Sunday, June 24, 2007

Exercise weekend part 2: Rochers de Naye 2007

I am thrilled to report that we have just completed the Rochers de Naye run for 2007.

Here is the official website. As you can see from the altitude photograph this event is much like any other 20Km run with the rather large exception that you start at the bottom in Montreux and you finish at the top of the Rochers de Naye mountain. It is a climb of over 1500 metres and that's a long way for us anyway

Last year I bought a pair of rather heavy Salomon boots and managed to run the whole way in them. I did meet the guy who came 3rd in the whole race and he told me to use standard running shoes. So today equipped with my trusty Asics Gel Kayano XIII we tried again.

The first 5km is a damp or slightly muddy course following a mountain stream. This was a bit slippery but in the shade. After that the route goes to tarmac and after a short dip down it is now up up and up until the end.

Both Agata and I were carrying food and MP3 players. There were a great number of refreshment stops, so in fact our food was hardly necessary. After 5Km we split, with Agata running just a little bit more slowly. Marcus continued trying to catch people up. From Km 9 I caught up about 50 people and was overtaken by 2. So if we attempt this next year probably I should run faster from the start.

Anyway about 2.5 hours later I finished and Agata just a little later. A great result because we were still a little tired from yesterdays cycle tour. The results are here

For the first time the marmots were at home and you can see how cute they are:

So it is now time to take the rest of Sunday off, we are thrilled with our exercise weekend, but for the rest of the day our sights are set on Pasta and chilled wine.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Exercise Weekend part 1

Well we managed it. Yes we participated in the journee Lausannoise du Velo
The rough plot is that you assemble at Chalet a Gobet early on Saturday June 23rd. Unlike last year the forecast was good weather and I am happy to report a dry day.
In about 5.5 hours we abled up and down hills to complete our chosen 100Km course. Our Garmin GPS watch told us that we each consumed 2000 calories so based on this unlikely statistic we have had a large dinner.
In preparation for tomorrow ..

On Call

Once I was in a car dealership eyeing up a new Noble M12. The salesman without any degree of tact probed by financial situation in order to try and assure himself that I was not just another Saturday joy-rider. But then I told him about my job.

Oh, you work in Computers Sir
That explains it

This response is entirely typical to me and is along the lines of , well if you
had a proper job (perhaps a car salesman?) you'd never be able to afford
such pleasures.

When "new friends" come up with the same line I don't often describe the all pervasive nature of computers and that without them the developing and developed world as we know it would come to a halt. I normally talk about On Call

On Call refers to a normally rota system of working meaning that (say) every 2 or 3 weeks you are available to help our resolve unexpected work problems whilst at home. Most computer systems operate 24x7 (i.e. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, normally infact every day of the year)

For this you normally get a large bonus for the weeks of On, something that today I might put towards a new sleek Audi R8

But what does it really mean?

  • During periods of my Oncall you should respond to a phone call within 15 minutes and be able to logon within 1 hour.
  • So you will need to carry a work phone or pager around.
  • You need to take your work laptop home
  • You had better buy a suplimental Screen and docking station (at your own cost) becuase it is impossible to use that work laptops 10.4 inch screen to work effectively. And work will not pay for one.
  • You had better not go anywhere that is more than 1 hour from your home, because if called you will need to get home within that hour, plug into the home DSL network connection to access the troubled systems.
  • Dont expect for work to pay for your DSL line, but you are going to need one because the work Virtual Private Network connection (VPN) that provides a secure and encrypted connection from home thru the Internet to work, cannot work over dialup
  • You had better not drink anything from during that week of oncall
  • Since there is an existing level of support (offshored to Asia) when you get called you can be sure that this really is going to be a long and protracted problem
  • Besides trying to fix the problem you will need to record everything into the Change and Problem Management system else you won't get paid or people working after you won't know how to solve the problem.
  • Make sure you don't like sleeping because after being called out (say from 02.00 to 05.00) you will still need to get to work because there is still a job to do there
  • Not only will you have to cover Monday to Friday 18.00 to 07.00 but lets also ask you to cover the 48 hours of weekend too.
  • So you will be staying at home on an oncall weekend then.
  • Some unlucky person will also be asked to cover festive periods like Christmas and New Year too.
  • Because you are a contractor, let us pay you an insulting retainer for On Call so that unless you are actually called out (where you will be paid the same wages as though you were in the office), you will get enough money to buy a coffee in Starbucks once per hour. And you are going to need that coffee I can tell you!

In summary

On Call == Misery

And so: I am quite delighted to say that I am now permanently Off Call, or whatever the opposite of On Call is. No more staying at home at evenings and weekends. Of waiting for that phone to ring at 2 or 3am in the morning. Of rushing to logon noiselessly after 22.00, because in Switzerland, you must absolutely be quiet after that time. Of dragging my sleep deprived body into work the next morning and pretending that life is still wonderful. Of being reprimanded for helping out my offshore team who called for help when technically the problem is not at the correct technical severity level (yet).

My Audi R8 purchase may be off but we all know it would just sit in the garage depreciating like a stone. I think the new lowered income may now go towards a new Ribble bicycle. Whilst the incresed happyness quotient is building me a larger and larger smile :-)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

10 June Hello Geneva

We made it, but where is the luggage

Whilst waiting for a train we entered the strangely open Migros supermarket. In a Swiss canton where it is forbidden to cut the grass on a Sunday supermarkets dare not think of opening. But at Geneva airport Migros gets away with it so that foreigners entering the country dont get too much of a shock.

After the train and in the interests of economy and it turns out stupidity we took a bus or in fact 3 busses home. So about 3 hours after coming out of the airport we opened the Apartment door.

Plant: Yes the plants had all survived, it is a miracle.

Then much later we had a call from the folks at Jet Aviation. They claimed to have found our lost luggage. And indeed later it was delivered. Agatas rucksack seemed open and we realise now (1 week later) that some small items have gone missing. Nothing important, but we are shocked. This is Switzerland!

Holiday summary: We had just the most fantastic time, the two highlights were the Narrows descent in Zion National Park and the Day long trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and up in the same day. The greatest disappointment was the Skywalk and the most frustrating thing was the flight delays experienced at the holiday end.

And now the all important gadget report: We were constantly helped on our holiday by good technology and good planning. In brief:

The ASUS R2H has been upgraded to 1GB of memory and Windows Vista Business. It is still dreadfully slow, but we fixed the crashing problem before holiday start so it is basically reliable. Using the internal GPS and a Microsoft Amercian Streets and Trips 2006 we were able to navigate to any place we desired. Suspend still does not work and when Hibernate fails the 5 minute full restart is frustrating.

As usual we daily downloaded all our photos to this device, and for paranoia also kept a spare copy of the photos on a SD card written using the R2H's internal slot.

We were able to watch the prepared .avi movies we took with us on the R2H's 7 inch screen no problem. We found we did not have time to listen to any music we had prepared on the R2H or the two iPods we took.

Our Komperdell C3 Carbon Fibre nordic walking poles were great and I am now a total convert. So much so that we just bought another pair in Switzerland so now we have 2 each. It really makes a tremendous difference to the speed of a mountain descent, and is pretty good for ascents.

The Salomon Raid Revo 20 day sacks we used are apparently almost a standard in Adventure racing. Well we use them in Switzerland on day hikes and cycles and they did not let us down here. Very light, but large enough to carry a Cannon 400D with long lens

The Canon 400D and Panasonic Lumix LX2 provided big quality and lightweight widescreen photos respectively.

Frequent trips to REI and to Nike stores equipped us with selectively lightweight synthetic clothing to meet our hiking needs. Our Decathlon wardobe proved bulletproof.

The Leatherman Micra was our emergency tool with the Gerber Diesel for bigger tasks. We could not buy the Leatherman Charge TTi nobody stocks it?

09 June Panic and packing

Breakfast at Panera Bread was delicious and all the good times were making it all the more difficult for us to contemplate our return to Switzerland. We really like America! It was time to drive to the Raleigh Durham International Airport

First stop .. Hertz. And goodbye Hyundai Accent. Unlike Nissy this was a sensible four seater with especially wobbly steering and soft suspension so as not to scare your stereotypical American driver.

Nervous checkin - is that Explosive sir? On the advice of the locals we thought we'd get to the airport early. We were carrying an assortment of old computer components and we thought the razor sharp airport security could think (wrongly) that we were smuggling something out. So our pleasant suprise was only to be subjected to an explosives check,after which security were not at all interested.

Having checked in we had several hours to spend, and lets face it Raleigh Airport RDU is not the shopping mecca you might want it to be. Neither was Starbucks! I kept ordering drinks that seemed to be either too much trouble to make or generally not available.

Eventually the tiny plane took off for Newark. We did arrive Newark and started circling around. It was so nice of the Captain to give us all such an aerial nice tour or Newark, except that we would have prefered that he land.

After over an hour of circling the Captain announced that he was running low on fuel and so we would be landing at Allentown in Pensylvania instead. Not particuarly good news for our Connection back to Switzerland.

We landed in Allentown and we learnt that most of us were foreigners returning back to Europe so we were all rather cross. An age later we took off and various groups of passengers started discussing plans on how we would rush from our entry terminal to the connecting flight, assuming it was still there.

A lot of running: As our plane finally landed in Newark we realised that our exercise themed holiday had given us the edge. We felt that if anybody could run from the landing terminal to the destination terminal .. it was us! And we did, we ran and ran and most suprisingly ... we made it!

A lot of film watching: Normally we sleep on long plane journeys but in this case we thought it would be a much more sensible idea to stay up and watch movies. We watched Shooter twice. marvellous

08 June: Meeting Old Friends

Although we had only had 5 hours sleep getting up at 08.00 did not prove difficult. This was our only remaining shopping day in America!

The closest breakfast seemed to be at the Bear Rock Cafe. I now realise this is a chain of stores but still most enjoyable. And free wi-fi!

And now the other good reason for staying here became very clear Crossroads Shopping Centre which is quite literally around the corner. As always Agatas skillful hotel selection was no accident.

Our next stop was to visit Jennifer and her family. I had not seen Jennifer in Cary since we had lived together there. Now she has moved and gained a family. Her new house had a Cathedral ceiling in the lounge. A small but impressive detail, and this combined with the spacious nature of her apartment which she described as very ordinary reminded me that living back in Cary (should we get the chance) would not be a bad idea at all.

Switzerland is of course very beautiful but the allure of the very green and always friends Raleigh area was and is very beguiling.

I think matters got worse during the rest of the day. I miss Raleigh! We stopped into my Old Wachovia bank to get some money, we visited some old stores I used to frequent. Even shopping at my old grocery store Harris Teeter was an absolute pleasure

Later that day we ended up in Southpoint Mall. We made several bargain purchases. Amusingly we popped into Bags N Baggage to try and get some sturdy carry on and hold suitcases for the journey home. We did not want all our nice purchases to get damaged! We explained that we had seen some very nice Samsonite cases in Vegas and asked for similar. An extremly polite shop assistant told us that "the price point" of any of his luggage was above that of Samsonite. I looked at the 800 USD Rimova Topas case and realised I really had come to the wrong store. In fact JC Penny came to our rescue, 2 cases for 39 US Dollars, including tax.

Cases in hand we now had to locate my old friend Glyn a work colleage from IBM now living again in Durham. Following the GPS on our ASUS R2H we detoured thru Duke University and then headed out of the town into green and very pleasant lands. We finally arrived at a large impressive house and was fairly convinced this had to be the wrong address.

It is a fantastic property, miles from the town. The garage door was wide open and a stereotypical Redneck pickup truck was amongst the vehicles outside.

I turned out to be dead wrong, this was Glyn's new home, and he explained that it was so safe that the garage door was quite safe to be left open. A few glasses of wine later we were talking about the good old days and I was really pleased that Glyn had made it back out the US, he seems so happy there. We were very jealous in a nice kind of way.

And so the computer highlight of our trip began. Whilst I had tried hard to buy some modern Computer components nothing at all was available (where were those 16GB flash drives America?).

So it came to be that at Glyn's I began the disassembly of a Cromemco series 250, which Glyn had bought earlier and had patiently kept in his garage.

Overall this process was quite heartbreaking. Whilst this was in fact a 17 year old computer similar to the ones I used to integrate and sell almost 20 years ago, this was kind of special. We had found some surplus ones, that had never been used! So really it was brand new. Now I was disassembling it, wilfully breaking it apart, this pinnacle of 1980's and pre IBM PC technology, gutting this beast for the choicest components to leave an all but empty (but still really heavy) steel shell that is probably bound for the compacter.

An hour or two later these treasures and a stash of North Star Dimension manuals were loaded up and we sadly left promising to return one day, hopefully soon

07 June :The Road to Raleigh

Up at 5am to leave Bellagio. No time for that excellent pool or the greatly desired and cavernous buffet breakfast.

There was just time to admire the worlds largest chocolate fountain and then checkout under an equally memorable Bellagio art styled ceiling.

Next was a swift taxi rider to McCarran airport for about 10 USD, much quicker than the shuttle bus like Gray line since it goes straight there.

This is the story of the start of our long day of waiting and hoping, just we did not to know it yet.

First stop after the numerous security checks .. Cinnabon. Quite why this tasty snack is not available in Europe I dont know. Whilst delicious of course it overtly does look like its dangerous to your waistline so perhaps its X rated food nature prevents successfull marketing in Europe, Still delicious!

So we are leaving Vegas and here is are some of the other things we noticed:
1. What exactly is that number on top of gambling machines. I refer to a large increasing number probably of some sort of win. It seems to scroll upward at a rate that means its probably for the whole casino not an individual machine. Who knows?
2. Why is WiFi free or cheapest in cheap motels but in the most expensive hotels chargeable or in some cases totally unavailable. Dont the rich need the internet?
3. Did you ever get trapped in a Casino. These football field sized playing fields have plenty of signs for the Bar, ATM machines. But signs to the redemption machines .. thin on the ground. And like a mythical unicorn signs to get out a casino ontp the stip .. invisible. The number of times I walked into a large casino and then walk in circles despeartely trying to escape .. many!
Back to the airport. We were taking American to Chicago and then taking a connecting flight to Raleigh Durham RDU airport. The destination hotel and car were prebooked so we could not afford to be late ...

At McCarran we did notice our 09.50 flight was delayed to 10.15. The gate assistant said it was because the tail winds were strong and meant that we would get there too early if we left on time (file under excuses, dubious). Then the time slippled to 10.30 and then 11.50 . Clearly the tail winds were getting very strong. Finally we were lured into getting onto the plane and I prompty fell asleep.

About an hour later I woke to what was the worlds quietest and smootest flight. On closer inspection we found that we had not actually taken off. Oh dear. A quick calcuation showed that even Superman could not get us to Chicago ontime and we arrived at 17.00. Not amusingly this was the time our connection was leaving, They waited around, just not for us.

So whilst in the air we tried to think positive and admire the view. We flew over a crop circle training centre at one point, then some equally impressive square fields later on.

After landing we spent the next 6 hours or so were spent rushing around Chicago airport trying to rebook our flight to arrive for this Thursday night. Initially American had rebooked us on the 07.55 Friday morning flight and apparently (numerous phone calls later) they did not need to provide any compensation for delay or inconvenience since this was due to natural factors. This may be the windy city however the conditions looked fine by European or Swiss standards. I know Chicago too has challenging winters (and hot windy summers) so I really cant understand what was the problem, but it is true that over 30% of flights this Thursday were delayed or cancelled. Result .... a great day for food vendors at Chicago airport.

Eventually we phoned a 1-800 number whilst waiting in an infinitely long rebooking queue. Turns out you can (in theory) go to any Amnerican checkin desk and ask for rebooking. So we left the queue (sorry line) and about 3 desks later managed to get a rebooking for an already delayed 21.00 flight to RDU.

Without further ado then, we caught the delayed 22.30 flight arriving RDU 01.00 and were impressed to get Hertz car at 02.00 and arrived at our room in Red Roof Cary NC at about 03.00

Definitely time for Bed, Friday is our shopping and meeting friends day and we need to be as fresh as we can.

Summmary: A long day, 1000 miles flown, 30 miles driven, very tired

06 June: Last Day in Las Vegas

Goodbye Nissy. We are going to miss you. In a frantic dash we just made the deadline to hand back the Hertz car.

We are the couple that cleaned the car in a carwash earlier, however it got dirty again so it was only clean on the inside when we handed it back. Nissy never let us down, made all the right noises, and despite getting stuck off road we liked the car.

With Nissy gone we had to walk to our next Hotel: Bellagio. In a word LARGE, that is Bellagio. Some of their carpets are larger than our apartment. It has hundreds of guest rooms, speciality shops, several restaurants, 3 pools. I think they should include complimentary Segways for all guests, perhaps with GPS to guide bewildered guests.

After checkin we thought that the local buffet would be too boring so we hopped to Caesars Palace.

We now realise that all buffets are not created equal. We waited in line for ages because there despite many empty tables no servers to take us there. Then when someone was available they took a Diamond Card holder to a table instead.

This bring us to the sophisticated reward schemes that casinos employ.

After dining what better than a dip into the Bellagio pool. The pool was at least 25 metres long and pretty empty allowing us to work of those extra kilos of food we had just been eating.

For our last Vegas night we decided to step into the confused fantasy world of Ka Things might have gone more smoothly if I had read up on the plot on the website, since the whole event was terribly confusing. "KÀ tells the epic saga of a brother and sister: twins who must embark on a perilous journey." In essence a lot of choreogrpahed jumping with an abundance of special effects. We left impressed by the jumping and disappointed that no photographs were allowed.

Time for the last minute gambling. And less than 12 hours before leaving we finally found a winning formula. We found the Bar where our top secret Blakjack stragey let us lose money very slowly whilst receiving free drinks. Our preferences were White wine or Margaritas. Essentially you keep playing whilst women come past asking you for free alcholic drinks and when the drinks arrive you tip them a dollar (or so) for their trouble. Why didn't we do this earlier?

So at about 01.00 we stumbled into our beautiful Bellagio bedroom and had our last night in Vegas.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

05 June: Skywalk

A few months ago the BBC news reported an exciting development regarding the Hualapai tribe and their business venture called Skywalk. It was presented that a large glass structure had been built at the West side of the Grand Canyon rim, and that you can now pay to enter this territory and walk on this Glass skywalk for a truely incredible experience.

It turned out to be an incredible experience but for all the wrong reasons...
We got up late at the Quality Inn Kingsman. After all, on holiday sleeping in should be allowed right? Well NO, if it means that you are going to miss that complimentary buffet breafast! So awaking at 08.51 we left the room at 08.55 for the breakfast bar.

America still provides large food portion sizes that only constant exercise, willpower and the ability to say NO will keep a tourist or resident slim. In our case though this was balanced by the tourist mission to try and get best value from our hotel room, which was not cheap!

A breakfast later we called the Grand Canyon West Express company to enquire about the bus service to the Skywalk. You get a confusing answering machine or if you are lucky person. Instead here is the true picture:

The closest town to Skywalk is Meadview. To get there we left Kingman onto Route 93 North. After 30 miles turn right onto smaller tarmac named Pierce Ferry Road and continue North West on that for 28 miles. That road is bumpy but is tarmac surfaced. Now stop and think hard. The Skywalk is now about 21 miles away (14 miles or dirt and 7 miles tarmac at end). If you attempt to drive it you will subject your car to (14 miles x 2 = 28 miles) of offroad hell! If it is your own car then I would recommend a checkup afterwards.

If you dont want to drive at this point you need to get a bus. (or take a tour from Las Vegas which arrives by bus or helicopter). Call 1 702 260 6506 for the bus leaving 25250 Pierce Ferry Road, Zip 86444 leaving at 09.00 and 11.30 daily. All seats are pre-booked and we called and they were all full -- catastrophe.

At this point we were at the start of the Dirt road to the Skywalk. Actually it is 14 miles of dirt road, followed inexplicably by 7 miles of tarmac for a total of 21 miles. The first 2 miles of dirt road look quite smooth (it is being levelled by road machines constantly), the next 12 will attempt to break you cars suspension, the last 7 of tarmac are easy for anybody. Even if you make it you have to do it again to drive back! Please dont attempt this in a normal saloon or People Carrier.

So potentially we were stuck but we bumped into Ron, and his family. He was a retired bounty hunter and part Apache, who generously offered to drive us there. So we got in his truck and over 1 hour later arrived at Canyon West Entrance. We are so grateful to him and to his Daughter Tara Shelton who provided us with such friendship.

From friendship to fiasco however as you enter the Skywalk ticketing area. The prefab is a temporary construction like most of the exhibits since nothing (save the Skywalk itself) is acutally finished yet. You have to queue in a long and unorganised line to buy the Spirit(50 USD) Skywalk(75 USD) or Explorer (120 USD) package. The Spirit package does not let you stand on the Skywalk which is the obecjtive of 99.999% of visitors so if you just buy that you will feel like a real idiot.

We chose the Skywalk Pakage and this allows walking on the Skywalk. You need to deposit all your valuables (especially cameras) into nonrefundable 1 dollar plus lockers. Then walk thru a metal detector, then get handtagged (like a hospital patient), then go onto the skywalk. It is actually a metal horsehoe construction with the round edge part just poking over the Canyon floor. The floor is made from Glass so you can see down. It was the biggest anti climax of the holiday, and for 2 of us this had just cost 160 USD (including taxes) not including the cost of getting there. Would it get any better ....

Not really! After the 5 minute standing on the skywalk and moving past the official photographer who can take and then sell you a photograph,

you can proceed to walk around a 200 metre trail with about 6 preconstructed empty indian huts with suitable captains. There is a lot of building work going on so mind to step over the construction.

Next step is to get on a large bus to the ironically named Guano Point (Guano could be taken to be bats droppings and there seem to be just that on the rocks nearby). Here you get a basic lunch. Not bad, but the limited seats are open air outside in the considerable heat and dust.

After that a bus back to the main centre where you started and you can take a small white van to Hualapai Ranch where there is a small pretend Western town and some animals like 2 goats, a bull and a cow!

At this point we had spent 160 Dollars, seen a disappointing attraction and were trapped 21 miles away from our car.

And so more thanks to Security Guards Tom and another Apache man for helping organise a ride home. They called in some favours and got us hitched up with Rebel Adventure Tours and got back in this Hummer. Thanks for rescuing us, we appreciate it.

And so by 16.00 we were back to Nissy who was waiting safely for us at the junction of Pierce Ferry and Diamon Bar Road. She thanked us for not subjecting her to another Dirt road and rewarded us by trying to keep up with the fast cars like the BMW 650i who streaked along at over 107 Mph. Amercians sure drive fast these days.

The jouney back to Vegas is along I93 North. A fast road except when you have to go past Hoover Dam where you will average about 20Mph. They seem to be building a bypass so in some years time you will be able to get to Vegas without any slowdowns.

Back in Vegas we headed straight for the slighlty disappointing Premium Outlet Mall and then we found accomndation in the antique styled Main Street Station. This

Main street and some other hotels offer 1dollar Margaritas, and this being my most favourite drink it was not long before the angst of Skywalk was far from our minds.
Then to cap it all we used our invincible Blackjack system to win. At the end of the night we were 2 USD dollars up. Take that Vegas!

Summary: Miles driven 242 (42 as pasengers), environment ==dusty && expensive, injuries==none && health==good

04 June: Journey to Flagstaff and Kingsman

To start with this was a day of two Walmarts. As someone with a background in retail (notably Asda and Tesco) I am always excited to see how Asda´s america cousin (and now owner) manages its operation. The size and scale of the choice of Wallmart is quite stunning and today I notice some new touches like the introduction of the George clothing brand. Now that´s reverse fertilisation. I do approve. Well we visited Wallmart Flagstaff and then an even larger one in Kingsman.

So that´s over lets move onto today. We had to very sadly leave the Grand Canyon. Our expensive, basic and non airconditioned apartment was easy to leave but the stunning views, good facilities at Market Place were not. That canteen is open from 08.00 to 20.00, so are the support shops and the staff are helpful and keen (and often Russian by the way.

So with a heavy heart we climbed into Nissy for the drive down to Flagstaff. We arrived at 09.30 and then spent over 30 minutes trying to find the town.

We sort of gave up and ended up at the Lowell Observatory. They do a great guided tour principally of the telescopes and background that enabled Percival Lowell and Clyde Tombaugh to discover the planet Pluto. They also do an Enya musically enhanced video of past and present work carried out at Lowell.

We managed to get a great map from an assistant at Lowell and this showed us the great town of Flagstaff. Flagstaff has 2 great riches: a plethora of Sport/mountainerring shops and various cafes. What could be better since we really like both.

We ended up at the Mountain Oasis Cafe and we both had a huge and overpoweringly great lunch. (We should have consulted guides like this but somehow we forgot).

Stumbling back to Nissy, stomachs creaking we set out to drive the remaining 180 or so miles to Kingsman. No American road trip would be complete of course without a drive down Route 66 and of course it is on our way.

Initially we took the Interstate 40 leaving at 139 to join route 66. Seligman is the first reconisable town and it and other towns on this route are gaining inspiration from the fil Cars. In Cars as in real life towns on the Route 66 have been greatly eclipsed by the newer Interstates. Once prosperous towns have deteriorated into ghost towns. But now thanks to the film and the Americans publics new found Nostalgia towns like Seligman are beginning to prosper just a little again.

After Seligman we hit the road again and stayed en route 66 to the Grand Canyon Caverns. We paid out 27 USD (for two) and took the 210 foot lift down to caverns. For the money you get a 45 minute guided tour which turned out to be fun if a little staged. Would be great for a younger audience. We picked up an enteratiningly translated Polish guide to the cavern.Afterwards we forced an Apple Pie or two into our already full tummies and we left with more smiles on our faces.

Next stop was Kingsman. Route 66 is a pretty rough road but unless you exceed 70 mph you will probably not notice. Nissy is fitted with 225/45 and 245/45 R18 tyres on Bridgestone Potenza RE040. Hypotetically I would say that driven on long straight rough roads at about 100Mph it might get quite noisy.

So we arrived at Kingsman and negotiated a good rate with Best Western Kingsman. Not a bad choice since although expensive it is a great hotel inside, with free internet, modest outside pool, free breakfast and rooms with a fridge and microwave. Turns out there are a boat load of hotels in Kingsman and the lowest price we saw was "from 39.95 USD". Still this was good and so close to Walmart and other stores. If you do stay there you will need this map else you wont find anything.

Another great day!

Summary: Drove 270miles, good shopping and sighseeing, injuries==none

03 June: Grand Canyon Walking

Canyon walk: Today was time for our 23Km Grand Canyon Walk. Initially we had wanted to spend a night at the Canyon bottom but this requires a permit (easy) plus a booking at one of the two sites at the bottom Phantom Ranch (impossible) or Bright Angel Campground (impossible).

Here is the official Park Guide

Pocket Map

So we thought a much better idea would be to trek down to the Canyon bottom and back up to the top in a single day.

Unfortunately all the guide books say this is a dumb idea and there are even signs en route saying this.

In fact we are glad to report that it is quite easily possible in the following way: First do the preparation and study the route.

We chose to start at South Kaibab Trailhead near Yaki Point. The overall plan was to start as early as possible at sunrise from South Kaibab, walk down to base, have upto 1 hour rest and walk back up. By noon you will find the temperatures in direct sunlight on the trail at about 35 degrees centrigrade and in the base canyon maybe 10 degrees higher.

So the only way this is going to work is if you start early! Here is what we did in order to achieve our down and uptime from South Kaibab to Bright Angel Trailhead in a respectible 8 hours 15 minutes. We got up at 3.30 am and drove to Mather point where you can park all day (some areas are 1 hour only). Walked to Canyon View Information Plaza and took the 04.15 Kaibab trail route bus to South Kaibab Trailhead. Waited there for about 10 minutes for sunrise. We each carried 3 litres of Powerade / Gatorade drinks , 40 pineapple/apricot chunks, 4 protein bars and some essentials eg head torch, first aid, wallet, glucose etc.

The downward trail seemed fairly easy and we had one Komperdell Carbon C3 compact walking pole each. This makes descent easier. Next time we´ll probably use 2 each. We walked quite quickly and were only overtaken by a man in a mexican sombrero who was annoyingly running down.

He moved so gracefully and quickly that I did not get a photo of him and he was soon gone.

We stopped numerous times for photographs. Here are a few:

and about 3 hours later we had traversed Ooh Aah Point, Cedar Ridge, Skeleton Point, Tip Off, Kaibab Suspension Bridge and we were then on the bottom. I used only 1 litre of Powerade down. I ate regularly 1 pineapple chunk every 30 minutes (this was done for whole walk), and we stopped off for 1 big breakfast of protein bar and apple.

At the bottom there is a drinking water tap so although I still had 2 litres left I filled up with 1 litre of water mixed with electrolyte solution. The way up is to follow the Bright Angel trail which does not actually go up much in the first mile or two. In general though this way up is a nicer path than the way down in that it is more a straight path, going down it is more of a stepped path. Either is populated with mules who carry supplies up and down. Mules have an almost infinite capacity to go to the toilet so both trails are suitably covered in mule droppings and smells. Be warned!

The way up is also easier because you initially cross the stream several times. A good tip is to soak your clothes e.g shirt hat, trousers in water at each point. Then as this water evaporates you really feel quite cool and the 35 degrees Centrigrade plus heat is no trouble at all. Further up there are several rest stops and at least 3 more have water, which we used for soaking purposes. The way up comprises the points River Resthouse, Indian Garden, Marcopia Point, Three Mile Resthouse, Mile and a Half Resthouse, and Bright Angel Trailhead.

The closer you get to the end the increasing numbers of the trainer and T shirt brigade you will meet. This is a good tip that the walk is nearly over but what I would give to see how they walked back up in the 40 degree heat, since we met them as we finished walking up, they were smiling and walking down (and still had to make their journey back up).

After finishing it was time to take the rest of the day off. This was slightly marred by the fact that the key stopped working to our apartment so it was not cleaned and we had to goto Market Plaza to get the Handyman to come and change the lock.
So a few hours later we were all ready to celebrate our walk when reality again struck and we visited the laundrette.
So after all that it was finally time for a bottle of wine and a few more smiles.

Thanks Grand Canyon for a great day.

Day summary: 23km walked, 0miles driven, injuries==none

Saturday, June 02, 2007

02 June: Destination Grand Canyon

Leaving Tuba was easy and in no time we were on the the road.

Only 60 miles or so to the start of the Grand Canyon. There are really no towns to speak of just straight roads. The town of Cameron turned out to be no more than a Shell Petrol station and a large gift shop full of European tourists

In a honest but alarming notice we saw that even the tourist merchandise was imported. From the Native America bow and arrows to the small figurines, it is 99% made in China!

If the chinese ever grow tired of satisfying our Western appetites for trinkets at ridiculously low prices we might have to start manufacturing things for ourselves again, if we can remember how that is!

I now began to wonder how genuine the products at the Jewlery stalls throughout Monument Valley were!

Arrived Grand Canyon. Our room was not ready so the desk assistant suggested Food. We laughed to ourselves and wondered if this line (already used on us elsewhere on this holiday) was in any way responsible for the large and overweight US population. (Zoom in to see caption)

Extended Rim Walk: To get our legs into shape we thought we would try a Canyon Rim walk. The fact that it was all tarmac led us to believe that it would be easy and indeed it was. Still it lead to some breataking Canyon views

Making preparations: I was just a little concerned when I saw the clouds in the form of a Nuclear mushroom cloud but thought we should still prepare for tomorrows big walk.

We so rarely get a picture of the two of us together so here is one for the record.

Summary: Driven 100 miles, walked 6Km, injuries==none&&health==flu

Friday, June 01, 2007

01 June: Monument Valley

Another great mostly comprising of driving, driving and driving.

This NIssan 350Z is really growing on me. In the American context I am happy to report that Americans are now used to high speed driving. Years of Japanese cars and catchup American design has finally led to a generation of autos that can cruise safely at 90mph and even tun a corner without giving the driver a mild heart attack. And concequently on the route from Page to Kayenta to Monument Valley to Tuba many drivers exceed 90mph with a smile and not a look of terror on their faces. Mileage today for us .. about 260. Mr Nissan was a real pleasure to drive.

Get the (tyre) pressure right: Nissy is equipped with tyre pressure sensors. I first remember these on the Corvette C5 I had they were a gimmick but actually I began to like this feature a lot. Sometime when driving you get the feeling that one or more of your tyres is underpressured and so you make a stop at a garage to check. There never is a problem of course but being safe with these monitors is just a push of a button, and a great reassurance.

Changing times #1: Safeway meets Starbucks. Just before leaving Page I recall that we stopped at the Safeway supermarket. They seem to have teamed up with Starbucks. I still remember the day when Supermarkets teamed up with MacDonalds, and that's if they were lucky! The game has now moved on. Today we are drawn to the vast choice and rock bottom prices of a supermarket like Safeway and then given the chance to blow away our savings by having 2 coffees and a muffin in the adjacent Starbuck for 10 dollars!

Dam visit attempt #2: We really wanted to get onto Glen Canyon dam wall and this and other attractions are part of the free tour which we missed by 2 minutes yesterday. So we gave it another shot this Friday. Would you believe it, the 10.30 am tour had just left even though my watch said we were on time, so we agreed not to give the Dam the pleasure of our company and we moved swiftly on

I found Wal*mart: and a big truck

We got to Monument Valley at about 15.00 and it was rather an anticlimax. Here is the official guide. Basically it is a set of orange red sandstone cliffs in the Navajo tribal park. I think it captures the hearts and minds more of Americans since the sandstone cliffs are a frequent backdrop to several classic westerns, and even current TV shows and commercials. To us Euros then I found it just an impressive set of cliffs.

But actually less inpressive than the rocks at Zion we spend a whole day intimately walking between. You cant really get close up to the rocks. The closest you would get is the Wildcat Nature trail of 3.2 miles that goes close to The Mittens and Merrick Butte.

So after a large amount of digital photographical clicking we got back into Nissy and headed out to Tuba. We are shacked up at the Dine Inn Motel, a good and practically our only choice here in Tuba since we had nothing booked.

We found the local mall for just food shopping, as Tandy was closed (it's been ages since I went to the Tandy Battery counter!). Our evening was completed by watching Shrek the Third. We could not face Pirates of the Carribean3 at 168 minutes that seems like too long.

That is all for today, wonderfully exercise free (we both have horrible flu with nausea, headaches and swollen bit), so we take it easy ready for the (Grand) Canyon challenge. 48 hrs to go.

Day summary: Monument beautiful but Zion was better. Miles driven xxxx, health good despite the flu.