18 June 2011

Fun in slots

Today we took Gil off a sealed road for the very first, and very last time. It was only a short trip (about 12kms each way), but the road was significantly closer to corrugated than dirt. By the time we were back on sealed road, virtually every thing that was previously on surface was on the floor, laptops, books, a backpack, the chopping board - it was a disaster zone.

So you are more than likely wondering, what led us to embark on this crazy drive - a slot canyon, Zebra Canyon to be exact. Yes Mum, slot canyons are those places where flash floods may be fatal, and that guy had to chop his own arm off after a rock fall, but we've made it out perfectly safely.

17 June 2011

A few more national parks and a bit more hiking

Our not so good mail company has impressed us once again with their incompetence – they've sent a letter (hopefully the last piece of mail they receive on our behalf) to our Texas mail forwarding company rather than the Monticello post office as we requested, to top that effort they've made an error in that address … then charged us $16 for the privilege. The only positive that comes out of this is it will soon be in the hands of a company we can trust.

Somehow, we neglected to take note that Zion National Park is in the middle of the desert (perhaps it's the very recent snow we've seen) and would be hot, hot hot. (Or as one of Brad's t-shirts says, and prompted a conversation with a family who think the Queen Victoria Market “is just the best in the world”, hut, hut, hut). The daytime temperatures ranged upwards from 32 degrees, meaning some early hiking starts and although our alarm has been going off as a similar time to when we were working strangely, it's been harder to drag ourselves out of bed – but we've been glad to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.

Zion (a Hebrew word) has a somewhat multi-cultural, or should I say, multi-religious, naming system. In addition to the park's name, several of the formations are named for figures in the Book of Mormon, others by an evangelical priest. Angels Landing is one such formation, so named because the evangelist thought it so impossible to reach the summit, that only angels could reach it … I guess that makes Brad an angel (Don and Kaye, I bet you already knew that) because he climbed to the summit. In the 1920's a guy disproved the angel theory by trekking a path up. I hear it's one of the best walks in the park, but my unsteadiness and fear of heights led me to chicken out of the very last part of the walk, and let Brad go it alone. I'm trying my best to conquer some of my fears on this trip, particularly my fear of heights, but unlike that roller coaster in Vegas, I knew closing my eyes the entire time would not be an option as I'd more than likely fall off the crest … and die (I don't exaggerate). As we were repeatedly reminded on the shuttle bus audio, the walk was not suitable for those with a fear of heights and should be reconsidered if anyone in the party became uncomfortable, further there had been a number of fatalities on this walk, and our safety was our own responsibility. We are learning this is quite the contrast to Australia's “fence the shite out of any scenic viewpoint that tourists visit' mentality … and we're coming to like it. Brad described the last part of the walk as more of a half mile rock climb taking you over several sections only a foot wide with a knee high chain to hang on to and a significant (read at least 500 metre) drop off each side and that my decision not to proceed was the right one.

While waiting for Brad, I took photos for several groups of people and watched large birds soaring in thermals, and some young chipmunks (too young to be scared of the birds or me) play. We've learnt to tell a chipmunk from a golden mantled squirrel by their size and the stripes on a chipmunks face. Chipmunks are much smaller than expected (about the size of large mouse) and we haven't seen any fat or puffy cheeked ones like they are portrayed in movies. I was very glad to see Brad when he returned, though I'm not sure if this was because he hadn't fallen off any cliffs or because he'd left with the backpack containing our water and snacks.

After leaving Zion we detoured briefly to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes (very cool)

and then onto the Grand Canyon North Rim. The views from the northern side were different but just as good as the opposite which we visited on our honeymoon. There was no snow this time around and it was almost as hot as Zion, despite the elevation. The heat, coupled with mule poop and wees (man, do their deposits reek) and a mountain of dust, led to a somewhat unpleasant walk part way down along the Kaibab Trail into the canyon. I found the walk back up particularly hard, something Brad thinks had to do with my hair being out and giving me heat stroke.

Last night we arrived at Bryce Canyon (yup, you guessed it, another national park) and we spent this morning and early afternoon on a 14 km plus walk through the canyon. It's an amazing place, unlike anything we've seen before, with formations that could almost be man made, created by differences in the mineral make up and rain, wind and snow.
On the walk I mentioned to Brad that I seem better able to keep up with him and the following conversation ensued:

Brad: Yes, but you still need rest breaks, I don't.

Me: I was hoping for some encouragement, some agreement.

Brad: Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen.

Me: I guess I'll add that to your “no pain, no gain” comment.

Brad: And you haven't moved slower than you did on our walk yesterday.

But I maintain I'm definitely managing to better keep up, and there's no leg pain any more.

16 June 2011

Gil has airconditioning and it works

Eventually our mail arrived in Mariposa allowing us to complete the process of insuring Gil (don't worry, he has been insured up until this point, we just needed to receive and return a form to the insurer). Our wait allowed Brad to do a spot of maintenance and put some sealant around the bedroom windows. Fingers crossed this means we no longer need to sleep with an emergency roll of paper towel under the pillow. Mariposa also gave Brad a taste of his own medicine when internet access was lost due to some dude stopping his car near our camp ground and taking advantage of the free wifi for a few hours, I don't think he was just checking his email.

The Sonora Pass was open, despite being an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet so we took this routeto cross the Sierra Nevada and it didn't disappoint. Brad and Gil had a considerable amount of fun with the 26% gradient on some of the slopes, Gil more so for the amount of petrol he was able to consume on the uphill climb. A considerable amount of snow banked the road, and we saw numerous snowboarders taking advantage of the cover. Although we didn't realise it at the time, there was also a marine base in the area, and on coming to the top of a particular incline, we were greeted with a number in uniform complete with serious guns. By far the best part of the journey was pulling over to take photos, to be faced with an even more stunning view in the opposite direction – it may or may not have made me cry.

Shortly after, in an attempt to avoid a recurrence of previous bad experiences, we called it a day early and spent an afternoon in the sun reading books and stalking wild life with a zoom lens. Brad has developed a thing for wildlife photography, something which he describes as hunting with a much nicer outcome (not that Brad's ever gone hunting that I am aware of).

The following day Brad and Gil had further fun on a road akin to a roller coaster, why it followed the natural ripples of the desert rather than being levelled remains a mystery. After being forced to take a small but unexpected detour thanks to Gil's love of drinking petrol at a great rate of knots we arrived in the middle of nowhere in the early afternoon to promptly be reminded we were definitely in the desert. The camp ground boasted the best showers in the area, and wasn't lying. They were fancier and cleaner than some nice hotels we've stayed in, which has left Brad wondering if there's now a video of me washing my hair doing the rounds on the internet. This idea was fuelled by an extremely openly advertised brothel just down the road. Did I mention this was a tiny town?

Our journey from Mariposa then took us via Las Vegas to stop in on the guy who provided Brad information on buying an RV while we were still in Aus. Vegas didn't grab us the first time we visited, nor the second time, so why we decided a third visit was necessary, I'm not quite sure. Brad's “friend” was as we expected, a bit odd, very opinionated, and generally disinterested in talking about travel (despite having allegedly travelled to 40 countries), places worth seeing in the US or even us, but seemed to enjoy ranting at length about a certain religion. It made for an interesting couple of hours, and he didn't do anything to dispel the American stereotype.

Eventually we were able to leave the city which by day feels like the morning after a particularly seedy night out (possibly one ending in a one night stand) and head back to a national park.

08 June 2011

… the other day I called Gil home ...

Some observations on our retired life while waiting for our mail to arrive in Mariposa:
  • One of our mail forwarding companies provides an excellent service for a great price, the other not so much, $33 to send two letters, supposedly express post and we're still waiting for it 10 days after clicking send.

  • Brad over uses the words 'disaster' (apparently everything is one) and 'FYI'.

  • It's possible for me to crochet whilst on boring roads, without getting carsick and still catch Brad speeding. Less so because of keen observance, more so because George the GPS moos at him at 3 miles over the speed limit.

  • Retired blokes don't shave all that often. Growth length approaching 1cm.

  • Gin is amazingly cheap, why did it take us a month to realise this? I may have to give up wine and Brad is in so much trouble for not packing the whisky rocks!

  • If you are picky at the supermarket you end up visiting four and crying at the last one because the person at the checkout was rude. I'll let you decide who cried.

  • If you really want to, you can live for nearly 7 days off one 12 volt car battery worth of power, including powering Brad's technology habit.

  • Windows may not be completely water tight in very heavy down pours, however this can be remedied with paper towel and a hair dryer.

  • Cooking certain foods in Gil will lead to the bed smelling like sausages for two days and your wardrobe will permanently smell like pasta sauce, but now that I have the time – I love it (the cooking, not sleeping in a BBQ for two nights) and have come quite possessive of my responsibility. Although can anyone tell me the right way to cook rice by absorption on a stove? Post card for the first person who gives me success and their address.

  • No matter how hard you try, you'll forget to secure a least one thing prior to driving off.

  • Driving after dark leads to waking up in some interesting places in the morning.

Here's an overview of where we've been the last few weeks, and for those of you following along at home, a map of the next month or so of our travels.


Tomorrow (if our mail arrives):
... okay, maybe not all of that is tomorrow, perhaps the next month or so.

The Tioga Pass is still closed as it received 200% of the average snow pack this past winter and they are still clearing 15 feet of snow, this as well as temperatures already being over 40°C in Death Valley has lead to us postponing the remainder of our Sierra Nevada loop.

Coming soon: full photo albums and videos which like the maps are courtesy of the 365 days retired multi-media department, Brad.

… now, back to my G&T.

Did we really walk that far?

Shortly after arriving in Yosemite, we decided to tackle our first walk. The guide described the hike to the top of Vernal Fall and then on to the top of Nevada Fall as a strenuous walk of just over 8km round trip with an altitude gain of 1900 feet (579 metres). Both sets of falls did not disappoint, and we were almost as impressed with the small kids taking on the walk with their parents. How they were managing the sometimes foot high rock steps with their little legs, I'm not quite sure. Tomorrow we plan tackle the walk to the top of Yosemite Fall, a 11.6km round trip, with a 2700 feet (823 metre) altitude gain rated very strenuous, but we don't know how our legs will feel yet.

This morning our legs were only vaguely sore (surprisingly), so we set off to the top of Yosemite Falls. Two things we find interesting about Yosemite Falls:

  1. They're the fifth highest falls in the world and the highest in North America

  2. They're fed almost entirely by snow melt meaning they dry up later in the year (absolutely no sign of a lack of snow today though)

Very strenuous is accurate, the trail was a combination of uneven rock steps, and very steep path, zig-zagging enthusiastically. Not far in, I realised the disadvantage of Brad leading is my pathetic legs can't keep up with his bike rider ones. Brad then has a little rest while I catch up, and we start all over again as soon as I do. When I pointed this out, “no pain, no gain” was the response from the man 3 metres in front, leisurely sipping a bottle of water. I should point out there are also many advantages for Brad leading, including having to take little responsibility when we go the wrong way, and the slippery rocks being discovered before I step on them.

After several hours of climbing we arrived at the top of the falls ... at the same time as a snow storm sent us scurrying under a rock for shelter. Brad hurriedly zipped on the lower half of his new “outdoors man” trousers, and decided that, given he was only wearing a t-shirt and had brought no other clothes, my white long sleeve one looked mighty tempting. Fortunately for Brad it's very stretchy, has always been a little large on me and is a lot warmer than it looks. Unfortunately for me, I doubt washing will bring it back to my size. Despite the weather we decided to continue on another mile to Yosemite Point, gaining a further 100 metres in altitude. The views down to the valley floor were amazing, and it was then we had some perspective of just how high we'd climbed.

The snow and rain continued all the way down, making progress slow and significantly more slippery (Mrs. Accident Prone only fell once, and must admit this occurred on the rare occasion Brad was leading, illustrating) and our aching bodies were glad for a drink before returning to Gil.

Walking tomorrow may not be an option and Brad may possibly to boost me into bed tonight. I don't think I've mentioned, Gil doesn't have a ladder for climbing into the upstairs bed, so one has to enthusiastically hurdle themselves up about as gracefully as a sea lion on a rock. (We spent sometime watching the sea lions in Monterrey, they're not so graceful once out of the water).

Surprisingly, walking yesterday was possible, and after a few gentle strolls around meadows and lakes, I decided to take on the Valley Floor loop. Brad kindly pointed out that although the walk was rated moderate, it was 21kms long and therefore a half marathon. He then promptly decided he wouldn't be joining me on said walk. Determined to take advantage of every walking opportunity I set out and enjoyed some time to myself and new perspectives of the valley. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out just what gave the trail a moderate rating other than its length and came up with the following:

  1. Moderate chance of seeing a bear. I didn't but saw some evidence they had been around.

  2. Moderate chance of having to leave the trail and head (hopefully) in the direction of the road due to an impassible stream. I'd rate this as high today as I had to do it multiple times.

  3. Moderate chance of getting wet feet due to above mentioned streams or marshy puddles. Again, today this was high. For the fourth time in two weeks, I have soggy hiking shoes and am contemplating a gumboot purchase (Brad says no).

The trails to the top of Half Dome and Glacier Point are still closed, so three waterfalls and a half marathon will have to do for now.

In case you're wondering, our memories of Yosemite didn't fail, we'll be grinning for a while.

07 June 2011

Sometimes stealth is required

Memorial Day caught us somewhat by surprise (suppose that's what happens when two 21st century kids don't have access to the internet or phone reception for a week). We'd already decided to wait until after the long weekend to head to Yosemite, figuring it would be busy, but didn't expect that everywhere we tried to camp would be completely full. Adding to this was a “no overnight parking” county by-law meaning we technically couldn't “stop on the side of the road”. This lead to a few nights of enforced “Stealth Camping” (as Brad calls it) – arriving at a spot late in the evening, preferably after dinner, and exhibiting as few signs of life as possible including, not turning on lights and 20 second showers. The first night was spent in a somewhat shady side street across from a community hospital – there were several semis and another RV parked there so we weren't alone. After a day sorting out accommodation locations for nearly the next week, a visit to Monterrey Bay and the Googleplex (imagine Brad's happiness), and a great Thai meal (one isn't allowed to cook when stealth camping) we headed our second stealth spot an observation car park for viewing the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Brad had researched this location, and found a stay of up to 8 hours permissible – perfect, I didn't plan on sleeping in anyway. The views of the bridge and bay at sunrise were unbeatable and we barely had to leave the bed.

This is why...

The drive into Kings Canyon showed us really how small we are and presented us with views nothing short of breathtaking. Again I do not have adequate words to describe it, it truly is a king's canyon. Hopefully the photos might go some way to doing it justice. A walk along the valley floor necessitated Brad's implementation of the “photo opportunity” system. Brad always leads the way when walking (something which I resisted at first, but have given up following our prior experiences), this can lead to me disappearing off the path or stopping for a period in search of a photo, and so I am now required to call out “photo opportunity” when stopping so Brad doesn't contemplate sending out a search party.

This same walk confirmed why at 29 and 31 we'd put great careers on hold and spend a year in a 22 by 8 foot space. For anyone who ever questioned why we did this, this is why.

In my memory, Yosemite holds still more beauty, soon we'll see how good my memory is.