I wrote most of this while we were driving between stops. Most driving days were between 2-3 and maximum 6 hours of driving so I had plenty of time to summarise while Sarah drove…..
Day 1- Wednesday March 9
March 9 we got on a plane for Los Angeles- it’s a 13 hour flight. I usually manage to get some sleep but this time I watched 5 movies instead. Of course I was pretty shattered by the time we landed, but it was 6am local time and we needed to stay up as long as possible so we could get into sync with the time difference. Honestly it’s not too bad with only an effective 5 hour difference. OK it’s actually 19 hours but midday in LA is 7am Sydney. So most days I had until about 2pm before any support tickets came in!
It’s kind of strange to leave at 11am on Wednesday morning and arrive at 6am on Wednesday morning after such a long flight, but the mental gymnastics to deal with the situation were overwhelmed by the desire to sleep…..
That first day we managed to drag our old carcasses around to the local shops to pick up some essentials. They had a whole aisle of breakfast food but I found it impossible to buy anything without heaps of sugar. I normally like a non toasted, natural muesli for breakfast but even the muesli was all toasted and in 100 different sugary flavours. Later I learned that to get natural muesli you have to go to a health food store. And those are chock full of incredible stuff like 5 different flavours of hemp milk. Yes, hemp milk.
Saw loads of interesting cars- without exaggeration I’d say Teslas are about as common here as Volvos. Lots and lots of Maseratis, couple of Ferraris and Bentleys and a Koenigggseg. We even saw 3 KTM X-Bows, I mean I think only about 3 of them were ever made? One other difference from back home is the crapload of electric cars. Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and hybrid Prius mixing it up with the Teslas. Seriously- so many Teslas. It became such a thing that eventually Sarah threatened to punch me if I pointed out any more, and she punches hard.
Day 2- Thursday March 10
La Brea Tar Pits
The La Brea Tar Pits is a place I’d always wanted to visit, and we found that we were staying within walking distance! The main ‘pit’ is a grungy looking pool that’s free to visit, but looks very unattractive. Apparently tar bubbles up through the ground from time to time in various areas of the park, and there’s green traffic cones warning people of small eruptions. We went into the museum and they’ve done an awesome job of explaining the history and there’s even a film describing how so many creatures got caught in the sticky tar and preserved. Well worth a look.
Day 3- Friday March 11
I was very glad we had pre paid for the tickets, because it seems impossible to walk more than 10 steps at Disneyland without an opportunity to buy something, indeed anything for about 15x what it’s worth on the outside. It was particularly interesting to see what Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise since purchasing it- i.e., they are flogging the shit out of it! You can buy Darth Vader beanies for your toddler, a gold C3PO hat with Mickey Mouse ears, and R2D2 dress or purse, and mountains of other vile tat. OK some of it I was kind of attracted to, but my mind flipped out when I saw the price. Yes Virginia, you can have this Light Saber Umbrella for only $65. Phaaaaark, that’s about $90 Aus!
I think we spent over $100 just on food- and I had brought my own bottle of mineral water. The rides were a lot of fun- we finished with ‘Hyperspace Mountain’ and it couldn’t have gone for more than 2 minutes but holy crap it was intense!
Day 4- Saturday March 12
This is our last day in LA and we decided to hit the Getty Museum and Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. The Getty is beyond amazing. I can’t express how great it is to be able to see these artworks so close up and their beauty can make you very emotional. Well, it did for me anyway. Weirdly Van Goughs Irises was protected by glass, but positioned so that a lot of light spilled in from outside, meaning 1. you couldn’t get a photo without reflections and 2. I wondered whether the painting was adequately protected from UV rays. I really want to go back and spend 2 days there, just so I can stand in front of some of the items without time limits.
Some of these panoramas are great- give them a click! ^^^
We were so tired after the Getty that we all just wanted to go home and sleep, so the Hollywood Walk was cancelled, but I demanded to be dropped off at Amoeba Records so I could go crate diving. Fantastic place with over 25,000 records- unfortunately I didn’t have much time so I managed to pick my way through the Dance Pop, Trance and House sections. I didn’t really feel that the full priced records were worth the money, but I picked up a few (ok 60 or so) records at between 50c and $2.99. Some I already own but in better condition than mine, a couple that I have no idea if they are any good, a few that should be interesting and one, yes one, off my list. Every DJ has a list- of tracks they are looking for…..
There’s no listening stations at Amoeba, but they have a return policy where you can bring things back for a 75% refund if you don’t like it. I didn’t have time to listen, and I think the really cheap records that I bought are excluded from that offer. The AirBnB we stayed in had a DJ setup that included a Technics SL1200 MKIII, so if I’d had more time…….
After a couple of hours in record heaven I hopped across the road for dinner at Jack In The Box (quite tasty, but slathered in butter) and got a cab back to our Air BnB
Day 5- Sunday March 13
Overnight daylight savings time turned on in California and so our time difference with Sydney is now 6 hours, we packed up and hopped in our enormous van and headed up the freeway to Barstow outlet centre where I bought too much stuff. This was a recurring thing over the next few days. Lunch was a 1lb burger from Fatburger which definitely lived up to its name. I kind of felt that I was going to emulate Elvis and collapse while attempting to push that burger out of my body, but that’s a TMI story for another day….
We got to the hotel Circus Circus and booked in. It’s an old, fairly tired hotel but everyone was really pleasant. We were warned several times that ‘this is a non smoking hotel’ but you have to walk across the casino floor to get in or out, and the smoke was eye watering. Up in the rooms you couldn’t smell smoke but as soon as you step out into the corridor it hits you. Anyway the rooms are basic but good and fairly roomy, and at $US50 per night I can put up with a few weirdos and smokers. We had a bit of a walk up the strip and it was exactly as fun and hideous as you’d expect. People holding these huge cans of beer, openly drinking, others with novelty containers- yard glasses, plastic Eiffel Towers, guitars etc. all filled with cheap sweet booze. We walked into a 711 to pick up some supplies and they had flavoured tequila shots on ice right next to the cash register…….
It must be delightful to be an alcoholic in Vegas, you’re never more than a few steps away from buckets of cheap booze and nobody gives a fuck if you walk up the strip at 8am with a beer the size of an aircraft carrier and talking to yourself. After a few days Sarah hated it, I just wanted to see more of the seedy side!
Day 6- Monday 14 March
We woke at 7am and went for a run up the strip- all of the major intersections require you to go up to an overpass- I suppose this is to reduce vehicular deaths from all of the pissed pedestrians. Helpfully, they all provide escalators and elevators for the old, fat, infirm and completely spannered.
After a shower it was off to get remarried! We hopped in an Uber and got to the chapel in plenty of time. The ceremony was heaps of fun and Elvis did a great job. Sarah was absolutely stunning in a red sequin dress and we all got to be a bit silly and have a dance, if you want to see the extent of my embarrassment you should watch the movie!
Back to the hotel for a change and to the Dennys across the road for lunch. The servings are ridiculous- I ordered a spicy meat plate and could barely finish it- remember I’ve been able to eat 9 pieces of KFC and 2 large sides for lunch. A bit more shopping and no time for a sleep before we got picked up by Maverick Aviation for a helicopter ride out to the Grand Canyon. Just a note about this- the helicopter ride didn’t cost much less than our flights from Australia. It was hugely expensive, but we got to fly over Lake Mead, land IN the Canyon, have a snack and then fly back via other landmarks and up the Las Vegas strip at sunset, it was totally amazing. Apart from the eye watering cost I’d totally recommend it.
A limo ride back to the hotel and we met my parents for a steak dinner in Vince Dean Tuatara- a rock n roll steak joint with nightly karaoke. We ate at the same joint the next night and watched a toddler dance on stage for an award. Toward the end of the song I heard the chorus- ‘Spread your Legs’, charming.
Day 7- Tuesday 15 March
Out for an early morning run, we ran the opposite direction and found the sleazy part of Vegas. In reality, the sleazy part starts the moment you step off the strip. One block back from our hotel was the ‘Worlds Largest Erotic Museum’ and many many supply stores for strippers. No, I did not attempt to buy any strippers.
For breakfast we went to the Bellagio – Mum had read online that the Bellagio and the Wynn has the best breakfast buffet, and I can believe it- we had paid $US20 each for dinner at the Circus Circus buffet, and while they had a decent selection of food, it was just uninspiring and a little depressing. The Bellagio by contrast was fantastic- 2 different kinds of bacon, chefs on hand to custom make omelettes for you (with real crabmeat, as one American next to me demanded) and a fine selection of pastries and other things that I should not eat for breakfast. But did. The only downside was when I ordered a coffee for Dad and myself- at $US13 + tip for 2 coffees, that was about A$10 per coffee. Ouch!
There were a couple of interesting exhibitions on at the Luxor– one about the human body and one with some Titanic bits so we headed down there- unfortunately we didn’t know it would cost $US35 for each entry so we headed back to the hotel for a much needed rest. Well, I slept and Sarah failed to sleep. So we got up and went to ‘Fashion Show’ which is a big mall in the middle of the strip. Sarah got excited about clothes and shoes while I got accosted by a tweaker trying to sell a $US500 device that streams content from all over the world. It seems to be a basic $50 streaming box that comes with a ‘lifetime subscription’ to a private club that hosts pirated content. Sorry buddy but I’m not paying for your meth, and I doubt you’ll be around for a refund when the FBI shut down your little club. It’s most likely that the content is organised by one of a number of small underground piracy groups. If that’s true they are selling access to something that is free for other people. Great scam I guess!
Sarah spotted a Tiffanys store so we had a quick look and I spotted a lovely Tiffany blue pendant and decided to buy it for her as a 10 year anniversary gift. Then she spotted a little duck pendant and decided to buy it for herself. They both look lovely, and it continues a duck motif that has been present through our marriage- we gave glow in the dark ducks to our wedding guests, and brought one of the ducks with us to take photos with.
Later we met up with Mum and Dad- they had taken Alex for a few rides back at Circus Circus, and we took the bus up to Fremont Street. This is the ‘original Vegas’ and has covered part of the street with an amazing light show to attract tourists and rebranded as ‘the Fremont Street Experience’ and honestly it was a bit much for my tiny brain. I needed a wee and went into one of the casinos, they had go go dancers dancing above the slot machines. There was skimpy dancers on top of a bar right in the street and skimpily dressed and just plain weird people all over the place, including a guy who wasn’t that much younger than my father wearing backless pants and angel wings. No one needs to see that, granddad.
Day 8- Wednesday 16 March
Leaving Las Vegas
On our last day we had a truly Vegas breakfast- black coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Sarah ran to the airport to pick up our next rental car, and predictably the lady behind the counter was gobsmacked that someone could run that far (about 45 minutes). Mum and Dad helped us take our bags down and we said our goodbyes (they are spending a few more days in Vegas then heading to the coast to take a cruise). It’s been truly great having my parents around to share some of these experiences. A pity the rest of the family weren’t able to come but at least I get to see my sister next month when she comes over to be celebrant for my cousins wedding.
We stopped in Pahrump to get some supplies for lunch then went through some weird town that has a whole bunch of fireworks stores- actually Sarah tells me that was also Pahrump. I had to stop and get a pic. The 2 toothless owners were really friendly, and I’ve got to say that’s probably the largest amount of explosives I’ve ever been around. I was told that I could buy whatever I wanted but I’d have to pay $5 extra for a firearms license. Then they became really cagey when I asked where it would be legal to set them off……
It was hugely exciting to get close to Death Valley National Park, the site of the Badwater Ultramarathon. Six years ago, in 2010 when I started running I heard of Badwater- it’s one of those ridiculous races that people use to prove that runners are crazy. In the intervening years I’ve discovered that races like this ARE possible to complete, and even for someone of limited running ability like me. It requires careful planning and full respect for the challenges, but it is possible. I really think that UTMB would require more than I currently have, but Badwater is a race that has always fascinated me, even when I thought it would require a superhuman to complete it.
Here’s some photos from the Zabriskie Point–
So Sarah dropped me off just outside Stovepipe Wells and I ran up the road towards Emigrant, fulfilling a long held dream. I had wanted to do at least 10-15km and we had compromised on this section which is about 8 miles or maybe 13km. Unfortunately it was 3pm when I started, so Sarah had to pick me up about halfway due to time constraints- we needed to get to our hotel in Lone Pine before reception shut. A few notes about the run- when Sarah dropped me off the temperature was about 90F which is 32.2 degrees celsius. That’s warm but not uncomfortable for a run. The bit that sucked was the air- there’s no moisture in the air and your sweat doesn’t really get a chance to cool you down- it’s drawn straight into the air before you get any benefit. Also the heat reflected off the tarmac is hotter than the sun so it’s a weird feeling to feel the ground hotter than the atmosphere. And it was a mistake to take a black coloured bottle with me- it absorbed the suns rays and made my water like warm tea. But even considering all of that and the traffic it was still a run I will cherish forever.
We stayed in the Best Western at Lone Pine, it was clean and well appointed and so far, the nicest place we’ve stayed on this trip. Apart from having to share a room with Alex! Breakfast was also included which was a bonus. We’d been buying some breakfast things from supermarkets and keeping it cold in our foam $3.79 esky and free hotel ice, but particularly in Vegas it was really hard to get healthy stuff for brekkie and I’m not used to dropping $50 for breakfast every day!
Dinner at ‘The Grill’ was lovely- I had ‘Dust Devil Pasta’. Trust me it was a lot nicer than that sounds, and also got to try an Alaskan beer, nice way to cap off the day.
Day 9- Thursday 17 March
Lone Pine is only about 13 miles or apx 20km from Mt Whitney Portal. The portal is the beginning of the hiking trails in the area, and is the end of the Badwater race. The road is currently being repaired so we weren’t sure we could get access, but we figured it was worth a try. And sure enough we had to get an escort car to take us up to a spot where the road really was closed. However, the traffic guy had told us that no one would stop us going up higher, but if we had to be rescued by the cops they would give us a fine. Totally worth it, so up we went. We had switched to a Hyundai ‘soft roader’ in Vegas so I was hoping that would be enough to get us out of trouble but it turned out to be a non issue. You know, I’m kind of running out of superlatives but I will say it was brilliant. We got to race around in the snow, there was no one around and Alex got to play in snow for the first time ever! It’s incredible to think that all of the photos I took were easy to get, beauty all around. And signs to look out for bears…..
From there we drove to Tahoe and booked in to a hotel called Kingsbury Lodge- it’s a time share ski lodge. Once again, we felt like we had scored pretty well- the room was nicely appointed with a gas fire, kitchen and huge couch. Sarah had been a nanny in Tahoe in the early 1990’s and we were trying to catch up with some of her friends in the area. We had a lovely St Patricks Day dinner in one of the (very posh!) wooden houses perched on the side of the hill looking out over the lake with a great bunch of people, including a friend of Sarahs who had been a lawyer but is now a local judge!
Day 10- Friday 18 March
My training had been pretty poor and my eating pretty substantial so it was time to suck it up and get out there. The only downside was the below freezing temperatures! It was -1 celsius in the morning but we managed to crank out a few km- it’s not going to get me where I want, but better than nothing. After that we hopped in the car and headed out to Reno. Sarah works for a company that imports Cascade Design products- this encompasses many brands of outdoor gear. There we were given a personal tour of their 87,500 sq foot warehouse- yes it was bloody huge! It was also fascinating to see them making and testing some waterproof bags. Lunch with a former colleague of Sarahs who worked for Patagonia, and then a side trip to the Patagonia outlet store. That was a bit disappointing, as I had purchased a jacket at a Patagonia store earlier in the week a lot cheaper than the price at the outlet store. And I really didn’t dig any of the stuff that was cheap. We had dinner at Applebees- a sort of high end Denny’s with one of Sarahs ex boyfriends and his kids. He’s an interesting guy and dinner was great- I made the joke that Sarah was dining with 2 ex boyfriends, which was sort of true as I had been upgraded to husband…..
Day 11- Saturday 19 March
Another early run at -2 then on the way out of Tahoe we went down to the shops and Sarah managed to spend an eye watering amount of money on more gear (most of my shopping had been much earlier) and I had to consider the possibility that we would need to ship stuff home.My 120 litre bag was so stuffed I don’t think I could fit a cigarette paper in there.
Post shopping was a little side trip to Emerald Bay– it’s got a great high up view of Lake Tahoe- and snow! We played in the snow for a while and I managed to have my first accident- I fell through some snow melt and smacked my shin on a massive boulder. It hurt, but I didn’t think much of it until later when I discovered an impressive amount of blood. Next it was off to more friends of Sarahs- family friends who live in Placerville. What a beautiful spot- it is nestled in some hills amongst apple orchards and wineries.. So we had a bit of a hike around the local area. It was fantastic to have a relaxed dinner with some locals (thanks Peter and Gale!) and of course once Alex found out about the hot tub, he had to have a go- despite the outside temperature being on the unkind side of bitter.
Day 12- Sunday 20 March
After a bit of a sleep in (finally!) we got up and headed down to a local lake- Sly Park Lake. The lake has a single track path around it that goes for 8 miles, just over 13km. So I took Alex out who made it 4km before refusing to go on. I handed him back to his Mum who had already run that morning and I ran the rest of the trail. It was fantastic- a nice soft bed of pine needles and some nice easy rises and great slopes to bomb down. I felt like a runner again, not the fat bastard that I had become. ‘Home’ again for some lunch and I even managed to sneak in a short nap before a bunch of people arrived for dinner. It was great being part of a family dinner and we had dry rubbed ribs and malt liquor. OK I had malt liquor- everyone else refused. It didn’t make me want to fight my own shadow so I’m not sure what the problem is. Well, I guess the problem is that you can buy a 739ml can of 8.1% alcohol malt liquor for $1.79. That’s a serious alcoholic bargain.
Day 13- Monday 21 March
On the road again, on our way to the outlet stores at Vacaville. We were fairly shopped out, but still couldn’t resist a bargain. Have you ever said to yourself ‘if I ever see one more fucking North Face hoodie I will scream’? No? Well, I came pretty close…… and yet. And yet I bought still more North Face clothing. If you think I am well dressed whenI get home from this trip it is because I could purchase Calvin Klein jeans for $20. And did, more than once. It was In-n-Out Burger for lunch, adding to our tally of Jack In The Box, Five Guys, Fatburger, Chipotle and Dog knows how many others. Yes, I’ve been making America great again by singlehandedly supporting the burger industry. We’d pretty much decided to eat local for the last few days so when we arrived in Santa Cruz we headed in to downtown in plenty of time to be harassed by a couple of homeless people and have pizza for dinner. It didn’t bother me much but Sarah was quite perturbed, particularly because a crazy black guy had unleashed a torrent of racial abuse at an Asian lady who accidentally bumped in to him- and then apparently said something to Sarah.
Day 14- Tuesday 22 March
Our run the next morning was brilliant, running along the river but brutally cold. I had dressed for 14 degrees (Sarah checked the weather) but it was very low single digits. I should have checked for myself! We also went past an artist community called the Tannery which sparked a memory of mine- a young resident had been murdered there last year by another resident. Very gruesome story, and of course that put Sarah off even more! I think she was pretty happy to leave, just quietly…..
Gale had sent a bunch of things for us to do but the only one we could fit in was the Monterey Aquarium. What an amazing place, and somehow not surprising since the list of people donating $1 million, $5 million, $10 and $25, even $50 million was quite long. I can’t really say enough about this one, just get there if you can and I hope the pics give you an idea. Late in the afternoon we arrived in San Luis Obispo, a Californian town famous for its good weather. It’s a really cool but fairly touristy town. This was the place where we had booked the cheapest hotel of the trip and it showed. It was clean and comfortable but the last residents dinner was still in the fridge, and some woman decided to sit out side our door and complain about her life well into the night. I didn’t really fancy putting pants on to tell her to piss off but luckily Sarah did it for me. I had managed to go into Abercrombie & Fitch just before dinner and buy MORE clothes so there’s a danger I will be mistaken for someone who cares about their appearance soon. Dinner was in a local pub called F. McLintock and was good- we even had dessert so I think the transition to overeater is complete. Full disclosure- Alex ordered deep fried cheesecake and I helped him to finish it…….
Day 15- Wednesday 23 March
We woke a bit late and skipped a run, opting for a basic breakfast and getting on the road. We passed through Shell Beach, Pismo, Guadaloupe and other towns going down the coast towards Santa Barbara and Ventura, our last hotel for the trip. Ventura is only about an hour or so from LA but far enough that it’s worth exploring. It’s very spread out though- we had a lot of trouble figuring out where the shopping spots were, but lunch at the top of Gates Park was amazing. You could hear the big V8’s roaring around Ventura Raceway (and we’d driven past Laguna Seca only 2 days before). Sarah needed a rest so I went out to a local Mexican ‘art’ shop (ok, it’s full of tourist stuff. But I love the ‘day of the dead’ things) and I managed to buy a ‘dead’ bride and groom on metal plate, and a decorated skull that I’m going to call ‘Bob’ after the ‘Bob the Skull’ character in The Dresden Files novels by Jim Butcher. You should read them, they are heaps of fun.
Day 16- Thursday 24 March
We woke up and went for a run, then spent a stupid amount of time tracking down a breakfast place. We needed up at Pete’s Breakfast House and yes, the fuss was worth it. I had a completely artery clogging fried hash, and Sarah had Heuvos Ranchos. Sarah wanted to go to a Patagonia store (yes another one, but this one was apparently the original) and I wandered away to find a coffee. My mission on the last day was to have the most American version of whatever that I could find. At Starbucks I asked the poor server ‘what’s the dumbest drink you have?’ and without batting an eyelid she simply answered ‘hot or cold?’
So I needed up with a caramelised honey latte with whipped cream. So bad, so good.
I set the GPS to take me to one last record store ( it’s actually called ‘Record Surplus- The Last Record Store‘). This one had listening stations, but not a great selection of the music I like- it seems all the record stores are risk averse to dance music. Anyway I picked up a few tracks (mostly super handbag) and we headed down to Santa Monica for a last look at the beach and then a browse of the shops. Electronics shops seem to be a thing of the past now- no Best Buy, Frys Electronics, Radio Shack or similar to be seen. But I did have a quick look at Sears- the electronics section was in the basement and looked like WW3 had broken out. Anyway it satisfied my curiosity and we got back in the car at 4pm for our 17km trip to LAX. Holy crap the traffic was awful, it was nearly 3 hours later that we managed to drop our bags, negotiate into a lounge and get some food. OK beer. Luckily the flight was not due to take off until 9:55pm. It didn’t actually leave the ground until nearly an hour later but we made up the time in the air and landed safe back in Sydney at 6:50am Saturday 26 March, having completely missed Good Friday!
I met new people, had amazing adventures and made memories that I will treasure my whole life. I’m so grateful to Sarah for arranging it, Mum and Dad for coming along, and Alex for being Alex.