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More Iowa

The onset of winter............

all seasons in one day 5 °C

And life carries on in Iowa. Bec has a job as a waitress (which is ironic given how uncoordinated she is) and is finding it very entertaining. She's had to learn what links, biscuits and Mr Pibb are in a breakfast context (sausages, scone-type things and Dr Pepper respectively) and finds it very amusing that most of her customers think she is British. She was particularly pleased when complimented on how good her English is 'for an Australian'. Why, thank you!! Glenn has traded in the hire car for the company car and we've now joined the ranks of American SUV drivers. The car has Arizona plates on it which come in handy when we're lost on back roads.

We took a trip to the Amana Colonies, a group of small towns of German heritage, and sussed out their version of Oktoberfest. We (ok, Glenn) took part in the keg tossing competition and partook in a beer or two. We kept it fairly tidy on the basis that it might be a little too cold to sleep outside the beer hall or even in the car due to a lack of hotel rooms in town.

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Fun and games at Oktoberfest

Halloween decorations had been in the stores since the day we got here, so on Halloween night we got in the car and drove to a kid-filled neighbourhood. Well, there were hoards of kids everywhere dressed as anything and everything from PowerRangers to election ballot boxes. Lit pumpkins lined the streets, some of them very intricately carved. The amount of candy some of these kids collected would be enough to keep them high for two solid years.

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Halloween pumpkin

We finally managed to get ourselves to a college football game. The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is just up the road from our hotel and every weekend the place fills to capacity with purple-clad UNI Panthers fans. We were astonished to learn that there seems to be at least 60 players on a football team and that a 15 minute quarter actually goes for about 45 minutes!! A group of ten year-olds sitting beside us gave us a much needed five minute tutorial on the rules of American football which, unfortunately, still wasn't enough to keep us interested past the third quarter. Ice hockey season has just started so maybe we'll have a better attention span there.

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Action in the UNI-Dome

Winter has crept up on us here in Iowa and is adding a whole new dimension to our trip. Last Wednesday the weather was a sunny 23 degrees celsius. Two days later we got a dumping of snow and a maximum temp of 1 degree celsius!! The fall colors in the lead-up to winter have been absolutely stunning and ride-on mowers have been replaced by snow plows in neighbourhood driveways.

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Fall colors in a local park

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Silliness in a local park

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And a few more fall colors, just because they're pretty!!

It's only early days yet, but winter here seems like way too much effort. Put on three jackets, one scarf, one beanie and one pair of gloves to walk to car in morning. Scrape ice from windscreen of car with hotel swipe card. Remove three jackets, one scarf, one beanie and one pair of gloves when car has become sufficiently heated. Arrive at office and put on three jackets, one scarf, one beanie and one pair of gloves to walk from car to office. Enter office and remove three jackets, one scarf, one beanie and one pair of gloves. Repeat in reverse for homeward journey.

The upside to all of this is that bikinis are really cheap which pleased Bec no end as she had to replace the one she daftly threw out in Vancouver (under the misguided notion that she'd be able to last a year without going somewhere warm). Bring on the Bahamas!!!

Posted by TDL 14:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Iowa

'Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa.'

sunny 17 °C

We arrived into Cedar Rapids airport after dark and drove the 120 miles to Cedar Falls (the town we're to be living in), which is still 15 miles from Waverly (the town Glenn will be working in) and checked into our hotel which is to be our home for the next few months.

The following morning we got up early and set out to check out Glenn's office in Waverly and to scope out a bit of the country side and to see if Iowa really does live up to its 'Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa' catch-phrase. They print this on bumper stickers. Seriously.

Every weekend we take ourselves on a roadtrip and have seen some superb scenery and have attended some events for which appropriate adjectives do not exist.

We've pitched a few baseballs on the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville:
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And visited the National Farm Toy Museum:
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We've ridden the world's shortest and steepest railway in Dubuque:
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We've checked out a wedding at the local Scarecrow Show (exactly that, though we've decided we prefer our scarecrows traditional rather than abstract):
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The Effigy Mounds National Monument (burial mounds in the shapes of animals covered in grass) was interesting:
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But not as interesting (for some) as the John Deere 90th Birthday celebration:
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And we're seeing lots of Iowan cornfields:
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We're lucky to have had six weeks of really good weather. It's been warm enough that we're wearing t-shirts but we suspect that this might come to a screaming halt soon. Glenn has been scraping ice from the windscreen of the car with a credit card (given the current financial climate that's about all it's good for anyway) for the last couple of days and popular opinion is that we will soon graduate from credit card to shovel to snow plough.

Posted by TDL 15:09 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Vancouver to Vegas to Very Big Fields of Corn

Children of the corn.

sunny 38 °C

Our last week in Whistler positively flew by and it wouldn't be us if we weren't trying to do all the stuff we should have done in the three months prior at the absolute last minute!! Bec sold her bike at 6:10pm with just enough time to make the 6:30pm Greyhound bus out of town to Vancouver. Glenn wasn't quite so fortunate and we had to lug his bike and helmet to Vancouver with the plan of selling it there. We were quite sad to leave Whistler. We'd invested so much time into thinking about it and yet it comprised such a small part of our time away.

We spent a week in Vancouver, the main purpose being to acquire our visas for the USA. This was a surprisingly smooth process given the amount of organisation and paperwork that went into it. And so we found ourselves with an extra week on our hands. The weather was typically rubbish which put the kybosh on our plans to go to Vancouver Island but we spent our days at Stanley Park, Kitsilano Beach, a baseball game and the PNE (Vancouver's Ekka) when we weren't trying to offload Glenn's bike (hereinafter referred to as the BB (bloody bike)). To be fair, there was no shortage of shady individuals around our area of town willing to take the BB off our hands. They just weren't prepared to exchange money for it. We had a lovely dinner with Lori and Wayne, friends Bec's parents made while traveling in Egypt. It was really nice just to have dinner and talk about people that we know!!

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Vancouver's Ekka. No show bags, but an inflatable Thomas!!

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Baseball in Vancouver. Complete with view of pole.

We flew to Las Vegas from Vancouver for a three day stopover en route to Iowa. Welcome to the USA, where people really do drive cars with wooden side-panels (think Chevy Chase, National Lampoon Vacation) and where the price you see is never the price you pay. We booked a car over the internet for $12 a day and ended up paying a total of $136 for the day when taxes and insurances were added!! Nevertheless, we drove our over-priced convertible through the lights of Las Vegas Boulevarde to our hotel where we planned our assault on the lights and buffets of Vegas.

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Vegas by night

Glenn's plan to indulge in as many Vegas buffets as possible began the following morning with breakfast at a casino on the way to the Grand Canyon. $6.95 (plus taxes and tips, of course) all we could eat. And eat we did. We continued on, Thelma and Louise style, in our convertible to Hoover Dam (basically a huge dam with enormous appeal for engineering and farming types), had a look around, re-affirmed Bec's fear of small underwater spaces then took off through the desert (temp in Vegas was a consistent 38 celcius) for the Grand Canyon. We seriously (SERIOUSLY) underestimated the amount of time it would take to get there and really only had about an hour to admire the canyon when we eventually got there before heading back to Vegas to return the hire car. Despite spending three months in Canada, the closest thing we got to seeing a moose was the backsides of two elk (elks?) sticking out of some bushes just outside Grand Canyon National Park.

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Dams are ugly. This picture of the lead-up to Hoover Dam is much prettier

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Nurse Nasty and her friends at the Grand Canyon. Nurse Nasty has nearly been to as many places as Bec.

Our self-guided walking tour of Vegas the following day began with a hearty breakfast buffet and our rough notes on all the free stuff to see and do in Vegas. If it was free, we saw it and did it. We gambled at the MGM Grand at nine in the morning (definately not free) and drank beer at the Fremont Street light show at eleven at night. The themed casinos are amazingly like the real thing. Our personal favourite was Paris, though Bec was partial to St Mark's Square at the Venetian. We saw countless wedding chapels, however the total bride count for the day was a mere two. Our attempts to reduce our mortgage by gambling were fruitless.

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The Luxor in Vegas

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Venice in Vegas

We stayed at the Stratosphere Casino which has a huge tower and observation platform at the top of its 880ft spire. We took the lift up there the morning we left to check out the view and to watch a few crazies escape death on the rides up there before getting ourselves to the airport for our flight to Iowa to begin our lives as children of the corn.

Posted by TDL 16:02 Archived in USA Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

The final Canadian installment

Birthdays, bears, BBQs and bikes.

-17 °C

The end of July saw Bec's 30th birthday fly under the radar, as she had hoped, with breakfast in bed, a bunch of wild flowers and a nice dinner. Bec thanks everyone who sent birthday wishes and gifts. She was particularly chuffed with the creative genius behind the 'pictures booklet' and how her brother always knows exactly what to buy.

The following weekend saw the Canadian National BBQ Championships held in Whistler. Glenn quite fancied his chances in the 'local chef' category but, alas, couldn't get the time off work to showcase his BBQ-ing talents. $5 bought us a toothpick and a small cup and we stuffed ourselves with BBQ'd pork, chicken, beef and ribs. As with everything in Whistler, there were some very hard-core BBQ set-ups. Glenn has committed a few ideas to memory so we can 'modify' our own BBQ when we get home.

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Canadian BBQ Championships

Glenn went to Whistler's first annual Cheese Rolling Festival two weekends ago and reports that it was more similar to the Goomeri Pumpkin Rolling than it was to the Stilton Cheese Rolling in that they actually rolled real product as opposed to blocks of wood. The action was pretty fast and furious and one has to feel sorry for the poor guys employed to stop people crashing into the hay barrier at the bottom.

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Crash control at Cheese Rolling

The biggest highlight for us recently has been volunteering for Crankworx, the biggest mountain biking festival in the world. It's held here every year for ten days and all the hard-core (really, really hard-core, not just wanna-be hard-core. There is a difference, trust me.) bikers the world over converge on Whistler in an attempt to prove just how institutionalised they really should be. Volunteering got us front-row positions at all of the best events and so much free stuff that we've almost doubled our baggage. At final count we'd collected 11 beers, four shirts, one ugly-as-sin truckers hat, one pair of gloves, one Wii game, oodles of sunscreen and lipbalm, countless bottles of energy water and Monster cans, four bike park passes, five free smoothies, one cow bell and at least one of us acquired a cracking hangover from the after-party. The last few days the temperature hit 35 degrees, proving that it does indeed get hot in Whistler.

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Crankworx craziness

Late last week we took the gondola up Blackcomb mountain for some spectacular views over the valley. There's still some snow around and it's possible to take a chairlift right to the peak and hike through the wild flowers. We have that on our agenda for the next couple of days as the weather was rubbish last week.

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Atop Whistler mountain

Today Glenn convinced Bec that it would be pretty poor, given that we have the best bike park in the world at our disposal, if she didn't ride the park at least once. And so we utilised one of our free passes and went riding together in the bike park. Bec felt rather lame on the chairlift wearing her helmet from England and a pair of sneakers while everyone else was decked out in full-face helmets, knee and elbow guards and full-body armour. To his credit, Glenn didn't disown Bec, whose days of riding to Shalom College did nothing to prepare her for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and the humiliation of being overtaken by six year-olds on baby blue bikes. Ignorance is bliss and Bec would have preferred if most of Glenn's sentences didn't start with such things as 'It gets pretty steep here..........' and 'You'll go over the handle bars if you............'. Bec did two green runs, then left Glenn at the park to re-instate his social cred by doing a few black runs. There are no pictures because Bec is not proud of her sub-optimal riding ability.

Bear sightings occur regularly. They're pretty much everywhere, including on the front steps of the bank which was slightly unnerving for Bec who intended using the cash machine. Bec also spotted one crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing. Using the crossing clearly didn't absolve the bear of whatever sin it committed in the village because it was hastily followed by two wildlife rangers with guns. Un-bear-able. Sorry, bad bear pun.

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Bear vs bike

Plans for Iowa remain complex but will eventually sort themselves out and we should see ourselves there in the first week of September.

Posted by TDL 17:25 Comments (0)

Yet More Canada

Popcorn and parties in a Pemberton potato field!!

sunny 32 °C

The Pemberton Festival has come to town!! Or at least to Pemberton anyways. PemFest, as it has affectionately become known, is to Canada what Splendor in the Grass is to Australia and what Glastonbury is to the UK. Basically, it's a huge music festival spanning three days and several hundred acres of potato fields just outside a tiny village called Pemberton, 40 minutes north of Whistler.

And, of course, Bec wanted in. So as a means of reliving her Big Day Out days while simultaneously hoping to generate feelings of renewed youth in view of her looming milestone birthday, Bec set about getting herself involved. Eventually she landed her dream job: making and selling popcorn!!! Mmmmmm popcorn. Considerable excitement ensued, given especially that popcorn constitutes a large part of Bec's diet. And so Bec spent two days selling popcorn and lemonade to the sounds of some of the world's best rock bands at the foot of spectacular Mount Currie. She slept at the campsite with 40 000 other people, drank beer and ate poutine and loved every minute of it apart from getting home. Logistical transport teething problems made sleeping outside the Greyhound Station look like the most viable option for Bec and her two new and equally frustrated friends from Calgary until (cue Hallehujah chorus) the arrival of Dan the Taxi Driver from Heaven who transported the tired threesome home and scored a 100% tip for his efforts. Total time taken to get home: 5 hours and 20 minutes for what is usually a 40 minute drive.

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The view from the popcorn stand

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Popcorn queen!!

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Tent city and a familiar tent

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Wolfmother on stage-cam

Posted by TDL 20:01 Archived in Canada Tagged events Comments (0)

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