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Wide White: October 2006

Friday, October 13, 2006

Vacation summary in pictures

As promised, here's as brief a summary as I can provide on the vacation I took with my 13-year-0ld brother, Troy.

After securing my new job in Minneapolis with my final two interviews, I headed to my parents' place in Northern Wisconsin.

We left Northern Wisconsin at 10:00, traveling through the worst storm I've ever seen (tornado warnings for well over three consecutive hours of driving with rain and lightning to match) in southern Illinois and Kentucky. After stopping in Memphis and walking down Beale St. at 1:30 AM (something I don't recommend), we stopped to sleep at a rest area in Mississippi just north of Jackson. (We slept in my Jeep the whole trip. Troy always fell asleep in the passenger while I was driving, and we'd folded the back seat down so I could sleep in the back. Skipping hotels saves a lot of money! The challenge became: how do we find a shower?)

Went through Jackson, MS, and Baton Rouge, LA, before heading to New Orleans. After driving through the French Quarter and walking down Bourbon St. (something I also don't recommend), we drove to the northeast side to survey Hurricane Katrina damage. I really didn't know where it was, but assumed it would be up there since the levies holding Lake Pontchartrain were the ones that I assumed had given way. I was right.

We got off the freeway and just drove through the city streets. Many portions of the city are still a ghost town 14 months later. There's no way to capture the devastation with a camera, but I did my best. Below are just a few of the 100 or so photos of the damage. I've heard it said that cameramen zoom in on the most destructive portions and that if they'd pan out, we'd see that it's not as bad as they make it out to be. This couldn't be further from the truth.

This camper is one of thousands and thousands that are parked in front of condemned homes. As you can see if you open the photo, this camper has a wooden stairway built into it and a satellite dish hooked up.

Many condemned homes have messages scrawled on them or on signs in front of them. This one is no exception, with a sign reading, "fema-a-a-a Bring New Orleans back/How? NO Trailers". Translation: If you want to bring the city of New Orleans back, quit providing trailers to displaced residents. This probably refers to the FEMA cities such as the one below.

Condemned homes bear an X with some sort of markings in each quadrant of the X. I'm not sure what they mean, but here's an example.

Troy wanted to eat at this McDonald's.

Pretty much every business was still closed. We finally were able to find a Burger King that had just opened their doors, and it appeared that they had simply rebuilt it rather than even attempt to repair what had existed.

This is a typical view of the neighborhoods.
From New Orleans we crossed the 23-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain and continued to Mississippi. We got off I-10 to drive along Highway 95, which is separated from the Gulf of Mexico by only the beach. This took us through Gulfport and Biloxi, which also sustained major damage from Hurricane Katrina.

It's important to remember that most of the New Orleans damage wasn't from wind, but was from flooding following the hurricane. Gulfport and Biloxi, however, were hit with extensive wind damage as well. Most of the first floors of any buildings left standing (and there weren't many) within a few blocks of the Gulf contained nothing more than the framework.
The photo below shows what was a gas station, the only indication being the twisted metal filling station barriers left.Well, there's enough of the sign left in this one to indicate that there was an Outback Steakhouse there.
Need a room for the night? Good luck....

I did find one souvenir shop that made a big deal out of the fact that they'd just opened. Needless to say, it wasn't one of these.
We went through Tallahassee, FL, (my first visit to FL and the 44th state I'd been to) and finally stopped to sleep at a Wal-Mart just outside Orlando.

We went to Gregg Heinsch's church in the morning and one of the members let us shower at their place. We proceeded through the Everglades, which weren't the most exciting thing I've ever seen, and on down to the Keys, turning around just after sunset at Paradise Key (around 40 miles into the Keys). We drove through Miami and I finally stopped at a rest stop just south of Jacksonville.

Overall, Florida was pretty boring. It's flat, flat, and flatter. I enjoy elevation change. However, I did find this picture to be pretty funny.
If you can't figure out what made me laugh in it, let me know. (You have to be able to read the sign. It says, "NO DUMPING OF RUBBISH".)

Went through Jacksonville, where I met a friendly FL State Trooper. (FL tickets are way better than WI and MN. They're cheaper and you can take traffic court and get them wiped off you're record.) Got the oil changed in northern Florida. Moved on to the Okefenokee Swamp.

The Okefenokee Swamp is a place I've wanted to visit for years. It's not even a National Park, but I've been enamored by it. It's a National Wildlife Refuge with a State Park in it. The photos below should demonstrate just how cool it is. (By the way, the canoe cost us $8, and we received no warnings regarding any potential wildlife other than the tiny sign you'll see us pictured with at the end.)
Below is the first gator we saw.After seeing a few more, we rounded a bend and saw this. In case you can't see all of them, there are 8 alligators swimming in this picture.
5 in this picture.
How close did we get? Well, we accidently went right over one that smacked the bottom of the canoe right under Troy's feet and made him just about jump out of his skin. We were roughly 8 feet away in this picture.

The sign at the canoe rental says, "Be Aware, Alligators Present".

The Okefenokee proved to be a definite highlight for both of us. I had no idea what to expect when we left in the canoes, and to see that many alligators up close was pretty amazing.

From there we drove through the rest of Georgia (my 45th state), through Atlanta, saw Stone Mountain, stopped by the Chatahoochee River (those of you who don't know country music wouldn't understand the importance of that stop...), through Chattanooga, Tennessee, and ended up stopping to sleep at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitor Center.

The Great Smoky Mountains took up most of this day. We spent the night in Andrews, NC, with my grandparents, uncle and aunt, and three sets of great uncles and great aunts who all happened to be spending time together there. It was fun to see relatives from NC, SC, MI, and WI who I hadn't seen in a long time.

After breakfast with the family, we headed through Asheville down to South Carolina (my 46th state). We went through Columbia and Charleston before heading up to Hartsville, my dad's childhood hometown, and then back to North Carolina. I drove till 5:30, when I finally arrived at to the ferry station for the ferry that would take us to Ocracoke in the Outer Banks.

If you've never heard of the kudzu vine, you've never been to the South. The government brought it over from Asia to curb erosion. It worked. They also found that it grows voraciously. In other words, it covers everything. I'd never seen it before, so I found it to be pretty amazing.

We woke up at 6:40 (giving me a whole one hour of sleep) to board our ferry. Being a night owl, I don't get to see too many sunrises. I'm glad I didn't miss this one over the Atlantic.

We did some beach bumming at Cape Hatteras, giving me the chance to finally put my 4x4 to work!
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse inspired us to take stupid pictures any time we found a tall object.
There are more to come....

Troy grabbed the camera somewhere between Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Kitty Hawk and took this picture, which turned out to be my girlfriend's favorite picture from the trip. Go figure. I take over 700 pictures and the one that she likes the most has nothing to do with anything I saw along the way that I couldn't see back home. I guess it's only natural....

Kitty Hawk was a highlight for me. Of course, we continued the trend of stupid pictures in front of tall things.

We continued through Richmond, VA, to my cousin's place in Maryland, between Washington, DC, and Baltimore. This marked the first night I didn't sleep in the Jeep (yes, I even slept in it the night we stayed in Andrews, NC, with my relatives, while Troy opted to take a couch).

Today marked my girlfriend's birthday, making her officially older than me for exactly two and a half months. I think it's a good sign when you give your girl a notice of one day that you're going on vacation for two weeks AND in entails missing her birthday and she's okay with it (well, as okay as could be expected...).

We headed to Baltimore first, then to Washington, DC, where we walked around the Mall. I won't include pictures of everything because you know what your nation's capital looks like already.

I did think it was neat that Minnesota and Wisconsin's WWII Memorial pillars were right next to each other since I was born in MN, grew up in WI, and just moved back to MN.

We also went through the Holocaust Museum. We didn't get much time since they were closing it soon after we arrived, but I was glad I went and would love to return and spend more time.

We proceeded to go through Annapolis, MD; Dover, DE; and Atlantic City, NJ, before proceeding to New York City. We pulled over to sleep in Jersey City near New Jersey's launching pad for the Statue of Liberty, Liberty State Park. The neighborhood wasn't great, but we got sleep, which was the foremost thing on my mind at the time.

We took the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan and caught up with my uncle and aunt and 7 of their 9 kids, one of whom is Troy's age and one of his best friends. We spent the day with them, taking in Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island (where I found the names of my great-grandfather and great-great-great (and possibly one more "great"?) uncle), Times Square, Central Park, the hole that was the WTC, and much more.

I was surprised that the bull was on Broadway and not Wall St. I had to muscle my way through a ton of Asian tourists for this picture, which is pretty much the only reason I'm posting this.

On a book cover coming to a store near you...

While waiting for our vehicle in a parking garage this vehicle pulled in. I found the window sticker very sobering. In case you can't read it, the picture in between a depiction of the Twin Towers and a photo of a man reads, "In Loving Memory Of My Son STEVEN G. GENOVESE 7/25/64 - 9/11/01".

Given the number of violations, I couldn't believe this sign was real.

Again, a random NYC sign that made me chuckle. (Not laugh; chuckle. There's a clear distinction....)

We stayed overnight with some friends of my uncle's in New Jersey. I upgraded from the couch at my cousin's apartment to a bed, which was pretty stellar.

After church we drove back into New York and then through Connecticut (my 47th state), stopping in Hartford before proceeding to Rhode Island (my 48th state) and hitting up Providence.

This scene in Providence cracked me up. The capitol building was being used for a wedding. In front of the capitol was a man wearing a black suit with a necktie, a ball cap, and brown boots. On top of that, he was eating a burger. And just standing there. The scene made me laugh.

We proceeded to Massachusetts (my 49th state) and saw Plymouth Rock (don't plan your trip around it) and headed up to Boston. Boston was really, really fun. We walked the Freedom Trail, which takes you by places such as the state capitol, Old City Hall where the Boston Massacre was, the Old North Church where Paul Revere hung the lantern to warn others that the British were advancing, Paul Revere's grave, Paul Revere's home, the USS Constitution (aka "Old Ironsides"), and Bunker Hill. It's 2.5 miles each way and we walked every bit of it both ways. It took us from around 8 to 10:45 PM. If you want to see Boston with as little traffic and tourists as possible, go from 8 to 11 on a Sunday night while it's drizzling. You'll be sure to be the only stupid sightseers around! (We loved it!)

Oh, and chalk up another stupid picture, this one at Bunker Hill.

As we were on our way back to the Jeep I introduced Troy to Cold Stone Creamery. It turned out to be one of his highlights in Boston, if not a highlight for the entire trip.

We stopped in Salem but didn't find anything real interesting, though we did go through a graveyard for 20 minutes trying to find old graves of accused witches. No luck there though. We went through Concord, New Hampshire, and then headed east for Maine for really no other reason than to say that we'd been there. We drove through a whole 20 miles of Maine and I finally stopped on the side of the road to sleep somewhere in eastern New Hampshire.

We drove through an overcast New Hampshire and Vermont, stopping in Montpelier to see the capitol. Heading north through the Champlain Islands of Lake Champlain, we got two miles south of Quebec and Troy insisted that we cross into Canada so we could say that we'd been to Quebec. I had his birth certificate and wasn't worried about having trouble at the border, so we did it. We spent a whole 20 minutes in Quebec before coming back into the States and into New York. We drove through the Adirondacks and stopped in Lake Placid.

Seeing the rink where the Miracle on Ice happened was a highlight for me. (Remember Miracle? Yeah, that Miracle on Ice.... No Mom, it has nothing to do with Dorothy Hamill or Michelle Kwan.)

The doors weren't officially open to the public, as they'd closed the museum at 5 PM, but the rink is still used as an Olympic training center. We found enough open doors to go into the locker room and out to the ice rink.

We kept heading west through the Adirondacks, catching a beautiful sunset just west of Lake Placid.

We got to Niagara Falls just after midnight and saw the falls before heading into Canada at 1:30 AM. I drove the three hours in Ontario straight through to Michigan and just kept driving through the night.

We stopped to see an uncle, aunt, and cousin in Michigan for around four hours. This portion of the trip by far contained the best fall colors.

We headed across the Mackinac Bridge, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and finally arrived at my parents' house at around 5 PM.

Upon arriving there, we decided to demonstrate how we slept so you could fully appreciate it.

He was usually a bit more twisted than this, but this was Troy's general setup.

I had to sleep kittycorner to try to fit, but it worked out just fine.

I spent time with my family all day. This is me with my two youngest siblings.

I headed home and surprised my girlfriend, who thought I'd be getting back on the 5th.

I need to extend a special thanks to Jamie for not only putting up with me being gone for two weeks, but more importantly for keeping me awake during so many late nights of driving. I definitely couldn't have stayed awake for that long without her!

Mileage: 7800.
Number of states: 25
Canadian provinces: 2

Thanks to all of you who extended thoughts and prayers while we were gone. Thanks to Troy for making it much more enjoyable than it would have been without you.

Oh, and thanks for reading this. Hopefully it was interesting and mildly entertaining at times.

It's good to be home....

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Working, moved in, back to blogging

Wow, a week without posts.... Life has been crazy and is finally starting to slow down. Upon returning from my vacation I moved into my new apartment and started my new job.

I'll post a summary of the trip along with pictures asap. I'm still moving things into the apt. though and have a few minor projects that I'm working on. Overall though, I'm just really, really, really happy to have a normal 40-hour work week like most other people in the world.

You'll be hearing more from me soon....

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hawaii, you're next

The trip is basically complete. Roundtrip from my hometown it was 7,297 miles. (That's not adding the 250 miles each way to my place.)

I'm at my parents' house and haven't slept in 39 hours thanks to a last ditch through-the-night trip. I woke up yesterday in eastern New Hampshire at 9:30 Eastern Time and haven't slept since. I'll blog more about the trip later. (I hope to get some pictures on here for you as well.)