So I'm pretty sure Gran Turismo has made me a better driver.|
Two incidents spring to mind on our recent trip: the first, when two tyres blew out on a narrow bridge at 50mph, and I stayed entirely in my lane and didn't so much as scratch the paintwork on the car as I drove it off the bridge and pulled over further along, where there was shoulder to pull over on.
The second was when I came around a curve at about 90km/hr (we were in Canada) to find a deer sproinging cheerfully across the road.
Braking sharply *while cornering* is fairly high on the list of things I was taught Not To Do when I was learning to drive, because it is, in fact, a spectacular exercise in the Applied Physics Of Wrecking Your Car.
Nonetheless, I braked sharply, and reflexively compensated to keep control of the car, successfully.
The thing is, I don't think I used to be quite as good at dealing with cars bobbling like that, and add to that I've barely driven a car at all in the last few years. (I've never owned a car, though when my mother was ill I drove my parents' car constantly, but riding a motorcycle is a *rather* different experience.)
However, I have played a fair amount of Gran Turismo, and one of the things that I *definitely* had to learn in that game is how to cope with cars going slightly out of control. Gran Turismo is a good simulation of that stuff, and I had to learn how to correct for a lot. Now, in GT generally the reason the car is at frequent risk of bobbling is that I am driving at speeds that, in the real world, would qualify as "suicidally insane", but, you know... racing video game. Nonetheless, the general principles are the same.
Arguably, this probably helps for the translation of the skills into a real car. The conditions I've learned to handle in Gran Turismo are far more extreme, because it's coping with a control issue when I'm already driving at the limit of the car's control to begin with; since I do not, in the real world, in a real car, drive with the accelerator buried in the floor except for those moments when I stop accelerating to brake as hard as I can for a corner nonetheless taken as fast as I can wrestle the car around the curve before flooring it again, kinda thing, I have more margin for error.
Having said that, I did take a couple of corners in North America marginally faster than I was quite comfortable with, but that was not intentional. Certain sections of road - generally when going through mountains - are really extremely twisty, and there's a section of the Trans-Canada Highway where the signposted recommended speed is 40km/hr, and all I can say to that is ha ha, you crazy Canadian optimists, because I slowed to 40km/hr, and then the only reason I did not actually yell holy shit the fuck is this AHHHH is that my jaw was clenched and the brain processing power usually assigned to "language, production and recognition" was reassigned to "decreasing radius curve, navigation" and also "terror, not screaming in".
Admittedly there were roadworks, but still. I think I went through the rest of that section at about 25km/hr, slower to go past the mans. I vaguely recall velithya making word-like noises during that first curve but I honestly did not process what they were.
"Too fast" is so very, very much a relative concept.
Current Location: Perth, Western Australia
So, I was going to go to the Big Four Ice Caves.|
I didn't. On the way, I had a car accident - dodging oncoming traffic drifting into my lane at a narrow bridge on Stevens Pass Highway, the right tyres of my car clipped the kerb and... both were shredded open.
Sooo I got to wait a couple of hours for the tow truck, then ride almost two hours into Seattle, and fix up switching to a new car, aaaand then it was almost dark and I headed back to my motel.
I'm currently planning to try again tomorrow, but I probably won't actually be driving the same road - partly because there's a *lot* of narrow bridges and I'm kind of unnerved, partly because it's an hour longer than the route that takes the freeway by Seattle. (But not through Seattle, so I'm hoping it won't be hideous traffic or anything.)
Having said that, the route I did take is stunningly beautiful. Sadly I don't have photos of most of it, because I was driving, but it was definitely worth the trip.
Although Leavenworth, with its Bavarian Village theme, is cute but kinda disconcerting.
When a call centre operator asks where I am, and I say, "Washington State," it is a supremely unpromising moment when she replies, "Is that Washington D.C.?"|
NO. NO IT IS NOT.
I'm going on an Adventure today! It involves a nearly four-hour drive each way, which is Long, but the thing about Ellensburg is that it's central; it means that anywhere is at least some way away, but *everywhere* is in *reach*. I am Exploring Washington State.|
Of course, getting gluten-free food can be stressful at the best of times, and my destination also includes a long-for-me walk that I might have to accomplish quite slowly, due to bad knee etc, so...
... I'm packing lunch. I bought gluten-free bread and breadrolls before I left Portland, and last night I bought cheese and jam and butter and storage bags at Fred Meyer, and now I am making myself food so I don't have to find food while I am travelling because I am clever.
(Note: I am using a paper plate as a cutting board for the cheese, and a combat utility knife to *cut* the cheese, because clever is not the same as "entirely stocked with kitchen supplies" or, for that matter, "willing to buy a kitchen knife while travelling". Why I have a combat utility knife is a whole 'nother thing. But despite being quite a thick blade it cuts cheese very well.)
Current Mood: ADVENTURE
Current Location: Ellensburg, WA
Things I had forgotten about America:|
Prescription medications advertised on television.
The side-effect warnings are akind of... what.
"Hey, here's this drug that's awesome for these things! 44% of people found it easier to quit smoking, when only 17% did with sugar pills! By the way, it could kill you, or make you crazy, or just super-sick. Or, seriously, kill you."
Sooo I came back to my motel room, and was sitting doing things, and then suddenly I became aware of a loud buzzing sound from over near the window.|
I thought it would be a fly because I am Australian. I looked behind the curtain.
There was a GIANT BEE like an INCH LONG AT LEAST.
... I found my room key and rushed to the motel office.
"Oh, that'll be a yellowjacket. We get those at this time of year."
The very nice lady from the desk got a cup and a lid and came back to my room with me. She oh-so-calmly trapped the yellowjacket in the cup, put the lid on, and took it outside to release it. I thanked her profusely.
Apparently courage in the face of small creatures is somewhat regional. I am *completely chill* when it comes to dealing with spiders.
However, faced with a bee bigger than my rented SUV, I go running for a local, because EEEEEEEEEEEE.
Photos I took this morning:|
1) The mist rolling across the surface of the river/lake/thing behind this motel.
1a) The same with a polarising filter, because sun on water = glare.
2) My name, written with my finger in the frost that had formed on the bonnet of my car.
(Sorry, the hood of my SUV, I'm in America. Even though by American standards it's a tiny baby SUV, but still.)
By the standards of my home, it is midwinter, deepest freezing cold here, but it's clear blue skies and sunshine and it's just beautiful.
Photos I wish I'd taken yesterday include:
Washington State's approach to anti-littering signs. I've seen all of two, but they're just so... direct, in a way I've never seen from any other region.
It just says:
LITTER AND IT WILL HURT
Current Location: Ellensburg, WA
This was today's driving path, approximately:|
Then I hit some sort of limit, cried for about two hours, and am now chilling in a motel room.
Sooo going to post less than I'd planned to, for now, about driving through Columbia Gorge.
Short version: Columbia Gorge takes the concept of "scenic beauty" and elevates it to almost sarcastic levels.
Current Location: Ellensburg, WA
I am losing my will to believe that it rains in America.|
Anyway, today I slept in and then napped, and seem thereby to have at least partially dispelled the brain malaise that had been lingering since Vegas. (Too much cigarette smoke and alcohol fumes for my brain, apparently.)
After that we went and collected the hire car that will be driving me for the next week, and velithya as well for the week after that, around northwestern USA and a small part of Canada. We got a pretty-much-free upgrade to an SUV, which will be handy if the roads are a bit frosty or something.
We went to Best Buy, where I acquired a Samsung Galaxy, then we went to a little vintage-y shop and velithya bought a couple of sewing patterns and I bought a 1941 issue of Life magazine, then we came back to rathany's house and had an Authentic Cultural Experience, e.g. we did some pumpkin carving.
It is fun, although cleaning out the pumpkins is also gross.
Tomorrow, velithya is abandoning me to go to Pittsburgh, and I am heading out to explore and maybe visit some national parks, since they're opening again.
So, today we left Lee Vining, drove around the June Lake loop, and then drove through the Sierras to Las Vegas.|
There were mountains. And more mountains. And a pass through the mountains to a flat tundra-ish plain surrounded by mountains, until we got to the mountains, and drove through those mountains too.
There was also the steepest and squiggliest section of road I have ever seen in my life. If you want to get an idea - although it just does. not. convey the true, staggering twisty ear-popping chasm-riddled nature of the road - look on Google maps for Highway 168, heading east from the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
... no, seriously.
After the last few days of raw beauty and wonder, I'm now in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is not a place of raw natural beauty.
The first cultural difference between California and Nevada seemed to be this: In California, not one road sign I noticed had bullet holes in it.
In Nevada... yeah, pretty much all of them.
Current Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Today I shall post an actual photo from the trip. (Photos taken so far: 473. No, I'm not posting *all* of them ever, but I want to get started.)|
This was the very first actual-sightseeing-type photo I took, on the J20 (I think) towards Highway 120 near Yosemite National Park. My home country, and in particular my home state, is flat and in no way geologically excitable, so I always find hills and mountains to be quite stirring to visit.
As I progress through the images, I'll start posting shots with more story to them, but... you know. This was the first.
Today was a highly successful day, in that we combined both resting for the management of physical and mental health and endurance and also some very satisfying tourism.
We had breakfast at a reasonable hour, for once - velithya went to the market next door to the motel and bought milk and disposable bowls (made from wheat stalks, but the packaging hastens to assure us that they are totally gluten-free), and we had cereal in our motel room. (The cereal we brought from home, because acquiring gluten-free cereal that I'm not allergic to and both of us like is not an easy task.)
After munching a bit, we sort of loafed for a bit and discussed potential plans. I had slept really badly and was very tired, though, so I had a nap for a couple of hours while velithya poked her computer in some fashion, and felt much better for it afterwards.
The one error we made in our day was that we were still a bit slack about getting out of the motel and starting our afternoon plans, and by the time we got lunch, both of us were pretty shaky from low blood sugar.
Still, we had a quite nice lunch at the Mobil station on the road between Lee Vining and Tioga Pass. (You can tell you're in a small town when one of the best restaurants is... the gas station.)
After that, we went out to another part of Mono Lake - the part with tall spires of tufa and, curiously, a distinct lack of gag-inducingly horrible smell. It smells like brackish water - not surprising for a body of liquid more than twice as salty as the sea and ten times as alkaline - but not the nauseating stench of rot at the other place where we approached the water.
We took many pictures. Here is one, to give you an idea of the curious, almost alien aspect the area has.
Part of why the tufa is so high, it seems, is that the lake used to be much, much deeper than it is right now. There are sign placards on the trail as you approach that show where the lake edges were in something like 1959 and 1963. Too much water was diverted from the lake's tributaries to serve Los Angeles and other places, and the lake was drying out; water has subsequently been returned. The target appears to be the boundaries of 1959 (which are slightly lower than the '63 boundaries, but not far).
The paved trail from the carpark to the lakeside gives way to a path made of wooden beams at that point, which I find rather charming. On either side of the path is a seemingly endless scrubland of low bushes I dubbed "spinifake" - because we don't know what it's actually called, but both velithya and I found it put us strongly in mind of spinifex, even though it obviously isn't spinifex because, you know, America.
As I approached the edge of the water, I had a rather startling moment that made me glad I tend not to have massively flinch-like reactions to surprise, as a rule, since I was standing on uncertain footing amid sharp rocks.
I was walking towards the water pooling amid the forming tufa crystals and suddenly it was as if the ground surged around me, with a sudden loud buzzing that was pretty much straight out your less-appetising film selections. It turns out the alkaline flies that are a significant section of the lake's ecosystem were present in vast swarms, and I hadn't noticed until I approached close enough to startle them.
After we had our fill of the tufa, we left and set off to find Panum Crater, one of the many craters in the region, which has an extensive collection of (geologically) young volcanoes. We took a wrong turn first, but it got us some spectacular views, and then went back and found our way to the crater's carpark.
From the carpark, there's a steep sand-and-gravel slope to walk up in order to get to the rim of the crater itself. From there, there are two trails - one around the rim, the other to the volcano's lava plug.
The first steep slope had been rather an acute effort for me, and the lava plug trail was a long path with more steep slope to climb, so I stayed there while velithya went up and on.
I enjoyed my time sitting on the rim in part with the fascinating and funky echo effects the crater seems to produce. A sharp clap from me would come back to me like a roar that ripped around the crater from left to right.
It was a highly satisfying trip, but quite exhausting. I think it will take more photo-posting to show why, but I am quite, quite tired tonight.
For dinner, we went low key - some turkey slices and cheese from the market with crackers I still had in my bag from when they were packed as potential travel snacks on our flights. We ate them as a picnic on my bed.
(It was dark by then, so having a picnic outside was not an option. It seems that there have been a number of sightings of bears around the town in the last couple of weeks. Having food out and about... not a great idea.)
Current Location: Lee Vining, California
Current Music: Sleepy Hollow (FOX11 Reno)
This morning (after poor velithya had spent about an hour on the phone with Verizon trying to get our phones to work) we checked out of our motel in Buck Meadows, had breakfast, and headed off towards Mono Lake, via Yosemite National Park.|
We set out in buoyant moods, but were soon quite thoroughly sobered as we began to drive through parts of the forest that had been affected by the recent fires. Our light-hearted chatter became comments like, "Looks like here is where the fire jumped the road."
Driving along with burnt-out stands of trees by the road is bad enough, but then you get to the parts of the road where the vistas spread before you, of the hills and mountains normally carpeted with trees and suddenly you see entire hilltops are just blackened and dead, and you realise the air still smells like ash even now.
To me, the smell was strangely alien - I'm familiar with the smell of bushfires, but the Yosemite wildfires burned different woods, and the smell is different, unfamiliar chords behind a painfully familiar melody.
Eventually we reached Yosemite itself. At the park gates the ranger asked us our destination, and we told her we were headed for Mono Lake; she nodded, and handed us a leaflet explaining, more-or-less, that everything was shut. (It will be among the many, many photos I will eventually be posting to elaborate these posts, but I'm too tired to do the photos right now, but want to write about my experiences while they're still fresh in my memory.)
She also warned us that there had been an accident about eight miles ahead, which was also the cause of us missing a turnoff and driving through quite an extensive section of the park that we weren't, technically, supposed to, and then having to turn around. (On the bright side, I got to glimpse Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls.) velithya, who was driving, was edging around the emergency vehicles, and I was in awe of the scenery and also sort of averting my eyes from rubbernecking at an accident scene, and both of us managed to fail even to register that that particular spot was, in fact, a turnoff, and the turnoff for Highway 120 to Tioga Pass at that.
Eventually we realised we were going the wrong way, turned around, and came across a couple of park rangers standing by their parked car and confirmed where we were going with them.
Parts of Yosemite are intact, of course, and are stunningly beautiful. But there are such swathes of destruction still left from the fires that I would struggle to comprehend if I hadn't seen them - hell, I did see them, and I still struggle to comprehend them.
I wonder if it might not have been worse still were it not for Yosemite's extensive collection of granite outcroppings - nature's own firebreaks that are just not going to burn.
I think I missed appreciating some of the true majesty of some of the taller granite peaks and features of Yosemite - somewhere above 10,000 feet I seem to get a little vague and spacy-feeling. Nonetheless, I can assure you, I appreciate quite a lot of spectacular and majestic scenery today.
Eventually we reached the Tioga Pass, and were waved through by the park ranger at the booth there. We headed onwards, discovering that at least one section of Highway 120 is somewhat terrifying, but I'll go into that more when I post the photos, because I don't know words could do it justice, at least not without at least a full conversion of the thousand words value of a picture.
We got petrol at a station with a sign outside apologising that the government can't do its job, then finally rolled on to the town of Lee Vining. (velithya and I still can't agree on how this town's name is pronounced, and have yet to get around to asking a local.)
We had lunch (and later, dinner) at Nicely's Restaurant before going to the Bronze Bear something-or-other gift/souvenirs/etc shop, outside of which is, well, a bronze statue of a grizzly bear, about eight feet tall, with a cute legend placard behind it. The idea is that you have three tries to put a coin on the bear's tongue and get it to drop into the container below; if you succeed, rub his nose and make a wish.
I had a go. My penny went in on the second try.
After that we checked in to our motel, chilled out for a bit (we'd done a lot of driving), then went down around sunset to see Mono Lake. It's a beautiful and eerie location, although - we discovered - it also smells absolutely disgusting. The water level is low at the moment, so we came down the path and, like other people who were there, walked out across what is sometimes the lake bed to get closer to the water's edge.
And then the wind shifted, and the water started coming off the lake, and we both gagged and hastened to get more distance again after all.
I took some photos I have reasonable hopes for, and then we noticed that we were being swarmed with (at a conservative estimate) ELEVENTY BILLION mosquitoes, and fled outright. We went back to Nicely's for dinner, and then returned to the motel... where we are now.
It turns out that Las Vegas is only 5-6.5 hours away (depending on route), so we're staying here for two nights and then heading to Vegas in one shot rather than going halfway, stopping overnight, then going the rest of the way another day.
This means, I think, that I can skip going into more detail about Mono Lake, because I'm sure we'll have more on the topic tomorrow.
Current Location: Lee Vining, California
Last night I talked velithya into staying here two nights, so we could recuperate a bit from the journey here. We more-or-less slept until noon, and then were sort of dozy and slack about getting showered and dressed etc, so we finally wandered over to the restaurant for breakfast at about, oh, 2pm.
We'd last eaten at 5pm in LA. I'm currently running, foodwise, on a schedule where every meal starts out with OOOH, FOOD and then halfway through I have a moment where my body is like, wait, food? and I have to take a moment while it remembers that yes, eating actual food is something that we do.
We had a nice chat with the waitress, since it was quite quiet there - between it being mid-afternoon and the distinct dropoff in visitors to the area due to the closure of the parks, things are pretty quiet around here generally right now, I gather.
Not to mess up the chronology of this account in any way, but when we went to Groveland a bit later, and stopped to look around the antique store there, the lady in the shop was thanking customers very effusively for shopping there, and pretty much *everyone* around here seems to be really very distressed about the shutdown.
They're only just recovering from the fires, and now... this. It's pretty bad for them.
I think that's part of what some people seem to miss in the idea that closures that stop tourists doing their fun, touristy things aren't important - after all, it's just tourists doing holiday stuff, it's not a big deal, right?
Except that it is. Sometimes because the tourists are doing something that's incredibly important to them, that they've planned or worked for for a really long time, but also because those tourists are the livelihoods of real Americans, as well. The people in this area I've talked to - they love this place, they love Yosemite, they love the forests and the land here, and this is really hurting them.
Not just financially. After lunch, as you may have gathered, we went to Groveland, where we poked around the antique/gifts/home decor store, then we went to the Information Centre. The woman there was rather lovely.
First, because this: We walked in, and she swung around from the desk she was at, and asked if she could give us information about anything.
Me: "Hm. Astrophysics?"
... at which point she told us about how once she attended a lecture by Carl Sagan.
I like it when people can roll with my sassypants moments.
We did then get more pertinent information, and I tell you, that woman is passionate about working at the Groveland Yosemite Information Centre. She gets the brochures, and marks them up, highlighting important places to go to, and the tips she can offer, and telling you all the things. One place she pointed out to us she described as an "oasis of green" because it's in an area which was badly hit by the fires, and she told us about how the thousands of firefighters converged to save every business, every home, and every life in this area.
She got choked up. I for one don't blame her.
There are signs all over the place - mostly quite home-made-looking - all dedicated to thanking the firefighters. It's rather touching.
Partly it's a cultural thing, I think. One of the things that I suspect Americans don't realise is that they are an incredibly demonstrative people. It might be what's behind a lot of the ways in which Americans don't tend to understand other nations and nationalities as well as they might - I suspect Americans assume that certain feelings aren't present in other peoples because they're not expressed, and certainly not expressed as visibly and as vocally as they are here.
Because things like putting signs all over the town with gushing, heartfelt gratitude to the firefighters who saved so many people's lives and livelihood, and so much of the forest, too - it's not something I can imagine being done in Australia. It doesn't mean that we don't appreciate our fireys, and especially appreciate the work they do in bushfire season. We are grateful for their work and we acknowledge their heroism.
Just... not like that.
So I wonder if a lot of cultural misunderstanding, and especially a lot of the assumption some Americans seem to make that America is the best country ever and the rest of us are just jealous because we don't love our homelands like they love America, and all that - whether that might actually, in part, stem from the fact that in America, declaring your love for America, displaying American flags everywhere, all of that stuff is a thing that happens, a thing that people do, that truly heartfelt sentiment is something you proclaim to the world.
And for much of the rest of the world, it isn't. In some ways, the strongest feelings are the ones you don't express, because it's sort of, I don't know, gauche or tacky or something, the same way it would be to start a long, public speech about just how much you're in love with your wife, how you adore the way her nose wrinkles up when she laughs and how cute she is when she first wakes up and all the intimate, private emotions that you feel that you wouldn't talk about with strangers because it's too personal, too real, too important.
Love of country, love of homeland, the gratitude and awe we, too, feel for our heroes, our firefighters and our soldiers, the people who make themselves the line between us and destruction and pain and chaos - these are feelings too powerful to proclaim.
And it's odd, because I don't know how I really feel about this, in general. I think Americans' declarations of patriotism and love of country, especially those of American politicians, are kind of cringe-inducing. They trigger sympathetic embarrassment.
But the expressions of thankfulness to the work of the firefighters? I'm a little bit in love with that.
Current Location: Buck Meadows, California
So, earlier this morning I was looking at options for renting a motorcycle for the few days I'll be on my own in the US in October - contemplating getting a bike and seeing some of America that way.|
However, I've come to realise that that's just not a good plan, for one simple reason:
Bikes have a higher chance of an accident, or at least a higher chance that in the event of an accident, you'll be injured.
And the thing is? While I've been injured before, and even injured in motorcycle accidents, and I could handle it, those incidents all happened in Australia. Not only did this mean that I had my family and/or friends to help me deal with recovery, it meant that any professional intervention I required happened in Australia, too.
I truly dread the prospect of having to deal with the American health care "system". Yes, I'm getting travel insurance - because you can't guarantee you *won't* need health care - but I just can't take the risk on a bike.
I'll save my Amazing Motorcycle Holiday Dream Journey for Tasmania or New Zealand, still. Because I pretty much trust Medicare - my badly-broken leg was treated excellently - and New Zealand's system is relatively similar to Australia's. (Plus New Zealand is near enough that it is conceptually feasible that if I were injured there, I could still make it home again even while I was still recovering.)
I have a sense of breakability I didn't used to have, since 27/12/11 marked the first time my body actually, truly broke - always before I'd been injured, but largely structurally intact. That had nothing to do with bikes, but I'm aware that I *can* be hurt that badly on a more visceral level than I used to be.
Nothing I've ever heard about the health care experience in the USA suggests that, really, any part of the process of treatment and recovery I went through would have been handled even close to as well as it was handled here.
And even if the medical staff were exactly as kind, exactly as pleasant, and exactly as competent, even if somehow the astronomically-higher medical costs were handled by the insurance without being stressful for me (which I doubt) and didn't cost me anything out-of-pocket (ditto), I think it would be vastly more stressful and unpleasant and difficult to deal with just because I'd be in a foreign country, which has to it an inherent level of alienation.
Here, I got treated by people with familiar accents and familiar cultural preconceptions, and while I was in hospital I was visited daily by family and friends.
Somehow I don't think as many of my most beloveds would make it to my bedside on another continent.
So. Bikes are too high-risk for tourism outside of Oceania. I have decided.
So, velithya and I are now definitely planning to visit the US in October. We'll be attending a con in Las Vegas (I can't believe I'm going to Las Vegas, what is happening to meeeeee, I thought I had standards), but we're arriving in the US a few days before it starts.|
Currently, the plan is to spend a few days at Yosemite National Park before we head on to Las Vegas. Hopefully our brains won't explode at the transition from nature! to neon.