Trips & Pictures NY to CA, January 1998

The Great Crossing #1

Start (NY) : 90350 miles on the odometer...

(Gettysburg, Dec 21st)

Sunday Dec 28th

Belinda and I boarded the late flight out of San Francisco around 10:15. Belinda was very sick with a cold she had caught recently, but luckily the airplane was pretty empty, so we monopolized some blocks of seats and tried to sleep...

Monday Dec 29th

...but all too soon we were already arriving in Washington, D.C., where it was very very early (3am PST) and very cold. A taxi-cab delivered us to my car, which was covered with a nice coat of snow. We left a note of thanks to my roommate's brother & wife, and we were off (to the supermarket to get sudafed and orange juice for poor Belinda, as well as stock up for the trip). D.C. got skipped due to illness, and down through Virginia we went, to Williamsburg, taking some naps at rest stops as needed.

Williamsburg was interesting, with all of the people dressed up and saying things in colonial english ("GOOD DAY SIR!", etc), and we saw our first northern cardinal in a tree, but the weather sucked. We did find some cool shops that were selling Christmas candy at deep discounts, and further bolstered our food supplies. As the weather deteriorated, we decided that we should head on to my friend Melinda's place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to allow Belinda to get some rest and recover. On the way into North Carolina it started to snow, and we made a stop at the only open Dairy Queen that we encountered on the whole trip home. The soup there was nasty, but the ice cream was cold.

We got lost in Chapel Hill (the first of many occasions of being lost on the trip), but eventually found Melinda's place. Chapel Hill is a college town, and was about as sleepy as Berkeley over Christmas break. We did check out the local pizza parlor, whose special was pineapple, ham, and LOTS of tabasco! Fire!

Tuesday Dec 30th

Got up late to a breakfast of gingerbread, and hit the road! Drove through North Carolina (North Carolina highlights - trees). As we approached the South Carolina border, we were bombarded with ferociously colored billboards advertising "South of the Border." (?!?!?!) The signs saying that they had fireworks lured me off the freeway… Picked up some rockets and roman candles for New Year's eve, and got some pictures with some exotic creatures (what a trap for tired drivers).

(Riding the South Carolina Jackelope)

(South Carolina highlights - fireworks!). Made it to the vicinity of Savannah after dark, and camped out at a Ramada Inn. Belinda was acting too innocent, so I foolishly smeared some toothpaste on her. She proceeded to empty the rest of the tube on me, creating quite a mess. Lesson - don't fight with toothpaste. Or if you do, keep hold of the tube. Doh! We also got to see the awesome movie "Beavis and Butthead in America" for free in the motel room - what a deal!

Savannah, GA : 91835 miles

Wed Dec 31st

Checked out Savannah, which was kind of interesting. Walked along the tourist area by the river, and then drove through town looking for somewhere where we could buy grits, which we had heard was the specialty. Didn't find any, but discovered some pretty depressed parts of town. The main squares in town are very scenic, and there are some really pretty houses, but once you get off the tourist track (i.e. get lost) it gets really ugly.

Finally found a pancake house, where Belinda unfortunately ordered the house specialty, grilled quail, which had to be thawed, resulting in a wait of over an hour. When we were in a hurry. And hungry. Sigh. Finally got out of Savannah, but on a surface road (chosen by me ?) that had way too much traffic and stop lights. Got onto the freeway, and made a blast for Florida... Oh yeah, Georgia highlights - flat, swampy, kinda cool, at least from the freeway. Hit Jacksonville around sunset, kept going and arrived at my sister Shirley's place around 9/10pm. Unloaded the car and made a mess of her place, shot off some South Carolina Fireworks over the Intracoastal Waterway, and crashed.

Thursday Jan 1st

Got up around noon, and headed down to the Everglades to play with the alligators, birds, turtles, and fish. Basked in the warmth of Florida, which was a pleasant change from the cold of the north.

Friday Jan 2nd

Shirley had a root canal early, so we slept in. She was very surprised to find us still asleep, but was more surprised by the fact that we never really got up all day. This was our day to sleep off our jet lag and get less sick (by now I had caught Belinda's cold).

Weekend (Jan 3rd and 4th)

Slept a lot. Shirley was a bit worried that something was wrong with us - "Wow, you two sure sleep a lot." Between naps we went to Shark Valley in the Everglades, where we took a long walk, walked around Shirley's apartment complex for exercise, checked out the beach (which was very rough due to winds, with lots of Portugese Man'O'Wars blown in on the surf). By now Florida was starting to get too hot for us, and we were missing the coolness of the north a bit… (It was much more humid and warm there than usual for the time of year).

Monday Jan 5th & Tuesday Jan 6th

Started Scuba school! At first it looked like we would be the only ones, but after lunch a third person, Peter from Delaware, joined us. We watched videos, ate lunch at the local hamburger shop, got lectured on the material, and went home to read and study (We had to read the whole book by Wed.). Tuesday we started out in the morning with a pool session at a local resort, where we were eyed (and occasionally questioned) by curious residents. We got to try out underwater breathing, and learned to do things like maintain neutral buoyancy, clear out masks, fin pivot, buddy breathing, underwater communication, etc. It was a blast! Afterwards we headed back to the shop (Lighthouse Dive Center, in Pompano Beach), where we had to sit through some more videos, this time about nitrogen dangers and navigation. Another night of studying the Scuba book...

Wednesday Jan 7th & Thursday Jan 8th

We were supposed to do our ocean dives these days, but it was just too windy, and we couldn't go out ? Took our written finals, and passed, and spent the days hanging out. Saw good ol' 007 save the world, ate out at some of the local hangouts, slept a lot (both of us were finally getting over our colds by now, which was good, since one can't dive with a cold, due to the resulting difficulty in clearing ears/sinuses).

Friday Jan 9th & Saturday Jan 10th

(The Dive Crew... Peter, Belinda, Mark, Linda, and Kita the dog, who didn't dive)

We finally got out to the ocean and completed our four ocean dives! The first one was a bit out of control, though… Even though I had my regulator in my mouth and could breathe, the wave action was freaking me out - when I would get hit by a wave I would panic and try to hold my breath... Just wasn't used to having air I could breathe under water! Going down and maintaining the right buoyancy took a little time too - it felt like we were descending forever, and I was wondering how deep we were - but when I looked up, we were just 5 feet below the surface! I had thought that we were going down, when I was really just hanging in one place :P We finally did get down to the bottom, found a sandy spot, and went through our underwater drills, which went fine. After that we went to swim across the reef a little, but the visibility was low and I wasn't paying close enough attention - I suddenly found myself alone! Although my class was apparently right behind me, I couldn't see them. The normal procedure is to wait a minute, look for your buddy, and then meet at the surface if you haven't found them. I, however, didn't have a watch, so I waited for what I estimated to be a minute (probably a few seconds...), and headed up, where I was asked "What on earth went wrong? We saw you the whole time!" OOPS! Ah well, by the second dive things were much better, and on the second day we were getting much more comfortable. Belinda had problems adjusting her ears and sinuses on descents, still, but she took things slowly, and we had a good time. Saturday afternoon we were officially certified!

Over these two days we also checked out the local fondue restaurant, picked up some practical thank-you presents for Shirley (like a lamp, longer phone cord, and new sheets), and repaired the car brakes for the trip back...

Belinda and I decided that we didn't feel comfortable enough with our two days of diving to go anywhere else on our own, so we moved on to take the advanced course (for $200 more, we would get 5 more dives and advanced instruction, which seemed like a good idea, since we had time). So, we had to read another book (in an afternoon), and hit the books, stopping only to take a walk to see the local mansion. We tried to see Titanic, but the local movie complex was sold out. Ended up cooking shrimp creole and playing scattegories.

(Heading out for the night dive)

Sunday Jan 11th

Our dives were split between three dives on Sunday, and two on Monday. Sunday afternoon we went out with a different dive instructor for the first two dives, and then joined Linda for the third later, a night dive. The first dive was a deep dive to the wreck of the Sea Empress, known for its moray eel and (hungry) stingrays. This was a high traffic area - there was another dive boat diving on the wreck, and thus there were two lines tied down to the ship by with the divers were descending. Descent took a while (to 68 feet), but the ship was pretty cool! Apparently it was sunk full of concrete pipe, which (purposefully) spilled out to form lots of area for the artificial reef. We took along a bunch of sardines, and fed the stingrays, which were very big (4-6 feet) but friendly - they would come and nudge up against us. We also fed grunts, who schooled around our hands and accidentally nibbled Belinda's hand. Finally, on the way up, we saw the moray eel poking its head out of one of the pipes - it was huge. We kept our distance.

The second dive was our first dive on our own - everyone went down to the reef together, but then we broke up into pairs. Belinda and I roamed off, I holding the line to the float. Visibility was improving, and we saw some neat fish, but we didn't see the nurse shark that everyone else did, unfortunately.

After the second dive we had a short break until the night dive, in which we consumed cheese and crackers. Then, we were heading out again, with dive lights and glow sticks! I thought that I would be more nervous about night diving, but it wasn't bad at all. Just really, really dark where the lights weren't shining. But, we looked in front of us, and didn't think about the great dark unknown behind... Saw a bunch of puffer (porcupine) fish, a huge trumpetfish, a southern stingray, and lots of bioillumenesence (for which we had to switch off the lights!). Coming back up to the boat was beautiful, with a full moon out and a nice view of the Fort Lauderdale/Miami coast lights.

On the boat ride in, we saw lots of people trying to catch shrimp in the moonlight, using bright lights to attract them. We, however, headed home, to start the car-packing procedure, since we would be leaving right after the two Monday dives.

Monday Jan 12th

Our second-to-last dive was amazing, one of the coolest experiences that I have ever had. We went down to a sunken coast guard tender, the Captain Dan, sitting in deep (110 ft) water. Watching the ship rise up out of the bottom mist was just awesome… Looking up at it from the bottom made me feel like the ship was about to topple on top of us, really weird! Barracuda and schools of fish were all around… This dive was deep enough that nitrogen narcosis might have affected us (at around 100 feet, if you descend too fast, nitrogen can cause a euphoric, giddy reaction). To measure its effect, we had to repeat a drill that we had done on the surface, and compare the times. The drill was unbolting a nut from a bolt, turning around some washers, and bolting it back on. It was a little bit slower on the bottom (50 seconds vs 40 seconds on the surface), but I think that that was more from the water resistance than narcosis. Unfortunately, because of the depth of the dive, our air went at a phenomenal rate, and we could only stay at the wreck for 10 minutes, before we had to head up again. It was really cool, though! Our second dive was shallower, and consisted of practicing underwater navigation. After that we were officially certified as advanced open water divers! We cleared up all the paperwork, headed home to finish packing the car, went out to lunch with Shirley, and then started WEST!

Fort Lauderdale, FL : 92600 miles

(My poor heavily-laden car, in front of Shirley's place)

We drove on highway 75 (Alligator Alley) across southern Florida, and saw over 20 kingfishers perched on the telephone wires along the side. We came to the realization that Florida is BIG, and only made it part way across the panhandle before we got very very sleepy. We stopped at a Super 8 motel around 1 am, to find that the time zone cuts through the middle of Florida, and that we had gained an hour. Cool deal!

Tuesday Jan 13th

We didn't get a very early start and were one of the last out of the road motel, since we were tired from diving and driving. We stopped at a "Waffle House" restaurant, since we were curious about what this chain was like. It was pretty amusing - we got to try grits (which aren't that great, I thought), and had fun trying to figure out the southern accents of the locals. We proceeded to blast through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, driving over and through vast river deltas and marshes, which were interesting (but would have been more so in the sun). It was pouring in New Orleans, so we only stopped briefly (1 hour, which was limited by the fact that we only had an hour's worth of quarters for the parking meter).

New Orleans, LA : 93550 miles

Lots of weird, artsy shops... Would have been cool in sunny weather after a couple of drinks, but not sober and in the pouring rain. We took a detour to drive along the Plantation Road, to visit the Oak Alley Plantation, but luck was not with us. Some of the roads were closed, the car started to act weird (I think one of the spark plugs got wet), the plantation was closed for renovation, it kept raining, and some of the small towns we drove through were really depressed and nasty.

(Roll on Mississippi...)

That, in conjunction with the threatening marshes that were pressing up close to the road and the impending storms (with the potential impending floods) motivated us to jam on to Texas. I drove until Texas, at which point Belinda took over and I went to sleep. I woke up to her being pulled over by a highway patrolman near Houston. Thankfully, he only gave her a warning, and we headed on, albeit much more cautiously. I drove again, through San Antonio, and we ended up in a motel 6 in Kernville, TX around 1am (this seemed to be the common motel arrival time ?).

Wednesday Jan 14th

Drove off from Kernville to Fort Stockton, TX, where we left the main roads (Highway 10) and got onto a small, low-traffic road to Big Bend National Park, which ties the Eastern Sierra Nevada for the most beautiful place that I have ever seen... Imagine vast expanses of dry, mountainous desert... It was different from anything that I had ever seen before, and just stunningly remote and beautiful.

Our first priority was to make it to the ranger station, and find a place to stay for the night. After that we drove up into the Chisos Mountains, which rise 2000 feet over the desert, and are like an island in the desert. Driving up into the Chisos, one notices the climate and vegetation changing, transitioning from dry desert to forest.

The Chisos Mountains...:

(Doesn't this look like the perfect car ad? :)

We wandered around the bowl in the mountains for a while, and then hiked up the Lost Mine Trail towards the peaks. We were standing at an outlook, taking pictures, when a white-tailed deer went dashing down the trail past us. Weird. Why would the deer run towards us? Oh well, we kept going up the trail... and then, some 20 feet in from of us, a mountain lion jumped out of a bush by the side and loped up to the trail ahead of us... WOW! Belinda reflexively let out a scream and turned to run the other way, and I had to tell her to stop, since that would identify us as prey. We did pick up some big rocks, though, and hastily made our way back down the trail. (It took some convincing to get Belinda to let go of that rock later).

We had arranged to stay in a "primitive campsite" near Santa Elena Canyon, so off we drove as it got dark. Our road turned into a very nasty dirt road, reducing our speed drastically. As it was, I still almost missed the turnoff (thank goodness Belinda saw it). We became very nervous as the road deteriorated further - we considered stopping and camping where we were, to ensure that we could get out again. But eventually it flattened out, we found our spot, threw out our tarp and sleeping bags, and went to sleep. It was a beautiful, clear night, and the view of the stars was beautiful. The temperature dropped to freezing, but our bags were more than warm enough, and our first desert camping trip was a success - I can't wait to go camping in the desert again! (although perhaps minus the car...)

Thursday Jan 15th

After a tasty hot chocolate and soup breakfast, we headed back down the dirt road to Santa Elena canyon. We hiked into the canyon, which is very beautiful, and checked out the surprising small, sluggish Rio Grande River. We saw a pair of cardinals on the way in, and a roadrunner on the way out!

Various shots of Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande:

Heading back to the ranger station, we spoke with a ranger, who recommended that we eat lunch in Mexico, so we took the local transportation over the Rio Grande (rowboat - $2 round trip per person), and ate lunch in Santa Elena, Mexico. The town was very small and looked kind of beat, but lunch was very good. I amused myself by taking apart Belinda's binoculars, which she had dropped, and figuring out how to put the prisms together such that the two sides would focus in sync. Pretty fun! Kept me quiet for a couple of hours...

(The "Window", looking down from the Chisos to the desert beyond)

We crossed back to Texas, and drove up to the Chisos for one more hike (to the Window, pictured) - this time we saw a javelina (wild peccary). No bears, though, which is what I wanted to see (not Belinda, though ?). We hiked out as it grew dark, and headed north again, making it to Van Horn on route 10, where we found a hole-in-the-wall motel (~$25) that was quite amusing…

Friday Jan 16th

We left our beautiful (not!) motel room and drove on north into New Mexico, stopping to look at the Guadalupe Mountains, and heading on to Carlsbad Caverns. The Guadalupes are the highest exposed reef in the world, and looked really cool - supposedly there are hidden valleys with woods that are well worth backpacking to (the base is very desert-like), but since we had to meet friends in Las Vegas by Saturday night, we just didn't have the time to explore them... Next time - they look well worth it.

(The Guadalupes off in the distance, from Carlsbad)

We spent several hours hiking through Carlsbad Caverns, which was very different and interesting. The caverns made us think about how weird it would be to be the first person to walk or scuba-dive through an underground area, and what would happen if one became lost… Yipes! We then drove on through New Mexico, including Roswell, which wasn't very interesting except for all the window displays with aliens in them, through Albequerque, across Arizona to Flagstaff, and to the Grand Canyon. New Mexico was very flat (with some snow patches in the north) and fairly boring. Battling sleep and weariness (I was driving, but both of us were having problems staying awake) we made it to the south rim of Grand Canyon around 1am (again!), where we threw our tarp and sleeping bags out on the snow and went to sleep. It got much colder here than Big Bend (surprise! It dropped to the teens), but our bags still did the trick.

Grand Canyon, AZ : 95700 miles

(Sunset in New Mexico, on the road...)

Saturday Jan 17th

We awoke to the sound of ravens croaking around us. I freaked out a bunch of the few other people camping by walking around in shorts (It was well below freezing). We spent the morning and early afternoon hiking in and taking views of the Grand Canyon - the trail was pretty snowy, icy, and muddy at the top, but more manageable lower down. Unfortunately, Belinda developed a blister, so we didn't make it to the bottom. Back to the car, and then farther west!

(Attack of the Blister...)

Driving through New Mexico and Arizona made us keep thinking of the Depeche Mode song, "Route 66"... All of the city names in the song kept jumping out at us on the road... We crossed over Hoover Dam after dark and made it into Vegas, where the car began to make a very sick wheezing noise. We did make it to the Luxor, where we had to track down Cynthia, Damon, and Szu Wei (whom we were meeting) to get the room key before they went to a show. Crashed in the hotel room, while they went out and gambled.

Las Vegas, NV : 96015 miles

Sunday Jan 18th

As the rest of the group slept and recovered from the previous night, Belinda and I got an early start and got the alternator of my car fixed... (after which she kicked over a jug of water in the back... pictured below).

Did the Vegas thing for the day - lunch at the Rio buffet, Star Trek adventure at the Hilton (the highlight for me was waiting in line - the walls were lined with a complete history of all the Star Trek series. Damon scared us by showing us how much of a Trekkie he really is (He knows all of the history!)). After that, we went downtown to have dinner with my brother Ed and his wife Cyndy, who also happened to be in town for the weekend (everyone was there!), and then went out to see Mystere at Treasure Island. After that, it was one more trip to the Hard Rock Café to pick up proceeds from a bet for a friend of Damon's, and then into bed at 2am...

Monday Jan 19th

... only to get up at 5am to take the crew to the airport. Came back from the airport, repacked the car, gave a brief prayer that it wouldn't break down again, and headed off at 6:30am for Berkeley. Drove nearly continuously, and arrived at 3pm, in the rain. First thought on arrival... "get me out of here - let's turn around and drive back..."

Berkeley, CA : 96580 miles

Total miles: 6230

Oh, by the way, this is roughly what my beard looked like by the end of the trip... I shaved it off, but have decided that I liked it much better, and am growing it back now :) Trips & Pictures NY to CA, January 1998