US Road Trip Day 21: Viva Las Vegas

We have now been in Las Vegas for 3 days after traveling north from Phoenix. V. did most of the drive. We are 4260.9 miles into our trip. That’s close to 7000 km. Our car is working perfectly and is very comfortable to drive. I am glad that I did not get a convertible like I was thinking at some point. It would have been uncomfortable and tiring. But cool, for sure. Our NY license plate is turning heads and people approach us to ask us about it. Everyone of them thinks it’s a nice trip we are doing, and I couldn’t agree more. The day-by-day freedom we are enjoying is exhilarating, and very relaxing. After working my *ss off for close to 10 years, I’m finding myself more collected than I’ve been in a long time. Wondering how I will feel when it’s time to get back onto the job market.
About the knee situation – I feel slightly better every day. I am being extra cautious, not doing anything crazy. Each step is calculated. At this point I am in pain in the morning but don’t feel a thing in the evening (I do feel that my knee is weak which to some extend is a good thing and keeps me from doing anything stupid after a couple of wine glasses). I bought a $12.99 cane at Walmart. I like the attention and special treatment that this gives me :). Anyway – The only impact for us really was that we had to skip some hiking trails. Ah, such is life.

Me and my cane

While in Phoenix, the first thing we did when I finally was able to get out of the hotel room was the Apache Trail. It’s not a trail as in hiking trail, but it’s a very scenic road. I took a lot of pictures – Below is some iPhone material. The sky was beautiful that day.

Driving the Apache Trail

BTW, we got a bite a Culver’s, a burger chain. It was very good. I don’t think we have those in the tri-state area

We left Phoenix on our way to Flagstaff and stopped by Sedona. The drive between the village of Oak Creek and Flagstaff is beautiful. We passed by the actual town of Sedona which has a very strong hippie vibe. Lots of people in their 50s and 60s selling ceramics and clothing made of colorful printed fabric. Unfortunately we could not do any hiking, which I’m sure would’ve been great.

Driving to Sedona

Driving to Sedona

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park

Some collect elephants, some collect giraffes

Flagstaff is a very high town (2300m high). Nothing to write home about, beside the fact that hotels are very expensive (Proximity to Grand Canyon) and that they have a walmart.

Reckless driving in Walmart

The Grand Canyon is grand, no doubt about it. It took us only one day to drive from vista point to vista point, taking pictures along the way. It is so grand in fact, that we could have seen it in pictures for the same effect. Standing on the edge of it, along with other tourists, had barely anything over a wide picture. It is not being able to go down the canyon (hiking, 4-wheeling, canoeing or rafting) or fly over (helicopter or plane) which was frustrating, and we will probably be back for a full experience of the canyon in the next few years.

We made our way to our motel on route 66 and we got to witness a very nice sunset – The pictures below don’t do it justice, but here they are anyway:

All the cool license plates we have seen so far:

To the point

On it

On a Toyota 4Runner

Not sure if the owner of that car caught the irony of his license plate

As I said above, we are now in Las Vegas. We managed to stay at the Royal Resort, a nice hotel at the very north of the strip, for less than $50 for two nights. We moved to the Harrah’s and are staying here three nights for 15,000 miles and no additional dollar amount, which I think is another good deal. This time we are right in the middle of the strip. Vegas is nothing new for us so we are enjoying what the city has to offer – Food, drinks, shows. We visited a 12,000 sqft antique store which was full of crap it was fun to browse through … and not buy anything.
Yesterday was V.’s birthday, so it was showtime. We had diner at Michael Mina in the Bellagio before making our way to the Caesars Palace for Absinthe, an interesting show mixing comedy (not for the faint of heart) and circus acts. I didn’t care much for guys in spandex standing on each other head, or a girl hanging from the ceiling, but the comedy was fun. Below one of the comedy act.

Of course I played some poker

US Road Trip Day 14: Stuck in Phoenix

The last couple of days have been physically painful –

I wrote the last post from Carlsbad, NM, after we had visited the Carlsbad Caverns, which are to architecture what the human body are to computers: The complexity of nature-made systems is so much higher than man-made systems’s. The long drive of the following day gave me the chance to think about this, nature vs human-made, architecture, art, cities, etc.

After a night of reasonably good sleep, we left Carlsbad around 6am, going to the White Sands National Monument, still in New Mexico. It was a very surreal experience. Essentially, a big pile of white sand in the middle of the NM desert that doesn’t seem to have anything to do there. It’s well maintained and since we got there early, it was almost empty of tourists and very pleasant. It took us about 1hour to see the whole thing.

The drive to Phoenix after that was essentially made of long stretches through the desert, which I have learned to enjoy as a driver. We got to our hotel reasonably early, which gave us the chance to settle in, catch dinner, and go to bed early. We had to wake up at 6am again in order to reach the meeting point for our ATV excursion.

We rented two ATVs for three hours. The ATVs were nice and powerful. We were given a brief explanation of the handling of the machines, as well as the trail system. It was very nice – We went through a Canyon, and through more technical path. V. did a great job handling the big ATV. I look like a giant on those things.

Long story short, after riding for about 2.5 hours (Which was truly excellent), and right before turning around to get back to the meeting point, I managed to get my ATV stuck on a very narrow trail with steep slopes on each side. I got off the ATV to try to rock it out of that spot, at which point it started sliding down on the side. I tried as much as I could to prevent the ATV from rolling down the valley but all I did was slowing it down as it was dragging me through sand, rocks and cactuses. At some point I decided it was not worth it and let it go. It stopped stuck against a small tree about 4 meters from the trail. I stood up and walked to V. who had not seen what happened. I was covered in cactus spines. It was very painful and it took a good 10 minutes for V. and I to take them all off. It was like a scene from a children cartoon. I was pissed at myself that I let that happen. That trail was way too challenging and I would learn later that it was not the actual ATV trail, but and extension of it, for hikers. I went back to the ATV to assess the situation. I could reach it, but it was stuck for good. I shutdown the engine and accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be able to resolve the issue by myself. It was very frustrating since the ATV was right there, just a few meters down.

The trail of death – I now it doesn’t look too bad!

Assholes – The one on the right breaks down into small balls of spines that you can’t remove without getting stung further. What an ass.

I called the emergency number that we were given. The next three hours were spent trying to recover the ATV. First the “rescue team” from the ATV rental place – which was the same 19 year old kid form Iowa who gave us the ATV in the first place – showed up with some chains on another ATV. The chains were too short. He went back, and got more chains, trying to pull my ATV with his, but it was not powerful enough. He then left again to get the truck (taking V. with him so that she could get to our air-conditioned car) and came back with a big F350 (V8, 400HP, etc.), which he had to drive very slowly through the narrow ATV trails – Meaning I was up there for quite some time. Throughout that ordeal it was very hot, probably 40 degree Celsius (100+ F.), and my left knee started to bother me a bit. I was not too happy to be there. As I was waiting for the truck, I stacked up rocks, but forgot to take pictures of my creation. I even found some bullet casings.

View from where I was stuck for a few hours – Not too bad

Anyway, the Iowa kid started backing up the F350 onto the narrower trail, knocking down several cactuses twice as tall as me, rolling boulder down the canyon, etc. At some point the truck started sliding down and I really thought that we would have a bigger problem. Pretty freaky. It stopped with the right rear wheel not touching the ground, and it was stuck there, finely balanced between the trail and emptyness. The kid revved up the wheels pretty high but the truck would not move. I asked him if it was a four wheel drive, since I was not seeing the front wheels moving, he had a “duh” moment and he turned some key on the front wheels themselves to enable 4WD. He was then able to get out of the risky situation effortlessly. He backed up further and reached the point where he could attach the chains to the truck (The other end of the chain was attached to the ATV). He started pulling the ATV slowly and it came back onto the trail beautifully, on four wheels. It still worked just fine. I jumped on it to go back to V., while the kid drove the truck back. At this point my knee was hurting a lot – I’m not sure how I did that, but it probably has to do with being dragged down by 600 pounds of steel over a few meters.
Positive outcome: The trail that caused me problem is now significantly wider than before – I’d say about the width of a Ford F350.
Negative outcome: The rescue fee that I will have to pay (Though not as bad as this guy in the Phoenix area as well), and my knee which was starting to hurt more and more as V. was driving us back to our hotel.

By 8pm that evening, I was very much in pain and couldn’t move. This is very inconvenient since we don’t have health insurance. I woke up yesterday in pain as well, and spent the afternoon in bed watching episodes of Gold Rush on Discovery Chanel, which comforted me in my hate of american television, but gave me confidence that my initial career choice was a good one. Meanwhile V. visited Scottsdale which she found disappointing. By the evening I was feeling a little better. This morning, I was feeling even better, and as I’m typing this, I still have a bad limp, but I can tell that I’ll be alright. I think I sprained some ligaments and just have to go through the motion of a standard inflammation. V. bought me a sleeve for my knee which is very useful in keeping it aligned.

So this is why we are stuck in Phoenix – I can’t walk. We are staying here two extra days while I recover.

We spend part of today planning our next few days – Sedona, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas. We were disappointed that we won’t be able to do the mule ride:

Rider Qualifications

Each Overnight Phantom Ranch rider must not weigh more than 200 lbs. (91 kilograms) fully dressed. Each 3 hour Abyss overlook rider must not weigh more than 225 lbs. (102k). Yes, we do weigh everyone. Each rider must be at least 4 feet, 7 inches (55 total inches or 1.38 meters) in height, regardless of previous riding experience. Each rider must be able to speak and understand fluent English. Each rider must be in good physical condition. Riders should not be afraid of heights or large animals. Rider cannot be pregnant.

I’ll let you guess which of those requirements one of us could not fulfill…
… I mean seriously 200 lbs.? Is that reasonable? Normal people can’t ride mules, is that what they’re saying?

States visited so far: NJ, PA, WV, VA, TN, GA, AL, MS, LA, TX, NM, AZ

Total mileage: 3525.5 Miles (5673.74 km)

Hopefully these posts are not too long/boring!

US Road Trip Day 10: About the immensity of Texas

Another big day of driving today. We left from Austin at 6am, aiming at Carlsbad Cavern National Park. The GPS wanted us to go through San Antonio (taking the highway), which didn’t make much sense to me, so I took the 29, which eventually became the 190. Those roads were not highways, but limited to 75mph, they are darn close in terms of timing. Plus, it was a very scenic drive. Miles and miles of a barely changing environment. Ranch after ranch, town after town. Cattle definitely has a lot of space in Texas. Hmmm steak.
Below some pictures of that drive (Bonus picture of the blooming onion we got at some Texas chain steakhouse – By the way something else that is immense about Texas is the quantity of food you get for your money … we shared the blooming onion, and a steak with two sides and I swear there was food for 5 people. We overate of course.), and even some videos cause I’m fancy. We met a nice storm and I was glad to not be driving on a busier road.

We eventually caught up with I-10 which had a speed limit of 80mph. We made it to the Carlsbad Caverns, our first National Park of this trip, around 1:30pm MT (Moutain Time – Meaning it was 2:30pm in Austin, from where we left). I purchased an $80 pass for all US parks. It is valid one year and will allow us to save quite a bit of money. It’s valid for a car or 4 adults, depending on the type of park.
We elected to hike down to the caverns, instead of taking the elevator (Ah, america. There was no hot dog stand at the bottom, but still, a souvenir shop and soda fountain). By the end of the trip down I was done with caves, stalagmites and bat droppings. But it was just the beginning. We then visited the main cave. It is gigantic and beautiful. Took a lot of pictures but they are on my bigger camera. Also tried videos. We’ll see how that looks once I transfer them onto my computer.

Tomorrow we are going to Phoenix AZ, stopping by another park on the way.

US Road Trip Day 9: French Quarter

V. is driving again. We are at mile 2099.8 (3379.3km) and going through Houston. It’s 5pm on a Friday night so the traffic is pretty heavy. We will be staying overnight in Austin at what we expect to be a dump of a hotel, before taking the road again early tomorrow for another 8 hours before visiting the Carlsbad Cavern. The day after that, we will drive 11hours to Phoenix, where we will stay 3 nights. Phoenix sounds like a pretty exciting city. I am planning on booking ATV (Quad) and Jetski excursions there. We sat down yesterday and came up with our plan, at a high level, for the next ~20 days. We are going to skip Yosemite, and California altogether – We would be getting a bad bang for the buck. Essentially, from Phoenix, we will be going north up to Montana, and hit all the parks on the way. We are considering making a stop in Las Vegas for a change of pace … we’ll see.

Earlier we passed a dead alligator by the side of the road – Or I should say, half of it (Not sure where the other half was). Such is the Bayou. No picture sorry.

New Orleans is a fun town. We didn’t see much of it – We stayed confined to the french quarter: The french Market, and Bourbon Street of course. We ate some amazing food, for example at Acme Oyster House and Johnny’s Po-Boys. Nothing too fancy, but pretty efficient. We had one too many at Pat O’Brien. Call me a snob but I was served a Rob Roy (which is a Manhattan made with scotch specifically) with equal parts of scotch and sweet vermouth, when it should be 8 to 1, or less. V. got a nice looking layered drink made of Grenadine, Vodka, Sour Mix and Curacao. The name of that drink was Rainbow and she noted that a rainbow has 7 colors, not 3. Drunk me accepted the challenge and will be working on such a drink when we come back home. Also tried a Hurricane which was not great.
Bourbon street is a fun place to be if you are in the mood to party. Otherwise, it’s plain obnoxious. There are plenty of strip clubs, and a lot of bars, that are clearly designed to accommodate larger crowds than what we saw on a Wednesday and a Thursday night. Drinks are cheap – They even have 3 for 1 drinks – Buy a beer for three time the price than other places, get two for free. Amazing!

Our route.

US Road Trip Day 7: Alabama beaches

Day 7. We just arrived in New Orleans.
Mobile, AL was uneventful. We enjoyed Dauphin Island very much, south of Mobile.

You might remember Dauphin Island from the post-Katrina horror scenes (2005).

Houses on the island all look brand new – They are for obvious reasons.
We went to the beach there – White sand, warm water, and great facilities with little to no tourists. In fact, I had never bathed in water this warm. You could just get in and out painlessly. Sure, it was not the crystal clear water you would find in the Caribbeans, but it was excellent nonetheless. In the background were oil platforms, crude reminder of the BP oil spill disaster that struck the area in 2010.

We left Mobile this morning around 10am. V. found a nice place for Lunch called The Shed. We had some very good BBQ food – Pulled Pork and Beef Brisket. Also I am developing a taste for Sweet tea.

We are about to go out for dinner and drinks on Bourbon street.

Our Route

US Road Trip Day 5: Further South

Day 5 of our road trip. I typed the previous post as we were driving toward Knoxville TN. Well 200 miles from Knoxville we punctured a tire. I took the first exit to a Shell gas station where I found an air pump. I was hoping that it was just deflated a bit, but as I walked around the car, I could hear the sound of the air making its way out of the tire. I packed some more air in, hoping that it would last until the tire shop next door. It was 6:20pm – I drove 10 miles and all the shops were closed. It started raining heavily as I replaced the now useless read right tire with my spare, limiting us to 50 mph. We have a packed car and the tire did not fit in the spare tire spot. Eventually I made everything fit but that was challenging. Anyway.

I am typing this from the passenger seat of our car. V. is driving, we are at mile 1428.3 (2298.6 km).

We got to hour hotel in Knoxville pretty late – Must have been 9pm. We drove around for a while before picking a restaurant called Chuys – A TexMex which was not that bad. I couldn’t quite understand the waiter with his thick accemt, but the food still turned out to be on par with our expectations.
The following morning, after a nice 7 miles run, I went Pep Boys where I was told that I would need to replace the tire (The mechanic showed me a 2 inches long slit through the side of the tire). I got both rear tires replaced.

Later that day we drove to the Atlanta area where we spent the weekend at V.’s cousin. They have a big 7000 sq feet house (650 square meters) with a poker room, a theater, etc. Apparently there is nothing to do in the Atlanta area so people spend a lot of time at home. We visited the area a bit, and caught up with the cousins. We had a nice steak diner on one of the evening we were there.

What strikes us is how cheap the food is. We are used to the tri-state area prices, where $25 for two does not get you very far. In the south, you feast for that price.

We left Atlanta this morning, stopped by Montgomery AL for lunch. We are currently driving towards Mobile AL where we will spend two days. The drive is pretty cool.

Driving through Alabama

What we’ve covered so far.

US Road Trip Day 1: Meeting America

Day 1 of our US road trip. As I am typing this we are in West Virginia. V. is driving, and I am tethering my iPhone data connection to be able to use the Internet on my laptop – A setup I love.
We just drove 292.7 miles, 424 miles to go for today. From NYC, we are going south until we hit florida, then west until we hit the pacific, north, and east until we are back to New England.
We do not have a set schedule and no concrete goal. The one thing I am most looking forward is to meet america. What I mean by this, is discovering the country in a different light than what I have seen so far. What I know most is the NYC area, and the touristy spots. A few big cities, some national parks, etc. I am lucky enough that V. is an all-terrain wife. Random hotels and restaurants by the road do not scare her away. We will be staying in Knoxville, Tennessee tonight and will probably grab some food here. At the end of the trip, I hope to understand the US, and its people a little better. Life might take us away from the US soon so it is a now or never thing. Plus, those that know my professional situation will agree that it makes sense

We had lunch in a some small Italian place. Wasn’t great, wasn’t bad.
Our route for today.
I will not be logging every day, far from that. I might post twice on some days. We’ll see. I should be honest: Most likely you will read nothing else on our trip. I’m on twitter though – @badumba.
Mile 323.7