Wednesday, August 12, 2009

California, the Golden aka burnt brown state!

I have made it! I arrived to Palo Alto, CA yesterday afternoon after a 13 hour drive from Seattle to California. Before I start talking about Cali, thought I might share a few stories about Seattle. The very first day in Seattle was essentially planned for weeks. My intention was to surprise Laura by picking her up from work which went absolutely perfectly. Although it was tough keeping the surprise hidden from her when she kept asking where Ryan and I were while we were traveling across the northern part of the country. Anyways, Mrs. Chapman mentioned to me that I should take their family car to go pick up Laura. This allowed me to drive all the way up to her gallery in perfect disguise. As I drove up to her at 6pm, she looked absolutely stunned! She wouldn't even get of the car! She signaled for me to get out of the car, which I did, and then she gave me a huge hug! The surprise was totally worth it :)

After a few days of going down to the Pike Pl market and hanging out, my old William and Mary professor (Carey) happened to be in Seattle. Carey, Laura and I had lunch and tea at the market. After lunch, Laura headed back to work and then Carey and I headed to the Stonington Gallery where native american carvings were displayed. The work was incredible! This all took place on my last day in Seattle. Next Stop was Palo Alto, CA!

The 13 hour drive was brutal. Thankfully I had my audiobook playing for nearly the whole time but a few rest stops were necessary. I have only been here for one day but I am already wicked excited to be here for the next four years. The weather is incredible and Casey (my friend whom I am staying with) told me that a few days ago it rained for the first time this summer! For those of you who I call often, you know that I enjoy giving the weather report. Southern, VA has incredible weather but this place takes it all. As soon as I arrived the Corman's grilled out and had a great dinner. As expected, I passed out fairly early in the evening.

Today, we headed into downtown San Francisco! We walked along the water, saw lombard street (see picture) and then headed to At&T park to catch the afternoon Giants Vs. Dodgers baseball game. The baseball park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful stadiums in America. We sat in the upper deck facing the bay. The sun beat down on us for the entire game but it was well worth it. Once back in the suburbs, we threw the baseball around and then headed to dinner in the downtown palo alto area. Casey's sister pointed out to me all of the great Stanford night life spots. I thought Williamsburg had a great restaurant scene but there are even more in Palo Alto. For dessert we went to Fraiche which is a natural frozen yogurt place. You can put anything you want on your frozen yogurt and its absolutely delicious!

I will keep the blog going up to moving into my apartment on campus. After that, its time to start medical school! Stethoscope and white coats will be coming soon!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Next stop Mt. Rainier, and then home for me :(

From GNP we drove west towards Mt. Rainier National Park and I was very surprised at how dry the climate was in western Washington. It was kind of a quiet drive as we both knew that our awesome road trip was coming to an end. Jacob and I headed into Mt. Rainier National Park and had already decided on either Cougar Rock camping area or Sunshine Point. When Jacob asked the park ranger at the gate whether either of these camping areas were full yet she said "Oh, Sunshine Point washed away in 2006." So, needless to say we headed to Cougar Rock. By the way, how does an entire camping area wash away? Where does it go? Mt. Rainier is an active volcano that is prone to mud slides and could erupt at anytime (according to the information on the park map). We headed towards the camping area and it was a beautiful, clear blue sky so we had a great view of Rainier. After picking our campsite we didn't have much time left so we toured the visitor's center and went on a short hike up the mountain. We were graced by a fantastic view of the mountain and its many glaciers. We were also pleased to smell the abundance of wildflowers along the trail. We then headed back to the tent and bought some hot dogs to cook on the campfire. Jacob asked the couple next door for some ketchup. It was an older couple staying in an RV and they had a cat that was so big it needed its own chair to sit in. But, we got the ketchup and were able to enjoy the hot dogs. After dinner we played the Warner-Kuperstock all time card game; Egyptian War. I actually won a game or two for the first time "since 1992".

The next morning we headed to Seattle and to the airport. There was an appropriate amount of fog in the air. We ate breakfast and then Jacob dropped me off at the airport. Have fun at Sequoia National Park Jacob, I had a blast and I will remember our trip always. Good Luck at Stanford School of Medicine!

P.S. After looking at every car we could find the only license plate to elude us was Rhode Island. This is kind of funny but at the very beginning I had told Jacob that it was one we probably wouldn't see. If only Peter Griffin and family had been taking a road trip too... 49 out of 50 ain't bad!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Where are all the Glaciers?

One of my favorite things about this road trip has been seeing all of the incredible signs along the roads as we travel through the US. For example, today on our way to Glacier National Park we saw a sign that said "FANTASTIC! House of Mystery." Now I wasn't a business major, but I consider myself a fairly good salesman (selling all that wrapping paper, candles and preserved caramel popcorn for my elementary school fundraiser not to mention Abby using me as her sales weapon for girl scout cookies) but I wouldn't say that is a very enticing sign. None-the-less it gave Ryan and I a good laugh in the middle of Montana. Just outside of Glacier there was a giant ball and chain. I was tempted to go take a picture with it and then tease my newly married friend Doug that this is now symbolizing his life, but we decided to push on into the park :).

Entering Glacier looks very similar to the Grand Tetons until you are about 5 miles into the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road. After that your driving experience tends to change quite a bit, in addition to your chance of death. The road is directly on the side of the mountain and is even built into the mountain. There aren't tunnels however. Instead the mountain is bored out and your car is quite literally driving underneath the mountain. In the other lane, there isn't a shoulder for protection against driving mistakes, instead there is a 2 foot stone wall (in some places) that protects the car from falling off the side of the mountain. The views however are absolutely spectacular. On the drive you can see all of the beautiful mountains in addition to Jackson Glacier. Logan's Pass is the half-way point of the drive and during this 1/2 mile you can see long horned sheep, mountain goats and other wildlife cruising along the cliff edges.

Once through the park, Ryan and I tried to find a campsite to put up for the night but unfortunately all of the sites were full. We then went out of the park on the east side into the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. We stayed at the St. Mary's lodge where they have Teepee's for rent. As soon as I saw the teepee's Bill Geist's road trip across America came to mind. For those who aren't familiar with Mr. Geist, he is probably my favorite writer. He went on a road trip a few years back and documented the entire trip. He stayed at a hotel that was made entirely of cement teepees! Ryan and I both wanted to stay in a teepee but for over $200 is wasn't worth it nor were any available.

Early the next morning, we got our back country permit and headed towards Poia lake. The trail was covered in horse droppings making for a smelly and insect infested hike. We did get to see some great wildlife though. About 2 hours into the hike we came across a herd of elk. Some of the bucks were huge! They tend to graze in the wildflower fields at Glacier. Besides the landscape, the wildflowers were incredible. Acres and acres of flowers filled the mountain sides! Lake Poia was a small lake with freezing cold water. Ryan attempted to swim in it but couldn't get past his knees. We both went swimming the next day in Lake McDonald which is at a lower elevation with much warmer water (not warm...just warmer). Once out of the back country, Ryan and I set up camp one more time in Glacier, made a camp fire and grilled burgers. It was awesome to cook over an open fire versus my small propane burner. The next morning we woke up early and headed out for Mount Rainier!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Teton Extravagance and the Yellowstone Disappointment

After arriving in the Grand Teton National Park we took a night to plan what we were going to do for the time here. We arrived too late for a campsite so we stayed with Jacob's friend Scott. He suggested a good hike for us to do. After obtaining a permit the next morning we were on our way! We had decided to take two nights out in the Teton backcountry. Our plan was to traverse the paintbrush divide (this may be a part of the continental divide). The first day was very difficult as we hiked about 7 miles and ascended about 4000 vertical feet. We were awestruck the entire time with incredible views and some wildlife. After arriving at the upper paintbrush campsite for the first night we set up the tent and took a nap, both of us were breathing heavy after the slightest exertion. This camping area was picture perfect (just check it out below) and it was at about 9700 ft altitude. There was a glacier pool nearby for us to fill our water bottles. Beautiful, cold water! There was a marmot at the site that Jacob and I named "Stew". This was because we were cooking stew for dinner and he clearly wanted some. He also liked the smells around camp including the "pee spot". A while later we found out there were a lot of them and not just one so all of the marmots were now named Stew.

The second day of hiking was difficult in the morning as we were climbing over the paintbrush divide. We hiked through many patches of snow on the steep slopes and the ranger had recommended that we find walking sticks to help us out which we did and they came in very handy. The view at the top was amazing and Stew was with us all the way. Traveling down the slopes wasn't as demanding but it was hell on the knees and ankles! We travelled down to Solitude lake where we saw a red-tailed hawk that had just caught a fish and he was close enough to us that we could clearly make out the fish in its talons. We went further on to the second camping area called North Cascade. Once again we spotted stew at the campsite. We stayed next to a glacier runoff stream that was perfect for falling asleep next to. We went inside the tent at about 6:30pm after dinner to escape the mosquitos and played cards for a while then went to sleep before the sun was even down. We woke up pretty early and hiked out the third day. The total trip was about 18 miles. We did not see any moose or bears but Stew was there all the time.

Yellowstone -
We took a self-guided tour of Yellowstone the afternoon we returned from the backpacking trip. Jacob and I both determined right away that it was a big disappointment comparted to Teton. We saw some bubbling pools of water and steaming geysers. We saw some bison (no where near as many as at Badlands) and some deer. No bears and no moose. After arriving at the world famous Old Faithful we were thinking that this looks just like Disney World. The parking lot is huge and filled with cars and there are bench seats all around the geyser for the people to watch. There were probably close to 1000 people to watch. And Old Faithful was right on time, we got some pictures and left before the crowd could get to there cars. There was also a lot of construction on the roads in Yellowstone that wasted a lot of time.

By the way the license plate count is up to 48. We found Alaska but we are still missing Rhode Island and Mississippi.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Grand Teton Entrance

We left the badlands this morning at 6am. There was an incredible sunrise and we didn’t even have to camp with the tent fly. The evening temperature was quite perfect for sleeping. After about 90 minutes worth of driving we arrived at Mt. Rushmore. There was a huge line to get into the park but we had great views of the mountain on the road prior to the entrance. To save money we stopped on that road took some great photos and video and then headed onto Crazy Horse where we did the same. Oh I almost forgot! On the way we stopped at Wall Drug where they have pretty much everything and anything for sale. In the back they have a giant jack rabbit (please see picture, a guaranteed laugh). There was also a T-rex in the back that attempted to scare children. Naturally it worked on both of us. After Wall drug we got to Mount Rushmore and then we finally made it to the Grand Tetons. In Wyoming we went through an incredible thunderstorm. It started to hail so hard that 2 or 3 inches ice were plated onto the pavement. Ryan and I both looked at each other in complete awe. They are indeed quite grand. Lots of camping and hiking tomorrow! We won’t have access to a computer for several days so the blog may be a bit quiet.


Driving through South Dakota was a most impressive site. The speed limit is 75 so you can go pretty fast but that is because there isn’t much except huge fields and straight roads. There are signs for Wall Drug Store starting in Iowa and there is a sign at least every couple miles. “Free Ice Water” and “Coffee – 5 cents” are just a couple of the things advertised… I can’t forget the T-rex or the six-foot tall jackrabbit. South Dakotah has become one of Jacob and my own favorite states to drive through… very beautiful. Once we got to the Badlands National Park and saw the badlands we were amazed. It was a strange and awesome landscape. We entered the park and drove the park road that winds through the badlands. Then we took a dirt road to the Sage Creek Campground which was advertised as a primitive camping area where there is no water and bison are likely to roam through the campsite. After driving about 12 miles down the dirt road we hadn’t seen a single bison anywhere and Jacob said “I’m thinking we won’t see any bison.” Then we turned a corner and I was surprised to see a bison standing on the side of the road. We took some pictures thinking that might be the only one we see. Then we went on to the campsite. When we arrived we were amazed to see that there was a whole herd grazing next to the campsite. We were so excited we parked the car and jumped out to get a closer look. Then the bison started moving closer to the cars and tents and walked right through the camping area! The picture you see includes Jacob's car and our tent. At the time we were on a hike on the ridge above the camp site.

Then we wanted to go on a hike. We put on our hiking boots and headed out into the backcountry. We were following a “buffalo trail” and came upon another buffalo who didn’t want to move so we went around him in a very wide berth.On another note, there were quite literally thousands of grasshoppers. As you walked almost anywhere, you would get pelted by them. In some cases it looked as if the ground was moving. Anyways, we kept moving down the trail. We were coming up to another herd of bison and were watching them watch us. After a couple minutes we saw why. There was a baby lying down in the grass and it took a while for us to figure out what it was. The bison were watching us because they thought we were getting too close to their baby! They started getting agitated and moving closer to us even though were probably a couple hundred feet away from them. That was enough to scare us and we high-tailed it out of there. As we hadn’t gotten very far from the campsite we decided to try to hike through a different area that didn’t have any agitated bison. We decided to hike up to the top of a ridge and were amazed that there were so many buffalo trails everywhere, even on the steepest of slopes. From the top we saw a huge herd of bison we wanted to go look at. They were back in the direction we had just run from but by now the agitated herd had moved on (through the campsite just like the others). We turned around and headed back that way and walked through a field with prairie dogs and their holes. They were keeping watch and chirping when we got too close for their comfort. Then they would pop down into their hole and another would start chirping. We hiked to the top of another ridge and had a good view of the huge herd we had seen earlier. They are so noisy you can hear them for miles. On the way back we found a fossil next to a dried up creek. Jacob got a picture; unfortunately there was a sign back at the campsite that said we could not remove fossils from the park. It looked like a clam’s shell, about 10 inches wide. Then we headed back to the camp for dinner. Then we played “Mad Libs” and went to bed before it was even dark. Another early rise tomorrow morning!

Because driving through IOWA deserves its own blog post….

Driving through western Illinois and Iowa was quite the experience. We saw many things including President Ulysses S. Grant’s home in Galena, IL. Just outside of Galena we saw a hilarious advertisement for a local store. The store name was “Poopsies” and just above the directions was the saying “Where the hell did you find that?” haha We also entered into a town by the name of Lena. Lena is a great town with large signs saying, “Welcome to Lena,” and “Visit Lena ” (we followed the sign but couldn’t find you Lena, where were you? Haha (for non-family readers, Lena is Ryan’s wife). There really isn’t too much to western Illinois and Iowa. There are rolling hills and incredible views. As Ryan and I came over one of the ridges we could see for miles. My favorite quote of the evening was “Wow Ryan, look at that view.” Without hesitation Ryan responded, “Whoa, man that’s a lot of corn!” We then attempted to name all of the foods and products that are made out of corn….After about four hours of driving we reached our break point, Dyersville, IA. I have to credit Meredith Cooney with mentioning this to me my freshman year of college, but Dyersville, IA is the home of the Field of Dreams. Yes, the actual farm and field where Kevin Kosner filmed his movie. We drove along the exact road that you see at the end with all of the cars lining up to visit the farm (guaranteed all of those cars were the locals). As you approach the farm you see the small white house and then just to the left is the field. We arrived at the farm around 8pm as the sun was setting. It was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sites I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing. However, we arrived only to see closed gates and their hours of operation, but that wasn’t going to stop us! We quickly hopped the gate and got onto the field. Appropriately, they leave a few gloves and baseballs on the field at all times, in case shoeless Joe wants to play catch. I got behind the plate, and viewed the field from the catcher’s position. I miss baseball, but just like Archie Graham it’s my turn to be a doctor. After being on the infield, it was time to get out into the outfield. Ryan and I each took turns walking into the corn. It’s actually a pretty eerie experience, especially at dusk. An interesting note, while the infield is a 90ft diamond, the outfield is very short-maybe 275. As we left the field Ryan said the following, “Dyersville, these people are in “Dyer” need of something to do.” Yahaha After that it was 4 ½ hours to Sioux City, IA where we spent the night along the Missouri (or the Mizzzurrruhh as Ryan calls it) River. Thanks for the hotel mom!