Garden State, etc) inscribed on the plate & a colourful design. Some of them are quite cool. Not too sure about New Hampshire's motto tho ... seems a bit extreme ...!?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

To NYC !!! 26th Oct

If my driving experience in Boston was a nightmare, what was the drive to Manhatten to be? Supposedly Dayville Conneticut (where my Motel was) to NYC would be about 3-4 hours. I planned my route meticulously over several pounds of bacon, sausage, eggs & pancakes in a waffle house down the line. The weather was perfect and the drive was great. It was exciting to make my way through the Bronx & down into Manhatten - traffic was fairly heavy, but it was relatively easy - Manhatten being a grid. The only hiccup being where you encounter a one way street. All up it took about 3 & a half hours.

I'd treated myself to 2 nights at the Gershwin Hotel in Midtown, but for tonight I was to be in the largest Hostel International in the world - on 103rd St uptown Manhatten. The luxury had to wait.

Main to Boston, sort of ... 25th Oct

The drive out of Maine was great - lakes, fall colours ... and I got to see a Moose too!

Over a leisurely lunch in Portland in the afternoon I made my mind up to stay in Boston that night. However I forgot to charge my cell phone the night before and I simply cannot make the public phones work here. So I decided to wing it & turn up at the Boston Hostel.

Dipped my toes in the Atlantic on the way at dusk on the beautiful Maine south coast - Kenebunkport was the place to be precise. There were heaps of outlet stores on the way too, but I didn't have time for those as it was getting dark.

Now the nightmare began - arriving in Boston at night is a cool sight, however it's a bloody nightmare to negotiate on the roads.My map to the hostel was vague at best and when I finally got there (45 mins of traffic negotiation) the last bed had just gone. They got me into another place, but the directions to it sounded alot like what I'd just been through - a busy, pot holed, non existant street signed, road under constructioned, random one way street nightmare. So I though f*** that, & shot off on the interstate out of Boston. It was 10.30pm. Half way to NYC, in the middle of nowhere, Conneticut cheap motel here I come! I crashed (in bed, not my van) at 12.45am.