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Driving to a Wedding in California

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Heather and I have just completed another long automobile journey.  This one is the longest that we have ever taken, for we went over 9,000 kilometres (5,600 miles) from our home in Winnipeg, to the Napa Valley in California, then back to Winnipeg via the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The point of the trip was the wedding of our daughter, Rachael, to Michael Green, which took place in California’s Napa Valley on May 17th.

I posted a series of updates, in FaceBook, and here on this page, where they are somewhat edited and expanded.  Now that the trip is over, I’ll leave the updates here, in the order in which they were posted.

If you don't wish to read every one of these posts, here is a list of some of the highlights:

Highlights: Photos:
I’ve posted a few photos in FaceBook which you are welcome to view if you wish.  Just click here.

The Updates:

Friday, May 9, 2014

Tomorrow we set out on yet another long drive.  This one is the longest we’ve taken in years: Winnipeg to Napa, California.  There seems to be a wedding about to take place down there, and since we happen to be mother and father of the bride, we ought to show up, don’t you think?  As for driving rather than flying... well, I guess we’re just peculiar.  We’ll enjoy each other’s company, and see some scenery... stuff like that.  And maybe post some updates here, for your entertainment.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On the road.  We have a saying: “No matter how early we try to start a journey, we always get away at 11 o’clock.”  And that was the case today.  At 11:01 am, having done our best to ensure that we forgot nothing, we set out from home, stopping briefly to sing Werner Schulz a birthday song (he wasn’t there, so we sang it to his wife, Mary).  Then we got on the highway, heading West and South.
12:45 PM.
Two lane highway through Manitoba farmland.  Almost no one on the road.  The sun is shining, and the sky is blue.  Our hearts are glad.
1:35 PM.
Chain link fence, fifteen feet high; barbed wire; bright lights and security cameras – in the middle of nowhere.  This is the U.S. Border.  Our car is directed into an enclosure, and we are checked.  But the agent is kindly.  He opens our passports, and says, “You folks have done a lot of travelling!  What was your favourite place to visit?”  Heather immediately says, “Buenos Aires!”  The agent also very courteously allows us to use the building’s washroom.  “There isn’t much by way of facilities for many a mile ahead!”  He was right.
About twenty minutes after we left the border station, I say, “Ephesus! (or maybe Corinth).”  For I had been thinking what my favourite place is, that we’ve visited.  Actually there are lots of favourites.  And we are lucky indeed to have seen so many wonders.
3:45 PM.
Tony leaning on a monument stating that this is the geographical centre of North America
At the geographical centre of North America!
The sign said, “Geographical Center of North America.”  We had to stop and take a picture!  Absolute centre of the continent; of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.  Nice to see flags of the three countries flying.
4:00 PM.
“...the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalm 50, verse 10).  Driving through North Dakota, that Bible verse sits constantly at the back of my mind... then, as we go further west, the phrase in my head becomes the decidedly non-biblical, “oil rigs on a thousand hills.”  Hmmmm.
7:00 PM.
Stopping for the night in Williston, North Dakota.  A town full of men.  Hard-working men, in huge pickup trucks.  There is work to be done on those thousand hills.

Sunday, May 11, 2014
9:00 AM, in Williston, North Dakota
We learned from a lady in our hotel’s breakfast room why Williston is a town full of men.  It is literally a boom town.  This particular woman has just come, with her daughters, to join her husband, who has already been here two years building oil rigs.  The couple has a brand new home here in Williston.  The electricity isn’t connected yet, so they’re staying in the hotel.  Tomorrow’s the big day.  Electricity’s on!  They move in.  Few other women and children are in the town yet, but they’re on their way.
10:15 AM
On our way out of town, we see tanker trucks by the hundreds, industrial buildings, tool and equipment emporia, hotels, but almost no residential dwellings.  We pass a train assembling yard full of railway tank cars, ready to haul crude oil to refineries across the continent.  We think of Lac Megantic, and wonder whether a pipeline might be just a bit safer.
1:30 PM
We stop for lunch, and set our watches and the car clock back an hour, having crossed into a later time zone.  Using my smartphone, we book tonight’s hotel online – in the town of Idaho Falls.  We decide to go via Yellowstone Park rather than on interstate highways.
4:15 PM
While enjoying signs of spring – green grass, and leaves budding on trees – we round a curve and gasp in amazement at the sight of snow-capped mountains.  By entering Yellowstone Park, we will go through them.  They are glorious to see, but soon there is snow on either side of the car, and the temperature has dropped to near-freezing.  It feels like home.
6:00 PM
We love Yellowstone park.  Bison wander out on the highway stopping traffic.  Sulfurous vents steam in field and hillside.  However “Old Faithful” does not oblige us with a spout – we would have to wait over an hour, and we need to get to Idaho Falls.  We don’t really mind; “Old Faithful’s” immediate surroundings are far too tourist-y for out liking.
7:30 PM
As we leave the Yellowstone Park and return into cellphone territory, my phone beeps with Mothers’ Day greetings for Heather.  The day is complete.  But two more hours of driving are required before we get to Idaho Falls. 
11:00 PM
In the end, we spent thirteen hours on the road today.  A good day, but very, very long.

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Monday, May 12, 2014
10:00 AM
We set out from Idaho Falls on our third day of travel.  Our hotel, booked through, had been excellent – clean, classy, and spacious, and extraordinarily inexpensive.  It was situated right at the waterfall for which the city gets its name.  I took a picture of the falls in honour of my cousin John, who loves waterfalls and photographs them with enthusiasm and expertise.
12:30 PM
Lunch in the small city of Brigham, Utah.  Now for a big decision: do we add 100 miles to our journey and visit Salt Lake City?  The answer didn’t take long: we are so near, and the Mormon Tabernacle is a world-renowned religious landmark.  We’ll make the detour and see it.
3:00 PM, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It turns out that the building that impressed us the most was the State Capitol.  Built high on a hill it dominates the city skyline, and is a huge and beautifully-proportioned structure.  The Mormon Temple and Tabernacle were not really as I had imagined them at all.  I had seen pictures of the temple, of course, but what struck me was how the central heart of Mormonism (the temple, the Tabernacle, several office structures and gardens) were all behind a six-foot solid wall, giving the impression of a fortress.  But visitors are allowed on the grounds, where we found flowers blooming magnificently, and where we had a nice chat with two young Mormon missionaries – a girl from England, who was teamed up with a girl from Panama!
6:00 PM
From Salt Lake City, we drove down onto the vast expanse of salt water lake, dry salt flats, and uninhabitable desert.  It took almost two hours to cross, driving at 120 km/h (75 mph).  Lucky for us, while summer temperatures in that dry and hostile place can be well above 40°C (104° F), today the outdoor temperature was a pleasant 14°C (57° F).
10:00 PM
This was an extraordinary day of travel.  We began in flat agricultural land, with field after field of crops beginning to poke their green heads above the soil.  Snow-topped mountains were in the distance, but soon we were among them, and the agriculture turned to cattle-ranching.  Vistas were breathtaking.  Clouds shedding snow on the mountains, sweeping slopes and sunshine in the valley.  Then the arid salt lake with no human habitation anywhere to be seen.  Then snow-covered peaks once more, and a mountain pass to climb.  The views constantly changed, and were constantly astonishing.  Salt Lake city was memorable in its own right – and squeaky clean, with not a single scrap of litter to be seen, anywhere.  And for me, who used to enjoy auto racing, a stop at the Bonneville Salt flats capped off the day.  We have now driven 2,420 km. (1,504 miles).  Only 816 km. (507 miles) left to go.  Should be at our destination by tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
12:00 PM, in Battle Creek, Nevada
After a sound sleep in another classy and unbelievably inexpensive hotel room (thank you!), we thought that we would look for a restaurant that serves hot breakfasts.  Nothing like bacon and eggs to set us up for the last long leg of this four-day drive!
This didn’t work out very well, because one of those marital moments took place wherein one said, “Turn here!” and the other said, “No, the turn is there,” until we found ourselves on the Interstate highway sailing right past the place we wished to go and, due to the nature of such highways, no possibility of turning around for a very long time.  We decided to keep on going.
For more than an hour we drove through barren and uninhabited desert.  Then I noticed the fuel gauge.  It was nearing the “empty” mark.  Uh-oh!  I had neglected to gas up when we set out – something that I would normally have done after breakfast.
So... hungry, and watching the gas gauge slowly descending, we drove through the trackless, endless wilderness.  I slowed down to conserve fuel.
Then, the town of Battle Mountain came into view.  With gas stations, and a restaurant that serves breakfast all day.  The people there are probably used to seeing, and feeding half-crazed travellers such as us.  They did it with good humoured courtesy.
4:00 PM
We drive right through Reno, Nevada.  We do not stop.  Billboards offer meals and accommodation at ridiculously cheap prices.  They figure they’ll make it up on the gambling.
5:30 PM
An amazing transition!  From desert, into steep mountain passes (where finally we see some trees that are more than a metre tall), to deep forest, and finally to a descent from the mountains that – if done in one instant would be a vertical drop of about 2 kilometres (1.3 miles).  We also went from only a few transports sharing the highway with us, to a major urban rush hour with traffic stopped dead on the interstate.  And... we went from 14°C (57° F) in Elko, Nevada in the morning, to 38°C (95° F) in Sacramento.  Being in Sacramento feels like we’ve arrived at the end of our very long journey (though we must continue to Napa tomorrow).
7:00 PM
In Sacramento, Rachael and one of her bridesmaids are at the house – the house that the newlyweds will eventually call home.  There is wedding work to be done, and Heather joins in with a will.  I am assigned barbecue duties.

And that’s where this series of travel updates will end for now.  We are with our daughter, and will soon transfer to the Napa Valley bungalow that we have rented for the duration of the wedding (and for some days following).  I’ll try to post our further adventures as they come.

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Friday, May 16, 20149:17 PM
Morning wedding rehearsal today.  Afterwards, we had over forty people in our rented house for a post-rehearsal luncheon; later, family from all over came for dinner.  Weather has been sunny and hot (33° C at the peak of the afternoon).  Heather has been totally amazing as the hostess, ably assisted by our daughter-in-law, Andrea.
The big wedding is finally here: 11:00 AM tomorrow morning, in a Napa Valley vineyard.

Saturday, May 17, 201410:56 PM
Rachael and Michael address the guests at their wedding
Rachael and Michael thank their guests
The wedding went off without a hitch – though my Winnipeg friends may suffer certain pangs when I mention that the weather was hot and there was a risk of sunburn for some of the guests in this beautiful and classy outdoor wedding.

Good pictures will follow, but here’s a candid of the bride and groom giving their thank-yous.

Wednesday, May 21, 20148:57 PM
The Wedding is done.  A great tour of some beautiful Napa valley wineries is done.  Guests from near and far have returned home, or are on their way.  Heather and I will remain one more night in our Napa Vacation Bungalow – the scene of several happy family gatherings – and then we begin the next leg of our tour: the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, then East to the Grand Canyon, and then a leisurely trip north and east back to Winnipeg.

Thursday, May 22, 201410:30 PM
We drove up to Sacramento this morning, and put the remaining wedding things in Rachael and Michael’s home.  Then began our long drive back to Winnipeg – via Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon, and Santa Fe.  Most of the afternoon and evening was spent on the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway – the winding, twisting, precipitous two-lane highway that includes the Big Sur coast.  We loved it.
Our friends, Russ and Sandra, really wanted us to stop and see Hearst Castle, but we were pressed for time, and that treat will have to wait for another occasion.  With family now living in California, there will be another occasion!
At dinner in Carmel, California, we saw, on the restaurant’s TV, the Montreal Canadiens score the winning goal against the New York Rangers.  A fitting end to a perfect day!

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Friday, May 23, 201410:10 PM
We arrived in Los Angeles without difficulty – thanks to “Lisa,” the voice in a brand-new GPS device that I have bought to help us with this long and complex drive.  We’re visiting until Sunday with relatives of Heather’s, whom she has not seen for more than 40 years.  Their daughter, Valerie – who lives in Montreal and who we see regularly – arrived just when we did, and a delightful visit has begun.  We went to a hilltop viewpoint, where we could look out over all of Los Angeles in one direction, and at the famous “Hollywood” sign in the other direction.  Tomorrow, some more plain old tourism in Hollywood, and in Beverly Hills.

Saturday, May 24, 20148:49 PM
Today we rubbernecked along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, then spent several hours walking along Hollywood Boulevard.  Pure tourism.  Pure fun.

Sunday, May 25, 2014
3:30 PM, in Barstow, California
We have stopped in the middle of a pathless desert... at a Factory Outlet Mall.  Heather is happily shopping.  I’m glad she’s happy, but am not really interested in shopping as a pastime.  So I find a comfortable seat, and go on the Internet.

11:30 PM, in Kingman, Arizona
We went to St. Thomas’ Church, Hollywood, this morning – a delightful Episcopal (U.S. Anglican) church devoted to ancient ceremony and exquisite choral and organ music.  It was holy, and good, and a bit quirky, and I was very happy.
Then we drove out of Los Angeles, heading for Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  I have to say that driving Los Angeles freeways on a Sunday afternoon, on a holiday weekend, is not for the faint of heart.  And I think that this particular time would have been when traffic was comparatively “light,” though I may be mistaken.
Deep in the Mojave desert we needed to buy gas, and right next to the gas station was a large Factory Outlet Mall.  The result was inevitable, and I posted something about it above.
While waiting for Heather, however, I noticed two distressing things about the mall, which was sitting in 38° C (100° F) temperatures under a blazing sun: (1) all the air-conditioned shops had their doors wide open, encouraging customers to enter; and (2), scarce, precious water was being sprayed continuously into the air, as a cooling mist, all along the covered outdoor passageway between stores.  This seemed a bit profligate in a land where drought is severe and electricity for air conditioning is generated by fossil fuels.  Hmmm.

Monday, May 26, 201411:09 PM
We went to the Grand Canyon today.  Utterly, jaw-droppingly, astonishing.  We spent several hours there, travelling along the south rim in one of the Park’s shuttle busses, getting out, and taking pictures.
It was wonderful, despite the fact that several times I simply could not look.  I suffer from extreme vertigo.  When I’m faced with a dizzying height, my stomach churns violently.  I also feel as if the slightest breath of wind will lift me up and hurl me over the edge!
So why on earth would I go to the Grand Canyon of all places!???
Because it is one of the wonders of the world, and for that I simply had to face my fears.  So that is what I did.
From the Canyon, we were going to go to the town of Sedona, which is known for its glorious red rock formations.  But our way was barred by a forest fire – a harsh reminder that southwest U.S.A. is facing one of the grimmest droughts in a generation.
So we stopped for the night in Flagstaff Arizona, on Route 66.

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Tuesday, May 27, 201411:45 PM
A painted rock mesa as seen from U.S. Interstate 40 at Lupton, AZ
Rolling plains replaced by red rock cliffs
As we approached Lupton, Arizona today, at the border with New Mexico, there was a startling transformation in the landscape: rolling desert plains were replaced by dramatic red rock cliffs and plateaus.  A glorious view.
We have now stopped for the night in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It is such an interesting and attractive town that we have decided to take a break from the constant driving, and stay here an extra day, exploring... and resting.

Wednesday, May 28, 201410:06 PM
Our day of rest in Santa Fe began badly.  There was a mixup in computer systems between “” and our hotel.  There were phone calls.  “” even threatened to pull us out of there and place us elsewhere.  Eventually it all calmed down, but I sat on the phone for an hour during much of it.
Then we went downtown and hugely enjoyed the rest of our day.  Heather thinks that Santa Fe is one of the most beautiful cities she’s ever seen.  And, I don’t disagree; it’s just that I always defer to her in matters of taste and beauty.  If Heather says a place is beautiful, it really is.
We visited the cathedral, and then the Loretto chapel, renowned for a spiral staircase that doesn’t appear to have any supports.  But the staircase proved to be less important than the sense of peace and prayer that I could sense there.  The man at the door, on learning that I’m an Anglican priest, engaged me in an interesting theological debate that I enjoyed thoroughly.
Then we went on to the Palace of the Governors, billed as “...the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States.” It really isn’t quite “continuously occupied,” however, because it was torn down and rebuilt a few times, but the claim comes close.  And it is all beautiful pink adobe.Heather did some serious shopping, so a good time was had by all. 
Tomorrow we set out on the last 2,500 km., to Winnipeg.  It will take three days.

Thursday, May 29, 201410:41 PM
We’ve had a full day of driving today – from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to North Platte, Nebraska.  1,058 Kilometers, and just over nine hours of driving.  We saw Pikes Peak – still snow-covered despite the 30°C+ (86°F) heat where we were traveling.  And, in the outskirts of Denver we had rain!  The first rain we’ve seen all trip (and it didn’t last).
Two more long days of driving and we’re home.

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Friday, May 30, 20149:10 PM
“Lisa,” the lady in our GPS device, sent us on “the road less travelled” today.  717 kilometres (446 mi.) of two-lane highways, from the town of North Platte in Nebraska to Watertown in South Dakota.  She said it was the fastest route.  Certainly it was much shorter than going via the Interstate system, and even though speeds were slower, perhaps it really was the quickest way for us to go.  At any rate, today’s drive was fun, in a quiet and peaceful sort of way.  And it was fascinating to go from treeless barren lands, where rain scarcely ever falls, through a much greener version of the same landscape, to wide rivers, and deep sloughs, and tall trees, and the first sign of wild waterfowl that I can recall seeing since leaving Canada three weeks ago.  I even spotted a pelican!  The weather remained extremely hot, however, and once we came to places where there was water, we saw herds of cattle cooling themselves by standing belly-deep – and in one case, shoulder-deep – in waterholes and ponds.
Water may prove to be one of the major themes of our journey, for there is so little of it in the southwest U.S.A., and so much – possibly too much – in the northeast prairies and in our part of Canada.  Climate change – and possibly even climate disaster is very much on my mind because of this experience.
We’ll be home tomorrow, God willing.

Saturday, May 31, 2014at midnight
Today’s drive continued the water theme, because we woke up to slight drizzle, then drove north through South Dakota and into North Dakota, all of it in heavy rain.  Farmers’ fields around us were actually waterlogged.  So in two days we have gone from arid desert to waterlogged fields!

We made it home by 5:00 PM.  Winnipeg itself was sunny, warm, and dry.

So there it is: in 21 days we have driven more than 9,000 kilometres (5,600 miles), passing through or staying in eleven U.S. states.

Once home, we promptly changed into good clothes and went to the beautiful and quite moving ordination of the Rev’d Bonnie Dowling, and, seemingly with boundless energy, we then went to the post-ordination reception, hosted by one of St. Margaret’s parishioners.  We got home to stay, finally, at midnight.

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