Sunday, December 09, 2007

Our New House pictures

These are the pictures of our new home

With the help of a talented interior designer, Lois Dubridge, we now have it looking just the way we like it. Before 'n After website

Some pictures of our house are featured.

California Update

We sold the house in Georgia for slightly less than we had hoped at the end of May, and everything was shipped out here and put in large storage unit whilst we looked for a house. We were not looking forward to emptying it! However, thanks to a wonderful friend (the wife of one of Dick's podcast buddies) and her church group, and some other friends who all turned up one Saturday morning - it was all emptied and unpacked in just one day! It took a little longer to put it all in its place, but it was a great start. Surprisingly, we actually have fit almost everything in the house. The clear outs we did before we left were worth it!

The house itself is only about 3 years old, and not really what we originally had in mind, but turned out to have everything we wanted. It is 1800 sq ft (a bit larger than we thought too), has three bedrooms, and is two storys. Downstairs the floors are wood, and upstairs they are carpet- the complete opposite of Lakeshore Drive. The downstairs living room is open plan, and has a formal dining room tucked away so that no one can see all Dick's stuff, (it is now a library and an office), and a modern kitchen that looks out onto the perfect sized garden ie concrete patio and lawn, with a border that needs some work. The front and back lawn take 10 minutes to mow, and that makes Dick very happy, even though he has to do it every two weeks. It grows so quickly with all the sun and the watering system.

Pepper is also a very happy dog- she has just about lived out there all summer, despite the heat. We have a gazebo so she can be in the shade, as well as a bed for her in the garage which is very cool. We have to force her to come in at night! There is also a small park around the corner from where we live, and she happily plods (very slowly) around there three times a day.

The master bedroom upstairs is big and bright and on the back of the house. The ensuite bathroom has a large deep bathtub (hooray!) as well as a separate shower, and a walk-in closet. The second bedroom is perfect visitor size (hint hint), and the small bedroom is now known as the "media room" - set up as a recording studio and skype room- Dick's territory :-)

The double garage has enough storage space and fits both the cars and Dicks' motorbike, as well as all four of our bicycles. Can you see why we like our house?

Ok, so that's the house. It is in Morgan Hill, and I think I've already said why we like it here- and we still love to be able to walk to local restaurants.

I started looking for a job in May and after my second job for a temp agency, was offered a job. I really enjoy my job as it is so varied. The office is in downtown San Jose on the 16th floor of a very new building and the views are spectacular- we even have a roof top patio- very nice. I get to work by riding my bike to the train station, (Caltrain) and then get the train directly with my bike into San jose- about 35 minutes, and then ride my bike to the office. I even have a bike locker in the garage under the building. Not a bad commute :-)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why we like living in Morgan Hill

We thoroughly enjoyed our Memorial Day weekend. First I dragged Dick to the annual Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras for an hour or two :-) It was originally meant for raising money for the local fire brigade, however since then it raises money for many different non-profit organizations. There are lots of vendors selling both local products or services as well as vendors selling jewelery, art and food, including mushrooms of course. We had a quick wander through them all and ended up at the regularly scheduled farmers market at the far end of the event. I was delighted to find that half of the market stall holders were the same ones that sell at the downtown San Jose Farmers market, which I enjoyed going to recently. Local cherries are in season right now and I could live on them! I'll be going there every weekend to get local produce :-)

In the afternoon we put some of the superfluous boxes from the apartment back in the new storage unit and brought the motorbike over to the complex and did a few other jobs.

Sunday morning we cycled over to our local cinema- a couple of miles away, grabbed a coffee and watched the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie in a morning matinee. Another great way to spend a Sunday morning- exercise, good coffee and a fun movie. I love being able to cycle to places so easily.

Late afternoon we went back over to the Mardi Gras and had a few beers while watching and listening to a band playing popular rock music. It got a bit hot but it was very relaxing. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.

Monday morning we were feeling energetic and decided to go on a longer bike ride. Dick showed me the way he goes to work when he cycles part the way in. It is a couple of miles on roads and then on a dedicated bike path- the southern end of the Coyote Creek Bike path . We cycled almost 18 miles- it is a very pretty route and I can see why Dick likes riding that way so much.

After returning, Dick's other bike started calling :-) The big red fast one... So we called up some friends and arranged to go over to see them the scenic way. We had a really nice BBQ and left just in time to ride home an even longer twisty route while the sun was still up.

Dick said it was his idea of a perfect weekend, and I wonder why.. I think I agree :-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

House packed up and sold!

Yay! The week before last I flew back to Georgia to supervise the packing and shipping of all of our personal belongings. First I had to empty the storage unit and divide everything into two piles: one to go to the apartment and a second to go to another storage unit in Morgan Hill. I thought I did pretty well but since then I have been looking for some things that I should have put in the apartment pile that I did not. Anyway, I learned two lessons from this experience. I personally had packed many boxes (books etc) and had carefully labeled it all to put it in the storage unit in the first place- this part of the de-cluttering stage of trying to sell a house. I thought I had done well but I should have labeled EVERY side of any box which was fragile, as I learned that movers do not necessarily read one let alone every side of every box. So far, everything seems to have survived but we had unpacked very little... I am a bit concerned about the number of boxes that have crushed corners due to the straps the movers use to stack everything as high as the ceiling in their truck. But we'll see. Even some of those boxes packed by the packers seem to have suffered some of the same issues. Note that the packers and the movers were two different groups of people. I also discovered that packing my own boxes rendered those things uninsured in the move, as the packers could not guarantee I had packed them properly.

The second lesson I learned was to make sure that every box gets labeled more thoroughly than they actually were. "Garage contents" could, for example, range from gardening equipment to bike tools or beach chairs- it it going to be fun unpacking it all! I have already tried to find some things and had to break into several boxes- and that was just in the boxes in the apartment alone.

I also had to bring everything down from the loft space- not so easily done by one person alone. I did however find some of the original boxes were useful as they seem to protect some things better with their original packing materials.

The packers arrived bright and early and set to work in their assigned areas. That is also when you suddenly see things that should not be packed up (like used open bars of soap) or things that really should be packed in a more logical place but happened to be put away in the wrong place and therefore we won't find them again until we unpack a box and get a big surprise.

By lunchtime the packers seemed to be almost done, but then the movers arrived early with the truck they had to use to shuttle everything to the 18 wheeler. They were not able to drive the 18 wheeler around Berkeley Lake... My main regret there was that I was not able to see how they packed everything for the actual drive across the country (like the fragile boxes stacked near the bottom of the piles...)

The packers finally left at 4 pm and the movers finished their first shuttle load and I was free to go to bed very early.

The next day the packers came back and finished packing up the house and had left by noon. I did a final clean and check up of the house and then found three drawers of cutlery in the kitchen... I have no idea how we all missed them except they were from the kitchen island and we were using it as a desk to sign everything. I ended up having to pack an extra bag to bring back on the plane. I even put a note inside to warn the airport screeners just in case as there were all of my sharp knives in there!

It was strange because I didn't really feel much about leaving the house- I suppose it was because we were all (Dick, Pepper and I) in California. The hardest thing was that every time I was in the house I kept expecting to see our dear sweet Petey.

We actually closed on the house on May 25th.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thank-full for health insurance

Having spent 4 hours in the emergency room last night with Dick, I am grateful that we have health insurance.

It all started with a phone call from Dick saying he had fallen off his bicycle on his way home from work, and would I come and collect him as he was a 'bit banged up'? I rushed there and the first thing I saw was that I could hardly see his eyes- he was having a severe allergic reaction to something that was manifesting itself in his sinuses. All he could remember was having a huge sneezing fit after he 'woke up' having fell off his bike. 'Woke up'?? He couldn't remember hitting his head, although the scrape on the right side of his forehead showed he'd definitely banged his head. His first concern, naturally, was that the bike and his laptop were ok. However, we did not hang around to check them over, we just loaded them into the car- after he taken an anti-histamine that I always keep in my bag. For Dick to say he is hurting is unusual enough, but to ask to go to the ER, was another thing. That was my lesson for the day - find out where the local ER is when you move to a new town before you need it. Luckily, I had my trusty GPS with me, although it needs a fast way of telling me which of the nearest hospitals has an ER unit. Luckily I remembered approximately where I thought the hospital was and we found it- Saint Louise Regional Hospital

I had forgotten how having an allergic reaction would help us get in to see someone very quickly- despite the anti-histamine, Dick could barely see. I won't go into the whole process, except that the nurses and doctor were great. Dick had numerous x-rays with high-tech machines and was treated really nicely. The scrapes and bruises were seen to, and they gave us detailed discharge instructions, along with all the prescriptions needed to get him back into shape. The eyes were a little less puffy, and his arm was in a sling. The x-rays had shown cracked ribs, and a separated shoulder- both of which threatened to be very painful for a little while. We'd been there some time but he was thoroughly checked over.

This morning Dick is sore and a little stiff but not too worse for wear. He won't be going into work until next week as he is not allowed to drive whilst on the meds- we were warned that he could be arrested for DUI if he did. Someone in the cubicle next to us in the ER last night had also fallen off his bike, however he was arrested for DUI whilst riding his bicycle having admitted to nurses that he had fallen off after having a few beers!

Dick needs to rest, and is doing better already although he is very tired (as am I!). He just looks like he has been in a boxing match. We still don't know what caused the allergic reaction- there doesn't seem to be any marks to indicate insect bites, but that was the docs final theory; something that happened while he was knocked out? What caused the accident? A little over-enthusiasm- Dick's lesson for the day.. slow down when there are obstacles ahead. The other good news is that the bike is ok, and so is the laptop. Dick will be getting a new bicycle helmet.. maybe the scooter was a good idea after all!

And, in case you are interested, this is Dick's version of the same tale

Monday, April 23, 2007

New family vehicle...

Those of you who know us, know that fast vehicles are a big part of Dick's life in particular: first it was the motorbike- his baby, all cooped up still in Georgia; then came the Mustang convertible, the fun car, perfect for California; then the very swish Specialized bicycle, and now.... the razor scooter!

I have done nothing but giggle since Sunday morning, when on a trip to Target to buy a new inner tube for the bicycle, Dick decided that a Razor scooter would be perfect to get about the campus at Google. So, as it was his birthday week, it came home. He loves it! The apartment complex is just perfect for scooting around, whilst I am walking Pepper- so long as no one is looking! As soon as anyone older than a child is around, Dick steps off it and pretends it isn't really his.. (although I must admit, I'd probably do the same). In case you don't believe me, I took this picture only yesterday (which he wouldn't have let me take if he'd have known what I was going to do with it) Some people don't ever grow up, and I love him for it! Today he took it to work, where it will just look normal.. wouldn't it be wonderful to work in a place where you can really embrace the inner child in yourself and play while you work? He is such a lucky guy!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hike up El Toro, Morgan Hill.

Today we hiked up 'El Toro'....

Wikipedia says.. El Toro means "The Bull" in Spanish. According to a local legend, author Bret Harte named the hill when he climbed it and discovered two bulls fighting near the summit (they subsequently chased him back down). The official name shown on USGS maps is simply El Toro. Elevation at the summit is about 427 m (1403 ft).

The Annual Spring Hike up El Toro is the only time when you can officially hike up there as it is private land, so there were at least a couple of hundred people who took the chance. There are two start times, 7:45 am and 9:45 am, and we went to the later one this time. We had planned to get up earlier but as it turned out, the hill was covered in low cloud first thing this morning, so it may have been cooler, but the view would not have been as spectacular as it was later. The hike itself is about 1.5 miles to the top- all up hill.

Kudos goes to a Morgan Hill Scout troop who had cut in steps and erected a rope hand rail for the particularly steep and dry final part of the hike (climb!), without which it would have been impossible to make it down in particular. The soil underfoot was very dry and therefore very slippery. Kudos also to the Morgan Hill Historical Society who sponsored the event, warned us to bring gloves (for the rope) and even award you a certificate when you make it all the way to the top and back down again, This hike was not for the faint-hearted and is correctly described as a "moderate to difficult" hike. However it was a well organized event, and we'll be signing up next year!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

First days in Morgan Hill

This is an extract from some of the emails I have been sending friends since I arrived on the West Coast at the end of February.

Since we arrived in Morgan Hill, I have explored all the shops in the small high street- they are very eclectic shops; there is everything from a knitting shop, to jewelery, one of a kind clothing shops, nick-nac shops and a large independent book store (with an in-store book-club!) There are also several restaurants (fish, Mexican, Italian, BBQ, a breakfast bar, coffee shop and a couple of bars). There is also a small local newspaper which is published twice a week, and a regular Saturday farmers market, and a fish and meat store- all locally run. Obviously there are the chain stores, a Safeway supermarket, and even a new Trader Joes (yay!) but they are a little further away, but within a mile or two.

Just to help those of you who are not geographically inclined, Morgan Hill is about 20 miles south of San Jose, and 70 miles south of San Francisco. We are also about an hour from the coast, and the nearest big coastal town you may recognize is Santa Cruz.

One of the strangest things for me so far is the time difference between here and the East coast. The TV stations talk about 'this evening' at 6 pm their time, when is it still only mid afternoon here! Our favorite TV programs are on at different times too :-)

We are getting used to living in 705 sq feet- it is very easy to keep clean and tidy! We have everything we need and are trying hard not to buy anything that duplicates what we already have. We are pretty sure we'd like a smaller house here, but it is hard to find- they all seem to be bigger than we expected, but not cheaper unfortunately!

Pepper is very content to sleep outside on the enclosed patio in our apartment as the sun doesn't hit it until late afternoon. She is also less bothered when we leave her, and is back to eating normally. She does like to potter around the apartment complex which is landscaped beautifully, and has lots of grass and bushes to explore. A few nights go she could smell an opossum but could not see it, even though I could, as it was balanced frozen on top of a six foot high fence and we walked right past it!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Our trip across the USA Day 5!

Well we are finally here! The last day turned out to be an eventful one- the driving was very different and so was the weather at the end. Its strange to think that we arrived the day before we were supposed to leave :-)

So from the beginning...
We left Needles CA back on I40 into the Mojave Desert. Picture some sand but largely rolling hills and miles of desert plants- low lying due to the wind, some cacti and Joshua trees. We found at later that Joshua trees only grow in the Mojave desert- (they look like large Yucca plants!!) As you can imagine there is nothing but desert for as far as you can see- very beautiful and calm, with just one road running through it and the occasional pullover area. Amazingly, we had cell phone coverage the whole way, and a local radio station that told us of the conditions for both road and weather too. Talking of cell phones, I have a Sprint phone and I think I've had coverage just about all the way- one or two small dead spots- I know because the GPS on the phone relies on having a signal to be able to get accurate directions and we rarely have not had the GPS working- pretty stunning really.

We also drove past one very black looking area, which showed a low lying peak near the center- it was marked on the map as the Pisgah Crater, and we later found out that it is an old but still active volcano that last erupted 2000 years ago, and what we were seeing was the basalt. Apparently time and natural erosion has eroded the peak of it- quite fascinating- a geologist would have a great time doing this trip. It is also only one of many active volcanoes along that string of mountains.

The Mojave desert was almost done by the end of I40- strange not to be following it anymore. By the way, I40 is also designated as the Purple Heart Trail in many states and they hope to make the full length that way- as a tribute to fallen American soldiers.

Then we headed on CA 182 towards the beginning of the Tehachapi Pass which is at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountains. First we saw low flying aeroplanes, which should have given us the clue that we were close to Edwards air force base (for the Brits, it is a air force testing ground). The planes were dark and flying very fast..

Then we saw a huge number of air turbines covering the mountains in the distance- we found out later (thank goodness for the internet!) that it is one of the largest wind farms in the states, and has been there since the early 80's - the turbines have obviously been updated since but they were originally put there as a result of the energy crisis at that time.

Then we hit the pass itself which is at 3793 ft and a very long downhill roller coaster ride towards the San Joaquin Valley. It was like driving in Switzerland, or the Welsh mountains- beautiful green rolling hills covered in grass with only a few trees- steep roads curving around and down the mountain. Wow! Gorgeous but took some concentrating!

Finally you hit the very flat valley loaded with fruit trees in blossom, and orange trees with fallen fruit - probably as a result of the recent freeze which hit the southern US recently. The driving again was also a different kettle of fish- the difference between long distance drivers, taking it easy and moving in and out of lanes only to pass, to aggressive local drivers, all trying to get somewhere fast- and a lot more of them. It was a bit of a shock after four days of very easy driving. Then to top it off, it started to rain the closer we got towards our destination. We did still manage to cheer when we saw our first sign for San Jose! You have to leave Interstate 5 and drive over the hills to get on 101 towards San Jose, so another roller coaster ride up and then down. It was hard to drive past Morgan Hill, which is where our new apartment is, to go to Dick's corporate apartment. We finally got there at 4:30 pm having driven a total of 2580 miles!

Our trip across the USA Day 4

Yayyyyy!!! We are in California! Admittedly, only just inside, in a place call Needles- the first town across the state line on I40. We are still a long way south of where we will end up -about 450 miles north of here, but it feels good to be here, and in the same time zone as Dick. He has had a very bureaucratic weekend in terms of the new apartment, so he'll be glad to see us too. We've now done 2050 miles, and I can truthfully say that its been fun and not hard at all- the first day was definitely the hardest, but largely because of the early start after a very late night and the stress and sadness of leaving the house. It was also the longest day in terms of distance. However, today was almost 550 miles too, and didn't feel anywhere near as long. Maybe we are just getting used to it!

We left Albuquerque early this morning- we haven't really caught up with all the changes in time zones and so we are still tired early and awake early. As I said before, the car is filthy, and so I pulled into a petrol station to clean all the windows (I am being a good girl and checking the car over as much as I can every day before I leave). Trouble was, it was 24 degrees F and although there was no frost on the car because it it dry there, as soon as the water provided in the petrol station (obviously not screen wash) was brushed onto the windows, it froze on the car! Luckily the scraper side of the brush got the ice off.. Albuquerque has the prettiest bridges we have seen- all decorated in a south western style- certainly makes the roads more interesting.

The roads were still quiet, mainly just trucks up bright and early, so again the driving was easy. The speed limit has been 75 mph for the most part and down to 65 whilst near towns. I've kept at a max of 80 mph as the car is fully loaded and it seems to be comfortable at that speed. You get to see a long way ahead almost all of the time so its easy to anticipate what is coming up. The trucks stay at a constant 65-70 mph and the cars at a similar speed to me- it's rare to see anyone blasting down the outside lane. Everyone seems to be doing long distances and just staying at constant speeds. Therefore we have also seen hardly any police- maybe one or two and they were sitting near towns in the center meridian watching the traffic.
There have also been weigh stations for the trucks all along the route, but most of them seem to be closed, although we did see one truck that missed an open one and we wondered what will happen to him.

Today the views started off pretty flat and moonscape like- very calming but not very exciting. You may wonder how we keep ourselves entertained. I had loaded my Ipod up with some books, however with the windows kept cracked open at the back to keep Pepper cool, it gets a bit noisy in the car if the winds are strong, and with the wide open landscapes, the winds have been strong more often than not. Therefore we tune into local radio stations, and you can imagine that the large majority of them are country and western, but they are very easy listening. When there are no stations (which isn't very often thank goodness), we amuse ourselves by trying to remember all the songs related to the place names on our trip. There is normally other things to see- today there were many roadside signs advertising upcoming attractions- largely at the numerous Indian reservations in new Mexico. Many of them are very funny, so we chuckle our way down the road, for example how about 50% off meteorites? Every chief has his own store which is always better than the previous one. I wish I could remember more of the ones we have laughed at..

Soon the landscape became amazing as we saw the beginnings of Red Rock Canyon- spectacular red colors depending how the sun hit it. Mary could not put her camera down, especially when the Santa Fe railway line rolled into view with what seemed like a constant stream of trains traveling along it. Most had at least three engines, and pulled 100-150 carriages- yes that was not a mistype, Mary has tried to count them several times and has lost count after 100. They look very majestic chugging along in the foreground with the red in the background. Today it was combined with a smattering of snow too- very picturesque- and cold! We were at an elevation of about 5000 feet for most of the day, so it didn't really warm up much, and we saw snow on the ground until leaving Arizona and dropping elevation much later in the day. I kept thinking we were going down, but it never seemed to happen and it became the joke of the day every time we climbed yet another hill to only go back down it again.

This morning we stopped at Gallup in New Mexico, at a famous restaurant called Earl's on the old route 66- the people there were fascinating and the food was great. A real mix of American Indians- Navajo in particular, and Mexicans, as well as American and every mix in between. I've also never eaten chips and salsa for breakfast before!

A little later we crossed into Arizona- our 9th state so far! and decided to take the side trip into the Petrified Forest National Park- a combination of Death Valley and the Grand Canyon rolled into one- with the petrified wood too. We found out Petrified wood is as a result of a mix of silt, mud and volcanic ash burying the logs- they are beautiful- different colored crystals depending on the minerals found nearby. We really enjoyed our detour, and if you ever get this way, its worth the side trip.

Back on the road, we 'awed and aahed' at the beautiful colors in the landscape of Arizona and reminisced about our separate trips to the Grand Canyon which we passed by but did not revisit.

Finally we did start to go down, and saw our first sign for Los Angeles- 497 miles away, a number which dropped to 200 by the time we crossed into California. We both cheered loudly as we crossed. Soon after you cross the state line, they stop every vehicle and ask you where you've come from and whether you are carrying any fruit or veg or plants. They were surprised at our reply of Georgia,' -the guard sang 'Georgia on my mind' whilst surreptitiously scanning the car, but it was also obvious we didn't have anything on the forbidden list as Dick had pre-warned us.

For those of you concerned about Pepper, she has really got into the swing of things, and is less concerned about the strange routine. Tonight she not only wandered out the room and explored the very quiet car park, but also ate a full bowl of food- the first time she has done that in a couple of weeks. Dick thinks it is because we are more relaxed too, knowing we are almost there and she feels that too. I can't wait to see the two of them reunited- I think it will do her good to see a familiar face.

Tomorrow we plan to head north and off I40 towards Pasa Robles, so we can finish our trip on state route 101 and not the interstate. We'll head to Dick's corporate apartment and meet him there when he gets in. I'm not sure I'll get to write again straightaway or not but I'll try to keep you posted about our first few days settling in.

Our trip across the USA Day 3

Firstly let me explain to those of you who don't know, why we left earlier than originally planned (we were not supposed to be going until next Tuesday 27th). We planned our trip last weekend and made most of the final arrangements and suddenly realized that all we were waiting for was for Tuesday 27th to arrive, so it seemed logical to leave early, and be with Dick sooner. As you can imagine, he wholeheartedly agreed. Besides, Mary kept wanting to go shopping, and I knew if she did, we'd never fit it all in the car ;-) So she is now eagerly waiting to explore and shop in California instead. She is also addicted to Wal-Mart, and is getting slightly worried as we only saw 2 Wal-Mart trucks today!

Obviously we made it through the tornado watch last night- it barely rained even. However.... we left to bright sunshine and headed back on Interstate 40. It's funny because we have started to recognize some of the trucks and even cars who are doing a long trip. There seems to be very little tourist traffic at this time of year- every seems to be going somewhere fully loaded. Almost everyone is driving very calmly and courteously. It is only a two lane interstate in most areas, so you have to pass and then get back onto the inside lane. It is very easy driving- especially on cruise control- I just have to point the car in the right direction :-) It is pretty quiet really, so not stressful at all normally. Anyway, the winds were quite strong this morning and there seemed to be very dark clouds way ahead in the distance. We passed what claimed to be the largest cross in the western hemisphere just in the middle of nowhere with a tourist stop next to it.

Then we passed into Texas and the fun started! It was very barren and you could see for miles in all directions- just tumble weed blowing across our path in the strong wind. The dark clouds turned to some kind of rain, which turned into sleet or small hail- not tornado related, just cold weather related. The closer we got to Amarillo, the more sleety it became. Luckily the roads were fine- the wind was just blowing it everywhere. Visibility was also still fine- it was just noisy. So we decided to stop for breakfast at IHOP- the pancake house. We had totally forgotten that it was Saturday, and it was very busy. However, after a stomach warming hot breakfast, we set out into light snow!! Again, it was not settling, just blowing everywhere- Mary couldn't believe it, and swore she wouldn't tell anyone at home as she had told everyone she was coming out it here for the warm weather :-) Eventually we were clear and although it was still windy , the sun came back out. We'd been wondering why the other cars on the road looked so dirty until we stopped at a rest stop and realized how dirty ours had become. This particular rest stop in Texas will forever stay in my mind as the coldest and windy-est one ever. It was for some reason located right on top of a hill (the nearer to New Mexico you get, the more hilly it becomes). As you drove up, it warned of snakes! There was no chance they would be around as it was so cold. I could barely stand up but Pepper seemed to love it- she stood there with her nose in the air, sniffing all the new smells while I froze. Mary scooted to the loos and came back with tales of the signs over the doors which denoted that the bathrooms were also tornado shelters! The building was built into the hillside- it was very pretty, with the lone star in the architecture all around it, but boy was it cold. The landscape was still barren but becoming more like it is in Arizona, with small craters like mini Grand Canyons but nothing much else.

Time wise we were doing really well until the traffic came to a dead stop not long before the new Mexico state line. We had no idea what was going on, although we did see some real idiots very impatient of waiting who crossed the area on the side of the interstate to join the old route 66 which runs alongside it in some places. We kept thinking that someone would get stuck as it was a deep water run off area, or cause another accident. It seems the police were already diverting traffic behind us as there was a sudden increase in traffic on the side road. I asked the truck driver behind us what was going on and he said it was an accident in the construction area ahead. We never saw anything except a burnt upside down car several miles later, which may not have been the incident. We sat for about 45 minutes in total and then suddenly it all stated moving. So far, we haven't seen any other problems in 1500 miles. We have however seen a lot more construction happening on the interstate itself, which means it goes down to one lane which does slow you down. In this case, it didn't really matter as we had just gained another hour by crossing into Mountain time.

The terrain started to become very hilly, we drove up and down very long hills with not much else around, except slow trucks trying to get up the hills. We too kept a very steady pace and have done all the way. Petrol/gas prices have increased slightly from around $2.10 a gallon to $2.30 except over these hills (no idea what they are called) where it was $2.65 due to the inaccessibility of the area. Finally we began to go down hill again and could see miles ahead on the very straight interstate.

There is a basin just before Albuquerque which seems to be the bottom, but then suddenly you have to drive down a very steep long road which feels like you are driving down a mountain, zigzagging through steep cut away areas where you can there would be a danger of rock falls. I forgot to mention that there was still pockets of snow on the ground all the way from Amarillo- unfortunately it is still no warmer- the forecast is for 25 degrees Fahrenheit tonight.

Some of you have suggested other places we can stop- by the time we get to our evening destination, we are tired and just happy to get out of the car- Pepper especially, and I don't want to leave her in a strange room by herself, so we have not done much exploring. This isn't really a sightseeing tour, we'll do that another time hopefully. Right now we are focused on achieving our goal of 500 miles a day, and now we are already over half way :-)

Trip across the USA Day 1 and 2

This is a copy of the email that I sent whilst traveling across the USA from Berkeley Lake GA to San Jose CA...

Just thought I'd tell you a little of what we've seen and experienced on our travels so far :-) In case you don't know, we (Mary- Dick's mum and I) are traveling in a Honda Accord Wagon (estate) with a very full back seat (largely clothes and bedding vacuum packed in Space bags) and Pepper, our 13-14 year old collie-lab.

We left Berkeley Lake on Thursday 22nd February about 5.45 am in order to beat the rush hour traffic. Luckily we got on Interstate 20 very easily and headed towards Birmingham, Alabama. The roads were very busy to start with but the traffic thinned out the further away we got away from the big cities. As you can imagine, a lot of the traffic is huge trucks- especially the big parcel companies like UPS and FedEx, however, much to our amusement we've also been counting WalMart trucks and saw 12 alone yesterday! We also saw 5 trailer (mobile) homes being transported but decided not to take one to California, though it might be a bit cheaper!

We've been following printed Google maps (of course), a road map of the USA and the GPS on my phone. Dick always says, 'trust the GPS' however, we were glad we didn't just the other side of Birmingham, when it tried to send us to Huntsville, AL because that was the only way we would stay on the interstate. So we had to do a scenic detour which was rather nice as we saw more of the countryside but it took a bit longer. Mary is doing a great job at map reading! It is surprising how much we are seeing from the interstate though. Since then, the GPS has been very well behaved :-) and we have been glad of it (for the geeks among you, it is a service called 'Telinav' - available for some mobile phones)

After Birmingham, we headed to Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis, and saw his tiny home, and stopped for lunch. Then it was off towards Memphis, Tennessee. The roads around Memphis were not only in terrible condition, but very busy. The interstate is not completed around Memphis, so you have to join the local traffic on very narrow lanes with thundering trucks alongside you- interesting! Memphis looked very poor and run down- sad really.

Lastly we headed into Arkansas to Little Rock (Home of Bill Clinton!), having been in 5 states in one day! By this time we were very tired as it had been such an early start, and we'd traveled 585 miles. Mary was delighted to find out that the Holiday Inn had a restaurant and therefore room service, so we didn't have to go out anywhere. All of us were fast asleep by 8 pm - Georgia time. We have already moved from the Eastern time zone into the central time zone and have therefore gained an hour. We'll move to Mountain time again tomorrow once we reach New Mexico.

For those of you concerned about the distances we are travelling, we stop approximately every hour an a half to two hours at the many 'rest-stops' on the interstate- a chance to stretch the legs, and walk Pepper. She is coping with the trip very well- she is very concerned about seeing where I am at all times so it does not take much to persuade her to get back in the car- and the dried chicken treats also help! She has water and food in her bowls wedged in near her and helps herself as she needs it. She seems to sleep most of the time. I put 'sticky shades' on all the windows in the back of the car, so she doesn't get any sun shining directly on her. She is doing really well, she's just a little confused, but I'm sure she'll be delighted when she sees Dick at the other end. The 'rest-stops' themselves for those of you who don't know, are very well resourced. They have free coffee and soft drinks, leaflets about local attractions, and very friendly and helpful staff. Obviously there are also 'restrooms' and also pet walking areas, which Pepper sniffs her way slowly through, so you can imagine, they are not just 5 minute stops!

We've feel like we've traveled across England- having travelled through or past the towns of London, Dover, Conway, Victoria, Oxford, and through Germany- (Bremen, Stuttgart)- Just of few of the names we have recognized along the way. Of course there are also many we can only guess at the pronunciation- especially the American Indian names across Oklahoma.

This morning, we were awake bright and early after a wonderful restful sleep, and after walking Pepper we headed out back onto Interstate 40- we will travel about 1800 miles on this interstate alone! Today we drove about 120 miles before breakfast at Waffle House in Alma, Arkansas, which according to their signs, is the spinach capital of the world! Wonder how they are doing after the recent spinach scares? We also seen signs describing 'Fabulous' Arkansas wine- has anyone ever tasted Arkansas wine? I didn't know there were vineyards here!

We have also seen number plates on cars from Florida to Michigan. We are getting a geography lesson on the way- especially for the mid US states which neither of us are too sure of the location of, so we keep having to look up where they are- I thought Michigan was a lot further north!

Once we crossed into Oklahoma, we saw all kinds of landscapes- huge lakes and reservoirs to start with and then the hills of the bottom of the Ozarks. Finally into tornado alley and the very windy flat basins where you can see for miles. The trees all seem to be bent to one side from the constant wind. There is a huge wind farm at Weatherford- with wind turbines in every direction- they look very graceful from a distance. In fact, I just found on Wikipedia that Oklahoma has the most diverse terrain in the USA according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and I can well believe it. We also saw our first small oil pumps- Mary calls them nodding donkeys :-)

We can also see why Oklahoma is called 'Native America' with all the reservations and American Indian heritage. We stopped in Oklahoma City to visit the 'National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum' and saw some fabulous art, artifacts and even a circa 1900 Western Cattle town. It was very interesting and we could have spent the day there, but we had to drive on. By the way, it is also home to the famous original 'End of The trail' statue' -stunningly sad.

We pressed on to a small city called Elk City right on the edge of Oklahoma with clouds forming ominously.. true enough, we are in tornado alley, and we arrived to discover we are under a tornado watch- they were not overly concerned at the front desk though, and told us they would wake us if a tornado warning was issued. Mary was concerned at first but is sleeping like a baby (as is Pepper) as I type!

Today we have only driven 450 miles, but I'm also ready to sleep now. Amarillo, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico tomorrow!!


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