Posts Tagged With: road trip

Getting our kicks on Route 66

What are you going to drive on historic US Route 66? A Prius? That would be sacreligious. It would have to be American and convertible; it’s Route 66 after all.  So we rented a Mustang convertible.

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Traveling Route 66 is like driving a road back through time; neglected and forgotten, but still an American classic.We stopped at numerous trading posts and roadside attractions that have been there since the glory days.  From a distance, they look about the same, but when you get up close, you can see how they have aged.  For starters, the twenty-year-old clerk is now actually sixty. There are pictures and artifacts lining the walls, all of the establishments are half-Museums. And they all have random Route 66 nostalgia to sell.

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Helen and I were both excited for Bedrock City, Valle, AZ. It’s basically a scrubby grass/dirt lot with all your favorite Flintstones characters living right there in the Arizona desert; who knew? We went to the Caveman Beauty parlor,  but The Rubbles house was a dump.  Surreal isn’t even the word.

Betty's head is bigger than ever

Betty’s head is bigger than ever. Am I having fun yet?

In Holbrook, Arizona, we stayed at the Wigwam Motel in one of a dozen small concrete teepees that are like small cabins, complete with a small shower and bathroom. All of the furniture inside was original, but it might be time for a refinish/replace. Originally built in the forties and fifties, these little teepee hotels littered the highways, now only three exist in the US. Probably not a big surprise to anyone. but we have now stayed at two out of three, and Helen is already planning our trip to the third in Kentucky.

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Near the end of the road trip was Monument Valley on the Navajo Reservation. The best way  to view the sandstone buttes was along a seventeen mile dirt and sand road. I probably should not have taken the Mustang on a 17 mile off-road excursion, but whatever, it’s a rental, right? We only bottomed out a few times but did almost get stuck in the deep sand. I got the hang of it after a few miles and was soon passing 4x4s. Giddy up, Mustang.

 

Off road monument valley

Off-roading in Monument Valley.

Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

How to Celebrate the Fourth of July!

At the start of our anniversary road trip through the southwest, we flew into Vegas, where we got married, and so I envisioned champagne on The Strip and dinner at a fancy restaurant. But Helen had a different idea; go to a derelict old mining town in the desert, where they were holding the 24th annual fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk contest; mmm…sounds romantic. But it didn’t take long to convince me; less than 24 hours in Vegas and I’m already done and ready to go.

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Driving through the desert along old Route 66, we turned onto the neglected road to Oatman, Arizona. Oatman was a booming gold mining town in the early 1900’s, but by World War 2, it was all over and the mines were shut. The town has not changed much since and now lures travelers with its authentic old west feel; clapboard buildings, abandoned mines, saloons. There are also free-range burros that roam the streets, offspring of the burros used during the mining days. When the mines closed, they let the burros free and decades later they are still around; not just a few, there are dozens of them all over town, blocking streets and trying to get in stores.

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Burros have also been known to grab things out of your back pocket.

It was high noon and the egg frying contest was about to start. It is usually well over one hundred degrees in Oatman this time of year, but on this July 4, it was overcast and in the low 90’s, not the best conditions to fry an egg on the sidewalk. The competition was tough: mostly kids under age ten! but there were also a few people taking it very seriously with magnifying glasses and mirrors to enhance the rays of the sun. None of this worked; after ten minutes the eggs looked the same as when they came out of their shells; and at the end no one’s egg was remotely close to being cooked. However, in this contest, everyone’s a winner! Helen got a gold plastic metal for being the contestant from the furthest away, England. She did try to explain that we live in Seattle, but they could not understand her accent.

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Winner!

After the contest, as per usual, Helen looked round the shops along Main Street and I went to find the local dive bar. I ended up it the old Oatman Hotel, where randomly Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had spent their wedding night in 1939. The hotel had a saloon wallpapered with signed dollar bills from patrons dating back decades. I chatted with a biker and his wife; he had on a Harley Davidson tee with the sleeves cut off and a tooth pick in the corner of his mouth. They gave me top tips on where to go along Route 66.

Feeling overly chatty on this day, I then struck up a conversation with an old-timer sitting next to me. He had on a Korean War Vet cap and a red, white and blue patriotic shirt. He introduced himself as Uncle Charlie and  handed me his card.

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He said that he had started life as a professional taxidermist but got bored and switched professions throughout his life and now his favorite thing was to be the local Reverend and do all the wedding ceremonies in Oatman. He also worked part-time at the saloon and lived in a small trailer out back.  I realized he was the unofficial mayor of this town as all the locals that walked by shook his hand. Then Helen walked in and Uncle Charlie was not shy; I think he was a little smitten.

Uncle Andy and Helen

Uncle Charlie and Helen

We were celebrating a few things on this July Fourth; Independence Day, Helen recently becoming a US Citizen and our tenth wedding anniversary. I briefly wondered how many couples visit Oatman for their anniversary, (probably zero), but it made perfect sense to us; we like the unconventional. As we pulled out of town on the dirt road avoiding the burros, I thought to myself, that was random but pretty great; so glad we escaped Vegas.

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Categories: Arizona - July 2014 | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Road warrior

We are 4000 kilometers into our South African road trip with our ultimate goal: Cape Town. Mostly driving on pothole-filled one-lane roads, driving over ten thousand foot passes, bumping down rural dirt roads at twilight; With the human GPS, Helen, the navigator; three maps on her lap, directing the way.

We are unstoppable.

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Sunrise

 

However driving in South Africa has been challenging to say the least. Here’s a shortlist:

Time: We have had to cover a lot of ground on most days; so up and out early in order to be at our accommodations by sunset. We drove hard all day with quick stops at sights along the way. For two days straight, I’ve had lunch behind the wheel, driving through the rolling hillside at speed.

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lunch on the run. A bag of Kudu biltong = Antelope jerky. Yummy!

Rules: They drive on the left here. Steering wheel on the right, shifter in the left hand; Constantly reminding myself “stay left”.

Our trusted steed: a Nissan 4×4 pick-up has been great but is woefully underpowered. I have literally had it floored half the time, downshifting and pushing the RPM’s to the red line. She is going to be happy to see the back of me when I turn her back into the rental office.

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Sani Pass

Trucks: logging trucks, mining trucks, overloaded sugar trucks dumping sugar cane all over the road and they all move SLOW! You have to pass them on these funky one lane roads, timing it just right as to avoid the oncoming traffic. Super sketchy.

Mini van taxis: driving without rhyme or reason, unloading passengers in the middle of the road, like clowns out of a clown car.

Road construction: everywhere. Detouring us down farm roads. Delaying progress and generally winding us up.

People: everywhere. Walking on the side of the road, crossing the road, groups of children no older than five walking right next to the asphalt.

Animals and Livestock: everywhere. Goats, sheep, chickens, cows, monkeys (yes, monkeys). Animals all over the place, grazing on the side of the road, running across the road, sitting in the middle of the road. Cows are the worst, you definitely don’t want to hit one of those: damn cows cross the road slower than a Seattle pedestrian.

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Scary baboons on the road

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Elephants in the road ? good thing they are in the rear view mirror.

 

The roads: suck. Potholes, zero shoulder, non-existent traffic signs. And signs that say ‘high carjacking area for 2 km’: simple translation: don’t stop for anything.

 

 

Crooked cops, I hate ’em. The other day, I passed two trucks in a no-passing zone at a speed almost doubling the limit. Halfway through this maneuver, Helen screams, “police cars!”. On the other side of the road there are policemen pulling over cars coming in the opposite direction. Nothing I can do at this late stage but floor it and hope for the best. We hold our breath for few kilometers and they don’t come after us. It’s a good thing, it would have taken a massive bribe to get out of that one.

This all may sound like a nightmare but I have been loving it, a true road trip adventure. All of these dangers and annoyances are behind me because now I drive like a true South African; fast, reckless and with a total disregard for anything that resembles a traffic law. Passing multiple vehicles without hesitation, missing the rear end of cows by a foot; I don’t even get off the gas for chickens anymore. I’m sure my friends will find this hard to believe for I drive like an old lady in the states, but it is true. I have regressed to my days driving a cab in Boston.

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Damn cows!

 

Categories: South Africa - October 2013 | Tags: | Leave a comment

Sani Pass

On this night we were staying atop the ten thousand foot Sani Pass in the country of Lesotho. Two major problems with this. First, it’s a 30 km rugged, steep 4×4 only, one lane dirt road with tight switchbacks. Second we had to cross the South African border and it closes at six pm, and we were running late, as usual.

The rural road was good for once as we approached the mountains and I was on it, flying 120 km/hr easy, the border can’t be far now. Suddenly, Helen screams “Dirt road! ” Without any warning the road goes from paved to rutted gravel road. We hit it hard, kicking up dirt and rocks; I luckily regained control as we passed some bewildered locals on the side of the road, in front of some abandoned building: random. I felt bad as they got dusted from all the dirt I was kicking up.

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Dirt road!

The road was bad from the beginning but we made it to the border crossing with time to spare. The pressure was off now we just had to get to the top and the Lesotho border by dark. The road clinged to the steep valley wall as we climbed. One side of the road was rock wall, the other side was a vertical cliff. I never got the truck out of second gear low, it was full-on. The twilight sun sent long shadows down the valley as we ascended slowly. Towards the top the switchbacks started, turns so tight you had to perform a three point turn maneuver to make it, doing everything possible to keep traction and not spin the wheels.

I was loving it, Helen not so much.

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Switchbacks

 

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The Pass.

We reached the top with the sun barely above the horizon. The Lesotho border is not your typical border crossing; a remnant of a fence with no gate. We walked into the border post to see a handful of guys in sweats eating some sort of maize porridge out of a crock pot; they were super nice, stamped our passports and that was it.

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Lesotho border post

We were staying at the Sani Pass hotel next door to the border. It had a few traditional huts for accommodation, with a small restaurant/pub. It’s claim to fame is being the highest pub in Africa; Funky place, friendly local staff. It’s cold at that elevation even in Africa, the pub and huts were heated with stoves that you fed with huge chunks of raw coal, with no lights after ten pm when they turned the generator off.

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Kids at play by. local rondeval huts, Lesotho

As we ate dinner, a thick fog crept up the valley and engulfed the barren landscape around the hotel. After a few beers at the pub we went back to the rondeval hut. I loaded up the stove to keep us warm for the evening and we were in bed when the generator turned off. With the odd smell of burnt coal in the air, I faded off to sleep dreaming of driving back down the pass the following morning.

Categories: South Africa - October 2013 | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

I don’t like this

I think I’m getting this driving in South Africa down. On a narrow road with no shoulder, I was behind a truck followed by a couple of overloaded pick-ups and a few cars all going about half the speed limit. The first straight stretch of road, with a car coming head-on far in the distance, I passed them all in one shot, with Helen clutching the side of her seat repeating with increasing alarm in her voice “I don’t like this” .

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Categories: South Africa - October 2013 | Tags: | 1 Comment

Cowboy up!

We were up in Calgary this July for the 100th anniversary of the Stampede. The Calgary Stampede is a ten-day rodeo on a huge complex with amusement rides, casino and enormous rodeo grounds. It’s ten days where everyone is a cowboy; they come out of the woodwork; everybody is wearing some form of cowboy hat: traditional, Stetson, straw, foam.

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Cowboy Up!

 

We went to the rodeo one night. I’ve been to some small town rodeos before, but this was big time, with large stadium seating for thousands. They had all the classic rodeo events: bucking bronco, calf roping, and one of my favorites, bull riding. Bull riders who lash themselves to a half ton bovine lay in that dangerous dimension between badass and crazy. There were also some events I had not seen before including chuckwagon races, where a team of four horses race, pulling a replica chuckwagon.

 

Our favorite  event was ‘ride the pony’, where they get a team of three boys under the age of ten with oversized helmets, and a miniature pony with a ten foot rope around his neck. The object is for the kids to get the pony under control enough for one of them to jump on his back and ride him for ten seconds. Only one of these teams pulled it off; all the others ended up on their bellies being dragged by the pony, with their oversized helmets filling with dirt.

 

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Ride the pony.

 

During Stampede, temporary tent bars spring up all over town.   One night we went to the Wild Horse Saloon tent with Helen’s coworkers, Christina and Anne. It was the size of a football field with a BBQ in the back, a large stage and dance floor bordered by hay bales and multiple bars and Tub Tarts. Tub Tarts are women dressed in tight cut-off jeans and bikini tops that serve beer out of a huge metal trough full of beer bottles.  The rumor was, the drunker you were, the more they charge you.

There were also waitresses in similar garb, but with large holsters with bottles of booze instead of guns. For the right price, they would hop up onto a hay bale, grab under your chin, pull your head back and pour liquor down your gizzard, after which, she would shake her cleavage in your face.. Yeee Haaa!

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Yee Haw!

The band started and the cowboys began to dance, prancing about, taking their hats off and twirling their partners. The huge dance floor was instantly full; it was a good friendly vibe and everyone having fun. I looked over to see Helen, Christina and Anne gawking at the rough and rugged ‘cowboys’ dancing about the floor. Wide-eyed, they were straight up staring at the sea of tight wrangler jeans gyrating in front of them.  Helen turned and spoke to me, the words blasted out of her mouth like birdshot from the barrel of a 12 gauge, words so disturbing they haunt men’s dreams in the dark of night: “When we get back home I want us to take dance lessons so you can dance like them”, pointing towards the boot-scooting cowboys. Light-headed I staggered backwards thinking “Hell no! I’m going to get one of these good ol’ boys to take me to pasture and shoot me.”

We took the long way home from Calgary to Seattle. Through Banff, through the Canadian Rockies, over three mountain passes, South through the Okanogan wine valley. So of course there were a few quick visits at the wineries to taste the local vintages. Needless to say, we pulled into our driveway at 11:45 pm on Sunday, so as usual, we milked every last minute out of our vacation time.

Categories: Calgary, AB - July 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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