Monday, August 6, 2007

Home Sweet Home...Kinda

Well, I made it back to good ole Illinois. I was welcomed by a big slap in the face from a guy named humidity. Holy cow, I forgot how awful it really is. I sweat more today unloading my truck than I did the whole two months I was gone put together. I'm settled in now, and it feels like I never left. Again, very bittersweet.

Last Monday I left Banff and headed south through Alberta and then Montana. I was a little nervous coming across the border since I didn't have proof of birth. I managed to answer their questions well enough to satisfy them and I drove through with no problems. Finally, back to the land of cheap gas prices...compared to Canada. I was paying $4.50/gallon while I was there, $3.00 never looked so good. I drove until I got to Billings, about the only good sized town I saw. I was going to try and locate a campground before it got dark. I stopped at a gas station and got directions to the KOA, it wasn't far...if you go in the right direction. The woman told me to go the wrong way on the interstate. Luckily I was going in the direction I needed to go anyway. I figured I would just drive to the next town and set up a tent in the dark. I forgot about the fuel problem I had and where I was. My fuel light comes on and I realize my next stop isn't for another 40-50 miles. I figured I'd be ok, but I have to say, I was a little nervous. It is pitch black and there is nothing out there, no towns and very little traffic. I made it though, and ended up in town called Hardin, MT.

First thing was to obviously get gas and then go find a camp. I gassed up and found a KOA 1 mile off the interstate. I hadn't had dinner yet, so I stopped at this place off the interstate, Shawna's Steak House and Casino. I guess in Montana, if you have about 20 slots you can call yourself a casino. I sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender and the guy next to me. They were both in the Navy and were there on a project in the Crow Indian reservation. I met Shawna and her husband and I was invited in on a game of Ship, Captain, Crew (6-5-4). They were of course curious as to what I was doing there. After I told them, Shawna said I could park behind the place and sleep in the back of my truck instead of paying for a campsite for a few hours. It was a nice night, so I did. I just put my sleeping mat and bag in back and went to sleep under the stars. I got up the next morning and drove another 4 hours to Sturgis, SD.

The actual Sturgis motorcycle rally didn't start until last Friday, I was just there as an "early-bird". I camped at the famous Buffalo Chip. The place is huge, it's an entertainment complex. Every night they have big name concerts, i.e. ZZ Top, Edgar Winter, Grand Funk Railroad, Toby Keith. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to be there,and even Rupert from Survivor stays there. I met some really nice people while I was there. I stayed next to an older couple, Spud and Captain, from Minnesota. They were experienced and had been coming there for years. I got to hear plenty of stories about what to expect. On Wednesday, I made a day trip to Mt. Rushmore and through the Blackhills to Deadwood. It's very pretty country, there's a lot of history around them parts. Thursday, I went golfing at a course I located on Wednesday.

Every day, more and more people filed in. When you think of a biker rally, 6 figure motor homes don't pop in your head, but there were plenty of them there. These people have some serious cash and they like to spend it on toys. I went downtown everyday and walked around. All the vendors were up and open for business. There were already 1000's of bikers there. I saw some beautiful motorcycles everyday. Now, I think I need one too. I left on Thursday night before the actual start of the rally. I was afraid I really might not want to leave if I stayed on Friday; I was getting a little anxious to get back too. I drove 15 hours straight and made it back Friday about 10:30.

I'll try to get my pics up tonight, if not they'll be up soon. I don't really know how this blog thing will go since I'm not on the road, my everyday life really isn't that exciting. It's been an unbelievable summer and I enjoyed sharing it with all of you. It's funny, back to the real world and already a full schedule. It seems like I have something to do every weekend for weeks. How does this happen?? Try to stay cool!

See ya,

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Knew It Would Happen!

Before I left on my trip, I told someone I knew I would see somebody I knew along the way. This always seems to happen to me, more proof that it really is a small world. Today, when I pulled into my hostel here in Banff, AB I parked by these two ladies getting stuff out of their truck. I thought to myself the one looked really familiar. I get out, walk past and sure enough, it was Dr. Covington. She is a professor in the Kinesiology department at SIUE. It really is a small world.

Friday, I left Kelowna headed towards the Banff area. It was getting to be a little late in the afternoon, so I stopped by a visitor center to see if any campsites were available in the area. They pointed me in the right direction and I eventually found a spot. I ended up staying in a town called Lake Louise. I started a fire and had a nice relaxing night by myself until the Chinese family moved in to the campsite next to me. They weren't the quietest family in the forest. There are more Asians here than anything, it's kinda crazy.

Yesterday, I got up and headed to the actual Lake Louise. I read about some day hikes I wanted to do. I saw some amazing scenery yesterday, it was beautiful. I hiked up to Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes and then to a lookout point called Big Beehive. By the time I was done, I was beat. I think it took me about 5 hours to complete. The color of the lakes are amazing, I don't think my camera captured this really well. They are really turquoise colored. I finally made it back to my camp and got some dinner. Again, another relaxing night...until...the Asians! Nah, it was funny they packed up yesterday morning and then they came back that night. I guess they found a better spot, the mom got out of the car and then about 10 minutes later she got picked back up. So, it ended up being a very peaceful night. I started brainstorming for the book I'm gonna write...yeah right. I did put pen to paper though, I started listing all the things I've learned on my trip. I'm up to like #70 so far.

Today, I got up, packed my stuff and headed towards Banff. Along the way, I passed Johnston Canyon. I remembered reading about the waterfalls there, so I turned around and went. It was a short little hike to the falls, only about 3 miles round trip. After that, I proceeded into Banff to check out Lake Minnewanka. It's another beautiful lake here, I think it's the largest one in the National Park. I had a sandwich on the shore and then caught about a 30 minute power nap. A full stomach, laying in the shade, along a lake, with a nice breeze...I couldn't keep my eyes open.

After my nap, I drove around to a few other lakes in the area when I came across the local swimming hole. Johnson Lake was filled with people young and old. So, I threw on my swimming trunks and headed to the beach. I caught some rays until I got too hot and then jumped in. OMG, it was cold! But, after you are in awhile and catch your breath, it becomes very relaxing. Lesson learned #71, "A cold swim works wonders for your mind and body.". I've found this to be true several times this trip, every time I've swam, it has been in very chilly water. You always come out feeling so refreshed. I'm staying at a hostel tonight, and heading back to the States in the morning. I really hope they let me back in without a hassle. My next destination will be the Black Hills area. I doubt I can make it there tomorrow, probably just set up a tent somewhere along the way.

I hope Illinois is ready for me, less than a week!


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ahhh...Just What I Needed


Finally, I get to see the sun that had eluded me for a week. I got my first glimpse on Monday while I was still in Vancouver. Sunday, I did absolutely nothing. It was movie night at the hostel, so I just hung out and watched a couple movies with some of the other travellers. We watched The Good German and Ghost Rider. The Good German is pretty slow, can't recommend that one, but Ghost Rider was surprisingly pretty good. I woke up on Monday with the intent of seeing Vancouver whether it was raining or not. It was quite overcast, but I set out anyway. I walked all over that day. I even made it down to East Hastings, that's the area with all the homeless and addicted. I just had to check it out, it's pretty famous. I've never seen an area quite like that before. I then made my way to Stanly Park. It was beautiful, the sun finally started to peak out that evening. The architecture around Vancouver is much different than any other city I've been to, you can see in the pictures.

Tuesday, I left Vancouver and headed to Kelowna, BC. I didn't really know much about it, just knew the weather looked perfect and everyone said it was nice. I wasn't disappointed when I got here. The drive was nice too, back into the mountains. Kelowna is a town in the Okanagan valley, right on Lake Okanagan. The town reminds me of Lake of the Ozarks. It's a vacation town filled with tourists. The hostel is only a 5 minute walk to the beach where I've been the past couple days. It's very relaxing here. I've met lots of Eastern Canadians, Irish, English and Aussies. It seems many are here for a long time. I think they just hop from resort town to resort town working and playing. There's supposedly amazing ski resorts here in the winter and hot summers spent on the water. I could really get used to this place.

I leave tomorrow and I'm going to camp somewhere in Banff National Park for a few days. I've seen pictures from some of the other travellers and it looks amazing. After that, I'm going to drop back down to the States. I've talked to many people and they say Calgary is not worth a stop and Winnipeg is definitely not worth a trip. I think I'll check out the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore before making it back home. I'll be glad to get back to the States where stuff is cheaper. The prices here in Canada make me cringe every time I have to buy something. I'm finding the end of this trip to be very bittersweet. I'm going to hate not travelling, but I also can't wait to get back and see everyone.

See you all soon!


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rain Rain Go Away!

Salut (that's French slang for hello),

I knew my luck with the weather would run out eventually, I hate it though. It's been raining off and on here in Vancouver since we arrived on Friday. The locals are getting upset too, they said this much rain in the summer is not typical. I've still been having a good time though.

Our trip up here was interesting, never been stopped by immigration before. I guess the guy at the border thought it was a little suspicious having an American, Belgian, and a French in the truck. He made us pull over and go in and talk to immigration. Go figure, I was the one that had the most trouble getting into Canada. I only had a drivers license as id, I totally forgot to bring a copy of my birth certificate. I was given a quick verbal quiz on the U.S. by the woman working the immigration counter. "Who's the president? How many terms did Clinton serve? Who was president before Clinton? What's the address of the White House?" I was a little nervous, but I got them all right. So, I'm in Canada! Getting back into the states might be a little tougher. She asked if I was confident I could answer questions that only an American could answer, I hope I can.

The hostel I'm staying in is really cool, great location. It's on Granville street which is the "entertainment street", there's bars, clubs, restaurants, shops, etc... The first floor of the hostel is a bar/restaurant and all the rooms are upstairs. There's a good mix of people staying here too.

When we got to town, we were all a little tired and decided to have a relaxing night...of course it was raining too. We made dinner in the hostel, had a couple drinks and called it a night. Yesterday, we get up and...still raining. We decided to go check out the Vancouver Art Museum, great decision. The exhibition they were showing was called "Monet to Dali", it was really good. I got to see works from all the greats: Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, etc... It was pretty special having all of these greats together in one place. I learned alot about art yesterday, we were there 3 hours. Down the street from the hostel is a Micheal Godard gallery, I love his stuff. If I were to ever buy art, it would definitely be something from him. After the museum, Peter and Stephanie had to move hostels, so we got their bags and got them checked into another one. We had our last supper last night and of course a night on the town. Their bus left at 11:00 this morning. I really hated to see them leave, I believe I have some new friends I'll have for the rest of my life. They are amazing people, I learned so much from both of them. I promised I would come visit them. So...maybe I'll have a European blog next summer???

Not doing much today, not a lot of energy. It's been a computer day for me. I looked at some hostels throughout Canada and have a pretty good idea of my my last couple weeks. I think I'll be stopping in Kelowna, Banff, Calgary, and Winnipeg before heading back to good ole midwest. This summer has gone by so fast, I can't believe it's winding down.

Oh, almost forgot. Hey Kris! Not travelling with any Spanish, just practicing a little bit. I decided I'm going to take a Spanish class when I get back. I checked it out, and SWIC has a night class on Tuesdays I'm going to take. It just hit me one day when I was walking through a park in Portland. I'm really excited about it. It makes so much sense too. I have to do professional development anyway, so why not do something I want to do. Plus, it will move me up the pay scale and who knows, maybe I'll take enough to get a certification in Spanish. A Spanish speaking teacher can pretty much write their own ticket. I think it's going to be a good move for me.

Hope everyone has had a good weekend. I'm a little upset I missed the British Open, I just read about it and it sounded like it was a great tournament. I haven't sat and watched tv since I left. I haven't even really been keeping up with baseball, I try to set my fantasy lineup every now and then, that's about it. I'm guessing the Cardinals still have a bullpen for a starting rotation?? See you all soon!



Friday, July 20, 2007

Had a Slight Change in Plans

Hola compadres,

Had a slight change in plans this week. The last time I wrote, we were planning on camping in Olympic Park. Well, that didn't happen. When we woke up on Wednesday it was pouring down rain, and I don't camp in the rain very well. Peter and I picked up another passenger, Stephanie. She's travelling alone too and decided to jump in with us for a few days. Since it was raining, we had to come up with an alternate plan. We eventually decided to go to Seattle for a few days instead. I was originally supposed to be in Seattle next week before making my way home. Instead, I came here now and will then head to Vancouver this afternoon. I decided I'm going to spend my last couple weeks in Canada instead of driving back east through the U.S. I guess Yellowstone will have to be on my next trip.

Our last night in Seaside was fun. After my last post, we got a canoe and paddled up the river to the ocean. It was fun until it started sucking us out into the ocean, we had to paddle like crazy to get out of it. That evening, I introduced Peter and Stephanie to some cajun food. Seaside had a nice little Bayou restaurant. They liked it. After dinner, we went to Funland. It's a really really big Chucky Cheese. They had never played skeeball, so of course I had to show them how to play...yeah, they beat me.

The next day we got up, saw the rain and adjusted our schedule. We arrived in Seattle about 4:00 and got checked in. When we got here, we checked the Mariners schedule and saw this was their last game at home for a couple weeks. We made our way to the stadium and bought some tickets on the street. It was a good game, tied up at 5-5 until the bottom of the 8th when the Mariners scored the go ahead run. Peter and Stephanie had a great time, better than they were expecting. Safeco Field is very nice, we got to see it with the roof open and closed. After the game we made our way back to the hostel where we ran into Adam, the Aussie, and Elisa, the girl from Milan we met in Portland. We sat around and chatted awhile before calling it an evening.

Thursday, Peter, Adam, Elisa and I went to the Freemont district. It was supposed to be a cool little neighborhood with shops, cafes, etc... I guess I've seen enough of these on my trip, I wasn't too impressed. I then left the group and went to the Experienced Music Project. I'm glad I did, it was pretty good. They had so much Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, it was cool. He really was a prodigy, they had artwork he did when he was in school and it's very good. He was talented in so many ways. I came back and met the gang to see Elisa off, she's heading to San Francisco. The hostel provided dinner last night, I was impressed. They had pasta, meatballs, green salad, many vegetables and bread. It was great for free. The breakfast they have here is great too. You can cook your own eggs, waffles, toast and they even have fresh fruit....all free. Last night, we went up in the Space Needle. The Seattle skyline is great at night, it really is a beautiful city.

We leave here in a little bit to go to Vancouver, BC. I'm gonna lose my travel buddies after Monday, Peter and Stephanie are renting a car and heading to Yellowstone. I'll be sad to see them go, but it will be nice being by myself for awhile. I'm sure I'll meet plenty more people along the way.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where Does the Time Go?

I can't believe it's been this long since I've updated this. I really don't know where the time goes. Just so you know, this is a little bit of work to organize and link all of these's not all fun and games out here on the road :)

I finally got to sleep last Thursday night after I shut the computer off. I've really never heard anything that loud before. I guess I just got used to it, they were there my entire stay. Friday was a good day, I finally got to golf again. Peter had never golfed before and he wanted to try it out. This was quite the experience, very comical. It was a nice course, not too hard, but hard enough...especially when you've only played about 4 times in the last month and a half. We only played nine holes. Trust me, that was long enough. We were a little slow. I think Peter had as much fun driving the golf cart as he did playing golf. About the 8th hole, I finally started to find my swing and Peter improved quickly too. It was a great time being on the course. Of course we had to stop at the 19th hole after the round. It was a semi-private club, so naturally it was all regulars there. They were all very friendly, it was in a small town about 25 minutes outside of Portland. I think our story got told at least 5 times, they don't get too many travellers at their course. It's very easy to meet people when you have a story like ours.

That evening, we made it back to the hostel. I let Peter drive, he was as excited as a little kid on Christmas. We started up the grill and made a nice salad. Stephanie joined us for dinner and we also met Elisa, she's from Milan, Italy. Elisa did a semester at Eastern Carolina University and is now travelling for the next 6 months. After dinner, we made our way to the pub down the street for a night cap.

Portland has a downtown market on the weekends. On Saturday, we decided to go check it out. They had a section for fruits and vegetables and they also had a part for artists of all sorts. They had music and a lot of food from across the globe. It had a festive atmosphere, just nothing I needed to buy. Surprisingly, I don't have much room for anything else. The backseat of my truck is packed. Stephanie had to leave that evening, so we went back to the hostel to see her off. For dinner, I had the best cannelloni I have ever had, it was delicious. I wanted pizza that evening, so I asked around for recommendations. I talked to these people that were in town for a wedding and they recommended Pizzateco. They couldn't have recommended a better place. They even had Doughboy Red Ale on tap. I guess someone beat me to the Doughboy Brewing Co.

Sunday, Peter and this girl we met Nadia took a Sunday drive on the Columbia River Gorge scenic highway and then around Mt. Hood and back to Portland. It was very nice, the scenery is amazing. There are many many waterfalls along the Gorge to stop and look at. The tallest is Multnomah Falls at 620 ft. Multnomah Falls is the second highest year-round waterfall in the nation. The views of Mt Hood from the east were great. That evening we just hung out and retired early.

Monday, we got up and made our way to Seaside, OR, a small little seaside resort community. We stopped at Target along the way so Peter could get an ipod. Oregon has NO sales tax, pretty nice. Another interesting tidbit about Oregon, you can not pump your own gas. Every station has attendants. I was quickly informed the first time that it's illegal to pump your own gas. Crazy yes, but I could get used to it. When we got here, we checked out our surroundings and the beach area. Again, very beautiful. The weather isn't really cooperating, it's been overcast and chilly since we been here. Last night we ran into Stephanie, the French girl, and Adam, an Aussie that was in my room in Portland. It's pretty crazy how many are travelling about the same path. The hostel is along the river here in Seaside. We made a fire in the pit last night and introduced the Europeans to smores. Of course our chocolate is not as good and they had never seen a "biscuit" (graham cracker) like that before. Overall, I think they liked them. Around the fire, we also met Don. Don is probably in his 50's and is travelling around for 6 mos. He's from Daytona, Fl. He's been in the Navy and has travelled the world. He said he'll never settle down. I wish we had more time with him, I'm sure he has many more stories to tell. He got up this morning and headed further down the coast. This afternoon, I think we're going to rent a kayak and kayak up the river to the ocean. We leave tomorrow for Olympic National Park. We're going to camp in the rain forest for a couple days before catching a ferry on Friday to Vancouver.

Have a great week!


Friday, July 13, 2007

Just as I Suspected...

Portland is great! I don't even know where to begin. It's a big city, but it has such a small town feel. There's green space everywhere, they have over 200 parks. They have Forest Park, the largest urban park in the country. You can take a bicycle anywhere in this city. Many of the streets have separate bicycle lanes, and if they don't, they can ride on the road. It's a very ecofriendly town. Recycling is huge and so is organic foods. Public transportation is free within the city center area. They have buses, trolley cars, and light rail systems. They even have a sky tram that takes you directly from town to the hospital that sits upon the side of this mountain. I can't say enough about this far.

Peter and I pulled into town on Tuesday about 12:30. We went to the hostel and I checked in and then found out they didn't have a bed for Peter that night, only that night though. So, he checked into a cheap motel in the neighborhood. That afternoon we made our way to Portland's Chinatown. Not quite the same as San Francisco, but the food was better. We then walked along the riverfront and towards one of the many many fountains around town. In Portland, they encourage people to get in the fountains...seriously. It was really hot Tuesday, 102 degrees, that was a record. Every fountain you seen had people wading in them or sticking their head underneath a stream. We then made our way to the sky tram, we had to ride it once. It was pretty cool, you got some great views of Mt. Hood. That night, we just hung out on the back deck. While I was on the phone, Peter met this French girl Stephanie. She's travelling for 6 months and working on organic farms now and then to help finance the trip. I learned a lot that evening about France and Belgium. Did you know, the french fry was originally from Belgium.

Wednesday, we got up and decided to go to the Japanese garden. It said it was about a 25 minute walk. After about 50 minutes, I finally saw a guy getting out of his car so I could ask directions. Sure enough, we walked about 25 minutes past where we were supposed to turn off. It was HOT too. Luckily, there's a fountain in the park to cool off in. The garden was pretty neat, we were just in time to get a guided tour. It was pretty interesting learning all the design elements that go into a Japanese garden. On the way back, we were both a little hungry, so I introduced Peter to something really American...Taco Bell. That evening on the back deck, I met two guys from Boston doing a two month road trip. They are doing a very low budget, camping most nights, trip. They budgeted $50 a day and have been sticking to it. I was pretty impressed.

Today, Peter, Stephanie and I went to Mount St. Helens. I think it's the first time I've played in snow in July, there was actually quite a bit. We went on a hike up the mountain until we reached a point where you had to have a permit to hike any further. They only give out 100 permits a day to hike up, and they're sold out until the middle of August. Of course, we took our chances and hiked up over two more ridges. It's very rough terrain, it's basically just a bunch of rocks and boulders. It's amazing thinking those things went flying through the air when it erupted. After hiking back down, we stopped at Ape Cave. It's a cave that used to be a lava tube. It was pretty neat, once you got about 10 foot down, you could really feel the temperature drop. They say it stays at 43 degrees year round. It's a cave, so naturally it's pitch black. I had a flashlight, but it's not the best. We went in pretty far and the whole time I'm hoping the batteries don't go dead in the light. We made it out ok and headed back. Tonight we grilled up a pork loin, it was delicious. I was exhausted from the day, but after I ate, i got a second wind. I really don't know why I'm still up. We met another nice woman tonight, Isabella. She lives in Olympia, WA, but she is originally from Costa Rica. She has family here and her husband and daughter come in tomorrow from their vacation in San Francisco. We talked a long time and learned a lot about Costa Rica. It sounds like a great place. Peter is actually going there in September. Now here I am up way too late listening to the freight trains in my room. I've never had roommates that snore this bad. I guess I'll try to fall asleep, might be an Ipod night.