Monday, June 28, 2010

Deserts of Enchantment

We made our first foe the morning we left the Grand Canyon- Sophie was yelled at by a park ranger for washing her hair in the drinking spigot. Did this put a damper on our day? Certainly not. Sophie merely finished washing her hair at our campsite using water bottles and then we were off to Santa Fe.

We arrived just in time for- you guessed it- dinner! See a pattern? Most of our travels, as with most of our lives, revolve around food. Kate's friend, Carol, greeted us and immediately took us to a restaurant called The Pyramid for delicious Mediterranean food. After dinner, we decided to watch Valentine's Day, a movie with just about every famous actor or actress you can imagine. So it seems as if it would be good, right? Wrong. It was actually pretty bad. Some of us enjoyed watching it, despite the surprisingly bad acting and screenplay. Sophie and Katie, it seemed, did not enjoy it at all. They did, however, make friends with Eugene, Carol's pet cockatiel. I must say, it was rather amusing to watch their interactions with the bird.

The next day, we went to lunch at Breakthrough-a mentoring program that Kate had taught at two years prior. We then headed to the plaza to explore the shops and such and had delicious guacamole at La Fonda, the restaurant where Carol works. Experimenting with our cameras, we took a lot of pictures using the black and white setting (hence the black and white photos). We later decided to again watch a movie before bed. This time we chose Invictus, a far better movie than Valentine's Day.

It's just a big hole in the ground...

Okay, so it’s not just a big hole in the ground (the Grand Canyon, that is). It runs, as we have learned, one mile deep, an average of ten miles from rim to rim, and 277 miles in length. So you see, it’s more than just a big regular hole in the ground. It is actually rather spectacular. The drive from Megan’s house to the Canyon wasn’t that bad either. In fact, Sophie and I (Kristen) both rather enjoyed driving through the desert. Stopping at the Hoover Dam on the way, we were able to make it to our destination in time for a late-ish dinner over the fire, even after a late start.

We woke up the next day ready to go explore the Canyon. We had been within ½ mile of its South Rim for over twelve hours before we even got a peek (though in our defense, it was dark by the time we had arrived). After a hearty pancake breakfast, we met Adrienne’s (our softball coach) twin sister, Emily, who is a park ranger at the Canyon. She took us to finally see that big hole in the ground and answered any questions that we had, including those about fending off mountain lions. She then offered suggestions about things to do in and around the Canyon, gave us firewood for the night, and even gave us a “super-secret squirrel code” to watch the sunset at Pima Point- an area usually off-limits for cars. We returned to our campsite to an unexpected, though hilarious sight- our tent had blown over and was lying completely on its side! This was quickly remedied, though, and we ate a large lunch in preparation for the rest of our day.

We spent the rest of our day walking around the rim for a bit and later set off on the Bright Angel trail 1 ½ miles into the Canyon. Our trek down was easy. The climb up, however, not so much. It is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) difficult to walk up that same distance at a rather steep incline and a noticeable altitude change. In the end, we managed. Nobody fell in. We even made it back to the top in time to see the beautiful sunset over the Canyon- a majestic end to our final night in a national park.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What happens in Vegas...

Getting to Megan's was was a short trip (for us, 6 hours) and in the desert there are NO rules. We drove quickly (very safely) to her house and got there after dinner, despite our late start from San Diego. We made a delicious meal of buttered noodles. Then, after getting dolled up we hit the town and painted it the proverbial red. Actually, we all went out in jeans and t-shirts and Julia and Sophie played penny slots while the rest of us hung out and took in the sites. We stayed out until the early morning (1:30am) then went straight to bed when we arrived back to the Widmer's.
The next morning, we feasted on Cocoa Puffs, Cheerios, and fruit while our laundry was spinning away. We played some RockBand, ate lunch, then hit the road for the Grand Canyon.\

We stopped at the Hoover Dam on the way out of Vegas...and it was awesome.

Don't Forget about Brit Brit

We arrived in San Diego to a warm night and Tom Dawson grilling up a storm. We were staying with Brit Brit (Brittany Dawson) and her father and her Grandfather in their beautiful San Diego home. Upon arrival we had chips and salsa, steak, chicken and veggie burgers, corn on the cob and delicious cheesy potatoes. Then, we watch episode after episode of the Office and fell happily to sleep.

The next morning we woke up rather late and after we had all showered and dressed, Tom treated us to In-and-Out Burger...and it was awesome. We went back to the house and hung out for a while and headed out to see the San Diego Padres loose to the Baltimore Orioles. When we arrived home, Tom had pizza waiting. We watched the Hangover and fell into another blissful night of sleep.

The next morning we had bagels and hiked to the ocean before leaving SD and heading through the desert to Las Vegas.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's a real good baseball town but my team is across the Bay.

After having dinner with Sophie's aunts, we headed to our camp for the next two nights- the Thorman/Boyle house in Palo Alto. Ethan and Mimi were kind enough to let us stay for a few nights even though Tess (their daughter, our friend) was not actually in town.

For our full day there we headed to San Francisco, after a quick lunch at the Peninsula Creamery (recommended by Paul Schacht). Ethan set us up with a tour of the SF Giants' stadium, which was fantastic. The five of us were able to get an insider's view of the stadium- from the various restaurants on each level, to the super expensive club suites (well, we saw the doors, anyway), to the Giants dugout. We felt very much like tourists as we walked around Fisherman's Wharf, taking pictures and buying postcards and ice cream. We attempted to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was much further than we had anticipated, so we got back in the car and drove to it instead. Walking partway across the bridge and taking pictures was the epitome of our tourist experience.

Finally, we headed back to Palo Alto for a delicious dinner of salad, pasta salad, and homemade flatbread. We finished our night with a movie (Away We Go) to relax for a long day of driving down the coast to San Diego.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Give Me Some Muir...

It turns out we were a little...misguided in our assumption that we'd be camping in Redwood National Forest. The reservation that we made was actually for Mendocino Lake, which housed absolutely no redwoods in the vicinity (that we managed to see). However, the campsite was very cheap and the weather was beautiful. It was the first night of camping that we weren't freezing in our sleeping bags. It was even nice enough for us to go swimming in the lake! Of course, a couple of chicken fights were necessary. Might I add that Sophie and I (Kristen) triumphed over Katie and Julia. Triumphed.

After our swimming adventure, we journeyed to the incredibly peaceful Muir Woods. We went on a beautiful hike through the woods with the massive redwoods. Then, after a reasonably short drive, we headed to Sophie's aunt's house for dinner (in which was one of the most fantastic private baseball collections that we have ever seen...from an autographed Babe Ruth ball to a book of matches from Al Schacht (a former player and author/restaurant owner)). We feasted on delicious sandwiches for dinner and homemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert. We then continued our trek south to San Francisco! More details (and pictures) to come soon...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Carlo and the Rossies

Today we had the shortest drive thus far on the trip. We left Seattle after lunch and arrived in Portland to met our friend Amelia in the Rose Garden Park. We proceeded to make more friends in 3 nice girls we played frisbee with in the park.

Kristen, Sophie, Kate and I (Katie) left Julia with Amelia for a few hours and left Portland for Salem to make dinner for Alex, Kate's half sister who was kind enough to put us up for the night. We made spaghetti, corn on the cob and salad.

Julia was planning on taking a 9:30pm train from Portland to Salem, but surprise, surprise...she missed it. Were we expecting this...YES! But now, Julia is phoneless (she left it in her NC driveway...more surprise) and uncertain of her location in these new cities. She now is planning on catching an early 6:30am bus here....will this work out? No one knows.

Off to Redwood National Forest in the Morning. We will post again in San Francisco.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Freaks and Geeks

So, we did it! We made it across the country. After 9 days of driving, camping, and basically having a fantastic time, we made it to Seattle. The impressive thing? We only had one minor setback- a flat tire just outside of Libby, Montana. However, with the help of my (Kristen) extensive (okay, maybe not that extensive) knowledge of fixing cars, Julia and I managed to change the tire so we could continue on our way to the Emerald City.

Sophie's aunt and uncle have been extremely nice to allow us to stay here for a couple of nights. When arrived at their house, they had a large box of mangoes just waiting to be devoured. As we haven't had any sort of fruit (and very little vegetables, for that matter), this was one of the best things ever. Even better, though, were the comfortable beds and temperature-controlled rooms (as Katie mentioned in previous posts, it had been rather cold camping for the past week). We also made sure to take advantage of the availability of the TV and watched a lot of Freaks and Geeks and the Office. After an incredibly comfortable night of sleep, we woke up and headed off to the amazing Pike Place Market, which housed the delicious Crumpet Shop. We then spent a good bit of the rest of the day hanging out with Sophie's grandparents, Mervyn and Leatrice, and having dinner with them along with her aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, no one remembered to bring a camera to document our day.

Tomorrow morning we begin our trek south! After what will almost certainly be a slow-going morning, we will head down to Portland and then Salem. This three-hour drive will be a piece of cake after a week and a half of eight-ten hour drives.

MT=Montana, MT ≠Mountain

We arrived in Glacier National Park on Thursday after a quick lunch of mediocre bagels from Sunshine Bagel in Ennis, MT. We quickly found our site after a little chat about bears with our new favorite park ranger Chrystal Thurman, and then sat at the Beautiful McDonald Lake before dinner. It was VERYYYYYYYYYYY COLLLLDDDDDDDDDDD in Glacier, especially our first night because it was rather rainy (and Hail).

After our first cold night, we woke up late and had a lazy morning with pancakes, cards and frisbee. We then went on a 4 mile long round trip hike to a gorgeous lake in the middle of bear country. Although much of the park was still closed due to snow, we enjoyed a small part of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Showers were far too expensive for our budget so we simply did without.

We had at this point perfected out fire starting technique and had another feast of pasta, hot dogs, tofu pups, corn, potatoes and popcorn. We threw the football around and became much better at Frisbee with a little practice (except Julia, she was just bad).

Off to Seattle!

MANY Visitors Have Been Gored by Buffalo!

We headed to Yellowstone NP on Tuesday, with the thought of BEARS on our minds. As we entered the Park and then to our site, we were warned multiple times of the dangers and frequency of bears in the Park, WE WERE IN BEAR-ITORY! We got in rather late and searched for a dry campsite (it took us 4 tries, but luckily we had a very nice woman helping us out). We had our first hot meal in a few days consisting of Moon Pies and Hot Dogs...although we did have some trouble with the fire building. The next day we saw Moose, a Bear and some Bison on our way to see Old Faithful. We did a short 1/2 mile hike to a look-out to watch the geyser erupt amid MANY bears. We then had delicious frozen yogurt at the historic Yellowstone Inn.

We passed the Continental Divide on our short 30ish mile drive to and from Old Faithful. That night we feasted on pasta and green beans for dinner. It was VERY cold sleeping at the park due to off and on rain. We did get to shower at the park and it was the best, warm and without a time limit.

More to come about GNP.


We entered the Badlands National Park on Sunday from the Ytterbergs and arrived in the early evening, after a quick stop at the World's Only Corn Palace (look it up on Wikipedia). We made a quick round of the park in a light rain, then made camp and had cold soup and cheese sandwiches for dinner. We played catch after dinner and as it got dark, we entertained ourselves by playing poker and betting on hands with various "lady products". The next morning we "hiked" around the park during which time I (katie) fell off a HUGE mountain, nearly being eaten by a Rattlesnake (not really, just slid precariously down a smallish rock hill). We went to the famous (as told by Lauren Luther and Jessiriah Jullman) Wall Drug on the way to Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore was awesome and just as weird as we were expecting (it's 4 faces carved into the side of a mountain!). We saw our first Bison... a rather boring animal it seems.

More coming with tales from Yellowstone!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Where in the U.S. is Carmen Sandiego?

After a leisurely start leaving Chicago around 11, we said goodbye to friends and headed towards our next stop. We drove through Wisconsin and entered Minnesota far earlier than expected, but the border of WI and MN was the most exciting part of our trip thus far. We rode over the great, the revered Mississippi River and I, Katie Baldonieri, was in the driver's seat. We managed to calm down and finish the drive to our friend Annie's house in Rochester through the rain.

The Ytterbergs were the BEST! They had a bed or comfy couch for all 5 of us and even cooked a delicious dinner of local buffalo and veggie burgers. After a tour of the lovely city, we returned home to play a rousing game of "Where in the US is Carmen Sandiego" (won, of course, by Sophie and Katie). We are watching Clueless and getting ready for bed soon.

Off to our first camping destination tomorrow morning, where we'll be seeing the grand landmark of Mount Rushmore. The Badlands, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are our next 3 stops, meaning that we will probably not be posting until we arrive in the Emerald City, until then.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Here We Go...

After months of planning, we're finally doing it- heading out on the open road. We left Pittsburgh at 9:30 this morning and headed west, the van brimming with clothes, sleeping bags, and a plethora of food. Our first eight-hour leg of the trip was highlighted with playlists, This American Life, snacks, and giggles. Julia, the inaugural driver, managed to get us safely to Chicago, with only a few close calls (almost running out of gas, for instance). But, we did make it, and even managed to snag pictures of the Ohio, Indiana, and Chicago welcome signs (apparently the state of Illinois is not worthy enough to have its own sign). Our elegant lunch consisted of peanut butter and Cheez-It sandwiches on fresh Panera bread. Needless to say, we were thrilled to arrive in Chicago and get a substantial meal. After a long day of driving and meeting up with teammates Jen and Kristine, all seven of us are cramming into a one-person hotel room. It will be an early bedtime tonight, as we're heading to Minnesota in the morning, bright and early.