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The Great American Road Trip II - 15 - Hailfire

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 29 2013 · 56 views

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After a good night's sleep we got on the road at noon, rested up and anticipating a drive to Boise. It was 55 degrees and, of course, it was raining. It was not a hard rain, so we were able to make good time. We saw orchards along with semi-arid hills and mountains covered in dust and sagebrush. I forgot how much of Washington was like this.

We stopped on the Yakima outskirts for gas and car snacks, then hit the road again. We crossed the Yakima and the Naches rivers and continued on the highway. We passed many apple orchards as well as warehouses. White barns along the side of the road would advertise "FRUIT - ANTIQUES" and below it "APPLES - CHERRIES - WINE - ASPARAGUS."

The sun finally came out at 1:17 in Grandview - but five minutes later the rains started up again. Vineyards were mixed with orchards, surrounding vast homes. (It's surprising to see these large houses in the middle of nowhere.)

Soon enough we began to climb again, with arid hills to our right and a vast valley to our left, filled with farmland. We saw mounds of basalt, fresh from the mine, as well as bits of the mineral poking through from beneath the hills. (Good thing it's so common, as it's a key ingredient in the production of asphalt.) My dad dubbed the electric lines we passed under "spaghetti spinners."

Rain clouds began to look increasingly more ominous in the distance, but we continued to run into only light amounts in spotty patches. We passed the entrance to an old mine shaft around 2:00. We entered areas reminiscent of the Badlands as we descended towards the Columbia River and entered Oregon.

A little ways into Oregon we stopped at a rest area and read a little about the Oregon Trail in a small outdoor exhibit. It wasn't too much more than we were already aware of but it felt good to move around a bit.

We climbed up a large hill that, in size, was somewhere between a hill and a mountain. We pulled off into a scenic overlook where we could see flat farmland for miles around. After getting pictures we pulled out and continued to climb up as high as the clouds in the distance. Eventually we ran into a cloud, which looked quite like steam coming up off the road.

We were within the Blue Mountains and climbed over in horrid road conditions. The road was rutted and bumpy with a great number of water-filled holes. It was barely raining at this point so we pulled off to visit a place in a national forest where you can still see the ruts from the wagons. Pulling out our umbrellas, we walked along the paved trail and read about the trail's history through the region. Travelers described the area as worse than the Rockies, which was surprising.

Needing some more exercise, we walked the trail again, which turned out to be a bad idea, because the sky immediately darkened and it absolutely burst. As soon as we got into the car, the rain turned to small bits of hail - noisy, but not dangerous.

Unfortunately, we needed to get back onto the highway for ten miles, and the highway conditions were atrocious. The right lane grooves where the trucks travel were filled up with water and made the car hydroplane constantly. The left lane had random lakes in it, which wasn't much better. On top of this, there was a river between the lanes. It was all we could do to navigate the scary miles, but we eventually got to the hotel. While we wanted to get farther on down the road, to either Baker City or to Boise, the reservoir-like conditions of the highway made travel all but impossible.

(The scary thing is that the Oregonians thought nothing of this weather and sped past us going well over the speed limit with no lights on. They hydroplaned but didn't seem to care, which was scary for us. We pulled over to the side of the road a few times to let them pass.)

Now, at a little after 8:00, it's no longer raining, and it looks like it will be a beautiful day tomorrow. We need one of those, I think.

Tomorrow: We travel through Boise to Mountain Home, Idaho, the jumping-off point for the Craters of the Moon National Monument.


The Great American Road Trip II - 14 - Running Down an Interstate

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 29 2013 · 60 views

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At around 9:30 this morning we heard a loud tapping sound outside our fifteenth-floor window. Startled and curious, we opened the curtains to reveal a gigantic seagull which had perched himself on the ledge. We saw a close-up gull yawn as well as a good look at how gulls prune themselves.

It was raining - one of the many themes of our journey - so we left the hotel around 11:00. Our first stop of the day was Vancouver's famous Stanley Park, which would have been a very nice place to spend a day had we had a day to spend and had it not been ridiculously rainy. Due to the conditions we found the notion of parking and walking around horrid, and so we contented ourselves with the many views afforded from the car seats.

The only thing that we thought was worth possibly getting out for was a section of the park that includes a sample of all the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays with appropriate quotes alongside. However, none of our maps designated the location of this area and no one we talked to seemed to know exactly where it is. My mom and I got out at one point to see if we could see something inside a section, but it turned out to be a section with benches and plaques dedicated to members of the Canadian Air Force. We were wet, but not miserably so, so we decided to forget finding the Shakespeare quotes and move on to our next stop of the day.

Our goal: reach Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the minor league Vancouver Canadians, alive.

I'm proud to say that we succeeded - but only barely.

Like many cities, Vancouver has a mess of one-way streets, lanes that people just randomly decide to park in, and nutty bicyclists. However, no one told us that they were going to throw ridiculous amounts of traffic on top of that. It felt like rush hour but it wasn't even lunchtime - I suppose it's just always like that.

A little after noon we arrived at Nat Bailey Stadium, where we gave the folks there the standard introduction of us being minor-league pennant collectors. We ended up talking to their community relations manager, who gave us free pennants and gave us a tour around the ballpark. Our knowledge of baseball history and our previous experiences at stadiums around the country pleasantly surprised him, and he intimated that he gives tours to a lot of people that have little-to-no knowledge about baseball.

The tour took us about an hour but we learned quite a bit about how the Vancouver operation works. Originally a triple-A team, that team skipped town a few years ago to move to Sacramento. Short-season A ball moved in, which is better for the city considering its consistently damp climate. The new management poured a lot of TLC into the old stadium and, while its age shows, it does not have a very run-down feel.

The popularity of baseball in Canada, at all levels, rises and falls with the successes, real or perceived, of the Blue Jays. Little League enrollment was at an all-time high in the 90s when the Jays won the World Series on Joe Carter's famous home run, and has increased within the past year due to the amount of money the Jays have spent to acquire good players. Within British Columbia, baseball has become just as popular as hockey, which was highly surprising to hear.

We left "the Nat" shortly before 1:00 and finally - thankfully - escaped from Vancouver's traffic southbound to the US border. A little after 1:30 we had made it to the border, where there is something called the "duty free shop" - a surprisingly upscale establishment right along the border that has some sort of tax exemption. We bought enough things to burn up our remaining Canadian currency while there, but we nearly didn't go in due to what appeared to be tire shredders blocking the entrance. Fortunately for us this was an incognito vehicle counter and we did not have to get new tires.

Just after 2:00 we re-entered the Uniter States at the northern terminus of Interstate 5. (Our passports made it easier than the debacle of getting back from Toronto two years ago.) We got to new scenery almost immediately, with beautiful yellow bushes in full bloom along the highway as well as more than a little bit of fog. We made good time, but unfortunately that meant we got to the detoured portion of the road due to the recent bridge collapse.

We spent the better part of an hour stuck behind a smelly truck on a two-lane road through Mount Vernon. The main culprit behind our slow speed was an incredibly short stoplight in the middle of town. We crossed over the Skagit River on a very rickety bridge similar to the one that had collapsed, but we made it over sans plunge and within short order found ourselves on I-5 again.

By 4:00 we had arrived at our next destination amid increasing traffic: the city of Everett, home to the Everett Aquasox, which are in the same league as the Canadians. They only had small pennants even thought they advertised large ones, but we bought one anyway. (The folks there seemed nonplussed by the tale of our road trip and, overall, weren't very friendly.)

A little after the pennant chase we got gas and a few tacos (I did not have any but my dad reported mediocrity). The traffic through the middle of Everett is horrendous and we barely got back on I-5. The southbound traffic was not as thick as the near-standstill northbound, but about as soon as we caught sight of the Space Needle, it slowed considerably. We inched our way through the city like a sloth bathed in molasses, but we eventually were able to get into Seattle and parked opposite the Space Needle.

Our trip up into the Needle was quite fast - faster than Toronto's CN tower. They took our pictures (which they then tried to sell to us), but we posed by holding our hands up around Yoder the Duck. We got the most we could have gotten out of the photographer lady: a small grin. Within minutes we were up inside the Needle - which is 50 years old this year - and looking down on the beautiful Seattle skyline and landscape.

The main viewing area is carpeted and includes a small wine bar and a few interactive screens. You can go down a few steps along the outside rim, which leads down to a circular viewing area outside and, while reinforced with steel bars so you can't fall out, affords some great views. We walked all the way around before the wind got us really cold, so we decided to head back down. (We might have stayed for a few minutes longer but there were a couple of shrieking babies in the vicinity.)

On the way down we asked our elevator operator about an interesting greenhouse with what appeared to be a large piece of artwork inside, right next to the Needle. She told us that it was an art gallery for a fellow who does sculptures in glass. Curious, and with some time to kill as the traffic cleared out, we headed on over. Our tickets from the Needle netted us a discount and we spent a number of minutes gazing in wonder at the intricate sculptures. I don't think I can explain it very well, so basically think about thousands of blue glass tentacles sprouting out of a pole that's well over ten feet tall, flared out at the bottom and a little on the top, with glass sea creatures on the bottom. This was one of the more interesting sculptures - until we got to the one in the greenhouse, which we'd seen from the Needle. This one was a vast network of flowers reenforced by steel and anchored into the ceiling by poles and strong, thin threads.

A little before 7:00 we rolled out of the parking lot and had a fairly easy time navigating out of Seattle, which, due to its inhabitants, bay-based geographical location, climate, and unexpectedly steep hills, reminded us a lot of San Francisco. Our route took us directly by Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, but they were playing a game and the parking prices were exorbitant. (The fact that they were playing a game accounted for the amount of southbound traffic we ran into and the relative emptiness of the Space Needle.) We decided that, since we were there, we'd just save some money and order the pennant online upon our return home.

I-90 begins just outside the stadium, so we had the distinct pleasure of being on the beginnings of not one, but two different Interstates in one day. The eastbound traffic was light as we crossed onto and then off of Mercer Island. We soon entered into the Cascade Mountains which featured, near their peaks, wispy clouds. We eventually ran right into a cloud ourselves and had to engage the wipers when the mist hit us.

We then saw flashing lights on a road sign and tuned in to the DOT's AM radio station. We listened and learned that they were going to do some rock blasting along the side of the road from 7:30 to 9:30. We were under the impression that this was not a guarantee - that this was only a possibility - but we rounded a corner near a lake and with moments found ourselves in a dead stop.

No - this was not a dead stop. This was the deadest of stops. The kind of stop where people turn their engines off and get of their cars.

Well, we needed the exercise, so we hopped out and started walking around. My dad and I heard from a group of truckers that we'd be stopped until 9:30, so we planned on a long night. We called the hotel to make sure they knew of our predicament, and they seemed very familiar with the blasting delays along the road. With nothing else to do, we walked along the shoulder about halfway up the line from our car to the first car in line.

We talked with a lady from Boise, who told us about her neck of the woods and told us that Craters of the Moon was "very creepy." (Sounds like our kind of place.) After that, we kept on walking up past some unsavory-looking characters until we got about a half-mile from the car.

At which point, of course, the cars at the front of the line turned their engines on.

Then they began to move.

It was a race against time trying to get back to the car before it was rear-ended as the traffic began to roll. I ran at a pretty good clip without being bothered by the altitude, but we still almost didn't make it. We barely all got in before we had to crank the engine on and put the hammer down to keep up with the truckers who wanted to make up for lost time.

So I suppose I can mark "race to a car that's parked on an Interstate a half-mile away" off my bucket list.

A few minutes before 9:00 we got out of the heart of the Cascades as we traveled into Washington's more arid eastern portion. The terrain was like a prairie that hadn't been stretched out - while significantly flatter than the Cascades they were by no means flat and continued their lumpiness alongside the road.

At 9:13 we got to Ellensberg and pulled into an IHOP for dinner. IHOPs are, of course, not our first choice for food, but given the time of day and the fact that we only wanted something edible, it tasted delicious.

After a very filling meal we waddled back to the car and got to the hotel, where we checked in as my dad told the tale of the I-90 backup with the kind of humorous embellishment only he could come up with.

Tomorrow: We sleep in after a ridiculously long day. We won't stay in Ellensberg another night, but the next leg of the trip won't consist of the kinds of long days we've recently had to endure.


Ode to Dental Floss

Posted by Sumiki , in AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, Life, Other Stuff, Sumiki's Dad May 27 2013 · 63 views

"It's iconic. It's platonic. It's absolutely supersonic. I just love dental floss - don't you?"
-Sumiki's Dad, 2013
Use it for laundry to hold up wet pants
Use it in salad to clear out the plants
Use it with music to help yourself dance
Dental floss.
Use it with Windex to clean your garage
Use it on sidewalks and make a mirage
Use it on muscles to help them massage
Dental floss?
Use it with lawnmowers to hold up the blade
Use it on tonsils with your eggplant maid
Use it with ducklings while in a parade
Dental floss!
Use it on crows to help rip out their eyes
Use it with fire and fuel it with flies
Use in on trash cans for crazy surprise
(Dental floss)
Use it with cacti, rub it on a beard
Use it for bow ties and they'll think you're weird
Use it on chicken when you order it seared
Use it to tickle to make someone goosy
Use it to cut through a large roll of sushi
Use it as a gift to a girl who's named Lucy
... dental floss.

Use it on marmots that wear many girdles
Use it on farm animals; maybe some turtles
Use it to lasso three crazy crepe myrtles
˙ssolℲ lɐʇuǝp
Use it for decor and create a nice wreath
Use it for a nice hamster name Keith
Use it on something that's stuck in your teeth
Dental floss. :)

next time, we write about waffle cones


The Great American Road Trip II - 13 - "Spaghetti on Top of Pasta"

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 27 2013 · 33 views

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Before we left our Kamloops hotel room, we saw what we believe was a marmot which had climbed halfway up a tree. He looked like he was standing guard.

Just a little after 11:00 we left Kamloops for British Columbia via the Yellowhead Highway and Trans-Canada Highway 1. It was surprisingly sunny and the temperature was 14 (57).

After no more than twenty minutes on the road we went up a massive hill at a high altitude. The engine gave it all it could but it sounded as if it was on its last legs. The oil light flashed to the tune of an alarmingly fast dinging sound as the car told us that the oil pressure had dropped. We turned the engine off, thinking that running it further could ruin it. If that was true, then we had no way to get the car back to Kamloops under its own power, so we called OnStar and they ran a diagnostic test on the car. This came back clean, and when we somewhat apprehensively turned the engine on again, all systems were nominal with 74% oil life remaining.

While this scare was possibly a glitch in the system, it likely had to do with the incline at that particular altitude with a comparatively cool engine trying to pull a heavy car. We had no problems - or scares - for the rest of the trip, though we did continue to have trouble getting up the 6-8% grades.

But getting up? Oh, that was the easy part.

You see, Vancouver is at sea level. We had to go down. From about a mile high.


In addition to nearly 20-kilometer-long 6-8% downhill grades, there are scores of unmarked, hard turns, long sections that do not have guardrails (but need them), and of course, the sections which had three lanes of traffic but no lines anywhere.

Eventually we flattened out, guardrails became more common, and the road began to have lines again - but this was after many intense minutes of trying to figure out what was going on and trying our best not to get ourselves killed.

We entered the Nicola Valley which looked kind of like the Napa Valley on steroids - but without the vineyards. We saw snowcapped peaks in the background, which we figured out was part of the Lillooet Range, but we could not figure out if what we were seeing was Skihist Mountain or Breakenridge Mountain.

It was around this point that dad spotted various power lines that had been stretched across the valley, down from one mountain and up another. The trees had been cut out to accommodate the power lines. My dad described this sight as "like spaghetti on top of pasta."

We were not sure what he meant by this, but, as we have learned to do, we just accepted it and moved on with life. After all, our lives were in this man's hands.

Unfortunately, this jocularity did not last very long, as we had many more challenging downhill runs ahead of us, through smaller snowcapped Rockies I like to think of as the "Alp-alachian" range.

(Side note: When there are Canadian road signs, you had better pay attention to them. A great many curves that would be given ample warning in the US would just be there without fanfare for you to deal with while careening down a mountain doing about 130 KPH, braking the entire time in an attempt to keep from making pâté on a conveniently placed concrete barrier. In addition to the hazards listed earlier, this section featured slow-moving trucks in the right lane as well as ample amounts of both potholes and road construction.)

Near 1:00 we saw many signs for a number of roads bearing the names of Shakespearean characters, including Lear, Othello, Iago, Romeo, and Shylock. We also saw a great many round structures that looked a bit like concrete hideouts - I honestly don't have the faintest idea of what those things might be.

We crisscrossed the Coquihalla River and ran into very lush vegetation reminiscent of a rainforest. We had heard that it rained almost constantly in that region, and, appropriately, we encountered some rain as we passed through - rain that stayed with us, in some fashion, all the way to Vancouver.

It was at this point that we entered into the city limits of Hope, at which point the lines on the road ran out again. The Yellowhead Highway had ended and we were once again on Trans-Canada Highway 1 bound for Vancouver. From here on out the road flattened out, but the traffic increased rapidly.

We entered into a valley area with mountains on all sides, reminiscent of the scenery around Salt Lake City. The rain increased as we came nearer towards Vancouver. We saw nurseries and vineyards as we went through the suburb areas of Greendale and Abbottsford. Within a few minutes we had officially entered Vancouver where, at 3:00, the traffic was backed up through many stoplights. Maybe rush hour here is earlier; maybe it's always like this.

After a few harrowing and unexpected lane changes and nearly running over an insane bicyclist who apparently thought it was a good idea to bike between lanes and cut in front of unsuspecting cars, we got to our hotel. We oriented ourselves with a few maps and found out the location of a local place called the American Cheesesteak Company, which we'd seen rather serendipitously on the Canadian TV show "You Gotta Eat Here" while we were in Jasper. Our original local place to eat at, as we learned yesterday, was in a very bad part of town, and the cheesesteaks looked supremely delicious so we decided to go there.

I had a cheesesteak called "The Cowboy," which featured barbecue sauce and custom ranch sauce as well as cheese, incredibly tender meat, and something that looked like french-fried onion rings. (I was able to call dibs on the last bottled tea that they had - apparently tea is catching on here in the land of the Canucks.) The cheesesteaks were as delicious as they had looked on TV.

This place was a little over a mile from our hotel in constant rain, so we got some good exercise going to and from there. I stayed relatively dry underneath a complimentary umbrella from our hotel room, but my lower legs and feet were cold and dripping wet when we got back. While en route back, my dad ducked into a place called "Beard Papa's," which claimed to have the world's best cream puffs. He appreciated the cream puffs, but I was nonplussed with the bite I got and was even more disappointed when I realized that it was a chain with locations in California and Hawaii, for some reason.

We were originally going to go back out and explore Vancouver's famous Stanley Park area, but due to the conditions we opted out of doing so tonight. Instead, we will explore that area tomorrow morning. With our evening freed up to relax after some tough drives, we went upstairs to the 16th floor to a viewing area, where we felt the building sway and got a number of shots of the city.

Vancouver is very environmentally conscious, with many bikers and pedestrians. A good number of roofs feature some sort of greenery, from patches of moss to a full-blown forest. From our room, we can see a street that has everything on it from apartments with doctor's offices inside to schools to grocery stores to businesses. One could live one's entire life and never leave that particular street.

Tomorrow: Stanley Park and a pennant from the Vancouver Canadians before we re-enter the US bound for Seattle.


The Great American Road Trip II - 12 - Grin and Bear It

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 26 2013 · 42 views

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We left the hotel around 10:30 and, after gassing up, headed out on the Yellowhead Highway to Kamloops, BC.

Within thirty minutes we'd had a bear sighting - a momma grizzly and her cub. We pulled off the road and watched them for ten minutes, but the mother did nothing but eat and the cub did nothing but sleep and occasionally poke his head up above the grass to look at us. This sighting made the count eight bear in three days.

Soon after we exited Jasper National Park. Within two minutes we were at the British Columbia border, set our clocks back another hour to Pacific time, and read about the origin of the name "Yellowhead" - originally a name for a mountain pass that was adopted by the highway. Instead of it being an Indian name, it was in fact named after a blonde fur trader. (The more you know.)

Soon after the border crossing we saw some sort of animal - either a wolf or coyote. In any event, it was quite big and trotted alongside the road the opposite way. Just a few minutes after this sighting, we saw - you guessed it - bear #9! He was a grizzly meandering up a hill into the woods beyond.

Nine bear in three days - not bad.

The park's exit features the same kind of scenery as the park's entrance, with majestic Alp-like snowcapped jagged peaks poking out behind the hilly, quasi-Appalachian large hills we were skirting. We passed by a number of large lakes including Yellowhead Lake, where we could see the reflection of an exceptionally large mountain. The clouds that have dogged us recently did not do so to the same extent today as they have in days past, and thus did not obscure the view too much. It did, however, intermittently rain.

After bear, wolf/coyote, deer, and elk sightings, we thought we were bound to see at least one moose before we got out of their habitat due to their apparent abundance. Unfortunately the moose population has been dropping rapidly in recent years due to an increase in predators and a deadly liver disease that has ravaged their numbers. We passed by long, thin, beautiful Moose Lake, but it did not live up to its name as we did not see a single moose.

We stopped at the Mount Robson visitor's center to stretch our legs and get some information on Kamloops and Vancouver. Mount Robson is the highest point in both the Canadian Rockies and in all of Canada, and is within the borders of a provincial park bearing its name. Unfortunately, Robson's height made its peak impossible to see because it jutted into the cloud cover. While there I learned that I am the height of a small one-year-old moose.

The sun came out as we left the provincial park and the temperature rose to 10 (50F). We then continued on the Yellowhead Highway southbound to Kamloops.

(Side note: People here drive like absolute lunatics. Tiny cars would fly past a convoy of two or three double-long trucks on a blind hill or curve - and this was on a two-lane highway. Passing lanes were few and far between, but these sections were the only times that the truckers and campers would actually go fast. One time we saw one guy pass on a hill when we were about to get to a passing lane within five seconds. We pulled off the road every now and then just so we wouldn't have to witness a head-on collision.)

We crisscrossed the Thompson River amid sporadic sprinkles, nutty drivers, and a continually rising temperature. I dozed off somewhere in here and missed a half-hour or so of the action.

We pulled off the road a little after 2:00 to let a few nuts pass us and to stretch our legs. My dad spotted what appeared to be a set of hairballs on the ground and within short order voiced his hypothesis that they were from a bear. We walked around for a bit more before hopping back in the car.

The scenery changed rapidly as we approached Kamloops. The alpine mountains were no longer there and the forested hills had become more lumpy. We saw the remains of a forest fire which had "jumped over" the river and ignited trees on the other side.

A little after 3:00 we entered the Kamloops city limits. The city limits in all of British Columbia seem large, encompassing what would otherwise be separately incorporated suburbs. I suppose that their lack of organized county system makes the need for government at the city level more important. It took us almost a full half-hour to get from the Kamloops outskirts to our hotel.

After getting settled into the hotel and scoping out the laundry situation, our stomaches began to collectively rumble. (Considering that my breakfast consisted of two bites from a scone that my mom had smuggled into the room and my lunch had consisted of a few potato chips that we'd all sporadically munched on throughout the day to stave off the impending hunger, I had a right to be very hungry.) We heard about a place just across the street whose chef had recently competed on a Canadian competitive cooking show.

We went over to eat and I had Pad Thai for the first time in my life. (It was quite good.) We were the first ones to show up for supper and had fun with our waitress. She recommended places to go in Vancouver and enjoyed the Yoder tradition. After dessert of tempura banana, we wiped out the slanted-shaped bowl it came in, placed a clean napkin inside, and placed Yoder on that. It was, for all intents and purposes, Yoder's throne. We turned this decoration into a full-blown spectacle with salt and pepper shakers, slightly used chopsticks, and cream containers.

It's a little after 7:30 here in the middle of British Columbia, and I have a theory that my body has always been on Pacific Time. I actually feel sleepy around a sane bedtime, which is totally abnormal for me even if I'm sick as a dog.

Tomorrow: south to Vancouver. The Canadian portion of the trip is nearly complete.


The Great American Road Trip II - 11 - Loaded for Bear

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 25 2013 · 54 views

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We escaped from our hotel at 9:48 and gassed up soon afterwards. We went along the Bow Valley Parkway north to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. We saw more than we could yesterday as far as scenery went, but there were still too many clouds for a completely clear view. We saw a lot of deer as we traveled the Parkway.

The clouds looked a little more clear so we pulled into the Lake Louise parking lot again to see what we could see. We saw a bit more of the mountain-lake scenery than yesterday, with snow-covered, jagged rocks jutting up out of the sides of the lake through into the clouds above, but we could only catch occasional glimpses of the white peaks. After getting more pictures of the clearer lake area, we went towards Lake Moraine.

This time, the road to the lake was open, and we went along the eight-and-a-half-mile-long winding mountain road up to the lake. There were no guardrails and we could see just how much snow accumulated yesterday which was plowed onto the side of the road. The rain turned to slush and then hard snow as we ascended the mountain and the temperature plummeted to freezing.

It took us fourteen minutes to go these fourteen kilometers, but we arrived safe and sound at Lake Moraine. It was larger and prettier than Lake Louise, and due to its altitude and temperature had completely frozen over. The lake juts up against incredibly tall and jagged mountains and was initially carved by a glacier - hence the geological term "moraine" for the lake. (A "moraine" is consolidated loose matter accumulated in one area by the movement of a glacier.) There was snow everywhere and it was gorgeous, if very cold.

Just after noon we headed back downhill. Rain took over from snow as the temperature climbed to a comparatively tropical 1. Rain and snow switched out as the temperature dipped and rose to and from the freezing point. Fortunately we didn't run into any hail, unlike last year's Black Hills experience.

The drive had taken a toll on our gas tank so we stopped for gas in the village of Lake Louise. We were given a coupon by a very polite Korean man at the gas station for sandwiches at a place across the street called the Javalanche. Their club sandwiches featured red bell peppers and cucumbers, which was rather odd.

We took Alberta Route 93, also called the Icefields Parkway after the Columbia Icefields, northbound to Jasper. The Columbia Icefields are about halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper. The temperature reached a balmy 2 as we saw various scenic waterfalls and passed small glaciers. The precipitation would never stop - it would slow to a meager drizzle but would never quite come to a halt. As the temperature fluctuated, so did the kind of precipitation we got.

Bow Lake, which feeds the Bow River, was frozen over. The sun kept up its efforts to poke through the cloud cover but the clouds always won the battle. As we descended into a valley, the mountains around us had ribbons of snow on top of them - kind of like layers of cake. There'd be snow, rocks, and trees, all in strata all the way up the sheer cliff.

It's really quite hard to describe the scenery along the route. We'd enter down into utterly flat valleys carved out by glaciers past, but we hugged one side of the valley. On the other side of the valley, sheer and jagged mountains erupted from the ground all the way into the ever-lessening cloud clover. Just off the right of the road, however, the mountains were like incredibly large hills, clothed from top to bottom in large evergreens. The juxtaposition of these incredibly disparate pieces of scenery make that part of the drive highly eclectic.

At 2:30 we entered the Columbia Icefields area. We saw the Athabasca Glacier as the sun finally burst through the clouds and we saw the first slice of blue sky since the middle of Saskatchewan.

There is a private company that takes large tour buses up onto the Athabasca Glacier and lets people walk around for a few minutes. This by its very nature was something that we absolutely had to do.

For being something out smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, it was like the Olympics; every nationality was represented. However, almost none of them understood English and, as such, disregarded the bus driver's many warnings not to go out onto unchecked glacial ice as they could fall into a crevasse as deep as the Eiffel Tower is tall and would instantly die.

In addition to walking around on a freakin' glacier - which was in and of itself completely awesome, as it is surrounded on three sides by the trademark snowcapped, jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies - we dipped our hands in frigid, pure glacial water, just now melting after being frozen for thousands of years. The glacier is flowing off from the vast Columbia Icefields, which were just beyond our line of sight up and over the glacier. (The Icefields are so incredibly large that they could pick up the entire city of Vancouver, put in on the Icefields, and still have more than enough room to spare. We did not see them but we got enough of a taste of them after the glacier walk.)

We talked with a Welsh couple who were visiting family in Vancouver as I entertained their precocious 20-month old with Yoder the Duck. He took a liking to the little orange duck and seemed sad when he had to give him back. We also learned more about glaciers than we probably needed to know courtesy of our enthusiastic bus driver, who talked so extensively about glaciers and glacier-related topics that, if his loses his job as an glacier bus driver, he could easily land a gig somewhere as an auctioneer.

At 4:30 we hit the road again and saw more of the strange Rockies/plains/large hills landscape.

A little after 5:00 we saw a massive grizzly bear walking the other direction along the road. While we aren't sure, given its sheer size we think it was a male grizzly. (My parents lived a few years in Alaska before I was born and they both said that it was the largest bear they'd ever seen.)

As we rolled on towards Jasper, the scenery got progressively more gorgeous. The large hills became interspersed with the jagged peaks. Solid white mountains poked out of the occasional spaces between the mountains. The road would go straight for miles and miles, giving scale to the peaks that lay before us. It's hard not to feel small when driving through.

We got plenty of pictures and heard about another bear from some folks at another pullout. Thinking that we were lucky for seeing three bears in two days, we kept on towards Jasper.

At 6:00 sharp we saw a number of cars parked along the side of the road. Pulling off, we saw what they saw: a momma black bear with two cubs that play-fought with each other and climbed up on trees. Tourists would come too close for comfort to the bears, but did not get between the mother and her cubs and thus they did not get eaten. We got tons of pictures as the bears walked into the woods and, having seen six bears (three grizzly, three black) in two days, we felt pretty good about ourselves. Within a few minutes we were in Jasper.

Wanting to continue the scenic drive, we skirted around Jasper and headed up the road towards Patricia and Pyramid Lakes in search of the still-elusive moose. We'd seen six bears when seeing one is uncommon, but we still hadn't seen a moose.

(Side note: Patricia Lake was used during World War II for Operation Habakkuk, which tested the theory of unsinkable ships carved from icebergs. While these ships never actually launched they were tested extensively - as the MythBusters once proved, while the theory has merit on paper, real-life conditions are not conducive to its use in warfare.)

Both lakes were gorgeous and the sky was almost completely clear. We saw a number of mule deer in addition to the lakes, but even though we passed many marshy areas conducive to moose sightings and slowed down in the hopes of catching a glimpse, we still have yet to see a moose.

But don't worry. We'll see moose when we drive the Alaska Highway next year. (To pass the time on the hypothetical drive to Alaska next year, I would tell my parents everything I know about the history of and sights along the highway, then spend the rest listening to the complete works of ABBA and Dire Straits on the iPod. What time remained would be dedicated to making horrible puns.)

After checking into our hotel we went out for some dinner. While driving into the restaurant, we saw about twelve or so large female elk that were either walking near the road or right next to the restaurant, busy stripping off plant leaves. We got up pretty darn close to some - as close as we could to still be safe, but it wasn't all that far away. As we walked to the restaurant, a man came running out and waving his arms at the other tourists, screaming "two bus lengths! If they get scared they'll kill you!"

Strangely enough, this very man ended up being our waiter.

The steaks were excellent but the dessert of maple-walnut ice cream was better than the maple ice cream we first tried (and went back for) last year in Portland.

Pyramid Lake is the furthest north I've ever been and the furthest north we'll go on this journey. (That is, unless we decide to wing it and go up to Alaska.)

Tomorrow: Southbound again to Kamloops in British Columbia.


The Great American Road Trip II - 10 - The Snow Must Go On

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 24 2013 · 48 views

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We slept in a bit more today and headed out at 11:00 in rain. We were going up the Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise northwest of Banff. Instead of trying to go on the fast-paced highway, given the amount of precipitation, we decided to take the Parkway for a smoother, more wildlife-filled ride.

By 11:15 we'd seen an elk eating and walking over large downed branches on the side of a steep hill. We still could not see the tops of the mountains due to the cloud cover and rain, but we were nonetheless still awed by what scenery we could see.

At 11:40 we could see more elk lying down in an open field. All of the trailheads were closed due to the number of bears seen in the area, but even if they were open we still would have opted out of walking on them due to the rain. We kept being fooled by various stumps and rocks in fields, as we kept thinking that they were elk, deer, or moose.

A little after noon we pulled off the road to look at a few signs which told the story of World War I-era Canadian citizens who didn't sign up for duty and were rounded up and put in internment camps during the war. (However, most of those that were rounded up were homeless.) They targeted those of the same nationalities as they were fighting, assuming that those that didn't want to fight were actually enemies.

It was 2 degrees Celsius and snow began to mix in with the rain. The snow increased and the temperature dropped to 0 - freezing - as we shifted to third gear going down hills. By 12:30 rain had taken over again as the temperature had risen to 2 again. We saw a large black wolf trotting in the woods with some lunch flopping around in his mouth.

Then, a little after 12:30, we saw a large female grizzly bear along the side of the road, looking up at the stopped vehicles and finally walking away into the woods. She was a big one.

We reached the end of the Bow Valley Parkway by 12:45 and headed up to the famous Lake Louise area. It was one degree and snowing very hard, coming down thick with large flakes. It dropped to 0 again as we crossed the Continental Divide and soon we found ourselves parked and getting out to see Lake Louise.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The temperature stayed at freezing for the entire time, and the snow that had fallen had melted just enough to make the walk down to Lake Louise slippery and dangerous. The snow was still coming down on top of us, piling on our hoods and backs and soaking through our shoes.

Then we looked out onto majestic Lake Louise and saw a bunch of fog. It was beautiful in its own right but I was too cold to appreciate it very well. We took out the camera underneath my mom's opened coat and got a few good shots. (She really took one for the team.)

We trudged back up the slippery slope and got back into the slightly warmer car. It was still freezing and the snow had compacted itself into ice along the bottom of the windshield. Bits of this ice would be flung off as the windshield wipers went on.

Our next stop was going to be Moraine Lake, but we were stopped by a Mountie with possibly the thickest Canadian accent one can have. (It still wasn't all that thick.) He told us that the snow was too thick up there and it'd take an hour to clear it with the snowplow. Considering that we're in a land used to getting through lots of snow the fact that they decided to close it off said it all. With no other places to stop we decided to go back to Banff via the Parkway in an attempt to see more critters.

We saw more critters - specifically a grizzly cub. He decided to walk along the road for a while until looking right at us as he cut across. After exploring the other side of the road, he presumably didn't know what all the fuss was about and, glad he was not a chicken, he ambled back to the other side of the road and scampered off into the woods.

We saw more mule deer as the temperature rose to 1, but it soon began to snow fully again when the temperature dropped to freezing again. The snow was the predominant precipitation, interspersed with rain when the temperature rose.

More mule deer ate along the side of the road, then soon we saw more elk munching away. As we pulled into Banff we saw more deer along the railroad tracks.

It was almost 3:00 and our breakfast wasn't holding us any longer. We found some free parking and ate a late lunch at Coyote's - which serves southwest-style food, the last thing one would expect in the Canadian Rockies. The meals were good but hardly filling, as I left the establishment with the same hunger headache I had entered with. We headed back to the hotel and lounged around for a bit before heading out for dinner at a famous Banff restaurant called Bumpers.

It was delicious. My dad and I both got some of the most tender prime rib on the face of the planet, complete with loaded baked potatoes and some puny token veggies. Our waitress was from Brisbane, Australia, and we entertained her by playing up on our southernness and drawled on about mint juleps when we saw that they had stuck a sprig of mint in the tea glasses.

(My dad and I ended up getting very, very punchy and decided to badly re-enact Romeo and Juliet with napkins folded around utensils. Also, I was offered a cocktail by the Aussie waitress, who was under the impression that I was twenty.)

Tomorrow: Jasper, Alberta, via the Bow Valley Parkway once again. We'll then walk onto a glacier.

(While I expect our hotel will have Internet, we're out in the middle of nowhere, so there may not be an entry for a few days.)


The Great American Road Trip II - 9 - The Great Canadian Road Trip

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 23 2013 · 42 views

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We got on the road before 10:00 and headed west on Trans-Canadian Highway 1. The first stop of the day was Medicine Hat, which, aside from its strange and awesome name, is the first major city after crossing into Alberta. We saw a donut-shaped cloud and large eastbound trucks - probably the most traffic we've seen on Highway 1 since we got on it in Brandon. We continued the pattern of gaining altitude and plateauing. This became much more pronounced today; we were most definitely in the foothills of the Rockies.

We saw groups of cows angled in the same direction as we drove past - we're not sure if it was in salute of my dad or of Yoder the duck. We passed a great many lakes - we're not sure if all of them have names. There are so many up here it'd only be useful to name the larger ones. Flags, few and far between as they were, flapped every which way but east. The clouds kept rolling around ominously as we headed into the impending onslaught of rain.

Then the rains began. It was not much at first but it continued to increase steadily as the day wore on.

Before 11:30 we were in Alberta and stopped at the visitor's center for information. Alberta is the only province where they sell you their maps instead of saying "eh" a few times and giving them to you. We skipped buying this in favor of a possibly lethal combination of our '96 road atlas and our homicidal GPS we've christened "Hal." Fortunately for us the road did not differ from our expectations.

It wasn't raining when we got out of the visitor's center but within a few minutes back on Highway 1 we got back into steady rain. The rain stopped briefly before we rolled into Medicine Hat for a late brunch at Subway. (The tomatoes may not have been fresh but the pickles were excellent.) We saw something that touts itself as the "world's largest teepee" but is little more than a gigantic steel frame with Indian shields all around as decoration.

After brief road work on the Medicine Hat outskirts it began raining again. After a gas - sorry, petrol - stop, we headed towards Calgary as I played appropriate music on the iPod.

(Side note: Alberta is the first province we've gotten to that has counties. While all states have either counties or county equivalents as a level of government, few provinces have them. The population is so sparse, apparently, that it's not worth setting up an extra level of government and most things are controlled at the provincial level. Alberta, however, has counties, and I think British Columbia does too. We'll see if that's true in a few days.)

The temperature began a steady decline as we rolled towards Calgary. Around this time we saw a wolf dart along the road and various canals to help irrigate the many vast farms along the highway. We saw even more cows standing in our direction as we went past, so we decided on the name "Yoder Salute." I waved the little duck at them as we passed, to which the cows seemed happy enough.

(The only other explanation for this action would be if the cows were about to do a gigantic Harlem Shake, but that's something one would expect more in a Far Side cartoon.)

A little after 3:00 we were in Strathmore and within the half-hour we'd made it to the Calgary city limit.

Three things happened in Calgary that were unexpected. The first was the rain. It absolutely burst as we made our way through the province's largest city. The second was the sheer amount of stoplights, the equivalent of running an Interstate through a city and putting stoplights on it. The third was the traffic, which backed up through multiple intersections. Drivers weaved in and out and no one used their signals. Cars squeezed through nearly nonexistent gaps and ran red lights with nonchalance. Combined with the intensity of the rain we were lucky to not have witnessed or been involved in an accident.

At 4:00 we were towards the other side of Calgary and saw Olympic Park as the rain kept up and the temperature kept falling. It was 5 degrees C (41F) at 4:00 and dropped to 3 (37) by 4:08. The trees and evergreens we saw along the sides of the road were reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada range.

And then it got scary.

We had climbed up far enough for some of the lower clouds to be below us in valleys. The temperature hovered at 1 (34) as half the rain became slushy and the other half was snow. Around this time we began to catch glimpses of the awesome Canadian Rockies jutting up around us, sheer rock faces that began in the shrouded valleys and went all the way up to an equally shrouded sky. Snow was visible not just near the tops of mountains, but weighing down the evergreens and whitening up the sides of the road.

Our concern was that the temperature would drop to 0 and we would lose traction on what would be an icy road, especially around a section with many bridges. Fortunately this did not happen, as the precipitation slowed to a more moderate pace and the temperature warmed to a balmy 2 degrees as we passed Lac Des Arcs.

It was nearly five o'clock as we rolled towards Canmore, the last town before Banff itself. A little before the entrance to Banff National Park it dropped back down to 1 as the rains increased slightly. After paying to get into the park we got to Banff within short order - but not before seeing two herds of majestic elk and a good number of mule deer. A little after 5:00 we got to our hotel.

After lounging in our hotel room for about an hour and a half, we decided it was time to head out and satisfy our ravenous hunger with some famous Alberta beef. Research was attempted but limited, as everywhere we looked seemed absolutely delicious. All we knew when we walked out is that we wanted some Alberta beef.

We could not find the place we were looking for. Bundled up in our parkas, we still got cold after a while and ducked into a small mall where we asked two ladies at a clothing store where the place was. The next thing we know, one of them was drawing fervently on our town map and rapidly described all kinds of restaurants, half of which she said that she'd worked at. (Apparently there's a Greek place somewhere around here whose owner speaks in a thick accent and was described as a "real-life Soup Nazi.")

We thanked them profusely before ducking back out into the cold. After almost getting turned around we found the steak place. I came very close to ordering escargot but ended up getting a steak. (I now know what all the fuss is about when it comes to Alberta beef - as well as why we heard it described as "Canada's Texas." Continuing from that analogy, I suppose that the Yukon is "Canada's Idaho.") Aside from the steaks, the salads and bread both had enough garlic to be delicious and make us stink for a good while to come.

They also had delicious sweet iced tea which had a hint of some sort of strawberry or something? I don't know what it was but I sucked down two glasses and it was good.

It was then that the next adventure began: the search for something to drink. The coffee machines in the lobby were out of coffee so we opted for getting some water at the vending machine near our room. But the vending machine, for some inexplicable reason, spewed out a disgusting drink called a Five Alive which tastes like old, watered-down, carbonated orange juice - except somehow worse. Eventually waters were retrieved from the car which is in a tiny parking garage underneath the building. (Seriously, this thing is so small a bicyclist would have trouble navigating. Getting out is going to take some serious work.)

Tomorrow: We explore Banff more. It's expected to snow tomorrow, actually - hope it doesn't block any views.


The Great American Road Trip II - 8 - Joe, Honey, and Mr. Touchy

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 22 2013 · 51 views

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We left Brandon a little after ten-thirty after a filling breakfast. We were outside of the city - Manitoba's second largest - within no time, and by eleven we were seeing vast, wide-open expanses of sheer nothingness where we could see forever.

Nearly noon, we found ourselves in Saskatchewan (province #2) at their welcome center, where we met two upbeat ladies who showed us interesting pamphlets for and lively descriptions of Saskatchewan attractions. While we did not end up getting to many of the things they showed us, we learned about the province. Their flag is highly interesting and their tourism ad campaign centers around the phrase "hard to spell, easy to draw."

I inquired as to the origin of the name of Diefenbaker Lake, mentioning that it sounded German, and was told that it was named after a former Prime Minister way back when, to which I said "I guess that was back when they had names like Diefenbaker."

Saskatchewan, in addition to its profound rectangularity, has the world's largest Kimberlite fields and is a major source of the world's potash and uranium. It does not follow daylight saving time and thus we moved an hour backwards a province earlier than we had anticipated, which was as welcome as it was unexpected.

A little before 11:30 we pulled into the first bank we saw in Moosomin (pronounced MOOSE-mon), Saskatchewan's first major city after the border crossing, to exchange a hundred dollars into Canadian currency. (Canada, we figured, was too large to get across by credit card alone.) As our luck would have it the exchange rate is at an unprecedented 1-to-1 ratio after days of fluctuation. Hopefully it tilts back in our favor if we have any cash left before we get back to the States.

I forgot just how interesting Canadian currency is, or perhaps I never studied it while in Toronto. One of the bills I got a good look at was purple and had a scene of boys playing hockey on the back. Next to this is an interesting quote which I can't remember at the moment. (All of the bills I looked at were very pretty and interesting to look at. [Sure beats a creepy one-eyed floating pyramid, I know that much. No wonder conspiracy theorists think something's up; no currency could possibly be as dull as ours without some deeper meaning.])

Back on the road, we spotted white smoke in the distance and figured it was a forest fire. About a half-hour later we caught up to where the smoke was and it smelled exquisite, almost like a gigantic hickory-smoke barbecue was going on somewhere up north. This was the deciding factor in not going north to the valley area we'd heard about from the welcome center.

The scenery is beautiful, to be sure, but there comes a point where it gets dull and one begins to notice smaller and smaller details to alleviate the boredom. Between Whitewood and Broadview we began a barely noticeable climb that lasted for most of the province east of Regina. We would never go downhill; we would only plateau for a while before we went uphill again.

(Side note: the Trans-Canada highway is Canada's major and only coast-to-coast highway. It is their equivalent of the US Interstate system. One would think that, being the fastest route from the ports of British Columbia to the major population centers of Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes, there would be traffic, but it is deserted to the point where we wondered why there were two lanes in both directions.)

Signs for cities were three-dimensional and interesting, such as a gigantic G with something inside it (I didn't get a good look) for the town of Grenfell. We passed a number of these tiny towns before we found ourselves, suddenly, in Regina.

We got gas in Regina and attempted to find some distinctly Canadian place to get some late lunch, but most places were slammed even though it was nearly 2:00. We ate Nutter Butters in an attempt to tide us over to Moose Jaw, which is the only major city between Regina and Swift Current.

By 2:30 we had made it to Moose Jaw and a gigantic moose statue at the welcome center. We entertained the ladies at the welcome center and they gave us plenty of information about Moose Jaw.

Back around the turn of the century, Moose Jaw was notorious for its rampant vices. Law enforcement looked the other way as long as gang activity was confined to the thriving red light district. As a vestige of their past, the tunnels underneath the city - which were used as hideouts for bootlegging operations during Prohibition and were used extensively by Al Capone - have been maintained, and themed guided tours run daily.

We heard of these when we had first crossed over the Saskatchewan border but things got more interesting the more we heard about them. It's one of the more distinctive things about Moose Jaw (aside from its many murals randomly placed around downtown) and something that seemed right up our alley, so we went on a tour.

The guides on the tour are entirely in-character - one a 30s showgirl and the other Capone's right-hand man. The both took half of the tour. I must applaud them for staying in-character, as we did all we could to get them to crack up and break character. (The one guy nearly lost it when my dad mentioned deep-frying possums, but he held it together nicely.) During the tour we also received nicknames - I was "Mr. Touchy," my dad was "Joe," and my mom was "honey." While a tad corny, I soon learned to enjoy the banter when they asked questions. (When they asked us where we were going, we told them "the north pole," and when they asked why we told them "because Santa needs a drink too.")

The tour was more informative than simply showing you around telling you what went on, which would have gotten old.

After this we stopped at a local place called the Deja Vu Cafe, which came highly recommended by the Moose Jaw visitor's center and featured on a show called "You Gotta Eat Here," which is the Canadian version of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Their menu featured well over fifty sauces and well over fifty milkshakes. We got six of the most popular sauces for our wings and chicken strips as recommended to us by our waitress (who picked up on our accents right off the bat).

While there, I got the chance to try something I'd been itching to try ever since getting into Canada: a poutine. For those unaware, a poutine is a disgusting-looking side item made by taking french fries, putting a vast amount of cheese on top of them, and then, as if that wasn't enough, pouring hot, sticky gravy over the whole thing. It was somewhat more appetizing than it looked (and tasted better with sauce) but I couldn't eat it all.

A little after 5:30 we were back on the Trans-Canada Highway and got into some different scenery. The eastbound and westbound portions of the highway split off from each other with over a mile between them on occasion. The reason for these splits are unclear but it seems to have to do with farmland and to accommodate some of the region's many small lakes.

We went over a hill and found ourselves looking down into a vast white valley filled with flat sheets of an indeterminate white mineral we later determined was sodium sulfate accumulated from the nine-mile-long, three-mile-wide Lake Chaplin, one of the largest salt lakes on the continent outside of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. (I was first alerted to its mineral content because it smelled atrocious as we drove through.) The same white stuff had accumulated along the banks of the lake and cows did not drink from it. Ducks loved both it and the small briny lakes around it, and we saw them with their heads underwater more often than not as they were searched for shrimp to snack on. Also on the lake was a dirt road on a culver that went all the way across the lake to facilitate transportation without going around the lake.

By 7:00 we were nearing Swift Current and saw tunnels that cut underneath the highway. I assume that these are for farmers and animals to be able to cross the highway without the danger of getting run over, but I'm pretty sure someone could suntan for an hour on most stretches without being in a great amount of danger. (I certainly wouldn't try it, though; my skin is too fair.)

A little after 7:15 we made it to our hotel and got to our room, which is spacious if a little odd-smelling. You can still see a bit of the sun and it's 9:41.

Tomorrow: we trek even further north to Banff National Park in Alberta.


The Great American Road Trip II - 7 - The Greenhouse Effect

Posted by Sumiki , in Life, The Great American Road Trip May 21 2013 · 44 views

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We had a filling breakfast of eggs Benedict far surpassed last night's dinner in terms of flavor. The storm system that had pasted us last night was still in the area, but had moved past far enough for us to make good time west across North Dakota. Our first stop of the day was the geographical center of North America at a town called Rugby. We took US 2 all the way there.

We saw a bunch of red-winged blackbirds. It was raining intermittently and gusted indefinitely. The record rains North Dakota has been getting create impromptu lakes along the sides of the road to the degree that you sometimes feel as if you're still on the Mackinac Bridge. We saw cloud cover low enough to obscure whatever windmill blade happened to be on top.

At 12:30 we stopped at a rest area. A fellow in a red shirt walked by as we used the term "lunch" to describe small bird roadkill in the parking log. My dad then proceeded to tell him about our usage of the word, as well as more recent additions to our dialect such as "snack pack," "dinner party," and "buffet," which all mean different things for different kinds of roadkill. The man said "oh, good to know" and hurried away. As he walked back to his car, we were still looking at literature inside, so I decided to prank him by locking the car until it honked as he walked past.

I think we disturbed him.

At 1:35 we arrived in Rugby and pulled over to see the geographic center. All that was there was a small stone obelisk with a few plaques on it, along with the flags of the US, Canada, and Mexico. We got as many pictures as is was possible to take, as the wind was whipping all around us. My dad and I barely held onto our hats as we staggered back to the car.

We went through downtown Rugby and saw, amongst other things, a water treatment plant. Now, water treatment plants are not usually considered interesting sights, but Rugby is a sleepy town and their only claim to fame is found in its location. The water treatment plant used a bunch of fire hydrants as decoration.

From Rugby we went to the Canadian border via state route 3 and were surprised by the hilliness of the area. It was not mountainous but it was not the sheer flatness that had characterized the state up until Rugby.

A little less than an hour later we got to the Canadian border, but we did not go through customs first. Instead, we went inside the Canadian border at a place called the International Peace Garden. It's the only place where you can drive into and walk around in Canada without the need for going through customs. The border was symbolized with various cool-looking monuments all around the Garden, but we barely saw anyone else there save for a few construction workers renovating the small chapel there. The border ran through the exact center of the building, through the pulpit and organ. We didn't stick around in there for long because of the constant sound of jackhammers. but they had a plethora of cool quotes carved into marble around the sides.

We got a number of dumb pictures goofing off on the border, jumping over it and making faces. My mom was the resident nonplussed designated picture-taker.

There was also a bell tower there and a memorial to the 9/11 victims with a mangled mass of steel and concrete from Ground Zero. Continuing with the theme of international cooperation between the US and Canada, the signs around the memorial emphasized Canada's role in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Before we exited the Peace Garden area we pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot of their interpretive center, next to - of all things - a car with another North Carolina license plate. We found them inside the center's greenhouse. They were a young couple on their own road trip, though not as massive as ours is going to end up being.

The greenhouse houses a large collection of cacti, of all things. Almost every species was present inside the large, humid building, and we found strange specimens ranging from furry towers to spiked melons to vines. It was apparently the private collection of a rich fellow who lived in the southwest and moved to Minot. After the Minot floods a few years back they moved the collection to the Peace Garden. There was only enough room in the center's greenhouse for about a third of the entire collection and the rest is in other greenhouses on the property waiting to be moved into the center's greenhouse when it is expanded.

After talking to the musician at the gift shop for a little while we got back on the road and headed towards Canada. It took a while to get through the border but the customs guy was friendly. (In our discussion with him we learned that Americans commonly attempt to smuggle firearms across the Canadian border.) He checked out our passports and heard him say "eh," which was rather fun.

We crossed into Manitoba and played "O, Canada" as we changed the car's settings to Metric. We had fun trying to figure out the temperature gauge in Celsius and fiddled with it for a while. The road up to Brandon was littered with potholes of all sizes.

En route to Brandon we passed through the small town of Boissevain. The customs guard had told us to "look out for the turtle" as we drove through. The turtle was hard to miss to the the fact that it was 30 feet tall. The rural roads that intersected the highway were rarely, if ever, paved.

At around 5:00 we passed a fun billboard advertising Wendy's Baconator that said "Holy Cow and Pig!" A few minutes later we rolled into Brandon and within short order found the hotel.

We went out to find supper and my dad had a hankering for Mexican food so we pulled into a Qdoba. The girl who checked us out was giving him a hard time for not drinking a beer and intimated that she had connections that would prevent us from getting arrested if he drove drunk.

Now we're back in the hotel trying everything we can to get the internet to speed up to a snail's pace. My mom is walking all over the room to try and get various pages to load on the iPad and I think she's found a spot in a corner that's a bit faster.

Tomorrow: we head westward once again on the Trans-Canadian Highway bound for Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

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He's the lord of all strangeness. - Ignika: Nerd of Life

How awesome is Sumiki on a scale of 1 to 10? - Waffles
42. - Black Six

[He's] the king of wierd, the prince of practicality, the duke of durr! - Daiker

Sumiki is magic. - Cholie

Sumiki says, "Do I creeeeeeep you out?" Yes, he does. - Waffles

Sumiki is a nub. He's cool, but he's still a nub. - Ran Yakumo


"What is a Sumiki?" You may ask. But the answer to that is still unknown, even to the Sumiki itself. - Daiker

Ah, Sumiki. - Electric Turahk




Sumiki is best snickerdoodle. - Takuma Nuva


BZPower = Sumiki + McSmeag + B6. And Hahli Husky. - Vorex


What's a Sumi? Does it taste good? - Janus


I would have thought Sumiki wanted to reincarnate as a farm animal. - Kraggh




Sumiki: the horse_ebooks of bzp - VampireBohrok


Everything relates to Sumiki. No really, everything. - Daiker


He's in worse mental condition than I thought. - Obsessionist


I'm just wondering why I'm looking at some cat dancing ... I suppose the answer would simply be "Sumiki." - Brickeens


I was like a beast, screaming through the mind of Sumiki at the speed of sound. I.. I wasn't strong enough to stop myself. What I saw was the end of infinity, through which one can see the beginning of time, and I will never be the same. - Portalfig


I imagine the 13th Doctor will be rather like Sumiki, at the rate we're going. - rahkshi guurahk


I was quite sure Sumiki had another set of arms stashed somewhere. - Bfahome


Note to future self: don’t try to predict Sumiki, he’s unpredictable. - Voltex


Let's be honest, I would totally have picked my main man Sumiki to lead my goose-stepping night killers anyway. We tight like that, yo. - Xaeraz

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Every week, I post a new "Tuesday Tablescrap", a small MOC not worthy of a topic, but something to post and inspire me to build more.

10/25/11 - Duplo Flower
11/1/11 - Slender Man and Masky
11/8/11 - Bizarre Black Spaceship
11/15/11 - 2001 Monolith

11/22/11 - My Little Slizer 50
11/29/11 - Punching Bag
12/6/11 - Thunder and Escorts
12/13/11 - Three Concepts
12/20/11 - Kaxium Alternate
12/27/11 - None (Christmas Break)

1/3/12 - Daiker
1/10/12 - None
1/17/12 - Volant
1/24/12 - Nidman's Chute Shoop Shop
1/31/12 - None (Brickshelf down)
2/7/12 - None
2/14/12 - Atomic Lime
2/21/12 - Spearhead
2/28/12 - Glatorian Kahi
3/6/12 - Seeker
3/13/12 - Skyscraper
3/20/12 - Microphone
3/27/12 - Toa Vultraz
4/3/12 - Flammenwerferjüngeres
4/10/12 - Umbrella
4/17/12 - Lime Beetle
4/24/12 - Special - Flame Sculpture
5/1/12 - None (BZPower down)
5/8/12 - Purple Ninja
5/15/12 - The Original Sumiki
5/22/12 - 7/24/12 - None
7/31/12 - Tahu
8/7/12 - None (BrickFair)
8/14/12 - Special - Chess Set
8/21/12 - Heavily Armored Wasp
8/28/12 - Spaceship Drill
9/4/12 - Scuba Vehicle
9/11/12 - Orange Guy
9/18/12 - Strange Flying Thing
9/25/12 - Goblet
10/2/12 - None
10/9/12 - Aim .............................. Down
10/16/12 - Gold Bot
10/23/12 - Teal Mech
10/30/12 - Special - Teal Mech (#2)
11/6/12 - Bits and Pieces
11/13/12 - Two Spaceships
11/20/12 - TARDIS Interior
11/27/12 - Christmas Creep
12/4/12 - Toaraga
12/11/12 - Fireplace
12/18/12 - Abstract Duckling
12/25/12 - None (Christmas)
1/1/13 - Black Bot
1/8/13 - 1/22/13 - None
1/29/13 - Handheld Rhotuka Launcher
2/5/13 - 8/6/13 - None
8/13/13 - The Hinklebot
8/20/12 - Special - Post-Apocalyptic Piyufi

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Formerly known as the Bring Back Teal Club, the Unused Colors Society is a club that serves to promote colors that are little-used or discontinued, such as teal, old purple, or metallic blue.




ToM Dracone
-Toa Lhikevikk-
Dirk Strider
Toa Flappy
Lime Paradox
Toa Robert
The X
Dave Strider
Akuna Toa of Sonics
Commander Helios
Popup2: The Camel
~Shadow Kurahk~
~System Of A Down~
Kohrak Kal17
Jackson Lake
Thunder on the Mountain
Ackar's Follower
Bitter Cold
Doc Scratch
Mendicant Bias
Darth Eryzeth
Toa of Vahi
Makuta GigaDon
~Toa Drokonas~
Progenitus Worldsoul
Toa Kuhrii Avohkii
Bohrok Kal
Toa Neya 2011 Edition
~prisma son of dawn~
.: WoLVeRINe :.
Alternate Velika
Schnee 1
Brickeens (again!?)
The Great Forgetter
Thomas the Tank Engine
Jonah Falcon
Oh my miru
Element lord Of Milk.
Lexuk Toa Of Insanity
Michael J. Caboose
knuckles chaotix
The Bean
Lord Kaitan de Storms
Toa of Dancing
Toa Arzaki
The Oncoming Storm
Lego Obsessionist
Toa of Pumpkin
Teal Armada
Toa Zehvor Blackout
Mr. M
Mylo Xyloto
Lord of Ice
Gamzee Makara
Zarayna: The Quiet Light



Vorex: Keeper of Time


Toa of Smooth Jazz



Dual Matrix

rahkshi guurahk
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If you learn one thing in life, learn this:

You should never, ever question why demons would possess a soda.

just a heads up - Cthulhu would probably eradicate mankind before bringing back Bionicle
so yeah, all I'm saying is, please think twice about this okay

nothing gets democracy flowing like erratic capitalizatION

[the NSA] couldn't say no when I offered them an ostrich farm in exchange

Sumiki -- nice try but we all know Toa Mata Nui stuffs its bra




You have a great understanding of history, but don't forget, war, murder and other poor decisions are also huge characteristics.

Also a long line of really great hats.

Shhh, I'm trying to focus on the negative to justify my dislike of history.

have we mentioned hats

To be fair, I am the one responsible for the invention of Mafia in the 1320s by seventeen bored italians locked in a mine shaft.
It's a long story.


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