Saturday, May 31, 2014

The People I Meet

It’s crazy to me to think that 99% of the people I meet on my trip I won’t ever see again in my life.  Yet on a day-to-day basis, they are the ones that go out of their way to help me, take care of me, and make my trip memorable.  They are total strangers and if it weren’t for this trip we probably wouldn’t have ever met.  However, at any given moment, they become my support, motivation, and a big part of my life. I’d like to think that we’d be friends if I were to stay put and lived in the same place, but for now, I live moment-to-moment, and completely in the moment!  You never know what the next 5 miles will bring!

Sometimes I can’t think more than a few kilometers ahead of me.  My main goal becomes betting up a massive climb that seems never-ending.  Reasoning, thinking logically, or making plans becomes a daunting task.  I can’t  worry about where I’ll even stay or eat dinner because for the moment, I have to concentrate on what lies directly ahead of me.  On Thursday, it was a what they call a “false flat”  in the world of cycling; a road that appeared to be flat but that actually goes up continuously for miles with a very low grade.  There was an unpleasant headwind, it was hot, really hot, and I had been riding for nearly 60 miles (95km) without any services. 

Alison and her grandpa traveling by motorcycle and a sidecar offer me water
Just ahead of me, something catches my eye.  A bright yellow motorcycle that had passed me with a sidecar and trailer pulls over to the side of the road.  An older man and a little girl are on the shoulder waiting for me.  I stop.  Just talking to them gives me a break from the awful conditions I’m battling.  It turns out the older man has cycled across America years ago and he can relate to what I’m dealing with.  He offers me water.  It’s so cold it has frozen in his cooler, but you can’t imagine how much I appreciate it.  The half-liter of water I have left is so warm I could boil pasta.  I look down at the little girl and tell her she’s pretty lucky to have a Grandpa who takes her on the road in a motorcycle with a sidecar.  I thank them, they give me another water, then carry on, and I’m like a whole new person,…..except for the legs! 

Five minute later I’m riding and another car whizzes by and then pulls off.  A young lady hops out and so I pull off.  She obviously wants to say something.  She asks, “Are you Melissa?”  It’s Margo, my host in the next town over, for my stay in Zion.  She’s been hiking with a friend and headed home.  For a moment, I think,  I could just hop in her car and be at Zion in an hour……but no, I will continue to pedal the 90 miles and make it there tomorrow!  She gives me a homemade energy bar, gives me the low down on the route and roads, and sends me on my way.

A half hour later, the motorcycle and the sidecar has returned.  They’ve been all the way to town and have come out in search of me to invite me to camp with them.  I gladly accept, it is one less thing to worry about and I figure a grandpa and granddaughter couple has to be pretty fun (and harmless)!  It takes me a good hour to pedal the 10 miles downhill, but I finally arrive.  They have set up their tent already and invite me to stay in theirs, which is enormous, but I don’t want to intrude. 

This is their setup for traveling

Their tent really did look luxurious compared to mine

Hoover and his granddaughter, Alison, get along extremely well!   I can seen they have a special relationship and all I can think is how lucky Alison is to have a grandpa who takes her camping.  It turns out it is their first time camping, as they usually stay in hotels when they travel.  But they’d been preparing for weeks, setting up the tent at home to practice, making meals that would work on the camp stove, and planning their time at a volunteer animal shelter which is where they will spend the next three days before heading to Zion and Bryce National Park.  Alison, as it turns out had just finished second grade, my favorite age.  Hoover said she was a strong student and had made principal’s honor roll just about all year.  I could tell she was a clever and bright young girl just by my first interactions with her.  She had a special personality that earned instant respect.  I told Alison that she was so lucky to have such a cool grandpa who spent time with her on vacation and took her camping.  That is when she tells me she lives with her grandpa. 

Alison giving her grandpa a classic fun and sarcastic look
Her comment catches me completely off guard.  How can this be?  Later Hoover tells me that his life changed dramatically 2 years and 3 months ago when Alison came to live with him.  I don’t want to pry, but obviously I’m curious.  Why is her 60 year-old grandpa raising an 8-year-old girl?   Did her parents die?  Are they sick?  Meeting Alison and Hoover gave me a completely different perspective on a kid’s childhood.  You think they’d want pity for their situation, but that is the exact opposite of the way they roll. Alison is an incredibly mature and independent 8 year-old.  The way she jokes with her grandpa and by their interaction you’d think she was more like a young adult.  She jokingly scolds her grandpa for picking a scab, bumping into things, eating her last Oreo.  They have pets galore at home and Alison shares with me how she cares for them and entertains me with stories from their other travels.  She and grandpa bake and cook a lot at home and have brought some delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the road.  They share with me and also make me dinner.  I’m delighted to have their company, inspired and admire their relationship; they are like two peas in a pod. My heart goes out to them.  I learn that Alison’s Mom and Dad are alive by a comment Alison makes later.  “Grandpa, how would you feel if you hadn’t seen your Dad since you were 2 and only get to talk to him on the phone.” When I tell her she’s an amazing young lady, she tells me that when her Mom finishes visiting her, she always says, “Alison, thank you for being such a good little girl.” 

How is it that the adults need coffee and the young one is perky with hot chocolate?
We rise early and I get us hot coffee and hot chocolate before we said good-bye.  They are headed to the animal shelter and I start pedaling towards Zion. I’m optimistic and hope to encounter them on the road again, but the reality is, I probably won’t!  I feel lucky and thankful to have met them and been given a different perspective on a young girl’s childhood.  When we depart Hoover says, “You know Melissa, they say things happen for a reason.  We were suppose to arrive here a day earlier, but had some trouble getting an early start.  I guess it was because we were suppose to meet you!”

They are off to work at the animal shelter

Previous to meeting Hoover and Alison, I got to cycle with Ian, an Australian for two days.  In the nine months I have been pedaling, it has only happened once, where I have coincided with another cyclist going my direction.  Remember the story with Hamut in Laos and the feery?  Traveling with Ian was a lot less complicated.  We had the same pace, similar personalities, and a common destination: Page.  We also didn't mind pushing through and doing longer days, which is what we did on the day we met.  I proposed traveling on another 50 kilometers after the 90 we'd each done on our own out of The Grand Canyon, to a small town.   Although it didn't have a propoer campsite, it would put us closer to Page the following day, meaning more time for sightseeing.  I don't think he'd ever wild camped before meeting me, but he was up for trying, and I felt safer with a companion.  We found a Native American community center, and pitched our tents behind.  Dinner was delicious: pizza pockets from the gas station, followed by pb and j sandwiches, which had been a donation from some hikers when we met, all washed down with chocolate milk!

We were both in awe with the picturesque "Looney Tune" desert backdrop

We visited Antelope Canyon and Horsewhoe Bend together

A trip to the supermarket with our panniers was even a memorable adventure...too many choices
The next day we made it to Page quickly, between alternating leading, the tailwind, a massive downhill, and the time zone change, we had completed the 40 miles (60km) by 10:30am.  We had the entire day to see the sights after setting up camp at a real campground!  What fun it was to have good company.  Little things like going to the grocery store and talking to the locals were more entertaining, especially since we couldn't stop sharing stories.  Ian was headed to New York and only had 2 months left to complete the trip due to the visa requirements in the United States.  The next morning we went opposite directions, but for the two days we had together, I cheerished his companionship!

Continuing on with the people I meet that very same day, I encounter Jeff, the manager at the Subway sandwich at the junction for Zion National Park.  He gives me fresh cold water going into Zion and the low down on the route I am facing.  He was so nice that I visited him again, on the way out of the park, to get insight into the best town to stop for that night and free camping.  That is when he gives me a footlong sub “on the house”, dinner for the night which I truly appreciated!

Subway never tasted so good! Thanks, Jeff

I make it to my destination and see an RV park.  I was going to try my luck for buying a hot shower.  I couldn’t be bothered to pay 20 dollars for a tent site.  Even though it seems cheap to others, do you know how much food I can buy for 20 dollars?  I didn’t even make it to the office of the RV park because at the door was an older couple who greeted me by saying “Finally! You made it! We were hoping you would stop here! We first saw you finishing your hike in Zion, then climbing oit, then at the junction if this road and now here you are! We have so many questions for you!”  Honestly answering a ton of questions was the last thing I wanted to do after a long day of hiking and biking, but they were such a lovely retired couple, I let them fire away.  After all, I had made it to my destination.  They were fascinated to hear about my trip and asked me where I was staying, which is when I told them I was going to try to shower here and go find a place to camp in the wild.  The lady went into the office while I continued to talk to her husband.  She came out and told me that she had asked the lady behind the desk if I could shower and they would let me shower for free, even though they usually charge 5 dollars.    You can’t imagine how good that shower felt.  I ate my Subway sandwich outside the office on a picnic bench while charging my phone and using their free wifi.  I found what seemed to be a restaurant and lodging option a mile down the road and my idea was to buy a beer there in exchange for pitching my tent.  I pedaled on down to press my luck, not before getting a snickers bar donation from the elderly couple!

Ron and his helper at the Buffalo Bistro

The Buffalo Bistro was still open and looked like a nice quaint establishment.  I should have known they were going to be cool people with a sign at the entrance that warns, "Warm beer, terrible food, lousy service.....But people jeep coming back!!". There was an older couple working and I prefaced my proposal to the man by saying I have an unusual question to ask you.  You just never know until you ask……Ron, the owner offered me a shower, which I already had and let me sleep in his “Man Den” on the futon, a little cabin out back. He would have fed me dinner hadn’t it been for the Subway sandwich and offered to cook me breakfast the next morning, but I didn’t want to bother him too much.  He also treated me to a tasty Heferveisen and loaded me up on fruit and candy for the morning and following day.  He told me the candy was for the big climb ahead, but unfortunately it never saw that climb; I ate it that night in the man den!  What a kind and fun older man with a warm heart.  He actually offered that I come back and work for him after my trip as he’s looking to retire.  Tempting, really, especially because of its location!

The simple pleasures in life......  My bike is in the background by the "Man Den" is off to the right

You see all of the above people were complete strangers, who I didn’t know just two days ago.  People tell me to be careful on the road, especially here in The States traveling as a solo female.  They always want to know if I get lonely.  I think you can answer those questions yourself. Maybe I exude trust and respect, I don’t know for sure. But there is one thing that is certain, people across the world have gone out of their way to take care of me.  Maybe they aren’t going to be friendships that last a lifetime, but for the time being, and the present condition that I live, they are the most gratifying and appreciated interactions I have.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Grandiose Time in the Grand Canyon

Mother Nature at its finest, once again
The good times actually started to roll just before The Grand Canyon.  My aunt from Scottsdale, AZ came up to meet me in Flagstaff where we did a bit of “R & R” together before I made my way up to the South Rim.  After several long days on bad highways battling a massive head wind, I was ready for some pampering.  Aunt Donna had a box of goodies waiting for me at the hotel, including more sunscreen from Natura Bisse (Thank you very much!) and some more stickers/cards to give out to people I meet along the way (Thank you Pere Rios at Maximpressió in Barcelona).

Thank you Natura Bisse and Maximpressió for restocking me with the essentials

Aunt Donna and me enjoying good coffee, company, and maps

Have a look at the size of that steak...Magic: Now you see it, now you don't!

I’d never been to Flagstaff before and quite enjoyed the small outdoorsy university town.  We wanted to go down to Sedona to explore, but the wildfire down south made that impossible.  We meandered the streets of Flagstaff, went to a lot of different shops to get some essential items and relaxed by getting pedicures and manicures.  The poor Vietnamese women who scrubbed at my calluses….In return I entertained them with stories and photos from cycling in Vietnam, which now seems like another lifetime ago.  I had some intense cravings and Aunt Donna went right along with those wining and dining at several different places in town.  We hit up a local Brewery, fine dined at a delicious steakhouse, and had tapas at a wine bar.  We even found a frozen yogurt store and a coffee shop that was so good we visited every single morning!


Off to the South Rim from Willams, AZ (fully loaded with all sorts of goodies)

It’s no wonder I took on the Grand Canyon like it was nobody’s business; I was completely rested and ready to roll by the time I headed north.  I didn’t make it more than 20 miles when a car pulled over and a young guy and his girlfriend offered me food. I never turn food down (as you know), and although Donna made sure my panniers were extra full with treats, I did accept a few of the bars and bananas they offered me, and a gift certificate to a fast food restaurant.

One of the many spectacular views fro mthe south rim trail

A great overview of The Grand Canyon from up above

The ride to Grand Canyon was pretty uneventful, up and down, up and down, and cars whizzing by in a hurry to get to the park.  You feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere en route, but when you arrive, it is like a Disneyland O’Naturale!  Heaps of vehicles and people from all over the world clustered around the south rim.  It doesn’t matter really, because the view is pretty spectacular, from any angle, regardless of the crowds.  I took a few pictures and then headed over to set-up camp at Mather’s Campground.  Cyclists get treated so well at National Parks in North America (hikers too) with their “hiker-biker” sites. Even when a campground is completely full, as was the case on Memorial Day Weekend, they will never turn down a cyclist! 

I wanted to get an early night sleep because I was determined to hike down the canyon and up in one day.  I know you probably think I’m crazy for attempting this (and all the other physically challenges on this trip) but for me, it was an essential part to my visit at The Grand Canyon…..I had no other option than to do it in one day considering my circumstances.   I didn’t have reservation at Phantom Ranch, the accommodation at the bottom (they sell out a year in advance), nor did I have the right gear to lug my camping equipment down and spend the night.  By default, I had to be down and back up in a day.
Of course I ignored these signs.....

Obviously, the park rangers don’t encourage this, in fact they scared me pretty badly when I shared with them my idea.  It takes a lot to discourage me and shake my confidence when it comes to a sport challenge, but for this hike, I doubted my own capability about making it down and out in one day.  Back in Vegas, an employee at REI had told me the route to take and said I could manage if I started early.  It wasn’t until late the night before my hike, when I heard some girls in the bathroom talk about their experience doing it that day, and so I asked them.  They had taken 12 hours going down and up on the longest trail in tennis shoes and shorts and a t-shirt and had no problem.  After hearing that, I was reassured and got the last bit of confidence, motivation really, I needed to attempt it myself.

Descending, it was actually cold at 6am

Remember I don’t have proper hiking gear, I make do with what I have from the bike.  It sort of reminds me of the bike race I got myself into in Australia.  Everyone had a nice light expensive bike and here I was racing on my beast of a touring bike.  For hiking, I turn one of my Ortliebs into a backpack, use a bladder for extra water, and wear my biking sandals because they seem pretty durable.  Other than that, I swapped my spandex bike shorts for normal shorts, brought a jacket just in case, packed some snacks and I was ready to go!

The never-ending switch backs,....The Stelvio of hiking

I caught the second bus of the morning over to the South Kaibab Trail and I was at the trailhead by 6am ready to go down.  The South Kaibab Trail is the steepest and shortest of the two that descend and it doesn’t have any water until you get to Phantom Ranch.  I started down alone and marveled at the switchbacks that were ahead of me.  The colors on the canyon were impressive, thanks to the sun rise and the early morning hours.  There was a couple of handful of people on the trail, but not many.  I stayed with a young Russian couple for awhile, then went on my own, then met a couple of guys and walked with them.  It seemed like a breeze; low temperatures, a moderate downhill, nothing impossible. Before I knew it, I had made friends with Steve and Peter, who had a very similar pace, and we were at the bottom of the canyon.  In fact, we actually were about to walk right past Phantom Ranch thinking that it couldn’t have popped up on us so quickly.  Luckily we didn’t go too far off the path, before we realized we had arrived.  I guess I was expecting something more built up at the bottom of the canyon but I was pleased to see that conditions at the bottom were primitive. 

Bathed my feet in the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon

We all refilled out water, not entirely, however, because the trail we were going to take, The Bright Angel Trail, has about 3 or 4 water stops going up.  It is a longer trail, less steep and with more switchbacks.  Hence, it is also more crowded!  We had made it down to the bottom of the canyon in 3 hours.  People say that it takes double your descending time to make it up.  It was 10am when we left the bottom of the canyon and we moved right along.  We didn’t see many people initially, but the farther from Phantom Ranch we got, the more hikers we encountered.  Everyone was headed down and wanted to know how far until the bottom.  Deeper in the canyon, the hikers looked more “fit for the part”, with proper gear.  The closer to the top we got, the hikers had what we call in Spanish a “dominguero” air to them.  They seemed to be out for a Sunday stroll along the boardwalk, NOT ready to take on the Grand Canyon.  It’s no wonder the rangers warn people not to do this hike down and back in one day when you see the average Joe headed down.  The most memorable (or rather pathetic) person I saw was a young lady in her little black strap sandals with rhinestones and a Gucci purse, A half mile from the top of the canyon she asked us, “How much farther until the bottom?”  I hope my facial expression or gasping answered the question appropriately.

My hiking companions, Peter and Steve, they kept a good pace

Steve, Peter and I made really good time.  We walked at a nice pace, stopped frequently to take pictures, hydrate, and rest.  We took turns blazing the trail and had two longer pit stops at the water holes to fill bottles.  Steve had bad knees and they started to give at the end.  Peter was feeling nauseated after all the food and snack combo’s he’d eaten.  I must admit, except for the blister I felt forming on the back of my heel, I was doing really well.  It brought back memories of when I hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro 3 years back.  I went solo, but the tour company put me with a German, who just so happened to be a hard core cyclist and triathlete. We hiked so fast our porters had to run by us after every meal in order to get to the next rest stop to set things up before we arrived.

Dirty, dirty feet, but no complaints with my Keens, probably the only person who has hiked the canyon in biking sandals

We were lucky because the temperatures were on the cooler side, hovering around 30-32 (85-90F).  Any hotter and it would have been a real struggle.  We made it to the top of the canyon in 5 hours, right at 2pm.  It took less than we imagined, a total of 8 hours to go down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel.  We were all tired, but it wasn’t that noticeable with all the endorphins that were kicking in from the adrenaline rush of accomplishing such a feat.  Steve and Peter were hopping on a plane tomorrow and so they unloaded a lot of food items on me.  I was quite content, thinking it would last me the next couple of days, but actually didn’t even make it back to the campground.  Gus would have been proud, I ate an entire bag of Beef Jerky in about 5 minutes tops!  I must have needed the salt because everything I craved on out through the rest of the day was savory rather than sweet.  I drank about 5 liters of water afterwards as well to rehydrate.  I wasn’t planning on making it back that early in the afternoon, so to my surprise I had some down time.

The Colorado River from The Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is spectacular.  You never get tired of the scenery because no two cliffs and rock ledges look the same.  The colors are constantly changing in the light and the angle. Hiking into the canyon, you get a completely different view of this immense natural beauty.  Every switchback gives you another perspective.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures the entire time and ended up with over 300 photos while in The Grand Canyon National Park.  Hiking down to the bottom of the canyon is a “must-do” event once in your life, especially taking South Kaibab down and Bright Angel up. Each offer a unique scenery and different experience.  Phantom Ranch reservations are made a year in advance, but you can obtain a backcountry permit fairly easily in order to camp at the bottom.  It’s worth entering the canyon or going down to the bottom just to escape all the tourists and to touch the Colorado River.

Mission accomplished and boy does it feel good

I was quite proud of myself for accomplishing such a feat after I left the rangers shake my confidence.  I will admit however, the following day, I felt as though I had run a marathon the previous day.  I was so incredibly sore, I walked around like I had peed my pants,  Pedaling my bike wasn’t as painful as walking, hence I kept pedaling on and on the following day and had one of my longest days on the bike, and after that hike.  I guess you could call it a recovery ride!  Hiking The Grand Canyon, it’s a total adrenaline rish and a highlight to the United States portion of my trip!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What Happened to Common Sense?

Welcome to Arizona

I should preface this blog entry by saying that I have dear friends from Arizona and I love my aunt to death who lives in the Phoenix area, but I seriously don't get this state.  The Grand Canyon better be pretty spectacular after what I’ve put up with to get here.

The scenery is amazing in Arizona, if only the roads were just as nice.....

My first impression of Arizona was fabulous.  I crossed the border at Hoover Dam and had some great scenery riding along the Colorado River with all sorts of mountains and canyons around me.  The wind was strong, but not unbearable.  The road was a busy interstate, but it had an okay shoulder, or so it appeared. 

A typical interstate in Arizona where cyclists are permitted and forced to ride due to a lack of altrenate routes

It took a total of about 30 miles to realize that Arizona was not a very cycle friendly state. There are a lot of interstates in Arizona, but few back roads in order to avoid these major arteries.  I had to do a massive detour the second day in Arizona, 100 miles with a strong head wind, just to keep off a section of the interstate that was about 30 miles without a shoulder.  Trucks were hauling down the road going at least 75 mph, and I was getting honked at, even though it is legal for cyclists to ride on the interstate. 


After riding the Arizona roads for a couple of days, I started to doubt the common sense of the average driver on the road after observing some of their road signs.  Take for instance the sign, “Do not enter when flooded.”  Arizona doesn’t get a lot of rain, so I’m sure when it does rain, there are a lot of areas that flood.  Who would think of driving their car through a road that is flooded,….. that just doesn’t make sense, it’s common sense, right? However, just about every section of a road that dips here warns drivers to not enter if flooded.  Obviously there is a story behind these signs,….I don’t dare ask what happened! 

Notice the passing indicators on the road as well, a double whammy: DON'T PASS!

Here is another sign that seems pretty ridiculous, “Hill blocks view.”  Duh!!!! Don’t we all know that when you are going up a hill you can’t see what is on the other side? Common sense tells you that you don’t pass cars going uphill.  In fact, I think it is the second or third question on the driving test when we get our license.  You have zero visibility going up a hill, that is why there isn’t ever a passing lane on an uphill grade.  Is it really necessary to remind drivers that their vision is blocked on a hill? Isn't that just common sense…..?

Another sign here in Arizona that makes me wonder about people’s common sense warns people that hunting is prohibited in a national park.  I saw this sign right after crossing the border into The Grand Canyon National Park.  Wow,….I’d love to see the person who tries to hunt an elk crossing the road in the park! That is like fishing at a fish hatchery, it’s just WRONG- common sense ought to tell you that!

Common sense, especially on an interstate with a 75mph speed limit
With all these signs that reiterate what I consider “common sense” it makes me start to feel a little uncomfortable pedaling on Arizona roads.  I was hoping I would see a sign warning drivers that cyclists share the roads, however, I guess that isn’t common sense, considering that most places in the world don’t allow cyclist on major interstates, let alone an interstate where the speed limit is 75 mph rather than 65mph.  That just seems crazy to me, but in Arizona it is allowed!  The only sign that appears on the interstate is for the cyclists.  It states, “Cyclists must use shoulders”.  Gosh, I’m so glad they reminded me to stay as far over to the right as possible. I was seriously considering taking on the semi truck to try to pass it on the left!

Excuse me, that is my shoulder

Common sense (or the lack of) failed me once again when I was riding in a construction zone.  On my way to the Grand Canyon, a road, I remind you that millions of tourists take each year, I found myself in the middle of a 20-mile section of road construction on the interstate.  The construction alternated between the left and right lane, meaning that at different intervals, one lane was closed while the other was open.  Yes, they had signs posted warning drivers of the closures and to reduce their speed, but wouldn’t you know they were right in the middle of the shoulder of the road…..the shoulder where I was suppose to be riding?!?  It isn’t easy to dodge a huge posted road sign in the middle of a meter and a half shoulder when cars are whizzing by on your left at 75 mph.  Again, I was outraged. I saw a police in the median with his window down and expressed my frustration. I put my right hand up in the air and shouted, “This is ridiculous!  This is suicide!”  I wasn’t trying to get his attention, rather just venting my frustration.  To my surprise he came driving up next to me to let me know he was going to escort me through the worst parts of the construction for 5 miles.  Boy was I lucky!  If they are going to make cyclists use an interstate even under road construction, then a police escort through is the best use of tax payer’s money to make sure we are safe!  Thank you!

There goes my police escort.  I wish I could have thanked him in person

The sign that really blew me away were the ones that clarified the law here in Arizona (which isn’t common sense) that reminds people where they are and aren’t allowed to carry firearms.  My second day in Arizona I stopped the cashier in the middle of a sentence when my eyes made contact with his pistol. It was in a holster on his hip fully loaded.  I had never seen an ordinary person carrying a weapon around openly in my life, so I asked him if it was real.  “Of course it is!” he replied, as if it was common sense!  I was in shock, disbelief, disgusted, scared......Then he showed me the sign.  His establishment openly stated that firearms were permitted. 

I just can't get over the makes me mad

I didn’t share my opinion about this firearm law until the next day when I arrived at a gas station for my afternoon break.  I plopped myself down at the counter of an A & W Root Beer to enjoy a cold drink. Two guys next to me started asking me about my trip and I told them I was shocked to learn about the gun law in Arizona.  Boy, was this a mistake!  I explained to them my experience the day before at the convenience store and they responded by saying, “Yeah, in places like California I guess you can’t do that!”....Well hello,….Isn’t it common sense to expect that ordinary people don’t carry firearms?  “Why do you need to carry a loaded firearm?” I asked out load, not necessarily expecting an answer.  The lady behind the counter piped up and boldly stated, “Everyone ought to carry a gun!”

This sign was on the door of a restaurant.  I'm used to seeing "No shirts, no shoes, no service!",  not this!

“Excuse me?” I gasped in disbelief. “What did you just say?”  She repeated the same statement again, only this time she added, “The world would be a better place if everyone carried a gun!” I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t resist; I was appalled.  I couldn’t refrain from sharing my opinion now that I had heard hers! After all, people talk to me about random and crazy stuff all the time and give me their opinions so I figured I was entitled to state my opinion on the gun topic.  Call me innocent, but I think it is common sense to have a little faith in humankind and trust others.  If people think they need to carry a gun around to protect themselves, there is a fundamental problem,…one that is rooted in the education system (or lack of) and the morals and beliefs of a society.  People are lacking basic values and beliefs that are established over time with education.  Carrying a gun as a form of self-protection is a band-aid or “quick fix” to a larger problem. The real problem lies deeply rooted in the culture.  People need to be educated on how to treat and respect others and interact with the world around them.  I guess my opinion was a bit too radical for the people at A & W Root Beer (although, again, it seems like common sense to me) because that was the end of our conversation.  After stating my opinion on guns, I got that alone time I was craving, because no one talked to me from then on out!

It’s interesting to me that what seems like common sense to one person is far from rational thinking for another, or so I’m learning here in Arizona!  It’s scary and sad really…..Scary, because the same people that lack common sense are allowed to carry a firearm, not to mention they pass me all day long on the roads driving.  I hope I don’t frustrate them to the point they pull out their gun.  Maybe there should be a sign that says, “Please don’t use your gun while driving”.  I don’t want to loose faith in the people, but it makes me sad to know that carrying a firearm makes people more secure and that it has become a valid and real solution to problems in life.  Common sense tells me, something isn’t right here! 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Vegas: An Atypical Experience in an Atypical City

The "City of Sparkle"

What?!?! You are going to Vegas? That doesn’t seem like a very Melissa place to go. What is an Oregon “Granola-Girl” like you doing in the “City of Sparkles”?  Ok, you've got a point.  True, it isn’t a place I would necessairly chose for a weekend get-away, but since I was going from point A to B (Death Valley to The Grand Canyon), Vegas just happened to be on the way, not to mention, I hadn't ever been!  And the truth is, I had a wonderful time, although my experience was far from the typical Vegas trip!

I was actually going to live it up in Vegas, and treat myself to a fancy hotel on the strip since there are a lot of last minute deals to be had online.  However, I saw the profiles of the Warmshowers hosts in the area, and decided I didn’t need a fancy hotel.  I wanted to see what life was really like in Vegas through the eyes of keen cyclist, who live there day in, and day out. 

Here they are, Greg and Dawn, indulging in Spanish Tapas 

Greg and Dawn’s profile caught my attention.  Greg is featured in a pretty snazzy bike jersey.  Reviews from past guests are top notch.  How could I go wrong? They are a couple in their mid-fifties, originally from the Northwest (Seattle), like myself, and have lived in Vegas for nearly 20 years.  They have an active and healthy lifestyle.  Dawn is a dancer. She performed in Jubilee for almost 10 years and after that she opened up a pilates studio at their home.   Greg is a keen cyclist and a nautical engineer.  He is on a boat for four months, then comes home for four months, and so on.  Their professions are up the list for "more unusual professions" out of all my hosts, just down from the Slovenian army parachuters I had close to Ljubljana.   

I spent a lot of time in the massage chair, with the Yoga Toes

I knew I was going to have a great time at their house from the moment I walked through the door.  You see, in the first 5 minutes, while re-hydrating in the kitchen, something caught my eye in the living room.  It was a special chair.  Greg and Dawn had a full body massage chair; one of those chairs you sit in and use the remote to choose a program and it gives you a massage. How could I be so lucky?  Ever since I left SE Asia, I've been dying for a massage.  This was my lucky day!  As soon as I showered, my bum was glued to that chair trying out the different programs.  Each of them had their own preferred programs and they used the chair quite often themselves, although Greg discovered a few new programs while I was visiting.

Even after 5 years, Greg still enjoys his massage chair

Another great gadget, Yoga Toes

While I was in the chair relaxing, Greg and Dawn were on the sofa telling me about how they ended up in Vegas and what life was like in this world famous city.  Dawn pulled out what looked to be a fancy toe spacer, like they use at nail salons.  I hadn’t ever seen something like this before.  It was called Yoga Toes.  She apparently had a big bunion on her foot and used the Yoga toes in order to straighten out her bones and alleviate herself of the bunion.  She swore by Yoga Toes and so I showed her my funky toes.  I inherited the Pritchard toes on my left foot and my second toe crosses over and squashes the big toe.  As a result I have a huge bunion!  It isn’t painful, just ugly, and with the nice tan lines I have now after cycling in sandals, well, my feet are pretty hopeless, or at least that is what I thought.  Dawn explained to me how Yoga toes worked my only problem being that they have to be used while sitting still, which just doesn't happen very often in my life.  On they went, though, while I was in the massage chair!  
I can't get enough fresh Mexican food in The States
That night, however, I finally managed to get out of the massage chair and we went out for Mexican at their favorite restaurant followed by wacky named drinks at a local bar in town.  I shared some of my travel stories fresh in my mind that became more and more hysterical the more rum I drank.  I had arrived to Greg and Dawn’s absolutely exhausted that day from a long ride in the heat, but now I was plenty hydrated and having a great time!

A great local bar in Las Vegas....not on the strip!

These guys were up for trying my self-serve yogurt store, my new favorite pit stops on the road

Most people come to Vegas to check out the strip, but why bother when there are so many fun gadgets to try out at my hosts’ house.  What fun I was going to have here.  The next morning we chilled out around the house and finally made it out for lunch and frozen yogurt and took a field trip to REI. When you are on your bike, and have to carry all your life belongings, you jsut start to drool looking at all the cool gear you'd love to buy!  After REI, we went to the "REI of grocery stores", Trader Joes. I wanted to cook tapas for them and needed to pick up the works.  I could also spend hours in Trader Joes looking at all the products, not to mention they have free coffee and are always serving samples.  We actually arrived for the free wine tasting event, but refrained from participating. 

Tapas and microbrews, you can't go wrong

That night while having tapas, which I had been craving for awhile, we discussed plans for the next day.  I was really only counting on spending one day off in Vegas.  I had a host 40 miles to the east of the city, close to Hoover Dam and I was going to go there the following night.  However, I'd been here for a day and a half now and I hadn’t even been to the strip.  I thought I could ride down it on my way out of town, but Greg and Dawn convinced me to spend another full day in Vegas.  They really didn't have to do much convincing, I was enjoying my time so with them it was an easy decision!  Although I had no desire to gamble, I did want to see the main artery of the city.

Wait, I in Venice? How did that happen....

On Saturday, again we had a lazy morning which included using the massage chair and Yoga Toes, and then I went down to the strip.  Greg and Dawn dropped me off for the afternoon to explore.  I had no idea what to expect, and was completely blown away by what I saw!  It is consumer central craziness!  You get the sense that money is being thrown around constantly, as if it has no value whatsoever!  I must have seen a handful of Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores in half a mile radius.  You really never have to actually step outside, because once you enter a hotel, you get lost trying to find your way around or even find the exit to the street.  This is done on purpose of course so that you will be lured into the casinos to press your luck.  I hovered over some Poker and Black Jack tables and saw the coin slot machines, but none of it really enticed me.  My strategy was to make a list of the places and attractions to see on the strip with the help of Greag and Dawn and this list helped me not get so overwhelmed.  I had a good laugh with all the imitation architecture.  It was like I had back tracked on my trip when I walked through the canals in the Venetian and saw Caesar’s Palace.  No wonder so many Americans never have a desire to travel abroad.   All you need to do is go to Vegas and you have the most iconic sights from around the world all in one 5-mile strip of land.  There is the Eiffel Tower, Atlantis, The Arc de Triumf, and erupting volcano, Roman statues, even white tigers, dolphins, and lions!  I couldn’t resist my urge to knock on the cement walls of Venice.  Hollow of course!  The whole place reminded me a bit of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where the buildings were also hollow, imitating the old stuff. The States

I arrived at the Atlantis just in time for a light and fountain show

After 3 or 4 hours, everything started looking the same, except the people.  They just kept getting crazier and crazier.  Go figure, they are all walking around with open bottles on the streets and huge drink cups that are harnessed around their necks!  By the early evening, I was ready to be picked up, the massage chair was calling and so was my desire to make dinner.  On my last night, we each made a dish and had a delicious dinner with Margarita’s to toast to my Vegas experience and the Warmshowers for introducing us.  I was sad to leave the next morning.  I had fit right into Greg and Dawn’s life in Vegas and I was really enjoying myself. Greg and Dawn are just good old fun!  They have a great life in Vegas, far far away from the strip!  I have a feeling these two are going to become the most popular Warmshowers hosts in Vegas the way they spoil their guests!

Hoover Dam, also man-made, but way cooler than the Vegas strip

I have to cherish moments like these because you never know where you will be the following day. I ended up pedaling from Vegas to Hoover Dam and found myself pitching my tent that night on a machine gun shooting range just after crossing the Arizona border.  That's a whole other story to be told!

A shooting range, a great place to pitch a tent, who would have thought?!?