Kansas

What an incredibly boring state. Tara, her sister Sandie, niece Destiny and I flew from Nashville to attend her youngest sister Stephanie's high school graduation in Council Grove, Kansas.  Tara and I figured we'd find something to do that night upon arrival in Kansas City, followed by some more touring the next day before catching up with Sandie, Destiny and Stephanie, who had gone straight from the airport to Council Grove.

We were wrong. There were no concerts, sporting events, cultural events or anything else of interest happening in Kansas City. We drove around town just to kill time and maybe see a few sights.

No luck. Usually there's something worth looking at!  Not so in Kansas City.  We did find a quaint little deli off Main Street called JT's, but that was it.

So we left for Topeka, our next night's hotel location, a little earlier than originally planned.  Of course, there's nothing to do in Topeka, either, but we expected that so it wasn't so bad.

Stephanie's graduation ceremony was pretty much what you would expect from a high school graduation. First, some sort of glee club sang horribly, then the co-salutatorians each, in turn, spoke gibberish. Then the co-valedictorians each spoke. The first girl was sweet but scared out of her mind. Everyone sighed in relief (and sympathy) when she finished her speech. The other girl must have been a math major, for she broke life down into days, hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds, with examples of what a difference each one could make. In spite of how I made it sound, it was actually a pretty good speech. But she wasn't as pretty as the first girl, so everyone booed her off the stage. Just kidding.

After the ceremony, friends and relatives of Stephanie met up at a local house rented out for special occasions such as we were enduring. I sat around nibbling peanuts and smiling benignly a lot. Tara videotaped and tried to avoid everyone she despised, which included pretty much everyone but me and her blood relatives. Tara's current stepfather and Sandie prepared (and spiked) the punch. Stephanie made a speech declaring her future plans which, to my surprise, included the possibility of law school. She'd probably make a good lawyer. No offense.

Finally, mercifully, it ended and we drove back to our motel in Topeka. We had to double-back to pick up Sandie and Destiny the next day, but all that was left now was to catch our flight the hell out of Kansas City and back to Nashville!

The moral of this story? : Avoid it if you can.

Guatemala

We visited Evelyn's family and ate like the pigs that we are. Bijou had fun. I guess the highlight was going to the cemetery. Believe it or not, it was really Gothic, colorful, historical and very interesting, in general.

We didn't have much time for sightseeing this time (only 4 days), but now everyone has at least met Bijou, so the mission was accomplished.

Iowa

It's over, for me, anyway. I rode two days in and that was enough. As I expected, it was nice to ride with 10,000 other cyclists and the party-like attitude of the riders and the people in the towns was really nice. The problem was that it took place in Iowa. I was glad that when I rode, it was overcast, had head winds, and occasional rains. Otherwise it would have been hot, muggy, and unbearable.

Nothing ever dried off or cooled down. Sure it was nice to be able to wake up at 4 am and have it only 70 degrees for packing up camp and heading out on the road by 5 am in the dark, but that meant it would end up about 90 degrees and be so humid that no clothes ever dried off. Then I decided to ride sort of slow to see what festivities were along the way in the towns to not arrive at the end destination in the middle of the day. The end towns had booths for food and bike equipment as well as some other activities, but I was too busy trying to leave to really see it all.

I was lucky that somebody else decided to quit the ride and that they were heading through Des Moines, so they could drop me off there. Then I took a bus to Osceola, IA, where I took the train back home.

“There's no place like home,” said Dorothy!


A couple of photos

Here I am in Kingsley, 30 miles from the start on the first official day but my second day of cycling, and further on where fresh ice cream was made and served.

Roanoke

I'm home after a long trip to Roanoke, VA and back. It was quite an experience overall. The 1-3/4 hour drive to SMF was punctuated by the puppy screaming and howling in the crate behind me in the van. She messed the newspapers once and I stopped and changed them. Once I got to the airport, I put her into the carry-on Sherpa Bag and she was much happier.

After riding the shuttle from the parking lot, I arrived at the terminal about 1½ hours before my scheduled departure time. After waiting in line at the very long United/Lufthansa counter at SMF for about ten minutes, the people around me told me I could do curbside check-in if it was a domestic flight (much shorter line). After waiting through that line to be checked-in, the Sky Cap informed me I had been “randomly selected by the computer” for special inspection and would have to go back to the inside line!

I did so, then spied my two acquaintances half way up and asked them if they'd mind if I went back to my original place beside them and they had no problems, so I moved up, but the line was still so long, I was worrying about the time factor. After another twenty minutes or so, the Sky Cap came and rescued me and brought me up to a new window just opening. There I was directed to a special area where they would search my checked bag and stamp it before I could receive my boarding pass. I received my boarding pass at the same time my two “friends” were receiving theirs.

I next joined the long line up the stairs to the x-ray machines. They had blocked off the escalators in order to have people form one line up the stairs. This took at least another twenty minutes. I placed my purse on the conveyor belt and was told to take the puppy out of the carrier, place the carrier through the machine and carry the puppy through. No problem. I arrived at my gate about ten minutes before take off and presented my boarding pass. Oops! I was specially coded so had to go to a man who completely searched my purse, asking me to turn on my cell phone (to ensure it was indeed a cell phone), “wanded” my body for metal, then finally allowed me to return to the door, just as it closed and locked in front of me. An airline employee opened it and as I ran down the ramp I could hear them closing the airplane door, so I called out to wait for me. The flight attendant sternly informed me that “you just made it”, to which I replied that I'd been there, honest!

The flight itself was fine. I had a window seat; there was thankfully a dog lover in the aisle seat, with no one between us. So, after take off, the puppy carrier rode in the middle seat, with the puppy either on my lap, or in the carrier with her head sticking up looking around. The puppy learned about “people food” on this trip, sampling some of my omelet, and my seatmate gave her water in a cup.

After landing at Washington/Dulles, I informed the airline personnel at the check-in to that I was specially “coded for inspection” and didn't want to miss my flight because of it. They were very sympathetic to my tale and I boarded the next flight with plenty time to spare. However, this flight was a very small plane and I was assigned a single seat on the left, with no room for a puppy carrier under the seat in front of me. I placed the puppy under the seat to my right across the aisle, and a young woman offered to trade seats with me, which made everything much better.

The puppy was quite tired by now and slept the entire flight, even though several people petted her. Upon arrival in Roanoke, I was greeted by the puppy buyers, Lois and Anne, who immediately fell in love with her. I had a nice visit with them in their beautiful home, including going for a short jog Saturday morning, only to “run into” a 10k race, which I “joined” for a short time.

The fall colors are absolutely beautiful, the air cool and fresh, but the hills almost killed me. The people in the race encouraged me to continue on with them, but as I haven't run a 10k in years, I turned around at the huge “cemetery hill” heading into the tiny village of Fincastle (est. 1772), ending up with my planned 3 mile-run. Spent the rest of Saturday hanging out, playing with puppy, etc. Had a good seafood dinner that evening, then got up “at the crack of dawn” Sunday to be sure to arrive at the airport early (in case I was still specially coded).

Luckily, the computer did not send up any red flags on the return flight, so I just had to endure the long hours getting home.

To my travel agent, Dana, and my dog sitter, Marlene: Thanks for all your hard work!

Vancouver

Our trip was great.  Here's a very short story.

We left on 8/11 from my work. My boss made me attend a meeting that day which ended at 2:30, whereupon I joined June, Brian and Andy who were in our van, waiting in the parking lot. Boy, did I need a vacation!

We arrived at Jeannie's that night, stayed overnight and dropped off Cedar, who escaped immediately from Jeannie's garage and was running around. We wondered how we'd catch her, but Jeannie knew. She opened our van door and Cedar jumped right in, but since it was a trick, she ended up staying at Jeannie's.

The next day we went to the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland, near Ukiah north of San Francisco. It was interesting to me and June, with solar power, buildings made of straw bales, and an organic garden. But it was boring to Brian and Andy,who were not impressed with the self-sufficiency aspect of the place.

We stayed in Willits, about halfway up the coast to Eureka. The next day we drove through Eureka, ate lunch at a good seafood restaurant, and proceeded on to Oregon. We passed through some beautiful redwood groves on the way.  We stayed that night at a Motel 6 in Eugene and, yes, they left the light on for us. Next morning we took the short two-hour drive to Portland and visited Gay, Jim and their kids. We got a boat ride up the Willamette River to downtown Portland, played pool in their family room, and were treated to a good dinner and breakfast the next morning. We thank them again for their hospitality.

Leaving Gay's, we took what should have been a fairly easy drive to Whistler, about 75 miles northeast of Vancouver, B.C. However, we took a wrong turn in Vancouver and ended up on the scenic route through the city. I had no idea it was such abig city! We finally got onto the winding road to Whistler and it started raining. Since it was getting dark, I didn't stop for anything but traffic lights. When we arrived at Whistler just about dark, we heard on the one radio station there that we had just missed a rock slide by about an hour! After check-in at the resort office, we arrived at our timeshare condo, Lake Placid Lodge, around 10:00.

I won't go into what we did every day, but our activities included shopping, bicycling, hiking, swimming, and just lazing around. Brian and I played pool onenight and saw two local rock bands, one called New Big Shoes and another called Luma. The former was OK and the latter was pretty good. June and I went to a sales presentation where they tried to sell us another timeshare (which we didn't buy), and for enduring that we received $100 (Canadian, which is about $70 U.S. right now) in scrip which was good at the local shops. Whistler is a fancy ski resort, so there were plenty of shops, albeit somewhat expensive.

Bicycling is great there — we rented 24-speed mountain bikes for $8 an hour (about $5.50 U.S.), which isn't bad. One day we went hiking at Brandywine Falls, just off the highway. It's a beautiful waterfall, one of the best I've seen. We then took a 4km (about 2.5 miles) hike to a suspension bridge. It's a well-made bridge, about 100 feet long, but it was funny watching June's uneasy steps as she crossed it. Brian and Andy had fun bouncing on it to make it more exciting to cross.

You may know, or by now have guessed, that Canada is on the metric system. Their money is also funny. Their one-dollar coin is called a "looney" and their two-dollar coin is called……have you guessed it? A "tooney". 

Well a week ended all too quickly, so on Sunday we got up early and left before 10:00. We had an incentive to leave on time — they charge you $100 for leaving late. This time we took the right way out, bypassing downtown Vancouver and arriving promptly at the border where we had a 1½ hour wait. They asked when I had arrived, and for what purpose. Those were easy questions. Then they asked if I had anything to declare, I said no, and they waved us through.

We stayed at a "bargain" motel in Woodland, Washington, just north of Portland, on the way back. It made the other motels seem clean and in good repair by comparison, that's all I'll say. At Brian's insistence we stopped at a mall in Portland. We're still not sure exactly why, but we think he was trying to meet someone he has been conversing with in an Internet chat room. I don't think he found that person, but since he emerged unscathed after we left him alone for an hour, we were happy and left.

The skies were threatening that night and we thought it would rain, so we stopped in Medford, Oregon, in an older but pretty decent motel. We went shopping in a huge store called Fred Meyer, where they sell everything from groceries to cameras to jewelry. The next morning we crossed the California border. As we neared Mount Shasta, we saw some forest fires that we heard had been started by lightning the night before. Later, those fires would spread and eventually fill much of Northern California with smoke.

We traveled to the town of Arnold, near Angels Camp in gold rush country, to check out our timeshare for next year. With timeshares, you have to reserve a place at least a year in advance to get into anything desirable. We'll be staying in a very nice two-story condo, in the forest near Calaveras Big Trees.

We stayed in Angels Camp that night, in a very nice motel (they kept getting better after that first one on our way back). The next morning we stopped by Jeannie's and picked up Cedar, who was more than happy to go home. The trip from there was uneventful, except that it got up to 108 degrees outside. Luckily, we have a good air conditioner. That was the only hot weather we encountered — it had averaged about 75 in Canada.

Well, that's about it. How's that for a very short story? Sorry —got carried away.