Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

A Connecticut Yankee in King Aloha’s Court

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

From Tokyo to Honolulu was a red-eye flight.  Only slept about an hour that night.

The weirdest thing happened… I left Japan on Wednesday night and arrived in Hawaii on Wednesday morning!  Therefore, I was able to do what few people have ever done: live through a day twice.  My lifetime has been extended a day.  The only other person I’ve known who did this was Tom Sawyer when he went around the world in a hot air balloon.

The sunrise from my window seat was spectacular:

Inflight Sunrise

It feels good to be back in the US.  Even flying on an American airline was a pleasant twist.  Having a captain come over the intercom with a strong American voice and wide Texan accent was reassuring: “Wuall Ladies and Gents, welcome to Delta airlines, looks like today we have a strong tail wind and will be arriving 15-20 minutes ‘head of schedule… now I don’t guess anyone will be complain’n about that,”  (brother, you’d be surprised) “…so sit back and enjoy the ride.” 

When flying foreign airlines I’m used to hearing timorous mumbling from the Captains, if anything.

My whole life I’ve wanted to visit Hawaii, now I have. What larks!

Was in Hawaii 6 days, 5 nights.  Rented a bicycle, so that was my modus transportation.  Biked around 80 miles total.

Stayed pretty busy (unlike Tokyo).  Really wanted to go snorkeling, so did.  They were renting snorkeling equipment down on the beach for $20/day.  Seemed steep, so after hunting around I found a mask and snorkel set for $12 and bought my own.

Hanauma Bay is especially known for its excellent snorkeling so I of course went there.  In order to beat the crowds I got up at 6am one day and biked to the Bay (about 12 miles).  The snorkeling was pretty good, but it was windy which made the water turbid, visibility only about 20 feet.  The fish were brilliant, but the coral didn’t look in the best shape.

Snorkeling aside, I thought Hanauma Bay itself was especially amazingly pretty, and enjoyed sitting on the hill watching the clear blue breakers roll in below:

Beach

Another day I biked to Pearl Harbor (a looong bike ride).  In the picture below I’m standing on the USS Bowfin submarine and you can see the USS Arizona Memorial and Battleship Missouri behind me across the harbor.  Can’t believe I actually got to visit this place, I’ve always wanted to come to Pearl Harbor…!

Nick

Visiting Pearl Harbor is sobering.  It seemed a fittingly appropriate site for me to be confronted with upon re-entering America – seeing the final resting place of 900+ seaman entombed in the Arizona is a strong reminder of the ultimate sacrifice many have given for this country’s freedom and prosperity, which I glibly enjoy the benefits of.

America has its faults, and as a Christian my primary allegiance is to God’s Kingdom, but I have to say that (at least in my opinion) America is the best place going.

While I was visiting the Harbor, a local high school band came and put on a concert in the park-like area by the outdoor memorials and restaurant.  A number of tourists stopped for a minute to listen and then would move on, but right form the beginning I sat down and listened through their whole show. 

It was quite moving to me.  Besides the patriotic music, it just seemed classic Americana what with the kids doing normal American kid activities and parents watching on, supporting their sons and daughters by clapping enthusiastically after every number, even if there were a few sour notes.

Band Playing

To get in the mood, below is a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner given by the combined Military Academies choirs:

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Something I didn’t know is that when survivors of the USS Arizona die, they can be buried in the Arizona with their shipmates if they request so.  The most recent internment was 2011 – there are still 13 survivors alive.

But back to Hawaii, it was a mixed bag as far as “feeling” like America.  It sure was touristy.  But then, on the other hand, little things would remind me of home.  Like the smell of water in the air from lawn sprinklers.  That smell is distinctively American, as most people in other countries can’t afford to waste perfectly good water by pouring it out on their grass. 

Boy and Sprinklers

Besides all the tourists, the tropical beaches seemed out of place for America.  But I suppose that’s because I’m from Kansas.  If I were from Southern Florida it might seem normal.

Speaking of the beaches and ocean, I couldn’t believe how blue the water was!  I took the following picture from on top Diamondhead Crater that I hiked up one day.  Isn’t that water the most azure you’ve ever seen?

Lighthouse

So on Sunday I went to church at a local Brethren Assembly: Waialae-Kahala Chapel.  That was a good time of getting recharged and meeting local believers.  A young couple there invited me over for supper which was great, that evening they picked me up at my hostel and drove me to their house. Besides the fellowship, the food was sumptious: a chicken dish with fried onions on top, and pumpkin haupia cake for dessert (local Hawaiian)– oh, also raw tuna, which was a new one. 

We had a grande olde time time swapping tales, and they even volunteered to bring me to the airport the next morning, which was amazingly nice.

Speaking of church, did I mention last week I attended an International one in Jakarta?  Yep.  It was a very old church (Gereja Immanuel) from the Dutch colonial days.  They had an English service.

Here is a picture of the building in 1875, followed by one I took from the same location in 2012:

Gereja_Immanuel_1875Church

I found this Jakartan church to be mostly dead, even though it did have a booming pipe organ.  But I know it’s not good to base ones opinions of a church on only one visit, so I’ll withhold further opinions. 

So that’s the quick update on Hawaii from this end. 

I’m writing this whilst sitting in the Los Angeles airport where I’m spending the night, and it’s kinda boring.  4am right now…

In a few hours I take a bus over to the LA Union Station where I then catch a 27-hour Amtrak train up to Albany, Oregon.  That should be interesting.

When Was the Last Time You Went Road Tripping?

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Summary of Last Three Weeks

I’m just home from a three week Western America road trip.  I spent a week driving out to the coast, a week visiting my brother in Oregon, and a week driving back to Kansas. 

Driving Driving Driving

On the trip I was up close to Canada and down to within several miles of Mexico.  I drove through nearly every weather condition from hot and sunny to cold and snowy to booming thunderstorms to fog to ice. 

I’ve been over mountains, down valleys, in redwood forests, hugged dirt tracks by the Pacific, and zipped through cactus-lined desert. 

From sea level to a 9,500 foot mountain pass in Wyoming, my trusty Accord has crossed the Rockies, the Sierra-Nevada’s, the Cascades, and on this trip… the 300,00 mile mark!

IMG_1770Stats

  • Total Trip Length: 6,500+ miles
  • Number of States Visited: 14
  • Average MPG: 33
  • Total Time Spent Driving: 125+ hours
  • Total Cost of Gasoline: $700
  • Total Nights Spent Camping: 8

General Route

This map shows the general route I took but it’s missing the paths through the Badlands in South Dakota, Yosemite in California, and extra driving I did in Utah.  GoogleMaps kept crashing every time I put in too fine detail.

General Route

Theme Song for the Trip

Sorry, not very religous, but fun!

One of the highlights of the last three weeks was watching The Lion King with my little neices, singing along with the songs :-)

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Texas, New Mexico, and Speed Limits

Most recently I’ve been in Texas.  In fact, I saw a genuine Texan at McDonald’s: big moustache, worn out jeans, heavy duty cowboy boots, western style vest, and a cowboy hat with (I kid you not) a giant feather sticking out. 

There was no horse, so I think he’d just emerged from the cactus-lined sagebrush on foot.

 

State Signs (Texas - Where Everything Is Bigger)

So you can make good time across Texas because their speed limit is 80 mph.  They aren’t messing around!  That’s the fastest posted I’ve seen in any state so far.

It’s funny about speed limits.  Through Phoenix the speed limit was 55mph but not a single person followed it.  Everyone was going about 72.  No one wanted to go a hair slower or a hair faster, I guessed the idea was police couldn’t pull everyone over. 

Then in San Francisco I couldn’t believe how FAST everyone drove.  80+ was the norm.  Not sure what the hurry was…?

The most notable thing I saw in New Mexico was this beautiful stucco gas station about an acre in size with some five different stores inside: a country western store, a Native American crafts store, a regular gas station store, a giant fireworks store, and a full-sized Dairy Queen store.  One stop shop, that. 

While there I bought a Blizzard from the Dairy Queen, marveling to the cashier how this station was surely one of the 7 wonders of New Mexico. 

In subdued tones she secretly confessed to me she’d prefer working on the other side of the store since, as she put it, “They don’t work near so hard over there.” 

I could imagine fitting cowboy boots at a filling station was more relaxing than filling ice-cream ‘n burger orders. 

That same cashier had to re-swipe my credit card multiple times because, as she explained, “Our internet here in the boonies hardly works.”

Didja See any Wildlife?

I saw some:  Cattle, Deer, Coyotes, Antelope, Elk, Bison, Banana Slugs, a Jack-Rabbit, and some Hitch-Hikers.

CoyotesAntelope

BufalloCattle Crossing in the Boonies of South Dakota

Police Run-in Stories

My Car Old FaithfulI was pulled over by law enforcement twice this trip.

The first was at the very beginning while still in Wichita! 

It was about 4am and I was stopped because my brights were on. 

“Why are you driving with your brights on?” he asked.

Still groggy, I responded, “I don’t know.” 

The more thoughtful answer would have been, “Because it’s dark out and I’m the only one on the road except for you and you were parked back in those creepy shadows with your lights off.” 

He continued the questioning, “Where are you headed.” 

Looking up to him bleary-eyed, I answered, “Oregon, but I just left my apartment a few minutes ago… and it’s crazy I’m already pulled over, just my luck.” 

His eyebrows went up, but he waved me on with only a warning.

He added, “Watch out for deer.” 

Indeed, a number of deer did jump out in front of me on this trip.  But I didn’t hit any of them.

State Signs (Utah)

So the next time I was pulled over by a policeman was some 4,000 miles later in Utah at a speed trap. 

“You were going 66 in a 50 mph zone back there, Boss,” he said. 

I blinked twice.  Why did he call me boss?

“What, how’s that?  I thought the speed limit was 65?” 

“Well, it was, but it just switched down to 50.” 

Oh. 

Fortunately, after running my tags and detaining me for a coons age he came back and reported, “Well Boss, I’m giving you a huge break tonight and letting you off with just a warning.” 

I heaved a sigh of relief, “Thanks for that, and believe me I’ll really be watching my speed from now on.” 

He looked up from his paperwork in surprise and waved his hand absently, “Don’t worry about that, the speed limit goes back up to 65 just ahead.” 

Oh.

I guess there was one other somewhat humorous incident I had with the law, this time in California. 

I had parked at a bank to pick up some cash (the honest way of course, I wasn’t robbing the bank).  Later I discovered a police SUV had parked right behind me such that I couldn’t back out of my parking stall.  Believe me, I tried. 

After muchos efforts to squeeze out I finally gave up in frustration. 

Exiting my vehicle I noticed there were now several more police cars, and a knot of officers milling about.  It didn’t look to me like they were doing anything too exciting, mainly filling out forms and such so I went over and asked one of them if they could please move their squad car so I could continue my Western Adventure. 

So that didn’t go over very well.  Not the most friendly chap, that one. 

I went back and examined the situation.  Maybe a 30 point turn would do the trick to squeeze out?  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Finally, with much perseverance I grazed out with inches to spare.  Like Seth always says, “An inch is as good as a mile.”  I wondered what the policeman would have thought if I’d accidentaly taken his rear bumper off?  Glad I didn’t have to find out.

Arizona and Navajo Indians

State signs (Arizona)

Driving through a remote section of the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona I was surprised to catch only three radio stations.  One of them was an Indian talk show.  Folks like Sitting Rock and Sunshine called in. 

They were discussing the plight of native cultures.  One man lamented the fact many Indians couldn’t speak their native tongue: “Everywhere else people speak their native language, in Europe they speak their mother tongue, and in Australia they speak their native language, but here we are losing our spoken heritage.”  Australia?

Another fellow had this to say, “I just can’t hardly watch any TV anymore.  I can’t watch it because nearly all the shows depict Indians in such bad light – as savage, ignorant, and always the bad guys.” 

It was interesting hearing them air their grievances.  I felt bad for their plight.  Honestly wished their situation was better than selling souvenirs in booths along the highway (which I saw a lot of).  They got a bum deal a couple hundred years ago.

Talk radio aside, I did buy a turquoise bead bracelet from a local Navajo woman who was quite friendly, helpful and pleasant.  I asked her if she could speak much Navajo and she said no. 

rugs_for_sale

Progressive California

California does many things weird.  For instance, they stop you at the border as if you were crossing into another country instead of another state. 

They asked me such probing questions as, “Are you transporting any fruit or vegetables?” 

I thought about this for a bit, then pointed to the sandwich I was eating and said, “Well, this has tomatoes in it.” 

She thought about that, then responded, “That should be ok, do you have any other fruit or vegetables?” 

I thought some more, then added, “There are two more sandwiches in the trunk of my car, and they have tomatoes on them too…?” 

She waved me through. 

California does other weird things.  At the gas stations all the nozzles have a special anti-vapor rubber boot which seals up against your car.  Not sure what that does exactly.  Maybe so you can still smoke while filling and not blow up your car?

But that’s better than Oregon where you’re not even allowed to pump your own gasoline. Not to mention once an Oregonian Filling Attendant gave me incorrect directions to Subway.

California is big on recycling.  I could hardly find a trash can for all my leaking lead acid batteries and spare cell phones.

arches

The worse thing about California is their McDonald’s aren’t partaking in the Free Coffee Promotional deal. 

So I walked into a McDonalds in California and told them I wanted some free coffee.  The lady looked at me strange and was like, “What are you talking about?” 

“Yeah, you know, the deal where you give everyone free coffee until November 21st?” 

She looked even more perplexed, then went back and got her manager.  He came out with an icy step and said coldly, “We’re not participating in that nationwide promotional deal, sorry.” 

Was it that same McDonald’s with the bathroom sign that read, “Only paying patrons can use this bathroom”?  

Though sometimes I did feel a little bad stopping at McDonald’s and just using their free wi-fi, free bathrooms, and free coffee.

Speaking of signs, I’ve seen some unusual ones……

Signs Signs Signs

Out on the coast you see Evacuation signs everywhere.  I mean Tsunami Evacuation signs. According to my brother who lives out on the West Coast they don’t have any sirens though.  So the locals know where to evacuate to, but not when a Tsunami is going to hit.

The Tsunami Sign shows a picture of a man fleeing with a blue wave curling behind him.  Violent, that. 

I ate at a restaurant called The Big Wave.  While there, my sister-in-law ordered a Tsunami Burger.  It lived up to its name, literally the largest I’ve seen, bar none. 

But back to signs, I’ve seen tons of different wildlife crossing signs.  In Kansas I’m used to seeing Deer Crossing signs, but on this trip I’ve seen many more.  Such as: 

Moose Crossing Sign

  • Cattle Crossing
  • Elk Crossing
  • Buffalo Crossing
  • Mountain Lion Crossing
  • and Moose Crossing 

I really wanted to see a moose so slowed down after that one in Idaho and kept my eyes peeled in the forest.  Alas, all to no avail.  No moose. 

After the Mountain Lion sign (my niece calls these “pantlers”) I saw some road kill of a small animal.  I was just sure someone had hit a baby mountain lion while their attention was distracted by the sign… but after checking… no, unfortunately it was just a rabbit.

There have been variations on the Deer Crossing sign too.  One read, “Major Deer Crossing.”  Wow.  But my favorite was, “Deer migration crossing.”  Hey, I didn’t know deer migrated!

Ironically, of the deer that jumped in front of my car or were standing by the side of the road I don’t believe any of them were at a designated crossing location.  Just goes to prove deer can’t read signs which is what I‘ve always suspected. 

Where in America Is Most Beautiful?

Each place has a beauty of it’s own and it would be hard (for me) to say which part was prettiest of the country I saw. 

There were some gems, including the following:

Yellowstone National Park:

Yellowstone

Badlands of South Dakota:

Badlands

Yosemite National Park:

Yosemite Valley

Columbian River Gorge:

Hood River Gorge

The Boonies of Idaho (East of Lewiston):

idaho

Cascade Mountain Range (Marys Peak):

Marys_peak

Pacific Coast (Indian Beach):

Coastal Beach

Grand Canyon in Arizona (Grandview Overlook):

Grand Canyon

Colors of the Pacific Northwest (At the Top of Multnomah Falls):

Scenery_Oregon

Wintery Wyoming:

Horses

Redwood Forests of California:

California Forest

The Mojave Desert:

The Mojave

But The Winner Is…

In the final analysis, I don’t think anything can beat the ocean in terms of sheer beauty. 

The rocky coasts, beaches, and panoramas of northern California and Oregon were stunning:

Sunset

Ocean

Sunset

haystack_rock

After the ocean, I guess Kansas comes in a close second.  Though the Grand Canyon was cool too. 

I wanted to go on a helicopter ride at the Grand Canyon but they were like $200-$500 dollars so I opted for the Imax instead.  Even that was a little expensive: $12.50 plus 9% Arizona sales tax. 

But they gave me a free Oats ‘N Honey granola bar with the show so it was all good.

Where in America Felt Most Remote?

The loneliest stretch of country I went through was, surprisingly, the hills of Northwest Nebraska.  Who’d have thunk? 

At one point I remember travelling about an hour there without seeing a single tree or car! 

It was eerie and I hoped for no car trouble.

OpenRoad

What Have I Learned?

One observation I made is that, compared to Haiti, America is pretty much like Heaven.  And I’ve travelled across both Haiti and America. 

But I wonder, when we get to Heaven will we look back and say America was pretty dumpy in comparison?  Probably. 

Has this trip had any special spiritual significance?  I’m not sure yet.  But probably.

After spending so much time driving you’d think there would have been plenty of time to think.  But truthfully, most the time I was too busy negotiating windy back roads, taking in the scenery, juggling between my handheld GPS, shifting gears, and poring over my jumbo-sized Rand McNally’s road atlas. 

Not to mention all the picture taking from the windows, eating snacks, listening to local radio stations, and recording gas mileage stats. 

I’ve decided someone has to be a little crazy (and young at heart?) to attempt a solo road trip like this.  It was daunting at times… I never knew where the next night would be spent, and sometimes navigation was tricky as I stayed on two-lane back roads to experience more remote America. 

Thankfully my brother Luke doubled as my personal 411 roadside navigation assistant (when my cell phone had signal). Thanks Luke!

Remote America

Here are at least 10 things I learned:

  1. It’s a good idea to carry tire chains when crossing the mountains in winter
  2. Driving 15 hours in one day is possible
  3. McDonald’s has pretty good coffee for $1
  4. America is a big place
  5. Brothers are nice (I visited 2 of mine on this trip)
  6. Brethren Californian’s are nice too (they put me up free one night)
  7. Honda Accord’s are workhorses (I’ve decided to name mine, “Old Faithful”)
  8. Mount Rushmore is probably the most touristy location in America
  9. It took Lewis & Clark two years to travel as far as I did in five days
  10. As interesting as scenery is, relationships are more so.  The best parts of my trip were time spent with family. 

Fort ClatsopSeth & Co in Texas

Keeping a Childlike Wonder

I like the following quote by General MacArthur:

“Whether 70 or 16, there is, in every being’s heart the love of
wonder, the sweet amazement of the stars, and the star-like
things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events,
the unfailing childlike appetite for ‘What Next?’

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt,
as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear,
as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”

~General Douglas MacArthur

One late night around 1 AM I pulled into this place called Afton Canyon in Southeast California. I was tired, and it was chilly. But when I stepped from my car into this dry desert I was greeted with one of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen. 

The stars were brilliant like a fairytale, so I stayed up another hour watching them and enjoying the solitude. I’m glad there is still a little wonder in me yet, a little “sweet amazement at the stars…”