Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Road Trip: A Spectacle of Spectators at Old Faithful

What Our Arrival Should
Have Looked Like 
We arrived in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park in complete darkness. Again. You would think we'd have learned our lesson about arriving at campsites in the dark, but clearly, we had not.

We drove through 45 minutes of winding darkness passed deer and elk, and got barricaded by 4 large bison before reaching camp. It was a cool 30° F outside (or -1° C for more dramatic effect) and way too cold and late to set up camp so we camped in the car near to all of the food so that the bears would have an easier time finding us. No, not very smart.

Luckily, the bears decided to spare our lives, and I started my morning with a 2 minute shower at the cost of 4 quarters. The coin operated cleansing was just a reminder that I was very, very far away from anything I had ever done before. I had also acquired a plague somewhere between Mt. Rushmore and panning for gold in the Wild Wild West, so my energy level and penchant for camping was very low. I was ready to see this geyser, check out the Tetons, and move on with life.

Pure Excitement
At least it was a beautiful day. We took a bike ride to Old Faithful and sat down to wait. Watching the pure excitement on people's faces as they waited for water to come out of the ground provided much amusement as we waited for the fairly timely geyser to erupt. A crowd of at least 100 ooh'd and aah'd in unison as little trickles of water spouted up every few minutes, tantalizing them. With each spurt, the onlookers jumped to their feet with cameras in hand, gasping in anticipation. And the geyser didn't erupt.

More spurts, more poised cameras, and still the geyser didn't erupt.

It was almost like Old Faithful was playing tricks on all of its over-eager spectators. Almost as though it were tired of being old and faithful. "Ooh, here I am! Psych! Okay, okay, here I am. Ha! Got you again out-of-towners! Fine, fine, I won't be the geyser who cried 'wolf' so here it is. For real this time." I imagined Old Faithful snickering from deep within its hot, bubbling underground center.

Grand Tetons
Finally, Old Faithful came through, much to the delight of the crowd of gaspers. Watching water come out of the ground was actually kind of cool, you know, natural wonder and all that. We wrapped up the day with a peaceful (peaceful mostly because I was asleep) drive to the Grand Tetons and a visit to the hot springs before heading back for yet another night at camp, this time in the tent. Yay.

I must admit though, that aside from the late night arrival, the below freezing temperatures, and the frightening encounter with bison larger than our vehicle, Yellowstone was truly gorgeous. Even for the not-very-outdoorsy types such as myself, there is so much to be appreciated in such natural beauty.

And the shower machine wasn't that bad. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Road Trip: Girl v. Food

I intended to attack Chicago Girl v. Food style...although that is pretty much how I attack every meal placed before me, but never mind that. I had watched Adam eat himself silly on Travel Channel's Man v. Food here and planned to do much the same. Besides, with less than 24 hours to spend in such a vast city, what more could we really do besides spend our time eating? And of course visiting the giant silver bean in Millennium Park.

After a grueling 11 hour drive plus a border crossing from Toronto into Michigan, we finally arrived in Chicago just as the sun was setting. What a beautiful city! We watched as joggers and bikers traveled along the water's edge while an array of yachts bobbed gently behind them. The buildings in the downtown area are a perfect combination of old and modern giving the city a cool and unique feel. I discovered this quickly because we drove around in five circles up and down one way streets trying to find a parking space close enough to Gino's East! We certainly weren't wasting any time, the famous Chicago deep dish pizza place was destination #1 on the Girl v. Food tour.

We arrived to meet two huge lines outside of the pizza joint. I suddenly felt like I was lining up to get into a club. There was a "bouncer" of sorts managing the lines and taking names. I asked him what the separate lines were for to be sure we were in the correct one, to which he replied, "One line is regular and one line is V.I.P." V.I.P.?! Yes, V.I.P. Evidently, some hotels in the area have hook ups for their guests to be "on the list." This must be some dang good pizza.

Forty-five minutes later we are seated only to be informed that it would be another forty-five minutes before our long awaited pizza was ready. Good thing we weren't starving! We chose the meaty-legend (pepperoni, bacon, Canadian bacon, and Italian sausage) deep dish pizza without much hesitation because you just can't go wrong with all that meat, right?

My first bite was...well...meaty. It took a while before I actually tasted dough (which was by far the best part of the pizza) and it just didn't dazzle me. No offense Chi-Towners. I don't know if it was because there was too much meat on the pizza, too much hype surrounding the pizza, or just the simple fact that I am a New York pizza girl at heart. Either way, I have to give it to New York when it comes to pizza.

The eating spree continued with lunch at Al's Italian Beef. Yum, yum, yum. Thank you Al. When they ask whether you want your sandwich dipped, your answer should be an emphatic yes, because all the juicy goodness is in the dip! A banana chocolate chip ice cream from Mitchell's Ice Cream Parlor capped off the tour and our stay in Chicago had come to an end.

There is still so much more to see and eat in this cool city, but for this episode of Girl v. Food, girl won! Then again, food doesn't conquer me all that often.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Road Trip: The Biggest Small Bike Ride Ever

I never imagined I'd ride a bicycle from one country to another, but I did. Sounds really cool and outdoorsy, right? Nevermind that it was the shortest two minute ride across a nice bridge from the Canadian Niagara Falls to the U.S. Falls; it sounds better to say I rode from one country to another, so I am sticking with that.

I felt like I was in a movie as the wind whipped my hair and we rode across undisturbed by cars or even other people. It was just me, my bike, my friend, and a bridge in limbo between two countries.

The customs officer asked so few questions as we reached the other side, that I worried he wasn't doing his job properly. I resolved that if I ever needed to engage in some illegal border crossing, this would be the place.

We rode around and headed to Cave of the Winds (which I would soon discover would be more aptly named 'Cave of the Extreme Soak-Down') for a more intimate interaction with the impressive Falls. Choosing a weekday to visit Niagara was brilliant as the lines were short and the people sparse. We walked right in, received our yellow ponchos and some hideously nerdy sandals intended to prevent slipping. I wondered if wearing these sandals might actually be worse than the slipping itself. But since the man of my dreams was probably not lurking somewhere behind the falls, I donned the unflattering gear, and headed for excitement.

We climbed down and met the water plummeting down right before us. It was incredible; I was looking up right into the face of Niagara Falls and feeling the water sprinkle my face. And as if this weren't already a pretty perfect moment, a rainbow suddenly appeared. Had this been a musical, someone would have promptly burst into song. The water looked so fresh and clean that I cupped my hand under it and decided to have a taste; I like to live on the edge. It was pure, clean, and delicious just as I had imagined. We continued to follow the stair path, getting closer and closer to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. We got so close it felt as though we'd been caught in a torrential downpour with someone simultaneously dumping buckets of water over our heads. It was a blast! My jeans were soaked up to my knees, blouse wet, and hair damp. The yellow poncho pretty much served no purpose whatsoever. (Disclaimer: If you do not intend to stand directly underneath the plunging water like a child playing in a sprinkler, then you are likely to stay dry, and your poncho will come in handy).

Continuing our bike ride in wet jeans was far from ideal, but what's a girl to do? We rode along the park path and discovered a spot where you could walk down to the water's edge. Well, you could walk to the edge after climbing over a short wall that probably wasn't meant to be climbed over, but no one was looking and I knew we would be careful.

There was a certain level of craziness in what we were doing; we were just a few feet away from getting caught in the current and swept right over the edge. I am sure where we were standing was probably illegal and would most definitely have given my mother a small heart-attack, but I was living on the edge more literally than ever before. I dipped my toes in the icy water and practiced skipping rocks as I watched the water turn from peaceful to powerful before sliding into the pool below.

We rode back to Canada just as the sun was going down and my jeans had finally dried. It is funny how you can spend an entire day watching lots of water fall over an edge, but somehow it is pretty amazing.
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