GRATITUDE

Thanks a bunch to everyone that took the time to read my humble and at times slightly nonsensical ramblings. We are so lucky to have been the places we’ve been and see the things we’ve seen, and we are luckier still to have a bunch of people who are happy to read about it and provide ‘holiday encouragement’ along the way. Sincerest thanks.

Take care all and here’s to the next adventure, whatever that may be. Mel and Hoffy.

 

SINDERELLA

I realise that no one has asked me to join their roller derby team, as yet. I also also realise that the first question is probably not: “what would your name be?” It would probably be something along the lines of “can you roller skate?” or even “do you have any athletic ability whatsoever?” (The answer to both is no). But, if they should ask, “and what would your excellent roller derby name be?”, I have an answer – Sinderella. Simple, but effective. A bit like me. However I digress, roller derby was in LA, Phoenix came first.

Phoenix is one of those places that we arrived in and I thought – why, exactly, am I here? Which is not to take anything away from the great Southwestern hub, it’s just that I really only included it on the itinerary because it is a major city and not because I had anything specific in mind to do there. Except maybe to see some cacti. Which we did about 3 seconds after driving into Phoenix city limits. Tick. Now what?

In the end, Hoff and I decided to take some time off our hectic and exhaustive sight-seeing schedule and basically take it easy. Which for me included some fairly girly activity – shopping and going to the hairdressers. Bliss. We also ate some very excellent food in Phoenix which was very exciting and holds me in good stead for returning to what I consider to be the foodie’s nirvana – Melbourne.

And then on to Los Angeles where the first port of call was to drop off our wheels at LAX. It was a bit like farewelling a good friend – we’d had some good times together; Hoff, the Dodge Challenger and I. And I am a little sad to report that our drive into California from Phoenix was not particularly forthcoming in the number plate stakes. Specifically, we went from 43 to 44 during the 6 hour drive. The only thing I can put it down to is this: besides us and some poor fool from Maryland, no one bar Californians are crazy enough to attempt to drive in Los Angeles.

So we remain forever locked on 44. Who would have thought that we would see Alaska and Hawaii but not 6 others? I can only conclude that Wyoming, for example, must be the most awesome place in the world as nobody ever sees fit to leave. Must add to my to do list.

But onto Los Angeles. Hoff and I have bee to LA before but only to do the standard touristy things – Disneyland, Universal Studios, and so on. But this time our plans included something else entirely – to quote Ryan, USC baby. We had timed our stay in LA purely so that Hoff could see his beloved University of Southern California Trojans play the Washington Huskies.

We began Ryan’s pilgrimage to the LA Memorial Coliseum by behaving like the ultimate impostors and wandering through the USC campus on game day. And what a revelation. It was about 10.30am (Ryan insisted we get going early) and the party was in full swing. There were students, there was a marching band, there was tailgating and most importantly, there was beer in red cups. Hurrah! And the boys in red and gold got a win in the end too. A good day was had by all.

And in the ultimate spirit of marital cooperation and compromise, we followed up our college football experience with a trip to the ‘Doll Factory’ to watch the LA Derby Dolls battle it out – roller derby style. Hoff and I were cheering for the Varsity Brawlers – partly because we liked their names better and partly because they wore purple (like a certain other beloved sporting franchise we know). Little did we know they were serious underdogs – their opponents, the Sirens were undefeated in the season so far whereas the Brawlers were in line for first round draft picks (we also didn’t know there was a draft so it was a night of revelations). And lo and behold, it was a win for the underdogs! It was a tight game and both Hoff and I enjoyed it immensely. As did my brand new roller derby alter-ego, Sinderella.

It was also a busy weekend in Hollywood for film premieres. Whilst wandering around we happened upon the premiere of Happy Feet 2 and I finally had my first celebrity sighting of the the trip (Pink). And then the ultimate in happy coincidences – the world premiere of Breaking Dawn was taking place in the plaza behind our hotel. To be honest, I think Hoff was a little suspicious that I timed the stay and accommodation not to coincide with the USC fixture, but with the release of Breaking Dawn. You see, until this weekend, I had always considered myself a reasonably serious Twilight fan (yes, another guilty pleasure). I now see that relatively speaking, I am not a serious fan at all, I am just a fan, and a pretty slack one at that. Because what we initially thought was another ‘Occupy…’ movement camped out on the forecourt of the Staples Centre, turned out to actually be a collection of die hard (twi hard?) fans who were camping out to see the red carpet (to clarify: not the movie, just the red carpet). They started camping on Wednesday. The red carpet was on Monday. Whoa. Kind of puts my midnight screening attendance at Hoyts Eastland to shame.

So whilst Hollyweird certainly delivered for us on this occasion, we now find ourselves on the last leg of our trip – San Diego. We’re looking forward to a little R&R here, but we’re even more excited about getting home. 3 sleeps til we get on that plane – hurrah!

A PERPETUAL STATE OF WONDER

I am mildly concerned that I am suffering ‘scenery fatigue’. In the last week or so we have seen so much natural beauty on our travels, for example, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon and Sedona, that I am concerned that:

(a) I’m no longer giving each place the adoration it deserves; and

(b) that my threshold for what constitutes natural beauty has been raised and I risk being very hard to please in this area in the future. And I haven’t seen Uluru yet. Although from what I hear, being under whelmed at the sight of Uluru is not really a risk.

The point is, the most recent part of our journey has had me in a perpetual state of wonder. Flagstaff was stunning in the snow. I had really only chosen there to stop because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon but it turned out to be more than that. It’s surrounded by the San Francisco Peaks, Humphreys Peak and a Ponderosa Pine Forest. And we got to see all of the above covered in snow.

I’ve also decided that snow is a lot more fun when you’re just passing through it, as opposed to living in it. Driving through the Arizona countryside in your rental car, heaters on, marvelling at the scenery? Totally pleasant. Digging your VW Polo out of your driveway with a hand shovel in the freezing cold just so you can go to Tesco? Less fun. Not fun whatsoever, actually.

Tuesday saw us catch the Grand Canyon Railway to the Southern Rim. The train leaves from a little town around half an hour from Flagstaff called Williams and is a very pleasant way to get to the Canyon. It’s not going to set any land speed records (peaking at a blistering 40 miles per hour), but the leisurely pace gives you an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and wildlife, as well as some good old-fashioned train hospitality.

Side note: I am concerned that I just might be a train enthusiast. I gravitate toward them wherever I am. I don’t own any model railways or anything, but it is definitely my preferred mode of travel. I guess I’ll just add it to my list of secret guilty pleasures (along with Eminem, LA Ink, Tetris and KFC mashies – when the fine folks at KFC deign to grace us with their gravy-covered presence).

So we (eventually) arrived at the Grand Canyon and we immediately decided that it is absolutely a canyon worthy of the adjective ‘grand’. And we felt quite chuffed that we got to see it under clear skies but also with a smattering of snow about the place. Firstly, because of the aesthetic value and secondly, because Hoff was then able to throw snowballs into the canyon. *Sigh*, boys.

And on our return train journey we were set upon by train-robbers. I am 95% sure that this was just a ruse perpetrated by the folks at the Grand Canyon Railway. If not, they were really the least insistent robbers that I have ever had the pleasuring of encountering (and only, thankfully). Actually the whole thing was a little confusing as I wasn’t sure if it was a really creative way of asking passengers for tips. It didn’t work on us, if that was the plan. We prefer to hand our gratuities over whilst not being held at (toy) gunpoint.

On Wednesday two monumental things happened:

  1. We left Flagstaff and arrived in Phoenix, via Sedona
  2. We got out of the car and we were warm. Words cannot express how happy this made us. Until yesterday, I really felt like I had been cold for 13 straight months. Thank you, Phoenix.

Sedona deserves a special mention because it was beautiful. And as there was not locomotive-based way to enjoy the scenery (boo), we jumped in a Barbie-pink Jeep and went on a tour.

During the tour, Hoff asked our guide what kind of wildlife one might find in the mesas of Sedona and amongst other things, the guide mentioned the Road Runner. Hands up who didn’t know that Road Runners were actually real? Go on, admit it. I can’t be the only one who thought that they were purely the domain of Looney Tunes. Apparently they don’t really make that ‘meep meep’ noise, though. So confusing.

I’m quite concerned, however, that the world-famous scenery was only Hoff’s second-favourite thing about Sedona because on pulling onto Main Street, Sedona, look what we found….

A quick moment to vent: what was initially suggested as a fun game to pass the time whilst we tootle around the American countryside, for Hoff has become a full-blown compulsion. I have a few concerns on this matter, specifically:

1)   I am concerned that Hoff if missing some amazing scenery in favour of scanning each and every number plate we see for that elusive West Virginia

2)   That Hoff might secretly change our flights to stay longer so that we can complete the game and whilst we are having the time of our lives, I miss my family and friends and am very much looking forward to going home. (There is also the small matter of preseason… The Tan waits for no man)

3)   Scarily, Hoff has taken to driving around random hotel car parks in the hope of hitting number plate pay dirt and frankly, I would rather be doing other things with our quickly diminishing holiday time…

Honestly. Who would have thought that marrying a professional rugby league player would come with the baggage of epic competitiveness in every endeavour?

So here we are in Phoenix feeling warm and very excited to be surrounded by cacti. Hoff is watching Virginia Tech v Georgia Tech (and NHL in the ads) and I am pondering whether there are any other creatures that I have until this point mistaken as purely fictional. Unicorns are definitely not real… Right?

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

When I left high school, I completed a degree in Media Studies and I majored in Cinema Studies and Television Production. I think I wanted to be a television producer or something, although it’s all a bit of a blur so I couldn’t be sure. And when I finished, I promptly got a job as an events manager and I haven’t referred back to that degree since. Except for the odd moment of glory at random trivia nights in the category of classical Hollywood cinema. Other than that, nada. Which is not a stab at the fine folks at RMIT – it is a good course. It’s more a stab at my own career decision-making skills which saw me go into an industry that had very little to do with what I actually studied, and saw four years worth of tertiary level education go largely unused.

Until this week, that is. For if I had never undertaken Media Studies at RMIT and never majored in Cinema Studies and more specifically, never taken ‘COMM1032: Authorship and Narrative in cinema’, I may never have become smitten with Monument Valley. One of the first authors we studied in this subject was the legendary Western director, John Ford, and no discussion of John Ford is complete without reference to Monument Valley.

The story goes like this: a pioneer named Harry Goulding settled with his family in Monument Valley in the mid-1920’s. In 1938, he heard a rumour about a production company looking to film a western on location. So he (and wifey) high-tailed it to Hollywood with a few choice photographs of the valley in hand. Whilst he was initially dismissed as a hick, wasting the precious time of movie men, he eventually earned a hearing with John Ford’s location scout, and finally with the man himself. Add John Wayne to the mix and the rest, as they say, is history. (Meanwhile, wifey apparently remained in the car knitting).

The thing is, even without being the iconic setting for numerous Hollywood productions over the years (Stagecoach, The Searchers, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future III, Forrest Gump), on first sight, Monument Valley takes your breath away.

And it’s not like we took the easy road there. We left Albuquerque on Saturday morning and literally braved sun, rain and snow to get there. I did not sign up for snow.

We also got bogged. True to the expression, no good deed ever goes unpunished, Hoff pulled over about an hour short of the Utah border to assist a gentleman that had evidently run out of fuel, and promptly got bogged. Panic stations. We tried in vain to gun it out of there. No luck. We enlisted the support of the fuel-less gentleman to help push us out of there. No luck. Finally, just as I was about to call the roadside assist number for our rental car company (and quite prepared to hear raucous laughter at the other end of the line), a good Samaritan stopped by with his gigantic car (NB: all cars are gigantic here) and pulled us out of the mud with a chain. So off we went, muddier than before, leaving the fuel-less gentleman by the side of the road, no better off for us having stopped to lend a hand. Maybe a little worse off actually, because he spent a good amount of time pushing our car.

But as I mentioned, it was worth it to see Monument Valley. The view from our hotel room alone was worth the trip – it was like waking up in a hotel on Mars. Never have I stayed somewhere more stunning and peaceful.

And as we didn’t fancy taking on the 17 mile Monument Valley off-road drive ourselves (after our failed attempts at going only 1m off road previously), we went on a guided tour of the valley itself and saw some amazing sights, including petroglyphs on a rock that date back to the inhabitants of the land that came before the most recent Navajo inhabitants.

So after delighting in the awesome views, what do we do with a spare day in Monument Valley? Check out the dinosaur tracks outside Tuba City? Visit the Canyon De Chelly National Monument? Nope, we decided to do the mature thing and drive to ‘Four Corners’ so we can put each one of our extremities in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado at the same time. Nice.

Today finds us in Flagstaff, Arizona, after yet another hair-raising, snowy drive (seriously, what gives?). We’re camped here because it is a good base to check out the Grand Canyon tomorrow. And I must admit, I’m pretty tired. It could be from all the driving. Or maybe it’s because today I suggested a leisurely stroll into the historic centre of Flagstaff and our fearless leader and navigator (one R. Hoffman) walked us over 2 miles through the snow in the wrong direction. For all you metric kids out there, a 3km each way walk into town turned out to an almost 9 km round trip. In wind and snow. I was delighted, as you can imagine. Not to worry, we’re warm and dry now, all forgiven, ready to tackle the Grand Canyon tomorrow.

HAVING OUR STEAK AND EATING IT TOO

The last few days of our trip have seen a fairly monumental change in scenery (not to be confused with Monument Valley, coming up tomorrow). We’ve gone from gumbo to steak, from Saints territory to Cowboys territory, from Mardi Gras to rodeos and from billboards advertising drive-through daiquiris to billboards advertising the Catholic Superstore. Welcome to Texas.

For those of you that have not memorised our itinerary by heart (tut tut), Dallas marks the start of our journey across the American southwest via car. But before we hit the road, we had a few sights to check out in Dallas first.

First, the 6th Floor Museum. A quick history lesson: on 22 November 1963 US President John F Kennedy was shot from a 6th floor book depository window in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. These days, the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository has been converted into a museum covering the Presidency, life and death of JFK, and it was here that we visited first. It’s an interesting albeit sad experience, but one that I would recommend. The people of Dallas have done a fabulous job commemorating the man himself but also in giving a frank and detailed explanation of what happened that day and what has happened since. It is very eerie to stand at that 6th floor window and look out to the road below, even more so to drive over the X that still marks the spot.

History lesson complete, our next stop was Cowboy Stadium in Arlington and oh. my. goodness. Hoff and I were talking about it and between us we’ve been to a few sports stadia around the world. Hoff could probably count around a dozen each in Australia and the UK, including the iconic Wembley stadium, plus the odd handful in NZ, France and Papua New Guinea. For my part being Melbourne born-and-bred (Mexicans represent) I can add a few AFL venues as well. But neither of us has ever seen anything that even nearly compares to Cowboy Stadium. It fits 104,000 people. You can remove the armrests between the seats and slide the seats along to fit more seats. 60% of the loos are women’s and can be changed to a higher proportion, as they were when the Jonas Brothers played the stadium. There are 3200 television screens around the concourses and throughout the suites. And the crowning glory is the HD scoreboard, hanging from the (retractable) roof of the stadium measuring 22m wide by 49m high. For those of you out there that are as spatially challenged as me, to put it in perspective that’s 11 of Ryan stacked high by half the length of a footy field. Indescribable.

And probably the best thing about the stadium is the willingness of the management to give fans and dorky tourists such as ourselves great access. Hoff and I saw the suites, the change rooms (players and cheer girls), the press conference room and finally got to have a bit of a play on the field. It was a good day.

Then finally the day arrived – time to hit the road. As we tentatively pulled out of the rental car parking lot in our Dodge Challenger (Ryan just had to have a macho muscle car), we commenced the first leg: 6 hours from Dallas to Amarillo, all the while chanting to ourselves “left turn wide, right turn tight”, and I’m please to report we haven’t strayed onto the left hand side of the road as yet.

I chose Amarillo because on Google maps it seemed to be a logical choice to stop for the night being about a third of the way between Dallas and Monument Valley. Then I started researching Amarillo and was frankly a little surprised that I hadn’t added it to our itinerary sooner. Amarillo’s claim to fame (apart from being a stop of the historic Route 66) is a hotel/restaurant called the Big Texan Steak Ranch and at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, if you can eat a 72oz steak (plus all the sides) in under an hour, it’s yours for free. If you don’t finish it, it’s $72. Yikes. Unfortunately I was unable to convince Hoff to give it a go and sadder still, nobody attempted it on the night we dined there, but it was still great to be in a place which is so iconic in the history of the extreme sport of speedy steak consumption. And I enjoyed my (vastly more sensible) 8oz steak all the same.

The other interesting thing about Amarillo is that someone decided to nose-plant 10 Cadillacs in a paddock a couple of miles outside of the city limits. Apparently the angle of them corresponds with that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Now tourists visit them and graffiti them – which is encouraged. If I wasn’t already sold on Amarillo by the 72oz steak, Cadillac Ranch sealed the deal.

So this morning we bid a sad farewell to the Big Texan Ranch (actually, Hoff wasn’t that sad, it’s really just me that has a penchant for kitsch in the extreme) and hit the road again.

I should mention that Hoff and I are participating in a very serious round of ‘the licence plate game’ on our travels. We’ve seen around 34 states so far (including Alaska – score) which we think is pretty bloody impressive for two days driving. We’re not holding our breath for Hawaii, but you never know. I promise updates as we go – I’m sure you’ll all be glued to your computer screens in anticipation…

This evening finds us in Albuquerque, a little weary from two days driving but very pleased with our progress so far. Ryan’s watching USC v Colorado and I’m also watching, wondering idly if college cheerleaders are actually clones of just the one girl. We’re very excited about setting our sights on Monument Valley tomorrow which is a 6 hour drive so off to bed for us, probably to dream about those elusive Hawaii and Wyoming license plates.