Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Route Back

So we've been in LA for a few days now and we've sorted out a way back to Wisconsin. We were considering taking driving Route 66, but then we'd be passing up the opportunity to see more of the country. So here's the way we're going back:

Day 1: LA to Boulder City, Nevada (262 miles)
Day 2: Boulder City to Cedar City, Utah (197 miles)
Day 3: Cedar City to Arches National Park (297 miles)
Day 4: Arches National Park to Denver (354 miles)
Day 5: Denver to Gothenburg (300 miles)
Day 6: Gothenburg to Omaha (241 miles)
Day 7: Omaha to Rock Island (308 miles)
Day 8: Rock Island to Lake Geneva (170 miles)

We'll be camping all the way, seeing the Las Vegas Strip, Zion National Park and the Rocky Mountains, among other things. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Me, Jumping in a Variety of Places.

Gateway Arch, Saint Louis, Missouri

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Honolulu Airport, Hawaii

Venice Beach, California
Ever since seeing a group of Chinese students jump for a photo in Tienanmen Square, I've thought it was a great way to improve on the standard 'Here I am in front of x' tourist photo. If your camera has a 'rapid fire' mode have someone give you a countdown and fire off a bunch of shots while you spring into the air. Not only does the sequence look cool, it's easier than trying to get the one shot at the height of the leap.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Long Photos from a Long Drive

Here are three panoramas of my three favourite places that we stopped at during our week-long drive along Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois  to Los Angeles, California.
 Here is Buckingham Fountain in front of the Chicago skyline. It was a bit of chilly day, but not as bad as it can get. In the winter there's a wind the locals call 'the Hawk'. Apparently it can be quite biting. 
Here's a small part of the Painted Desert in Arizona. Nothing quite like it in Europe. For a while I just sat up on a cliff overlooking the hills, listening to the wind. 
The Grand Canyon. 277 miles long, 18 miles wide in places and over a mile deep. Go there, stand as close to the edge you dare to and stare out in wonder at this 17 million year old marvel. Just don't feed the wildlife.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lake Geneva, WI

We flew out of LA last Saturday and into Wisconsin. I had another 'Wow, America is HUGE!' moment flying in over Lake Michigan. Even from 30,000 feet I couldn't see all the way across it. On a good day, you can stand on the white cliffs of Dover and see France. I don't think this would be the case for standing in Chicago and trying to spot whatever lies beyond that expanse of water.
Courtney's mum picked us up at the airport and had with her The Cooler. Courtney told me about The Cooler. A great Dicmas tradition, The Cooler is always filled with yummy snacks to welcome home the weary traveller. In this case, it was us. We were treated to prawn cocktail, cheese and crackers, tiny grapes and pineapple juice. 
 On Sunday I was taken to the Walworth County Show. It's an agricultural show that I'm assured is a very Wisconsin experience. We watched the Draft horse competition, ate some very greasy food, petted some fuzzy farmyard animals and admired the huge pumpkins.
 'Unicorn' formation of three horses
Big pumpkin.

Later in the week we were taken on a boat ride on Lake Geneva itself. Courtney's dad works on the boats that do the cruises. We took the tour on an old steamboat called 'The Louise':

The tour took us around the lake, close to the shore. The main attraction is the plethora of mansions that line the lake shore. The Wrigley family (Wrigley Gum) have several summer homes there on Lake Geneva, some of which are very impressive indeed. Later in the week Courtney and I walked the 20.6 miles across the lake. The shore side path actually cuts across the property of all the shore side houses, so we got a pretty good view of the houses, despite our main interest being the lake itself. After the 20.6 miles we were hobbling along, our hips hurting more than anything else, but after a good nights sleep we felt fine. 
This weekend we went off the the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota. It was a six hour drive there ad served as a test run for the route 66 road trip. The main aim of the trip was for Courtney to renew her drivers licence. We got that done within 20 minutes of the DMV opening. The rest of the day was spent wandering around Courtney's old haunts as her university is in St. Paul. We walked down to the Mississippi, which divides the twin cities, had some great coffee, some not so great coffee and wandered around a sculpture park. 

  Us feeling adventurous by the Mississippi
Claus Oldenberg in the Walker Sculpture Gardens
Now we're back in Lake Geneva and we're putting together the final pieces for the road trip. We've got a GPS, a tent, some sleeping bags and an air mattress. We have places to stay along the way; a mix of camp sites and couches. We still need to sort out food for the trip, but that's about it. More about it later.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Short Hike in the San Gabriels

Courtney and I went for a hike up in the San Gabriel mountains near her sister's home in Arcadia. We packed some snacks, plenty of water and lathered ourselves in sun block. It was a short drive to the start of the mountain road, which is itself a fantastically winding and scenic route. We parked the car near the pack station and headed off uphill.
We didn't know any of the trails but figured that they would be clearly marked so not having a map wouldn't be an issue. At the start of our ascent we passed a small gaggle of Koreans. Easily identified by their twin carbon-fibre hiking poles, belt bags, rucksacks and clothing made from ultra modern materials. Courtney seemed quite thrilled to see them. I however was happy to be away from the winy vowel sounds of Hangul. Still, Courtney shouted out a cheery 'Anyeonghaseyo' (Be at peace) which was warmly received. We sped past them and entered the quiet shade of the mountain side. The trail itself was an evenly tarmacked path, smelling of sweet vanilla thanks to the abundance of Ponderosa pines. As we headed up trail, we sent sleepy lizards sunning themselves scuttling off into the leafy verges.
We came to a fork in the road just as the Koreans behind us caught up. I decided that whichever route they weren't taking looked the best. As it happens the Koreans took the steeper, rockier route, leaving us with the gently sloping paved road on which to explore the mountain.
The warm, still air was perfect for the swarms of insects that were adamant on seeking refuge up our nostrils or in our ears. We quickly learnt that stopping to admire the view gave them ample time to get to know us a little better than we liked. Still, the sights and smells of the mountain made the bugs a tolerable nuisance.
A little further up the path we came across some mountain lion scat. Fortunately, it was very old and dry, filled with the fur of whatever it had eaten last (good to see that it was eating well). Mountain lions tend to poop in open areas like the middle of paths as a way of marking their territory. The reminder that their was a large predator in the area put us a little on edge. I know that mountain lions are nocturnal and avoid human contact, but being from a country whose largest predator is the almost blind badger, it was a potent reminder of my potential position in the food chain.
The rest of our walk was uneventful with regards to large predatory mammals. What did drive us off the mountain happened to be the swarms of insects. On our descent we passed a couple of people who were obviously regular visitors to the range. The clue; overhead mosquito nets. Smart move.
We drove down the mountain road listening to Jack Johnson telling us to slow down. Not bad advise for such a high and winding road. Just as we exited the park we had our closest encounter with a large native mammal: a trio of mule deer. We spied them happily hopping across the road, munching on the cultivated roadside plant life. From our seats in the car, one passed within three meters of us. I managed to snap away oblivious to them until a car came around the bend behind us and we had to move on.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Bed With a Mantis

Our apartment in Korea had no air conditioning and the nights would get pretty warm. We could get a breeze moving through the apartment, but the air in the bedroom always remained quite still. Even with the fan running, the bedroom felt warmer than the rest of the apartment. So in an attempt to get a better night's sleep, we dragged our mattress out into the living room. We'd spent a couple of nights with our little living room 'fort' when one night, we had an unexpected visitor.
Courtney was, as usual, getting chewed on by the local mosquito population (my monkey-like hair protecting me from the worst of it). To quell the itching she rose from the bed during the night to apply some anti-itch cream. On her return, she was flattening out the the sheets in the dark when her hand ran over something unfamiliar. She picked in up, running her fingers over it in the darkness, unable to figure out what it was. It felt like a straw, but spongy to the touch. Then it moved.
Putting it down, Courtney turned on the light. This is what she saw:
A praying mantis. Courtney had a minor freak-out. It had nipped her a couple of times during the night, giving her a large welt on her forearm. I reassured her that the praying mantis is essentially harmless to us. No poisonous stinger, no venomous bite. After some research of her own, Courtney felt bad for manhandling what is a symbol of courage and fearlessness in China, a totem for stillness and contemplation and is said to visit those who need peace, quiet and stillness in their life.
Here are some quick facts about praying mantises:
  •  They've been around since the Cretaceous period (145 - 65 million years ago).
  • Despite their looks, they are more closely related to termites and cockroaches than stick insects or grasshoppers. 
  • They are exclusively predatory, using their spiked forelegs to grasp and hold prey, eating mainly insects but also anything small enough for them to catch.
  • The female is known to devour the male during mating. The reasons are unclear but Wikipedia suggests that cannibalized males enjoy a longer copulation, increasing the chance of fertilization.
For those of you that are wondering, the praying mantis that visited us survived the encounter. It was removed unceremoniously out the window in a small Tupperware container.