Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hot Springs to New Orleans, LA to Bangkok



I booked my plane ticket to Asia today, flying out of LAX in about 5 ½ weeks. While I wanted to show up at the airport and ask for the next flight to Thailand, it seemed like a better idea to book the ticket. I talked to my friends who have already made that trip, and they convinced me to book in advance. Supposedly it will ultimately be cheaper; in today’s day and age, Internet flight websites have replaced standby as the cheapest way for air travel. However much I was enjoying the open ended schedule, I’m glad that it is locked in now. I got a good deal on a flight, and I’ll be able to meet up with my mom while she is in Thailand wither her sister visiting her other sister. It's a big family.

So, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to the Asian leg of the journey, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Yesterday, we pretty much stayed in because of a severe weather alert that covered the state of Arkansas. I was amazed at both the similarities and the differences of a lazy day on the road vs. at home. We still got up whenever we felt like it, made breakfast and coffee and sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table with our laptops, exactly how we would have done in New Jersey. Yet,
there was a different feel to it. We were researching places to go and things to do for the next leg of the journey, not just going through our normal internet browsing routine. Drinking on a weeknight in your hometown isn’t the coolest thing to do, but on vacation, why not?

The storm itself was disappointing. Not that we wanted to be swept to the land of Oz by a tornado, but I have seen more breathtaking storms. One comes to mind, when I was in Sarasota at the Caballero’s with my buddy Joe from UPS. We found out why Tampa Bay's hockey team is called the Lightning. Anyway, the weather today was much nicer today and we were able to visit to Garvan Woodland Gardens.

Apparently, Hot Springs is not the ideal place for a 20 something single male to visit. Everyone we meet is curious to find out where we are from, and seem a little puzzled why we are here. However, after a full 24 hours in the car, it is nice to have a nice homebase for a while. That, and we are getting good practice hiking so we are prepared when we are going to have to hike to get to our campsites.

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Well, we are finally on the road to New Orleans. We got up early today to clean and pack the truck. We were planning on doing all of that yesterday, but we were too tired and full to be very productive after dinner. After all, we had hiked four or five miles in the morning, and then another three in the evening. So, here I am in the passenger seat again, hunkering down for what will likely be 8 ½ hours in the passenger seat. I’ll take some time to document our trip.

Yesterdday morning, at the botanical gardens, we got to see a wild bald eagle. Since our arrival to Arkansas we have seen several large birds of prey, but nothing compared to this eagle. Large, majestic, and flying close enough to us so that we could recognize it with certainty. When we saw the signs that bald eagles nested in the area, we did not get too hopeful, but sure enough we were lucky enough to see one. I find it very fitting that we got a bald eagle sighting on our cross American journey. There was also  cool bird pen they had. It was an area approximately the size of a 16 ft moving truck netted off with a feeding area and a large twig nest with several large birds in it. Mike and I were the only ones anywhere nearby, and we stopped to look. I crouched at locked eyes with the most colorful and biggest peacock, and within a few moments he spread his feathers and shook them at me. After that, all of the other birds came out from the nest and were walking around. A few other peacocks also opened up their feathers, but they didn’t hold a candle to the first one. Mike took a bunch of pictures, and then we left. I'll try and get some pictures up on the blog soon. We weren’t ten feet away when all the birds put their feathers down, and many returned to the nest. It was definitley more enjoyable knowing that their whole show was for us.

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Sunday morning in New Orleans! Did you know that Mardi Gras started this week? Well, the city of New Orleans knew that. We couldn't get to our hostel because the parade route was blocking our path. We had to drive half way across the city to go around the entire parade, but it was a cool detour. After being out in the country for so long, it was nice to see so many people. There were so so so many people. We drove probably 2 miles down the parade route and it was packed with people the whole way! Eventually we do get to the hostel and get cleaned up to hit the town.

Our hostel is in the Garden District, which is probably a 15-20 minute walk to the French Quarter. The walk was a lot of fun though, because we walked along the parade route. The whole walk was a cool experience: catching beads as the floats went by, drinking legally on the streets, seeing all the cool places and interesting people. The crescent city is very charming, and Mike suggested that he might come back here to settle after he drops me off at LAX. However, we still have a lot of cities to see along the way, so its a little early for him to make a decision like that.

Last night we met up with our friend Ashley from high school who had moved down here 6 or 7 years ago. She took us around to a few non-tourist hangouts, and good times were had by all. Eventually, she gave us a ride back to our hostel and we got some rest. However, we are in a dorm with about 8 bunk beds, so when we got back there was already a few people snoring loudly. Over breakfast today, Mike told me it took him a while to get some sleep. Not me, I laid down and fell right asleep. After all the driving, drinking (after the driving, not during), and walking around the city, I was ready for some shut-eye.

Today, we'll likely catch another parade around noon and take in some more of the city. Tonight, when our friend Ashley gets off work, she is going to take us to a restaurant that she claims to be the best BBQ in the city, so i'm excited about that. Then tonight, well, probably get drunk and roam the streets again. That certainly seems to be the thing to do around here! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Trip Begins!

We are finally on the road, a full three days later than schedule. Unfortunately, my buddy Mike’s car wouldn’t start last week. After several trips to several mechanics, the truck is finally running smooth and we are on our way. I felt bad for our mothers, because they kept bracing themselves for the emotional impact of our departure, only to find out we would be staying for another day or so until the truck was fixed. I’m very relieved, after all this time, to be on the road. However, beginning such a long road trip is kind of an anticlimactic experience.

For weeks, we have been shopping for supplies, planning out routes, hostels, park reservations, checking the weather, etc. When our scheduled departure date came and went, we were filled with anxiety about still being in New Jersey. It seemed as if waiting for a certain date to leave was much better than waiting for the truck to get repaired.  Stuck in limbo, unsure whether we would be leaving today or tomorrow, we tried our best to keep busy over the weekend. When the call came in from the mechanic, we bustled to life with busy activity making the final preparations from the journey.  However, despite the relative excitement or receiving the car and loading it with all of our gear and supplies, the reality of 1,200 miles in a single shot is daunting.

Now, as we approach D.C., only a few hours into the trip, I sit in the passenger seat and type. In some ways, a long drive goes by much quicker if you are driving. That way you are at least actively engaged in the operation of your vehicle, however mundane a task that may be at times. When sitting shotgun, there seems to be nothing to do but fidget. Oh, and take this time to update everyone on the latest manifestation of the US trip itinerary.

For the first week, we will be in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we are headed now. We booked this place for the entire week, and while we missed out on a few days due to car troubles, at least it isn’t putting us behind schedule at all. We are still planning on leaving Arkansas this coming Saturday and leaving for…

New Orleans! Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights will all be spend at St. Vincent’s Hostel on Magazine St. Hopefully we will get to experience a little bit of everything that the city has to offer. From the world famous debauchery on Bourbon St. to the still active jazz scene, we plan on doing as much as we can for three days before we move on.

After that, it’s camping at Galveston Island in Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights will likely be spent in the tent as we do the first real camping of the journey. Hopefully we can discover our shortcomings in our preperations before the more serious camping excursions that await us in the southwest.

Friday and Saturday nights are marked off for Austin, Texas. We are picking up our friend Lauren at the airport there, and will be staying in a room that Mike booked online. Austin is said to be an awesome city, full of young people and live music. I imagine we will want to stay around for longer than two days, but after this point, the trip is less concretely planned. As we get closer, I’m sure we will have a better idea of how much time we want to spend at each locale. Besides, where would all the fun be if we planned every moment of the trip? I’m happy to leave myself the freedom to take detours. So, I am trying to look at the three days spent waiting for the truck as a detour, not a delay.




We are still in the car, some 1100 miles added to the odometer. We are currently in Arkansas, approaching Little Rock. I decided that I couldn’t undertake this trip without a camera of my own, and because my old one was in need of repair, I have decided to bite the bullet and buy one. So, we are currently headed to a camera store in Little Rock and should be there in about ½ hour. Hopefully I can find a good value for the price I am looking to spend!

This particular drive, thankfully, will be by far the longest. According to Google, it is 1,211 miles from Philadelphia to Hot Springs. Fortunately, there is only one 20 hour drive in store for us. The next longest drive is just shy of ten hours, and in comparison to this car ride, I’m sure it will seem like nothing to us.

However, the drive itself was not all bad. Interestingly enough, it seems as if we managed to drive from winter to spring in a single night. On 66 West in Virginia, we were caught in a storm of hail and ice. By the time we got to Arkansas, we saw flowers blooming. To make matters worse, the headlights on Mike’s truck are not the brightest, and the Commonwealth of Virginia was not kind enough to put reflectors on its roads. Add all of that up, and you are looking at some pretty bad driving conditions. We considered stopping, but felt pretty comfortable going 35 behind a tractor trailer for a few hours.

I slept off and on while Mike drove. Like me, he finds the time in the car goes faster when he is driving, so he prefers to drive. I would say I drove between a fifth and a sixth of the total mileage so far. Around 4 am he pulled over, and I woke up and drove. By 930, we were stopped for breakfast and Mike was set to begin driving again. Now, the weather it’s sunny and there are plants blooming. How was is that earlier today we were caught in an ice storm? I also think about how up until recent history, a trip like this was a completely unrealistic fantasy to even the richest person, yet today I can hop in a car or a plane and change the seasons.

Anyway, getting close to the camera store. Gotta go to navigate.
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The condo in Arkansas is wonderful. Much plusher than we expected, and it is great to have an actual place to cook, relax and sleep. From here on out, it is going to be out of a tent or a hostel, so we are taking advantage of the amenities while we can. Today we went to Hot Springs National Park, saw the historic bathhouses, and hiked about 5 miles. I brought a day pack, while Mike only brought his camera. I am glad I brought it along, but can feel it's effects now! I'm hoping that I get myself into good hiking shape before we get to the Grand Canyon! That's it for now. Relaxing, cooking dinner, and watching HBO's "Band of Brothers" for the first time.