Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Final Miles

'Do you know what the speed limit through town is?' said the officer at 2am on the morning of April 3rd. Our second moment with the cops on the entire 18890 mile trip. What stung about this one is that we were only 2 miles from the end.

I sat and fumed in the car whilst the officer took my licence and registration to his car and did whatever cops do in this situation. He returned several minutes later and handed back the documents, and only those 2 documents. I consulted with Steff and scanned them again, but there was no ticket! Sweet! That's a few dollars saved so off we went, at the speed limit.

We had been a long way that day, all the way from DC where we spent a fun day kicking around the capital including the use of, what Londoners call 'Boris bikes'. These are bikes that are locked into one of many computer-controlled racks that will release a bike or 2 once you've shown your plastic.

It's a great way to get around. We parked the car about a mile from the centre of town and hit the road on our steeds and headed for the Smithsonian - air and space, of course. The queues were huge as it was a Saturday and the place was crawling. I was refused entry for carrying a Leatherman multitool into the airport style search. I have no idea what one could do to compromise security with a pair of pliers and an ineffectual wire-stripper, but there you go. I went and hid the weapons in a nearby bush and went back. The the place was great and full of interesting stuff. interesting to me, at least. I think Steff enjoyed me explaining the workings of a piston and jet engine, who wouldn't? but we couldn't spend a lot of time there as we wanted to get back to Maine sooner rather than later


_MG_9863Here’s a pic from the A and S museum. The sharp eyed among you will notice that the 2 larger aircraft in this shot were the ones that Indiana Jones travelled on in Raiders and Temple of Doom.  A Ford Tri-motor in the foreground and a Douglas DC-3.




Here’s Steff, cops, tourists and the white house. The white house is a lot smaller and old-fashioned looking in real life.





Steff riding down the Mall.

We were keen to get back to the house, start trying to earn some money and be grounded for a spell before we move on to something else. We still owe a few people in Boston and NYC a visit, but I hope to combine work with that trip which would make some sense.

We really pressed-on over the last few thousand miles of the trip. We went to Texas, and after 2 days of driving later we were still in Texas! That is one, big, big state and so very boring for a large part of it, flat, dry and a good part of it smells like petroleum. Dallas was nice as we drove through it and we passed the site of JFK's assassination.

Fort worth was nice too, we stopped briefly at the old cattle yards and had a look around there, crushed a penny and moved on. They have a simulated cattle drive there, but we weren't there at the right time.

We visited a few friends and family in Florida for a night or 2. We could have managed more, but it was good to be there and see them all. Then we were off to Atlanta

Atlanta, GA - Georgia in the spring can be a lovely place. We managed to time it when the weather was extra spring like and it was a pleasure to be able to wander around in shirts and shorts without suffering from one temperature extreme or another. Certainly no need to hide under 12 inches of feather blankets here.

We stayed with our friend Justin for a couple of weeks and really got a lot done Justin and I work together so we visited clients, did some IT work and hung out. To express our creativity and to masculinity we also took on a couple of simple construction projects, specifically we created a couple of decks.

west side story builders

Here’s me, Gio and Justin building our first deck. Just after this was taken the Jets showed up for a rumble.






Second project – Bigger





We also spent time talking about real estate. The prices there are very low so we’re after getting a fixer-upper in one of the cooler parts of town to turn into a rental.

After changing the brakes in car it was time to hit the road again. It was warming up nicely and as our air-conditioning’s broke, we figured we’d better get back to winter before too long.

Charleston, NC - This was only a quick stop, mainly so Steff could see a couple of publishing contacts including Skirt! magazine that have published some of her work. This town definitely deserves a repeat visit as it’s lovely. It’s got the old charm of an early settlement with clapboard houses, narrow streets and a long shopping street. It’s very British feeling, but I suppose it would be given who settled it.

Onwards north. We drove many long hours and weren’t keen to spend money on accommodation if we can help it. Quite often nights would develop like this: start thinking about a place to stay, look on the map and phone apps to find a place then find a place and then drive 25 miles to it only to discover that it’s $15 to use a barely open campsite with no showers or running water. At that point we’d curse and either pay it or set the alarm to leave so early that we duck any ranger-encounter.

With a schedule in mind we had not patience for such hassle and went to my favourite retail colossus – Walmart


My favourite camping fall-back. This one was in Virginia and after carefully selecting a spot among a handful of other cars we went to bed. I thought this was a good spot as it would mean the car wasn’t solitary in the enormous parking lot. It turned out, a couple of hours later, that those cars were parked there as they belonged to day-tripping coach passengers who showed up in their shockingly-loud bus just feet from our window and cleared out said cars leaving us isolated. Never mind, we had a visit to Walmart to look forward to the next day, even if it was just to use their bathrooms.

After DC we had to go around New York. That was a real pain in the ass, we should have gone a different way, even if the other way would have added 200miles it still would have been worth it. Having paid $1 in tolls in 18,000+ preceding miles we managed to pay nearer $40 in the 500 miles to and from NYC!  Not only that, but we had to sit in an hour long traffic jam at one of the booths for the pleasure of paying $8 just to cross the George Washington bridge over the Hudson. Great view from there but we were too pissed-off to appreciate it and I’d rather have spent the $8 on beer and looked at the view from Google.

The driving also sucks around NY. We saw someone in a Suburban undertake us so fast that they must have been drunk and nearly drive into the median between diverging lanes twice!

We’ve been back in vacation state for a few weeks. It was weird at first to be here and be doing relatively little. We’ve both been working or busying ourselves with hobbies but the first few days were very strange. This area is dead in the winter and after months of having something to do every day, and taking in new sights and sounds, the winter stasis of southern Maine was hard to take.

We’re up to speed now and enjoying being here. It’s nice to have a fridge, a solid bed, a cooker and freezer. We have a long list of things we want go back and have a better look at. Southern Utah, southern California, the many friends we’d like to see again being just a few. Steff is working and I’m doing part time IT work.

Even with the time we took to get around there is no way we could have done more than scratch the surface of this massive country. It was a great time and we’re very lucky that we had the chance to see as much as we did, lucky too that we now know enough to get us back out and see some more!

Monday, March 07, 2011


by Steph


Well, it was bound to happen at some point. On our way to Tucson I was driving, listening to music, singing along, letting my foot get heavier and heavier, until I crested a hill and saw two police cars perched on the road. I slowed immediately, but crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t bother me over an extra 10 MPH on a fast road.

No such luck. He pulled us over, but in a departure from usual speeding ticket procedure, made me get out of the car and stand by the police car while the cop poked his head in our car and spoke to Steve for a minute. Strange.

Then he came back to me and asked ‘How’d your car get so dirty?’ Well, we tried to get to the Toroweap lookout on a muddy road, and didn’t make it…we didn’t wash the car because we thought it was funny. Ha ha.

‘Why’s your licence plate so clean?’ Well, we brushed it off because we thought it might be illegal if you couldn’t read it. And we didn’t bother to clean the car because, you know, it was funny. Ha ha.

‘Where are you coming from? Where are you going to? How long have you been on the road? How do you have enough money to do that?’ Well, we worked our city jobs and saved and didn’t spend money on anything and said no to our friends when they invited us to restaurants, and never used our credit cards even when we wanted to, and sold all of our nice stuff so that we could trade it all in for living in our car for 5 months, which we got dirty and didn’t wash because, don’t you think it’s funny? So dirty! Ha ha.

tucson2He had asked Steve the exact same questions. He realized it was the truth, and issued a reduced citation (which could have been very expensive indeed, but he was pretty nice at that point and gave me the smallest fine possible). I don’t know why he thought our car would be dirty with a clean plate, or what that might indicate about us, but whatever the reason I firmly believe it was this oddity and not the speeding that attracted his attention. We took the ticket and made for the next carwash.

Unpleasantness over, we headed into my old stomping grounds: Tucson, Arizona. It was 80 degrees out. We took a drive to see some old hangouts and my old house(s). We had a stroll downtown poked our heads into the Hotel Congress, where John Dillinger hid out once upon a time, and more importantly where I used to drink $1.50 Cuba Libres and dance to Cuban music all night.

tucson4Then we met up with my old friend Kristen from New College, who I hadn’t seen in probably 11 years. It was great to catch up over a CafĂ© Poca Cosa lunch and a pineapple and basil juice.

We headed to the Saguaro National Park to see the Sonoran Desert cactuses.


After that, we headed to the aircraft graveyard. This is where the US Government keeps planes that are not in use, because the desert air is so good at keeping them perfectly preserved. They can just be dusted off when they are needed again, and fired back up for use.

Ah, Tucson. I do love that town.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

How wood petrifies

by Steph


Hello class! A stop at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona’s painted desert reveals our next lesson in how wood petrifies.

wood3Way back in the triassic period, this desert used to be a lush wet forest. No kidding! Dinosaurs were running around in the trees, eating leaves and ferns and each other on the banks of a river. Over time, trees fell (as they do). There could have been some catastrophic event that made them all fall at once, but anyway, they ended up down on the ground. Then the river deposited layers and layers of silt over the trees, cutting them off from any oxygen which might help them decay.

Here’s the key: silica has to be introduced to the mix. In some places this comes in the form of a volcano that erupts and spreads a layer of ash over the buried trees. In other places, there may have been a volcano upstream, which erupts its silica ash into the water, which is then mixed into the river’s sediment and deposited farther away.

The main point is this: trees, covered and protected from oxygen and therefore decay, with a little silica thrown in for good measure. Water seeps in, bringing minerals of various types and colors, which eventually (like over millions of years) replace the organic material of the wood, creating….presto change-o:

Petrified trees!


Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Anasazi

by Steph

So! It’s been a while since we’ve done an ‘educational’ post, but we’ve learned some things recently that you might find interesting*. While we were at the Grand Canyon, we visited an archaeological site and happened to show up just in time for a ranger talk. She showed us around a prehistoric settlement and gave us some good information about the people who lived there. You may have heard the term ‘Anasazi’ for this group of people, but it turns out that Anasazi is a Navajo word that variously translates to ‘ancient enemy’, ‘ancient alien,’ or if you want to gloss over the negative, ‘ancient ancestor.’ So, since it is best not to refer to folks you’ve never met as aliens or enemies, the convention is changing and it is now the practice to call them ‘Ancestral Puebloans'.’

Ancestral Puebloan (let’s call them ‘AP’ for short) sites can be found all over the ‘four corners’ region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico—there were hundreds of settlements—but one of the best areas is at Mesa Verde in Western Colorado, where they built their homes into the cliffs of canyons. Here’s a basic rundown of their history.

mesa-verde21200BCE+: Ancient humans migrate into North America via a land bridge between modern-day Russia and Alaska. Over time, they push ever southward, and eventually reach what is now the American Southwest. At this stage, people are nomadic, and only make small tools that they can carry with them easily from one site to the next.

600AD-900AD: AP’s start building pit houses to live in. They dig out big underground rooms, and then construct roofs of timbers covered in mud cement. They get in and out by ladders. At this stage they are mostly hunter-gatherers, living off of local plants like juniper, pinon pine (pine nuts!), and hunting small game like jackrabbits.

900AD-1200AD: Houses are built above ground, in long stone terraces with T-shaped doorways. They still keep some underground rooms called ‘kivas’, but these are used for ceremonial and community purposes, not as housing. They also build underground storage rooms for surplus food, and make large pottery for storing water and food. People are pretty settled at this point—they couldn’t carry things like big pots very far, or store food if they were on the go. In addition to hunting and gathering, people begin cultivating beans, squash, and corn (another advantage of staying on one place). A typical settlement might house 25 people or so.


1200AD-1300AD: For a little reference point for any Nottinghammers amongst you, this is about when the Old Trip to Jerusalem was built. AP’s are enjoying a more complex civilization at this point. Their houses move even farther above ground—into the sides of cliff faces. Their architecture techniques are pretty advanced, allowing them to build four- and five-story apartments. One settlement might house 125 people or more. At the end of this period, there is evidence of some outside threat to the AP’s. They start building crow’s nest lookouts and some settlements move into more strategic positions for keeping unexpected attacks at bay.


1300AD+: No one knows exactly why, but the AP’s civilization collapses and they abandon their cliff houses. Scientists have several theories about the cause, including climate change, soil erosion, drought, de-forestation, or hostility from outsiders.The population decreases, but the people don’t disappear entirely—their descendants are the modern Zuni Native Americans.

*by the way, I may not have all the facts right…I’m sure this is a complicated subject but I’m just giving a simple overview based on what we saw at a few sites.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Southern Utah

This area is perhaps even more impressive than the grand canyon. It’s not as grand, or huge but is interesting and more engaging somehow.

The landscape is often comprised of huge, smooth sandstone outcroppings. Frequently these have been eroded into arches such as in the arches national park.


Here’s Steff at standing rock in arches national park





More soon…

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Grand Canyon - It is, and it is!


There are many places in the south west to visit so we are speeding things up a little. We spent just one night at the GC, but we did our best to do what we could to enjoy it in that time.

The canyon is, of course, massive. Pictures can’t do it justice as it’s just too vast but if you can get your head around it then the numbers are impressive; it’s 10 miles wide, 1 mile deep and 277 miles long (if I remember correctly) so from one viewpoint the tiny scrap of river you can see winding around a bluff is 8 miles away but 400 feet wide. When you see that in real life it starts to help you understand the size but it’s still difficult.


Here’s a picture of me creeping around on the rocks. Just a few minutes later I popped up again to find a native american piper, a woman in a white dress and her soon-to-be husband arranged in front of a small crowd. I moved along asap.


There’s not a huge amount to do at this time of year as all the hiking trails are covered in ice and snow. Crampons will get you in and out, but we preferred to go have a look around the canyon in a plane instead. This was a wedding gift that it was time to cash-in


We went out in this DeHavilland twin otter. A plane completely filled with Korean touists, and us.






Here’s the view from the plane. Nice!





Onwards to the national parks in southern Utah. We should have visited Zion on the way to the GC, but somehow we both got that navigational leap wrong. Nevermind.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Grand Canyon


So, we tried to get to Toroweap overlook which offers a 3000 foot drop to the Colorado river so I felt we should see that view. Sadly, it’s down a 61 mile dirt road and as a slight shortcut we decided to take a country road. The sign at the head of it promised no maintenance but we pressed on and  6 miles of rutted, 6inch deep mud and a lot of barely controllable sliding we figured it best to turn around. I found a relatively firm area of surface and did a u-turn.

The road back was just as much of a pain and we had to keep the speed up lest we bog down and have to walk 5 miles for a tow, but we made it sooner or later and were very glad to be back on the blacktop. I did enjoy it a bit, I have to admit! So we carried on west and we happy to see that the actual road we’d been trying to find and its own entrance a few miles later.

This was in much better condition so we took it for about 30 miles and started to feel good until we noticed the fork that took us to Toroweap and on to the gluey mud and snow, again! we did a mile or 2 of that and again were beaten back by the fear of a stranding. Back we go, down the ‘good’ dirt road and sprayed the car in a new shade of brown. The car did a great job, it must be said; the chunky tyres and 4wd got us in and out safely

mudThe very, very muddy road.







Steff inspecting the mud after we got back on a proper road.





On the way, we passed the north rim, but that’s shut this time of year. it’s 2000 feet higher than the south rim so the snowfall is much greater than the 11 feet that the south rim gets so closed it is.

We descended and found a place to stay on BLM land. BLM land is common in the west, and the rules are that you’re allowed to stay there for a few days for free! The best price, but you do end up being alone which can be a little un-nerving, not least when the Coyotes start howling and yipping.

The next morning we got the the south entrance of the grand canyon, so more on that soon.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

by Steph

So even though we’re here for a week in Sin City, our days are filled with work and other poor blogging topics. However, we have had some time to do a few fun things too.

First off, we visited and camped at Lake Mead, which is the largest man-made lake in the US, and is formed by the Hoover Dam.

We also camped at Red Rock Canyon- a premiere destination for rock climbing. Unfortunately, our one day at the climbing gym in Arcata, California doesn’t qualify us to know what the hell we’re doing on the rocks, so we left it to the experts. Besides, we don’t have the right shoes…



IMG_1023Once in the city, we had a few good meals out. One night we went to a place called ‘Hot and Juicy Crawfish,’ which is exactly what it sounds like. We were served a pound of shrimp and a pound of crawfish, each presented in a plastic bag full of spicy cajun marinade, with a bib to wear and a giant roll of paper towels to mop up your hands and face afterwards.

On our friend Justin’s recommendation, we also went to a place called Sushi Fever, and sat at the bar in front of the charismatic chef who seemed to know everyone in the absolutely-packed-to-the-rafters restaurant. He served us up some of the best rolls ever. This one was our favorite:


After stuffing ourselves with raw fish we headed to the strip for an obligatory spin around the casinos. The funny thing is, they look so spectacular—mini pyramids, New York skyline, and Eiffel Tower, etc—they draw you inside but once you get there, they are just big smoke-filled rooms with bad lighting and ugly old carpet, and swarms of people dumping hundred dollar bills out of their pockets as if they were crumpled old receipts that needed cleaning out of their purses.

I had spent some time studying up on table games and really wanted to try my hand at some craps and blackjack. Unfortunately, I’m a cheapskate and didn’t want to (nor can we afford to) throw away any cash. We set aside $30 for gambling for the evening and decided that was all we would spend between the two of us, then discovered that most tables have a minimum bet of $25 or more! So $10 went to slots, which kept us going for a half hour or so, and then I found a craps table with a $10 minimum—the cheapest I’d seen all night. I lost $20 in about 60 seconds and we decided to give up on our gambling careers.


We stepped outside to get some fresh air, and ended up with handfuls of photo cards of ‘live hot girls to you in 20 minutes or less.’ Then we confessed to each other that we both hated the strip and really wanted to ‘Foxtrot Oscar,’ ASAP.

We stayed for a few minutes, watching hired stretch hummers filled with bachelor/ette parties rolling by, and laughed at the fact that the whole town trades on the fantasy that something wild might happen…you know, what happens in Vegas and all that. Why do we have that fantasy? Why do people dream of waking up married to a stranger, freshly tattooed, covered in the dust of having buried a dead body in the desert, with no memory of the night before? None of these things are actually going to happen. What is actually going to happen is that you’ll spend a small fortune, you’ll drink too much and possibly get sick on your best ‘high roller’ dress, or twist an ankle stumbling in your high heels, and then wake up in your discount hotel to find you are the same person you always were.

IMG_1049Perhaps Steve and I are just old people at heart. Case in point: the highlight of our time in Vegas was a visit to the Silverton casino, which is not on the strip, because it contained the Bass Pro Shop. Yes! We strolled around looking at outdoors gear, played a little fake golf, and then attended a presentation on fly fishing. Afterwards we sat in the casino ‘mermaid’ bar and drank a beer while watching the fish in a giant aquarium. We’re going to make great elderly people one day!

Our last day in town we had breakfast with Steve’s cousin, Sam, and his girlfriend Ashley. Sam and Ashley are both acrobats in the shows on the strip—Sam in Le Reve at the Wynn, and Ashley in a Cirque de Soleil Elvis show. They told us about life in Vegas show biz, what it feels like to drop 80 feet from a trapeze into a pool of water, and the perils of doing extreme physical work every day. Sadly we couldn’t go see one of their shows, but I’m sure they are spectacular.

Leaving Las Vegas

We’ll blog about it some more soon, but we’re off to the grand canyon today.

We’re hopefully going to a place called Toroweap lookout which is down a 61mile dirt road. Should be interesting…

Monday, February 21, 2011

Las Vegas

That's where we are for a few days.

I'm working an doing some IT for a few companies so back on the road next week

- Posted from my phone

Location:S Rainbow Blvd,Las Vegas,United States

Friday, February 18, 2011

Morning at lake mead

It's 7 am-ish and steff's not so keen to get out of bed, but I want to go see the Hoover dam so I'm cooking the coffee to get things started

Steff's in that pile of blankets like some kind of human hamster.

- Posted from my phone

Location:Lake Shore Rd,Boulder City,United States

Lake mead

That's where we are camping tonight. Boulder beach, specifically

- Posted from my phone

Location:Great Basin Hwy,Boulder City,United States

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Death Valley

California is a huge, huge state and is extremely diverse in its climate and landscape. we’ve seen the redwoods on the coast and the lush hills of Humbolt county, ideal for growing weed, Lake Tahoe with ski mountains and its vast lake, and cnce you descend the east side of Sierra Nevada mountain range you get into their rain-shadow and things get very dry, very quickly. In an hour of coming down from Tahoe and its tall trees and greenery you’re in among bare land and sparse, scrubby plants.

We headed to south Lake Tahoe to see our friends for a day, but on the way it was important to visit Chico, Ca and visit the Sierra Nevada brewery which was very cool. The place started in 1980 in a shed and now is a huge operation that ships its stuff as far as Sydenham’s Sainsburys.



They offer more beers at the brewery than the shops so it was important to make sure we had a representative sampling. Thankfully, they offer such a thing for 12 bucks, and here’s Steff getting into it:







Here’s the lake a little out of the town of south Lake Tahoe.





Here’s the west side of the SN mountains and the landscape changing to desert.






Coming down from the SN mountains into Nevada. The view is huge!





CA - Monolake panorama

Mono Lake in California is emptier than it should be due to the water consumption of large cities lowering the water table. Still looks nice though

Next place on the agenda was Death Valley. This is a huge national park and contains the lowest and highest point in the continental US. Badwater basin is 282feet below sea level and can sometimes reach 130F in the summer. The highest point is mt. Whitney at over 14,000 feet.

To avoid drying up like jerky, we visited in the winter when the temperature was a much more reasonable 70ish. I wanted to come and see the moving rocks of the Racetrack Playa. This is a dry lake bed where rocks weighing several hundred pounds spontaneously move across the playa floor leaving tacks in the mud. It seems mysterious, but apparently it’s just the wind nudging them along when the lake bed is wet. Rain is rare so no one has seen the stones move, but I can believe the wind is strong enough. when we were there it was blowing constantly at about 30-40mph which made camping in pain, and if we’d been tent camping we’d now be tent shopping.

_MG_8884The road to the place was a bitch. We were advised that a high clearance 4x4 was needed and road tyres frequently succumb to punctures from the rocks. It was a 27mile drive one way down washboard stone road which made it take more than 2 hours..




I even tried to get off the bumps by riding up the banks - not sustainable






The tracks of  the mysterious moving rocks and us






60 miles away is Badwater basin, the lowest point in the US and is a dry-ish lakebed and salt flat.






It may be dry but I still got wet when laying down to take this picture. Now we go towards Las Vegas for a week of work and a visit to the grand canyon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In the desert

We just descended from Tahoe to Nevada. Suddenly the terrain has gone to desert

- Posted from my phone

Lake tahoe

Today we had a lunch time BBQ in the sunshine of Tahoe with Jon and Kathryn.

This is a ski resort at 6000 feet but it was still warm enough for al fresco dining

Tonight we are camping in the car park at Horizon casino. They allow overnight car parking for free. Good value

Tomorrow we're heading for Mono lake in Nevada before the snow comes to Tahoe and makes driving difficult.

- Posted from my phone

Location:Hwy 50,Stateline,United States