US Road Trip
Trip Start Mar 01, 2009
151Trip End Nov 01, 2010
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So we kicked off the road trip in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Landy and I were coming off the back of a four day golf and beer weekend and were feeling appropriately under the weather after a few 5am nights out.
Summers, our 3rd man for the road trip, met us at the Myrtle Beach airport on Sunday afternoon. He told us his driving licence had been cancelled, he'd lost his wallet 2 days earlier so he had no money, his cell phone was not working and he's left his laptop in the cab on the way to the airport to catch the plane down to Myrtle...
Since Summers had no money and couldnt drive, Landy and I designated him as "The Car Bitch", he had to take care of all accommodation bookings and pump gas at every gas station. Not even an hour out of Myrtle he also confirmed his title of King Belcher, burping about every 5 mins from Myrtle to LA.
We rented the biggest SUV available, a nice big white Toyota Sequoia. The car rental attendant went to great lengths to say that this was the only one she had and since we were driving it to LA she'd never see it again and this was bad for some reason. After she repeated that it was the only one she had a few more times I told her I didn't like white and did they have any red ones.... After one steely gaze from her we took off straight down to Charleston, North Carolina.
South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama
Luckily Charleston was only a couple hours of driving and that suited us fine given our current energy levels.
I was in desperate need of some healthy food after the Myrtle golf weekend, we'd been eating junk food for 4 days straight. The southern states of the US had a different idea, everywhere we went all the food was fried or deep fried. I tried to stick to seafood to try and stay a little healthier - that was all fried or deep fried too... I was starting to feel my arteries clog up with every meal.
We drove down to Savannah from Charleston, another nice quick 2 1/2 hour drive. Savannah's a beautiful old town surrounded by old steel works and other industrial plants. It was really great walking around and taking a few pics, after a few scenic shots Landy started his habit of jumping up in front of the camera every time I was tryiing to take a picture without people in it.
When we drove from Savannah to Jacksonville we all decided that we'd have a shot at eating healthy for the day, however at the first gas station I impulsively bought a bag of jerky and some cookies. Screw it, health's out the window for the next 2 weeks.
When we pulled into Jacksonville, Florida it was Cinquo De Mayo - a mexican holiday on the 5th of May that's widely celebrated throughout the US. We ended up getting a great hotel on the beach surrounded by bars (good work Summers) and since everyone around us was going out for a big night out... we thought 'When in Rome'.
The 'When in Rome' saying became the standard excuse to do pretty much anything that side tracked us from the original road trip plan. There'll be more examples listed below somewhere.
When we drove from Jacksonville, Florida, to Orange Beach, Alabama, we knew we were all bored for the first time when we got stuck into our first game of "I spy". After about 2 or 3 rounds, and some questionable word choices from Landy, the phrase "yep, this is pretty damn boring too" was thrown out there so it was back to talking about the usual stuff - accommodation, eating, drinking and chicks.
As we headed to Orange Beach we took what the Lonely Planet described as a scenic route called the Redneck Riviera. It stretched across the Florida pan-handle from Panama City to Pensacola and consisted of one thing only - strip malls. It was pretty amazing, we kept seeing the same store and restaurant franchises repeat - Dennys, McDonalds, Wendy's, Best Buy, WalMart, CVS, Dennys, McDonalds, Wendy's, Best Buy, WalMart, CVS, Dennys, McDonalds, Wendy's, Best Buy, WalMart, CVS, Dennys, McDonalds, Wendy's, Best Buy, WalMart, CVS... The only scenic thing we saw was 5 or 6 F-22's flying in formation above Miramar, that was pretty cool.
Orange Beach was at the tail end of the strip malls. We arrived late, needed food, would've loved something healthy but could only find more deep fried seafood franchises. Someone made the call 'When in Rome' (ie we were surrounded by dodgy seafood franchises) so we headed to the Crab Shack and ate deep fried everything.
Louisiana And Texas
We got to New Orleans for Thursday and organised another night out - When In Rome (you cant stay in New Orleans and not go out). Landy and I headed off on a walking tour of the French Quarter since we'd not done any touristy stuff so far. We'd figured out after we did close to no touristy sight seeing in Savannah or Charleston but we should have a crack at doing something touristy at all stops.
After the walking tour we all headed out for a great night out - after we deliberated for about 2 hours on where we should go to dinner. We had the first disagreements between dinner options - it had been a few days and it was our first "I know, I know what your saying but this is what I'm saying", conversation and we eventually ended up going to a totally average tourist trap.
We left the french quarter and explored some great Jazz bars down on Frenchman street. One bar had a jazz band performing a cover of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit - very cool. We hit up another bar with a good funk band playing. It was the type of bar where everyone was standing, watching the band with the exception of this one guy. He was trying to dance and jump around in front of the band but repeatedly fell over the bands amps until the drummer from the band got up (mid song) and threw him out of the bar.
I'd drawn the short straw and had to drive the next day from New Orleans to Lafayette in west Louisiana's, Cajun Country. After a couple of hours of driving we passed through Baton Rouge and I felt a little queazy so we started looking for a place to stop for a coffee break. Suddenly, we rounded a corner and I saw a Hooters restaurant, PERFECT timing. I immediately felt great, but I had to cut across 4 lanes of traffic to get to the exit, I looked but there was no way to make it. Everyone fired up and we charged ahead to the next exit, we weaved our way perfectly through the back streets and made it back to the Hooters car park, we drove in, parked across 3 parkign spots and we were about to jump out and then we saw that sign - "Closed For Renovations". I immediately hung my head on the steering wheel and felt twice as bad as I did before.
We made it to Lafayette, went to their Hooters (it was a matter of principle) and then went and checked into a place called the Blue Moon Guesthouse. It had one of the main bars in Lafayette and hosted local live acts every night. Really cool. We also had to sample some of the local cajun food so we hit up a local restaurant where we ordered Crawfish by the pound. We knocked back a few pounds of crawfish each - great stuff.
From Lafayette, Louisiana, we headed off on Saturday to Austin, Texas. Austin is one great town, its the home of great BBQ, a fantastic bars and a big college scene. The town has strong links to alternative culture and live music festivals. The town motto is "Keep Austin Weird".
We had another friend, Joe, fly out from NYC and join us in Austin for the rest of the road trip We also met up with Matt, a friend of a friend who lives there, and had a great night out sampling some great BBQ and great bars.
After Austin we went for a short 1 hour drive to a town called Gruene, a small town just north of San Antonio to take part in a Texan tradition - Tubing. This is where you rent an inner tube, get a shuttle bus up river and then you float down river for a 3-4 hours, oh and you take a few beers with you.
So, yes, backing up from big nights in New Orleans and Austin we thought we'd have a relaxing day of slowly drinking beers all day while floating down a river. It was a great day. Needless to say, we all hit the hay early that night since we had a 13 hour drive in front of us the next day.
Gruene is on the register of National Historic places and it's town motto is 'Gruene, Gently resisting change since 1872'. It was more proof that some of the best places we stopped at were small towns with big culture, rather than big cities with many bars. The main attraction in Gruene is the Gruene Hall, it was built in 1878 and is the oldest continually running dance hall in Texas. It looks like it's never been renovated, and it's held together by dust.
We hit up Gruene hall on the Sunday night after the tubing and caught some local country music, a very cool place.
On Monday we made an early start towards Santa Fe, New Mexico - a 13 hour drive. About 7 hours into the drive we scaled it back to El Paso. Summers read out the excerpt from the Lonely Planet, El Paso didn't sound like a cultural town, but it sounded like it didn't suck, we figured we could get some good TexMex and maybe do a quick shuttle run into the Mexican town on the other side of the border, Juarez.
We stopped off for gas about an hour outside of El Paso and Summers bought a local paper, and after reading a couple pages he found a story that there had been 30 murders in Juarez alone this month... it was the 10th of May so thats averaging 3 murders a day, and it wasn't even front page news. We decided to pass on the Juarez and when we got to El Paso we decided to pass on El Paso, it looked rough. Since it was only 4pm-ish we kept on driving into New Mexico.
New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona
We got to New Mexico about an hour after we gave El Paso the flick. We didn't know exactly where we were going and it was getting close to 6pm. Since most restaurants seemed to stop serving around 8 or 9pm we stopped off and grabbed a Subway sandwich at a gas station. The reason I remember this is because it was easily the healthiest thing I'd eaten since before Myrtle Beach... my body was confused, these strange green vegetable things (lettuce etc) were that I was eating, it had been a while.
A little later we arrived at a place called White Sands, just before sunset.
White Sands is a National Park (technically a national monument) of sandunes sandwiched between two mountain ranges on the east and west and a military missile testing range to the north.
Just before the entry to the park there was a US border and immigration check point, this was in re middle of New Mexico, nowhere near the Mexican border. It was only shortly after I realized they probably want to keep tabs on any non Americans wandering around the middle test range.
When we got into the White Sands park we were able to jump on a ranger guided tour that had just started. Less than 5 minutes later we jumped off the tour since the ranger was spending all her time talking about the fauna living in such a harsh environment. It was moderately interesting if we had all day but we didn't, we only had about 40min until sunset and we needed to go exploring.
There were semi-competitve sprints between Landy and I up and down the dunes and we all took dozens of pics as the white dunes turned pink and orange as the sun set and a few military fighter jets flew overhead - all very scenic.
On Tuesday we drove on up from White Sands to Santa Fe. We saw our first tumbleweed as we drove through a one horse town on the way up to Santa Fe. Landy hit it at full speed as he drove right over it.
Surprisingly, we drove past some vineyards. It turns out New Mexico has the oldest wine industry in the US. Who would've thought?
We got to Santa Fe early enough for lunch, we found a nice TexMex style lunch place and ate beans and burritos for lunch. The conversation turned to the gassy effects of burritos and smoking people out of bedrooms after eating all these beans and chilli. Then we all realised then that apart from Summers constant burping, there hadn't been much trouser trumpeting while we've all been in the car. Everyone finished all their beans, and I wasn't the only one pouring on extra tabasco Naturally we all found this pretty funny, then Landy came up with the astute call - this cant be good, it's like an arms race - nobody wins.
Santa fe is a suprising town. It self claims it's third largest center in the world for art after New York and Paris. This was very hard to believe at first but after walking around town you see the town is very rich and full of art galleries supported by even richer people.
We all went separate ways in the afternoon. Summers went shopping to buy some token to remember Santa fe, he got the book "The AVN Guide To The 500 Best Adult Movies Of All Time".
The next day we'd booked in a white water rafting trip down the Rio Grande, just north of Santa Fe. It was time to start doing some exercise on this trip previously dominated by fried food and beer. The river was set deep in a narrow canyon with 600ft cliffs on either side, the rapids were around grades 3-5 and we had perfect weather.
Half way through the trip we go under a bridge and, a few hundred meters later, some power lines. The guide started telling this story about an air force jet fighter pilot who had flown his plane, at full speed, under the bridge successfully but didn't account for the sag in the power cable ahead. The plane collected the cables and crashed. The guide pointed to the side of the canyon about another mile down river from the power cables and said that there plane crashed into the cliff and you could see the impact zone clearly where there's a large dent in the rock.
This whole story almost seemed unreal, until the guide pulled the boat over at the edge of the river and we got out and saw hundreds of pieces of shredded bent scrap metal panels. This was what was left from the plane. The Air Force never bothered doing a proper clean up job so they just buried most of the disintegrated aircraft under a pile of rocks. This all happened back in the '70's so people have been pulling out debris from under the rocks since then.
In the second half of the trip we hit far more rapids, the guides quote as we went into a series of big ones was, "grit your teeth, gird your loins and tighten your sphincters, this is going to be big".
I'd been sitting up the front and was totally drenched and cold. There was no sun since the canyon was so deep and narrow. I was getting cold as hell so I asked for one of the rain jackets from the guide - Landy repeated the other phrase that had been used repeatedly on the trip, "get that man a glass of harden the f**k up".
On the drive to Durango Summers breaks out his latest Santa Fe book purchase and reels off the top 50 best porno movie titles - "Arse Ventura Crack Detective" was a favourite and the only one I'm clean enough to include here. Summers started calling Landy Arse Ventura for the rest of the day.
We also had the second game of eyespy, it didn't last long
We got to Durango Colorado late, checked out an authentic old west saloon for a couple of beers. We grabbed a simple cheap dinner at a burger place and the 'arms race' continued as we all ordered extra hot green chilli burgers - all sorts of threats were being thrown around between Landy, Summers and I about chemical warfare in the car tomorrow. Joe added some class to our group by somehow holding back on any childlike remarks.
Durango was a really nice old mountain town, however there was not much to see or do there so we headed north to Silverton.
Silverton is the quintessential old mountain town. Only it's Main Street is paved, all other roads are still dirt and rubble. Main St is flanked by colourful old style saloons and shops, and there wasn't a modern piece of architecture anywhere in sight. It's really high too, it's altitude was around 9400ft, thats the same height as the average peak of a ski resort in the US.
We continued north on the mountain road from Silverton to Moab called the 'Million Dollar Highway', we had stunning scenery as we winded through mountain towns and passes. The name million dollar highway comes from the fact that the highway is build on very valuable ore deposits, however the easy mistake to make is that the views you get along the way are 'million dollar views'.
In Moab, Landy and I got our selves booked into to do the main Moab pass time - mountain biking. Joe and Summers opted to go hiking in Arches National Park. The scenery around Moab is breathtaking, the town is surrounded by Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
After a good morning of exercise we headed down towards Zion National Park. Instead of driving the entire way we stopped off at Cedar City, one very boring town. We booked into the cheapest motel to try and save some cash and grabbed dinner at the first half decent restaurant we saw. We tried ordering beers and the waitress seemed young and a little offended. She had to send the barman over to take the order because she was underage and we got assigned a different waitress for the rest of the night. Good old Utah drinking laws!
The following morning we finished our drive to South Utah and Zion National Park. The aim for the day was to do a hike and basically get some more exercise. The most outstanding hike was the hike to Angels Landing, where you hike up a peak and have breathtaking and unbeatable views down the canyon that is Zion National Park.
The catch with this walk is that it's a vertigo inducing trek up some very narrow ledges with 1500ft drops on either side and you're only holding onto a chain.
Landy, Joe and I went on to have a shot at Angels Landing - we asked around about how hard the climb was and everyone said the only hard part was the last 1/2 mile of the 2 mile track.
Summers got wind of the hard part and happily declared he wasn't even going close to that trek so he headed off with all the retired grandmas on another walk.
As Landy, Joe and I hiked up the Angels Landing we got some sneaky pics of some older people (guessing roughly 60+ years old) hiking down from the top just to cement the impression that Summers had been acting like a big girl.
After a few of these subtle pics my lack of subtlty took over and I went up to one older ladies to ask if she'd made it to the top. She said she had and even volunteered her age of 59. I explained the situation of our mate acting like a girl and asked if we could grab a quick group pic just to further confirm the degree of the summers softness.
To be totally fair I've got to admit that I almost turned back half way up the steep section at the end - it's was pretty scary.
As we kicked on for the last half mile ascent we were amazed that something like this existed in the US, it was like a law suit waiting to happen, falling off these ledges would not have been hard. Surprisingly only 6 people had died on this trek in the last 30 years.
When we got to the top of the ridge the views were vast and breathtaking. We were perched on Angels Landing, the peak of a ridge looking all the way down Zion Canyon, definitely one of the prettiest and most rewarding hikes I've ever done.
After we left Zion we wanted to get down to the Grand Canyon for another hiking exploration - our last foray into exercise for the trip.
We found ourselves driving through the middle of nowhere, in some desert, somewhere in north Arizona. It was around 8:00pm with no accommodation organised and the odds of us finding an open restaurant decreasing fast. (As we'd crossed the US our habitual late eating had caused us to be the last table in restaurants in Charleston, Orange Beach, Lafayette, Santa Fe, Durango and Cedar City.) If that wasn't bad enough we had no cell phone reception to look up any near by hotels and we were all tired and thirsty after a long day of hiking in Zion.
At about 8:30 we bought the truck to a screeching halt as we saw a nice motel on the side of the road next to busy bar. We pulled over initially just to get cell phone reception and then we thought, screw it lets try and get in to this place. They were unfortunately fully booked but the receptionist had said that there's another place about 20 mins down the canyon. With energy levels bought back up in the hope that we'd soon be out of the car and in some place of food and beer - we flew down the highway to Marble Canyon, the most remote town we passed through in the entire trip.
We arrived and Landy headed to the reception, he actually sprinted to the reception when it looked like another guy was about to walk in to ask for a room as well. We seriously didn't want to lose a room here. Landy came back and told us that the good news is that we've got an apartment that will sleep all of us, the bad news is the restaurant shuts at 9pm, it was 8:57pm. There was nothing else in the town apart from the hotel, gas station and restaurant apart from a few random houses so we thought about driving on another 40mins to the next town, just for food.... Then Joe comes up with the great idea that we could probably ask them to keep the restaurant open for us for another few minutes so Joe and Landy both run back into the reception at 8:59 and the mosey on back to the car a couple of minutes later laughing their heads off. It turns out that Arizona doesn't do daylight saving time so it was only 8pm, we had a whole hour to spare.
It turned out that no one slept very well that night. Joe was stuck under an air conditioning vent, Landy was subjected again to sharing a room with Summers' methane attacks and I couldn't get the thought out of my mind that this was the one place that Jason out of Friday 13th was most likely to appear and kill people.
Saturday morning we drove to the Grand Canyon and en route Landy was nabbed for speeding. The bitter irony here was that he was by far the most conservative driver...
We got to the south ridge of the Grand Canyon on a Saturday afternoon, the views were spectacular. We hiked a trail called Hermits Ridge down into the canyon. We walked down into the canyon for about 2 hours and we were only a third of the way down. You're not meant to attempt walking all the way to the river and back to the top in one day, there's a large sign at the top that says, 'Getting down is optional, Getting up is mandatory'.
After we finished hiking we drove on to flagstaff
Flagstaff to California
This was one of the more significant moments of the trip, we had our first in and out burger stop. We needed a stop and Landy needed a break from driving. The search for the nearest hooters started on the iPhone without a hesitation but it was abandoned as soon as we saw our first In and Out burger stop.
In and Out are arguably the best burger franchise in the world. However they're only on the West Coast and none of us had ever had the chance to go to one.
I'd remembered my brother had told me they had a pretty limited, but high quality menu, however there was a secret menu that people in the know used to accessorize their orders. I fired up the iPhone again, cancelled the hooters search and found a list of the secret ordering terminology.
10 minutes later I had one of the best burgers shakes and fries I'd ever had. 12 minutes later it was all gone and my stomach was getting ready to explode. I was wishing I'd not eaten the entire bag of beef jerky from the gas stop 30 min before we got to In and Out burger.
The next 3 hours we were in the car driving through the desert and the outside temp was 106, we'd dropped from 7000 ft at flagstaff to 575ft at Lake Havasu and fresh air inside the car was being frequently polluted by various occupants as we were all stepping on ducks.
We stopped off at Palm Springs on the Monday night just so we could break up the last ride to LA, it was stinking hot and the town was close to empty. The one redeeming thing was Summers had done some excellent hotel booking and booked us into a a very swanky place that was 75% off. We hit the bars and had a final night out on the road.
I'd passed through the airport 50 times but I'd never been into LA before so I wasn't sure what to expect. When we got into town we cruised around Hollywood boulevard, Rodeo Drive and up into Beverly hills.
The first couple of blocks of Beverly hills were not that special, they easily equated to any regular affluent suburb of any city. After we drove back for a couple more blocks we saw some mansions sandwiched about 2ft apart from each other and after those we saw a place called GteyStone, it made everything else look like pre-fab homes.
This place bordered on being a castle, a leviathon compared to the surrounding mansions. Summers looked it up online and found out it was built for $4million in 1928 and was the largest house on the west coast, quite impressive.
After the cruise around we headed back to my friends house (thanks for letting us stay goochy), dumped our bags, grabbed him and his girlfriend and all went out for a Mexican feast accompanied by waaaaaay too many maragritas.
The final milage - 4472.3miles