Bring on the New Year

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Welcome, New Year!

Monday was the first day of the rest of my life as a self-employed person. Was I scared? Yes. Am I still scared on day 2? You betcha!

However, I’m not usually one to let fear conquer me, so I’m just living with it and getting on with my life.

I returned Sunday night from a road trip across the United States with my boyfriend, Luke and our dog, Nikita. They are the two best road tripping partners I’ve ever had, no doubt about it.

We left Dec. 18 and got back Jan. 6, so that’s 19 days of road-tripping glee.

Since there are way too many anecdotes to share, I’ve decided to just share a few highlights for interest’s sake.

Our main goal was to reach my mother’s place in Texas so we could spend a few days there for Christmas. I don’t remember much of the trip down–that was three weeks ago! There was one night where we drove through the night and into the next day. It was around Colorado, but luckily, maybe because we did an all-nighter, we got into Denver, found a hotel and went to sleep just in time for a huge snow storm to sweep across the midwest.

The next morning when we woke up, the news was awash with stories of the storm and all the problems it caused. But we didn’t have to deal with anything except some partially cleared roads.

Sadly, it did mean that we didn’t get to see the Caplin Volcano on our way through New Mexico. We stopped at the interpretive center and had a nice chat with the rangers there, and even though we told them we were Canadians used to driving in the snow and we even had snow tires on, they wouldn’t open the road up the extinct volcano for us, saying that they didn’t want us to slide off the road and die.

The volcano, inactive for something like a couple hundred (thousand?) years, is a perfect cone shape and the road to the top if it winds in a nice spiral up the side. Anyways, we didn’t see inside it but we bought some postcards.

When we got to Texas, it was perfect vacation weather. The first day was a bit cloudy but it was in the 20s (Celsius), and after that we got a lot of sun, no rain and the warmth we were looking for. I think it even made it up to about 27 Celsius at one point. We were in a little town called Aransas Pass, which is near Corpus Christi, an ocean-side city on the Gulf of Mexico.

We had a bunch of fun in Texas. There was a gun show on and we thought, ‘When in Rome…’

Check your guns at the door. Honour system.

Check your guns at the door. Honour system.

The show was pretty scary, even though it was just a big tradeshow-style gathering with a bunch of booths and tables for sellers.

I learned that you need no paperwork, nor any training, to purchase and own a gun there. Any gun. And they had everything from handguns to hunting rifles to sniper rifles and more that I don’t even know. There were a lot of weapons there that were obviously intended to kill people. It was cool and disturbing all at the same time. It didn’t help that there were people walking around carrying their guns on their backs. What did reassure me a little was the gun check at the door, where you were supposed to leave your gun and pick it up when you left. It was on the honour system, though.

So that was an eye-opener.

We spent time with my mother and her husband, as well as my grandmother and one of her friends. I enjoyed it, as usual, but I think what I enjoyed the most was seeing Luke experience it for the first time. He was astounded by a lot of things, such as the sheer serving size of meals. Let me tell you, when they say everything is bigger in Texas, they don’t lie. That includes people (so many morbidly obese people there, because the serving sizes are huge) and food. So much food, and it was all so cheap. At a restaurant, my order would usually be enough for three meals…and everywhere I looked there were extremely large people cleaning off their plates.

But the food was good. There is a restaurant in Aransas Pass or Rockport called Pepito’s, and they have a burger there that is to die for. Most restaurants around here are so worried about lawsuits that they cook burgers until they taste like old dried leather. The burgers at Pepito’s were delicious, cooked to your liking, and juicy and full of taste. They were also served on a bun that had some sort of sweet glaze on it, which just added another level of yumminess. And every restaurant around there serves chips and salsa as a free appetizer. Definitely hard not to fill up on delicious homemade corn chips and fresh salsa.

One thing we realized was that life in Texas would be harder for a dog. The minute Nikita got out of the car, she ran over to the first grass she saw and immediately picked up these terrible little burrs in all four paws. When we were talking to a neighbour, she made the mistake of throwing Nikita’s tennis ball onto a patch of grass and Nikita as usual ran over and picked up the ball, along with a mouth full of the nasty burrs. After a few more similar incidents, Nikita learned to run around on the smooth pavement when she could. Another consideration there are the parasites. Apparently heart-worm is a pretty big concern. Heart-worm is a parasite that is transferred into a dog through a mosquito bite. The eggs enter the blood stream and travel to the heart where they hatch. The worm grows and burrows through the muscle in the dog’s heart walls, filling it with holes, eventually causing death. Once the worms have reached maturity, a vermicide can actually kill the dog too, since the worms that plug the holes are no longer there. Anyways, it sounds terrible. but despite my worries, we decided not to vaccinate Nikita. We were told that putting bug spray on her would keep the mosquitoes off and hopefully prevent heart-worm, since we would only be there for less than a week. In addition to heart-worm, there is always the chance of fleas.

We saw no fleas or mosquitoes  but I’m a worried dog mum so I’m booking her vet check up as soon as possible. She did get ticks when we were in California, and that was one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in a long time. Still makes me skin crawl to think about. We pulled out one tick but the other broke off, as I guess is common, so hopefully the vet can get it out.

Anyways, after staying in Texas for five days, we began our return trip up the coast.

Aliens welcome, even at KFC!

Aliens welcome, even at KFC!

We headed west through New Mexico (went through Roswell and the Carlsbad Caverns!) then through Arizona, where we hit up the Grand Canyon, getting there just in time for a beautiful sunset. We had planned on doing a hike, but our late arrival and the cold made us push on through Arizona and into Nevada. Passing over the Hoover Dam at night, we then had to drive through Vegas at night so Luke could see The Strip. He’s never been there and he had just finished reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (by Hunter S. Thompson). I hate Vegas and everything it stands for and it was hard for me not to be grumpy, but I swallowed it and we drove around for a while at midnight, mouths hanging open and camera-snapping like the tourists we were. If everything is bigger in Texas, it’s more glitzy in Vegas. When I saw an ad for a New Year’s Eve party with Beyonce, I realized Vegas is it–the city where everyone wants to be on New Year’s, even the big acts. Didn’t make me hate it less, though.

After that, it was a straight shot to Cali. Hitting almost two national parks a day, we made a mad dash to the Sunshine State, stopping for a look at the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest along the way.

DSC_0723 DSC_0724

Nikita poses on top of a car monument in the Painted Desert.

In the Painted Desert park.

Once we hit California, everything changed. We came in at a spot in the state I’d never been to and I realized how I somehow forgot how beautiful California is, even though I remembered how much I love it. It was Luke’s first time in California and since I promised him he’d love it, I was a little nervous.

But we got into southern California as the sun rose through a thick mist. We drove through these amazing rolling hills that looked we were smack dab in the middle of Scotland, complete with cows and mist. We missed Grand Sequoia National Park, which was the only reason Luke agreed to go to California in the first place–he didn’t want to be in the same state that is the home to L.A. Sequoia was closed because of snow, and if we had chains we would have been allowed partway up one of the roads, but we probably couldn’t have made it to the trees he wanted to see. Apparently the park is home to five to the world’s ten largest trees.

We stayed inland in Cali until we reached a spot called Bakersfield and then we hooked up with Hiway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.



This was the road I have been dreaming of taking since I knew we were going to drive around the States. I’ve been on parts of it and it is absolutely gorgeous. The Pacific Coast Hiway is the one you see in the movies, with the leading man/lady driving in a convertible, wind blowing through their hair, amazing ocean view in the background. We had two or three days of that drive.

Driving up Hiway 1 along the California Coast

It was so beautiful it was exhausting, the sheer pleasure of it all becoming overwhelming.


Sounds cheesy but it’s true…my brain can apparently handle only so much prettiness at once. So up the coast we drove, hitting up the most amazing aquarium I’ve ever seen at Monterey.

And then the last ‘highlight’ I want to share (although I now realize I’ve written too much for this to be considered the highlights version) is an awesome restaurant we found in Eugene, OR. It’s called Papa’s Soul Food.

I don’t know what made this restaurant so magical. Maybe it was a combination of the awesome blues/soul culture and atmosphere, plus the delicious food typical of the southern States (blackened catfish, fried okra, chicken and waffles, jambalaya and more!). Whatever the equation, this restaurant produced a stated of bliss in both Luke and I that is long unrivaled. We ordered a crap-load of food just to try it all, and if I can be cheesy and cliche, it tasted like love. The food really was soul food. Not only did it feed our bellies; it was the kind of food, the kind of atmosphere and the kind of staff that fed your soul. It was almost like eating at your friend’s mom’s house (not quite the comfort of your mom’s/dad’s, but close). We ordered  collard greens, fried okra, jerk chicken, chicken and waffles, jambalaya, not to mention some delicious and funky-named drinks, then topped it all off with a delicious bread pudding smothered in a bourbon sauce. When it was all over, Luke looked down at his plate with a wistful smile and said ‘I’m saddened by the end of this meal.’

There you go. Papa’s Soul Food, meals so tasty you get sad when they’re over.

After that, we hit Canada, spending a night in Vancouver and listening to Luke’s very talented friends sing and play guitar and banjo, then made the last long, snowy drive over the mountains, finally reaching home exhausted and full of road dust.

It was a long, long trip and we did a lot, but it’s one of the best trips I’ve done yet.

Bring on the New Year!

© Aspen Gainer 2013

this page was last updated Jan. 2013

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