Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Nine

Today marks the official last leg of the trip. We were up early and were driving by 7:30 AM, nothing was going to stop us from reaching Oregon by nightfall. Driving north on 101 we drove through San Fran yet again, and this time had the privilege of driving over the Golden Gate Bridge…for free. Turns out you only have to pay when you enter into the city of San Fran, but exiting is as free as sunshine. We of course had to stop and take a few more pictures of the majestic bridge, especially since the weather was much better than our previous day in the city. Tiffany picked some fresh lavender from around the area, and we were on our way yet again. Tiffany was in the driver seat yet again, so I got to get a few precious moment of sleep that I always felt deprived of. It was hard to stay sleep though once we got into the beautiful hills that lead to the infamous redwood forests. We decided to stop at a little logging town before hitting the redwoods for some lunch and found ourselves in the diner with the best burgers in the county as stated by the cook. I thought that statement to be pretty funny because there were probably only three restaurants in the county, and out of those three they were probably the only ones that had fifteen burger options on their menu. The guy did hook us up on the food though, I did not even try and finish the meal.
Before long, we were on our way again and the next stop were the redwood forests. Having seen these majestic trees once before with my mother a few months back, I was more the tour guide for Tiffany, but they still were breathtaking. We stopped at the Redwood Visitor Center for a quick learning session and then headed to one of the more famous hiking trails called Founders Grove. For those that do not know, the Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, and this Grove had some of the tallest out of all the Redwoods, so it was cool walking under these giants. We walked through and over some of the toppled giants, and learned how the forest was a giant recycling center that kept the forest continuously regenerating itself. Tiffany showed me some of the more tasty plants that grew in forests, and I actually enjoyed eating the tasty little plants growing on the ground. Most of them had the kind of sour taste associated with sour candy, but in a good way. From the Redwoods we continued up 101 and looked for any road that would take us east to I-5. This is where everything turned terrible.
We quickly learned why there were so few roads leading east from the coast to I-5 throughout Northern California, and that was because there is a mountain range between the two. But we hopped on route 36 anyways and headed east. On the map this road looked relatively straight, but in reality we realized it looked straight because there were just too many twists and turns for the map designer to sketch out. We went from 2000 ft about sea level to like 6000 ft about five times in two hours, and barely made it halfway to I-5. We finally ran into one of the towns that were listed on the map, and stopped for some gas. You could tell this town was not for us when the door to the shop read “Please Do Not Bring Guns Inside Store,” so we kept moving. There was a road labeled A16, I will never forget this name, that seemed to take a more direct route to I-5 than the current route 36 that we were on, so I decided to try our luck on that road. I swear that this is the most dangerous road that I have ever driven on, and I have driven some very dangerous roads in many countries. Terrible sign number one, we did not see a single car for a good two hours while we were driving this road. Number two, there were no guardrails the entire way, which would not be a problem, except there was a straight drop of a few hundred feet down a mountain face if you drove off the road. Third, the only street signs that we saw the entire time, was a sign that said ‘rough road’, ‘beware of falling rocks’, and ‘oxen crossing.’ It quickly became apparent that the A in A16 stood for agricultural, and this was an access road designed for people tending farms and livestock living in the mountains. So we crawled along this road at about twenty miles an hour for quite a while, in the dark, while Tiffany prayed quietly in her seat. We pulled our darkness test one more time because this was a chance to see the stars as God meant for them to be seen, uninterrupted by the lights of the city or with the noises of normal life. Somehow the stars didn’t soothe my nerves much, so we kept going, and eventually we passed another car and then another, which signaled our return to civilization. A few minutes later we caught I-5 and were back on track to reaching Portland, just a few hours late. It was 8PM when we got back to the highway and we were just over 400 miles away from Portland, so it was speeding time yet again.
The last three hours of the ride were completed in some of the densest fog that I had ever seen, but after enduring that terrible mountainous road, fog didn’t represent that serious of an obstacle. Proceeding with caution yet haste, we pressed on to Portland and arrived at about 1 AM. We got home and immediately cracked open a bottle of wine that I had been planning on bringing home (since my car crapped out, all the stuff I planned on packing in my car had to be shipped or thrown away) and got to drinking. We drank to celebrate surviving our ordeal and also to take away the soberness that inevitably comes when an adventure is completed.
Going on this trip with someone that I cared about really brought me closer to that person and I will always be thankful for that experience. There are not many people that I could have spent 216 consecutive hours with and survived with our relationship intact. It was an amazing experience, both for the things we saw and for the person I shared it with. We planned a trip that would last seven days and two thousand miles, but nine days and four thousand three hundred and twelve miles later, we returned home with a few lifelong memories. I wouldn’t change a single thing if I had a chance. All in all, it was a perfect road trip.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Eight

Woke up slightly later than planned of course, but I think we were on the road headed to Yosemite by 9 AM. Feeling fairly hungry for something other than the doughnuts that the continental breakfast was offering, I went searching around Fresno for a decent breakfast place which killed about another hour. Once my hunger needs were met, we got back on the road to Yosemite for the 80 mile drive to our destination. Thinking we had plenty of time to spare (we figured we would stay in Yosemite till 3pm and then head north) we took the scenic route option which added probably another half an hour to our trip. The scenic route was pretty much useless except for getting us lost and wasting some time, so we decided to stick to the straight path the rest of the way. We were climbing in altitude and it was getting colder outside, but I didn’t think to much of it until I saw a ranger in the middle of the road about thirty miles into our drive. This ranger was straight out of the movies. He was in the middle of the road standing next to his truck with his hand stiffly indicating for us to stop. I thought this was some early morning sobriety test or at best a welcome into the Yosemite National Park, but that would have been to lucky. This ranger came to the window, and promptly asked if the vehicle was four wheel drive, and after explaining that it was, he asked the question that I was afraid to hear.

“Do you have snow chains for your vehicle?” asked the ranger.

Of course I didn’t and I told him so. But I told him that I had called Yosemite the day before and they said that no snow chains were required to enter the valley and that the road was clear from this direction. To this the ranger replied:

“Out here the road conditions can change like that (crisply snapping his fingers to the word that), there could be two feet of snow on the road ten miles from here, you just never know.”

Seeing that he was very adamant about this, I just wanted to know what my options were. To which he explained that there was a store around the bend that sold snow chains for people just like me. Surprisingly, as we climbed the hill and rounded the bend, it became obvious that we did indeed need snow chains. As far as we could see was snow, on the roads, the trees, the lakes, everything; it was as if we had stepped into a winter wonderland. It did not take long after entering this store to see that this place had the monopoly on snow chains in the area. They fronted as a convenient store, but were really just people who made their living by jacking up the prices on unsuspecting Yosemite visitors who did not have snow chains. About thirty minutes later and sixty dollars lighter, we had managed to buy the cheapest snow chains they had to offer, and were now tasked with figuring out how the damned things worked. Luckily, some local guy with dogs in the back of his Subaru came up and asked us if we needed help. Since it took us five minutes to figure out how to open the box, we quickly took him up on his offer. He seemed a little quirky, but by golly, I did not want to try and figure out how these chains worked all by myself. He told us to follow him around the corner to the closed post office and he would work on them there. Seeing that I was pretty suspicious of a country white man leading a black guy and an asian girl off into the woods, he explained that cars without chains frequently slid into cars parked in the lot that we were parked in. So we moved, and the guy did an absolutely amazing job of teaching us how to put on snow chains. He gave pointers that proved to be extremely useful and finished the job in about one tenth the time that it would have taken me. Seeing that this was his way of getting buy, I slipped him a few bucks and kept on trucking.
Snow chains give you great traction in the snow, but they really do suck at allowing you to drive faster than 30 miles an hour, so that was the pace we took for the next fifty or so miles. I wish we could have taken them off, but it was very evident that we needed them, because it was snowing hard, and we were constantly witnessing cars that had hesitated putting them on struggling to do so in the worsening conditions. Without verbally acknowledging the fact, both Tiffany and I realized that our entire timetable for the day was no longer applicable. By the time we got to Yosemite Valley, the snow had stopped and it was around 1:30 PM. We hit the visitor information center first to find out what there was to do in Yosemite valley, and headed off to the first thing they had recommended doing. You must understand that it was cold outside (hence the snow) so we had to bundle up, but tiffany did not have any gloves. Trying to be courteous and innovative, I offered her one of my gloves and we would hold hands with our ungloved hands. This worked for about half an hour until I lost the only glove I was responsible for. Pressing on, we went to the first sight, which was the famous Yosemite waterfall. Many pictures later, we were moving on down the hiking path, when we saw a family of deer walking slowly through the woods. Having never seen deer like that so close, Tiffany and I chased after them until they crossed the river and left us behind. Back to the path we went back to the bus stop that we had been dropped off on. Yosemite has a bus route that takes its guests to all the stops and hiking trails that would be of interest to its guests. So we decided to do one more big hike before heading out, and the bus driver recommended a hike to another of the waterfalls that would take about an hour and a half to complete.
That hike was the highlight of Yosemite, not because of some beautiful view of the waterfall, but because we were literally walking through the winter landscapes that you only see on the nature channel. Even the pictures that I took failed to do any justice to what we were actually experiencing. When you looked up, you saw the faces of mountains climbing in both directions shrouded in veils of snow clouds. All around us the scene was in black and white. The snow covered the grey rocks and the green trees to the point that only white snow and dark shadows and crevices were visible. The only thing that distracted from the beauty of the scene was the arduous nature of the hike itself. It was cold out there, but by the end of that hike, we were stripping our coats and eating ice. We climbed uphill for about thirty or forty minutes but were stopped from going any further by warnings of falling rocks ahead. The yellow caution sign depicting a rock falling on the stick man’s head was menacing enough that neither of us wanted to chance it, so we enjoyed the view from where we were. Speaking of signs, throughout this entire park were signs like “Beware of bears, proceed at your own risk,” and “Every year, Yosemite visitors meet there deaths by coming to clothes to the rivers and rock faces, be careful,” so this place did nothing to instill a sense of safety into its visitors. By the time we made it back down the path, it was getting dark and it was time for us to get going again. We did a last minute search for my glove and then continued on the more important search of finding our car. When an entire park is covered with snow, every building looks the same and every car has the same color paint. So we walked around for a little while just guessing and checking where we could possibly have been parked.
Leaving the park was an adventure in itself. We had to reinstall the snow chains (I had taken the off when we got to the park) and this time with no help but my pitiful memory. Eventually the job got done, and we were on our way, slowly but surely. The trip back was slightly different than the way there, because we were taking a new road, it was snowing much harder, it was dark, and there were no signs of other vehicles. Actually, I take that back, we passed two vehicles and a cop car. The cop was attending to two cars that had slid off the road because they did not put on their snow chains. After THOSE cars it was pretty dark for awhile. It was so dark that we got out of the car, turned off the car, and truly experienced darkness. Picture no streetlights, no stars because of the snow, no sounds, and being outdoors. That experiment was as memorable as it was scary. I only needed a few seconds of total isolation before I had our high beams back on and we were moving again. By the time we made it to a safe section of road, it was about 7PM and there was no way we were going to make it into Oregon.
Did I mention that both of us are cheap, well neither of us wanted to shell out for another hotel room, so I made one of those solid favors that only true friends can help you out with. I called my friend Rohith at Stanford, who was in the middle of Law School finals, and asked if I could crash at his place for the night. Of course he agreed, so we plotted the roughly 200 mile course to Palo Alto (near San Fran) and got on our way. We were on flat ground by now, so we were moving at respectable speed. We planned to reach Stanford at around nine or ten that night, but when your map reader is talking on the phone and trying to give directions at the same time, things get a little messed up. After driving on the highway for about twenty minutes, it occurred to me that we were heading south, the exact opposite of the way we were supposed to be going. After much confessing of how stupid we both were, we turned back around and paid more attention to where we were going. Feeling the hunger bug, I actually made a mental wish to find an Outback Steakhouse wherever we stopped, and sure enough, when we pulled over to the gas station, it was right next door. I took it as a sign that we had to eat there, so we took yet another detour and enjoyed some of the best burgers a restaurant can offer. Back on the road, we made quick work of the route to Palo Alto, and were cruising into town at around 11:30. My friend Rohith, despite being at Stanford for six months, had no idea how to get to Stanford besides telling me that you can get there from Highway 101. Making a few intuitive guesses (University Drive always leads to a University right???) we arrived at my friends place successfully. We were exhausted from the days activities, and he was exhausted from thirteen hours of non-stop studying, but we decided to go out for a beer anyways.
Exactly one beer later, we were all knocked out, and went back home for some immediate sleep. Making a makeshift bed out of sofa cushions and pillows, I had some of the most pleasant sleep of the entire trip.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Seven

Alarm goes off at 10 PM and about an hour later, we were checking out of the Stratosphere hotel. We had one mission to fulfill before leaving Vegas, and that was to hit up a good buffet for lunch and pig out. We did take a detour before leaving and went to the top of the Stratosphere tower since that was one of the perks associated with my mandatory ten dollar guest package. I had been to the top before so I pretty much sat back while Tiffany got a good view of Vegas during the daytime. After taking a few mandatory pictures, we headed back down to get lunch. Tiffany had been praising a restaurant called Todai since I had met her, so we decided to hit up the Todai of Las Vegas. It met the only requirement that I had of the place, it was all you can eat. After stuffing myself on some surprisingly high quality sushi, we settled our tab and headed out. The Todai waitress ended up chasing me down because I had forgotten to sign the stores copy of the receipt. Now I am curious about what happens in that situation, do they forge the signature or do they void the whole meal? If you know, fill me in.
We hop in the car and start driving towards Death Valley, and discovered that Vegas outside of the strip has plenty of traffic. While plodding around, I took out a map and took a look at the ground we planned to cover before daybreak. The only goal of today was to get as close to Yosemite as possible, so that we could get to the park as early as possible. So I looked at the nice little route through small desert roads that I had planned, that would take us right by Yosemite, but towards the north of the map, I noticed a small “closed during winter” sign over one of the roads. Thinking a little harder about what this might mean, it occurred to me that it was indeed December and therefore made this season ‘winter.’ Some of you might be thinking it was obviously winter, but we had been in 60 and 70 degree weather ever since LA, so it was very easy to forget that a few hours north, things returned back to a chilly reality. Feeling slightly panicky about the supposed closing of the road we planned to take, I pulled over and decided to figure some things out. Evidently all the roads heading west from where we were closed during winter. It slowly dawned on me that separating us from Yosemite were the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, and that would explain why there were no major roads going due east through central Cali. Being a faithful AAA member, I threw away the manly intuition of never asking for help, and dialed up some reinforcements. AAA took up twenty minutes of my daytime minutes to tell me what I had assessed from the get-go, that all the roads were closed during winter, and that the only option he had was to drive AROUND the mountains on the major highways. This was the option that sent me calling for help, because this route would be a good two to three hundred miles longer that our intended route. Refusing to give in, I called Yosemite and they informed me that there was no other way to get there but to go around. Our fate was decided, no Death Valley, just lots of driving. Now I hate being inefficient, that’s one of my pet peeves, and is probably why I am studying Industrial Engineering, so for my route to change from a slant route to a U-Shaped route, I was extremely unhappy. But since there was no other choice, we turned south, headed west, and then headed back north. The drive wasn’t that bad actually, and we got into Yosemite area at around 9:30 PM.
We booked a room in Fresno, CA and went our typical search for a bar of some sort. Luckily, Fresno is a real city, a small city but still real, so there was a street that had all the nightlife. We ended up in a local restaurant/bar that turned into a lounge with a live band after the restaurant closes. That spot was pretty cool but after the cops showed up trying to arrest one of the customers (a non-paying customer) we decided to call it a night. It turned out that we could not escape the cops that night, because as we were pulling into the hotel, a criminal sped past with a couple of cop cars in hot pursuit. We were the car in the police chase video that almost gets hit by the criminal, to which the cameraman inevitably goes ‘Wow folks, that was a close one. He’s clearly out of control.’ I was too tired to much care about the criminals or the cops, I just wanted to get to sleep. The plan was to get into Yosemite early in the morning so we could drive all the way into OR by around midnight the next day, so we went to bed fairly early (aka 1 AM). Not the best day.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Six

I think I woke up at around nine or ten, but no matter what time it was, I was fairly sleepy and was looking forward to the short drive to the Grand Canyon. We poked around for about an hour and then got on our way to the infamous South Rim, but planned to make a stop at the Hoover Dam in transit. While heading to the Hoover Dam, I decided to pay closer attention to the directions to the grand canyon, and discovered that the south rim was approximately 300 miles away. Now I thought back to this little girl behind the register saying that this place was ‘not far, about an hour drive,’ and realized that was a complete lie. This really depressed my mood since now we were looking at a four hour drive instead of a one hour drive which would put us at the Grand Canyon with much less time to enjoy everything, but that is the price you pay of not doing your own research.
We passed through the Hoover Dam, and took all the usual tourist pictures, but to be honest, it was much smaller than I had imagined it. Some things are always grander on television and I think that the Hoover Dam was one of those things. So after doing the tourist thing there, we crossed into Arizona and started the long drive to the Grand Canyon. For anyone that has been to Arizona, or the southwest in general, you know that the roads are looong and straight. So the average speed seems to be about 95 mph. That helped with making the trip a little shorter, but the ride still seemed like a race against the sun. We actually arrived at the Grand Canyon with about 45 minutes till sunset, which turned out to be perfect, because it was freezing out there. Being 7000 feet in altitude in December will remind you why there is snow on the ground. So we did some rapid sightseeing around the rim, and found a nice little spot to catch the sunset. The best thing about going to the GC in winter, is that the park is pretty much isolated. Me and Tiffany were able to catch yet another magnificent sunset all by ourselves. To speak on the Grand Canyon is pretty pointless because it is one of those places that is beyond words. But I will paraphrase Tiffany’s first reaction “No wonder they call this the GRAND Canyon, its better that great.” The place is stunning for its beauty, its grandeur, and for the internal reflection that automatically comes from standing in the presence of something far more ancient than yourself. This is truly somewhere that must be seen if you have the opportunity. Now seeing this place at Sunset is just a blessing. Seeing such a wonderful place at such a beautiful time is almost too much for the senses, and I am just thankful that I was privileged enough to experience it.
At some point the pure discomfort of freezing temperatures overruled the serenity of the setting sun, and it was time for us to move on. So being the gentleman that my mother always wanted me to be, I told Tiffany to wait at the Visitors Lodge while I went to get the car. I figured I could run back and she could stay and get warm. The only problem was we were like a mile away from where we parked and I forgot that I was no longer in shape. That was one of the hardest miles I have ever ran, but I made it eventually. I picked her up from the lodge and we were off again back to Las Vegas. Now seeing as how it was dark outside, the roads were flat, and everybody was speeding, I knew that the drive back was going to be a perfect opportunity for traffic police. Did I let this affect my speeding tendencies, of course not. Cresting one of the few hills in Arizona and speeding to catch up with the next group of cars, I saw him. He was behind the shrubs at the base of the hill, just like in the movies, and I knew instantly that I was about to get yet another ticket. In the time between him pulling into the road and catching up to me, I had reached the next pack of cars and tried to blend in by getting in the slow lane. This cop, went up and down this row of cars, and then settled parallel to me in the next lane. I figured if I did not look over in guilt he would assume it wasn’t me who was speeding, but somehow he knew, and the flashers went on. Tiffany was sure that I was just going to get a warning, but I explained to her that because I possessed a penis, there was going to be no such leniency. It is written somewhere in the universal law book that the female sex are the only ones eligible for warnings when speeding. This cop came up, took one look at me, and from the start was all business. He explained that he clocked me at ninety-six (yes 96) mph in a 75 mph zone, and that he would be back with my ticket, no need for any explanations. I personally have issues with this claim, because I don’t even think her car can go ninety six miles an hour without it complaining somewhat, but the cop wasn’t budging. He did give me one break by dropping my registered speed to 95 mph, which was actually a very generous gesture because it reduced my ticket price from $455 to $255. Needless, both prices suck a lot. But I’m not broke, and for the amount of speeding that I do, I would gladly play my average of 100/a year for speeding tickets to be able to continue speeding. That made me feel a little better about the ticket, but I still think I am going to try and do the traffic school option since it will be cheaper that way.
After my run in with the police, it was a nice leisurely ride to Las Vegas. Once there, we discovered that for a city that stays awake all night, all decent food places shut down at 9 PM. So we ate at some casino spot that had horrible service and mediocre, expensive food, oh well. Then we hit the strip and watched about four Bellagio fountain shows, took pictures and attempted to party at Margaritaville. We soon discovered that neither of us were Vegas people and decided to head back to the hotel and try some gambling. I think between Tiffany and I we might have spent fifteen dollars before we gave up on throwing our money away and called it a night. We had no certain agenda set for the next day so we looked at our options and decided that Death Valley seemed like a good place to try to see. Overall a good day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Five

Surprisingly I had some amazing sleep the previous night despite the smallish sleeping quarters. Tiffany, as usual, was up earlier and getting ready by the time I rolled out of bed, but being a guy and requiring no makeup/matching outfits/cleanliness, we were ready to get moving. After a painfully long delay at CVS we got on highway 101/I-5 headed down to San Diego. Now don’t get me wrong, San Diego is a beautiful town, but I was highly disappointed in it. I had built up San Diego in my mind to be that quintessential surfer town full of Mexican style buildings and mariachi bands; it turns out that area of town (old town as they call it) is about two square blocks. But we wanted to make the most of the time allotted to San Diego, so we did the most touristy thing possible and headed to the San Diego zoo.
Being the two cheapos that we are, me and Tiffany tried to get every discount imaginable for the zoo tickets, but nothing would lower the thirty dollar price tag associated with the park entry. Since this zoo is supposed to be the largest zoo in the world, and because both of us were far from broke, we figured that being cheap was a bad reason to give up on the zoo. Sixty dollars later we found ourselves heading to the park, but first stopped and got some huge and wonderfully delicious four dollar burritos. Arriving at the zoo, we realized that we were pretty much going to have the place to ourselves since it was a weekday in December so there seemed to be no rush. We decided to go on the bus tour first which gave you a good overview of the zoo and drove you past a good 60 percent of the animals in the zoo and it had a nice tour guide that could tell us all the cool things about the animals that we would never have known. Besides having a tire blow out in the middle of the tour, my favorite surprise was running into my former dean of science for Morehouse College, Dr. J.K. Haynes while on the bus. Here I am looking at the animals, when I take notice of one of the occasional black people that I saw in San Diego. To my surprise I thought I knew this person, except there was no way in hell that my old advisor from Atlanta, GA would be here in San Diego looking at the zoo. But sure enough, as we got closer the astonished look of recognition spread across both of our faces, but by the time we could say anything, the bus had moved on. I looked to find him the rest of the day, but the size of the zoo made another run-in extremely improbable, and we gave up the search. After the bus tour, we pretty much hit all the big attractions, the pandas, koalas, hippos, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and the such. It was a very impressive zoo but at some point in life you feel like you have seen all the animals you need to through zoos or the nature channel. Actually, I don’t think I have reached that stage yet, because I was as giddy as the rest of the schoolchildren running around the zoo. All in all, the zoo was a lot of fun.
We realized that the beach at San Diego was the closest we were going to come to a temperate beach on this trip, so we parked our car next to the boardwalk and walked among the eight million dollar beachfront homes (if your house is worth eight million dollars, do you really think flyers is a purposeful way to advertise? get an agent!). Tiffany and I had a really lovely walk on the beach at night. It was one of those perfect times to have intimate conversations and just enjoy the cool beach air. So that’s exactly what we did, until we got hungry and tired of walking. Heading back we decided to try and find the famous Old Town district that is supposed to be reminiscent of old Mexico. Little did we know that there are no street lights, signs, or main streets that lead to this spot, so we did quite a few loops around the area not knowing what to look for. What ever we were expecting to find, we thought it would be big and attractive, but without the signs we would have passed right through the area unexpectedly. When we did realize that we had been driving through the place the whole time, we parked and found the most authentic looking Mexican place in the area. The place was pretty cool, with its mariachi band and outdoor fountains, but I think we preferred our cheaper lunch burritos over the real thing. The margarita was pretty good and there was a stray cat that entertained us most of the meal but the food sparked no fireworks. It was funny when our waitress wanted to take our check though. She was getting off shift and wanted to close her tabs so she brought us our checks. Since we both paid with cards, she left (for quite a while I remember) and came back with our cards and bill. But instead of leaving for us to sign and make out the tip, she stood right there in front of us waiting. This was the first time I have ever had any server sit there as an observer through the whole tip process. Tiffany tried to wait for her to leave but sure enough, she stuck around patiently as we did our calculations and handed her the bill, to which she peeked and said thank you. First time for everything.
Full and off-schedule, we had to reach Las Vegas by the end of the night. It was about 10 PM and Las Vegas was about five hours away, so we had quite the trip ahead of us. Tiffany wanted to do the driving from San Diego to Las Vegas because she felt bad that I had been driving the whole way up until then, so I sat in the passenger seat and chilled out. Now I had some pretty scenery and exciting (translation: dangerous) roads that helped keep me awake while I was driving, but we were driving through the deserts of southern California…in the dark… so Tiffany’s awake levels started to slip after awhile. Tiffany is a bit like me, in that once she sets herself to doing something, she will try and accomplish it no matter how illogical things get (I later learned a shorter description for that trait: pride), so despite the increasing sleepiness, she kept on truckin. Now once Tiffany’s driving reached the erratic stage, she explained that she cannot see well in the dark, and since she was having a hard time keeping her eyes open, it was making it even harder to focus. The entire ride we had been treated to a wonderful celestial display of shooting stars. In that wilderness the stars are brilliant and distinct, and about every forty seconds you would see a thin line streak across the sky, so once I realized my life was in one of its more dangerous periods, I made a wish upon a star. Long story short (haha, never thought I would use that phrase in any of my writings), we made it in safe, but Tiffany was struggling, but she completed the task she had set out to do.
In Vegas we stayed on the strip (the far end of the strip) at the Stratosphere hotel. For all who have been or know anything about Vegas, it’s the hotel/casino with the big space needle. The cool thing about that place was that the hotel rooms were only $22 dollars a night, and the rooms were actually pretty nice. The not-so-cool thing about that place was the ten dollar visitor package that was mandatory upon check in. I really had an issue with this visitor package because nowhere on anything leading up to this check in had I received any notice that I would be charged for stuff I had no interest in using. This package included a free ride to the top of the tower…but only from 10 AM to 2PM; it allowed for free pool access… which is free to anyone with a room key; we had free valet parking… which is free to anyone who goes to the hotel; and we were blessed with free use of the laundry room… but the washer and dryers were coin operated. So I simply saw this as a swindle, and I do not like getting swindled. Luckily it was three o’clock in the morning and I was dead tired, so I did not let the cheapness get the best of me. I gave the hotel check in lady my ten dollars and figured I would just steal a few towels to make us even (unfortunately my conscious has gotten the better of me these days). I asked the concierge how far the Grand Canyon was from Vegas (ohh not far... only about an hour) and set our wake up call so that we could get there in time to see a few things. Tiffany had never seen a casino before so she ran around there for a little while and I went upstairs and got ready for bed. It was only four o’clock by the time I got to sleep, and that’s pretty good by Vegas standards. The only problem was that our wake up call was at 9 the next morning. ‘Till the next entry. Adios

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Four

Starting on the fourth day, we decided that we were going to be making smaller assumptions in how far we could travel in one day. So we decided that if we left at 11 AM we could make it safely to LA by 8PM. We decided that both of us had serious issues with being late that needed to be remedied immediately, so I decided that the best way to not be late, was to add a few hours of delay into whatever place I was supposed to be. Since we were scheduled to arrive in LA by about 3 PM if we drove non-stop, I decided to give a good five hours of delay so that there was no way I could be tardy to anything I was planning. So after packing up and heading out we headed back on the Highway One and didn’t stop until we hit the lovely town of Ventura, CA. Tiffany had seen the town of Ventura in a magazine and thought it would be a cute place to stop for lunch. Once we got there, we learned that it was closer to being uppity than cute, but overall was a nice town. After walking about two blocks, we saw a store that read, yes it really said. “The Retarded Children of Ventura’s Thrift Store: Owned and Operated by Ventura’s own Retarded Children.” Now Tiffany, who has worked for several years with Developmentally Disabled persons, found this to be shocking and politically incorrect. I more so thought it was funny and politically incorrect, but either way it spoke to the feel of the town. It felt like one of those places whose people consider it a charity to build their ‘retarded’ residents a store to make themselves feel better. Now being in Southern Cali, we were shocked to see that there was a town with no Asians, Blacks or even Hispanics, but I guess rich white America is the same everywhere. But we really liked the look of the place so we stopped to eat at a South American styled restaurant. After realizing that you never get served when you are the only ones sitting outside, we decided to move back inside where the rest of the customers where located. As I was walking into the restaurant, I bumped some rich white lady’s purse that was hanging from her chair, and the glasses that were dangling on the purse string fell to the floor. Naturally, I immediately picked the glasses up and apologized for accidentally knocking over her glasses. This lady had the nerve to look me in the eye, sneer, grab the glasses back, and then dismiss me as if I never had said a thing. After making a mental note of this woman’s behavior, I went about having my lunch. But it did not help my opinion of the little beach town of Ventura.
So from Ventura we started on the trip down the most famous stretch of 101. This stretch incorporated Malibu, Santa Monica, and finally LA, but the thing that all these places had in common was that everyone was exceedingly wealthy. We drove amongst all the mansions of the stars that dotted the hills and beaches of Malibu but chose not to dwell too long for fear of being tempted to conduct a break in. Since it was about sunset time, we pulled over and caught the sunset on the Malibu pier, and actually ran into the people that were in charge of funding the Malibu pier. After answering all the questions they had for us, we got to enjoy the sunset all by ourselves. Then it was back to LA for meeting up with our friends. Now I was planning on staying for the night in that area (Brentwood) because I did not want to impose myself on Tiffany’s friends, but also because I did not want to stay in Compton (which is where Tiffany’s friends said they stayed). I had been joking with Tiffany (well-to-do Chinese gal) that she was never going to survive the night in Compton, because that’s where all the dangerous black people stayed and they like to shoot people. So after sufficiently scaring Tiffany about staying in Compton for the night, she called her friends and asked if it was safe for her to stay there. From the sound of their voices, it seemed they were white, now I am no expert, but I just didn’t see any white people choosing to live in Compton. So after some further investigation we discovered that they lived in a fairly safe area between Long Beach and Compton, but associated themselves with Compton. After Tiffany learned that she was safe for the night we met up with some of Tiffany’s friends in Santa Monica at about 5:30 PM and had some drinks at a bar so we did not have to get stuck in LA traffic. Once drinking in the early afternoon got old, we hit up the sushi bar across the street that was advertising its grand opening by having all sushi half-off. About twenty pieces of sushi later it was time for me to run off to dinner with my friend in LA, Melat, so I went and picked her up from UCLA.
After learning Melat’s latest set of Grad school problems we went to California Pizza Kitchen and chilled out for a few hours. Now one of the one draw backs of being black and appearing to be nice (due to my frequent smiling) is that you get a lot of attention from people that usually do not mess with other people. In this case, I am referring to crazy homeless black men. After giving this man some change, he literally refused to leave me alone for about five minutes, or however long it took for him to explain his life story in one long discontinuous rant. I try not to be rude in those situations since you never know when the last time he had a proper conversation could have been, but I definitely was glad when he moved on. Afterwards, I took Melat home and decided to go back to Tiffany’s friends place to sleep so we could leave uninterrupted in the morning for San Diego.
Getting to Tiffany’s friends gated house, I quickly discovered that this was going to be a long night. There were open bottles of wine and a big bag of Cali’s finest implying that the night was just beginning. Now there were plans for Tiffany’s friend (who aspires to be a producer) to produce a demo for an aspiring local rapper that night. I was assuming that all that mess would be done by the time I got there so I could go to sleep, but it turns out that they had not even started, and were not even in the house to start anytime soon. They were out getting some tacos, munchies I assume, so by the time they returned to the house it was about 11PM. This dude Abde/Abdi/Aubdee (who the hell knows how its spelled) put down one track for the next three hours. The guys stayed in the recording room (Tiffany’s friends bedroom) while the women tended the babies and watched Sex in the City. I was tied between the increasingly monotonous rap session and the very friendly pitbull that they owned, but once the pitbull got loose and rubbed itself in a bunch of poo, my decision was easily made. So amongst the stench that the dog brought into the house, I watched this man spit his verses over and over and over again. Needless to say, this guy will probably not be the next Jay-Z but the track was alright and Tiffany got to witness her first ever rapper recording session. Things eventually calmed down at the house and we finally got to go to sleep on the little love seat that me and Tiffany somehow had to squeeze onto. Those of you who know I love sleep could tell I was fairly cranky. Overall, it was a good day.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Three

Waking up in Folsom, CA is never very exciting, mostly because the only thing to look forward to is visiting the local prison. This was definitely one of those purpose driven visits, and the purpose of this stop was to take Tiffany to work at the Folsom Intel campus. So I woke up and drove Tiffany to work like a proper domestic partner would, and I went back to sleep while she brought home the bacon. She only had a three hour meeting, so by noon, it was time for us to get back on the road again. Now we had some extremely lofty ideas of driving to LA by the time the sunset, but we also had the lofty idea of driving the pacific coast highway the whole way down. So it took us a good two hours to reach the coast and find highway 1, but once we did, we were treated to the famous views that countless people have experienced since the 1 was created. The only problem was that we were making MINIMAL progress towards reaching our destination. I remember getting on the one at around 2pm and seeing that LA was about 350 miles away, I figured we would see as much of the coast as possible, and then we would get in to LA around 7pm. Here is a lesson that someone should have told us: driving the coast (as in hwy 1 not hwy 101) takes about five times longer than driving any other way. We would drive for 20 spectacular minutes, and two miles of progress would have been made towards our mile countdown. The road is that windy and that slow, that you must drive at 20 to 30mph the entire time. It was beautiful getting to watch the sunset while driving, but once the daylight disappeared, the one turned from amazing to treacherous. After realizing that we were about 60 miles from a real highway over mountain roads, and seeing a car drive off the road (on the inside, not the seaside), we decided that we were going to have to stop for the night. So we picked our destination to be Santa Maria, and counted down the miles to safety.
The one good thing about stopping in Santa Maria, was that we were finally able to get In and Out Burger. Tiffany had been talking about these burgers since we entered California, and we finally came across one when we happened to be hungry. So we decided to take a break and stop for a quick meal. While we were eating, I called my mom and asked her to look into some cheap hotels for us, and she was more than grateful to help. When it was time for us to pick up our food, we witnessed a very amusing interaction between the store manager and one customer. There was a father there with his daughter, and he began explaining to the manager that he ordered a double burger, and yet he only saw one patty. So the store manager takes the burger with her BARE hand, places it on the counter, and starts pawing through the cheese, lettuce and tomato, to point out to the father that there was indeed a second patty. With her hand still knuckle deep in the sandwich, she explained that sometimes the patty slides to the back while they are being wrapped. Thinking to myself that now she just ruined a perfectly good burger to prove a point, I assumed the story was over. But the manager, says, let me take this in the back and re-wrap it. I looked at the father and then at the manager, and didn’t know whether to be more shocked at the fathers acceptance of this proposal or of the managers bold assertion that the burger was alright. I guess people in Cali are just more laid back. So back to the point, we had some food (not as good as expected) and started looking for the next place to go. Since it was only like 9pm we wanted to go see a movie or at least find a bar to hang out at. Finding out that Borat was not being played anywhere in Santa Maria and that there were no real bars around, we tried to find a liquor store and some cheap hotels. All the hotels were lookin real shady, I’m talking hotel attendant coming to the door with no shirt kind of shady. So we decided to check in to good ole Motel 6 and call it a night.
I had bought a bottle of wine from the liquor store, and bought a 99 cent bottle opener as well, so when I got in I decided to open my bottle of wine and relax. To my surprise my 99 cent bottle opener decided to behave like it was a cheap wine bottle opener, the darn thing broke the second I tried to yank the cork out. So now I was stuck with the age old problem of a wine bottle with no way to open it. The next twenty minutes were dedicated to busting this thing open without getting soaked in wine, and I ended up utilizing a ballpoint pen, beer bottle opener, and some good ole muscle power to pop it open. So drinking and talking took us into the night, all in all a good day.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Two

San Fran here I come. San Fran is the first place on this trip that I truly had no idea about. The only things I knew about San Fran was that there were a lot of hills and a lot of gays (is that politically correct?) so I was pretty excited to get to see the place. Luckily my friend Katherine volunteered to be our tour guide throughout the day so we wouldn’t get too lost.
So we after showering, eating cereal, and getting scratched by the cat, it was time for us to get headed to town. Side note: getting scratched by something that your allergic to makes the wound a lot more uncomfortable. Luckily Tiffany had some magical Chinese Herbal stuff that made everything feel better instantly. Well, we decided to hit the Golden Gate Bridge first, so we headed cross the Oakland Bridge to San Fran (we were coming from Berkeley). Naturally, traffic showed its ugly head despite us traveling on a Sunday morning, so it took us a good hour and a half to get to the G G Br (as all the street signs called the Golden Gate Bridge). It happened to be cold, cloudy and slightly rainy, but despite all that we had an excellent view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a beautiful bridge, but I don’t know if I would travel halfway around the world for it, as most of the tourist seemed to have done. So we decided that instead of paying the five dollars to drive across the bridge, we would walk it for free, and that way we could take in the scenery along the way. As we stop for our first photo opportunity, I was approached by a visiting middle eastern man, and he asked if I could take his picture with the bridge. Being such a friendly person J, I gladly agreed and took his picture…but that’s not where it ends. His true motives came out a second later when he asks, “Can I take a picture with you too?” Seeing that I was a little taken aback, he clarified himself by explaining that he wanted to take a picture with a “real live black American.” After verifying that I was indeed a Black American, to his delight, he told me that he was from Iran and they simply don’t see people like me around. I thought the whole experience was great so I posed for the picture with him and had Tiffany take a picture of us. Seeing that Tiffany was Chinese and that Katherine was white, he wanted a picture of everyone because he was so shocked that we would all be hanging out together. That’s the thing about interacting with people from another society, they point out things that you take for granted or that are assumed within your own society. After that we started walking across the bridge, and after seeing many depression hotline telephones along the bridge, Katherine explained that a lot of people choose jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge as their suicidal preference. So in case the person wanted some last minute advice, they could call the hotline and here some life-saving words. Well after walking about a tenth of a mile onto the bridge, we decided that we had enough and turned back around.
So we got in the car and headed to this really hippie district called Height (pronounced Hate) Street. This street had a bunch of off beat stores and smoke shops mixed in with cozy cafes, but overall had not much to pique my interest. After touring an art gallery dedicated entirely to T-Shirts, we decided to call it a day and get some food in Chinatown. When we were walking out, I smelled these dudes to the left of us smoking weed, and we met eyes. So for the next ten second they were trying to sell me that sticky icky. I was flattered that they thought I was cool enough to buy drugs, but had to politely decline their offer. Katherine had to run off to teach a class, so Tiffany and I went exploring and saw some things that I would have never known existed if I had not had a Chinese speaking person with me. So after Tiffany spoke to a bunch of people about where to find a ‘real’ Chinese food place, we went to have lunch. When I say that I stepped into China, there is no exaggeration. I felt slightly out of place just being in Chinatown period, but in this authentic Chinese food spot, I was in a different world. Out of the two hundred people in the place, I was the only black person, the only American, the only person who did not speak Chinese, and the only person who had to ask what every single food was called. In short, it was great. After discovering that General Tso’s chicken wasn’t going to be found in this spot, we started to pick up some different plates. This restaurants way of serving food was to put about thirty dishes of food on round tables in the middle of the restaurant, and the customers would go and grab a plate or six and take them back to the table. Then the waiters would take the food to the back and heat it up. So after only recognizing rice on the table, I just let Tiffany do the choosing and when she came back we had like eight meals on the table. There was no way in hell we would eat a fourth of all the food brought to our table, so I just assumed that she had managed to waste away a lot of our money. Turns out, the eight plates that we had chosen were less than two dollars each, and our entire bill was like 15 dollars. The lesson, you can get full off of good food for two dollars if your in Chinatown, PLEASE deliver this message to all hungry homeless/broke people that you might know. After stuffing ourselves, we went and grabbed some bubble tea and walked around until it was time to move to the next spot.
That next spot was the Fisherman’s Warf and that was just one of those cool spots that most big cities will have. There were break dancers and street performers, painters and merchants, and just a lively atmosphere that isn’t quite present in Portland. The highlight of the Pier/Wharf was Pier 39, and the reason for that could be heard hundreds of yards away. At pier 39 there are little square barges dedicated to sea lions. They all gather there at night to sleep, and pile onto to these relatively small barges until they are terribly uncomfortable. The result is a constant raucous of sea lion bellowing, roaring, crying, and coughing that is just amazing. The second any one sea lion moved, it created a ripple effect to the other 30 and they would all start yelling and fussing at each other. Usually they would try and push the offender off the barge and into the water. It was just amazing to watch these creatures acting just like children who thought the other was hogging the blankets. The only difference was that there were thirty of them, and it seems that they never settled down enough to fall asleep. Well after getting entertained by the Sea Lions we decided to move on, and head to our final destination of Folsom, CA. After failing to find a bar along the way, we just went on to the hotel, and chilled out for the night. All together a lovely day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day One

Beep Beep Beep goes the alarm and road trip day is upon us. Big plans are about to be undertaken, and we have woken up about an hour later than we planned to due to staying up late. So the plan was to leave at 6 AM today December 9th, 2006, and to start the long drive to San Fran. The reason for starting so early was that we hoped to get to San Fran by 8 PM and wanted to see the sights inbetween.
So its now 6 AM and I am rolling out of bed thinking that we would be leaving in about ten minutes (being the time it takes for me to brush my teeth and put on clothes). But there is hair to be done by Tiffany, and I had forgotten to pack a few extra things, so the ten minutes turned into an hour. So around seven, we were all packed up and ready to go. We needed to drop my car off at Innocent’s (former roommate) so that he could get the new tires off my dead car while I was gone, so by the time we hit the road it was 7:30. Now anyone that knows my families or my own procrastination tendencies, an hour and a half delay is pretty darn good.
The plan for the road trip is to use the famous Route 101 and Route 1 as much as possible, but since we began inland we had to decide where we wanted to cut over to the coast. We decided to hit Tiffany’s old college town of Eugene. OR because she knew of some good breakfast places and also because she wanted to see her old house. It quickly became apparent that I would be doing the bulk of the driving of this trip, so I get on I-5S and head on down to Eugene. We eventually switch when we get close to Eugene since she was the navigational expert of the town. So we drive to the old campus of Oregon University and take a few nostalgic shots or the little college town. After seeing the town, and being rejected by a bubble tea maker, we decide to head to Tiffany’s former favorite breakfast spot. The first problem started from the fact that Tiffany never had to go to this place from our current location of downtown, and secondly the place turned out to have been out of business for the last year. So after searching for this non-existent restaurant, we decide that we have wasted entirely too much time in Eugene (1.5 hours) and needed to get back on the road. So we take a pit stop to see Tiffany’s old house then get on a little country road, Route 126, to the coastal town of Florence, OR. Seeing as we were still hungry we decided that we would hit breakfast in Florence and hopefully see a little water while we ate. Unfortunately we had even less knowledge of Florence, and soon found ourselves looking for just anywhere that served breakfast. After consulting a few locals, we got some good advice and hit up a little local spot called Benny’s which actually turned out to be pretty good.
After breakfast we were technically on the road to San Fran and only planned to stop if we saw something extremely cool. Time out, must tell about the bathroom in Benny’s. There was a man coming out of the one-stall bathroom, and as he passed me, he gave me a most peculiar look. After I went in the bathroom I quickly discovered the source of the look, that bathroom was subastank. But hey, when you gotta light it up like that you just gotta do it. Anyways, so we get back on 101 and we proceed to oooh and aaahh at the beautiful sand dunes of southern Oregon. These are the type of sand dunes that you always see those adventure seekers driving dune buggies on. These were some serious dunes, the only thing that sucked was that they blocked the view of the ocean. Well eventually the dunes cleared and 101 showed what it was famous for, gorgeous cliffs and the feeling on being on the edge of the world. You literally ride the edge of the country. A slip of the wheel or the blow of a tire and you are falling a hundred feet to the ocean. The west is very unlike the east coast in that there is no gradual slope towards the ocean. The northwest coast abruptly stops, as if America was supposed to continue but someone cut it down the middle and replaced the missing section with ocean. The coast of Oregon is also famous for the huge rock formations off the coast that look like giant boulders hurled down from the sky. Well these sights continued for the next few hundred miles into the Northern Cali.
So we wanted to stop and see the Redwood Forest if at all possible before it got too dark so we were in a hurry to make it to the infamous Avenue of Giants before 5 PM. It was looking like we were going to cut it close, but then the sky decided to open up and dump all its content onto the roads. Whatever daylight was left was swallowed up by the giant rain clouds that took over the sky. So our plans to go to the Redwoods went out the window, our new primary concern was not dying on the incredible windy roads in the wet darkness. It also became apparent to us that we were going to get into San Fran around 9:30 PM, so seeing the city was out for the day. Well needless to say, we made it safe to San Fran late but exhausted. After getting terribly lost trying to find my friend Katherine’s place in Berkeley, we finally made it to a house. Now, I had been wondering for a while what small ass apartment I would be staying in considering how expensive San Fran can be, so when I drive up to a huge house in the hills I quickly think I am in the wrong place. Well it turns out that five PhD students at Berkeley could afford to pay the rent on a one million dollar house (no exaggeration). I had no complaints, so we moved our stuff into the house and met all of the housemates. Turns out that most or all of the housemates went to the same high school as I did at various times, and that was the thing that tied them to my high school friend Katherine. Now you know that you are in a house full of doctoral students when the place is cluttered, full of board games and computers, and a recently baked ginger bread Trojan horse (complete with gummy bear men in the hull). So my wonderful friend Katherine was kind enough to anticipate my hunger and made some delicious Ravioli for us. After catching up with her and her friends, it was time to hit the sack. Despite being mildly allergic to cats, I managed to sleep quite soundly in a house full of them. What happened the next day, stay tuned… And yes I write long synopsis.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Great American West Trip - Day Zero

So technically, I am not writing this on day zero, but I suppose very early on day one is as close as I am going to get. So we (my friend Tiffany and I) finally got on the road this morning and are making good progress down to our first stop of Eugene, OR. But today is not the focus of day zero, that will be tomorrow’s entry.
So day zero occurred on Friday, December 8th 2006. My trip was scheduled to start today Saturday, December 09, 2006 so why would I possibly be writing about the day before the trip some of you might ask. In case you didn’t know, this trip was SUPPOSED to be completed in my 1992 Nissan Maxima. Well on Thursday this aforementioned vehicle began making some odd engine noises, so to be safe before my trip, I decided to take it to the shop for an engine diagnostic. Now we can return to Friday to 8:54am when I received a call from AAA NW Auto Care that changed the direction of my entire life. They were kind enough to inform me that my entire fuel system was corroded, from the fuel lines, to the injectors, to the spark plugs. All this could be easily repaired for a cool $1700. Now being the cheapo that I am, I state that I don’t care to have a perfect car, just tell me what I need to do to get this thing on the road and running smoothly. After hearing that I did not need the deluxe treatment, they kindly lowered my repair costs to a much discounted $1500. Now after having put a new engine in the car ($2000) four years ago, and a new transmission ($2000) two years ago, I realized that it was time to learn my lesson about investing in this particular automobile. So I told the mechanic, that the Maxima had reached its maximum life expectancy and that I would pick it up by the end of the day.
So for the remainder of my last day of work, I am pretty bummed out because it seems like my great road trip plans are going to fall apart at the seams. So after deciding that I am going to give my car to Goodwill, I try and tackle the problem of getting myself and my stuff to at least Virginia and ultimately Ann Arbor, MI. Now you must understand that I brought a car FULL of stuff to Portland, because I was of the mindset ‘if it can fit, why wouldn’t I bring it.’ So now I have a tremendous amount of stuff with no place to put it and no car to move back with. Rather than trying to solve my problems over the next couple of days, I decide to go on my road trip anyways, I simply had to find a car to use. So I break the news to Tiffany (my original partial road trip partner) that my car is dead and that our vehicle for the trip is completely dead, and that I still plan to go on the trip with a rented car. This time, instead of driving around the country, I figured I would drive down the Cali coast and then come back up through Utah and Yosemite and right back to lovely Portland. So I tell Tiffany my new plan and being the wonderfully spontaneous person that she is, she is all for it, and on top of that we can use her car.
So I bought a one way plane ticket to DC (for 120 dollars!!!) and moved all my stuff out of my house, and prepared for the new adventure awaiting us the next day. So here we are driving to San Fran as if nothing’s changed. Til’ the next entry.

The Great American West Trip

In December of 2006 I took a trip around the West with then-girlfriend Tiffany V, and wrote a journal of our adventures. It was a great trip and wanted to share it with you all. Its a day by day account and took place over eight days (I think), so I will post them every once in a while.