Monday, June 22, 2009

Road Trip 2009: Final Day (Twelve)

Sunday, June 21st - Well, today marks our return to the East Coast, land of rain. We'll be flying out of LAX at 11:40am to St Louis, where we have a 70 minute layover before our connecting flight to Laguardia Airport in New York. If all goes well, we should be landing in New York by 10:30pm, where a friend of Kat and Arp's would be picking us up and taking us back to their house in Jersey. From there, I'll pick up my car, and drive back to Brooklyn.

It's been an amazing trip, and as I think about the last two months, I can't help but wonder about where my life has taken me. After leaving my full time job at Fountainhead at the beginning of May, I've spent a week with my Dad in Jersey putting a new roof on my grandmother's garage, I traveled to France to the Cannes Film Festival and subsequent shooting at three incredibly beautiful French wineries, then back to the states where I was the Best Man at a wedding for a good friend of mine, after which I went to LA for a good friend's birthday, and finally, the road trip that took me over 3000 miles across these United States of America.

Tonight, I would be sleeping in my own bed again, a bed that I'd spent less than week in since the beginning of May. I have missed New York, but seeing the world and being gone for so long has in some ways detached me from the routine I had established and been living with for the past 3 years. My apartment doesn't feel so much like home anymore, and I'm not entirely sure what that means.

Next week, I travel back to Millville to help my Dad put a new roof on his own home, and then after that is my birthday on July 4th. As of July 7th, my world returns to the way it was before all of this happened, and I can't help but wonder, where do I go from here?

Well, at least there's always the new "Ghostbusters" video game to play, because it certainly won't play itself.

Anyways, enjoy some pictures from this weekend! Here are a couple from our Switzer Falls hike (4.3 miles roundtrip.)

The rest are from the Cat House Twilight Tour in Rosamond, CA. Yes, that IS a massive cat ripping pages out of a phone book, and yes, that IS a ginormous feline trying to claw the guts out of a thick cardboard tube. You are two for two tonight. Kudos.

Road Trip 2009: Day Nine

Thursday, June 18th - Our major deadline today was going to be getting Faith back to the Hertz rental lot by 7:00pm at LAX. We knew we had a minimum of four hours of driving, meaning we HAD to be on the road by 10:30am in order to give us some extra time for food and traffic.

We quickly packed and cleaned our hotel room at the Planet Hollywood Resort, recovered our car from the valet, and hit the highway, leaving the Vegas strip behind us. We'd take Interstate 15 for the majority of the drive through more deserts and mountains before the sprawling urban landscape would ever appear again.

I was driving this morning since Arp did all of the driving yesterday, and as we sped towards the California border, I noticed a strange sight on the horizon. At first, I thought it looked like a power plant or a factory. Keep in mind that there isn't much out in the desert, so something with this look and size was rather strange. As we neared, my original hypothesis changed, and before long, I said, "That looks like a roller coaster." We laughed at the notion, but as we got closer and closer, my prediction turned out to be true! It was indeed a roller coaster, built around a casino off of Exit 1 in Nevada. The casino was Terribles, and the roller coaster was Desperado.

With an opportunity such as this, we could not resist, and exited the highway immediately. We parked, made our way into the casino, and found out that we could indeed ride this coaster for only $8.00. We paid, made our way up to the platform (where only two other people were waiting), and took the front two rows. Seems that Desperado is just one ride of many featured at the casino, including a log flume, 3D ride simulator, high speed free fall, and more.

Desperado was a pretty good ride, lasting about 2:30 with a 225-foot drop. There was only a lap bar to hold you in (as there were no loops in the course of the ride), but I will advise to keep that lap bar tight as Desperado was as wild as a bucking bronco. You travel up the initial hill, taking in the beauty that is the barren desert, and then hit the first drop that propels you through the rest of the ride.

Along with some pretty good speed, there's a portion of the ride that spirals you through a dark area inside of a "mine" (a small mountain built to look like the surrounding landscape.) It takes you a little by surprise, and soon after, the ride is over. Rather enjoyable, especially considering our lack of going to Cedar Point exactly one week ago today.

We ended up eating at the casino as well (Panda East for me and McDonalds for Kat and Arp) and then got back on the road. We traveled for a number of hours, stopping one more time for gas, and then made our way into the LA area. The traffic wasn't too bad considering it was rush hour, and we had Faith returned to Hertz with a full tank of gas by 6:15pm.

Since Kat and Arp planned on driving around in LA as well, they ended up getting another car (this one quite a bit more fuel efficient.) It was a Hyundai Accent (a silver four-door compact.) We already missed Faith, and Arp decided appropriately that this car's new name would be "Nomore" (as in, "Faith No More.") We again made our way to the highway and traveled towards Burbank where their hotel awaited.

Our plane was scheduled to leave on Sunday morning, more or less giving each of us 2 and a half days in LA before our scheduled departure. Tonight, we planned on meeting up with my friend Tracy and having sushi for dinner, and then going our separate ways. Tomorrow, Kat and Arp would be spending some time with Arp's family in the area. Then on Saturday, we were planning on going hiking to Switzer Falls and in the evening, going to the Exotic Cat Sanctuary for a twilight tour of the grounds. We'd also need to fit in some In-N-Out Burger before we left as well, for what trip to the West Coast is complete without this very tasty treat.

It was sad to see Kat and Arp go in their own direction after so many days of traveling together. We had done very well as a group, keeping our cool in stressful situations, each enjoying the ups and downs of daily road travel, never squabbling about money, and making sure that everyone's needs were met. It's hard to imagine what it would have been like to have had a fourth person on the trip (as was originally planned), because even though it would have been cheaper for all of us, it would have meant more stopping, more consideration in choosing meals and hotels, etc. All in all, the three of us made for an extremely enjoyable time. Now if only it hadn't flown by so very quickly...

Road Trip 2009: Day Eight

Wednesday, June 17th - After a very comfortable sleep in our Family Room in Green River,Utah, Kat, Arp, and myself headed down to the lobby for breakfast. I had been told last night that was the food was all prepared fresh on the premises, and oh boy, were they right! Omelets of all shapes and sizes, biscuits with gravy, sausage, bacon, and more all prepared in a kitchen by a chef. I ordered the western omelet and enjoyed every bit of it. Again, it looks like we get what we pay for, considering this had been our most expensive hotel yet at $117.

After breakfast, we hit the road for Vegas! As soon as we got on the road, I noticed the first sign we came across, "Next Services 109 Miles." Wow. Now, I know that 109 miles isn't a long way considering we've easily driven for longer than that at a time, but when you see what you're driving through, you can't help but be a little nervous. Desert and mountains. A ranch here and there. And nothing more.

The temperature alternated between 75 and 100 degrees as we traveled through mountainous areas and sandy barren deserts. Our drive even took us through Death Valley, where the temperature actually reached 102 (with a rumored 45 degree overnight.) We tried not to worry about getting stranded in the desert (thanks to our trusty Ford Explorer, Faith) and continued on our way.

We drove from Utah through Arizona (for about 25 miles) and onto Nevada where we experienced our third and final time change. By early evening, we had arrived in Las Vegas, and made our way to our hotel room at the Planet Hollywood Resort. I have previously stayed at the Excalibur and MGM Grand, and was excited to stay at a location more in the center of the strip. Of course, as usual, the reason we had picked this place was because it was cheap AND it offered a free bottle of wine with our stay if we booked through Travelocity. Which we did.

And when I say this room was cheap, I sincerely mean it. Our room total with everything included was only $82. PLUS a free bottle of wine. Well worth it as the room turned out to be VERY comfortable on top of everything else, offering us a couple of piece of free movie memorabilia as well (seeing as it is the Planet Hollywood Resort and all.) In our room, we found a framed picture of the cast from the television series "MASH," as well as the camera Hawkeye used in the series and the top portion of Loretta Swift's on-set chair (essentially the cloth from the back of a director's chair.) Kinda neat.

We retrieved our bottle of wine quickly and planned to drink it before hitting the strip for food and fun. Of course, we immediately noticed that our room did not have a bottle opener for wine nor did the front desk. They advised us to contact room service, which would have meant waiting for room service. We decided to screw it (no pun intended) and open it ourselves. Using a standard ball point pen, we PUSHED the cork INTO the bottle. It took a few minutes, but before long, we were enjoying a lovely bottle of Beringer white wine from 2005.

As soon as we finished the bottle, we made our way to the casino floor of the Planet Hollywood and then to dinner on the Miracle Mile (a shopping mall directly behind the casino.) We ate at a lovely Mexican restaurant and found ourselves ready for the remainder of the evening after a couple of frozen margaritas (delicious.)

We made our way back to the casino floor, where the three of us each redeemed our free $5 slot cards, and played on various penny machines. Kat picked one out for me to play on called "Benny's Big Game." I played only six times before winning $20.00. Considering that was the most I had ever won in Vegas, I decided to stop right then and there (essentially winning back the money I had lost in Deadwood at Cadillac Jacks.) Kat proceeded to play her $5 and ended up winning $40! Arp didn't fair as well with his $5 and lost a few more dollars as well.

With our money at Planet Hollywood spent, we began our walk north on the strip, stopping at the Bellagio to view the fountains dance, then Paris where we again each gambled a free $5 offered to us. Kat ended up $10 up (totaling a winnings of $50 altogether for the night) while Arp and I didn't win anything more. The cool thing at Paris is the appearance of new "Star Trek" penny slots with a very robust animation display and mission system. And not the new "Star Trek" either. It was all graphics and voices from The Original Series. The slots even had "Star Trek" chairs with built in speakers to enhance the sound effects. Very cool indeed.

From there, we continued up the strip, hoping to make it to Circus Circus (as I had never been to Circus Circus before), but by 10:30, we were already beginning to fade from our long day of driving, and decided to stop at Treasure Island, where we watched the outdoor "Call of the Sirens" show. Now, I could have sworn that this show was actually pretty good, but I was very very wrong. Full of terrible sexual innuendo, scantily clad sirens, and pirates who kept taking their shirts off for no reason, I found very little redeemable about this show other than the pyrotechnics and sinking pirate ship (a pretty cool practical effect.) We left early as to not be overcome by the crowds of people also watching the show. (One particularly terrible line, uttered by the head siren, was "The last seaman in my cove called me Sin." Ugh.)

We began heading back to Planet Hollywood, and by 12:15, we were back in the casino where Arp attempted to break even by trying out the "Jaws" penny slots and "Alien Vs Predator" penny slots. At first, it didn't look good, but then, a last minute set of wins put him $1.63 into the positive, meaning that all three of us had come out of Vegas without losing money!

So overall, we got a cheap hotel room, none of us lost money, and we all had a good time. It's rare to say all three of these things after a trip to Vegas, but here we were, comfortable in our beds, content knowing we had done it. The only thing that began to creep up in our subconsciouses was the knowledge that only a few more days remained in our trip. In fact, tonight would be the last night we'd spend in a hotel room together. But what a splendid last night it was.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Road Trip 2009: Day Seven

Tuesday, June 16th - I'm happy to report that I'm still in good health after spending a night at Hotel 3737. I couldn't even bring myself to sleep below anything other than the topmost covers in fear of finding something unsavory. But the night passed without incident, and I actually slept pretty well all things considered. And luckily, Arp discovered how to work the air conditioner. All he had to do was turn the thermostat to 90. Make sense to me.

We hit the road by 11am and headed south to Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs. We knew that it was a 19 mile drive to the Peak's summit, and that at the top we would be greeted by a full 360 degree view of the surrounding Rocky Mountain Range. What we didn't realize was how high it truly was - a whopping 14,000+ feet above sea level. Over two miles high, meaning there would be cold, there would be snow, and there would be less oxygen.

Arp started the drive, shifting Faith down into 2nd gear. She responded well to the climb. At times, we felt a little less than safe considering how much of the roadway lacked a guard rail, but our Explorer itself never gave us cause for alarm.

At the top, we hopped out of the car and were greeted by 35 degrees of cold, Even though we bundled up quickly, our heartbeats were elevated, and Kat and Arp seemed to be suffering a little from the loss of oxygen. We kept the stop quick, buying a couple souvenirs (and a couple homemade donuts) and took a number of awesome photographs.

The view was unbelievable, and at times, we just could not comprehend the height. Here's a comparison for you. When the three of us jumped out of a plane last year, we jumped at an altitude of 10,000 feet. And here we were now at 14,000+ feet. Clouds passed by and we watched as the shadows fell on the miniature ground below.

No image can ever really express what you see when you are up there (though I've tried here without much success.) Only a song could even come close to expressing the emotions you feel up there: "America the Beautiful." It seems that the writer, Katherine Lee Bates, was inspired by Pike's Peak, and the song flowed naturally as inspiration:

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!"

For the descent, I took over driving duties, dropping Faith into 1st gear. This would keep me from using the breaks too much, as heated brakes can often fail to be as effective as brakes that stay relatively cool. At the 13 mile mark, there was a mandatory brake check, and the woman who tested the temperature said, "81 degrees. Very good mountain driving." Awesome.

Back at the bottom of the Peak, the air temperature again raised back up to 78 degrees and we made our way to the highway. We had 420 miles ahead of us, and it was already 3:30pm. We stopped for a brief Taco Bell lunch (Kat and Arp have a Tuesday tradition called Taco Bell Tuesday that they had to uphold) and hit the road with a full tank of gas.

It's at this point that I should mention that we've decided to skip our trip to the Four Corners. Turns out that there is simply no easy way to get to the intersection of those four states, and to go, it would add over almost 300 miles to our two remaining days of travel. So rather than spend all that extra time in the car, we decided to skip the Four Corners and go directly to Vegas, which brings us to our halfway point tonight: Green River, UT. And we made sure to book at a Best Western after last night's experiences. Go team go.

The drive along Route 70 to Utah was one of those unexpected things that occur during a trip that just takes you totally by surprise. I knew we had to cross the Rockies to make our way to the West Coast, but I had no idea the drive would be so incredibly beautiful. The mountains rose on all sides as we traveled through valleys and canyons, riding alongside rivers and streams, through tunnels and passes.

And then there were these ramps for runaway trucks. The roads going downhill were so steep that if a truck's brakes were to give out, they can turn their trucks up these inclines to slow the truck to a stop. I'd never seen one before, so I had to post it here.

The sun dipped down below our jagged surroundings and silhouetted the peaks with an incredible majestic beauty. Before too long, it was night, and we found ourselves in the same darkness we experienced a couple days ago. There were NO lights on the road other than those from other cars. It was almost enough to drive you mad, thinking to yourself that you may be surrounded by mountains and CAN'T see them.

Finally, by 12:45am we arrived at our hotel in the small town of Green River. I went into the lobby to check in, and waited behind a woman who was looking for a room for herself and her sleeping kids. The kind, elderly woman behind the counter informed her that she had no more rooms on the first floor and would have to take a room on the second floor. At this point, I stepped forward, introduced myself, and asked if my reserved room was on the first floor. If so, I would be more than glad to give it to this woman in exchange for a room on the second floor.

Turns out our room WAS on the first floor, so I gladly gave it to this very tired mother. The woman behind the counter thanked me for my kindness, and offered me a Family Room on the second floor as a free upgrade for my actions. I gladly took it, and we headed up to the room. It was HUGE, with two queen size beds, a fold-out third bed, a balcony overlooking a river, and wonderful shower. What a complete difference from last night, but I guess you get what you pay for.

Oh, and here's a cute picture of a dog we took. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Road Trip 2009: Day Six

Monday, June 15th - We awoke this morning to a very welcome sight of sunshine coming in our window. After the storm last night, we were concerned about it being overcast today for our trip to Mt Rushmore. Instead, it looked as if we were going to get a very beautiful morning.

We exited the town of Deadwood and began our ascent through the mountainous area towards the monument. The drive was incredible, winding through lush green forests and the bluest lakes you have ever seen. Seriously, it was as if someone had turned up the saturation 150%. Absolutely gorgeous.

Kat started to really get excited as the GPS informed us that we were only a few miles away. Before too long, we saw the profile of George Washington, and within seconds, we were in line for entrance to the park. We sat and waited to pay for our parking, all the while taking in the monument that was so very close.

Once we parked, we raced up to the Grand Terrace to take in the grand spectacle, and grand it was. As you can imagine, there is no real way to describe what it feels like to be in the presence of something you've seen in so many history books, movies, and more. The monument was constructed over the course of 14 years, from 1927-1941, using a combination of dynamite and jackhammers. Dynamite took care of 90% of the work while the jackhammers and chisels finished off the remaining 10%. Each head is approximately 60 feet tall, and was constructed using a smaller plaster version as a guide. They would measure the smaller version, multiply it by 12, and then translate it into the larger version. The amazing thing is that not a single person died in the creation of the monument.

We took some pictures, walked the trail around the grounds, got some lunch (bison chili), and of course, souvenirs. And all the while, every time I looked at the monument, I couldn't help but be mezmorized by it. You really can't take your eyes off of it. The only thing I would have liked to see is the lighting ceremony they do nightly at 9PM.

By early afternoon, we were back in the car and on our way to Denver. It was about 400 miles away, meaning we had to make pretty good time if we wanted to be there before too late tonight. So down the mountain we went, traveling swiftly towards the state of Wyoming, with its red rock roads and all.

It's important to point out at this point that we were no longer on tourist roads. Route 80 is well known to be the road many take when driving across the US, so there are plenty of rest stops and food and gas and souvenirs and the like. But we now found ourselves simply surrounded by green meadows and rocky hills and beautiful skies filled with the mightiest clouds you've ever seen. What we didn't find ourselves surrounded by was a much needed gas station, for we only had about enough gas for another 40 miles of driving before empty.

About 10 miles from the WY border, we finally came across a very small town called Edgemont. There was basically two gas stations, one with a bar and one with a deli. And that was about it. We were undoubtedly outsiders here, in our huge Ford Explorer and Massachusetts plates.

So as we were getting ready to go, we were approached by a man, possibly in his late 40s to early 50s, with long white hair and a cowboy hat. I thought he might have had a bit of native American in him, but then he said he was from Jersey originally. He was very friendly, offering us an alternate route through Wyoming, and warned us of speed traps in the state. He even gave us a souvenir road map of South Dakota.

The sad thing about this encounter is that when he approached us, I couldn't help but feel like he was going to ask for money, or food, or a ride. Living in the cities of the northeast for so long, I've found that maybe I'm a little more jaded than I'd like to be, putting up my guard wherever I go. Here was a man helping us out (and I'm sure a little curious about where we were coming and going)and I kept thinking that before the end of our conversation he was going to lead us on a "back road" through the desert and take us out like in "The Hills Have Eyes."

This was a perfect example of why I needed this road trip. I needed to expand my ways of thinking, of feeling, beyond that of which I grew up with, and I hope that by the end of this, I will have done just that.

Back on the road with a full tank of gas and fresh drinks, we drove into Wyoming and stuck to the speed limit. The surroundings were gorgeous, and as I said, there was little to no gas or food to be seen for many miles on all sides.

Around 8pm, we made it to the Colorado border, where things were becoming much less rural. With less than 100 miles to Denver, the world became more familiar and chains like McDonalds reappeared after having been missing in action for the last 500 miles or so.

We had an adequate late night dinner at Perkins, and then proceeded onto our hotel, aptly called Hotel 3737 after its address. Now, we knew a couple things going into purchasing a room online for this place last night. For instance, it's supposedly in downtown Denver. Cool. It's also going through some renovations currently, but before the renovations, it got some really good reviews. Not a problem. Lastly, it was cheap as hell. In fact, the cheapest hotel yet, which is good when your budget begins to get thin towards the end of a trip like this.

We arrived around 11:45, and when I went inside, I already I felt as if this was going to be a VERY interesting experience. I don't know how to describe it, but simply put, this place was going through changes. Not only was it NOT in downtown like the site said it was, but things didn't really seem clean, rooms were being remodeled, one of the desk clerks was dressed in a hoodie, etc. And then our room, oh the room! The beds weren't quite made, and one bed was larger than the other. The walls were empty, and the bathroom was a bit on the grody side. Kat saw it, began laughing uncontrollably, and I think she may have lost her shit just a little.

Before we went to bed, we decided to take in what little Denver we could by going to a local dive bar called Harvey's Thunderbird Lounge. It was a pretty cool place about 30 blocks from the hotel, with super cheap beer and a free pool table. We had a couple drinks (Coors Light on draft, seeing as how we were in Denver and all), Arp and I went head to head in pool (I ended up winning 3 games to 1), and then off we went into the night back to our lively abode.

Tomorrow, we head to Colorado Springs and then onward to Utah.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Road Trip 2009: Day Five

Sunday, June 14th - The alarm went off at 8:25am this morning. I was surprised at how good I felt, dropping my feet to the ground to stretch my legs. The three of us went down to our continental breakfast (featuring waffles) and figured out our trip for today.

Our trip for today? Get our asses to Mt. Rushmore.

We knew this meant driving almost the entirety of South Dakota, but it was a necessity if we were to stay on track for getting into LA in just four days. Of course, we aren't ones to miss an opportunity when it's presented, and since Minnesota would only be 10 miles away from where we'd be on the highway, we decided to drop in on the state and bring our count up to 9.

Just across the border in Luverne, MN, is a very small church called "Wayside Chapel." The words "Peace - Rest - Worship" are featured prominently on the sign. Inside the church is room for 4-8 individuals, and we got the feeling that it was specifically meant for travelers to pass by and take some time there if they needed to. It was rather peaceful inside, and left us feeling quite good as the sun shone down brightly upon us.

We piled back into Faith and continued on our journey back into South Dakota. We stopped briefly at a rest stop before making our way to our first roadside attraction of the day: the Mitchell Corn Palace. Hailing as the one and only Corn Palace, this place was simply a-maize-ing (their pun, not mine.)

Every year, the outside of this castle-like structure is re-designed with corn, wheat, and other crops. Over 600,000 ears of corn are used each year as they change up the designs by using a simple "paint by number" system, except instead of painting, they staple ears of corn to the walls.

This year's theme was "America's Destinations," featuring images from the Statue of Liberty to Mt Rushmore to the Space Needle in Seattle.

Inside the palace, things get even better as you are greeted by everything corn related. At the corn-cession stands, you can get the special $5.00 meal featuring a choice of corn dog, hot dog, or sloppy joe, corn on the cub, a fountain soda, and a blue bunny ice cream treat. What a deal! Then, once you've finished eating, you can check out the huge souvenir area featuring corn cob pipes, caramel corn on the cob, single bags of popcorn, and much much more.

A truly impressive monument dating back to the late 19th century.

Next up in Oacoma, we stopped in at Al's Oasis where there was a huge fiberglass buffalo and two additional life size buffalo. Arp decided it was in his best interest to ride one while the larger one tried to attack me. As for Kat, well, let's just say that she was horrified by certain anatomical peculiarities of the giant buffalo.

At this point in our trip, the time zone shifted again, this time from Central to Mountain, giving us an additional hour; and the plains began to transform into the Badlands that South Dakota is so well known for. It felt as if we had passed the halfway point of our trip, crested the hill as it were, and now, were making our way down towards the finish line. Of course, we still had four days to go, but as the Badlands began to get bigger and more dramatic, it was hard not to feel like we had entered a new world altogether.

Our final roadside destination was a tourist trap called Wall Drug, a drugstore that was opened back in 1931. In order to draw more people to their store, they posted a sign out on the highway that advertised free ice water. Soon, passerbys were stopping in by the truckload. Seeing how powerful advertising could be on the highway, the owner decided to post signs up and down Interstate 90. We actually counted 101 signs from the South Dakota border to the Wall Drug doorstep. We're sure there are more everywhere, but this is how many we counted and recorded.

Some of the signs read, "The Remedy for You - Wall Drug," "Kids Love Wall Drug" "5 cent coffee - Wall Drug," and of course, "T-Rex - Wall Drug Back Yard."

As you can tell, we were pretty damn curious to see what this place would be like. We left the highway at Exit 110, and drove a few blocks back to what was basically a block long strip mall full of generic souvenirs, black hills gold, and bland t-shirts. Wall Drug sat at the corner, and we went inside, immediately finding another exhausting gift store.

But as you continued through the never ending structure of rooms upon rooms, we found the "Backyard" mentioned above, filled with hundreds of photos, paintings, a jackolope you could ride, a piano playing gorilla, a miniature Mt Rushmore, and a huge T-Rex trapped behind an electrical fence. Now THIS is what a roadside attraction needs to be.

So, yeah. It didn't make much sense. But I will say this: the 5 cent coffee was excellent. And the homemade donuts were good too.

I probably could have sat for hours drinking cheap coffee, but night was rolling in, and we needed to get to our final resting stop: Deadwood, SD.

But on our way out of town, we had to stop at the 80 foot Drug Wall dinosaur sitting out at the Interstate exit. And while there, we noticed lightning in the distance. It seemed a storm was heading our way, and to get to Deadwood, we were going to have to drive right through it...

The lightning roared towards us, and before we knew it, we were lost in the midst of a storm unlike any I had ever driven through before. The lightning constantly lit up the sky while rain drenched the road below. Kat recommended putting on Metallica's "Ride the Lightning." And we did. And it was awesome.

I can't really put words to what it felt like. It was a combination of being a storm chaser and speeding along on a high speed chase. We could see all the way to the horizon because there were no trees or buildings or antennas, and of course, no lights other than other passing cars. Just the three of us surrounded by our Faith, and the skies above us as they opened up and unleashed a fury unseen by any of us before this day.

Within thirty minutes, we were through the heart of the storm, and in the clear. It was truly an amazing moment that I will never forget and only wish I could share with everyone.

Not long after that, we arrived at our hotel / casino in Deadwood. Technically, the hotel was the AmericInn, but it was housed within the Cadillac Jack Casino. We had a fine dinner in the restaurant and then played some slots before finally calling it a night. And what a night it was.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Road Trip 2009: Day Four

Saturday, June 13th - We woke up with a start this morning. Or rather, Kat jumping up and saying, "Get up! We didn't set an alarm last night!" And she was right. We hadn't. And it was already 10:47am. Luckily, checkout wasn't until noon, but we did miss the continental breakfast by the poolside that I had been looking forward to.

On the road again, we traveled 15 miles south to the town of Riverside, IA, the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. This had been one of the first locations I wanted to visit when we were still in the planning stages for this trip. But alas, I didn't know what to expect or see. As we pulled off the highway, we were immediately greeted by the Riverside town sign, with the greeting, "Where the Best Begins," but interestingly, the "Best" had been crossed out and replaced with the word "Trek." To burn the moment in all of our minds, Arp used his Samsung smart phone to play the theme from "Star Trek: The Original Series."

A moment of pure geekdom.

The town itself was relatively small. So small, in fact, that we almost missed a small business called "The Voyage Home." Half the store was dedicated to "Star Trek" and the 25th anniversary of Trek Fest and the other half to the history of the town, including the shooting in the town of the short reality miniseries called "Invasion Iowa," starring William Shatner. I will admit I'm a little bummed that we'll be missing Trek Fest, as it's actually occurring in just two weekends (Trek Fest occurs the last Saturday of every June in Riverside.) This year, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols are all attending, which sounds awesome. For next year, they're hoping to coax Leonard Nimoy and Chris Pine (the actor portraying James Kirk in the current JJ Abrams' film) into joining Trek Fest.

Outside the store was a shuttlecraft lovingly built out of wood, plastic, paper, and old computer parts. It sat on a trailer, to be transported at a moment's notice to wherever it is needed, much like the store's larger Enterprise model, which was sadly away at a parade this afternoon.

The store itself is a collection of Star Trek goodies, past and present, including posters, comic books, action figures, toys, books, movies, etc. Also available are a number of souvenirs, most related to Trek Fest, but also a couple to "Invasion Iowa" and of course, Riverside itself. I couldn't help but revel at many of the items, especially the photos and props from "Invasion Iowa." Let me tell you. "Invasion Iowa" is a great series that I hope soon makes its way to DVD. Basically, William Shatner goes to Riverside, IA to "shoot" a short science fiction film. Of course, what they're shooting isn't for real, and it's the making of this fake movie that is the show. Through Shatner's actions, we meet the inhabitants of Riverside, and it ends up being extremely touching. He recruits many of them for the movie itself, as either cast or crew, and in the end, when he reveals the show's true intentions, he presents everyone involved with items or cash to help them as thanks for their time. It was a beautiful thing by the end of it all.

So I got to see a number of great props from the show, as well as some incredible candids. The women there were extremely friendly, and pointed us in the direction of where to find the ACTUAL future birthplace of James T. Kirk, just up the street. We drove, parked, and found it without too much trouble, nestled behind a salon and a store called Vintageville. It was a rather large stone, denoting the words, "Future Birthplace of Captain James T Kirk, March 22, 2228." Interestingly, I didn't realize that the date is also the birth date of William Shatner. Huh.

We then went into Vintageville and met the very nice woman running the store who had lived in Riverside for eight years after moving there with her husband. We looked through the store, and after departing, made our way to Murphy's Pub, a local bar which also partakes in the Trek craze by hanging up a huge poster which reads, "Future Home of Shipyard Bar in 2258." Those who saw the new "Star Trek" film will know what this refers to.

With content hearts and full bellies, we hit the road again, our final destination to be North Sioux City, South Dakota. But we had other plans before setting off in that direction. Namely: Omaha. And just why might we want to go to Omaha, Nebraska? One word: steak.

We traveled the full extent of Iowa, stopping a number of times for locations found via

The first was a giant cow in Iowa City.

The second was a bank that Bonnie and Clyde robbed back in 1934 in Stuart.

The third was a water tower painted completely in yellow with a smiley face in Adair.

And the fourth was a VW bug converted into a huge steel spider in Avoca. These were all very cool and certainly helped break up the monotony of the drives. Kat even went as far as to make her own "IOWA" board similar to that of a "BINGO" board with names of different cities we were hoping to find. Unfortunately, she never did get "IOWA" by the time we reached Nebraska.

Oh,and we also stopped in Des Moines hoping to see the first bar that Slipknot (heavy metal band that originated in Des Moines) had played at when they formed back in the mid-90s. The name of the venue was the Safari Club back then, and a few years after was renamed Hairy Mairys. We searched for it under that name, only to discover that it had been changed yet again a few years ago and was now called the Dublin Bar. Unfortunately, it was no longer a place to hear new rock and punk music like it had been before. Now, it was simply another Irish pub. Oh well.

So Des Moines didn't quite live up to what I had been expecting, but that was all about to turnaround with our trip to Omaha. Our restaurant of choice? The Omaha Chophouse. We had an incredibly nice waiter, ordered a lovely bottle of Merlot, and each enjoyed a choice Omaha steak.

Kat and I each had a NY strip and Arp had a porterhouse. It was an incredibly tasty meal, as you would expect from a company that produces steaks and ships them around the world.

From there, we had another 100 miles to drive through the dead of night to North Sioux City, where we finally reached our final destination at a Country Inn and Suites. And when I say dead of night, I mean it, as there were times on the highway when there were absolutely NO lights. Nothing on the horizon. Nothing on the road other than us. No moon. No stars. Nothing. We are definitely not in Jersey anymore.