Monday, September 29, 2008

Travel Log: We Made It!

As you can see from the comment on yesterday's post, my wife was up way before the butt crack of dawn and excited to get on the road today for the last leg of our trip. She was VERY nice and let me sleep in until 7:30 though. (Thank you, Sweetie!)

First thing we saw on the news when we walked into the hotel lobby for breakfast was school closures and delays.


Did it snow???

Nope. Fog. Most of Ohio was fogged in with ZERO visibility, and all the schools were on like a 2 hour delay.

By the time we got on the road, it had cleared up enough to drive normally, but the sky was overcast. That was odd. I mean, besides the fact that I haven't seen an overcast sky since... Well over 15 months ago (unless you count the vog). Today was the first day in our trip that I haven't worn my sunglasses from the moment we stepped out of the hotel. I didn't have to put them on until about 10:30 as we drove across PA.

My favorite season is autumn. I love the leaves changing color and swirling around behind your car. I love the crisp chill in the air warning you that winter is coming.

Up until today, we've seen no signs of autumn. It's been bright, sunny, and warm all the way across country. We've worn shorts and t-shirts every day and every night.

Then we crossed the state line into PA today and it's like mother nature flipped a switch and declared "let it be autumn!" The trees were all sorts of shades of red, yellow, and orange. We stopped at a service area on the PA Turnpike to get some lunch and our teeth all started to chatter as we got out of the car in our t-shirts and shorts. Everyone else around the rest stop was wearing jeans and sweatshirts.

Our Rest Stop PT Program took a turn for the worse today. One second we were all laughing and giggling while doing our typical family race around the rest stop. The next second, YB was a crying splattered mess, crumpled in a heap on the concrete sidewalk.

I guess Crocs aren't so good for running, eh?

He was bleeding from his right knee and his left elbow, had scrapes on his other elbow and knee, and he has quite a big red lump on his forehead. He was crying for a while, but thankfully (a) our good friend Becky told him that M&M's make boo-boos feel better, and (b) we happened to have some M&M's in the car.

Too bad the M&M's don't make the snot come out of the shoulder of Daddy's shirt where said little boy was crying on it, but I guess that just comes with the territory, right?

Pet Peeve: Construction areas with really low speed limits but no actual construction work going on. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about saving lives and obeying the speed limit in the construction zones when those guys are out there. It just really annoys me when we have to drive slow for no actual reason.

I was really impressed in Indiana yesterday. They actually have a cool thing where the construction speed limit signs say "when blinking" and have a light that they turn on when they're actually working. Since it was Sunday, we still flew through at normal speed because nobody was actually working and the lights weren't blinking.

Today though, we went through miles upon miles upon miles of construction zones in PA with ridiculously low speed limits and ZERO work going on. It drives me nuts.

Overall, the drive went very smoothly today, and we finally arrived and laid eyes upon our new house about 4:30.

Home Sweet Home

We had to wait a few minutes for the realtor to arrive with our keys, so we walked around to check out the back yard.

...and met a couple of our new neighbors.

After we got inside, the boys explored every square inch of the house from top to bottom in about 30 seconds. I don't even think my wife and I were done receiving the keys, garage door openers, and introductory remarks from the realtor in the foyer by the time the boys had seen the entire house.

Naturally, after two weeks of being cooped up in the car, the boys ran around the house like maniacs. Our realtor seemed worried they were going to break something. (a) The house is empty, what're they gonna break? (b) It's not like we're looking at a potential house to buy that we don't own yet. We OWN IT. It's OURS. If they break it, we'll fix it.

YB found himself a perch.
(Note the SpongeBob bandaid on the right knee)

Overall first impressions: LOVE the house! It's a lot bigger in person than it was in the pictures. VERY happy overall with everything we saw in the house today.

It was funny though. Our realtor was REALLY nervous. She was WAY more nervous about our first impressions of the house than we were. I mean, what would we do if we DIDN'T like it?!?! We bought it, so it's ours whether we like it or not, right?

Then again, if you can sue McD's for the coffee being hot, I suppose...

Tonight we met our long-time close friends Corey and Vince for dinner, then went to Target to stock up on some basic stuff like toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, etc. The movers are coming to deliver our household goods (HHG) tomorrow! Hooray! We have to be there by 8 a.m. to wait for the movers though, and of course, they won't show up until like noon I bet. We'll see.

Statistics for Today:

16 Number of States we drove through in the past 16 days (OR, CA, NV, AZ, UT, (AZ again), NM, CO, KS, MO, IL, IN, OH, WV, PA, MD, VA)

4,830 Number of miles driven on our trip across country

4,831 Number of dead bugs on the front of our car. Maybe we should donate (loan) our car to some school science fair experiment and let some kid try to identify how many bugs are splattered on our car and which states they came from.

Time for a car wash.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Travel Log: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio

Getting caught up on my blog of our trip across country...

View of the bright morning sun through the splattered bugs on our windshield.

We left St. Louis this morning. The boys had previously not expressed any desire to go see the arch. We drove by and took some pictures, but continued on eastbound because my wife and I had already seen it from the inside during our drive across country in 1999.

Driving east on I-70 with the Arch in the background.

Then it was strangely quiet in the back seat for a while.

I looked back to see ES hiding under his blanket. I asked him what was wrong.

No response.

So I left him alone. Then he took the blanket off his head and sat there sulking. So I asked him what was wrong again.

He grumbled that he wanted to go up in the arch.

He was so mad about not going up in the arch, that he lashed out with one of those angry tantrum statements, "You never do anything for me! We never do anything that I wanna do!"

At that instant, my wife earned sainthood, and I earned a couple of very nasty bite marks in my tongue. My instinct was to lash out with anger against anger and start listing the things that we've done for him and call him and ungrateful little snot.

Luckily for all of us, my awesome wife was much quicker on the draw. While my blood was coming to a boil and steam was about to spew forth from my ears, my wife spoke in the sweetest, nicest, most gentle voice possible, apologized to my son for not taking him up in the arch and used some expert parenting skills to divert his attention to other things like his Nintendo DS.

Lunch in the Middle of Nowhere, Illinois

We stopped for lunch at a DQ off the freeway in Casey, Illinois. Walking into the DQ in Casey was similar to walking into the Crazy R back in Goodland, Kansas. The place was PACKED with locals, and there were two and three way conversations going on back and forth between tables about deer hunting, chopping wood, combine harvesters, and local sports. When we walked in the door, it got a little quiet and they all sorta stared at us for a few seconds before carrying on their conversations.

My poor wife was sitting with her back to some people talking about deer hunting and got to listen to them describe the shooting, following the blood trail, and other gorey details she didn't care to hear while she tried to eat her lunch.

The rest of the drive across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio was pretty uneventful. We stopped for dinner at Panera in Columbus, Ohio, and spotted an unusual dinner guest there.

Who me?

This guy was looking for handouts from people sitting on the patio, and when nobody would give him any, he went and helped himself to the trash can next to the front door of the restaurant.

Tangent: He made me think of RJ from Over the Hedge. Man that's a funny movie! If you haven't seen it, I HIGHLY recommend it! End of Tangent

Tomorrow is THE BIG DAY. It's our LAST long day of driving across country and we finally get to see the house that we've been the proud owners of for one month now. I'm actually surprised my wife fell asleep - she's SO excited she's beside herself! I expect she's going to be up at the butt-crack of dawn and kicking our butts out of bed to get on the road as soon as possible in the morning, so I need to go to bed.

Okay, time to hit the rack. G'night all.

Travel Log: Missouri

Saturday morning, we started off with a treat the boys have been begging for since we got back on the mainland. I don't know why they don't make fresh donuts anywhere in Hawaii.

Next, we headed over to Whiteman AFB where my aunt arranged for us to go on a tour of a B-2 Spirit bomber. They also had a T-38 and an A-10 Thunderbolt out for us to check out. We were allowed to bring cameras, but we weren't allowed take pictures in certain places.

ES in front of the Spirit of America.

It was a really awesome, informative tour. I learned A LOT. Unfortunately, the boys were hot and whiney and bored - I thought they would have eaten this up.

Things I learned during the tour:

- Each of the B-2's are named after a state (Spirit of Alaska, Spirit of Washington, Spirit of Missouri, etc), with the exception of two: Spirit of America and Spirit of Kitty Hawk.

This was the view looking across the tarmac at the Spirit of Kitty Hawk peeking out of her hanger. Notice how each hanger had a painting to the left of the door with the name of the bomber and a silouette of its namesake state.

- They can only afford to fly the B-2 for proficiency about twice per month, so the pilots fly the T-38s six to eight times per month to maintain their flying skills.


Spirit Chaser (on the cockpit of the T-38)

CAPT B explains the T-38 controls to ES.

- The USAF does the same sort of dual investigation process that the Navy does following an accident (one for legal and punishment purposes and a "safety" investigation to really get down to why it happened and preventing it from ever happening again).

- As with any major accident in the submarine force, there was a major case of switch-theory involved in the B-2 crash in Guam (several things had to go wrong in series to lead up to the accident, and it's just mind boggling that they all lined up the way they did to result in the crash).

The Colonel (Wing Commander) explains how a B-2 flies and what caused the B-2 crash in Guam.

- There are no bunks or cots on the plane. The crew trains in long endurance techniques, and they have flight surgeons that plan out for them when they should take 20 minute power naps and when they should eat and what they should eat.

Self Portrait with YB on my shoulders in front of the A-10

Me and my boys by the A-10
(Picture taken by Aunt Ruth)

We also got to see two A-10's taxi in from the runway with the canopies open. The pilots waved to us and we waved back.

The tour was absolutely awesome and I learned a lot. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity. (Thank you Aunt Ruth!)

After the tour, we grabbed some lunch and then tried to find a geocache in Knob Noster State Park. We got to within about 450 feet of the cache, but the GPS was pointing across a lake, and we didn't see any easy way around it. Had to post a DNF (Did Not Find) for that one. Too bad. It was still a really pretty park.

Hmmm... to bushwhack or not to bushwhack?

We gassed up the car while we were on base. I've been getting between 23 and 25 mpg as we've been crossing the long flat stretches of highway out here.

We also found a $50 Sirius receiver in the BX, so we picked it up. It's been SO nice listening to Sirius Channel 22 First Wave and Channel 66 Spirit.

Kansas versus Missouri

Driving across Missouri was interesting. Like Kansas, it was very flat with lots of farmland. There was one big difference that stood out in my mind though. In Kansas, it seemed like there were pro-l1fe and ant1-abort1on billboards in between every exit. In Missouri, every freeway exit had your standard blue signs -

Lodging Next Exit

Gas Next Exit...

Food Next Exit...

Adu1t Bookstore / Adu1t Video Next Exit...

I'm serious! In between every exit was at least one billboard advertising the p0rn shop at the next exit, and as you got to the exit you would see big signs that just said "ADU LT" to tell you where the p0 rn shop was. What the heck?!?! I'm assuming there had to be some difference in state laws between Kansas and Missouri, because the difference was remarkable and very noticable. Is there really enough demand for p0 rn in Missouri to have a shop at EVERY freeway exit????

(Aside: There are some intentional typos above, changing a few characters here and there so I don't get a lot of weirdos coming to my blog through Google searches for p0 rn).

Missouri Rest Rooms

The other thing that really threw me for a loop in Missouri was the restrooms at the rest stops. They had automatic hand washing stations. It was a hole in the wall you just stuck your hands in. The motion sensor detected your hands were in the hole.

It squirted some liquid soap on my hands.

It turned the water on and sprayed my hands.

It stopped the water and started blowing air on my hands.

Now, here I have to pause for a second and explain that I don't like the air hand dryers. If given a choice between the paper towels or the air dryers in a restroom, I'll always take the paper towels. It's faster. The air dryers NEVER get my hands completely dry unless I stand there for like two cycles of the dryer.

Okay, resume story...

I stood there with my hands getting blown dry in the automatic hand washing station. Suddenly, the air stopped blowing, and much to my dismay, there's NO time delay after the dryer stops to allow you to pull your hands out. The dryer stopped. The motion sensor detected that my hands were still in the hole and immediately squirted soap on my hands again. Geesh! Now I gotta stand there through ANOTHER cycle of the water and then the air drying, and I got my hands even LESS dry than usual because I pulled them out early for fear of getting squirted with soap a third time.

20 Questions

One of ES's new favorite games to play in the car is Twenty Questions. We never really count the questions or stop at twenty though, so what do you call it then? "Ask-questions- until- you- give- up- because- your- 7- year- old- has- stumped- you"? He's been reading all these non-fiction DK Reader Level 3, 4, and 5 books about all sorts of things around the planet like this one. Yesterday, he really threw me a loop and stumped me with "Argentina."

St. Louis

We kinda got the feeling St. Louis didn't want us last night. The GPS told us to take I-64 east, but I-64 east was totally blocked off for construction. We got off the highway and started wandering around the city streets trying to figure out an alternate route, and the GPS just kept telling us, "Make a U-Turn... Make a U-Turn... Make a U-Turn..." and kept trying to reroute us back onto I-64 eastbound.

We finally figured out a work around and went down to I-44 and drove into St. Louis. Now the GPS told us to get off on Jefferson Street, which made sense since that's the street our hotel was on. We got off the highway and tried to turn up Jefferson Street to drive the whole two blocks to our hotel, and this is what we found...

Of course, that's a bridge going over a bunch of railroad tracks in the picture, so we had to follow a detour route several blocks down to another bridge over the railroad tracks then up a few blocks then over a few blocks and then back toward the hotel again. Of course, we got back on Jefferson and had to defy the signs telling us the street was closed and there was no outlet because our hotel was ON that street, immediately adjacent to that bridge they're working on. Aye caramba!

We finally made it to the hotel and then went over to Union Station where there are a bunch of restaurants. ES saw the Hard Rock Cafe and got excited, so we let him have his choice for dinner.

YB thought it was really cool there was a stained glass Elvis next to our table. We tried to get him to do his Elvis dance that Uncle Jon taught him, but he wouldn't perform for us.

Statistics for Saturday:

50,000 Number of pounds of ordnance the B-2 can carry.

172 Number of feet in the B-2 Spirit's wingspan.

44 Number of hours duration of the longest combat mission flown by a B-2 bomber (from Missouri to Afghanistan and back).

4 Number of feet long I would estimate the black snake was I encountered while searching for a geocache at the edge of the wilderness at a rest stop in Missouri. It was equally as startled by me as I was of it, and it slithered away faster than a lightning bolt. It was a good thing LW and the boys didn't come with me for this geocache because they would have absolutely wigged out running back to the car screaming bloody murder.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Travel Log: Great Wolf Lodge

We've wanted to visit a Great Wolf Lodge ever since we first heard of their existence a few years ago. It's a hotel built around an indoor waterpark. I have an aversion to the sun and will spend like an hour putting on sun screen before going outdoors, so the idea of an INDOOR waterpark to me is just AWESOME.

There are several Great Wolf Lodges all across the midwest and eastern seaboard, so when we planned our trip across country, we wanted to be sure to visit at least ONE Great Wolf Lodge. Thursday night we stayed at the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City.

Cue sound effect: Angelic choir singing hallelujah chorus.





Me and YB in the Green Waterslide

There were five big waterslides twisting and turning all over the park like a bowl of spaghetti. Three of them weren't suitable for the boys because they either (a) had pitch-black dark tunnels that freaked the boys out, or (b) weren't for innertubes and could only be ridden solo, or both.

YB and me coming out of the blue waterslide.

On two of the waterslides, the blue one and the green one, you could ride two-person innertubes down, and although there were tunnels, the plastic was translucent enough you could see the turns and the dips and know what was coming. These two were a blast and we rode them at least a dozen times.

Me and YB on the Green Waterslide

Me and YB on the Blue Waterslide

Unfortunately, I took ES on one of the slides with the dark tunnel the first time, and it kinda freaked him out, so he wouldn't go on any more slides for a while after that.

This was the yellow slide that scared ES.

After he saw YB go with me several times on the blue and the green slides, then he decided he would go with us. Thank goodness he did, because he liked it so much he ended up going by himself several times.

ES coming off the waterslide solo

We also took a liesurely ride on the lazy river and played in the little kid pool with the little kid slides, too.

Floating along the lazy river.

ES being a goofball in the lazy river.

Video along the lazy river.

I took several videos, and I know I keep promising to share videos with you, but I have limited time to post this and get to bed. I will upload the videos at some point and let you know when they're up on YouTube. Videos uploaded 10/12/2008. There are a couple more videos of the kiddie pool area on my YouTube channel.

It would have been fun to spend more than one night there. Unfortunately, they were booked Friday night because of a big event going on at the nearby racetrack.

We spent 3 hours at the waterpark on Friday morning then got cleaned up and had some lunch at Chipotle. [Cue sound effect: Angelic choir singing hallelujah chorus] Man I love Chipotle! I've really missed it a lot since we left Virginia last year.

Next, I have to give a shout out of thanks to FastNav for this recommendation. After lunch, we drove into Kansas City to visit the National World War I museum.


The monument was dedicated in like 1921 with several of the commanding generals from WWI present. I was afraid the museum inside was going to be pretty old and stuffy and boring for the kids. On the contrary, this was a really well laid out, very modern and interactive museum.

After we entered the doors, we walked across a glass bridge over 9,000 poppy flowers - one flower for every 1,000 people killed in World War I. (The photo doesn't really do it justice.)

After crossing the bridge, we entered a small movie theater and watched a 12-minute film about the events leading up to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The museum is set up in sort of an oval divided into quadrants. This theater was in the first quadrant.

We exited the theater going counter clockwise around the oval, and the second quadrant or section of the museum was all about 1914 to 1917, before the United States joined the war.

There were very high-tech, interactive displays like these light tables. You used light pens to touch things on the table to bring up videos or sound effects or flip pages for more information.

Then there were also lots of static displays of weapons and uniforms, maps and photographs.

I took this picture to use the camera flash to show and explain the rifle grooves in the barrel to the boys.

Next, we continued counter-clockwise into the third quadrant along a walkway over a life-size diorama of a battlefield with a huge (like 100 foot wide) screen in the back showing a second movie. This was a 15 minute movie about the reasons why the United States entered the war. Like the first movie, this was also very well done and held both my interest as well as the boys' interest.

YB in front of the WW I Monument

Finally, we walked counter-clockwise into the fourth quadrant of the museum that covers from 1917 to 1919 while the United States was involved in the war. By the time we got here though, we were pushing our time limit on making it to dinner with my aunt, so he quickly browsed as we walked through to the exit and got back on the road.

Kansas City

We made good time to my aunt's house, and she took us to an awesome local place called Heroes for dinner. I knew I was in the south again (or close enough to it) because I got to have fried ocra with my dinner. :-9

Old Drum
and the Warrensburg Courthouse

Along the way to and from dinner, we passed by the statue of Old Drum in front of the Warrensburg Courthouse. The term "man's best friend" originated here in a very eloquent eulogy and closing argument in a court case for one guy shooting his neighbor's dog, Old Drum.

That's it for tonight folks. More to follow on our visit to Whiteman AFB and our stop in St. Louis.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Travel Log: Kansas

We were successful in getting on the road an hour earlier than usual yesterday morning as we left Colorado Springs to head east across Kansas. We actually spent about the same amount of time on the road yesterday as we did back when we drove through the Sequoia National Park, but yesterday was SO much WORSE. At least when we spent all that time in the car going through Sequoia National Park, there were lots of twists and turns to keep me on my toes. Driving across the eastern part of Colorado and the ENTIRE state of Kansas looks like this...


Yyyyyeah, that picture is zoomed in as far as I could go, and there isn't a turn or a bump or a hill as far as the eye can see. I'm going to take this moment to sound a little like my children and say, "This is BOOOOOOOORING!"

My impressions of Kansas:
  • Flat.
  • Sunflowers. (Oooh! Those are pretty, take a picture!)
  • Flat.
  • Corn.
  • Flat.
  • More Sunflowers. (Oh, hey, there are some more sunflowers! Cool!)
  • Flat.
  • Wheat.
  • Flat.
  • More Sunflowers. (My wife is sawing logs in the passenger seat by this time.)
  • Flat.
  • Periodic small town with the town's name emblazoned across a water tower that looks like the head of the tin-man in the Wizard of Oz.
Flipping through the radio stations, I heard:
  • Country music.
  • Ads for tractors.
  • Country music.
  • Ads for bovine medicine.
  • Country music.
  • Ads for herbicide and crop planning consulting.
  • Fire and brimstone preacher.
  • Ads for soil analysis.
  • Country music.
  • One radio announcer was talking about the current economic crisis bail out plan and saying that if you find yourself riding a dead horse, the corrective action is to get off the horse, not declare the horse "living impaired" and try to revive it. I thought that was pretty funny.
I'm kicking myself now for not digging up my Sirius receiver and antenna to bring with us on this trip. They've been sitting in a box in the trunk of my car since we moved to Hawaii, because we can't get Sirius in Hawaii.

Pit Stops

We drove up Rt. 24 to Limon where we hopped on I-70 east. About the time we arrived in Limon, I had a sudden need to get rid of the coffee I had drunk back at the hotel. We pulled into the McD's parking lot.

Trivia Question: How long does it take a 7 year old and a 4 year old to slip on a pair of Crocs and get out of the car?

A) 1 second
B) 10 seconds
C) 100 seconds
D) 1,000 seconds

With my boys, it SEEMS like D. They take forever to put their Crocs on and get out of the car.

I don't know the exact amount of time. However (comma) I DO know that it took long enough for a gargantuan BUS to pull into the parking lot and discharge like 100 old geezers who all made a direct beeline for the restrooms.

I saw them all piling off the bus and heading inside, and it was like one of those slow-motion Matrix scenes with me letting out a long, low-pitched, "nnnnnnnoooooooooooooo!" as I tried to beat the geezers to the restroom. I managed to edge my way into the middle of their line from the bus door to the front door. Then, of course, one of the urinals was out of order, so that cut the volumetric flow rate of the restroom by 33%. In the end, everything came out alright, but it made that stop considerably longer than it should have been if my boys could just put their crocs on and get out of the car.


If given a choice where to eat while traveling, I will always opt for a local, unique place to eat over a nation-wide chain of processed food. It's a good way to experience some of the local culture and more likely to get some FRESH ingredients in the food.

I did a little bit better job planning our trip today and had some places planned to stop. I wanted to stop in Goodland, Kansas to grab a geocache there.

Goodland's main tourist attraction is this really big painting.
(Note the obligatory water tower in the background.)

I emailed the owner of the geocache to ask for a recommendation for lunch. She recommended the Crazy R Bar & Grill.

Obligatory Self Portrait in front of the Crazy R

As much as it drove my wife nuts to drive past the Wendy's and other fast-food, quick-n-easy places to eat and get back on the road, I'm glad we actually went into town and ate at the Crazy R.

It was one of those places where the locals will walk in the door, see several people they know, wave and say hi, say hi to the waitress or owner by name, and have a seat.

On the other hand, it's also the kind of place where people from out of town walk in the door and all of a sudden the place gets reeeeally quiet and everyone in the restaurant is staring at you wondering who you are and why you're in their restaurant.

It was the type of place with the "menu" printed on a small card in a vertical plastic card holder. There were things like "Chicken Gizzards" and "Rocky Mountain Oysters" on the menu. They advertised old fashioned "soda pops." I had me a real honest-to-goodness sarsparilla! I'd heard of it before and knew it was something similar to root beer, but I'd never actually seen it offered anywhere, so I had to try it.

I figured you wouldn't believe me if I didn't post a photo.

The decorations were all sorts of antique tricycles and children's riding contraptions mixed in with local historical memorabilia (farm stores sale signs, local sports jerseys and propoganda). The food came in red plastic baskets (see photo above). Overall, the food was really good and I was glad we stopped.

My wife said there were people smoking at the bar. That surprised me because normally I smell that stuff a mile away and can't stand to be in the same room. I might have turned around and left if I had smelled the cigarette smoke when we walked in the door. (Sorry Sweetie!)


We stopped at IHOP for dinner in Salina, Kansas.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.

For some reason, He didn't want us to get to Kansas City until LATE last night. I mean, first the whole old-geezer bus at McD's earlier in the day and now IHOP.

Our waitress took our orders and left us... for 30 minutes.

I kid you not.

THIRTY minutes.

It was SO long that I was seriously considering leaving a couple of bucks on the table for the coffee and juice we had consumed and walking out. I was going to take my family through the Wendy's drive through and get back on the road.

Then the waitress showed up with our food, including a mound of cold french fries on my plate. Nice!

No matter, let's just get back on the road, okay? As we stood up to go pay our bill, a large group of special-needs adults simultaneously stood up and headed to the counter to pay their bills. Unfortunately for us, they were seated closer to the cash register than we were and got in line first. Then they each had to pay for their own meal, and they had to pay cash, and they had to count out the change... Again, like the stop at McD's earlier, this stop took us a lot longer than we thought it was going to take.

So who cares? What was the big rush to get to Kansas City?

Well, I'll tell ya. Last night was a first for me. I got to meet a fellow blogger. FastNav who writes Checks with Chart invited me to join him for a beer and share some sea stories as we passed through town. I got my family checked into the hotel and headed two blocks down the road to meet up with FastNav. I didn't get there until like 10:30 p.m., but we shared some really good beer and some really good sea stories. (Thanks for waiting so long and thanks for the beer, man!)

Of course, at the end of our shoot-the-breeze, I had to break out my camera. FastNav said, "Oh man, I was afraid there would be an obligatory Blunoz self-portrait involved in this meeting."

Obligatory Blunoz Self Portrait with FastNav

And that, folks, is why there was no blog post last night.

Blame it on FastNav.

Statistics for Thursday:

63 Number of minutes the boys played quietly in the back seat before getting in a fight over the arm rest.

6 Number of inches width of the arm rest in the back seat.

2 Number of inches width of a little boy's arm.

20 Number of questions allowed in the game "Twenty Questions"

2 Number of questions required to guess YB's first choice of "dog" (The first question being, "Is it alive?" Yes. The second question being, "Is it a dog?" Yes.) For those of you who know my kids, they are both obsessed with dogs. They each have like 5 stuffed animal dog toys in the back seat with them.

3 Number of questions required to guess YB's second choise of "cat."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sailor, Rest Your Oar

My blog posts over the past couple of weeks have been devoted to documenting our trip across country, but I need to take a break from the travel log in order to pay my respects to two fellow submariners.

For those of my family and friends who may not have seen it in the news or read other submariner blogs, the submarine force has lost two shipmates recently.

First, CDR Scott Harrington lost his battle with cancer on Saturday, 13 Sept. I did not know him personally, but I have heard from multiple independent sources that he was an outstanding naval officer and a truly wonderful person to be around. You can read more about him at Checks with Chart or on TSSBP.

Then, MM3(SS) Michael Gentile tragically lost his life in an accident on board USS NEBRASKA (SSBN 739) on Saturday, 20 Sept. There are many posts about this on other blogs. TSSBP has details and a lot of discussion in the comments. Checks with Chart actually sheds some light on another aspect of the accident that has been going through my mind since I heard the news of the accident on Monday. I'd like to elaborate on that a little.

Before I talk about that though, I just want to offer my sincerest condolensces to both CDR Harrington's family and to MM3 Gentile's family. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

As CwC alluded to, the men on the NEBRASKA will now face a difficult experience that is almost as emotionally traumatic as the accident itself. Anytime there is an major accident in the Navy such as a collision or a grounding or a loss of life, there are normally two investigations that follow. (I've been through two such incidents myself).

The first investigation is the legal investigation called a "JAGMAN" (Judge Advocate General or JAG Manual). This investigation has a lot of legalities, reading people their rights, and strictly examines factual evidence (logs, plotted data, photographs, official statements of what people did) in order to determine if anyone had any sort of criminal culpability. The JAGMAN determines if anyone should be punished for their actions that contributed to the accident, and it's actually the easier of the two investigations.

After the JAGMAN is done, then comes the really hard part - the Safety Investigation. The goal of the safety investigation is to find out what policies, procedures, equipment, or training could have prevented the accident from occurring.

As a result, the interviewers from the Naval Safety Center come across as abbrasive, insensitive "arm-chair quarterbacks" asking a lot of "what if" statements. They ask a lot of really emotionally disturbing questions like, "Why didn't you do this? Why didn't you do that? Did you think of this? Were you trained on that? IF you had done it this way, would the accident have happened? IF you had done it that way, would the accident have happened?" They cause you to relive the accident over and over again and to second guess yourself backwards and forwards with 20/20 hindsight. Statements gathered for the safety investigation cannot be used for criminal prosecution because they want frank and honest opinions (that could not stand up to the rules of evidence) to really get thought processes out in the open. Then, the safety board guys actually have the power to make the Navy change policies, change procedures, buy new equipment, or create new training requirements in order to prevent accidents from recurring.

Now, when the investigation is for something like a grounding or a collision where nobody got hurt, the safety investigation is frustrating and annoying and stressful, especially for those people who lost their jobs or were otherwise officially punished for the accident.

When the investigation is for something that cost a shipmate's life, it is absolutely heart-wrenching and emotionally draining to have someone who wasn't there sit across the table from you and ask, "Why didn't you do X, Y, and Z differently, and in your opinion, if you had done X, Y, and Z differently, would your shipmate still be alive today?"

CwC superbly summarized this.
"What’s worse is trying to deal with the pain as the Navy conducts its necessary investigations to determine what went wrong and how to prevent it from ever occurring again. Lots of our procedures are written in blood because of, and thanks to, these very necessary proceedings.

It won’t be easy, but it must be done. My thoughts go out to the Sailor’s family and friends, and to the Crew of NEBRASKA for the trial they have endured, and for those to come."

You're absolutely right, FastNav, it must be done so that we can prevent more lives from being lost, and it's not going to be easy.

So in addition to the families of CDR Harrington and MM3 Gentile, please keep the officers and crew of the NEBRASKA in your thoughts and prayers as they both grieve for their fallen shipmate as well as face the ordeal of reliving the accident through the investigation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Travel Log: Continental Divide

We spent the day today driving from Durango to Colorado Springs through the San Juan Mountains.

Along the way, we stopped to do a short hike to the Treasure Falls. Legend has it that a group of Frenchmen buried a treasure chest full of gold there back in the late 1700's.

It was a short hike (only 1/4 mile), but between the 200 feet of elevation gain on the trail and the high altitude, I was breathing pretty hard when we got to the top. It was well worth it though.

LW and the boys on the trail to Treasure Falls

Vertical Panorama of Treasure Falls

Yes, of course, there's a geocache there. Why else do you think we stopped there?

Family Photo at an overlook about halfway up the trail to the falls.

Next, we headed on up and over the continental divide.

The scenery as we drove over the San Juan Mountains was beautiful, and I wish I had more photos to share with you, but the battery in my camera died. :-(

How does the saying go? Those to fail to plan, plan to fail? I failed miserably in my planning today. When I browsed the route ahead last night, I just saw that there were a string of "towns" along Highway 160, so I didn't invest any time in researching restaurants for lunch. BIG mistake. Those weren't so much "towns" as... well... a collection of shacks in the middle of nowhere. We were starving and I kept thinking, "just one more town" but we kept coming up empty handed. We finally settled for a dilapidated cafe in the middle of nowhere with so-so food and service, but at least it stopped the pangs of hunger coming from my gut.

The boys were at each others' throats in the car today. Most of the time, they play really well together. Today, they were both antagonizing each other and there was a lot of whining and wailing from the back seat as one and then the other would withold some toy or game from the other. At one point, they even got into the "No! You aren't allowed to look out of MY window!" argument and I thought I my head was going to explode.

We stopped to stretch our legs and grab another geocache in Alamosa, Colorado, and there was a nice park with REAL, soft, green GRASS. My wife couldn't help herself and had to lie down and enjoy the grass. (Grass in Hawaii is coarse and harsh - not the kind you want to just lie down in). We've been trying to do silly little things like having races around the rest stops to stretch our legs and get the blood flowing. For the exercise of this stop, my wife got the boys to roll down the small hill with her. Much giggling and laughter ensued.

LW and the boys roll down the hill.
(The video is better, but YouTube is down right now.)

Nothing much more terribly exciting to report today. We made it to Peterson AFB thirty minutes before the BX closed, gassed up the car on base, and checked into our hotel.

Thanks to those of you who shared thoughts and theories on the gas mileage question. When I gassed up tonight, it came out a little over 23 mpg, which was again higher than I expected. I wasn't drafting off trucks, and I was either driving 70 mph (on the straight sections) or I was driving the curving roads through the mountains.

We're getting into a pretty good morning routine. We get up and shower and head down to the free breakfast in each hotel by around 8:30 since the breakfasts always end at 9 a.m. Then after we pack everything up and hit the road, it's been just about 9:45 on the nose each morning.

We have a long day's drive ahead of us tomorrow though, so we've already packed the car tonight to make a more expeditious departure in the morning.

As for now, I need to do a little better job planning tomorrow's drive than I did planning today's drive.

My first blogiversary!

Oh, and I almost forgot! Today was also my first blogiversary! I started this blog on my birthday last year in Hawaii to share stories and pictures of our adventures in Hawaii with our family and friends.

As of right now, I've received 21,143 unique visits to my blog (31,329 individual page views - if one person clicks somewhere on my blog twice within 30 minutes then it counts as a "visit" with multiple page views).

Thanks to all of you who have given me feedback on my blog and who continue to read!

Travel Log: Four Corners

Happy Birthday to me, and what a spectacular birthday it was... Well... sort of.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't really a bad day by any means, but it wasn't very exciting as far as birthdays go. I DID get to fulfill a life long dream though! We visited the Four Corners today! (Yes, that is your "geek!" alarm going off in the back of your head).

Me and my wife in four states at once.
(Photo by YB, hence the fingers.)
See! I'm working on asking people to take my picture! :-)

I've mentioned before that my grandparents used to live in Grand Junction, Colorado. I spent many summers out there, and I explored all over Colorado with my Grandpa. I always wanted to go to Four Corners though, and the response I always got was that it was too far out of the way and in the middle of nowhere. Well today, I was the one drivin' the bus, and I chose to go to Four Corners gosh darnit. (LW says she only let me stop there because it was my birthday).

Much to our surprise, we got there and discovered the Navajo people who run the place charge admission to the Four Corners tourist attraction. They didn't take credit cards or checks, and neither my wife nor I had any cash on us. Mark this down as a first time in history: we had to borrow money from ES (he keeps his allowance money in a red wallet). Thank goodness we give him an allowance, eh? That would've really sucked to have driven all that way and been like, "oh, sorry, can't come in."

Normally I review the route for the next day and evaluate the best places to stop for lunch and dinner and any cool places to visit along the way. I'll look up restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor and Google and have someplace in mind before we head out for the day.

Well, since I didn't have internet access last night, I couldn't do my usual trip planning. I figured we'd just wing-it.

Have you ever driven through the northeast corner of Arizona?

Driving across Arizona

It reminded me a lot of driving across western Texas. There just ain't NUTHIN' for miles and miles and miles.

As much as I hate eating at McD's and Burger King and try to avoid it if there is any other choice (especially a local non-chain restaurant nearby), I was glad we stopped at the Burger King we found in Keyenta, AZ today.

They had a very nice sort of mini-museum about the Navajo Windtalkers of WWII in the Burger King, plus a playground for the kids to blow some steam.

Introduction to the Display in Burger King

Next door to the Burger King was a small but very interesting museum about Navajo life, along with three samples of traditional Navajo structures. It's a worthwhile stop if you happen to be passing through this area.

YB Climbing out of the Navajo Hoogan

The picture above was the smallest of the three hoogans in the display. This one was a "sweat house." In areas with little water, in order to essentially take a "bath", they would heat rocks in a fire, put the hot rocks in this hoogan, cover up the openings with blankets and drop a cup of water on the hot rocks. The water would flash to steam and give the person in the hoogan sort of a steam bath like a sauna.

Crossing from Arizona into Colorado, it was as if God flipped a switch and changed the mood-lighting of the Earth on us. Driving across Arizona was all very red - red sand, red rocks, red, red, red. Then, as we cross the state line into Colorado, it was as if everything suddenly changed to hues of green and yellow.

Welcome to Colorado Sign

We made good time into Durango, Colorado tonight. We checked into the hotel and I powered up my computer to check for restaurants for dinner. There are a ton of restaurants with really high reviews in Durango, and the first Mexican restaurant on the list was like #18 on the Trip Advisor list. So we decided to try the Steamworks Brewery, since breweries usually have awesome food.

Steamworks Brewing Co.

We were disappointed with the slow and inattentive service and the stench of cigarette smoke out on the patio. However (comma) I did manage to have Mexican food for my birthday dinner, and since it was my birthday, I felt entitled to embarass my family by taking a picture of the food...

Carnitas Tacos

Quick Tangent / Background: (Corrected) My wife picked up an awesome travel book for the drive across country. ES was reading it in the back of the car today, learning about the four states around the four corners and about the other states we've either been to or are going to. End of Tangent.

While we waited for our food tonight, ES decided to draw a map of the United States. Freehand. Totally from memory.

ES hard at work

ES's Map of the USA

Granted, his map is heavily biased toward the states we've already driven through so far, but I'll be interested to see if he does another one after we finish our journey and fills in the rest of those question marks.

Statistics for Today:

Okay, I need your help understanding this one. Today's gas mileage data doesn't fit my theory-to-practice model.

25 Number of miles per gallon I got in California drafting behind trucks at 55 mph

23 Number of miles per gallon I got in Nevada through Utah drafting behind trucks at 75 mph

21 Number of miles per gallon I got at ~70 mph with no trucks around to draft

So far, this all makes sense, right?

We spent most of the day today with no trucks to draft and a 65 mph speed limit. I expected to get about 21 mpg when we filled up the gas tank late this afternoon. The tank only took 14.5 gallons and we had driven 380 miles. That's 26.2 mpg!!! That just doesn't make sense to me.

Theory: The only one that makes the slightest bit of sense to me is that we filled up the tank at a different time of day. Normally I fill up the tank in the morning before we embark for the day, but today I had to fill up near the end of the day in the heat of the afternoon, but I still had about a quarter tank of gas. Do you suppose the heat caused the gas in the tank to expand and thus require less gas to fill up the tank?

The only other uncontrolled variable I can think of for in my theory-to-practice is altitude. Would the higher altitude have an effect? Even if it did, I wouldn't think it would be THAT much.

I'm interested to see what our next fill-up brings and if it's abnormally low to compensate for the previously high result.

Statistics Tangent:

18 Number of bite marks in my wife's tongue from when I drove 55 mph in California to draft off the trucks (the speed limit there is 65 for cars and 55 for trucks).

120 Number of decibels I expect my wife to scream when I attempt my next theory-to-practice data run and drive 55 mph drafting off a truck AAAAND turn the air conditioning off.