Tag Archives: USA

Blood and sand!

I just checked my odometer on our faithful little SUV and got a bit of a shock. Since we began what I’m still minded to think of as our ‘little adventure’, the reading has gone from 71418 to 87974 Kilometres. Which means we’ve driven 16,556 Kilometres in the last six weeks. A shade over 10,000 (ten thousand) miles. About two fifths of the way around the Earth. The equivalent of driving from Victoria BC to Victoria in jolly old Londinium, UK, and back with miles to spare. Even if you could drive in a straight line without getting very damp crossing the Atlantic. We’ve driven well over the distance to Victoria Australia for heavens sake! My Guinness! I haven’t done that sort of mileage since my road warrior days back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Or even when I was working my way through college driving a van in the 1980’s, clocking up close to 50,000 personal miles in one year. Blood and sand! As I am often heard to expostulate.

The only mechanical issue encountered was a blowout of the rear drivers side tyre on the road between Amarillo, Texas and San Antonio. Which says a lot for our car. It has lugged us and our baggage all the way without missing a beat. However, for the moment I think our brave little Subaru has earned a rest and a thorough service for its travails. So it’s back to shopping and errands, with the odd commute on the side.

Anyway, what have I learned during our journey? Well actually quite a bit, but perhaps not quite so much as some would think. Then again, possibly more than I can enumerate at present as my brain is currently still processing all the sights, sounds and experiences of the last 42 (forty two) days, drip feeding them into long term memory and hard coding everything into my consciousness for easy retrieval. Normally I’m quite good at replaying the videotape of my memories back to myself, but the vastness of landscape and enormity of distance have left my subconscious running around in panic mode trying to file it all properly. I’ll have to refer to the thousand or so pictures we took to refresh my memory, just so I can bore people to tears with tall tales of derring don’t.

Mrs S remarked that her own brain is still a little overwhelmed because whilst the body may move at over sixty miles an hour, the brain follows at a more pedestrian pace. It’s small wonder we haven’t, metaphysically speaking, collided with ourselves on the way back. I may have to practice standing very still for the next couple of days while I catch up with myself.

The rest of the world will have to wait.

The end is nigh

Well actually it’s here. The long trip is over and we’re safe home to a leaky toilet and thoughts of moving to a less plumbing troubled apartment. Yesterday we crossed the border back into Canada and reached home. We are taking a huge tranche of memories and experiences, some of which I will be sharing with my last remaining reader as I shoehorn the relevant memories into some semblance of order. We’ve taken over a thousand pictures, some of which are actually in focus, a select few of which will be cropped, resized and posted on this blog, possibly with amusing captions and text.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted so much about our trip is simple; we’ve been too busy doing to write about it, and there’s been at least an hour a day when my brain’s been too overwhelmed to put everything down in a half way cogent fashion.

This content will not be appearing on Facebook. First because I’ve tried to shut my Facebook account down several times. Yes, I followed all the tips and hints religiously, but still the wretched thing has been resurrected so many times you’d think it had been buried in a Yo-yo. Second because I now do all my picture and video sharing with family and friends on Instagram. As our kids have migrated away from Facebook, so have we. Third because Facebook censors stuff it’s employees don’t like. It’s politically censorious because that was always part of its design. Which will eventually be the death of the site. Remember Friends reunited? Yes? No? Don’t care? That was big. Once upon a time. No doubt Facebook will follow as people tire of getting those annoying little ‘Your content has been removed’ notices. Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse, et tout se remplace. I don’t care how many ’emotional speeches’ people make about their personal lives. You’d think they were the only people who’d ever suffered troubled times. Newsflash! Been there, done that. Not impressed with all the public caterwauling.

Any old road up, of which we have encountered many, I’ve got two major projects for this Summer. One is work related, but the other is to go through all the photo’s we took and spend a little time documenting our trip properly with all the events and anecdotes associated with our journey. From underwhelming hotel accommodation and nice surprises to random stuff like finding ‘white power’ visiting cards under our windscreen wiper one merry May morning. Which amused me, but also brought forth the snippet that there was an active community of such people in Boise. The noisy sort who hold marches and suchlike. We missed them all while we were there. They must have been taking the day off is all I can say.

Talking of taking the day off, I’ve just been looking for volunteer opportunities locally to help victims of the Fort McMurray fire. To which I must report I found none in Victoria. At least not online. There are plenty for Syrian refugees, SPCA, Eating Disorders, Invasive Plant Species, Farmers Markets, but none for sending supplies to the afflicted in Alberta. Maybe I’m just too late and all the fuss is over? Or is the well known BC prejudice against Oil Sands production making itself felt yet again? Hmm.

The big potato

That was a bit of a hike across from West Yellowstone to Boise. Across miles of hills, volcanic left overs (I can honestly report that I have been to see the Craters of the Moon) and potato fields. Miles and bloody miles of nothing but potato fields interspersed with the odd ranch. Well, this road trip is an exploration, and what we found in Idaho was mile after mile of potato fields.

Yellowstone by contrast was brilliant. We saw no bears or wolves, but did come across dozens of buffalo grazing by the roadside. Parts of the park were still closed because of snow and the real risk of being attacked and even eaten by a grizzly bear. Let me explain; bears come out of hibernation in the spring, having hibernated through the coldest months, and like anyone who’s had a nice long kip, they tend to wake up very hungry. Which isn’t much fun if Mr Bear is looking out for a little smackerel of something, and today it’s your turn on the menu under ‘dish of the day’.

Notwithstanding, Mrs S and I went “ooh!” and “ah!” at all the Geysers and hot springs, saw Old Faithful spout it’s stuff, went around the visitor centre and ate hot dogs purporting to be made from Bison before wending our directionally challenged way back to our Hotel. On that topic, there was a great deal of spirited discussion about how the hell we’d missed our turning back to the park entrance, and the additional interest of watching a rescue crew go to the aid of a car that had mistaken a river gorge for the road. Then watch in amazement as an ignorant driver tried to shove a stop sign bearing park ranger aside with their vehicle while reading a cell phone screen. A word to anyone out there who texts while driving; you’re a fucking moron whose name we hope to see in the obituary columns, hopefully without taking anyone else with you. That and I hope your insurance company refuses to pay for any damage done. Having seen the antics of drivers peering at their tiny cell phone screens while driving, I’m inclined to observe that texting while driving is worse than driving under the influence of any drug. A relapsing alcoholic is a better insurance risk. A shoot on sight policy may be necessary.

One additional note from recent news reports. About this whole transgender thing and public toilets. Here’s a suggestion; let those self identifying as neither fish nor flesh nor fowl use the disabled toilets. So all those parents fretting about perverts in public loos leering at their offspring can now breathe. I’m also minded to note that those who are male to female TG’s will never truly be biologically female, no matter how good their cosmetic surgery. Their glands will always be intrinsically male, and they can’t have ovaries. Likewise the female to male. Cosmetic surgery can’t give them a functional set of testicles or shrink their Corpus Callosum (Although recent studies have called the sexual dimorphism of this brain structure into doubt). Transgenders are self-disabling, they can neither be defined as male or female, so I would posit that the disabled toilets are where these unfortunately psycho-sexually scrambled individuals belong. Wasn’t that easy? No need for new laws or anything. Besides, there are so few real TG’s proportionately speaking in the population that I’m moved to ask why the hell this is even an issue requiring legislation. Or is this a case of Social Activists making a civil rights mountain out of a molehill? As per bloody usual. I suppose it gives them something to do. Although I wish they’d take up a more socially useful pursuit like building train sets or stamp collecting.

On an associated topic, having spent time in France on more than one occasion and become used to Frances eclectic mixture of public male and female sanitary facilities, I personally am less likely to be startled when Mom suddenly appears behind me while I’m recycling my coffee because junior is afraid to go to the loo on his own. As recently happened in one restaurant facility. I was siphoning the old python and heard the clicking of female heels behind me. Glancing curiously over my shoulder I saw a woman ushering her recalcitrant and protesting little boy towards the mens cubicles. “I’ll be here.” She reassured him. I looked at her with a sympathetic grimace and she graciously apologised for the intrusion. Which was fine. Kids sometimes do have issues when out in public. All you can do is accept any apology with a polite smile and make sure your zipper or fly buttons are properly closed before moving on to the washbasin and hand drier. It’s only good manners.

Above and below the snow line

That was fun, wasn’t it young Bill? All we needed was hail and a hurricane and we’ll have collected the set as far as weather is concerned on this trip. As you can see by the photo below we’ve been up above the snow line, watching the less prepared skid and swerve after powering past us on dry roads lower down. The chap in the picture below for example, was travelling on summer tyres and shortly after Mrs S took this picture shimmied into a left filter lane to let us past when the fog got too much for him.
Snow Joke driving Then he cut in behind us as we caught up with an eighteen wheeler on the downgrade, only to vanish off the road a few minutes later, having already stirred my survival instincts with his mildly erratic steering. Did he lose the road completely or lose his nerve? No idea. All I know is that he was there one second and gone the next. The three pickups and cars behind us showed no signs of alarm, so I assume he swung off into one of the laybys on the other side of the road to catch his breath. The old US-50 through the mountains isn’t a road I’d like to travel in less than totally dry conditions on summer rubber. Anyway, I digress.

A week left. Wow. I keep getting asked by various people about what I, as a Canadian and expat Brit, think about the USA. To which the answer is a big “Don’t know”. Which sounds like a bit of a cop-out and maybe it is, but my sense of scale is still in complete overload. ‘What I think’ is not something I care to distil into a single sentence. I could of course cheat and resort to vague and cheesy adjectives like ‘fantastic’, ‘amazing’ and even ‘awesome’, but these would be highly misleading. The USA is too diverse, too big to sum up in this fashion. From desert to swamp, farmland to forest, from flood plain to salt flat. Oh yes, regarding Bonneville salt flats (Another one ticked off my bucket list), this is what the raceway looked like yesterday.Bonneville salt flats 11th May 2016
The bullet hole riddled black sign (I estimate at least 20 perforations, and another 30 bullet dents) in the lower right of the picture is at the end of the access road. After that the rest of the area, several square miles, are two to six inches deep in water. By the end of the month this water will be gone. Evaporated, just like every year. We didn’t take our sturdy little SUV out on the waterlogged flats, as the fee for getting towed out of the mud and salt should you get stuck, is a cool twelve hundred bucks US. I’m not sure if the towing companies take credit cards either. Anyway, the salt will all have dried out by early June, and the crust will be hard and smooth enough for race week and speed record attempts by the blistering head of mid July and August. I’d like to see that. Fly into Salt Lake, hire a car, park out at the rest area at mile 104 with a big sunshade and my 20×50 binoculars and watch the fun.

Back in time

Well sort of. We’re now only an hour and six days from home base. One hour in time zones and six more days of driving around the good old US of A. National Parks and general meandering around. Yesterday in Colorado Springs however brought a nasty reminder of how things can catch you out, but also an object lesson in using available resources to sort it out.

In short, an old health problem raised its head. My back locked up. A legacy of years of weight training and generally abusing my body with physical exertion. Two muscles, specifically the Quadratus Lumborum that help stabilise the lower back took it into their fibres to spasm and seize up. Now if you know anything about this condition you will understand two things; firstly it is paralysingly, spine gratingly painful. Secondly you cannot bend or straighten, and walking is sheer torture. It’s a show stopper. Even the slightest misalignment of the back when lying or sitting is agony. A bed or chair that is too hard or soft renders you immobile, teeth clenched, and there is no painkiller short of Morphine that will make a dent in the pain. How do I describe it? Like someone has jammed a rusty crowbar in your lumbar vertebrae. Then twisted it. Attempting to move or bend is impossible. Yes, it’s that bad. I’ve suffered from periodic episodes since I was in my late twenties.

There is a trick, however, that works when painkillers or traction will not. All you need is a nice firm ball like one used to play Softball and something to roll it between you and the unlocking pressure points. This will start the ‘unlocking’ process and with a half days rest, will return you to almost full working order. Ideally you’ll need 36 hours of proper rest to let the muscles fully unwind or run the risk of recurrence.

Fortunately I am happy to report that there is an additional short cut. A Shiatsu massage chair like this one. One of those things you find in some malls and service areas. The ones that cost a couple of quid, Dollar or Twoonie to operate when they haven’t been switched off because the mall rats or someone’s messy little four year olds have been hogging them. I spent the best five dollars of my life and fifteen minutes in one yesterday. It hit all the pressure points and reduced my pain from excruciating to mild discomfort. Today I found the pain completely gone and full mobility returned. For five measly bucks. Something my UK doctor would only prescribe painkillers for. Painkillers that took forty eight hours to even begin returning me to normal, yet dulled my other senses and reduced my effectiveness. Yet a toy ball and five bucks in a massage chair did the trick, no chemicals required within twelve hours. Bloody marvellous.

Colorado Springs? Nice place. Very tidy downtown. Recently upgraded with a lot of money being spent on tidying the place up. Quite a few beggars around until the Police patrols hit the streets around 10am, then the crusties evaporate like morning dew. That was yesterday. Today we’ve been up above the snow line, letting our little Subaru strut its stuff in the fog and ice when other vehicles on their summer tyres were slip sliding away. Tonight we’re stopping over in Grand Junction, feeling relieved and quite pain free. Looking forward to the rest of our trip and also planning the next.

What day is it?

Colorado Springs and we’ve been on the road so much I’ve hardly had chance to put fingers to keyboard. We crossed the great plains yesterday, racing a big storm that looked like it was after us personally. To the south and east a huge dark core, at its heart a tornado, on the edges, long fingers of cloud clutching north and west like a dismembered hand still moving inexorably toward a victim. Ghostly grey virga curling tendrils of smoky rain drifted toward the ground from these dark grey bellied monsters. I was driving, and the illusion of parallax made it look like those grasping fingers were hungrily converging with our little tin box, hurtling across the wide rolling expanse of Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado at sixty five miles an hour. Elsewhere it was less fun for those who could not get out of the storms path. Hope their insurance is good.

We’re back in mountain time today prior to cutting across to the national parks via Bonneville salt flats and various other stops. While en route in various hotel lobbies we’re seeing a lot of news reports about the big fire up near Fort McMurray, Alberta, which had burned a lot of peoples homes to the ground and displaced a whole lot more.

There are rumours and informed speculation that the original fires were started by people. Some think careless campers, others have more darkly suggested radical environmentalists. Okay, so no human deaths to date, but for the livelihoods, property and wildlife destroyed still really bad. It’s so bad our photo-op seeking Prime Minister hasn’t put in much of an appearance. Heaven forfend he might get his glossy hairdo all messed up. Me, when we get home in a weeks time I’m off to volunteer what help I can give from the BC end instead of bleating that it’s all to do with the mythical man made climate change like some hideous little tools claim.

One parting shot; if radical environmentalists did set the original fires to shut down the oil sands production for good, then they and their sponsors (Rockefeller, Tides foundations, Sierra Club) should be made responsible for fixing all the damage done. To everyone. Hell, they’ve got the money. They could spend it on something useful for a change.

The heat is on

Or it ain’t half hot Mum. Well it was, honest. Now it’s not.

Charleston at the end of April and Mrs s and I were wilting a bit by the end of the day. We’ve been exploring history on the run up the the US Civil War, which had roots way back in the US Declaration of Independence and the compromises made to bring the plantation owning slave owners in with the rest of those rascally rebels against King George. What we’ve learned is that the actual fighting was simply the hot phase of a conflict over ‘States Rights’ which had been going on for years before a shot was fired. Oh yes, and Fort Sumter is actually a lot smaller than I’d imagined. Somehow I’d expected it to be much bigger for the focus of such a momentous event. Mrs S and I have decided that in two days we’ve barely scratched the surface and are going to grace the Palmetto City with a second visit sometime.

Chattanooga was a bit of an overnighter, and we ended up giving Lookout Mountain a miss because of the weather. So we checked out Nashville for a couple of days. Sunday night we ended up downtown watching such oddities as ‘Pedal bars‘ carrying whooping groups of partiers. We, being of a more sedate years, chose to enjoy our drinks in more peaceful surroundings, and despite our obvious grey hairs, had to show ID before getting alcoholic libations. Apparently it’s state law in Tennessee.

The weather recently hasn’t been our friend, what with the odd passing thunderstorm, but we made the best of it by getting me some new cooking knives (Proper Sabatier’s) and a chef’s apron for when the cooking muse hits. Plugged some holes in our old movie collection with a Bogart compilation and some others we fancied at the moment while it bucketed down in Nashville. Picked up a couple of the more obscure CD’s we’ve had trouble sourcing in BC. Overall, despite downpours, we had a good time. The only downside was our hotel. Advertising itself as three star was a bit of an exaggeration. Two would have been more appropriate. I could go into detail, but I’ve saved that for a rather scathing comment on booking.com.

As for the political news, well there’s a fine howdy-do and no mistake. However, I made my feelings plain on this issue back February 25th based on this story. Is the big C destined to win the Democratic nomination only to get whumped in the real thing by the big T? Will this encourage voters to put their X where their heart tells them, and not where they are scared to by the lamestream? Intriguing…

Anyway, this evening finds us in St Louis on the Illinois side, plotting and planning our visit to the Cahokia Mounds and perhaps one of the local plantations, the day after to the city centre to see the big arch and perhaps visit a few museums.

Today I am…

I wrote this post two days ago, but fell asleep before completion because I was so damn tired. I blame noisy hotel air conditioners waking me up in the wee small hours. Never mind.

Today I am……. Well, er (Cough, splutter, cough) very young indeed and my inner geek has been let out to play. Taking me back to the days when my heroes wore names like Carpenter, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Armstrong and Aldrin. Not for young Bill Sticker the dream of being a mere driver of steaming trains or Omnibuses, my dreams, then and now have always been among the stars, away from the cosy (and sometimes not so comfortable) security of dear old Mother Earth. So this particular little days outing connected a memory trail that almost brought a tear to my cynical old eyes.

For me it was a boyhood dream come true, a day out at Cape Kennedy. Number two on my lifetime bucket list. Rockets, capsules, sound and fury on a beautiful Floridian day. I have touched a rock from another world, sat in a mockup Space Shuttle cockpit and felt how intuitively the controls fell to hand. I’ve had so many pleasurable flashbacks to my less tainted self today that frankly chums, I’ve almost (But not quite) rediscovered my boyhood innocence. Which is a sensation I thought I’d never feel again. For me this almost Proustian sensation brought both joy and melancholy. Joy at feeling what I felt as a boy without the patina of years, melancholy in knowing that certain things will never come to pass for me.

What can I say? Anyway, it amused me at the time, and perhaps that is all we can expect from our little sojourns on this earth. A little gratification, a few smiles and accepting that we are but mortal flesh. I will never be an astronaut, well, unless some bloody miracle occurs and my peculiarly eclectic skill set is the only thing that can save humankind, and I have to be shot into orbit. Nah. I’ve helped raise a new generation who may produce another who will live my dream for me, and that at least makes me smile with a little parental pride.

Anyway, speaking of smiles; this Trump fellow, hasn’t he just upset the Republicans political apple cart? Not only knocking it over, but making apple sauce and pies out of the debris. This with over four hundred delegates still in the wind. So much for #nevertrump and other such online campaigns. Hashtags which seem to be cutting very little ice with grass roots Republicans, and the groundswell seems to show no sign of letting up. I think it’s a blue collar revolution folks. The party elites don’t like it because all their cosy sinecures may just disappear down the plughole. Maybe it’s the future for a new brand of politics, taking power from the hands of the distant and unaccountable. And not before time.

TTFN

Half a bottle of wine later…

…my equanimity is on it’s way to being restored… and we’re in Tallahassee after yet another satnag failure at a critical juncture. For four hundred miles the bloody thing behaves itself impeccably, but ten important minutes from our destination our route gets erased. Wiped. Eradicated. AWOL. Now I was driving and I’m naming no names, but there’s only two of us in the car, and one was supposed to be reading instructions off the screen to the driver. Now I wonder who that could be? Cough, “User error” cough. Bloody thing.

Anyway, I’ve decided to save our destinations as offline bookmarks in future, so a certain person, yes dear, can’t lose our directions because there won’t be any. Directions that is. Just a general set of instructions because whenever there’s a set of road works appear blocking off our plotted route so does a certain persons navigational flexibility and it’s all tears before bedtime.

Fortunately I took the precaution of memorising the directions to our hotel for tonight, and apart from some arse parking a bloody big red bus blocking our turn, I followed the Sticker family motto that I learned from my late mother which goes; “If at first you don’t succeed – cheat.” Well, it works for me. You have to know what the rules are to understand when they can be considered mere guidelines and broken on the rack of experience. Adapt and improvise, that sort of thing. Vocibus nihil mali est? (No harm, no foul, right?) Whatever.

We are here ready for the next hop to Jacksonville, but the launch I wanted to catch has been rescheduled for June, so we’ll be going to Daytona Beach instead. Rule two: always have a fallback option. Anyway, I’ve had the lions share of a bottle of wine so I’m not really bothered. Well, you can’t win ’em all. Time for bed, said Zebedee. It’s been a long day on the road and I’m ready to crash.

Oh yes, if you’re in the USA and need a good low carbohydrate feed, the carnivores among you could do a whole lot worse than visit Dickey’s barbecue pit. They might not have Wi-Fi, but they sure as hell do cook great barbecue meat meals. Tell them Bill sent you, and just watch their faces go blank.

Nighty night.

Après le déluge, nous

Two weeks into our road trip and we’re out of Houston and in New Orleans. The storms have passed and the sky is as clear as if nothing has happened. Our first morning in Houston was another matter. Lightning, thunder and the car park and road outside at least two inches deep in water. All we could do was stand and watch the fireworks, mainly because I didn’t have to drive and didn’t really want to. Road trips are supposed to be fun, right? An adventure at least. So far it has been, but Houston is a business town more than anything else, and although the parks and museum districts are interesting, the rest, well, I’d give it a miss next time round.

After the morning rains passed, we took the bus into the Museum District, only to receive a friendly warning about walking around looking like Canadian tourists from the transit station security people. I can see what they mean, our end of Houston did look a bit worse for wear even after the flooding, and on the way home we had our first real stoner encounter. Talk about a zombiform human. A white guy in his 20’s, buzz cut sandy hair, hollow, hopeless eyes and a shuffling gait. He managed to sneak up close behind Mrs S, but I got her on the bus before he made contact. He was probably harmless, but my beloved certainly isn’t. I probably did him a favour by whisking her away.

New Orleans is a totally different kettle of seafood. It’s a party town, and we spent all nof today wandering around the French Quarter, finding one of the best breakfast spots in town (Camille) and inadvertently wandering into a gay bar for a beer. All of which completely failed to faze either Mrs S or myself. Maybe I’m just getting to old to worry about that shit any more.

I’ve decided I like New Orleans. It’s everything Vegas aspires to be but with attitude. Less of the glitz but more about people. The Big Easy has a history and culture which Vegas lacks, but more than that. At the grass roots it has a real beating heart made up of people. We had more small kindnesses come our way from the locals than in our entire journey so far. Nothing much. Unsolicited directions to great eating and sightseeing experiences. We got a little gentle backsass from certain locals, which we gave right back and got a laugh out of each encounter, which was fun. Even if the local accent is a bit broad, drawly and difficult to understand with all the background noise. Which made us want to return and do the place a little bit more justice than we could in our schedules forty eight hours.

New Orleans is a town not afraid to have some fun at it’s own expense. To be honest, if I was ever forced to walk the streets again, I wouldn’t mind doing it there.