Sunday, June 29, 2014

Arid Desolation

Kingman, AZ is not much, although it still stands tall and proud in its Route 66 heritage. Today, it is however, a crossroads for car trekkers heading to the Grand Canyon, to Death Valley, or Las Vegas. We would be one of those trekkers heading through Las Vegas en route to Hawthorne, NV.

Lunch would be in Tonopah, NV, a town with a rich history in silver mining but now currently used for nuclear weapons stockpile reliability testing, research and development of fusing and firing systems, and testing nuclear weapon delivery systems. Chatting with our server at lunch, who has lived in Tonopah for 4 years, she travels 3 hours to Las Vegas once a month to shop at Wal-Mart. No local options for her. So, she takes her young daughter, overnights in Vegas, takes her swimming at a hotel, and stocks up for the month.

Kirk off-loaded me and my bike in Tonopah after lunch; he read at the local Burger King and visited the Tonopah Museum while I busted it 47 miles West on US 95. It was a glorious ride descending about 1,500' from the Tonopah summit of about 6,000'. Road was good, often not much shoulder, and what traffic there was flew at or above the posted 75 mph speed limit. 

I laughed out loud riding through this arid desolation (8% humidity, 95 degree heat) with not the first hint of any living fauna for my 47 miles. After I reloaded in the car we passed through two ghost towns, Mina and Luning. I don't know, maybe they weren't true ghost towns since they are reported to have 50 and 150 people respectively depending upon your source. I laughed because a friend who came to ride with me in southern AZ was quite concerned about the desolation between Sonoita and Mustang Corners. Had to wonder what she would have thought about this stretch of aridity.

Overnighting in Hawthorne tonight, home to 2,700 Naval Ammunitions Depot Bunkers. Erie landscape, all these underground bunkers with only a little roof mound.

Pix will have to follow.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On The Road Again!

June 26, 2011 Kirk and I left Chicago, home for 42 years, to begin our 99 Day Trek To Tucson (which actually ended up being 108 days) and 12,400 miles. Clearly we did not take the most direct route. We mused, wondered, and fantasized what Tucson and retirement would really look like.

I can tell you, in real life it is even better than any of our musings, wonderings, and fantasies. 

June 27, 2014, immediately after Kirk was installed as President of his Rotary Club, we left Tucson for a 27 day, 5,500 mile trek, this time see some National Parks and give me a chance to ride my bike in 5 of my remaining 6 states fulfilling a goal of mine to ride in all 50 states.

I have no lofty goal of riding all the way across these states; I'll be happy to ride 40 or so miles in each. Kirk has brought his bike along for the ride, too. So some days he'll ride ahead, park the car, and ride back to meet me and we'll ride to our waiting car, which BTW, is a new Subaru Outback. 

I rode today about 6:00 a.m. in Tucson, celebrated with Kirk at his installation as President of his Rotary Club, and then off we drove, 320 miles to Kingman, AZ. We continue to marvel at the awesome wonder of Arizona. Tourists don't flock to Illinois to see black dirt and fields of corn and soy beans. 

My friend, Barb's comment was right on the dime: that Kirk and I have this motel trekking down to a science. It takes us but minutes to unload just the right number of food bags from the car, along with just the needed overnight clothes, books, and computers. Of course the bikes come in, too,  for safe-keeping. We learned 3 years ago that not all motels have adequate wattage in their reading lamps; so we carry our own light bulbs, just in case. I travel with my AeroPress and "frother" to make my own tasty cappuccinos, Kirk brings his travel Keurig replete with a variety pack of K-cups.

Heading to Hawthorne, NV tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Australia: Factoids and Impressions

Square mileage-wise, the US and Australia are comparable, but population-wise quite disparate: US about 312 million; Australia 23 million.

Nearly 40% of Australia’s population is fairly evenly distributed in Melbourne and Sydney 

About 5% of the US population is identified as Asian compared to 12% of the AU population

Indigenous people (Aborigines and Native Americans) currently represent about 2-3%  of each country’s total population.

Both countries developed their white growth through emigration/immigration as a result of disenfranchisement in their country of origin at about the same time in history, roughly the late 1700's to mid-late1800’s.

The dominant culture in both countries have willfully practiced racism almost to the point of extinction in terms of each country’s indigenous peoples. Those who call Australia and the US home have painfully experienced the devaluing of their culture and heritage. Thankfully the voices of the African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans peoples are gaining strength and their cultural contributions are being recognized and more oft valued than in our early years as a nation. 


We stayed in a time-sharey kind of place in Melbourne in the Central Business District (CBD) which would have been like, location-wise, staying at the Palmer House in Chicago.  We had unbelievably easy access to EVERYTHING our hearts desired. Free trolleys squealing around the equivalent of Chicago's Loop, in addition to trolleys that had a farther reach for a fee. There were busses, subways, suburban commuter trains, cabs, and infinite number of bike commuters EVERYWHERE wearing business suits, urban commuter clothes, and spandex, all outfitted with water-proof panniers or backpacks. 

American obesity has not taken the country by storm, although I heard somewhere that our bad habits are gaining a belly-hold. 

Back to accommodations.

Time shares typically don't have room service but once, mid-week. That's usually more than fine. If you need more toiletries or towels, no problem, just ask, and voila, they're happy to accommodate. Not so at our Melbourne place. We needed more towels which they would be happy to give us, but for an added charge of $10.00. Wasn't going to happen, no way.

Prices down under are absolutely out of reach. Convenient store pricing is more like ball park or stadium or movie theater pricing. A small bottle of filtered still water will be $3-4. They LOVE their coffee and Starbucks is, without a doubt, the lowest on the totem pole of choices, hardly even considered coffee. Whole new language for how to order your bev of choice, flat soy, flat black, long. Not sure what all of that means yet. A young man from Perth said a regular cup of coffee in his home town is typically $7 or $8 dollars. Lots of rich miners there. 

Sydney is a different story altogether. Staying in a Hilton here, also pretty much in the CBD, and a spit away from the train system, which is European, modern, sleek, clean, with digital signage everywhere. Puts Chicago to shame. Rotary will pick up the tab for our Sydney room and all of our transportation for the duration of the conference, along with the $29.00/day internet charge to access their wifi from our room. There is free wifi in the lobby, but that's not where I want to cozy up to do my internet when our room is on the 22nd floor and the glitz of the first 5 floors is that of the Palmer House or other more modern equivalents. 

Our Sydney room is less than half the sq footage of our Melbourne place, no microwave, no burners. These rooms are equipped with the "modern" minibar technology whereby if you lift any of the mini bars items from where they sit your bill will be automatically charged. No matter that you drank their Red Bull and replaced it with one that you bought at the convenient store. Red Bull from the in-room minibar costs $9.50. 

Most grateful for my AeroPress coffee maker. Otherwise would have gone broke.

Sorry to go on and on about food stuffs, but with prices being what they are and allergies being what they are, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the first of which is Food, takes on a preoccupation. 

Oh, and at the Sydney Hilton the only way to get ice you have to call the front desk and they bring you a big bucket the likes of which you can chill a couple of bottles of wine in. All I want is enough cubes to chill a Red Bull and put in my NutriBullet, now called a George Foreman.

Here's how that story goes. I finally understand and appreciate the difference between an adapter and a converter. I had brought my bag of international adapters that I got when I went to Vietnam and used to charge my iPhone and iPad. Used my adapter to turn on my Nutribullet in Melbourne and there was lots of arcing, smoke, and god-awful noise. The Nutribullet is dead. Now how am I going to make smoothies which was to be the mainstay of my second meal each day? Kirk bought me a George Foreman that is similar to the Nutribullet, but an inferior, distant cousin. Certainly grateful for it though in these down under circumstances. 

Australia has been all about 1 to 6 degrees of separation, a trend that started our first full day in Melbourne. 

Kirk had spent a few days in Columbus, GA less than a week before we came down under. The primary reason for his visit to Columbus was for his 50th HS reunion. Of course, while there he visited his mom and went to her Rotary Club where he met Mike who would also be attending the Rotary International Convention. Mike and his wife would be spending a few days in Melbourne before making their way to Sydney. So, we made arrangements to have dinner with them our first night in Melbourne at an Indian restaurant, their first ever taste of Indian food. So much for the cosmopolitan influence in Columbus. Of course the first things you say in those situations is where did you grow up, etc.

Well, Mike's wife, Susan, grew up in Columbus, GA and graduated from Kirk's HS one year behind him. Mike grew up in Indianapolis, graduated from North Central HS one year behind me and we lived only a couple of miles apart from one another! Now what are the chances of that??

The next day Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and our plan was to circumnavigate the city of Melbourne via their multi-use path. We stopped at a Children's Farm on the Path to use the restroom and Kirk fell into a long chat with a couple of women who had similarly paused. He told them we were in AU for the Rotary International Convention and they said, "Oh, a good friend of ours will be attending also." Kirk gave them his card. The end.

First day of the Convention, 18,000 attendees. We're standing in line at the coffee kiosk and a woman looks at Kirk's name badge and remarks with glee that she has his Business card, a friend had given it to her. Yep, it was the friend we met at the Children's Farm. The Rotarian called her friend in Melbourne and Kirk was able to tell her that the circle of connection had been completed! Now what are the chances of that??

Leaving the Olympic Park, the same day as coffee kiosk encounter, we're standing on the platform for the commuter train to take us back into Sydney proper and who do we end up standing next to: the Columbus, GA couple! Now what are the chances of that out of 18,000 people all leaving the venue at the same time??

A couple of days later I'm going down to Olympic Park several hours after Kirk went down, so riding the train alone. A couple sits down next to me and we fall to talking. They're from Olympia, WA where Bryan and Daniel both graduated from The Evergreen State College. So, chat, chat about that which trends into what kind of work everyone is in. Turns out both of them are in education, she a former principal, he continues as a school  superintendent. By any chance did he know Terry Bouck? They both did; they knew him well! Now Terry is Bryan's wife's Dad who was a school superintendent in the Tacoma area. Now what are the chances of that??

A couple of days later I'm attending a breakout group and a woman I've never seen before comes up to me and introduces herself to me because I have on my El Tour jersey, since I was working the El Tour booth that day. Turns out she is the incoming President of a Rotary Club in Tucson and lives 1/2 mile from us on the Rillito Path. She will be the President of the Club where Randy Brooks is a member. I hired Randy as a counselor when I worked for Parkside Medical Services in Park Ridge, IL back in the early-mid 80's. He only worked for me for about 9 months before returning to Tucson. Randy's and my path had already crossed through Rotary since I've been in Tucson, but now here is this woman....Now what are the chances of that??

Today this guy from Northbrook where we lived for 12 years tracked down Kirk at the recommendation of a member from our Wilmette church. He and his wife and we attended a delightful musical event together. While waiting for the concert to begin she and I are chatting and she mentions she attended undergraduate at a very little school in Central IL, Blackburn College. That's where my parents met back in the mid-30's. This woman is on the Blackburn Board of Trustees and so plans to do a bit of archival work to see what she can learn about Dwain Walcher and Emily Jones, my parents. Now what are the chances of that??

I don't know what to make of all these 1-6 degrees of separation. Is it a Rotary thing? Is the world really just that small? Or?

Sidney felt like NYC in terms of HEAVY ped traffic, amazing car traffic, no bike lanes at all, at least where we were, and then, of course, they ride on the wrong side of the road, at least to us they do. 

I did venture forth on the roads in Sydney for about 2k in a protected bike lane to Circular Quay where I caught a ferry over to Manly Island, about 30 min by ferry. Reminded my of Washington Island, a ferry ride north of Door County in WI. Did ride around there for about 15k and then ferried back to Sydney. By then it was rush hour, couldn't find the protected bike lane street so walked back to the hotel. Not a problem to walk, just an absence of riding.

Kirk and I were going to spend a day on Manly, he renting a bike. But, winter hit Sydney which means that it rained all day. So, no biking, lots of walking, and touring. Sidney is a wonderful city, but we were much more fond of Melbourne in terms of being bike friendly and just plain accessible in all regards.

I don't know what one does if he/she is physically disabled in either Melbourne or Sydney. So NOT handycapped accessible. Lots of steep steps to get from one street to another or one layer of train station to the next. Few lifts anywhere in sight. I had to carry NWT'n up and down more and more steps on my Manly excursion. Sounds like it should be easy, but he's just not light and nimble.

Nice coffee cruise this a.m. Visited with a 30 something who had come with 3 of her colleagues from Brisbane to Sidney for the day having won some kind of an award at work. Saw several suburbs along the harbor front where the houses ranged from $8-55million including Nicole Kidman's house that sold for $15mil and Russel Crowe's.

Arrival of produce at the restaurant next to our Barely Adequate Southern Hotel


Of joy, pleasure, humor, words, playfulness, or maybe just plain sanctity, you decide.

Upon our Sydney arrival a week ago we boarded one of their suburban trains to the train station in their CBD (Central Business District) and then walked the final block-ish to the Hilton dragging over a hundred pounds of suitcases and backpacks. Of course, one of those 50 pound suitcases carried NWT'n. 

Needless to say, we didn't "blend" as other guests arrived by taxi with porters ferrying their bags from taxi to check-in and ferrying further to their room some 25+ stories upward. Our view from our Hilton window was that of a construction crane, actually the control cabin of the crane some 22 stories up. The crane reminded us of our obstructed view through the port hole of many cruise ship cabins. 

The Hilton scored a 10 on glitz and about a 3 on functionality when it came to in-room cooking accommodations.

After the Rotary Conference crescendoed to a breathtaking finale with Australia's own Ten Tenors singing Turandot's Nessun Dorma, we checked out of the Hilton, at its nearly $300/night on the Rotary tab, pulling our 3 suitcases, wearing our backpacks and I my helmet on my head. I was pushing NWT'n and pulling Kirk's small overnight bag while he pulled my LARGE PAC duffle bag and NWT'n's personal suitcase now filled with rank, well-worn laundry. 

It was steady raining as we negotiated erect umbrellas through the glitz of noon-hour rush in the surround of the Hilton and moved to our new hotel at half the nightly rate, The Great Southern Hotel. We re-dubbed it the Barely Adequate Southern Hotel, or BA for short. 
Great Southern Hotel

Sydney Bridge

About a kilometer down the road the Hilton glitz was replaced, the closer we got to BA, with pawn shops, Adult X shops, The Pleasure Chest, LentMoney, and too-many-to-count Thai Massage Spas. I'm assuming they were sex spas since they were all upstairs via a staircase off the Main Street advertised by a well-worn, young, thin, Asian barely-a-woman holding a cardboard sign with the words Thai Massage $39 or whatever the price. Starbucks was a couple of blocks away with 30 min of free wifi per purchased drink. That beat the $20/20 minutes or $22 for 24 hrs at the BA.

The upside to the BA was its amazing closeness to the train station that would get us ANYWHERE we wanted to go and a Vietnamese restaurant next to The Pleasure Chest that served Pho, Vietnamese noodle rice noodle soup, (pronounced phuh). The proper spelling of Pho has a squiggly accent atop the O that makes the pronunciation phuh. Without the squiggle it would be pronounced as you would think, with a long O. But, I'm squiggle-less on my English keyboard. 

Onward with more sanctity of life's fabric.

Yea for the Aussie's absence of pennies. They simply round up or down to the nearest 5 cents. 

Yea for the Aussies who print Look Left or Look Right at the curbs especially since there is not even a 3 inch gap between the curb and passing big-wheeled traffic. 

Yea for the Aussies who have a flush option on all their toilets for liquid or solid. Far too many of American public toilets are equipped with auto flush that either don't function and you have to search for a nigh invisible button the size of a number two pencil eraser to override the non-functioning auto flush, or it they over function acting more like a bidet. 

Yea for the Aussies who oft have such a gracious way of communicating their expectations for public behavior like mind the gap; dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully; or allow us to seat you. 

But the billboard that read: "Trouble Falling Pregnant?" took a bit of work. I thought it might be quite scary for a young child who might interpret that if she fell, she might get pregnant. But in actuality I think it really was trying to communicate to those who wanted to get pregnant but were having trouble doing so. Falling would certainly never be the word Americans would use for such an event.

Another Continent!

Along the Multi-Use Path in Melbourne

Australia has always been on the “we hope we can figure out how to get there some day” travel bucket list. We certainly had no idea Kirk’s Rotary Club in Tucson would ask him to be its President in 2014-2015 and that one of the perks of the Presidency is an all-expense paid trip for the incoming President and spouse. Wow! Two continents in less than 6 months.

And so we said farewell to our kitty, Marlie, on Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Melbourne, by way of Sidney, Friday mid-day. It’s hard to know what time it is when we crossed the dateline and 17 time zones; found ourselves at the beginning of Winter in June; that peds, cyclists, and motorized vehicles all prefer navigating via the left side of the road; that a plain cup of coffee can cost $4.00 while a cappuccino or such could cost $7-8. YIKES.

Trying to keep my anti-epileptic medications on an every 12 hr cycle, which has worked well being at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for the last 9 months or so now seems to be confounded. Just what time would that be in Australia?? Hard to know.

Bikes, peds, and motorists in Melbourne share the roads, sidewalks, parks with gracious respect. I, however, just couldn't get the hang of having to cross multiple lanes of traffic to make a Right Hand turn. Scary. Stuck to the Multi-use paths. 

We found WiFi abundantly available in Nam; many villages didn’t have indoor plumbing, families were accustomed to sleeping in hammocks or on the floor, and “chairs” often were 50 pound bags of rice, but somehow virtually EVERYONE had a cell phone and a satellite dish on their roof. 

Given our experience of ubiquitous connectivity in Nam, I fully expected connectivity Down Under to trump that of Nam. Nope, not so. Oh, connectivity was available, but at a steep price, like $29/day in our hotel, or 30 minutes free from the hotel bar (with a drink, of course) or Starbucks (with a drink, of course, and a wifi code good only for 30 minutes). Or we could walk 3 blocks to McDonalds and have unlimited wifi use.  Hmmm

We decided to spend a week in Melbourne (pronounced Melbun. By American English standards, Aussies don't do "r's" very well) before Kirk’s Rotary Conference in Sydney which would be hosted on the grounds of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Visited many museums, walking tours all of which helped up appreciate the culture and history of the Country. In many ways they are ahead of the US when it comes to honoring their indigenous peoples and consciously working toward reconciliation. 

There were maybe 40 such "If I were white statements at the Reconciliation Museum. Just a sampling here.
 Kirk rented a bike in Melbourne and we had a couple of simply delightful rides along the coast of Port Phillip or the equivalent of Tucson's Loop Path around the city of Melbourne. 

 Below is a close up of the padlocks lovers affix to the bridge cables. Kinda of clever idea. We didn't add our lock of art and love to the mix.

Life Saving Clubs were everywhere, of course so is water. Had no idea what one was. Turns out instead of the city or park district hiring life guards, theirs are all volunteers, kind of a social thing. 
 After you work your hours, then you go to the pub together and enjoy each others company.
Hmmm, interesting choice of words.