Oh NOLA!

We left our friend’s parent’s house in Naples and drove to Florida’s capital – Tallahassee. Yes, we didn’t know it was the capital either! We drove to a cinema, hoping to make the late night session of Dunkirk. We made it with a few minutes to spare, so after walking through the metal detectors and passed the police and security we decided to jump in line because who can go to the movies without getting popcorn and a drink? Probably lots of people but I am not one of them. This need to get popcorn and a drink did cause us to be late by a couple of minutes (oopps!) nevertheless, the movie was amazing and we were so glad we booked a hotel right across the road. Our excitement quickly evaporated as we checked in through what seemed like a bulletproof glass window and were watched by what we assumed was another guest. Once we got our room key we drove around to our room and started grabbing our things from the van. As we were doing this we noticed that the guy was watching us was walking around the corner with another guy by his side. It was at this point that I asked Mark to “maybe bring the axe inside the room”. To which he looked at me, looked at the guys and then told me to take our things inside. At first neither of us felt threatened but after spending a decent amount of time in the States we had watched enough news to see how quickly things could escalate. The guys eventually reached our room and because Mark was still outside asked him for a light. They stayed for a minute or so before walking away. Mark eventually came inside and we discussed how we both thought they were pimps for whoever was occupying the rooms a few doors up from ours. Our simple movie night turned out to be rather interesting as we fell asleep with an axe and two cans of bear spray beside the bed.

It’s safe to say we didn’t have the best sleep, you know, with the axe and bear spray beside our bed just in the backs of our minds which meant we were up early. Our destination for the day was New Orleans. We had been told to stay in the French Quarter so we booked another hotel and made our way there. The hotel was beautiful but we didn’t spend much time there as we were out exploring New Orleans or NOLA as the locals like to say. Our first full day we explored the French Quarter and found that although the city itself was pretty it was really dirty and smelt bad. The next day we ventured out to check out the surrounding areas of the French Quarter and enjoyed those parts of New Orleans a lot more. As we were walking along some small streets we noticed the blue sky had disappeared and been replaced with a light grey, within minutes this light grey turned to a super dark grey and all of a sudden rain started to fall. It went from blue skies to heavy rain within minutes so we ran to hide under a huge tree whilst we waited for our Uber to arrive. He eventually showed up in a black Jeep and when we jumped in I noticed that he had what I can only describe as a huge beanie on his head. This beanie was so huge because it was covering his mass of dreadlocks. He reminded me of the twins in 22 Jump Street that always say the same thing simultaneously. We went back to our hotel and hang out there to wait out the rain and once it stopped we ventured out to meet up with an old colleague of Mark’s. She had been travelling through America with her boyfriend so we spent the rest of the night hanging out with them, eating and drinking our way through New Orleans. To top it all off we ended our night with a visit to a blues and jazz bar. We figured it was a perfect end to our stay in NOLA.

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Our night out began here at Brennan’s

We had treated ourselves to some nice hotel stays in Key West and New Orleans and with our next stop being Austin, Texas, we decided it wasn’t going to hurt to treat ourselves once more. Mark found an amazing hotel in Austin and we stayed for a couple of days exploring the city. Austin immediately become one of our favourite cities in America. We stayed in the South Congress part of Austin and it was brilliant. We were able to ride into the main part of the city and to the outskirts so we could explore even further. We walked down to a huge park by the river and thought it looked like such a nice spot to relax that we laid down on the grass and admired the sky. I’m not sure what is wrong with us these days but every time we look up at the sky it turns grey. And so while lying on the grass in a park in Austin rain began to fall just like it did in New Orleans. It was not all bad news though because I did manage to get this photo of Mark on my polaroid camera.

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My souvenir from Austin? This photo.

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The Sunshine State

Driving to Charleston was really straight forward and we arrived in the afternoon to find a town that we loved immediately. The architecture and vibes were amazing and we sat down at a bar to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. When we first arrived we thought we would definitely stay the night, how could we not? but after spending a few hours there the novelty began to wear off and we agreed that yes it was a cool city but we didn’t want to stay there just for the sake of it so after dinner we drove through to Savannah. In the van it was nice and cool with the air conditioner on so I convinced Mark that we would be totally fine to just pull into a Walmart and sleep there. A couple of hours later I woke up feeling like I couldn’t breathe so moved to the front of the van to open the door and get some fresh air. The stuffiness inside just didn’t seem to go away which was when Mark woke up and told me how hot it still was outside. Neither of us could sleep after that so we drove around looking for a hotel to stay in. We ended up finding a really dodgy looking one, got a room and slept in our clothes on top of the bed linen for a few hours before we woke up and left straight away. Safe to say that will be the last time I try so hard to convince Mark that we will be ok sleeping in the van in that heat.

 

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Pink house in Charleston

Our next stop was Florida, Daytona Beach to be exact and what we found there was just like what you see in the movies. It just so happened that there was a huge truck convention going on across the road from where we were staying so there were all of these trucks (Utes in Australia) with raised suspension, intense looking paint jobs and flags flying out the back. Walking along the boardwalk in Daytona was my favourite part of our stay there. The weather was still warm, there were rides and carnival games, music playing everywhere and people galore, walking around enjoying the summer. But like a lot of places these days, one day was enough there so we left and headed straight for Cocoa Beach. Along the way we stopped at this small independent surf shop where Mark bought a surf board and we met some really nice locals who gave us some tips on where to go. We booked a stay at a camp ground right on the beach and made our way there. After we had set up camp we ate dinner and Mark went out to surf before it got dark. I decided to enjoy the alone time to read. Mark made his back back just before it got dark and his answer to my question “How was it?” was simply “Someone stole my thongs.” I laughed and couldn’t believe it. Who wants someone else’s old thongs when they already have the foot groves worn into them? Luckily we were in Florida and finding a new pair of thongs wasn’t going to be difficult. On our drive the next day we stopped off at Melbourne Beach to check it out before continuing on to a small inlet. Along the way we stopped at 4 different surf shops and none of them sold Havaianas. After the first 2 shops we had to ask for them specifically because the first 2 directed us to a wall of “flip flops”, none even remotely looking as comfortable as Havaianas do. We gave up on the search for new thongs and just chilled by the beach for a couple of hours. Again, Mark surfed while I read. We drove along the Florida coast and pulled into our hotel in Miami Beach late in the afternoon. After sorting out the van and all of our stuff we went out for the night. Miami was just as I expected but also completely different. I was shocked with the amount of different types of people there. Most other places we had been to there were only a handful of different types of people, but not in Miami. In Miami you can find people from all different nationalities, from all different walks of life. I was definitely pleasantly surprised and more so the next day when we were riding around on bikes and finally found a Havaianas shop! Mark walked out with a huge smile on his face wearing his brand new thongs. As much as we enjoyed Miami we had more plans down south. We were going to Key West.

 

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After we bought Mark his new Havaianas

The drive down south was uneventful and along the way we stopped off at a local golf course where Mark played 9 holes of golf for $10 and then went back to play the holes he liked a second time. The golf course itself was just a piece of land amongst some houses that anyone could walk onto. Their club guidelines were some of the most relaxed Mark had experienced.

We spent a relaxing few days in the southern most point of the USA. Cuba was just 90 miles away! Each day we would wake up, sit by the pool, walk around for a bit and then I would go and sit by the pool again to read usually while Mark went out to play more golf. On our last night in Key West we went to the boardwalk by the water to watch the sunset and were amazed at how many people were around. To top off the amazing sunset we bought homemade lemonade, pina coladas and guacamole from food stands and sat by the water to eat and drink as the sky got darker and the crowds thinned out.

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We listened to buskers whilst watching the sunset.

On the drive back up north the next day we stopped by a wakeboard park where Mark spent half an hour on the water. When he got out his arms were killing him so I took over the driving. Our aim was to make it to our friend’s parent’s house in Naples, Florida. We arrived just in time for dinner and sat down to home cooked BBQ ribs, corn and coleslaw. Their plan was to give us a “typical American meal” and it was amazing! To further relax we spent 3 days in Naples just hanging out and also because Mark’s arms were still so sore he could barely move them and we thought long hours of driving probably wasn’t the best idea!

You’re joking right?

After spending a few days in cities we were looking forward to getting out to the Great Smoky Mountains. The mountain range there is something else. the huge contrast between the cities and nature was amazing and we really enjoyed just driving through, admiring the scenery and breathing in the fresh air. We did spend a day hiking and through the first part of the hike we were talking and laughing, trying to make as much noise as possible to scare away any bears that may be nearby. It started to rain towards the half way point and didn’t seem like it was going to stop. On the way back it was a lot harder to talk as we were hiking on an incline most of the time. So because I was unable to talk as much while walking up hill we clapped a lot. At the beginning Mark was doing most of the clapping but then I took over. It was probably a good 15 minutes of solid clapping before Mark turned around and said “You know you probably only have to clap as we are approaching corners or coming up to blind spots in the path” ohhh thanks for that late bit of information. Definitely could have saved my solid clapping skills instead of wasting them on a solid 15 minute performance. The hike became more difficult because of the amount of rain that had come down as there was big puddles of mud, and any rocks we had to walk over had become slick with rain. I started to get excited once the rain stopped and I noticed we were getting close to the end without seeing a bear. Pretty sure it was all thanks to my brilliant clapping.

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Chilling out, waiting for the rain to stop.

Leaving the Great Smoky Mountains wasn’t too bad because the weather had started to bother us already – where was the sun? As we were driving we noticed that the van wasn’t doing great uphills but we just figured that was because of how many hills there were but while Mark was driving the ‘check engine light’ came on so once we got to the next town we pulled into the first mechanics we saw and asked the guy there to check it out. He checked it using the diagnostic tool he had and told us that it was showing a “solenoid b” issue. He wasn’t sure exactly what that meant but told us it had to do with the transmission. That was not something we wanted to hear but we had places to be so we said thanks and continued driving. We were aiming to get to our friend’s parent’s house in North Carolina which at this stage was 2 hours away. Mark continued driving while I googled what the issue could be. We established that best case scenario it needed the solenoids in the transmission replaced, which would take a few hours to fix but wasn’t as bas as a whole new transmission. We called a transmission specialist workshop near our destination and they told us to stop by if we made it before they closed at 5pm. We got there at 4.30pm and told the mechanic there what was going on. He thought it sounded strange so drove the van up the road to see for himself. His first thought was that it was our clutch because of the issues we were having with the van struggling in reverse. It was probably our bad luck that all of these issues were happening on a Friday afternoon but after chatting with him for a while we booked in to drop it off the next day so that he could look at over the weekend or on Monday morning. We did just that and while we didn’t have our van to get us around it wasn’t a problem because we spent the weekend hanging out with our friend Chris’ family. Mark shot BB guns with Chris’ brother and went fishing. On Sunday morning we were up early to go to church with them. The church itself was so big and the amount of people was something else. Over 2000 people were there and that was small because it was summer and most people were away, the usual attendance rate was around 4000. Mark and I sat there through the service and then sat in on a bible studies group which meets weekly after the service. We were introduced to the group and so many people came to welcome us. Neither of us had ever experienced anything like it and it was very interesting to sit and listen to people talk about how their beliefs help them through their day to day lives. Sunday night after dinner we went on our own private plane ride where Mark even got to fly for a bit. Chris’ dad is a pilot and he was generous enough to organise a small flight for us which was something neither of us had done before. It was the perfect night for it as well. Monday afternoon I was sitting on the bed folding our washing when Mark came in and sat at the end of the bed. “We need a new transmission” he said. He had such a serious face that I thought he was trying to trick me. “You’re joking right?” “No” So I laughed at how well he was keeping a serious face, he normally isn’t that good, but a few seconds later I remembered that, yes normally he wasn’t that good at tricking me so he must be telling the truth. “You’re serious aren’t you?” He just nodded. “How much is it?” “$3500… US.” and at that point I just cried. That was so much money and there was simply nothing we could do about it. After sorting out a few things Mark called the mechanic back and told him to go ahead with it. We had to get on with it. So the rest of Monday was a bit of a downer but everything picked up again on Tuesday, we both did something we love to do – Mark played golf and I read. We really enjoyed staying with Chris’ family and were sad to be leaving but we had places to be once again.

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Our own private flight!

Next stop – Charleston!

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog

Moab was pretty dull but extremely hot so it was a huge contrast once we got to the Rocky Mountains National Park. It was cloudy and the air had a chill to it, so much so that we had to get our trackies and hoodies out! We only stayed there for a night but we set up camp and sat around our first fire of our trip – it’s been too hot to sit by a fire every other night! It was a really relaxing night and in the morning we drove to check out a lake in the park. We had our camera and bear spray on hand whilst we waiting for the sun to rise. And as the sun was rising all of the animals were beginning to wake. The edges of the lake were covered in mist and behind the mist we could see small deer edging towards the water. We walked around the lake back towards our car and out of the corner of our eye we both saw movement so we stopped and turned to see a huge elk, and then there was another, and another. One smaller one stared at us and didn’t move while we stood there watching it. Slowly Mark crept away and jumped the fence so he could try to get a better photo but by this stage the elk were bored of us and so they began to leave. The elk themselves were more impressive to us compared to the lake itself which wasn’t such a huge issue because we had decided to leave at this point anyway.

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On the drive from Cleveland to Memphis we booked a site at the Graceland RV Park and made our way there. We set up our van for our stay and then headed out to see Memphis. We first walked next door to Graceland, the home of Elvis and bought tickets for the following day. Then we thought “what do we do while in Memphis?”. The list seemed quite long so we decided to get a start on it. First stop, Gus’ Fried Chicken. We put our names down on the waiting list and then went for a walk before heading back to eat the most amazing fried chicken we’ve ever eaten. The chicken came with a heap of sides – coleslaw, mac and cheese, fried pickles and slices of plain white sandwich slices of bread which we found to be quite comical. Although the sides had nothing on the chicken we ate them all except the bread, we left that because if we were hungry for plain white bread we could always just go to the supermarket. Our next stop was a cool part of town away from most of the tourist hot spots. We walked around and then found a bar to chill out at. After staying for a while we met a guy who used to live in Memphis and was in town for the weekend. He offered to show us around so we spent the next few hours checking out Beale St, the main street in Memphis filled with blues bars. We spent most of our time at BB King’s, listening to some old school blues music before calling it a night. The next day we were up early, ready to check out Graceland, the home of Elvis. Well, wasn’t that a huge disappointment. We had bought the basic tickets which were meant to be self guided. There was nothing self guided about being there. We stood in line to get our photo taken in front of the Graceland sign, then we stood in line to get on a bus which took us across the road (it would have been quicker to walk), and then once we arrived at his house we stood in another line to wait to get in. Once we got to the front door we were told about the entrance and told to “enjoy our time”. Inside everyone put on their headphones and had their iPads ready to go to listen to all of the information, this caused everyone to stand in line once more, but just around the house. Each room was filled with a single file line of people waiting to get to the next ‘feature’ to then click on that feature on their iPad so they could listen to the information about the said feature. Mark and I didn’t use ours. Neither of us were that interested and so we looked like 2 rude people trying to cut in line constantly because all we did was follow the flow of the people of the house but moved 10x as fast. We finally finished the tour and were so underwhelmed with the whole experience we didn’t know what to do. In the end we just left. Our ‘self guided tour’ ticket only allowed us access to his house and his plane collection, the rest of the museum was off limits to us. Memphis itself was a really cool city in regards to music and history so we figured that our next stop Nashville would be just as cool.

Nashville was so busy once we arrived because it was the 3rd of July, the day before America’s Independence Day. The whole city was getting ready for the huge celebrations and the biggest fireworks in the country. The difference between Memphis and Nashville could simply be described with the type of music being performed at bars. Where Memphis was mainly blues, Nashville was filled with country music. What we loved about Nashville was that while walking along the street you could stop and listen to bands play at different bars because they played at the front of the bar and often had huge windows opened so that passersby could stop to listen. We did this a couple of times before we started to get really tired and went back to our hotel. The next day we were overwhelmed with the amount of people out on the street celebrating the 4th of July. The entire city was out and we enjoyed walking around, drinking Jack Daniels and listening to all of the bands playing. Towards sunset we headed up towards the bridge over looking the Cumberland River. We set up there waiting for darkness to descend over Nashville. We had about an hour before the fireworks were due to start so we began chatting to the people around us who were completely shocked we were from Australia. They couldn’t get over how far away we were from home and they wanted to ask all of the usual questions.
“Do you see Kangaroos on the street?” – “Well it depends where you live, but generally not close to the cities”
“Does it get hot in Australia?” – “Yes really hot, but it does also snow in some parts of the country”
“Is it weird driving on the other side of the road?” – “We are used to driving on the right side of the road now, but we learn to drive on the left so the left is normal for us”
We were also asked some unusual questions.
“Do you celebrate Christmas?”  – “Yes we celebrate Christmas on the 25th December and we also celebrate Easter”
“What cell phone companies do you have in Australia?” – “We have different companies to you here in the US”
We had begun to find that while we were in the southern states, people knew of Australia as a country far away but didn’t know many other things about it, and while most people were too embarrassed to ask some questions, some people just went straight for it and asked whatever came to their mind. Which seemed to please the other people around them because they would nod in agreement and repeat the question. We also found that people seemed too polite to ask where we were from. They could tell straight away we weren’t from there but they always stopped themselves from asking so we would always volunteer the information early into a conversation.

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Nashville on the 4th of July

The fireworks eventually began and went for just over half an hour! They were quite spectacular but by the end we were checking our watches to see how much longer. Once they did finish though we made our way to our hotel to drop our camera off and grab some food. It was getting late but we figured there would still be people out and about so we went back out only to find that the streets had emptied almost completely save for the cleaning crews and the groups of late night stragglers. We assumed everyone had either left or gone into bars or clubs so we walked around to see if anything in particular caught our eye which was when we noticed a huge group of people yelling and crowing around, with police standing by trying to get them to move along. Not sure what was happening we stood for a bit and watched until we realised the crowd was moving towards us. Not wanting to get caught up in what we thought could become violent we began walking away quickly. We found that there were a few other people in the same situation as us – they had been walking around, noticed the crowd, stopped, and then found the crowd heading towards them. We made it back to the street our hotel was on and just as we turned onto the street the crowd continued walking past, heading in the direction of the park. We figured that was the sign that the night was over.

It’s just too hot!

We’ve been feeling like we aren’t really able to use our van for it’s intended purpose because it’s been too hot here. It’s been an average of 45 degrees each day and it barely drops below 35 degrees at night so we’ve had to stay in a lot of hotels. It’s been like that since we left Vegas. After being amazed by the Grand Canyon we drove to a town called Page and once we got there found that nothing was open apart from McDonalds so we ate McDonalds for dinner and went straight to sleep, waking up bright and early the next morning so that we could watch the sunrise at Horseshoe Bend. The colours in this part of America have been amazing, intensified by sunrises and sunsets so we stayed at the bend for a while before heading back to the hotel to chill out for a couple of hours before going out to Antelope Canyon – a place we had both been dying to see!

The Antelope Canyon didn’t disappoint, although the compulsory tour did. Our tour guy smelt like he had had a big night and he looked almost as bad as he smelt. We made sure to hang out at the end of the tour so that our nostrils weren’t assaulted by the smell. Even though it was probably one of the worst tours we had been on we didn’t care. The canyon itself was amazing and we enjoyed hanging at the back of the tour, taking it all in on our own. I had never seen anything naturally shaped the way this was and with such vibrant colours. It was well worth the compulsory tour!

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The amazing colours at Antelope Canyon

We left Antelope Canyon excited for what the next few days would hold. Mark had planned out the next week with hotels booked so all we had to do was drive and take in the sites. Our next major stop was a visit to Zion National Park. Mark really wanted to do the Angels Landing Hike and he had shown me photos of it. It looked really difficult so we packed backpacks each and prepared ourselves for an intense hike. The group of 21 continuous switchbacks was meant to be the hardest part before reaching the main landing and it was intense but after a few of the hikes we had done recently it actually wasn’t that bad. What was full on was the part after the main landing. Mark had told me that there was a part of the hike that went up the spine of the mountain so they had a chain that you could use to hold on. In my mind this didn’t bother me but once we got to the landing and I looked up at the next part I realised the landing was only half way up and the small chain section we had just walked through was nothing compared to what we had to do. A fear of heights I never knew I had suddenly came up and I couldn’t seem to bring myself to move my legs to get going. We sat down for a while and Mark tried to convince me I would be okay. After probably 10 minutes I stood up and said “lets go”. I didn’t want to psych myself out of it so we began the climb up and during the climb I found myself unable to look out over the edge of the mountain. Once we finally made it to the top I was relieved to be on flat ground but also still nervous about the sheer drops on either side of me. We stayed up there for a little bit until a huge gust of wind came and I said it was time to go. The climb down was much easier and we were able to take our time, stopping on any flat parts to take in the view and we both agreed that Zion was so far our favourite National Park in the US.

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Zion – our favourite National Park so far!

Bryce Canyon was our next adventure for the following day and we thought we would take it easy so we didn’t get up early like we normally do. That turned out to be a mistake because once we got there it was already full of people. We only walked along the shorter trails here but after a few hours we were back at our van, starving and tired. That didn’t matter though because we had more driving to do so we got back to the car and took off for Moab. Moab itself was not a very interesting town but we found a mechanic who could look over our van to check everything was still okay so we stayed for a couple of days. The mechanic looked over everything, changed the oil in the van and then confirmed that our “battery probably wouldn’t last much longer.” So a new battery it was. On our last day in Moab we packed our backpacks and were at Arches National Park as soon as the road in was opened. We drove straight to a hiking trail we wanted to do and set off. It was a short hike but pretty much on a constant incline so I was so glad to get to the top. Once there, we sat around for a while and ate the breakfast we had packed ourselves and watched people continually drop things and race after them as the began rolling down the ledge. We left before anything of importance or someone began rolling down the ledge – you would be surprised how many people don’t think when it comes to places like that.

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Arches National Park

Exploding coke and searing heat

We got up well before the sun rose and drove to Death Valley before it became too hot to be outside. The fact that the sun wasn’t up didn’t seem to make a difference before at 5am it was still so hot I couldn’t stand it. We drove into Death Valley and immediately understood why it was called that. The heat there once the sun began to rose was unbelievable. We stood at a lookout point to watch the sun rise and once it had risen Mark suggested we go for a quick hike before it got too hot. I looked at him as if he was crazy. What was he talking about ‘before it got too hot’? It was already too hot! So I shook my head and said “no way”. He shrugged, walked back to the van with me, grabbed a walkie talkie and said “If I’m not back in an hour something’s wrong”. “Oh sure, no worries, I’ll just come searching for you in Death Valley”. He just laughed at me and told me to have a nap. It was too hot to sleep so I just chilled out in the van for a while until he came back. He came back with a few minutes to spare before I was meant to get worried and so we drove back, stopping at Starbucks to get an iced coffee and smoothie to cool us down. Once back at the hotel we packed up all of our things and began our drive to VEGAS. We didn’t have a hotel booked so I jumped online and found heaps available at a discount. Now we just at to work out where we wanted to stay. We decided to stay at the Flamingo for two reasons. 1. It was really cheap and 2. It was the first hotel in Vegas. Once arriving I realised we should have probably re-assessed our reasoning. The hotel was packed full of people and it was mayhem. We eventually got our room key and went back out to park the van and put up sun visors for the next 2 days. We were happy with how protecter the van seemed to be so we walked back to the hotel.

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Welcome to Vegas!

Vegas was not what I expected. I guess I’ve just watched way too many movies but I expected it to be more glamourous. The hotel we stayed at probably didn’t help but even as we walked the strip and around the other hotels we found everything was just a little bit tacky. I had all of these plans for our time in Vegas and in the end we did none of them. I wanted to go on a gondola ride but when we got there we realised it went under one bridge and for 15 minutes. How would that ever compare to the real one in Venice? I wanted to do the zip line through Vegas but when we actually went to book I realised that if I was going to do a zip line on this trip I didn’t want it to be in Vegas. We were going to go get (fake) married because we were in Vegas so why not? Actually turns out the chapels there are quite busy and you have to book a couple of days in advance unless you want to do the drive through one which I thought was the height of tackiness so we didn’t get (fake) married in Vegas. As the days went by I realised that I didn’t actually really want to do all of the things I had planned, I just felt we should do them whilst we were in Vegas. One thing we definitely did do was go gambling. We can happily say we doubled our money. It still counts if we only bet $5 yeah? but then we can sadly say we had the entire Vegas experience when we lost it all.

One thing we did enjoy though was simply walking around Vegas and checking everything out. There is so much going on constantly that there is always something to look out. During our walks we stopped numerous times to watch the water fountain music displays. We did manage to get up super early one morning and head out to play a round of golf. Well, Mark played and I drove the cart. We were done by 10.30am and couldn’t believe how hot it already was out in the sun. We spent that afternoon sitting by the pool under the shade of some palm trees.

I was happy to be leaving Vegas. It wasn’t what I expected and maybe it would have been better if we were there with friends but once we checked out of the hotel I was looking forward to getting into our van and driving on to check out the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon. Considering our average time in Vegas we were in high spirits once we got to our van, It didn’t seem to hot in there which was good. Oh, were we wrong. Once we opened all of the doors and pulled down the sun shades we found our van looking very different to how we left it. The joins between our walls and ceilings had all cracked, a can of coke had exploded in the box and sprayed everywhere, soaking through our blankets, sheets and mattress and to top it all off our kitchen bench had warped and caused the door to jam shut so that we couldn’t open the fridge. We were in shock. How hot did it actually get inside the van? We put away all of our things and then googled the closest laundromat and headed straight there. 4 loads of washing later we were back in the van on our way to check into a hotel because there was no way we could handle the heat in the van.

We got to the Hoover Dam early that morning and the weather was still unbearably hot. Simply walking from our car park down to the main ledge along the Hoover Dam took it out of us but we were quite impressed with the view and engineering behind it all. We drove out to the Grand Canyon after that and nothing could compare to what we saw there. We drove around the national park and stopped off at different view points to get a look at the Canyon from different angles. At our first stop we walked out through some shrubs to the edge so we could get a better view. Once we got the ledge Mark grabbed my shoulders. Now I thought he was trying to trick me by pretending to push me but I got scared so started trying to walk backwards, he kept trying to push me forward and wouldn’t let go. This made me more nervous so I kept moving until he yelled “Just stop moving there’s a snake behind us” Well that got me to stop straight away and sure enough as soon as I stopped moving I could hear the rattling of a rattle snake behind us. As I slowly turned around to look I could see it had it’s tail in the air rattling and the front of his body was up staring straight at us watching what we were doing. Without letting go of me Mark slowly steered me around and told me to walk slowly. I ran ahead instead and waited for him to catch up and lead the way back. For the rest of the afternoon we were so cautious about where we were walking and every bit of movement out of the corner of our eyes got our immediate attention. Our cautiousness soon disappeared once the sun began to set and we watched the colours of the sky change over the Grand Canyon. It truly was amazing to see. After waiting for awhile to take it all in we walked back to our van to see a group of people gathered around taking photos of a huge elk that had wandered into the carpark. We were definitely in a national park!

 

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Grand Canyon for sunset… amazing!

Let’s do this!

We got back to Calgary on Sunday afternoon and hung out with our friends for the last time in what would be a few months. Monday morning we woke up and went to pick up the last thing we were waiting on – roof awning mounts. We picked them up and then drove back to the house to sort everything out. We packed almost all of our things into the van and then chilled out in the afternoon. Tuesday morning we were up (much later than we wanted) and drove out to our friends’ parents’ house to say goodbye. We ate lunch there and had a cup of tea before calling the border crossing to check two things. First, what time they were open until, and second if we were able to keep our vertical garden herbs or if we had to get rid of them. We weren’t able to keep them so we emptied the pots into some buckets and waved goodbye. The drive to the border was uneventful and when we arrived the crossing was empty, we were the only car there. We drove up to the window where we were asked a few questions and then told to park as we had to go inside. We thought we were inside because they wanted to ask us more questions but they just wanted us to pay the $12 fee and scan our passports. After a couple of minutes we were officially in the USA and were quite relieved at how quick the process was, it meant we could drive even longer. We drove into Montana and continued south, aiming for the town of Bozeman. We made it and were so tired we thought we would just check into a hotel as it would be easier for us to wake up and go. As it turns out, Bozeman was all the rage that night and every hotel was booked out so we pulled into the car park at Walmart and spent our first night of our US road trip there. Waking up the next morning we looked haggard but had no time to dawdle, we had a roof awning to pick up and install. So we drove to a mechanics shop, picked up the awning we had ordered online through them (shipping to Canada was going to take too long) and drove to yet another car park, this time one for a hardware store. Once there Mark pulled out his toolbox and got to work whilst I sat in the car and relaxed, only getting up when I was called to “hold this here for me”. After a couple of return trips into the store, Mark had the awning secured to the roof racks and we were off to Nevada. We made it to Nevada that night and were lucky enough to get one of the last hotel rooms in the town – we couldn’t spend two consecutive nights at Walmart, we needed showers. Our original plan the next morning was to drive all the way to Yosemite National Park but one of the main roads was closed which meant hours were added to our driving. We made it as far as Lake Tahoe and pulled into a camp ground and set up camp that night. The next morning I awoke on my 25th Birthday to our usual routine of cooking, cleaning and packing up, before more driving. Mark drove most of the day and we arrived in the late afternoon in a town just outside of Yosemite. We got the last fully powered site and began setting up our little home. It was so hot there that it felt like the heat sucked the air out of you but it was nice to sit down under our new awning with some snacks, drinks and play a game of Italian cards. It was here that Mark handed me his phone and said Happy Birthday. I looked down and there was a video on there, so I pressed play and began watching my cousin unwrap my birthday present for me – a new handbag. I smiled and said thank you and when Mark asked if I was surprised my reply was “Do you want me to be honest or lie?” “You knew?” he asked me. “Well, last night when you asked me to check your phone to see who had messaged you I saw you had a message from Shan telling you it was all wrapped, so I put two and two together but I didn’t want to tell you because you tried so hard to surprise me.” His reply was simply “fuck, I knew it.” So we sat around and laughed about this for a while before getting an early night sleep for Yosemite the next day.

We had a bag packed with lunch and water as well as some sunscreen and the camera. We began the hike up and straight away we were glad we started early in the morning because the sun was already so hot. The hike itself was difficult but made more so with the sun burning into you for most of the way up. I had to constantly stop just to walk off the path and into some shade. We eventually made it to the top (not without some tears from me) and were immediately thankful for the trees up there giving much needed shade. I wanted to take a photo of Mark sitting on the edge of the cliff because he seemed to be able to get so close to the edge but when I moved closer to the edge I discovered that a cliff top with a sheer drop below is not really for me so I quickly took the photo of Mark and left to make lunch. On our decent down from the top we run out of water half way down and were so glad it was on the way down, not the way up because we watched so many people, only half way up, already out of water and in the peak of the afternoon sun and we began to worry for these strangers. Did they realise the path was in the sun most of the way up? Did they realise there was no water taps along the way? We didn’t think they did, and shortly after half way down a lady stopped me to ask if I could take a photo of her and her family. After I did she asked me how much longer to the top and my reply of 2 hours shocked her. I looked around at her and her family and saw that only a couple of them had water bottles and all of them were empty. When I asked her if they had water she told me that they had already run out. This shocked me because even though Mark and I had run out of water, that was on the way down and once we got to the shaded part. These people hadn’t even began the hardest part of the hike and they had no water. I advised them to get more water and then continued walking to catch up to Mark. I wonder if they listened to me or if they kept going. Right near the bottom a man stopped us and asked how much further to the top. Mark told him and then his reply was “Can I have some of your water?” we both looked at him in shock because surely he didn’t plan on hiking the entire thing without any water, but we told him we were out of water ourselves. Once at the bottom of the trail we walked another 2kms back to the visitor centre and filled up our water bottles. After that we slowly made our way back to the van to sit down, eat and take off our shoes. My feet were so swollen it hurt to walk in thongs but while Mark got the van ready I went and bought a bag of ice and emptied it into a bucket where we cooled our feet and I waited for mine to return to a normal size. Once they finally did, we ate lunch, for the second time that day, and then began yet more driving towards Sequoia National Park. On the drive we spoke about how much more difficult the hike was than we expected and how unprepared we were, even though we were so much more prepared than other people. We decided to stop at the first Walmart we saw and bought hats, additional water resoviours, a small backpack for me and some small water bottles. All up we would have about 8 litres of water for future hikes, which should be plenty.

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The amazing view from the top of our hike

We made it to a town called Three Rivers just before dark and booked into a hotel because it is so hot outside there is no way we could sleep in the van. Once we checked in we thought it would be a good idea to go get petrol now so we didn’t have to in the morning. When we were about to leave the petrol station a lady asked us if we could give her a lift back in as it was too hot for her to walk all the way back. She jumped in the passenger seat whilst I sat on the floor between the two seats and she told us about her job – she drove Mennonite and Amish girls around for their summer break before they went back to their communities to begin the process of finding a husband. The drive was only about 5 minutes long so we didn’t get to learn more. As I sit here I’m thinking that I should do some research on the small bit of information she gave us but in the end I’m so hot and tired, I just want to go to sleep.

 

Love, a very tired B xxx

Bears

We finished the van a week ago but still haven’t driven across the border into the US. We are waiting on a part to arrive before we can leave so in the meantime we have spent the past week driving through BC & Alberta, staying in campgrounds and getting used to what will be our new routine. It’s already amazing how much I miss certain things. Warm, not even hot, running water to wash dishes. At the moment I’m currently heating water in a pot on our camp stove and pouring it into a bucket to wash everything. I’ve had to remind myself what it’s like to use communal bathrooms, carrying everything through a campground and hoping I didn’t forget anything once I’m already in the shower – underwear seems to be the main thing I forget. Showers that have push start buttons and no option to adjust the temperature can be amusing. Constantly having to push the button every minute or so to ensure that the water doesn’t stop running and the wind that gets through the shower curtain doesn’t freeze you in the time between the water stopping and pushing the button to restart it. One thing I’ve never had to deal with before is the risk of bears. Making sure we clean up every bit of food scrap, even putting away all cleaning products every night so that the smells don’t attract bears. One thing we always hear on our travels is how much people are scared to travel to Australia because of the dangerous animals and we keep telling people here that at least we don’t have bears to deal with. One night this week I had to go to the bathroom at about midnight so I told Mark and asked him if he would walk with me as it was in another row of sites. He agreed and after putting on our shoes he asked me to grab the bear spray. As we were walking back I was telling him it was a good idea to get in the habit of bringing the spray so that we remember it when we go on hikes. He looked at me and said “it’s not for practice, bears can walk around this campground”, had I not just been to the toilet I probably wouldn’t have needed to after hearing that. The view of our van couldn’t come quick enough and I was relieved once we got back inside. I don’t know if Mark just told me that so that I would make sure I don’t go again at night but it sure had worked so far!

The next day Mark drove for a bit before I took over and of course as soon as I took over we came across a flashing sign saying “Bears on highway” oh, of course, bears. I was cautious driving along at the beginning but there didn’t seem to be any bears in site until we turned a corner and there were a bunch of cars pulled over on the side of the road and there it was, a baby bear just sitting on the side of the road with its back to us. Our friend’s parents had told us to be wary of bear cubs because the mum was usually close by, and so we just kept on driving because there was a bear cub, with no mum in site (yet) and a whole heap of trees around.

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We discovered that living out of the van is much more enjoyable when the weather is nicer so we followed the sun over the weekend and ended up at a place called Dinosaur Park which reminded us of Cappadoccia, Turkey and so we stayed for 2 nights to remind us of our time in Turkey and how amazing it was.

Van life

We spent a few days snowboarding and enjoying ourselves before heading to Calgary to meet up with our friends and pick up our search for a van. We spent a week looking for one online and were unable to find anything in our budget that looked like it would last the journey of more than 15,000km through North America. Eventually we increased our budget and spent a week going to check out some vans in person. Each time we would go to see one, we would get back and discuss it, call or message the person selling it only to be told it had been sold. Sometimes we would call to be told it had just been sold. It was a real spirit crushing exercise and after 2 weeks of being at our friends’ house we eventually found a van to buy. We had now been back in Canada for 3 weeks and had only just found and had our offer accepted for a van. We had originally planned to have left already and we were only just starting the process. Over the 2 weeks of searching Mark had discovered that our friends weren’t able to register the van for us without there being a risk to their insurance premiums should we be in an accident so he discovered that we could buy and register a vehicle in British Colombia not Alberta which was where our friends lived. After he had sorted all of this out we went and paid for the van and drove 4 hours across the border into BC where we stayed overnight and had the van inspected, registered and insured. We were relieved. We finally owned a van that we could turn into our home for the next 3-4 months.

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Renovating the van turned out to be a lot harder and more expensive than we first thought. We are so happy with the results though. We insulated the walls, roof and floor, boarded the walls and roof up, built a bed with storage, installed kitchen cupboards and a fridge and then painted the walls and roof and installed flooring. This type of thing is something that neither Mark or I have ever done before and although it wasn’t easy and it put strain on us we finally finished it and can’t wait to begin our journey. Lets hope that after all of this we don’t kill each other living out of such a small space!

 

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Missed Flights

We got back from James’ birthday at about 1am and finished packing our things up and organising ourselves. By the time we got to bed it was 2am and we woke up at 4am to leave for the airport. Out of habit from a year of travelling Mark checked the flight number to see if it was on time. It was delayed by 2 hours which would mean we would miss our connecting flight to Vancouver in Hong Kong. We left at 4.30am as we had planned and said a teary goodbye to Mark’s parents. When we checked in we were told that we would miss our connecting but that they would put us on the next flight 12 hours later and give us a hotel voucher for our wait.

When we got to Hong Kong we were given our hotel voucher and made our way to the hotel to check in. Along with a hotel voucher we were also given a dinner voucher. We got to our room, showered and then planned he next 10 hours. We would sleep until 8pm, get dressed, go eat dinner at 8.30pm, check in for our flight and chill out in the lounge until our flight left at midnight. Our alarm went off at 8pm and because neither of us had slept on the flight over and had only slept a couple of hours the night before we decided sleep was more important than food so we would sleep until 9pm, 9.30pm at the latest and go check in for our flight, missing dinner if we needed. Mark reset the alarm and we both immediately fell back asleep. At 11.30pm I woke up with a racing heart trying to remember where I was and quickly realised that we shouldn’t be where we were. I woke Mark and asked him for the time (the phone’s were charging next to him) to which he replied 11.30pm and we both jumped out of bed grabbed all of our things and ran out. He checked the flight number and saw that it was delayed, or was the flight from the day before delayed? What day was it now that it had just gone 12pm? What day was our flight scheduled for? As we were running out of the hotel we handed our key to concierge and ran off, unable to wait in line to check out. We ran to the check in counters to confirm what we already knew – we had missed our flight. We went straight to the help desk and after explaining that our first flight was delayed and we missed the connection and then fell asleep which never would have happened had we not missed our original connection the help desk assistant scheduled us onto the next flight which was 14 hours away. We thanked him and walked off realising that we would now miss our connection from Vancouver to Calgary. We sat down on a beach seat in the airport and brainstormed. What were we going to do? Mark called Air Canada to explain and hopefully get transferred onto the next flight as we would only miss it by an hour. They were more than happy to do this although we just had to pay a small fee of $440 per person! We decided it wasn’t worth it so we cancelled the flight and got a credit and then sat down to decide what to do. Mark’s answer, “Hire a car as soon as we land in Vancouver and drive as far as we can, stop, sleep, and continue driving the next day until we get to Banff, stay in Banff for a few days and make the most of the amazing snow they’ve had.” So that was our plan. We booked in as much as we could and then realised we were still in the airport without having anywhere to stay in hong Kong so we walked back to the hotel we had just come from less than an hour ago and asked if we could stay, again, probably in the same room if possible. The same room wasn’t available (How quickly did they clean them?!) but we could get an executive for double the price. The hotel wasn’t worth it so we jumped online, found a hotel outside of the airport and got a cab there. We requested late check out, ordered room service because we were starving, and set a million alarms to make sure we woke up in time. We had no problem waking up on time and eventually made our way back to the airport to check in for the same flight we were meant to be on 24 hours before. It was Sunday the 24th, Mark’s birthday but unfortunately there was no cake, no nice meals, no relaxing. We were on a flight and once we arrived at Vancouver in the afternoon of the 24th (it was the longest birthday Mark had ever had and he spent the entire time on a plane or in a car). We picked up our hire car and drove out of the airport only to turn around because the car we had been given was displaying faulty lights on the dashboard. We eventually were given another car and Mark drove for hours while I slept and when we pulled over to grab some food, I took over the driving and we made it to Revelstoke, booked into a hotel we found driving past and finally felt like we could relax after an exhausting trip. Leaving Melbourne airport had felt like a distant memory and we were excited once we made it to Banff to be able to fit in a few days of relaxing and enjoyment.