Dave's Travel Journal

A vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking. - Earl Wilson


Castro Valley, California

It's true, we've completed the driving portion of our move to China. We haven't blogged these last two days and I keep getting asked: "Where's today's post?" My readers are very demanding. So here's an attempt to help you get caught up with the latest.

Really, not much has happened.

Pictures

These last couple of days we've spent visiting, eating, laughing, and picture viewing. We are planning a family get-together this weekend and so I'm frantically putting some digital images together. What's a family for but to laugh and look at pictures of the kids?

I've scanned all of our pictures and stored them offline. Now it's just a matter of arranging a few for the family. I hope they wont mind looking at 500 pictures of me.

Massage

We've been cooped up in the car these past 10 days. So mom arranged for us to receive a massage when we got into town. Wow, now THAT was incredible.

Even though it's great to drive across country and see all the sights along the way, I didn't realize just how knotted up we were. Even though we took turns driving across, we couldn't lean back in the passenger seat and take a nap. There was way too much stuff behind the passenger seat. It didn't even recline.

So the massage was an awesome gift. Camille, is a master masseuse and Marly, her havanese, kept me company between treatments. He is absolutely adorable and I tried to hide him in my bag on the way out but I was caught. He is the only dog I've ever held that didn't have a doggie smell. I'm still amazed. He's my kind of dog.

Eating

We love to eat. Who doesn't? We've been eating out quite a bit these days.

Even before we left, our friends Tim & Maite, took us out to Antico, the best pizza place in Atlanta. All pies are cooked in brick wood burning ovens. But, bring your own wine because they have no liquor license. What's a pizza without the vino? (Ruth says I ought to remove this paragraph. She says that it is a anachronistic statement. She's right but, it is my blog after all.)

Since leaving Atlanta, we've been eating at McDs. They make the fastest Big Breakfasts and it only has 700 calories and 1400 grams of sodium. Yummy!

Well, since meeting up with family (Ruth's brother, my uncle, and dad and mom), we've been eating much better.

Packing

We left Atlanta in a flurry so the boxes in the van are just the stuff we wanted to keep but not arranged according to what we'll bring to China. Now I need to re-pack. This is getting old.

We'll keep you posted on the progress. We will fly out this Sunday, the 3rd. There is still a few things we need to do before we head out.

...dave
Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first. - Anonymous

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Paso Robles, California

We arrived in Paso (that's what the locals call it "Paso") and went out to dinner with uncle Richard and aunt Trudy at an Italian restaurant. They know the owner here. (It's a small town where everyone knows your name.)


Next morning we went out to take photos of Trudy's poppies out back. In the process a fly flew into the kitchen. So then Rich went hunting for the invader. Even though Richard searched long and hard, it was Ruth who zapped him.

Then we took a picture of the varmint.

Later that night Ruth won, hands down, at two games of Scrabble.

"I just love this game." she said. She smoked us. She got over 200 points in each game!

 Life's not fair.


Uncle Rich says: "She took advantage of us old folks."

I agree. She zapped us like that fly.

"I just happened to get some good letters, I'm sorry." she apologized.

Tell that to the fly.

I came in last.

I hate this game.

...dave
In the end, the pawn and the king go back into the same box. - Unknown

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Helendale, California

Before we took off for central California to visit my uncle, Brian took us to the largest solar power plant in the world. He works here. The mirrors heat up pipes of oil pumped to a central steam generator that turns turbines for power generation and then sent to "the grid" for purchase.

We also went to Antelope Valley looking for poppies in the state flower, but we were too early to see them bloom.

Brian was so hospitable. He drove us all around for hours but finally we had to say "goodbye" and head up to see my uncle. We are quickly running out of time. We have only a week left before we fly to China. And we have a few things to do yet before we leave.

We should have planned to spend a month touring the states. I regret that now.

Ruth can't believe that after spending years in the contiguous United States that we've never done this before. We will just need to plan another trip after spending a year in China. She has not seen the Grand Canyon. We want to take the Grand Canyon train that will snake us through the valley's vastness and runs out of Williams, Arizona.

In a way we have not done the U.S. tour as we've done our China tours. We like to spend more time in fewer places. Instead we flew through the country only saying a day here and there. Of course, what was foremost in our minds was the stuff in the back of the van. We were really afraid to leave it anywhere for any length of time. It'll be different on a return trip.

Today we'll spend the day with my uncle and aunt, Rich and Trudy.

One great advantage of visiting family is that I eat less McDonald's meals!

...dave
I don't eat escargo. I prefer fast food. - Anon

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Helendale, California

We've been having an enjoyable time with Ruth's brother. He works for a power plant nearby so works four days on and then gets four days off. So we hit it at just the right time. He's got some time off to show us around.

We mostly hung out at his big house in the desert. He's got a big, I mean a huge, no it's gigantic, TV.

 Whoa!

It's a whopping 63 inches across. Did I mention that it's a big TV? Even the weather channel looks amazing on this High Def box. I swear I can see the individual water droplets they show over the southern parts of California. (And who says it never rains in southern California?)

Selfishly I asked Brian if he'd watch my China DVDs. I just wanted to say that I saw my pics on the "Big Screen." Hey, my pictures looked great. Did I mention that this is a huge screen?

After checking out an assembly hall that Brian knew about locally we bought some sushi at a local market and "we wen grind some onolicious eats" (we went to eat some good food).

...dave
The Japanese eat raw fish but the Chinese eat live ones. - Anon

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Oatman, Arizona

Instead of going straight on Highway 40 Ruth wanted to stop off at an old town called Oatman, Arizona. Oatman is an old western town of wooden store fronts, donkeys, and outlaws . . . bank robbers that is. In fact, we witnessed a bank robbery.

But before I tell you that story and before we reached the town, we had to travel Route 66. It's not the high speed highway that 40 is for sure. These were some wiry roads with barbed lookouts that dropped hundreds of feet below. And there ain't no guardrails there neither. Ruth
was driving but I was just hanging on to the door frame, for I was the one closest to the cliff's edge. (I was ridin' shotgun.)

As the wheels skidded around the corners I witnessed rocks tumble down the cliffs. I saw rusted and abandoned cars below of previously unsuccessful travelers and imagined we were going to be the next ones.

We finally made it into the town. We found a hitching post for our 210 horse wagon, smacked the dust from our hats against our Levis, and went a lookin' for a watering hole.

It was a quiet afternoon and we were minding our own business just eating our dogs and fries and sippin' sodas, when all of a sudden some guy with a couple of six shooters walks down Main street. He and his buddy slipped into the local town bank and come out with a sack of money.

Well, they would have gotten off scott free ('cause we weren't gunna say nothin') if it hadn't of been for another black vested fella fixin' to steal the sack from the first robbers. Well, as you can imagine there was a shootout at high noon and two were left layin' on the ground.

When the smoke cleared the fellas got up and went around gathering real money from the rest of us for a local charity. So one way or another they made off with some cash.

After the shootout we talked to one of the local gold prospectors who had a $5,000 gold nugget hung around his neck and carried another $1,400 of gold in his pocket. I'll tell ya, with robbers as prevalent as we saw in this town, a fella like that is liable to get himself killed.

We drove another 2 hours before we reached Ruth's brother's place in Helendale, California. But not before enjoying sweeping vistas of mesas (flat topped mountains) and roadside cacti.

But, other than that, not much has really happened.

...dave
A man with a briefcase can steal millions more than any man with a gun. - Don Henley

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Cross Country

An index to all of our American cross country travels.

We are traveling from Atlanta Georgia to San Francisco California going the southernly route in March of 2011.

We really didn't have a game plan, just a general idea of the direction we wanted to go.

Here is our list of preparations and stops so far:

1/28 Living in a Foreign Country
3/05 Staying in Touch
3/15 Leaving Home
3/15 Laurel, Mississippi
3/16 Houston, Texas
3/17 San Antonio, Texas
3/18 Roswell, New Mexico
3/20 Springervill, Arizona
3/22 Kingman, Arizona
3/23 Oatman, Arizona
3/24 Helendale, California
3/25 Solar Power Plant
3/26 Paso Robles, California
3/29 Castro Valley, California
4/01 Unpacking the van
4/03 Family Reunion

Kingman, Arizona

This part of our journey has been the most beautiful by far.

We took a northern route up to see the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. The clouds, like puffy white cotton balls, dotted the turquoise sky. The taffy ribbon highway laced through the hills and valleys and provided endless vistas of beauty.


There were warnings not to take anything from the park. There is an estimated 1 ton of petrified rock that is illegally taken from the park every month. And each month letters and boxes of returned rock come back. A video showed people getting arrested when the rangers found rocks in their pockets. It's a federal offense to take anything. The video made the point that future generations should be able to enjoy the beauty.


The park even gives out green tattle-tale sheets to each visitor. Some of the questions are: What did you see them take? What kind of car were they driving? How many were traveling with them? Evidently this works because we saw two rangers pull over a van full of normal looking people. They were not speeding so there must have been rocks in their pockets.

But there is some inconsistency here. At the park's entrance is a gift shop of pieces of petrified wood from $2 a piece to one that cost $20,000. Many beautiful pieces are displayed in the shop's windows and display cases. Why were those not left in the park? Why are they for sale? Will future generations be able to enjoy those pieces if they are purchased?

It doesn't make any sense to me.

Oh, and as we left the park the ranger asked: "Did you do any collecting today?"

"No sir." I said.

But I really wanted to say: "Yes, but we only took the really beautiful pieces like those we saw in the gift shop. We left the other pieces for future generations to enjoy."

...dave
Someday we'll look back on this moment and plow into a parked car. - Evan Davis

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Springerville, Arizona

We left late out of Roswell, saying goodbye to our new friends. We are now in Springerville. Arizona. The road is as straight as an arrow and you can see for miles in every direction.

We did stop for a picture in the Valley of Fire. It was weird to see volcano lava in the middle of New Mexico. We are used to seeing it in Hawaii.

Oh, and while at McD's Ruth photographed three genuine cowboys with ice cream cones. She said they were very mannerly and insisted that she order first even though they were first in line.

We also passed huge dish-shaped antennas of a radio telescope in Soccorro, New mexico. They are VLA ( Very Large Array) telescopes of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Very impressive.

We had a ribeye and a prickly pear margarita at Java Blues just across the street from our motel.

Then we crashed.

...dave
An egotist is a person more interested in themselves then in me. - Ambrose Bierce

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Roswell, New Mexico

The Painted Desert looked interesting so we headed north to check it out. On the way, we stopped in Roswell, New Mexico. The place of the UFO museum.

As we travel Ruth often checks the iPhone for best places to stay. We found a Holiday Inn Express, booked the room, and moved our stuff inside.

Since we have a few things loaded in the van we like to keep an eye on it. So I checked from our hotel window and discovered that I couldn't see it. So I went back down and moved it into another parking place. After I shut it off I noticed that I was crooked in the parking stall. I turned the key in the ignition to adjust it but . . . nothing happened. The van was dead.

I tried again, and again, and again. Nothing. No clicking, no sound, no starting. Oh, no, not car problems. No, not this! It was 8:00 p.m.


So we called our road service and discovered that it was not the battery nor the fuses but in fact, it might be the starter. It's Saturday night. Tomorrow is Sunday. No one will be available. What are we going to do? What if we have to tow it?

We decided to sleep on it. Maybe tomorrow the starter would work after a whack of my persuader. I brought my hammer.

But the next morning is was the same. Se we sat in the hotel's breakfast area eating free eggs, rolls, pancakes, juice, and coffee. Since we couldn't drive anywhere, we decided to walk to a meeting nearby. There just happened to be one within walking distance.

While finishing breakfast, the lady that keeps the eating area clean came by to check the tables. After a little chat, Ruth asked her: "Say, you don't happen to know of a good mechanic do you? We are having car problems."

"Sure" Trina said, "my husband."

"Your husband is a mechanic?"

"He can fix anything. I'll call him right now."

Five minutes later she was back. Her husband was coming on a Sunday to fix our van. They live 20 miles away.

Sure enough her husband, Genaro, discovered that the starter was bad. He had it out in 60 minutes. Drove me down to AutoZone where I parted with one hundred and twenty eight dollars for a starter guaranteed for life, and had the new one back in within 30 minutes. The car immediately started. Thanks so much Genaro & Trina!

Meanwhile Ruth walked to the meeting and happened to meet some new friends, Sandy & Jennifer, who have sold everything and are moving to China. What are the chances? They invited us over for dinner and to stay a night in their beautiful home, now for sale. Turns out, Jennifer lived in Kailua, Hawaii, which is the town that Ruth grew up in and the place we lived for 15 years. Now all of this can't simply be a coincidence. Can it?

Oh, and I forgot to tell you. It's a good thing I moved the van to that parking spot under our hotel window. The car that parked in the old spot got a rock through it's window last night and everything inside was stolen.

But yeah, other than that, not much has happened.

...dave
Eliminate your enemies, extend your friendships. - Billboard road sign

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San Antonio, Texas


We are now in Kerrville, Texas. It's on the outskirts of San Antonio and it's famous Riverwalk.

We tried to stay in one of the hotels in San Antonio for the night but they were all filled due to spring break. All of the colleges in the area decided to have the break on the same week. What were they thinking? Didn't they know we were coming through? The place was stuffed with, well, overstuffed tourists in shorts and new sunburns.

We did walk around quite a bit and sat in the shade for a beer and margarita, listening to a jazz pianist and a sax player. While we listened, Ruth must have checked 20 hotels but none had any rooms available.

We finally found a Super 8 about an hour outside the city, which wasn't too bad. Free WIFI, free breakfast, free coffee, a fridge & nuker, cable TV and a king sized bed.

It was the last room available for miles.

...dave
By doing just a little every day, I can gradually let the task completely overwhelm me. - Ashleigh Brilliant

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Houston, Texas


It's been a rather uneventful drive across the country . . . except of course for the 18 wheeler semi tire blow out in front of us at 70 mph. But I'm sure that happens to most people.

We met some new friends in Houston, Texas. It was about an eight hour's drive from Laurel, Mississippi. They were kind enough to put us up in their spare room with adjoining bath but, in addition to that, took us out to a great Italian restaurant. I tried to grab the tab and was wrestling with the waiter on the ground for it when Ruth tapped me on the shoulder and said that perhaps I was going too far. Not. We did have the waiter tossing a coin for who would pay but we lost to that too.

The meal included snapper with stuffed shrimp and pasta.

After the meal I stayed up until 11:30 p.m. comparing notes with our new friend on the best software tools he uses to learn Chinese. He's been at it for over 11 years and even uses a tutor from China. Through Skype he receives 20 classes a month. Wow! Dedication. And I thought I was a serious student.

I had a chance to meet his tutor over Skype and she was great. As we talked she wrote on a big blackboard behind her. To explain the sentences she'd spin around and write the Chinese characters on the board and explain the parts of the sentences to me, often adding parentheses around supplemental words. What a great way to learn.

The Skype class was sent through his fancy networked computer and blasted onto a 42" screen, not a TV monitor mind you, but a 42" computer screen. The images were as sharp as one taken from my Nikkor lens. Wow. This was a setup to envy.

Of course, I was visiting a technical guy that used to work for Bechtel and shared in naming the first home computer, the IBM Personal Computer now called PC, and in designing the tractor that pulls rockets out onto the Houston launch pad.

But yeah, other than that, not much has happened since we left Atlanta.

...dave
Some say the glass is half empty, others say it's half full, but I say: "Are you gonna drink that?"

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Laurel, Mississippi


Just out of Atlanta of about six hours, we stayed with a friend in Laurel, Mississippi. She put us up, or maybe I should say, put up with us. She is a great hostess. It was a rather late notice when we called to ask if we could stay an night with her. In fact, we called the morning of our stay. Not too considerate for sure. We have been so busy with all the preparations of leaving, selling, giving to charity, giving other things to friends, that we just simply didn't give enough attention to where we were headed. We knew we were going to California but didn't know where we'd stop on the way.

I have been down here several times. Once just after Katrina in 2005. The town was hard hit. A friend and myself drove down with some supplies: water, canned goods, gas, etc.

Laurel is a small town that time has forgotten. You'll see old gas stations of the 50s fallen into disuse and corrugated feed supply buildings, and railroad tracks that snake through the town.

There is new development too, a Walmart, a Lowes, and a great all-you-can-eat place, but alas no Starbucks. I'll have to recommend that to the mayor the next time through.

The town still has a few huge oak trees remaining from the storm. Other oaks that used to line the streets are now long gone. They toppled splitting houses in half like an axe splitting wood. Neither the house nor the trees survived.

Anyway, despite the late notice, our friend had arranged dinner for us and she invited some other dear friends too. We all laughed until 10:00 p.m. and then crashed into a warm bed of pastel colors and slept like rag dolls.

It was the next morning when we were backing out of her driveway, waving goodbye, when I heard a loud crunch. I was looking out the rearview mirror on the right side where the driveway spanned a culvert three feet deep but forgot to check the left side. The van frame now sat on her driveway and the wheel dangled into the culvert below. Fortunately, the van has front wheel drive and after unloading the boxes I was able to scrape forward onto the driveway. I loaded the boxes back into the van and said goodbye for the second time.

But other than that, not much has happened.

...dave
Try to relax and enjoy the crisis. - Ashleigh Brilliant

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Leaving Home



We finally leave home (or was once our home of 10 years) on our drive across the country.

Strange to think we will not see this place for a while. Our journey to China has begun.

It took way longer than we imagined to sort through what we can keep and what we have to toss.

Advice: When packing to move to another country fling stuff early. Don't procrastinate selling, giving, tossing, and shredding stuff.

Oh, and clean early.

...dave

Staying in touch

Grandma?
We have decided to do a little traveling across America on our way to the west coast and eventual flight to China.

I'm excited about this adventure. Ruth has never driven across country so I'm excited for her too.

I remember traveling across country with my family in 1972. I was a kid in my early teens.

We traveled in a huge Buick Electra that had a trunk the size of my apartment. Inside the trunk we had everything needed to stay in KOA campgrounds across the states. (Those were the days before axe murders roamed campgrounds. Dad figured it was pretty safe.)

Starting in California our trip took us through the northern states going east and the southern states returning. Somewhere along the way I bought my first state park decal. These decals were a thin film with the title of the place and often a picture or sketch of the famous location. For example I remember the Yosemite decal had a Dome of the Rock picture on it and the words "Yosemite National Park" arched over the top.

The Buick had huge chrome bumpers. (I know, I know, I'm dating myself here.) Dad offered the rear bumper as a place to put the decals as we spanned the states. We could not leave the state without a decal. As soon as we had purchased the decal we'd go out behind the Buick with luke warm water and soak the decal while we determined the best location for it. We followed this little ritual for the entire three week trip. I think we covered nearly 40 states. (I may be making this up. I can't remember exactly how many but it was a lot!)

When we finally arrived home after three weeks on the road, the entire rear bumper was covered. There was no free space anywhere. I think we still have a picture of that bumper in an old family album somewhere. (Note to mom: Hey, if you are reading this, and if you can find and scan the picture, email it to me I'll post it here. I promise to give you full credit for the photo.)

(Photo taken and scanned by Dave's mom.  Wow, is she techie!)

Of course, everyone likes to collect vacation souvenirs. In every souvenir shop I see local shot glasses, tiny spoons, and postcards touting the local sight seeing places. But in the end, you have to put all that stuff somewhere when you return from the trip. But where?

(I think dad secretly liked the decal idea because it didn't require him having to pack more junk into the Buick's trunk.)

I don't see many of these decals in souvenir shops anymore. I don't think you could get them off the modern car's plastic bumpers. As it was, I remember needing to remove some of them from the Buick's chrome bumper with a single edge razor blade.

My modern "decal" or "location recording device" is my travel journal. It's how I stay in touch with the events of travel. Dave Fox also has some excellent suggestions for journaling your vacation while still enjoying the trip. He calls it Globejotting. Check it out. He's got some great ideas.

So, we'll stay in touch and blog a few events here as we travel. Maybe even a sketch or two.

...dave
For travel to be delightful, one must have a good place to leave and return to. - Frederick B. Wilcox

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