March 2011

Sonya's trip - March 15-30, 2011

Time for a trip! Dan's dealing with a busy work schedule right now so this one is just for Sonya.

 

Day One: March 15, 2011

Home - Twin Falls, ID

Snoqualmie PassI left the house (with a ton of help from Dan) around 7am. I was really concerned about conditions over Snoqualmie Pass. It had been going back and forth between "No Restrictions" and "Traction Tires Advised" for days. It looked like I had a window in the morning, so I went for it.

Got up to the top of the pass around 10am. It was snowing lightly, but only a little bit of slush on the road.

Once I was over the pass, I was able to relax a bit. I was prepared for a long, boring day of desert driving, but I was pleasantly surprised. The drive was long (625 miles, about 12-13 hours), but the scenery was changing often enough that it kept me interested the whole way.

I crossed into Oregon about 12:30. I stopped in Pendleton to get gas and to pick up some lunch. I got all turned around trying to find the Safeway for gas and suddenly all the roads seemed to point me to John Day and I was pretty sure I didn't want to go there. :) Finally I found the Safeway and saved $0.10 per gallon with my card and the guy was able to point me back to the highway. There was a Burger King right there, so I grabbed a burger and some fries.

What in the world did Burger King do to their fries? They must be using that new healthy stuff or something because they taste pretty gross. ICK!

I left Pendleton and headed East on I-84. Let me tell you something you do not want to her your GPS say to you.... "Stay on I-84 East for Three Hundred and Seventy Two miles." UGH!! But I had good music on the iPod and a cooler full of drinks and snacks.

I had been in the Columbia River valley for a while, but after Pendleton I started to climb. I ended up in some kind of Pinion Forest with snow all around. There were a number of places I wanted to stop and look at more closely. Lots of geology and fossil areas. And even more historical stops to learn about the Oregon Trail. I definitely want to come back when I have more time. I'm a nerd that way. .

A little further I was in a long valley. When Dan drove through this area on his way to Durango, CO, he came home talking about this Wallowa Mountain region. Even though it was wet and visibility was limited, I could get glimpses of the area and I'm intrigued too. Hopefully we'll be back there together with time to explore.

I loved going from Pinion forest to high desert to river basins to this area where mesas are towering over the road, then all of the sudden you're on top of the mesas and the canyons are all around you.

Passing the town of Bliss, I thought about stopping to get a picture of the sign saying "Bliss, Next 2 Exits" to put it with my "Weed, Next Exit" picture. But I behaved instead.

I stopped just East of Boise and had decided to push on to Twin Falls, ID. I made a reservation using my phone over their website and headed on. I passed lots of sagebrush and rolling land. But there were some really interesting, snow capped mountains off to either side of the highway. Also, you'd come around the corner and BLAM! there was the Snake River in all its glory. Beautiful!

That last 2 hours to Twin Falls was really long. I managed to get to the hotel just before my 7:30pm goal. They had my reservation and I was into my room in a very short time. I unloaded a few things and then got back in the car. I was really low on gas and was ready for dinner. I went in search of a Subway sandwich place and found one right next to a Chevron. Two birds!

Once I was back in the hotel room, I was exhausted and didn't even want to go out to get ice. I ate my sandwich and tried to find my 9pm show on TV. Unfortunately, my brain was baffled by the Mountain Time thing and I never did find it. I must have missed it at 8pm? I guess that's why we have a Tivo.

I tried a few times to connect to the wireless internet access, but never could get in. I was entering the right password and using the right network, but I couldn't seem to connect. I tried to call Dan to see if he had a suggestion, but he was starting hour 13 at work that day and didn't have a lot left to help me over the phone. So I gave up.

This was good to be out, even if it was just hour after hour of driving. Tomorrow is another long drive. Not quite as long as today at a mere 500 miles. But it's going to be pretty straight as I head south through Nevada along the Utah border. It doesn't appear that there are any high passes to go over. Not sure what the weather is going to be, but maybe I can break through the storm I was in all day.. :)

 

Day Two: March 16, 2011

Twin Falls, ID - Las Vegas, NV

Had a solid night's sleep in Twin Falls. I was up early and gathered up my things. I went down to the lobby and got some breakfast. Usually the choices are bagel or toast, cereal, danish or oatmeal. This one had biscuits & gravy too. I guess that's food.

Checked out and finally hit the road around 9am. My hotel was right on I-93, so I just headed south, assuming I'd find a place to get a coffee. I drove past 4 different taxidermy shops, but not one place to buy a latte. I guess we're not in Seattle anymore, Toto. ;)

Driving South on 93, I was in the snow and rain all morning. You're pretty much out in the wilderness for much of this stretch of the drive, but the desert mountains were snow covered and beautiful and made a lovely backdrop for the drive. I took pictures to share with Dan.

Somewhere around Ely, NV I broke out ahead of the storm. It was still really windy, but at least the sun was out and the dark skies were behind me. I had been looking forward to a break in Ely. Mark and I had stayed the night there a long time ago and I had fond memories of the Jailhouse Hotel & the BBQ place that was next door. Alas, most of the things downtown were closed and it wasn't too nice looking. I did see the obligatory limo parked outside the Nevada Club Casino.

I was able to grab a sandwich in town and hit the highway. I debated for a long time whether or not to jump on the 6 and cut over to the 518 to Las Vegas or to take 93 the long way around, past Cathedral Gorge. The long way would add 45-minutes to an hour to my drive time. Eventually I decided that I most likely wouldn't be back through there in another decade or two, so I would get into Las Vegas a little later and take the scenic route.

Once I made it over the pass, I was able to relax in the fact that I was going to miss the snow up there and enjoy my drive. I was really tempted to go check out Great Basin National Park, but it was a long way out of my way, so I made do with the views from the highway.

The geology on this route is fascinating. I took a Geology 101 class in college and learned a little bit, just enough to wonder about what I'm seeing all the time, but lacking the knowledge to have the answer. Huge mountain ranges were clearly the result of uplift, but others looked like basalt columns along the top of the mesa. Others looked like columns, but they twisted and turned in all different directions. It made me ask myself just enough questions to keep me from getting bored..

Eventually I saw the turn out for Miller's Overlook at Cathedral Gorge. You couldn't see anything from the road, so I was concerned I had driven far out of my way for little reward but at the end of the gravel road I was rewarded with a fascinating view. The place reminded me a lot of a mini version of Bryce Canyon in Utah. Everywhere I looked, there was something more interesting than the last.

I was pretty impressed by the trailhead down to the bottom of the park. It's quite a dramatic start to a hike. Something I know that Dan would have loved and been tempted by. I took several pictures and watched with amusement as cars whizzed by on the freeway at 80mph, with no idea that this existed just off the road.

 

After a good look and a walk around, I drove on down the highway to the park entrance. I went in and checked out the visitor center and paid my entrance fee. It was already late in the afternoon, but I wanted to at least take a peek at what was down there. The woman in the visitor center seemed nice and pointed out some good spots on the map to visit in my limited time there.

I drove about a mile or so into the park and started to see the "caves" along the road. I got out at a couple and had a look around. there are these cracks you can squeeze into and from there, you can wind your way back into the "caves" for quite a distance.

I wanted to explore deeper, but the cracks get narrow rather quickly. I made it to the spot where I was unsure about proceeding. I probably could have squeezed through, but I have seen the trailers for 127 Hours. It was late, I was alone and nobody other than the lady at the visitor center knew I was there. I think I made the wise decision not to push on, but I do plan on coming back to further explore this area.

Just south of Cathedral Gorge, 93 takes a turn towards the west. That was when the storm, that had been in my rear view window all day, was able to catch up to me. I love to watch storms coming towards me when I drive through the desert. I was getting closer to Las Vegas when the rain overtook me.

 

Once I gassed up the car and turned onto I-15, it was a very short time until I came over the rise and saw Las Vegas sprawled out in front of me. Wow! It was hard to believe I was actually here. I was going back to Las Vegas after 8 years away. After all these years of reading other peoples trip reports about my favorite city in the world. I was back!!!

Driving into town, it was clear how much had changed. So many new buildings and buildings that used to be there and were now empty lots. I quickly made my way to Monte Carlo. I gave the bellman my luggage and the valet the car.

The check in process was quick and easy. I asked if there were any upgrades available and immediately the check in clerk started to get uncomfortable. I'm no fool. I have no gambling relationship with them as I haven't been there in so long, so I wasn't expecting a suite and I told him so. I just wanted a view of something other than the parking garage or air conditioning. He was able to set me up in a room with a partial mountain view (Orleans to Rio), down to the pool and over most of City Center. It was a better view than I had expected as I specifically booked a room without a view to get the cheaper rate. I was pleased with 27-221.

Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo

The bellman brought up my luggage quickly and I started to unpack a few things. That was when I noticed how tired and hungry I was. I decided not to rush down to the casino as I had several days to enjoy it. Instead I ordered a chopped Cobb Salad from room service and turned on the TV to relax for awhile. Ahhh....

But next thing I know, it's 11:30pm and my face is pressed up against the window saying "Vegas, Vegas, VEGAS!!!" My second wind had arrived. :) I headed down to the casino, signed up for MLife and looked around for some decent pay Video Poker. If it's at Monte Carlo, I couldn't find it.

I bounced around between several banks of Video poker machines. I found a bank of nickel Triple Bonus machines near the Cafe and I was doing quite well there. I hit four 3's on the deal and it paid our 4 of a kind on three lines! YAY! I sent a picture message to my husband to celebrate and realized... OOPS!! It's 4:30am. Yikes! Where did the night go?

I cashed out and went upstairs to get a little sleep before the festivities tomorrow. Great trip so far and I haven't even met a single board member yet!

 

Day Three: March 17, 2011

St Patrick's Day in Las Vegas

I slept in late. Had a great night's sleep in the comfy beds. I know Monte Carlo has a noisy plumbing reputation, but I travel with one of those white noise machines and I didn't hear a thing. I woke up and had a room service breakfast and watched some TV before getting ready for the day.

In the afternoon I got some texts, so I headed over to NYNY to meet up with some board members at Nine Fine Irishmen. Once I was near the front, I sent a text and Keno said he would come and meet me at the front gate and pay to get me in. After us standing on each side of the rope with neither of us recognizing the other, we finally made eye contact, said "Sonya?" "Ken?" and hugs were exchanged. I was told that this was Ken's "happy place" so I just tagged along behind him as we weaved through the crowd.

Ken had generously paid my admission to NFI and gave me the drink coupon for my one free drink. We slowly made our way over to the bar, but I was still too overwhelmed with the idea I was in Vegas and couldn't think of a single thing to order at an Irish Bar. I was sure I didn't want a Guinness or a whiskey, but what else is Irish? Baileys? When the bartender came to me, all I could think of was a margarita. I told you I couldn't think of anything.

The bartender said that if that's what I wanted, he could make it. Then he proceeded to fill a cup of ice up 3/4 of the way with tequila and then added a splash of Margarita mix. Wow! First drink in Las Vegas and I was a winner. :) Ken, despite the embarrassment of my drink order, still took me over to meet his lovely wife. We had a great time drinking our drinks and dancing to the music. The band (Ri-Ra, catch them at NFI if you get the chance) was wonderful and we had a good time.

At one point in there somewhere (it was already getting blurry) Darnae (or Darren & Renae) joined up with us and we talked and had a nice time. Beach Crazy and Pattiinontario blew through briefly to adorn us all with green things including green cowboy hats with a sparkly shamrock on the front. They were a big hit. I think everyone around us tried on one or two of them at some point. I know I was wearing two for a while and Renae was wearing 3 for at least an hour. We offered one to this giant guy. He was huge with a big bald head. He said the hat would look ridiculous on him but we insisted. He was right. I'm so sad I didn't get a picture of that tiny green hat balanced on the top of his head. HA HA It was great. I believe his friend injured herself laughing. He was such a good sport.

Later one of the hats disappeared and I think it was donated to a non-green wearing co-partier. The band finished for awhile and someone else came on that none of us really loved. I think it was close to 5:30-6pm at that point so the five of us, Keno, Emily, Renae, Darren and myself made our way through the crowd and out of NFI to the casino floor. There we saw a bunch of other VMBers, including StickyFingers and SnertAlert. They told us that BeachCrazy and Patti had just headed up for dinner, despite telling us that they were doing that exact thing about 90 minutes earlier. We're living on Vegas Time! So we decided to head on out. Eventually we were able to get all 5 of us headed in the same direction, towards the taxi stand.

Being a group of 5 and trying to get a taxi is a challenge in Las Vegas. You're good in a group 4 or smaller. 5+ you either have to take more than one taxi or wait for a van to show up. As we were waiting, Darren went over to the limos and grabbed one for us. It was going to be my first limo ride in Las Vegas and a long weekend of firsts for me. Thanks, Darren!

There was quite a bit of hilarity in the limo although I managed not to embarrass myself too much. There is a photo around somewhere that will prevent me from ever running for office, but somehow I missed out on getting a lap dance of any kind. We made it quickly and safely to Main Street Station downtown.

After some buffoonery, we managed to get ourselves pointed in the direction of the Boar Bar where we were all to meet up. As I headed up the stairs, I heard someone say "Shmerga doop fleet?" Okay, that probably isn't what he said, but that was probably more about how overwhelmed I already was than his speaking. After I looked confused, slowly he said, "Is this the meet? VMB?" I said, "Uh... I guess so." I'm so gallant and smooth. :)

I was introduced to tons of people. I remember some names, others I have forgotten. Sorry. I'm not sure I can attribute the right quotes to the right usernames, but let's just say I had a wonderful time for the next couple of hours hopping around from group to group as people arrived. I had some great conversations with people I had just met who somehow seemed like lifelong friends.

After quite a bit of time, Keno and Emily headed back towards NFI to see their favorite band come back on at 9:30. A few other people talked about food or something and I just gravitated with a group as the larger group broke up and headed in different directions.

Eventually I ended up in a huge conga line like procession heading over the bridge and through the Cal. We stopped in at Vegas Club to see someone's (Patti's?) favorite floor person. I also was introduced to someone I normally would not have met. I got to have a nice conversation about plans for The Plaza, etc. It was great. I just wish I could have heard better over the loud music. Meeting up with him again is on my must do list for another trip when it is more quiet.

At some point the gentleman escorted us over to the bar and comped us all a round. There was a huge group of us and all of us wanted something different. The bartender was less than pleased, but we expected to at least be treated civilly as we were guests of the boss. Eventually things got worked out and we moseyed our way over to Fremont Street. I think we lost DonD and his wife in the process as I don't think I saw them again until Friday night.

At one point Beach Crazy and I saw a guy dressed up like a St. Patrick's Day version of Alan (Zach Galifianakis) from the Hangover. We tried to get more people to come over to take a picture with him, but they were all focused on their bar orders so I was only to get him to pose with BeachCrazy. Soon after, we all migrated out to Fremont Street.

Let me just take a minute to talk about the crowds. I haven't been to Las Vegas in a long time, but I read the board daily along with several other sources for Las Vegas news. I know that there has been a hit to tourism during the recession, but you'd never know it by looking around FSE. It was JAMMED with crazy drunk people in all kinds of green adornments. I have been there on some busy weekends, but never have I seen FSE that crowded. It was all you could do to walk in a single file line, weaving through the crowds. Sheesh! Everyone seemed to be having a good time and eventually we parked ourselves in front of the stage between Golden Nugget and Binions. People came and went out of our group, but we watched the U2 Cover band for quite a while.

We made friends with some of our party neighbors. Sin kept kicking over all the empty beer cans from the group behind us, but eventually they tossed them in the box or something. We had a guy next to us in a pink shirt that really needed some work on his dance moves, but his belly was sure to be good luck for us, so Renae and a couple others gave it a rub or two. A few times random strangers came up to us and wanted to take our picture with us all in our matching green cowboy hats. It seemed strange, but the tequila level was just right and I didn't care much what happened.

At some point I noticed that it was just Darnae, myself, Vegas Tonya and her boyfriend standing out on FSE. I sent a text to Beach Crazy and she said they had migrated over to the Binion's Poker room so we made our way over after I stopped to get a 3' tall margarita at Mermaid's.

Some people were playing poker, others were wandering and lounging. At some point people were grouping in different areas to chat or whatever. Hilarity ensued.

All of the sudden there was some huge commotion near us as two guys started fighting. Next thing I saw was this huge guy lay this girl out on the floor with a punch to the face. There was a lot of commotion and things started happening too fast. Security finally got there and things started to calm down. That was a buzz kill and we all left shortly after that.

Some of us wandered towards Golden Nugget to find a cab. Again, we had 6 to get in a taxi and that wasn't going to work. We tried to get a limo, but no luck. Beach Crazy had a card on her for a driver they had used before. He said he would book it downtown from the Strip if we promised not to leave. It seemed like a few seconds and he was there.

We all piled in and the driver dropped Me, Scratch, TexasAggieGirl, Sin, and Patti off at Ellis Island for the steak special. Beach Crazy went back to her hotel. It is quite an experience to get dropped off at Ellis Island in a Limo. I kind of wish someone would have seen us get out. :) We had a short wait so we went to get drinks. I was still working on my 3' tall margarita. They called us not too much later and we sat down.

Through the kitchen we could hear karaoke at the bar. Wow was some of it bad. Sin told us some really funny stories about times they had been there before and people who had sang. Fun time.

After dinner we went to get a taxi... again with 5 of us... We had a couple cabs come through but none that didn't have an attitude or were willing to pick us up. At one point a cab showed up, but we had lost Scratch. I took the cab alone back to Monte Carlo and the other three waited for Scratch to show up again. Since I saw them the next day, I assume they got a ride. :)

I got back to Monte Carlo around 3am and hit up those triple bonus poker machines to unwind a bit. It wasn't too long until sleep was calling me and I wandered up to bed.

 

Day Four: March 18, 2011

Party Time!!!

Ouch! Sun came early on Friday morning and I felt every single drink. It's been awhile since I played this game and I was moving kind of slow in the morning, but I wouldn't have missed a minute of it. And there was still to much fun to be had. Tonight is the big party at Cosmopolitan and I knew I needed to save up some energy, but I wanted to check out City Center while I had the chance.

Grabbed a quick bite at Starbucks and headed towards the tram to City Center in Monte Carlo. Right at the turn for the station, I saw the entrance to Aria and decided to walk through instead.

The casino has some really interesting architecture. The restaurants I saw looked good. Most looked on the fancy side, but prices didn't seem outrageous from the menus I looked at. I can see what some people don't like about the casino, but I would go back when I had more time to spend in there. I just played a $20 through a $0.25 VP machine.

From Aria I wandered through Crystals. I'm not sure I understand what the draw of this place is supposed to be. Or maybe I'm just not the target audience. I saw a number of high end stores with lots of people waiting to help people with more money than I have. However, it feels incomplete. I'm not sure if it's the white everywhere and high ceilings, but it has an unfinished or empty feeling to it. There were some interesting looking restaurants I saw there, but I'm not sure that this place is for me. :)

Aria
 
Aria

Also when did Las Vegas get those giant escalators that go down at a really steep angle? Yikes! Some people have vertigo and acrophobia you know. A few times in my wandering I found myself getting on an escalator, holding on for dear life and closing my eyes to hope for the best.

I found myself outside and saw the way towards Cosmopolitan. I was ready to love Cosmo. I had heard about it on the board and seen tons of pictures. I also had seen a couple of TV ads too and I loved their tag line, "Just the right amount of wrong." I didn't love the casino when I first went in. It was beautiful and looked very rich and interesting. I loved the chandelier bar and they had good pay tables on the VP I played.

Cosmo

Something was bothering me. I'm not sure if I was just tired by then or if the ceilings were too low. I never could put my finger on it. All the employees I talked to were very nice and informative. I didn't have any problems with drink service either. Very strange. I hope to get back there and give it a try on another day when I have more time.

I walked over to Bellagio to see the Conservatory. It was beautiful as usual. Above everything several large butterflies, decorated with flowers like a Rose Parade float were hanging from the ceiling. You walked along a boardwalk, under these arcs of water over the path towards a greenhouse in the center of the Conservatory. It seemed like every 3rd or 4th person was curious about the water and had to reach out and touch it to see if it was really water. Of course, this just made it splash all over everyone nearby.

In the greenhouse at the center of the conservatory were dozens of butterflies. There were flowers in there along with some sliced oranges the butterflies seemed to love. I got a picture of this giant green butterfly, but it didn't turn out. I was really disappointed. The display wasn't as fun as the one we went to in British Columbia where the butterflies were flying around you and would land on your shoulder or your hair, but I can understand how butterflies loose in the casino, might be a problem.

Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory

I was very tired after the Conservatory and I headed back to the Tram station to go back to Monte Carlo. (More steep escalators!) Originally I had intended to find the easiest way to walk to Cosmo from MC that didn't require me walking on the street, but decided it was too much trouble. I would just take a taxi to the party. Back in my hotel, I grabbed a snack and went back to my room to get ready.

I had a little time to kill, but not quite enough time to do anything else. I thought I'd just turn on the TV and lay down on the bed for a few minutes before...... bzzzzzzz My cell phone woke me up as my husband was sending me a text to say "Have a good time". It was after 6pm and I had fallen asleep. OOPS!

I was quickly able to get things together and grab a taxi over to Cosmopolitan. Even with my delay, I think I was the first person at the party and I did what I could to help the hostesses get things set up. I was probably mostly in the way as they seem to have this down to a science and it ran like a well oiled machine. But I could carry buckets of ice from the ice machine like a pro. :)

What can I say about the party? Mostly it was a great night full of laughs and conversation and buffoonery. I saw an inflatable donkey violated in a multitude of ways. I experienced the glory that is Sticky Juice and I made a BFFL (Best Friend For Life) although I'm pretty sure the next time I see her will be next St. Patty's day.

I don't want it to sound like it was all "What happens in Vegas.. " or anything, but it's hard to put it all into words. I could talk about different conversations I had with different people. I can talk about feeling "college drunk" not long after the toast. But none of the little stories really describe the night as a whole.

MMVIII
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MMVIII

MMVIII

The view from the terrace was amazing and I watched as many fountain shows at Bellagio as I could. Usually I was distracted from the show by some sort of buffoonery going on. I feel like I was constantly circulating and talking to different people, but I never felt like I got enough time with anyone and I fear that I missed a few people at the height of the party.

I did have a moment during the toast when I really understood how special this group is. Even though some of these people only see each other once a year, they are true friends. I'm so happy to have been able to help that happen and I am especially grateful that I was finally able to join in on the festivities.

I think the only one having more fun than I was is Phil. He really got around at the party. Eventually he got a bit too frisky and Sticky had to scold him and give him a time out, then Beach Crazy had to give him a spanking. Poor Phil. :)

MMVIII
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Here are some random photos from the party in no particular order. I think you can tell which happened later as the drunk faces become more apparent.

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MMVIII
 

So long story short, I left way too late after too much drinking. As I walked all the way around the entire floor trying to find the elevator, I was pretty sure I was really drunk. That was until I got into the elevator. After going down a couple floors, the door opened and all I saw was a young man in his early twenties, laying underneath the table in the elevator bay. He was holding a beer on his chest and seemed to be sleeping quite soundly. I was trying to figure out how he pushed the elevator button and then got under the table and passed out so quickly when a guy stepped into the elevator with me. He wavered back and forth for a minute and then pushed the Casino Button that was already lit up. After the door closed, he turned around and said, "Did you just see that?" I said, "The guy passed out under the table?" He said, "Yeah.. I wasn't sure if that was real." Okay.. so maybe I wasn't the only one drunk in the casino.

When we hit the casino floor, it was probably 3:30am by then and the place was WILD. As the door opened I heard a loud WHOOO and then several others from all over the casino in response. It was like some kind of d-bag mating call. I have been in casinos just after dinner on a weekend and the casino wasn't as busy as Cosmo was at 3am. It was insane.

As I walked through the casino toward the taxi stand, I saw a huge crowd of guys all seeming to be transfixed on something. As I passed them I saw this tiny thing in her little black, spandex dress. She had on one high heeled shoe and the other was being carried by the giant guy next to her. He also had an arm around her waist, trying to hold her up as she swayed through the casino. Unfortunately this helpful act had hiked her dress up to somewhere towards her middle back, exposing her teeny tiny thong. Now I understood the crowd of drooling boys. :)

I got up next to her and asked if she was okay. She replied with something like "Whahut?" I noticed that although she seemed to be looking at me, neither of her eyes were looking in the same direction and they certainly weren't meeting with mine. I told her that her dress was hiked up in back and everyone could see her ass. She said "SSssshktotaie" or something like that. The guy she was with seemed to be a little less wasted, so I moved on. I hope she was okay.

I finally saw an exit and headed out to the Taxi stand. I was anxious to get out of that insanity and get back to my room and get some sleep. Unfortunately about 100 other people had the same idea. The cab line was HUGE. Of course it also was full of girls too drunk to stand in their giant heels and their boyfriends. I just wanted the line to move so we could go.

It seemed like the line was moving fast until a girl behind me crashed into one of those ashtray/garbage cans covered in empty drink glasses. Broken glass was everywhere and of course, no girl was actually wearing her Jimmy Choos. What a mess. There was some delay in getting cabs while they called for someone to come clean up and then put the lines back in order. Then cabs were moving and I was almost at the front of the line. Then a cab stopped to let out a bunch of drunk people who didn't seem to be able to get it together enough to get out of the road so cabs could get by them. I was just about to jump the rope and pull them out of the street when they moved and my cab was there.

I was so glad to be back at Monte Carlo and that much closer to my bed. It was just as crazy inside Monte Carlo and I quickly made my way over to the elevator. I pushed the button and was hoping that I'd be the only one in there. That was when another drunken pair poured themselves into the elevator with me. I was friendly and asked "what floor?" as I was standing in front of the buttons. The drunk girl replied "37". I tried to explain there were only 32 floors when she decided her floor was 32, I asked for her key because you need a key to push 32. Then she said, "I think it's this one" and fell forward onto the key panel, pushing almost all the top buttons. Grrrr. Luckily she didn't hit anything lower than 27 and that was my floor so I loudly said, "Okay then!" and blocked her from getting to any buttons. Just 15 more seconds and I'd be off at my floor and on my way to my room.

The door opened, I wished the guy good luck and the doors closed behind me. Then I heard a loud crash. I assume she finally fell over. I just high tailed it to my room for some much needed sleep and sanity time.

 

Day Five: March 19, 2011

Poker Day!!

I woke up trying to figure out whose bright idea it was to have the poker tournament at 1pm. It just seemed so early. :) But I managed to get some food for breakfast and get cleaned up in time to catch a taxi downtown.

I got to Binions a bit early so I sat down at a VP machine and proceeded to get pounded for $40. I'm not sure I had one winning hand. Ouch! That couldn't be a good omen for the poker tournament.

I wandered over to the Poker room and saw people gathering there. I got signed in for the tournament. Once I figured out where my seat was, it was just about time to shuffle up and deal.

The whole thing is a blur. I know that I won a big hand and took a lot of chips from the table and I didn't even know I had the full house. Oops. Newbie luck. Did I mention that I'd never played live poker before? Yeah, it was trial by fire.

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After that I almost never seemed able to get any cards. I picked up one or two little pots, but mostly I just blinded out as they went up. Darnit. I looked at the list and it said that I went out 5th. It seemed like I played a lot longer than that, but no way was Patti going to let me question "The List". HA HA

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Things started happening fast after that. Before I knew it, we had a final table and it was down to 5. The next thing to be determined was who was going to Bubble out. During a break, Team Estrogen was trying to convince Sticky that Mike was about to be the next one out if she could hold out through one more round of blinds. I think we almost had her convinced, but alas.

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Then she saw the bubble prize. I think that was better than finishing in the money! I am so glad that someone had it together enough to be sure we got pictures. It was fantastic.

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Next out in 4th place was Keno (who was awarded a generous taste of Holland's balls). Out in 3rd was SnertAlert. Then it was down to Mikenhe and Scratch. It looked like they would hang in there forever and then it was over. What a fun game! Congratulations, Scratch!

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About 20 of us wandered over to Main Street Station for some dinner at the 777 Brew Pub. We had to wait to get the big table, but the wait wasn't too long. Appetizers were moving around the table and then our dinners came. I was full but some other people were bursting. It was fun and I got to have some great conversations.

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From there a smaller group of us went over to Sahara. I kept trying to convince Sin that she would feel better after that big meal if she'd just ride the roller coaster. She didn't fall for my evil plan. I picked up a $5 chip for Dan's collection and watched Beach Crazy play some slots.

Somewhere in the evening I had developed a cough. I was tired and a few other people were ready to go. I heard later some people went over to TI to continue the party, but a bunch of us headed back to our hotels. It was about 11:30 last time I saw the clock and then I passed out for the night. I'm not sure I moved again until morning.

 

Day Six: March 20, 2011

The Plague

It's my last day in Las Vegas and I woke up sick sick SICK! I was coughing and sweating .. it wasn't pretty.

I decided to stay in my pj's and robe and ordered up a fruit plate, a bagel and some juice for brunch. The rest of the day was full of sleeping in between episodes of a Jersey Shore marathon on TV. That made for some interesting dreams. At dinner I ordered up a quesidilla with extra jalapenos, extra salsa and a bowl of chicken soup.

When the food arrived, the guy asked who was sick. He said that whenever he brings up ginger ale or chicken soup, someone has hit the wall.

I got a text message or two from Keno and it seemed he was out doing it up, but there was no way. I just wanted to lay down, but I managed to pack everything up to leave in the morning and get to sleep early.

I did manage to play a little video poker during my time in Vegas. Here are some winning hands I got. I love my smartphone.

 

 

 

Day 7: March 21, 2011

Driving Day. STAY AWAKE!!!

I woke up and got cleaned up right away. I managed to get my luggage taken down, picked up breakfast at Starbucks and checked out. I got the car from the Valet and was on the freeway headed towards California by 9am. It was a good start, but I knew it would be a long and difficult day. It was a bit of a struggle to stay awake at the wheel by 10am and I had a long way to go. Also, the weather had decided not to cooperate at all.

Temperatures had been relatively cold with a wind when I left Las Vegas. I stopped at a rest area a little ways down the road and was surprised by how cold it had gotten. Brrrrr. My stop was very brief, but the cold sure woke me up.

My parents live on the coast near Pismo Beach and I had decided my best route choice was over Tehachipi via Barstow. From there, at the bottom of the hill after the pass, I'd cut across to 99 via Arvin and then take 166 over the coastal mountains to their house.

The only potential hitch in this plan was what the weather planned to do on Tehachipi. Anyone who has driven this way knows that it's a long way around if you can't go over the pass. I had a backup plan to go through Palmdale and up to my parents' via Ventura. Would have been pretty, but I was hoping for a much shorter drive today.

I checked road conditions in Barstow and the pass was open. As I was driving it looked pretty dark and stormy up there and it was plenty cold outside. I'll admit to being a bit nervous about it. But the road was beautiful all the way over. A few flakes at the top, but nothing to worry about. Phew.

Not long after I got off 99 onto 166, I saw dark black storm clouds ahead of me. It looked super dark up there. I slid in behind a semi truck and decided to follow it in. I used the bluetooth to call Dan and tell him I was driving into a scary storm and if I never saw him again, I loved him. He was busy and said, "Oh, okay. Have a good drive!". NICE! Did I mention that he's in an IT project at work and is working almost around the clock? I called my mom as the lightning started spitting out of the black mass hovering over the road in front of us. She was properly worried for my safety. Take that Dan. :)

 The rain picked up pretty quickly and by the time I had my fast-fast wipers on, it seemed that the lightning was flashing all around us. I couldn't see anything but those two red tail lights in front of me and I just followed them at whatever speed the trucker wanted to drive it. He spends way more time on the road than I do. :)

 After a few minutes I heard a weird noise under the car. Skcrshhhhh. It was hailing and I was driving through about 2 inches of some kind of hail mush. I just moved over to put my tires in the truck's tracks and I was safe. We came out into bright sunshine with enough evidence of the storm for me to take a quick picture of the mush. All around us I saw workers from the orchards piling out of trucks and under cover. It was really exciting! But I'd rather not do that again.

The rest of the drive on 166 was beautiful. Green hills in California this time of year are wonderful. I've always loved that green. The map said I was skirting the Carrizo Plain and that sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember any details. But pretty country. I'd like to spend time out there next time Dan and I visit my parents. A little later in the year if possible because the rolling hills looked about 4-5 weeks from peak wildflower time. I know around there it looks like a kaleidoscope when the hills are in full bloom.

I got to my mom's house in the afternoon and got everything unloaded from the car. I unpacked and made myself comfortable in the guest room and collapsed and told mom she might want to start making soup. :)

My dad had been down with pneumonia for about a week at this point so the sickness is nothing new in their house. I helped a bit with dinner and did some laundry, but that was about it for our activity that night.

 

Day 8: March 22, 2011

Recuperation

I don't think we really did much of anything this day. I know we went out at one point so I could deposit the rest of my bankroll back into Chase Bank. Then we went to the drug store to get me some sickness supplies. We picked up some ingredients for our dinner and ate steak and potatoes. YUM! But other than visiting with my parents, certainly not very exciting. :)

 

Day 9: March 23, 2011

Today was my day to be alone. My mother volunteers once a week so I had a free afternoon. She got a call that some pictures were ready for her at the drug store and I volunteered to go get them. I have GPS on my phone now so I could figure it out. HA!

I arrived at the CVS by her house and asked to pick up her pictures. They said they didn't have them. I got irritated and said that someone had just called an hour ago to say they were here. My mom said she'd been waiting for the pictures since November, but they kept having problems. I was getting annoyed each time they told me they didn't have the pictures. Finally the manager guy typed a bunch of things into the computer and told me that I wanted the other CVS in Pismo, down the road. OOPS! How embarrassing. I guess I've lived out in the sticks long enough I forgot what it was like to be able to choose which chain store you wanted to go to instead of just having one choice an hour away. :)

I had time to kill and the weather wasn't terrible, so I drove up to Avila Beach. I remember I liked that place when I visited last time. It's a cute beach. It was showering a bit and a weekday, so not much happening there. I wanted a coffee, but when I looked down the street, nothing seemed open. I decided to keep my eyes open as I drove out of town. The only place I saw that looked open was an ice cream place, but I was pretty sure I didn't want ice cream.

I mostly just wandered south along the water as much as I could. I checked out Shell Beach and tried to find a house with a flyer outside to see how much they were asking for them. I'm sure it would have made me choke. Then wandered through Pismo Beach and it hadn't changed. I headed back up to my mom's house in the late afternoon.

I got out the computer and downloaded all my photos and video from Vegas. I was watching the poker game video I took when my mom came home. I showed them my pictures, plus some that had been posted on VMB already. Only a few of them were embarrassing and only once did my mother say, "You look drunk." :)

That night we had a delicious salmon dinner my mother made us. YUM!

 

Day 10: March 24, 2011

Road Closed

 I had one request when I came down to my parents' house. I had seen an article in Sunset Magazine that showed the beautiful wild flowers in Santa Margarita on Shell Creek Road. I thought that bit of spring was just what I needed to beat my winter blahs, so we planned to go out.

The weather wasn't great. It wasn't pouring rain, but skies were gray and the wind was pretty gusty. We headed out to Santa Margarita and took a road out towards Pozo Saloon. We stopped briefly at the lake out there, but quickly we were back on Pozo Road.

 We were surprised to be accosted by a bunch of free ranging turkeys. The Thanksgiving kind. Some of them were huge. Once we got past the roaming farm animals and all the trees down from the storms, we arrived in beautiful downtown Pozo to find the restaurant closed. Darnit. Strike One!

We completed the loop back into Santa Margarita and stopped for lunch at Tina's. We each ordered a sandwich and we ended up with way too much food. I did a turkey, ham & cheese melt and my mom had a roast beef au jus. Yummy!!

After lunch we headed up to Shell Creek Road to find the wildflowers I'd been so anxious to see. Instead we saw this sign.

We talked to a guy driving out and he didn't give us much confidence that we could make it past the flooded out sections in the Camry, so we turned around. While we were stopped I think I saw our only wildflower. Strike Two.

And here's the
same location
1 week later.
Oh well.

The skies were getting darker and rain was falling off and on so we decided to forget the flowers and get to some wine tasting! I got out the map and found the fastest route to Tobin James. Guess what? ROAD CLOSED!!! Strike Three.

Just when we were ready to throw in the towel, we decided to take the long way and still go to Tobin James. What a cute winery with some nice wines. We had a nice time tasting away and chatting up the people behind the counter. We each decided to leave with three bottles.

I loved the decor and was especially drawn to the "Please Wait to be Seated" sign outside the ladies' restroom. :)

On the way home, we stopped to get something for dinner. Mom had seen a recipe and wanted to make that. I wanted to try making a pasta dish with those new Philly cream cheese things you just stir in at the end to make the sauce. We decided to do a combination of both.

After we got home, we cut up some chicken and veggies and started to cook. I smelled a lot of hot peppers and found my mom chopping up chipotle pepper after pepper. I asked how many she was going to put into the dinner and she said "just four, maybe five " as she started cutting up the 5th one from the 7oz can she bought. She swore the recipe said a whole can. Silly me, I believed her.

When it was done we all sat down at the table for dinner and WOW!! It was so spicy. We all tried to act like things were normal as we gulped down glass after glass of water and put extra butter on the bread to cut the heat. Eventually we all started to laugh about it.

After dinner mom said she was sure the recipe said a 7 oz can so we went in and looked it up. Sure enough.. the recipe said... chicken.. blah blah.. okay, here... 1 chipotle pepper from a 7 oz can. HA HA!! OOPS! We had a huge laugh over that and nobody died. We did check the supply of Tums. :)

 

Day 11: March 25, 2011

It was a big day yesterday and today's morning had me in between speeds slow and stop. A little before lunch my mom and I headed out to run some errands and to go to Solvang.

We stopped and shared a wonderful sandwich in Los Olilvos. My mom wanted to browse in an antique store there, but it was empty. They have plans to make it another wine tasting place. Just what Los Olivos needs. ugh! We walked around town a bit and then headed to Solvang.

We stopped at some place where my mom did some shopping in Solvang. It was a collection of shops all connected and something for charity. All I know is they had some GREAT bargains on clothes and fabric. Shopping with my mom is always a whirlwind so just when I'd find something interesting, we were off to another section. She got a lot of things for a few bucks, so it must have been a successful shop.

Then we walked around the block to get some Abelskivers. YUM! When I was a child, my great grandparents lived and worked in Junction City, Oregon. Every summer they have the Scandinavian Festival and I would pig out on them every chance I got. Mom used to make them on special occasions and I've tried to wow a boyfriend or two with them for breakfast in the past.

We got a seat inside and ordered one plate each. That's 3 abelskivers each with all the powdered sugar and berry sauce glory. Good thing we split a sandwich for lunch so we had room left for the treat. They weren't entirely hollow like ours are, but they were delicious.

After we left Solvang, my mom headed out in some new direction. Not too far down the road we saw this ranch with dozens and dozens of miniature horses. We pulled in and parked. We never saw another person, but I presume it was okay to just walk around and say hello to all the horses. My mom seemed like she had done it before, but she's weird like that. It's a genetic thing.

After that we headed home. I think we might have had ribs that night, but I can't recall for sure.

 

Day 12: March 26, 2011

Today is my mother's birthday. It was nice that I was able to take the time and stay for it. We don't get to spend many of those special days together now that we live so far apart. So how did we spend it? On the computer!!

My mom has been asking about eBay for a while and I know she's talked about selling a few things. She had asked me to set it up and walk her through it when I visit, so today was the day.

Unfortunately none of it went smoothly. Paypal had all kinds of hitches. Then we couldn't find the pictures of her items on her computer to list the items. We must have looked for them for an hour before deciding to just take new pictures. After finding cameras and cables, we had the picture and were back to post.

Unfortunately the listing never did go through and we were both done with sitting in front of the computer so we gave up for the night.

Our real plans for today were to go out for a very nice dinner. Dan and I had decided that for her birthday, and my dad's that happens a week later, I was going to treat for us to go somewhere nice. My mother picked Windows on the Water in Morro Bay.

We had to leave at about 5:30 to get there in time and the rain was coming down pretty heavily. We didn't get a lot of scenery, but it was a nice drive to Morro Bay. We found a parking spot practically across the street. Thanks rain! And we got out our umbrellas and made the scramble into the restaurant.

Windows on the WaterWe were seated at a table right by the window and looking out toward Morro Rock. We ordered wine and a couple of appetizers. I had to try the Dungeness Ginger Crab Cake and mom insisted on the Abalone. The crab cake came on top of a sprout salad with a wasabi aioli. YUM!! Absolutely one of the best crab cakes I've had, and I've eaten my fair share. The Abalone came on top of a Cucumber/Seaweed Salad with wasabi infused caviar and a vinaigrette. It was also fantastic, but couldn't hold a candle to that crab cake. So good.

For dinner my mother and I were trying to decide between the same two dishes so we agreed to each order one and share bites. Mom ordered the local Black Cod served on wilted spinach with Prosciutto and avocado, topped with a garlic, herb, tomato salsa. Fantastic.

I had the local Sand Dabs. They weren't cooked out flat, but instead were panko breaded and rolled up into a sort of tube and baked until crispy. They were served on top of a crispy potato cake and wilted spinach all covered with a lemon-garlic-caper butter. It was also fantastic. I didn't want to share, but I did.

My dad ordered the Shrimp & Italian Sausage Pomadoro Pasta. It was fusilli pasta with tomatoes and saffron-basil cream sauce along with garlic toast. The shrimp were huge and plentiful and the sauce was very complex and wonderful. Again, the perfect meal.

We passed on dessert, but we all agreed that every dish was wonderful and we'd all easily choose that restaurant again. We even managed to get a tiny bit of a sunset for my mother's birthday. I'm sure we'll eat there again when I visit.

It wasn't raining when we got outside, but things were pretty drippy. We headed home for more celebrations! We had an angel food cake with fresh strawberries for dessert and my parents got out the Dalwhynnie Scotch they brought back from Scotland and we all had a sip. I am not much of a scotch drinker, but it was a really good one. My parents also brought a very special bottle of scotch from the Royal & Ancients for Dan and I. We are anxious for just the right occasion to break the seal. Even the bag and box it came in are beautiful. Thanks mom & dad!!!

 

Day 13: March 27, 2011

This was my last day in Southern California. I could tell my mom was disappointed we didn't get to do as much as usual because I was sick. We usually taste much more wine, but I couldn't smell or taste, so it wasn't that much fun. :)

Dinosaur ParkMom and I took off on a drive after lunch. We drove down to Dinosaur Park and actually found a place to park right away and not that far away. We walked over to see what was going on. There was a band playing lots of music from the 60's. I tried to steal a cracker from a baby (To be fair, he did offer it to me and then changed his mind.) and found a bunch of dogs to pet and let slobber on me. Mostly we just sat in the sun and enjoyed being outdoors.

We wound our way along the frontage roads to Avilla Beach and took a walk around. I saw a papillon playing on the beach and got a little sad to think about Lucy. I love this beach even when it's rainy, but today it was lovely so we had a walk around and peeked into some of the stores.

On the way out, we stopped at the Farm Barn to pick up a couple things for dinner and I wanted some nibbles for my drive home. I found some apple chips and dried cantaloupe right away and grabbed them. We walked around and I was tasting my way through. I found these sweet potato corn chips and a con queso dip that was fantastic. They probably wouldn't be a good snack for the car, so I passed, but I can't believe my mom didn't get some. I'm sure she went back after I left. :) I grabbed some fresh fruit and a giant cookie and we were on our way back home.

I spent the rest of the day working on my Dad's computer with him. I was able to make some adjustments so it was much easier for him to use and I also showed him around Windows 7 so he could do some things he was having trouble with.

In the late afternoon, I packed up all my stuff and started putting the big things into the car so I could make an early start.The rest of my bags were piled up by the front door and I was ready to start heading home. It had been a nice visit, but after 2 weeks, I was starting to miss my bed. Oh, and Dan too I guess. :)

 

Day 14: March 28, 2011

On the road again...

I just had a few more things to put in the car and was ready to hit the road early. Said goodbye to my parents and headed North on 101.

Again, after about an hour on the road, I was battling to stay awake. I still was feeling quite sick, but rest didn't seem to be helping. At least not the kind of rest I was getting.

I eventually spotted a Starbucks and headed to the off-ramp. Once I had a sufficient level of sugar and caffeine flowing through my blood, I headed back out on the road and took a turn off for the scenic route at Spreckles.

I decided to cut up through Castroville and Watsonville to visit my old stomping grounds in Santa Cruz.

I got off the freeway in Watsonville to get some gas. Years ago, right after Mark died, I took a job managing a property in Watsonville to save myself from impending homelessness. It was a really weird time in my life. Grief is weird, and a lot of that first year was spent in some kind of out-of-body state.

I was there about a year and a half before I moved back over to the Bay Area to take a job at a bigger and nicer property. But that apartment was a place where I grew up a lot and learned a lot about myself. It's not fancy, but it means a lot to me. I had to try to find it.

Watsonville has built up a lot in the last 18 years or so. :) I knew some of the streets, but nothing really looked that familiar. Finally I was making my way from one neighborhood to the next, I saw a street sign that said "Tuttle" and all kinds of bells started ringing. Then houses started to look familiar and I knew that when I got up to that light up there, I'd see, among other things, the apartment buildings I managed.

 

I drove around a bit, but didn't get out to walk the property. My old apartment doesn't have the "manager" sign on the fence anymore, so I wonder what they're doing about that. Took a few pictures and remembered walking down the path between the two buildings and all the kids standing with their hands behind their backs, looking angelic. "Hello, Manager!" they would say. I knew that they were doing something I wouldn't like, like throwing the rocks from the landscaping at each other. :)

I decided to see if I could remember the scenic, back way I used to take from the apartments to the main office in Santa Cruz. Once I found the first turn off, (still has the same fruit stand on the corner) it was easy from there. I was driving on auto pilot looking for things that were similar and those that had changed so much.

Once I was near Capitola, I was going to head down towards the beach and drive in along the water. But I had such a good time seeing the old apartments, I was curious about the house where Mark and I lived in Soquel. I headed up there. I knew that his parents had moved away and I heard that his father died not too long ago. I wasn't sure about his cousin Gail, but she always liked me more than the rest of them did.

 I parked my car at the bottom of the road that goes up to the properties. I remembered there's a little parking place that Mr. Johnson put in there by the mailbox and it was still there. I took some pictures up the road, but I couldn't resist walking up just a little bit. By the time I was up by Mark's parents' old house, I had convinced myself that if anyone came out I'd tell them that I used to live in the house up the hill and I just wanted to take a picture for old time's sake. But I didn't see anyone. An old yellow lab came out to bark at me, but then he licked my hand and followed me up the road some more.

 I walked up past Gail's house and it sure looked the same. I wasn't brave enough to ring the bell. I kept going and got up to our old house. Except it wasn't a tiny, little one bedroom cabin. It was a huge house! What a change. Took a quick picture and then headed back down the hill.

It's another one of those places. I have plenty of bad memories from there of cancer and difficult days. But some of the memories from there are my most precious. That time we decided to tackle the hillside of ivy and discovered a beautiful garden. Or watching the meteor shower with the boys from lawnchairs on the driveway. Or putting in the new septic line when the boys came to live with us. What a mess! Good times.

Now that I was all nostalgic and weepy, I snaked down through Capitola and over to Pleasure Point. Capitola had some damage from the recent tsunami, but the flood brought on by the heavy rains caused most of the problems. Every single building had sandbags around and although they had plowed most of it away, it was clear there was mud a couple feet deep in downtown not that long ago.

Pleasure PointAt Pleasure Point, I parked and walked out to find flat surf and a bunch of surfers complaining about it. I wasn't surprised to see that East Cliff was one way on that section by the point, but I was surprised how many times I turned down from Portola on a side street, just to have to loop back around again and drive further down. Eventually I just drove down by the marina and into Santa Cruz.

I cut through town towards Steamer Lane and the lighthouse. I parked at the lighthouse and just looked around for awhile. Everyone else seemed to be wearing heavy jackets and mittens, but I was in heaven. That bright sun, temps in the upper 50's with a nice cool wind off the water.

I walked down to Bob's Bench from the lighthouse. Bob was a friend of Mark's in his cancer support group. He has one of those benches dedicated to him and I know a little piece of Bob is still there to this day. Don't ask me how I know that. ;)

I spent a little time on the bench. Mostly I just enjoyed the view and relived a whole bunch of memories. I knew I still had a long drive and I wanted to get going. I was still feeling pretty sick and wasn't going to be able to drive all night to get to my hotel either.

I drove down West Cliff to the end at Natural Bridges and cut back up towards Mission. Grabbed a sandwich and headed for Hwy 17. I used to drive that road every day. Every curve and dip were right where I remembered them. I made good time over the mountain and sailed through San Jose. I decided to take 880 up towards Berkeley and cut over after San Francisco. I had hoped to visit my sister and her family, but they didn't need my plague. I got almost up to San Leandro before I hit traffic.

I took the Martinez Bridge (Toll $5!!) over and caught up with 101. I made good time, but I was getting really tired by the time I got to Willits. I had stopped somewhere near Geyserville to make a reservation on my phone. Nice, clean, quiet room for under $50. Perfect.

Finally ate my sandwich in the room for dinner and passed out in the bed. I had seen some high clouds in the sky before sunset and was holding out hopes for good weather for the coast tomorrow.

 

Day 15: March 29, 2011

Willits - Creswell, OR

Rain, rain go away!

Grabbed the free breakfast in the hotel lobby and loaded up the car. I had been looking forward to this stretch. It's one of my favorites. This time I had decided that I'd get up to Florence, OR and take the road over to I-5. Dan and I spend a lot of time on the stretch of coast from Astoria south to Newport and Florence, so I could miss that section in trade for speed.

I stopped at the Avenue of the Giants to do one of the loop hikes through the redwood groves, but it was so wet there. I wasn't in the rain, but they had gotten quite a bit. I tried to walk on the trail, but every step I'd sink down about 2 inches as the water seeped out of the debris on the forest floor. I was not interested in spending the day in wet shoes, so I hopped on clumps of moss back to the trail head and into the car.

Trees of MysteryNot too much further north I caught the rain. It started as a mist, but by the time I stopped at Trees of Mystery, it was getting pretty drippy. It was enough that I broke out the Gore tex. I have always stopped at Trees of Mystery on my trips up this way ever since I got my driver's license. I'm still not sure why, but I do love that kind of kitsch.

Had a little break and a walk around. I also had to go into the gift shop and try some of their fantastic fudge. This time I tried "Zebra" which was a combo of dark, milk and white chocolate fudge in layers. YUM!! It was so hard to resist buying their 1 lb deal. You can buy 1/2 a pound for one price and a full pound for just 2 dollars more! But then you have to figure out what to do with a pound of fudge in the car without eating it all.

Trees of MysteryI said my goodbyes to Paul & Babe and hit the road. It was raining pretty good at this point and there were plenty of obstacles in the road to keep me on my toes. Around one corner there would be a mudslide where you had to avoid big rocks and mud in the road. Around another corner there would be a herd of Elk standing in the road. Or an accident. I saw lots and lots of those this day.

Just before you get into Oregon, there is another stop we discovered on our last trip up this way after my sister's wedding. There is a liquor store called All Star Liquors that has some fantastic prices and lots of booze I don't see anywhere else.

Maybe this is because we live in Washington state and all our liquor stores are state run. What you see in one store, is exactly what you'll find in any other. They all have the same brands and same prices. This place is an alcoholic Disneyland. I picked up a few things we needed for our liquor cabinet, including a beer Dan hadn't tried yet. The people there are very nice and they have some prices I can't seem to beat. In fact, I bet my mother they had a better price than she could find for her favorite scotch, Dalwhynnie. They had the Dalwhynnie 15 for $49. My mom's best price in her area is $75. You should stop there.

Elk HazzardThe drive up Oregon's coast was rain and poor visibility and dangerous road conditions. Lots of potholes, slides, roadwork, and accidents. By the time I was up near Coos Bay, I was ready to get over to I-5 and take it easy for awhile. It wasn't a leisurely drive up the coast, but an obstacle course or Pole Position. I was tired.

I decided to cut over at Reedsport and come out just south of Eugene. I ended up stopping in Creswell, OR. Not a lot going on there. I got a decent hotel room, but my dining choices were quite limited. As far as I could tell, the only places with food that were open were a really scary looking Chinese Restaurant and an AM/PM mini market.

Food?I got my stuff into the room and then walked over towards the Chinese place. NO WAY!!! I detoured over to the AM/PM and wasn't too thrilled that I couldn't find any actual food there. I ended up with a corn dog, a can of bean dip and a bag of fritos. MMM... the food of champions. Hopefully I wouldn't die. :)

 

Day 16: March 30, 2011

Home again!

Set out early and was super tired again after only an hour of driving. I even tried to pull over at a rest area and grab a nap, but I couldn't sleep with all the cars coming in and going out. So I found another Starbucks, grabbed another coffee/shake and hit the road.

I got some pretty good rain once I was near Portland. Most of the rest of the way up I-5, I was in a mist cloud kicked up by all the trucks on the road. I was glad to finally see my exit come up south of Olympia and I headed for the back way home.

I had been on the phone with Dan off and on all day. Our hopes had been that he could leave just a tiny bit early and be home before me. He's been working practically around the clock all the time I've been gone, but the project didn't quite go off without a hitch and he got home about 45 minutes after I did.

 

All in all, it was an amazing trip. I spent a lot of it in sensory overload. I was really glad to finally get to attend a gathering of board members. It's been a long time coming and I can't wait to go back and do it again. I also was glad I was able to take a little exploring time for myself. It's good for my sanity when I can just get in my car and hit the road alone. I listen to my music and take whatever route I want. It's very refreshing. If only I could have been more motivated to take pictures and video this time. Thanks to everyone who shared their pictures with me for this trip report. Maybe next time I'll remember.

There will be a next time. I have gotten the bug for these meet ups. I had a fantastic time and can't wait to do it again. I hope things have shifted enough in my life that I'll be able to do more of these trips in the future.

 

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