A Travellerspoint blog

The Journey Down

Starting our West Coast road trip


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Let’s roll,
With a fully packed Petunia 4 Aussies and myself, the American adventure started, we had a send off group waving goodbye in the distance and the good music playing, it genuinely felt movie-esq.

Aside from the occasional trip to Vancouver, this was the first time that all 5 of us were venturing out of the bubble that was Whistler and eventually out of Canada completely, and I think that was the most exciting part. The Sun was bright and Monday afternoon gave us some beautiful sights on the way down the sea to sky highway. I was driving, with everyone crammed in with bags, spare tyre and food all for good measure. We continued in and through Vancouver, and it didn’t seem like long before we approached the U.S border.

We reached the queues getting our passports ready to cross over onto American soil, there were two lanes of traffic, and a third sectioned off by cones, every so often a car would venture down that lane and disappear. With me at the wheel I decided the best thing to do was to be my own man and instead of waiting roll on down this lane as well. In my defence none of the lanes were signposted, as we reached the gates to cross over we realised that the reason it wasn’t a busy lane was because it was designated to quick ‘card’ access, for frequent crosser I guess!

We were stuck, couldn’t turn around and couldn’t go through the quick access. Cars in the other lanes were having mixed reactions at our misfortunes, some laughing, some annoyed. I joined the laughing camp, I think others in the car joined the annoyed camp. I manoeuvred through the cones with the intention of pushing through the two lanes to the exit area, as a car let me through I saw my opportunity and sneaked into the queue, I’m generally not a rude person but I think people judging me on that one situation would definitely think so. We kept our heads down avoiding the evil eyes staring on from cars behind and to the side. All in all we had saved ourselves about half an hour of waiting. Job well done I’d say.

Before we carry on the journey, let me tell you quickly about the guys I travelled down with. Jai and Bryce, two friends I met at the hostel, both from Perth, both incredibly funny. Jai I will add is one of the most sociable guys ive ever met, he finds a conversation from every circumstance, Bryce is a smiler! I’ve never caught him looking sad. Although he is a repeat farter! They both are always looking for a good time as well as a chance to take the mick out of situations; the border incident was certainly one of them! For the winter they lived with Vanessa, the only girl at this part of the trip. She and I met at the hostel and from then on we have become extremely great friends, also from Perth, she enjoys a questioning approach to conversations and has a fantastic memory for facts about everyone. Vanessa and I along with Dan made up a trio over the Winter, I was thrown together with Dan in the same room at the hostel and through him I’ve met so many other people. He is from Sydney and is such an easy going character. It’s very easy to get along with him and he knows a lot more about skiing than I so it was a great aid to have him on the slopes. In our three we seem to gel very well. A great group of Aussies to accompany Petunia and me.

Crossing the border was a nervous affair, we had no reason to be, but its like going through airport security, we had to tell them the nature of our adventure, for how long, who with etc.. When we announced we were heading all the way to California, the security person questioned whether Petunia would make it! How rude. We ventured inside to sign our visas, Vanessa is part Canadian, meaning she didn’t have to do anything. Again we were questioned on the nature of our visit, it all checked out and we were away in the state of Washington!

The distances and speed markers changed into miles per hour which gave us something to think about. (it wasn’t until half way through our road trip that I realised the speedometer had a miles counter alongside the kilometres, up to that point I always did the maths myself. Prices of gas decreased and the speed we were allowed to go increased.

We made it through and past Seattle in the early evening and the bright lights of that big city passed us by very quickly, in our plan The Emerald City would be our final stop before heading back to Canada. A quick McDonald’s stop found us stunned at the prices of America, $5 for a 20 pack of nuggets was unheard of back in Whistler. Dan then took charge and we started off in the dark U.S evening. We continued on the I5 highway with a plan make to stop just outside Portland, giving us a big drive for Tuesday but manageable if we set off early. Our first research into a motel proved too pricey so we settled for what could be described as a dodgy motel. We managed to get a cheaper price by declaring we only had four and it was time to sleep.

I woke up nice and refreshed, unfortunately to hear that everyone else had had to endure my snoring all night! This explained the numerous random objects around me when I woke; they had all obviously attempted to disrupt my snore to no avail. I felt rather bad, but there was no time for sad moods as we grabbed an early Burger King breakfast and headed off, Jai at the wheel we made great time through the state of Oregon. Petunia had given us no problems as the border patrol had predicted and with only one day of travelling till we saw L.A everyone was happy. Even if they were all a bit sleep deprived!

After a quick stop in an outlet area for some food and other goodies, Bryce stepped up to the role of driver, out of the four guys Bryce had the least time in whistler driving the car so it took a second to adjust to North American driving but he was soon on his way to becoming a pro. The miles sped by but slowly we all noticed a change in how the car was changing gear and driving in general, something seemed wrong and it wasn’t Brycey’s bad driving. We past Ashland (unknown to us the last place before crossing the border onto California) the road started to incline and the change downs were getting really rough and loud. We were all a bit nervous, but we plowed on hoping the hill would peak and start to descend. It didn’t. After much discussion we pulled off and checked the levels, (the oil light had been flickering on and off.) we topped up both oil and transmission fluid but it did nothing to the clunking that followed every gear change.

The choice we made, out of several that all didn’t feel would end well, was to roll back down to Ashland and see what could be done, we hadn’t seen a gas station but we hoped our luck could change. We bought more oil and topped Petunia up to the point that it seemed she was overfilled. It was more serious than just oil and our anxiety began to grow, in first gear we trundled to a car repair shop, small but had potential, where we finally found the route of our problem. The mount of the engine had snapped in two and if it weren’t for the side mount, the engine would’ve been scraping on the floor, severe damage. When the mechanic had a look we immediately knew it wasn’t good news. The part we needed wasn’t available anywhere in the store or close by! Panic set in.

After talking about the possibility of a bus around the area or even a rent a car, in this small town both didn’t seem likely, our hopes were flickering out very quickly. Finally after pondering our dilemma, some hope was restored when another mechanic suggested going to see the town’s welder, claiming he was the best at his craft for miles around. Once again in 1st gear we snail paced to the welder! Who looked busy but had time for us eventually. He took one look and agreed weren’t in any position to drive any further and that he could help us. Still nervous we thought the costs could mount up but after lifting Petunia up high, Cory decided that 65 dollars would be enough. Within minutes he’d took of the mount and had had his way with it and another 5 saw it back on and Petunia’s wheels back on safe ground.

We paid Cory a little extra and the fear and nervousness was replaced with happiness and elation, we celebrated with victory Taco Bell which was cheap and pretty tasty, accompanied by the good fortune we’d fallen upon in Ashland, spirits were high and that motivated us to drive hard to get to our final destination, I started off just to make sure Petu was feeling good (which she was) I crossed the Oregon – California Border which showed us that pushing on with the problem would have landed us in even more trouble as there wasn’t a village let alone a town or gas station for miles afterwards (more good luck!)

Dan took the wheel as the miles drained away and we pushed on to make it to LA before the night fell, We stopped at yet another Fast food joint (Carls Jr) which turned out to be a total let down, slow service and overpriced appalling food! We were all jealous of Vanessa’s choice to find a healthier option! Finally it was my turn to finish the long day of driving with about 5 hours to go, over some terrible stretches of highway I might add.

We arrived late in the evening and to save tired eyes I took one for the team and slept in the car, Petunia wouldn’t mind if I snored!

Posted by davidt.ontour 19:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Niagara Falls

14th - 15th October

sunny
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Niagara is Falling!

A long bus ride landed me very early in the falls area, coming from the hustle and bustle of Boston and New York made it extra special to see huge areas of grass and trees with gorgeous multi colour leaves and I could smell the fresh air as I stepped off the coach. The police sirens and endless car supply seemed miles away, which in fact was at least 7 hours.

Having one of the world’s natural wonders on my doorstep for the next two days, gave me such a great feeling but i decided that I could wait a couple more hours before I saw it, my eyes were barely open after having no sleep on the busy bus. It was 9 am as i pulled myself over to my hotel. Check in wasn’t for another 5 hours but after a small convincing argument and a 20 dollar note the lovely receptionist showed me to my room.

Im sure my eyes were closed even before my head hit the pillow and I had a full 3 hours of deep sleep to regain some energy for the big day ahead. I got myself ready managed to sneak into the breakfast room and have some fruity loops and steal a banana for my journey.

It turned out that the journey wasn’t too far at all. It was an easy walk to the touristy centre where I found a big shop full of everything you’d expect from a tourist shop. This included several tour companies, one of which took my fancy straight away, a man with a great selling pitch won my attention and I decided that a half day tour was the best option. I had 20 minutes till that set off so I bought myself a hot dog and browsed the aisles of gifts etc. I hadn’t given myself much of a birthday the day before in Boston so therefore Friday the 14th was my adopted birthday! I bought a Jumper/hoody and headed out to wait for our bus.

We were a party of 10 plus tour guide as we boarded the bus and set off towards the falls, it had been 7 hours since I’d arrived and still I hadn’t seen them. We arrived and stepped onto a platform that stretched over the river and finally the three falls that made up Niagara were in front of me. Several clichés spring to mind to describe how I felt and the view in front of me, I won’t use any but my goodness I was proud to be stood there watching as thousands of gallons rushed over and down. The sheer power of the waterfalls was impressive enough and then the beauty of them was something indescribable. We spent a considerable on that platform taking pictures, and simply watching.

It was then time to don our yellow poncho time coats and board the famous ‘maid of the mist’ it took about 15 minutes to journey to the biggest of the three falls which stretches from the Canadian side all the way to the American, the horseshoe falls. On the way we passed both the Bridal Veil falls and the American falls which were equally spectacular. The spray starting hitting us very soon into our journey as we approached the beast, the gentle spit began to develop into a light rain, to a downpour until we were close enough to feel the great wind push us back from the bow and the spray was worse than any torrential downpour ive experienced in England, this time though we knew it wouldn’t last long and everyone had their cameras out for long enough to snap a picture and save it in a pocket before water damage struck. It was a lot of fun and I know now why the maid of the mist is so popular.

As we returned with smiling faces there was time for one last picture from the platform and we were off again on the bus to our next point. This was a place called ‘The cave of winds’ this time the poncho we were assigned was a big blue fluorescent number as well as some handy dandy sandals to keep our shoes from getting drenched (although the maid of the mist had already taken care of them) the tour took us down an elevator and onto wooden bridges that stretched over the American falls. As you walked you got closer to the falls with each step and were able to feel the power of the water as it flowed over the top, it was slippy and the sandals didn’t offer as much grip as I hoped but it did give everyone the chance to take stunning pictures, the final wooden platforms were virtually under the falls and one corner actually stretched out under the falls, Naturally I edged closer to this corner, I got to the corner and it was no longer mist it was pure water raining down on me. It was a lot of fun and I managed to get someone to video me doing it, in that same video the true slippiness of the wood became apparent as some excited child decided to run to the same spot and fell head first into the wood. When we knew he was ok it turned into a big laugh amongst everyone watching, much to the boys embarrassment.

I got back on the bus with the satisfaction of being the most wet out of the tour, which I was proud of, I think this is the benefit of travelling by yourself, I had no one sitting next to me and therefore I could sit comfortably in my wet clothes and spread out to my heart’s content.
The penultimate stop was a natural whirlpool a bit further down the river; the walk to it was beautiful and apparently was a popular spot to marry in the summer, the whirlpool was enormous and fascinating, the water came in to this giant circle and before it headed it curved back round left and then through the part it had just come from, of course you all know what a whirlpool looks like but it really was a sight to get your head around, it must have been from such force that water wouldn’t just exit and had to go around before leaving.

Final stop and still wet through, my new hoody was already in need of a wash and dry, was at a small museum and shop which funnily enough was the same place the greyhound had dropped me off, it contained several different capsules and objects that people had used to go over the falls, some survived and some had not fared so well, on two occasions people went over without so much as a life jacket and lived to tell the tale, one successful capsule looked remarkably like a space shuttle. My favourite was a guy who unfortunately didn’t survive but went hurtling over the drop on a jet ski, someone had taken a picture and before falling he looked very majestic sitting high on the machine.

I tipped our lovely tour guide as we left the bus behind and headed back to my hotel to change out of my wet clothes. Then it was time for my birthday dinner and the best place I could think of was Hard Rock Café, I had a full three course meal with a beer or two until I decided I just needed a coca cola. The bar man kept me company as I ate and chatted and watched a local band play country music to a very busy crowd.

To round off my evening I walked through the Niagara park to one of the view points, every evening each of the three falls gets lit up by powerful colourful lights and it was beautiful to watch as the white foamy falls were turned into rainbows of colour. I’d been told that the fireworks on Friday had stopped a week before, but our tour guide had an inside man who’d said that the 14th was the last so as I waited till 9pm I crossed my fingers. Her inside man was right, it lasted more than 15 minutes and I managed to find a spot to sit and watch the spectacle unfold. I walked home very satisfied with my 22nd birthday celebrations!

My second and final day of my Niagara adventure started with several bowls of cereal then a jog down to the falls again to see how the water was doing; it was just as I left it. It was then time for a Chelsea match against Everton which I watched with my lunch at TGI Fridays. I had a lot of fun with another traveller also there for the Chelsea game, good food was a bonus and the final score of Chelsea 3, Everton 1, the cherry on top. With my head held high I headed into the casino which is the only big tourist attraction on the American side of the falls, on the other there are several casinos, hotels huge restaurants and tourist attractions, with the park and huge amounts of green areas the American side definitely appeals to me more. After a couple of hours at blackjack I managed to walk away with 200 extra dollars in my pocket which practically covered my Niagara expenses.

I decided that I should relax and watch a film; I walked in to Starbucks and settled down with a hot chocolate (served by a very pretty girl) in a state of unwind my film finished I felt I deserved to see the beautiful blonde again so allowed myself another hot chocolate. I then walked to a different part of the falls to grab my final views of the three waterfalls and headed for the bus.

As I waited I browsed the museum/shop again and decided that I regretted not getting a contact from the girl at starbucks! I walked out of the shop as the bus arrived and I felt as if id missed my chance, I then made up a story of leaving a card at the shop and the bus driver gave me the challenge of 15 minutes till departure. I felt I could do it so I left all but my phone on the bus, big gamble, I ran back to find her vacuuming the entry way and in my breathless state (probably not so appealing) ask for her number….she gave the excuse that she did not know her new number but I could add her on Facebook! I decided that it wasn’t a complete rejection and headed back to the bus and made it with minutes still on the clock, I was pretty pleased with myself as I sunk into my seat and my first of three buses headed towards Chicago.

Posted by davidt.ontour 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Boston

11th October - 13th October


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Starts with a B and rhymes with ‘poss mun’ (that is of course a slang or lazy term for Post Man)
Im sure you can work out where I am!! It’s very simple really! B….O….S….T….O…..N told you it was easy!

My couchsurfing continued in Boston, the response rate was very poor so it was down to one guy. I supposed beggars can’t be choosers if I wanted to save on the hostel and also have the chance to see Boston from a local’s point of view. So I took up the offer, his profile wasn’t a standard likes dislikes thing, it was very much about, having no labels, (in the sense of straight, gay etc.) trying to teach that everyone is curious, he believed that sleeping should be done nude or with just boxers…. A lot of other things that I won’t go into, in any case it scared me a bit. I am a strong person who enjoys learning new things and if this was the lesson he was trying to teach then maybe I should try and learn!

This im afraid was a mistake on my part and with possible family members reading this I have a small embarrassment in telling it, but in the interest of keeping the blogs and subsequently my memories truthful I will tell it! Plus it’s kind of funny in a twistedly weird way!

I got his address and decided an hour walk would do me good after the bus ride up, it took just under two to direct myself to the address, whether it was the apprehension or my old age setting In who knows but it shouldn’t have taken that long. The time it took was irrelevant because when I arrived I realised he’s said he took people in from 5 onwards, it was 2.. so it was time for the pub! I managed to find an Irish pub very close and sat there to watch a euro 2012 qualifier, with at least 50 Irish men, it honestly felt like the whole Birish (Boston- Irish) community was out! They won, everyone drank Guinness and it was time to meet up with my host!

He seemed nice enough as he showed me his apartment area, made up of a big room, small kitchen and a wardrobe space! One positive thing on his profile was that he cooked breakfast and dinner for his guests and after introductions we sat down to eat spaghetti bolognaise for dinner. It seemed we were both full so we walked up to a church on the hill where there was a great view of downtown Boston and the baseball stadium, it was a beautiful sight with the lights late at night then we headed back to watch a film! (good start you all think and I agree I thought that too!)

The film ended and I thought that was time to call it so I got my airbed ready and lay down, he then said ‘no no don’t do that, I said ive got films so we need to watch them’ I felt I had to stay awake (his house, his rules) he got up to change the video…. I did say video, he had the oldest TV/VCR combo I’d ever seen, (he announced later in my stay that everything was either donated or found on the street. (getting stranger.. wait for it) he then put porn on, (not kidding) I won’t go into detail, I immediately tried to fall asleep but he kept asking me questions and talking, again I felt obliged to say something so as not to seem rude which took me to the end of one film and onto the next…. Eventually he stopped talking and I could cry myself to sleep (not really but at the same time, wow what a strange end to the day!)

Originally wanted to stay for three nights, but limited it to two following the episode, Wednesday morning I was woken with the amazing smell of breakfast, he stayed true to his word and had cooked some amazing scrambled eggs and sausages, the meal was accompanied by….porn (again not kidding) but I could block it out with the eggs!!

He then took me on a bike ride which was actually a really enjoyable thing to be doing, the weather was warm but not sweltering and I hadn’t ridden a bike in ages we headed out to the port area where we found a policeman, I realised at this point that Donny (my host) had the idea that every officer was bad, in fact I didn’t realise he told me!! He questioned this officer on all sorts of things, trying to crack him but he didn’t and he rode on disappointed and I followed! We saw a lot of downtown Boston, riding round most of the freedom trail and seeing the old city hall, which looks really good considering its classed as the ‘old’ one.

We then headed to the library; Donny doesn’t have a computer so the library is where he gets his info! I was thankful for this as I needed to see the reason why my blackberry was shutting down! (it was the point where all the Blackberry network was down and not functioning at all, which isn’t great when your living with a strange one, I needed to feel like someone else was talking to me so that I didn’t go insane!

The evening, My host had some sort of class to go to, instead of going with him to find out I decided to stay home and relax, get up to speed on my Canada plans watch a film or two, (big daddy and American pie, nothing more suggestive than that) I was already asleep I guess when he arrived back so had nothing to endure when he returned!

We were pushed for time in the morning, so no cooked breakfast for me, instead it was time for a maccy D’s and a final goodbye to someone who meant well but meant it in a strange and very different way to me and probably most people! Donny left, I had some time left for touristy things so I ventured on the subway to Harvard University. The station is actually called Harvard, the campus is built around it so as you walk up the stairs your surrounded by fancy buildings, I managed to find John Harvard himself and get my picture and walk around the whole grounds, there was also some sort of flash mob movement being rehearsed which I stayed and watched for a bit! It was a great venture around the world famous education campus!

Still with time to spare I also managed to get over to the Boston Red Sox baseball stadium for some more sight-seeing action, I think I underestimated the timings as I arrived and realised I was already behind my predicted times for the bus, nevertheless I ran! I really wanted to see the stadium, it was a tiny bit of a let-down as I couldn’t really see inside, but to be around the stadium and seeing the famous landmark was an experience in itself.

From there I needed to run all the way back to the train station and then rush on a train back to the centre of town before my bus away, I managed to get a train very quickly, without buying a ticket, which I hope wouldn’t come back to bite me! It didn’t although karma reared its head in a different way, I got off at the wrong station, panicking without knowing where I was going and after running outside in the rain realised I needed to get back on! (Which I needed to buy another ticket for, KARMA! Nevertheless I arrived just in time for the Greyhound.

Boston impressed in a couple of ways and I think with a different place to stay I would’ve spent my time focusing on the city and less on my host and his ideas!

Posted by davidt.ontour 17:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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