Saturday, December 24, 2011

Home for the Holidays

Alright - so far so good with the camper!  We slept in it for two nights and it has been awesome.  Can't wait to get to work on it and keep on traveling!  Also, I had my very first trailer-pulling experience with it.  While I did remain very tense for the entire shift, it wasn't as bad or scary as I imagined.  In fact, for the most part I didn't even notice it.

In the last two days of travel, we also finished up all of our bingo... it was sad for it to end, but really fun that it lasted the whole trip.  Here were the final wins: Ben won a yo-yo (which is really perfect for him, if you didn't know); I won these noisy magnet things... not sure how to better explain them, haha; and finally, Ben won a small wind-up flipping monkey.  Pretty freakin' awesome, and really such an amazing gift from Zach and Blaire - thanks you guys!

Well, folks, this chapter of our adventure is officially over...  Ben and I got back to our families in the Charlotte area early this afternoon.  We have spent the day with our respective families, which is pretty much the perfect end to the trip.  I still can't believe it's over, but we'll be up and moving again before too long (probably about a week from now, actually).

Since this post will be wrapping up Chapter 1, I think I'll go ahead and comment on my initial goals -
1. Have lots of fun.  This was without a doubt fulfilled.  I will always be grateful to have seen all the places we did, and to have spent good time with family and friends - I can't imagine having a better and more fun trip.  It was straight-up awesome.
2. Don't get too worked up about the details - remain flexible.  While this is traditionally something I need to work on, it wasn't too big of a deal for me during this trip.  There were definitely moments when I would worry about money or how long we had in a certain place or if we would get home in time... but really, they just ended up being fleeting thoughts - easy to get past so I could just enjoy what we were up to.
3. Stay Healthy.  While I was no health nut on this trip, I think I did pretty well.  I haven't weighed myself, but all of my clothes still fit.  I am not injured or anything like that.  I would say, goal accomplished.
4. For Ben and I to keep liking each other.  This one was so easy!  Seriously, I started to get worried when we were planning the trip and people kept advising that we spend time apart whenever we stop somewhere.  Well, we didn't spend much time apart at all, and it was totally awesome!  We had so much fun together... I honestly think we laughed every single day, multiple times.  I am a lucky girl.

Also, I thought it might be fun to quantify the trip... here are some numbers for you :)
40 days on the road
41 tanks of gas
4 chips in the windshield
11 loads of laundry
1 new derailleur
6 days mountain biking
3 days skiing/snowboarding
3 meals from Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives restaurants
11 bingo prizes won
8 days with family
10,000-ish miles driven
27 blog posts... and over 2,000 blog views.

Thanks to everybody who has been keeping up with our adventures.  We have had so much fun and can't wait to continue the journey, whether it's on the road, in a new city, or with new jobs.  It's a happy and sad feeling for this trip to be over, but it'll be exciting to see what is in store for us next.  I'm not planning on this being my last blog post - let's hope for some fun and excitement in our lives so that I have some good stuff to write about!

We hope everybody has wonderful and heart-warming holidays... and, I'll keep you posted!

Friday, December 23, 2011

We would like to introduce you to our new travel companion...

Oh my goodness… suddenly we are on day 39 of 40, how did that happen?  Well, we spent a night outside of St. Louis and then made it to Louisville, KY yesterday.  Also, we are officially in White Castle territory.  Have you heard of White Castle?  It’s this little Mid-western chain fast food restaurant that sells these tiny, crappy, but also irresistible, little burgers.  Ben is a really big fan of White Castle burgers, so we have indulged a couple times (so far), and I have to admit that I have enjoyed mine as well.

We are also experiencing the worst weather of the entire trip.  Non-stop rain.  Bleh.  I know that it could be much worse - I mean, we could be going through snow and get stuck and not make it home in time for Christmas.  That isn’t something we’ll have to worry about, but it’s a little bit of a bummer after we went the entire trip with pretty awesome weather.  Oh well!

So, we have a new travel companion!  As we were rolling through Louisville, Ben and I saw this little camper and just had to have it.  Just kidding.  My mom got us inspired because she’s been talking about little campers for a while now, and then we started thinking about how much fun it would be to have one.  So, we’ve been doing a good bit of research on them lately, and one of the reasons we took the route through Louisville was to look at one we found listed online.  That’s right – we bought a camper!  Check it out:
It is a 1985 Uhaul 13’ Fiberglass camper (they were only made from 1984-1986).  It is super cute and in really good shape, but there are a number of projects Ben and I have in mind to make it even nicer.  For example, we’ll be putting in a stove and hood (the originals were removed by a previous owner).  We will probably alter the upholstery and Ben will do some other random work and repairs to it… you know, just to bring it up to snuff.

We had quite a time finding one of these little buggers.  First of all, our tow rating is very low, so it had to be tiny and fiberglass.  We also were limited because we didn't want to go crazy budget-wise.  Then, we found out very quickly that these campers (and similar ones of other brands) have HUGE followings… like forums and clubs online and everything.  We inquired about 5 or so other listings before this one, and they all sold within about a day of being advertised online.  We feel lucky to have scored this little egg.

So, we’re ending the trip with a bit of a bang.  It’s pretty awesome, because even though this trip is coming to a close, it’s like a promise to keep on going and seeing and doing.  Plus, it’ll make a mighty fine guest room! Haha…

Also, I would like to name her… you know, like a boat.  We’re taking suggestions for names.  Feel free to submit your vote on here or on facebook, or just send us an email!  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The easterly journey continues...

And we keep traveling east!  Yesterday we made it from Kersey, CO to Lincoln, NE.  Nebraska was pretty long and redundant, but we made it just fine… mostly with the help of some very serious bingo playing.  I am happy (and sad) to report that Ben won 3 times yesterday… sheesh!  Yep, he won a little 16-month kitten calendar (which I think is especially awesome), a cap gun, and the caps for the gun.  He gave it a go in the car, which was funny, but resulted in us having to roll down the windows for a few minutes on the interstate, heh.  Guess we’ll save that one for outside…

Last night we ate at a local BrewPub of Lincoln, Lazlo’s.  They made & served Empyrean beer, which we had never had before – I had a porter and Ben a stout, and we were both pleased, pretty darn good.  Also, we were just an hour south of Omaha and the restaurant, of course, served Omaha Steaks and we indulged.  I had a really delicious cut of prime rib along with buttery salty sautéed green beans and Ben had a New York strip with wild rice… so good!  I don’t have pictures of the meal this time, but you can imagine how wonderful it was… the meat was even cooked perfectly.

We got up this morning and had been in 3 states by the time 10:30 rolled around – Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.  We’re currently making our way through MO and will stop for the night somewhere between St. Louis and Louisville, KY.  Tomorrow we’ll be hanging out in Louisville a little bit, and after that we’re only about 8 hours away from home.  We’ll probably take it good and slow – hopefully making a pit stop in the good ‘ole WNC mountains - because it still feels like home even though our home isn’t there anymore - before finally making it back to the Charlotte area to be with our families. 

Okay, below is a new series of maps for your enjoyment.  First is the way out, second is our way back.  Also, just so you know, Missouri gas prices are competitive with Salt Lake City!  Hooray for sub-$40 tanks of gas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

5 Days 'til Home!

Hello again friends!  Well, our time on the road continues to narrow… tomorrow (Tuesday) we will be on day 36 of 40.  Wow. 

After I wrote last, we made our way to Salt Lake City to pick up our goods at the storage unit, which means we're once again traveling with a full load.  Also, do you remember how the last time we were there we tried to go to the restaurant Bruges, which my brother suggested, but it didn’t work out?  Well, we did get to go this time.  It was still packed (we had to wait in a line that went out the door), but we stuck it out and ordered the Machine Gun Sandwich and a cup of Flemish Stew to share.  The sandwich is such a hot item that they were behind on orders, so we had to wait, but it was worth it.  The sandwich was on good thick bread and had lamb sausage, homemade frites, and a homemade andalouse sauce… soooo good. 

The next awesome part about our stop in Salt Lake City was that we came across the cheapest gas prices of the entire trip – check it out people, we filled up for $2.89/gallon.  That means we filled the tank for less than $40, woohoo!  Also, it was at a Maverick, which is still my favorite gas station chain of the trip.  We got coffee and Ben picked up an assortment of snacks, including a squeezable pouch of applesauce, an Idaho huckleberry cordial, and an Idaho spud bar.  Not too shabby...
After a bit of time in the city, we kept on heading east – we stopped and spent the night in a little town called Glenwood Springs, CO.  The town is built around hot springs and has a really cool little downtown area.  Also had an opportunity to try another local brewery spot.  It wasn’t the best food or beer that we’ve had, but it’s always fun to try that stuff out.

We made our way a little further east yesterday.  We were definitely planning to spend some time with Ashley and Chris in Breckenridge, but we had some time to kill before they got off work.  We went to a restaurant called Haywood Café a little ways down the road in hopes of seeking out the Panthers' game.  Well, we got lucky because we were seated right in front of a big tv showing it, the food was awesome, and it was actually a really fun game to watch (hooray Panthers!  Fumblerooski, anyone?). 

I would also like to share with you what we ate that morning.  First of all, we started with coffee and bloody marys.  Mine was made with peppar vodka and Ben’s was a bacon bloody mary (with house-made bacon-infused vodka and a slice of bacon as garnish).  I have to say, mine was better.  Ben had a country fried steak and eggs and grits.  I had this delicious little meal called Swiss Baked Eggs – a piece of French bread slathered with garlic cream cheese, then two slices of bacon, two poached eggs, and melted Swiss cheese.  Will definitely be trying to recreate this one…
After the game and a bit of time running errands and doing laundry at a nearby laundromat (which had huge washers that could do 4.5 loads at once), we met up with Ashley and Chris at their apartment in Breckenridge.  We had a really good time talking and relaxing, and also enjoyed some food and drinks at the Breckenridge Brewery.  We’re lucky to have friends who offer up their 5-star floorspace and little bit of free time to hang out and catch up. :)

We originally planned to ski at Breckenridge today, but the conditions just weren’t quite right.  Warm weather, no snow, and a crowd of people just encouraged us to save a few bucks and head on down the Highway.  We stopped in Denver for lunch at another Diners, Drive-ins and Dives spot: Tocabe.  We had delicious taco fixings along with fresh fry-bread at this American Indian eatery... it was delicious.  After that we drove on to Kersey and are spending another night at my Grandparents’ house, and we’ll keep on heading east(ish) tomorrow.  5 more days ‘til we have to (get to) be home!

And lastly, here is a map of our progress.  It's getting a little confusing now that we're re-tracing some steps... maybe I'll do separate out and back versions the next time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Switching directions... Starting back.

We had so much fun in Whistler!  We spent three days out on the slopes, and our last full day there it snowed all day - couldn't have been better, really.  I also apologize for not having any pictures of us out on the mountain - we didn't carry packs and my camera is too big to put in my pocket, so you'll just have to imagine us out there.  It's quite impressive there as far as the acreage goes and everything... It's huge!  You should check out this page (click the “compare acreage” link) to get an idea of its scale.

We also took advantage of having a full kitchen for four nights and days.  We had chicken thighs with onions, mushrooms, and pasta for dinner the first night.  For one lunch we had a baguette with cheese and smoked salmon we bought in a Seattle market, and pâté... Yum.  We had marinated pork loin with black beans, mustard greens, and broccoli one night.  We even had eggs, bacon, and cinnamon roles for our breakfasts.  Ben really took the cake our last night though... A lot of you probably know that one of his favorite meals of all time is chicken with cheesy rice.  Well, he made a beer-can chicken in the oven and delicious cheesy jasmine rice on the stove, and it was sooooo good.

Also, this is for Woody: we had some really awesome beer (seriously, best winter ale ever) from a local brewery called Granville Island.  In fact, we each had a bottle in hand when we opened up a message from Woody where he suggested we give the brew a try.  Awesome!

And now, we’re on the road again.  Geez!  Haha, I was taking a look at the map and had this moment where I was like, “holy crap, we got ourselves way the hell out here.”  I mean, it’s like 50 hours of driving to get back to North Carolina from Whistler, and that doesn’t even count any odd places we may want to visit on our way back.  The good thing is, amazingly, we are still having so much fun.  I mean, 10 hours of driving in one day can make us pretty tired, but we’re still laughing all the time and excited to be out here.  While I may be shocked at the distance to cover with just 10 days before Christmas (that’s when we left Canada), I am so glad we made it to all of the places we did.  And now we can bust out the rest of the bingo... we've been saving it!

So now we’re down to 8 days (counting today and Christmas Eve) and by tomorrow we’ll have covered half of the 50 hours.  We’ll be back in Colorado and spending a day in Breckenridge and hanging out with good friends from camp, Chris and Ashley, who are working there.  The past few days have been pretty busy, but it’ll be nice for the last 5 days to be a little more relaxed. 

I have to admit, I am having some mixed emotions.  Because, now, even though we have places to stop yet, we’re really on our way home.  Part of me is ready to be there and spend time with family and be still for a bit, but part of me is sad that our trip is ending.  The good thing is, we can really just consider this to be the end of the first chapter – we’re going to go up to New England around the New Year and spend a good chunk of time in D.C. in the middle of January.  Then after that everything is totally up in the air, and that is another adventure in and of itself. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Holiday Spirit

I love the holidays… straight up.  I love the colder weather and snuggly clothes, Christmas music, shopping for everybody’s presents… it is all so fantastic.  It’s funny because the holidays themselves, like the actual days, have been really stressful for me the last several years – you know, driving from house to house to house and trying to balance time with all of the family without offending anybody.  Because of that, it’s really been all about the season to me, rather than the day itself.  I’m really interested in how this year will go.  As awful as this sounds, my dad was a big part of the holiday complication.  I mean, he estranged himself from everybody but me, and I think even though he genuinely missed the family time, he was kind of a bah humbug about it all.  This year I think I might have a less complicated day, but I’ll also have to balance it with the sadness that comes with my dad’s death.  I just don’t know how it’s going to be…

This year I have been finding it hard to get into the Holiday mood… Not that I don’t want to be… that isn’t it.  I think being in the car and going from place to place has kind of kept me away from it.  Ben and I don’t have our house to decorate, so there isn’t any of that.  Ben doesn’t really like Christmas music, so I don’t get much of a chance to listen to it… I don’t know, it just hasn’t been the same.

Well, lately I have been pestering Ben a little bit about getting the Glee Christmas album, and as you can imagine, he never really got into the idea.  The other day however, we saw a She & Him Christmas album, and that’s when he caved.  That’s right folks, Ben indulged me and bought a Christmas album… woohoo!

This year, Ben and I have decided to do a mini vacation at Whistler, BC for each other’s Christmas gift.  We booked a deal for 2 nights in a hotel and 2-day ski passes for each of us.  We drove up here from Vancouver yesterday, and something is finally falling into place for me holiday-wise.  We listened to the She & Him Christmas album as we drove by these gorgeous mountains just melting into the water… the scenery was absolutely beautiful, and there was some little bit of perfection between that and the tunes.  I also bought myself some eggnog, which I always crave this time of year, and I have been enjoying it (and the Holiday feeling) in the evenings. :)

We realized as soon as we got here that two days would not be long enough.  Our hotel room is wonderful (see picture) – black out curtains on the windows, full kitchen, huge comfy bed, and a huge tub.  Not only that, but we are staying in a lodge that is right in the middle of the village and just a couple minutes worth of walking from the two closest gondolas.  After a great day of the biggest skiing of our lives today (a couple runs were 6.5 miles long!), we decided to go ahead and extend our stay.  We won’t be checking out of the hotel until Thursday morning, so don’t expect us to be in contact by phone until after that (we’re trying to avoid expensive foreign fees). 

And finally, Liz asked me a couple posts ago about our mileage and driving time.  Well, we’ve driven about 5,500 miles, and we have split the time really evenly.  For the most part, we switch off every tank of gas, so it works out really well.  Enjoy another map!

What is up Vancouver?

Okay, so we spent Saturday afternoon, night, and morning in downtown Vancouver, BC.  I have to admit, we didn’t really like it.  I don’t understand why – everything we have heard made us think it would be a ton of fun… were we in the wrong area?

We stayed at a hostel right in downtown – this was one of the problems.  It was the cheapest downtown place we could find (at $60/night just for a bed), and it was probably the worst night of sleep I have had on this trip.  The bed was uncomfortable, which usually isn’t too big of an issue, but I had lots of time to notice it while I was tossing and turning and not sleeping because it was so freakin’ loud.   Seriously – people banging on our door at 3:12am, babies crying, sirens, peoples’ conversations that sounded like they were in our room… it was ridiculous. 

I would also like to tell you about a guy who Ben and I have named “Purple Pants.”  We first noticed him when we went out to the car after checking in at the hostel.  He was an older, wandering type of man who was just pacing that area of the sidewalk.  We got in the car and started looking at our map and a couple minutes later noticed that he was just standing at the back corner of the car staring at it.  In fact, when I glanced in the rearview mirror, it was like he was looking me right in the eyes.  As you may have guessed, we drove away at that point.  We went out to eat and drove around and then came back to the hostel… he was still there, and that is when we noticed the purple pants.  They were the tightest, thinnest, purple spandex pants I have ever seen – think aerobics style.  Holy cow!  He was still pacing.  We saw him a few times over the evening, but never really had any interactions with him, which I’m kind of thankful for. 

And! Let me tell you about the fiasco with overnight parking!  So, apparently break-ins are very common in the city, so we were warned to be careful about where we park.  The hostel staff suggested a lot a few blocks away, so we went there.  Well, all the parking garages in the city have a height limit of 6’6” – this is not tall enough for the car with the rocketbox on top.  We pulled to a little side area to try and figure out what to do.  We really didn’t want to park on the street because it’s impossible for us to empty the car and make it look barren. 

So, with reluctance, we decided to take the box off and try to fit it inside of the car… not easy.  We really should have emptied it first, but out of laziness we didn’t.  Ben freed it from the roof rack, and we slowly slid it off the roof until we were supporting it in an overhead press position.  Right away, I could tell it was too heavy for me, but I already couldn’t put my end back on the roof.  Ben started to lower his side in order to switch his grip, and my elbows just buckled.  Knowing the box would crash to the ground if I tried to switch to an underhand position, I clumsily lowered the box to rest on my head.  This was not a smart move… I mean, what the heck do I do from there?  And then, I started to laugh uncontrollably.  It was all just too much ridiculousness for me to handle.  Ben, mostly frustrated and also in problem-solving mode, ended up doing this fancy move where he balanced the box on his thighs while in the squat position so that I could collect myself.  Then, somehow, we managed to get the box into the car.  Geez. 

Oh, and then it turned out that parking for the garage was from 6am-6am.  So, we had to wake up at 5:45 this morning and walk to the car to renew our ticket (which meant paying for another entire day) so that we could sleep another couple hours.

Other than that, nothing was really bad, but just kind of underwhelming.  We ate a decent dinner, but it wasn’t anything special.  We walked around, but nothing was very impressive.  We went out this morning and had a good breakfast and watched the Panthers game, and all of it but the price was awesome.  Oh well!  Maybe we’ll try again another time, Vancouver!

Seattle, you’re pretty fun.

Oh my gosh!  We had a great time in Seattle – we were lucky enough to be staying with one of Ben’s good friends from college, Rachel (I do also consider her my friend), which was really fantastic because she was able to give us a little bit of an inside scoop, and she was really good company.

We got to the city on Wednesday night and then left on Saturday, so we had a lot of time (though not enough) to explore.  We did the Underground Tour on Thursday and it was awesome – the tour guide had some good one-liners, though it was completely scripted, and it was really interesting to learn how the city was built.  We also explored different areas in downtown Seattle including Pike Place Market, a magnificent toy store and delicious coffee.  The market made me want to be able to shop there every day for my groceries – the produce was beautiful and meat and fish counters amazing! 

So, let’s also talk about the whole coffee thing.  I’ve met some people from Seattle who are really big coffee snobs… like, they whine constantly about not having Seattle coffee.  Well, I’m not sure I’m that big of a believer, but I did have the best mocha of my life.  I got it at Seattle Coffee Works and it was like sipping chocolate cake.  You should be very jealous, and just to seal the deal, here is a picture of it:

For the most part, we just kind of explored – we also ate a lot of awesome food and had some good drinks.  Check out these mondo PBRs that Rachel and I had (that’s Ben’s beer in the middle) – we were definitely expecting regular tallboys and then got those instead. 

I also got in a little bit of family time, which continues to add something very special to this journey.  My Aunt Boston (my dad’s youngest step-sister) lives just north of Seattle with her family.  We went over for brunch on Saturday morning – Boston made delicious eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes and we just sat and talked and enjoyed each other’s company for a few hours… it was wonderful!

And now, on an entirely separate note, with the risk of showing complete selfishness, I’d like to tell you all about a problem I have been facing - and feel free to judge me, leave your comments, etc.  Here it is: It makes me very uncomfortable (and slightly angry) when people ask me for money on the street.  I wish I could be more graceful about this!  It is something that has plagued me for years, and I even try to give myself pep talks about feeling generous and about the fact that there are people who could genuinely use my help.  

Well, trying to psych myself up for it hasn’t worked so far, and I think this is why: I actually really enjoy being generous and helping other people, but the spontaneous solicitation is hard for me.  It really frustrates me when all of a sudden I am faced with guilt for not busting out my wallet and giving someone my cash, when really all I want to do is take a stroll down the sidewalk.  Does anybody else feel this way?  Does anybody have any insight to help me see past my discomfort?  I want to be able to handle this common situation without feeling like I have to stare at my feet out of guilt as I walk past…

Anyway, that’s the story.  Stay tuned, there is more to come!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Portland, done. Next: Seattle

Holy cow!  What a day in Portland!  Here’s how it went down:

We arrived late Monday afternoon and went straight to the home of the friends we stayed with.  Ben has a good college friend, Bri, and she and her fiancée have a great house right in town.  They were so welcoming and awesome – as soon as we arrived they cooked up a homemade meal and dessert, made us feel right at home, and even drew us maps of all the places we should hit while we were there. 

After dinner and lots of chatting, Ben and I walked to a nearby bar and met up with Brechter… you guys probably know him.  Haha, anyways, it was a great time just talking about his job and our trip and catching up on everything.  He made us want to go ski at Mt. Hood sometime.  Also makes me miss camp people like crazy. 

On Tuesday we got up early-ish, showered (which feels especially great when you don’t get to every day), and walked to the Waffle Window.  This place was awesome – you can get sweet or savory waffles with all sorts of delicious toppings.  Ben’s had thick bacon, cheddar cheese, and some kind of jalapeno/avocado topping.  Mine had sliced bananas, lots of nutella, and whipped cream…. Yum.  After that we walked over to Stumptown coffee – we were told that this would give us the true Portland coffee experience.  We were also warned that we wouldn’t feel cool enough to go in, but that it was okay, and we were.  The coffee was delicious, I was not disappointed…  They even made a little heart with the frothy milk on top of my café au lait.

After that, we definitely had to hit up Powells, which is this bookstore that is 4 stories tall and takes up an entire city block.  In the hour that we were there, we made it through 1½ levels, and were kind of rushing.  I feel like this is a place I will definitely have to revisit.  We left downtown after that and drove south to Salem – we were lucky enough to meet up with my Aunt Jodi and Uncle Deacon for lunch there… I hadn’t seen them in over 10 years.  It was really fantastic to sit and talk and catch up a little bit.  The family thing is definitely a huge part of my experience with this trip, so it’s really special to be able to make connections in lots of the places we’re going. 

When we came back into Portland, we thought we’d stop in at the Widmer Brothers Brewery and Pub.  After a few samples, I settled on a Peppermint Paddy Porter, and it was delicious – like a delightfully Christmasy, wintery beer.  If you come across it, it’s worth a try.  So, while we were sitting at the bar, some company employee came over and offered free Mumford and Sons tickets to the bartender… he just kind of said, “um, okay,” and took them.  Ben and I made obvious jealous faces.  The thing is, we aren’t obsessed with the band, but we like them well enough and some of their music is pretty catchy.

Well, a little bit later Ben had stepped out for a minute, and the bartender came over and started this conversation:
Bartender: So, have you heard of this Mumford and Sons band?
Me: Yeah, definitely.
Bartender: Oh, well, what are they like?
Me: Oh, you don’t know them?
Bartender: Nope.
Me: Oh, well, they’re kind of bluegrassy and catchy and…
Bartender: I heard there would be girls there…?
Me: Yes, there will definitely be girls there.
Bartender: Hm. Well, what are you guys doing tonight? (pointing to me and Ben’s empty seat)
Me: Umm, I don’t know.
Bartender: Well, I have basketball at 9 tonight, so if you guys want the tickets you can have them.

Um, awesome!  I mean, how can you pass up free live music?  So, Ben came back and I told him about the conversation and we slipped the bartender a little extra tip in exchange for the tickets.  We still wanted to spend time with friends that evening, but figured even if we only made it for a few numbers that it would be better than the tickets going to waste. 

So that’s the story for the evening… we met up with Bri and Ryan and ate a really delicious sushi meal, then went to the venue just in time to see the band come on… we saw the whole set, then slipped out just before the last encore song so that we could beat the traffic back.  It was a really long day, but what a fabulous introduction to Portland…

Today we slept in (obviously), hit up Stumptown for another cup of coffee, then wandered around downtown until lunchtime.  Today we had lunch at Bunk Sandwiches with another fabulous friend from camp, Leslie, and her boyfriend, Chris.  Somehow it has been about three years since we’ve seen Leslie, but she is just the same and so fun, and funny, to be with.  It’s already obvious that we’ll have to arrange more time to spend in Portland at some point… there is just so much to do and see and so many great people to spend time with. 

We left town after lunch and made our way to the coast.  Even though it’s a much longer drive, we decided it would be nice to take the more “scenic” route up to Seattle.  I’m sure I will have some good Seattle adventures to share with you in the next day or so, but for now I’ll leave you with another map of our progress.  Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Learning lessons... an almost mishap.

Alright, so on Saturday afternoon we got into Salt Lake City.  We checked into our hostel and then did a little research on storage units.  We found a good (and inexpensive) one, and decided to store our bikes and accessories there for a little bit... We just thought it would be better than hauling that stuff up into the snowy regions when we aren't even going to be using it.  So, we'll be back to the city to pick it all up again in 2 weeks or so.

My brother has been to Salt Lake a few times, so I texted him to see if there is anything he thought we should hit up.  He told us to go to Bruges, a Belgian waffle place, and get a Machine Gun Sandwich.  We went by on Saturday night and it was PACKED.  We decided to reappear in the morning and get breakfast there, but wah wah... Closed on Sundays.  Good thing we'll be back in town and can try again later!

We stuck around town Sunday morning because the Panthers game came on at 11, and the bars serve brunch.  Turns out the one we went to also served $1 mimosas... I may have had, oh, 7.  But come on! They were a buck! And, we were there for like 4 hours, so it wasn't that bad... And I drank lots of water. And the Panthers won!

We hit the road after that (Ben had the first leg) and started making our way north.  Our next destination is Portland, so the route is north into Idaho through Boise, then west.  The next events took place like this:
1. We stopped to use the bathroom just before the border.  Gas was $3.05 (awesome), but we didn't fill up cause we didn't need to yet.
2. A ways into Idaho the gas light came on... The next station was about 22 miles away, so we stopped when we got there - it was a Sinclair right off the interstate.
3. The gas at that Sinclair was $4.35!  It was in the middle of nowhere, and there were even alpacas at the station... See pictures. Read the window above the alpaca...
4. We looked up the next closest station, an Exxon 8ish miles away, and their gas was way cheaper.  Just to make sure we would make it, we got $4 worth of gas at the Sinclair.  It wasn't even enough for the gas light to go off.
5. I said to the attendant, " y'alls gas sure is expensive here!"... You know, trying to be cheerful and stuff. And he said, with a tone, "well do you know how much is costs us to get you gas all the way out here?!"  And I said, "oh, sorry, I was just saying, cause we're traveling around the country and--" and he said, "well, have safe travels then."  Geez!  Wasn't trying to offend anybody.  Guess he thought I was accusing him of jacking up the prices?
6. We accidentally got back onto the interstate, when we should have just gone 8 miles further on the road we were already on.  The next exit was 8ish miles away, there was no gas, so we turned around and went the 8 miles back, and then we were still 8 miles from the freaking Exxon!
7. So then we had to go back to the damn Sinclair, and it wasn't pay at the pump, so I was going to have to face that attendant again.  Oh well... We went back, and you would not believe it... They were closed!
8. We called the gas station that was still 8 miles away, and it turned out they were closed too...sheesh.  We debated... Risk it to the next closest station 25 miles away? Call AAA now? Spend the night?
9. I called the gas station 25 miles away... They were open til 9pm (it was 5pm).  I said, "well, I guess we're going to head that way, but we're gonna run out of gas before we get there... Any chance we could pay somebody to do us a big favor?"
10. The answer was no.  The gal I spoke to was the only one there, but she did tell us that she thought somebody had told her that the Exxon 8 miles from us did have pay at the pump.
11. So we risked it - hoping that we would make it to the Exxon and that they did indeed have pay at the pump.  We went slow, had to really because the roads were icy anyway, and I think I held my breath the entire way.  When we got about a mile away I relaxed a bit, because I thought we were probably close enough that we could push the car the rest of the way if we had to.
12. We made it! And guess what! The gas was $3.37. Ha! Take that Sinclair!  And, in case you're wondering, it was totally worth it.  The whole saga put us behind about an hour, but saved us over $10.  Plus, we gained an hour today, so it all equals out :)
Moral of the story - buy cheap gas when you find it, doesn't matter if you need it yet or not.  My dad would have made this little half-joking, half-serious chuckle and said, "ya dummy!".  Oh well, turned out okay!

We spent last night in Farewell Bend State Park, just inside the Oregon border.  It was pretty chilly, but the campground was really nice.  Did you guys know that you have to let an attendant pump your gas in Oregon?  I knew that was the case in NJ, but it took me by surprise here.  I didn't know proper etiquette, so I asked the guy if we were supposed to tip him... he said no, and I hope it wasn't a lie, because I don't want the rest of Oregon gas station attendants to get mad at me, haha.

We're on our way to Portland now... will be there sometime early afternoon-ish.  I expect some super awesome-ness to be able to blog about in the next couple days.  

PS - have you guys been to a Maverick gas station???  They're the bomb!  Lots of delicious (though bad for you) food options and just a good feel.  Hollins gals will appreciate its likeness to Sheetz.  Well, since we stopped in our first one, I have been eyeballing this big canister of mini marshmallows that they keep by the coffee stuff - it's there for you to use with the cream and sugar and such.  Well, Ben asked the Maverick lady this morning if we could buy one (cause I've kind of been talking about it non-stop), and she said yes!  Heh, so now I have a whole canister of mini marshmallows... not exactly sure what I'm gonna do with them yet...

Friday, December 2, 2011

I am happy to report...

That we had a fabulous day!  It didn't start out so promising... we woke up to sleet, ugh.  Before long, however, the skies cleared up a little bit, and we decided to go ahead and go for a bike ride.  Turns out it was a great decision.  The weather was beautiful for the entire ride, and it was by far the best ride of the trip yet (at least for me).

We tried out another "classic" trail for this area - JEM Trail.  We clocked about 14 miles... and once again, the scenery was just beautiful.  This trail was a loop - mostly road and wash the whole way up, then a long descent on low-grade, smooth, hard-packed, beautiful cross-country trail.  Ben and I both had a ton of fun... it was nice and struggle-free and fast, just my cup of tea.  Then, to top it off, the final mile or so of the trail was along the rim of the Virgin River Canyon... slightly scary, but amazing!
Also, I won another bingo prize!  That's right.  I may or may not have taken advantage of the fact that Ben was napping, but that's his own fault, haha.  So, prize #4 - a gun that shoots foam discs!  And I took full advantage by shooting Ben with it.  A couple times.  I also happened to take it into a restaurant with us last night and shot him at the booth.  It was awesome!

And finally, I am also happy to report that Ben and I are good cooks.  I don't mean this in a bragging way, and I mean it more for Ben than myself really, but it's true.  I am always satisfied with the meals we cook... they are nutritious, delicious, and filling.  Ben cooked again tonight - we had sauteed brussels sprouts, white sweet potato, and shallot as well as buttered pasta and thai seasoned chicken. Mmmmm.  Check it out...

Also, a lot of you know that Ben is basically the animal whisperer... he denies the fact, but the truth is that all animals are attracted to him.  Just to prove it, as I came out of the laundry room at the campsite where we're staying tonight, there was some random cat rubbing up against Ben as he was cooking.  It just thought Ben looked nice and came to say hello.  It even tried to hitch a ride with us... who knows, maybe he's still in there...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

We're gonna keep on truckin!

Okay, so have any of you ever stayed at hostels while traveling?  I did a lot when I was in Europe, but have only been to a couple hostels in the US.  Well, the one we stayed at the past couple nights reminded me of why I love traveling that way so much.

First of all, it always just feels more homey than a hotel.  Second, it's almost always cheaper.  Third, the amenities are often more convenient. And finally, it is a great way to meet people from all over the world.

One of the things we're running into on this trip is that even when there are campsites in places we're visiting, most of them are closed this time of year.  And those that aren't are sometimes even more expensive than a hotel... now that is crazy.  One of the reasons we were able to justify spending the money on the hostel (which ended up being about $5 more than a crappy hotel) is that, a) it wasn't crappy, and b) it had kitchens where we could cook our own meals.  That means spending $5-10 on groceries instead of going out for a meal that would cost much more, you know, since hotels usually aren't cool with you using your camp stove in the room, haha.

We were also lucky to find a sweet little natural foods store in Flagstaff, just a couple minutes from the hostel.  We had some fancy pasta with us from World Market (it was called mother in law's tongue), sauce, and a can of succotash, so Ben just picked up a couple sausages from the market.  It made such a delicious meal... Check out the picture below:
Then last night we stopped at that store again and got some marinated chicken thighs (pollo asada), an avocado, brussels sprouts, and an onion... Then cooked it all along with some Spanish rice we already had.  I didn't even take a picture of this one because I was so hungry to scarf it down, but trust me, it looked and tasted delicious.

We hit the road this morning and stopped first at another place, Brandy's, that was on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives for breakfast.  We each had a specialty eggs Benedict.  Both had the obvious poached eggs, English muffin, and hollandaise sauce.  Mine also had avocado and artichoke hearts, mmmm.  Ben's had green chilies, onion, sausage and meunster cheese.  He enjoyed that too.

Then we were really on the move again.  We drove to the Grand Canyon, checked the south rim out, and hit the road just as it started to cloud over and snow.  It was really crazy to look out over the canyon - it looked fake, like it was just painted there or something.  Guess my eyes don't really have the depth perception to see it all clearly or something...
Tonight we'll be spending the night in Saint George, UT.  I'll have more for you later!  Oh, and here's another map:

The mountain biking here kicks my butt.

So we spent two nights in Flagstaff, and decided to spend the day in between mountain biking in Sedona.  I am also happy to report that we did all of those productive things we had planned... Did laundry, went to the bank, mailed stuff, etc.

The thing about the mountain biking here is that it's kind of a whole different animal... And the mountain bikers must be as well.  We used an awesome guidebook that Liz & Andy lent us to pick out a trail.  We picked an intermediate ride about 9 miles long.  It was mostly uphill for the first part and downhill on the way back (which is the best way to go, as far as I'm concerned).  The author even wrote some snarky little bit about all of the uphills being doable with your butt on your saddle and not a hair on your head displaced.

Turns out that was a big fat lie.  I mean, I'm no spectacular biker, but an intermediate ride where we're from would ordinarily be no problem.  I had to walk multiple sections, as did Ben, which can really tell you how hard the trail was.  This biking was also very different from Moab... There was slickrock, but it was different - less sticky somehow.  Also, the whole trail was really loose with sand and dirt and lots of rocks.

At a point about a mile from the turn around point, we decided to hop up onto the jeep road next to the trail, ride it the rest of the way up, then just complete the ride doing the downhill portion back to the car all on trail.  The downhill was super fun... Lots of ledges and steps and loose rocks that are a blast to ride down and nearly impossible to go up.  But, I had another lesson learned: the brakes are not your friend.

I LOVE my brakes... I mean, sometimes it can be a problem.  Truly though, on the terrain we rode yesterday I wish I had kept all fingers on the grips.  Donovan may scoff at my suggestion to not have my brake fingers ready, but I am convinced that it would have been safer to go down the trail at a higher speed, because as soon as the "brake" thought even crossed my mind, whoops, there goes my bike out from under me and away a number of feet.  All those darn loose rocks!  I mean, I have some pretty good rock rash and some holes in my shorts to prove it.

Overall though, despite once again getting my butt kicked, I would consider it another successful day.  It's really cool to see what types of trails the country has to offer... Just driving from one state to another can dramatically change the terrain, let alone the altitude, weather conditions, etc.  Glad I made it through another one!

Also, please enjoy this picture of Ben doing a sneaky little downhill spot on the red slickrock: