A small bit of backstory for those who didn't even realize I was gone. I've always suffered from a fairly severe case of the travel bug and after my last attempt at an epic trip, riding my bike from Paris to Istanbul, ended abruptly, I've wanted to get back out there. I found a kindred spirit in Anna while working with her in SF and after a few months of saving and planning, we decided to give it a go. We quit our jobs and sublet our apartments, packed up, and for the unknown.
Anna and I left San Francisco on July 20 along with Rowdy in my van (for its last journey across the US). Needing to be at a wedding on the beach in Plymouth, MA by the 25th, we had to really push to cover some ground, especially across the flyover states. SF to Reno to Salt Lake City to Omaha (933 mile leg in 14 hrs) to Chicago to Rochester to the Atlantic. We decided to be frugal from the start by suffering the heat without AC, which we may have taken a bit too far. Rowdy was not pleased during the 101 degree day through Nebraska. However, each day we were rewarded with the hotels that Stefan so kindly offered to us with his huge amount of reward points. Traveling for work 250 days a year pays off! Flopping on to a comfortable bed with the AC cranked was the best part of each day (also maybe Sonic). We also took full advantage of the gym and pool at each hotel to get some movement after the whole day in the van.
Arriving at my Uncle Rick's the evening before the wedding, we finally felt like we had actually arrived somewhere. The summary of the Mass events goes like this: Beautiful wedding on the Plymouth beach, Old Home Day and epic clam bake in Carver, requisite lobster rolls, disc golf with CA friend John, multiple BBQs, Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Red Sox game at Fenway, bar crawling Boston with Luis, amazing meals with Sam and Jim after assembling furniture at their brand new home with tiny baby Faraday, New England Aquarium, walked much of Boston, pork buns and soup dumplings in Chinatown, pool time, lots of dogs, making crab cakes from live crabs, runs around the cranberry bogs, nighttime horseshoes, and many, many more good times. Whew.
On to New York City! Anna's sister lives in Chinatown (more pork buns!) and was kind enough to share her small space with the three of us. Rowdy parked himself in front of the AC and didn't move much. With only two nights in the city, we did the best we could which of course barely scratches the surface. Walk by the water, hip third wave coffee joints, Shake Shack (!!), cozy Italian dinner, underground badly-DJed club, bespoke cocktail bars, and the obligatory Subway rides. I was grateful to see that the Subway has been updated since my last ride and now has some modern details to accompany the more colorful personalities that are always present. The 3 piece Mexican band was a good touch too.
Now as we arrived in the City, the van's brake pads decided to go from fine to catastrophic in the middle of the Brooklyn bridge and parking lot traffic. After a few days of pretending it didn't need to be attended to, I drove it (loudly) to the suburbs to replace the brake pads, rotors, and bearings in the parking lot of an elementary school while Anna and her sis visited their grandmother in Long Island. Because I was to be selling the van on the East coast before heading overseas, I had left most of the tools I normally keep in the vehicle back in SF, complicating the process, though I ultimately succeeded. Done with NYC, I picked up Anna and we began the last US car leg to Virginia, complete with full braking capacity.
Torrential downpours, lightning and thunder greeted me back to the familiar roads of Virginia, but calmed by the time we reached Leesburg and a welcome hug from Mom. Over the next two weeks, we prepared final details of visas, tickets, insurance, Rowdy's insurance (for those of you who know how my last big trip ended, you'll know how important that part was) and packing. We spent plenty of time with my Mom's family as well as in Upperville at my Dad's. I worked with him a few days grinding stumps while Anna chased bugs and snakes in the creek with my young nieces. I even got to take my grandfather out to play pool at the biker bar in the center of town, something I doubt he's done in a few decades. A welcome escape from teaching billiards to the other members of the senior center where he spends his days.
After being sufficiently lulled into the comfort of time with my family, it was finally time to leave to the unknown. While stressful, we were driving on the right (read:correct) side of the roads, reading in English, staying with friends and family and many more simplicities the world at large would not be offering us. Rowdy knew something was up for days and is very displeased with me (still is I'm sure). We're flying standby for much of our flights thanks to my Dad and despite being prepared for the worst, we made it on our first flight to LAX and then the first flight to Sydney, for a total of 20 hours in the air, plus 5 in the airport and another 2 on the tarmac.
Sydney was as beautiful as I remembered for 10 years ago when I visited except for one major difference – it was pouring rain. It was one of the largest bouts of rain the city has received in a decade and started when we arrived and except for a few hours, continued for our entire visit. Despite the weather, we wandered and ate our way through the city to the best of our stomachs and wet shoes capacities. The best choice was to upgrade to a private suite in a mediocre but affordable hotel, meaning we spent a bit more but had our own room, bathroom, shower, and kitchenette. It even had a TV and a stack of random movies to borrow from the guys in the office! Quite the luxury when you were planning on staying in a hostel. During the longest stretches of downpours and 100km+ winds, the room was a great respite.
One of the most shocking aspects of the city are the prices. With the Australian dollar being almost equal to the US, it is quite expensive. $18 pancakes, $20 six packs of beer, $20 cocktails, and $5 pork buns is quite the incentive to seek out the best among the cheapest options in the city. We found incredible Malaysian food, comedy shows, bargain markets, brewpubs with generous happy hours (and trivia night that is not kind to those unfamiliar with Australian politics), and all the beautiful parks and beaches that I remembered from my first visit so long ago. My highlight was our walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Bay during a lull in the rain. We timed it perfectly using the radar of the persistent rainclouds and arrived right as the sun began to break through and arrived back downtown as the weather returned. The swells that accompanied the storm were dramatic to say the least and the waves that were constantly threatening to push up to where I was shooting and drag me in to the chaos. Anna was not pleased with my desire to get as close as possible, but I survived.
In an effort to keep some bit of attention of my readers, I'll leave you hanging here in Australia and update you on our adventures in New Zealand where I currently sit in the next few days.