Back in May as we were preparing to move back to New York, I realized that I had a visitor sitting on my desk. My nephew Mark in Utah had sent Flat Stanley my way, and for months I'd done nothing with him. The school year was soon to end, so Stanley and I headed out for a Chicago adventure. Here's the letter Stanley wrote to accompany him on his trip back home to Utah.




Dear Mark & everybody--

It's nice to see you again. How have you been?

I've had a good old time in Chicago. Thanks for sending me there! I'm sorry I was gone for so long, but I was having such a good time I almost didn't want to come back!

Flat Stanley and I wait for the el train You should see all the amazing things they have in Chicago (which by the way is the biggest city in the state of Illinois, and the third biggest city in the whole United States!).

The second tallest building in the United States is here. It used to be called the Sears Towers, but they recently changed the name to the Willis Tower. I went all the way to the 103rd floor. There's an enclosed balcony on the side of the building that you can stand in, where the floor is glass and you can look alllllll the way down to the street 1,353 feet below. Scary! Fun!

Flat Stanley goes to Wrigley Field Another cool landmark that I saw in Chicago is a big sculpture in Millennium Park. Its real name is Cloud Gate, but everyone calls it "The Bean" because it looks like a giant metal bean that's been polished into a mirror. People like to walk up to it and underneath it and try to find their reflections in it. It's harder than it sounds because the curved surface distorts all the reflections. I put a postcard with a picture of it here in the envelope.

Chicago has TWO baseball teams, the White Sox and the Cubs. Your uncle Bill took me on the elevated train to see the Cubs. The "el" train runs on tracks way up high above the street. In my first picture we're waiting for the train to come. We took the train to Wrigley Field, which is the ballpark where the Cubs play. You can see us out in front of Wrigley in the second picture. Too bad the Cubs lost that day!

Flat Stanley and the demolished building After the game, Bill took me to get a Chicago-style hot dog. On the way to the hot dog stand, though, we saw a big apartment building that was being torn down by a giant crane! You can see me near the building in my third picture.

Flat Stanley's about to become Fat Stanley People in Chicago really love hot dogs. There are hot dog stands EVERYWHERE! People like to pile really weird stuff on the hot dogs in Chicago. In my fourth picture, you can see me with my Chicago dog. It's a hot dog with tomato slices, relish, celery salt, diced onions, hot peppers, melted cheese, and a pickle spear! Can you believe all that crazy stuff? It's hard to eat without things falling out and making a mess. But it's so good!

By the way, they don't like ketchup on hot dogs in Chicago. If you put ketchup on your hot dog, people will give you dirty looks.

It probably won't arrive for another day or two, but I sent some special Chicago popcorn for everyone in your class to enjoy. A place in Chicago called Garrett Popcorn makes a mixture of caramel corn and cheese corn. I hope you like it!

Love,
Stanley


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
[ continued from last week ]

In retrospect, we probably could have come up with a solution that didn't involve throwing in the towel completely. We could have ridden each of the next two days until noon, then called for the support wagon and sat out the triple-digit afternoon heat. We could have just sat out those days entirely and picked up again on Thursday morning in Marshalltown.

But none of those compromises were within comprehension in our ragged states that afternoon as I laid out to Laura the math I'd run in my head, the risks of heat stroke or something worse, the exit strategy I'd worked out for getting us home, and most of all the fact that I just didn't think I could do another day under those extreme circumstances. And she agreed with me.

Bike arch, Lake View, Iowa Once we'd decided we were leaving, there was no looking back. We quaffed more beer and stuffed ourselves with tasteless, wonderful carbs from the Glacier Bay buffet, then pedaled another five miles or so through Lake View in search of Team Nasty's campsite for the night. As we set up our tent, turkey buzzards were circling overhead. No doubt they were hoping to scavenge garbage from the influx of campers, but at the time it struck us as ominous confirmation that we were making the right decision.

It was impossible to get a decent cellular connection from almost anywhere, so I took my iPad and hiked over to the public library in search of wi-fi. We wanted to get rental cars and hotels nailed down quickly. The tiny library was like a refugee camp, with maybe forty people taking advantage of the air-conditioning, some even sleeping on the floor between the stacks. Mobile speakeasy The line for the computers was long, but the wi-fi was abundant. I managed to secure us a Chevy Malibu rental for the next day from Fort Dodge to Cedar Rapids, and a Jeep Liberty the next day from Cedar Rapids to Chicago. I found us a couple of hotels, too, and prepaid for our stays.

By way of salvaging our vacation week, I shot an email to Templeton Rye to see if I could make arrangements for a tour the next afternoon, as long as we were going to be in the general vicinity of Templeton. (We are both big fans, and in fact later that evening we ran across Templeton's Mobile Speakeasy in town. It was just closing up for the night.) After that, I planned for us to stay in Cedar Rapids through Thursday night, when the RAGBRAI riders arrived there for a free Counting Crows concert.

I would describe our evening as lame-duck Nastys as muted and mournful. A large percentage of our team wandered out together and found a nine-dollar potluck dinner at a local church. We were issued group numbers and asked to wait in the crowded chapel until we were called. It took about forty-five minutes to get seated, Waiting for supper during which time a few members of our group picked up hymnals and started a quiet, impromptu choir recital which a few other folks joined. Dinner was worth the wait, though—far tastier and more generous than the offerings at the Glacier Bay buffet.

While we were eating, a copy of that day's Des Moines Register made the rounds. The first six pages were mostly devoted to stories about the heat wave, and about how dangerous it was for people to undertake any kind of strenuous activity outdoors. The sole exception was an article about what fun all those cyclists were having on their way across Iowa!

For better or worse, it didn't rain that night. Laura and I were awakened around 6:00 am by the sounds of people breaking camp. It seems the rest of Team Nasty, who had awakened the previous morning to find Laura and me mysteriously vanished, were now taking a page from our playbook and hitting the road early. It felt weird to not be joining them. The siren call of the morning road was seductive and tempting, but we had already lashed ourselves to the mast of a departing ship.

Our bikes are done I'm not sure how much there is to tell. Our support van very kindly drove us, crammed in with the luggage, and our bikes to the Fort Dodge airport, which was not very far off their route to Webster City. At one point on the trip there we crossed an overpass below which an endless river of cyclists flowed to the south. It was hard to watch them dwindle behind us and disappear from sight.

We picked up our Malibu at the tiny Fort Dodge airport, which contained little else besides an X-ray machine and a Hertz counter. Our bikes barely fit in the back with the front wheels taken off. Templeton Rye had emailed me to say that they couldn't run any tours that week because all their people were at RAGBRAI, so we did our best to amuse ourselves in Fort Dodge throughout the afternoon and evening. (Ted, by the way, is a horrible, unfunny abortion of a movie, but I gave it four stars for the air-conditioning alone. And it's more fun to watch when you're the only two people in the theater and can talk as loudly as you want.) We found a place for dinner with good local beer, then drank rye in our hotel room and watched bad TV.

The next morning, Wednesday, we drove to the Cedar Rapids airport, packed our bikes into a far more roomy Jeep, and headed into the city to find brunch and see The Amazing Spider-Man. Post-#RAGBRAI euphoria with @chavoen @colinpoe @bodysoulrest #jimnasty We were bored out of our skulls by that point and had abandoned the idea of staying through Thursday night for the Counting Crows show. We cut short our hotel stay and made it back home to Chicago on Thursday morning—which incidentally was Laura's birthday. We went out for sushi that night in our very own neighborhood. It was good.

And that's the story of how RAGBRAI kicked our punk asses. But, as Colin told us, there aren't a lot of people in the country who could have accomplished as much as we did in those two days of riding, especially in that heat. And boy, when our New York crew came back through Chicago that Saturday night, did they look beat up and badly handled.

I still hope to ride the full route one of these years. But next time I try, I think Laura will be the smarter one and will opt for the yoga retreat from the start.

[ to be concluded ]


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
[ continued from yesterday ]

A clap of thunder dislodged me partially from sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Because it was such a warm night and there was no rain in the forecast, Laura and I had gone to sleep without the fly sheet over our tent, leaving the mesh open to the air. But now I could see that the fly sheet was in place. As I blinked, a flash of lightning cast someone's shadow onto the fabric of the tent. I remember thinking, "Oh, it's so nice of Colin to take care of our tent," before lapsing back into sleep.

I slept fitfully after that, as did Laura, since the tent was now stifling. At one point I realized that she had tied back the door in the fly sheet on her side of the tent so that the rain would fall on her face and help keep her at least somewhat cool. I did the same.

I was chagrined to wake up at 5:00 am (when my alarm went off) and learn that, in fact, the lightning shadow on the tent had belonged not to Colin but to Laura. Since I didn't wake up, she had installed the fly sheet all by herself, not to mention dragging our bags to shelter and snatching down the clothes we'd hung over our bikes to dry. We broke down our tent and packed all our stuff away as quietly as we could in the sleeping camp. We dragged our bags over to the support van, hopped on our bikes, and headed out.

It was Monday, July 23. Our first stop in downtown Cherokee was the one shop open on the main drag selling coffee, fruit, pastries, and granola. We tanked up on caffeine, bolted some food, stashed extra supplies in my pannier, hit the latrines, and hit the road.

The time was 6:20 am, which seemed like plenty early to help us beat the coming heat, but the sailing was anything but smooth. As we joined the streams of bikes headed for the road out of town, we realized that hundreds if not thousands of riders were all trying to get underway at once. Police had blocked off one lane of the main road and were keeping the flow of bike traffic constricted there. The crowd, stretching miles into the distance, was riding practically shoulder to shoulder, in many cases almost too slowly to stay upright. Someone riding outside the cordon was admonished by the police to stay inside the cones for his safety. "What makes you think I'm safer in there?" the rider asked.

Within a couple of miles, we turned a corner and were able to spread out across the whole width of the road, but the crowd was still pretty thick, and we had a nasty hill to climb right away. Laura lost her chain shifting gears halfway up the hill and had to make the dicey passage to safety on the shoulder. I struggled to the top of the hill where I waited for her, watching the road bikes fly by and realizing somewhat belatedly that a hybrid like mine was probably not the best choice for making this journey.

Then again, road bikes had their hazards too. It was somewhere on the back half of that first segment that I witnessed a horrific accident. At an intersection of two roads up ahead, the police were alternately blocking the bike traffic and the crossing car traffic. As we all slowed to stop, I looked directly to my left and saw a fast cyclist hit his front brake too hard. He flipped right over his handlebars, smashing his face into the pavement. His bike fell on top of him, followed an instant later by a tandem that couldn't swerve fast enough. A pileup ensued that Laura and I both, thankfully, missed being part of. (Laura was trailing a ways behind me and reported that the aftermath of the accident looked like a real mess for the people trying to pick it apart.)

Hanover's old-timey sawmill Laura and I took advantage of the gradually spreading crowd and relatively cool temperatures—high seventies to low eighties—to crank out all the miles we could. We barely paused in the first town of Aurelia, sneaking around it to avoid the thick crowds on the main thoroughfare, then spent as little time as we could grabbing more food and water in Hanover.

(Hanover, by the way, an unincorporated town with a reported population of 3, was a good example of the circus that descends on every step along the route. Vendors alone had to have swelled the population a hundred times, and maneuvering through the crowds gathered to pet a baby calf or watch an old-time sawmill in operation was a slow proposition. Oh, and my shop teacher father would have cringed at the way no one operating the sawmill, and no one gawking, wore eye protection.)

By our 8:15 am arrival in Hanover, we were nearly a third of the way through our route for day, and I was feeling very good about our prospects. 9:30 am found us entering the town of Schaller, halfway done. And by 11:00 am, when we stopped for a good long rest in the shade of a gazebo outside Nemaha, we were two-thirds of the way there. But the heat was rising, the air was thickening with humidity, and we had really begun to slow down. We rested in Nehema for probably twenty minutes before setting out again.

We were careful about drinking plenty of water and eating regularly, but even so the fifth segment of the day was tough as hell to get through. Laura called out for a stop when she saw a Gatorade sign halfway along that leg. The bottles of G2 we bought from an enterprising gentleman in the shade of an awning in the driveway of his farmhouse were just the perfect degree of ice-cold. Laura asked him how much it would cost to let her climb into his cooler for a while. "Considering that the ice cost me seventy-five dollars," he said, "I'd have to say seventy-five dollars."

By the time we limped into the town of Sac City, five-sixths of the way to the end, the mercury was well on its way toward triple digits, and we were both wrung out. Drenched in sweat, overheated, wobbly. Laura asked one of the locals where the best place to find some air-conditioning would be. The woman directed us to a nearby pharmacy. (I think the name of the place was Oasis Drugs, but that might be a heat mirage in my memory.)

We lingered there in the cold air of the drugstore, finding excuse after excuse to stick around. We browsed the aisles for small products we could buy. We took turns sitting down in the automated blood-pressure machine. We spoke with the pharmacist. We spoke with the cashier. We did everything we could to avoid going back into the heat for as long as we could.

But we had to. It was still 9.6 miles to the end of our day's route.

Immediately outside the drugstore was a long, steep hill which also happened to be the route out of town. As we limped back to our bikes, we couldn't believe what we were seeing—people still actually able to ride up that hill. I certainly couldn't. We pushed our bikes up the sidewalk to the crown of the hill, then mounted up and joined the flow.

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that biking that final leg of our route was the hardest thing physically that I've ever done. I wasn't sore, exactly—one amazing thing about our time on RAGBRAI was that we took care of ourselves well enough that neither one of us ever experienced excessively sore muscles—but I was worn out, and the heat made ever motion three times as difficult as it should have been. No matter how much water I drank, I always seemed to need more immediately. Every time I saw a sprinkler that had been turned to spray into the road, I steered through it. Laura was told by someone with a bike thermometer that the temperature above the road surface was 114 degrees. We later heard reports that the road temperature had exceeded 120 at times. We heard reports that the thin tires on some people's road bikes had simply exploded from the heat. (Chalk one more advantage up for hybrids!) Several times we had to merge right to let ambulances pass. At one point I saw a team of EMTs at the side of the road tending to a man in a neck brace on a stretcher.

Here's the thing. The weather reports we'd seen before the trip showed temperatures in the high nineties for the first three days of RAGBRAI, maybe grazing 100 a time or two, after which temps would slowly ramp down to 89 or so by the end of the week. But this was the second straight day with high temperatures around 105 or higher, and the updated forecast now called for two more days of the same.

We took frequent breaks, though one of those breaks was mandated by Laura's chain falling off again on a tough slope. (In fact, this time the chain jammed itself tight between the derailleur and the frame, and it took me a few minutes of trying to dislodge it.) But two main thoughts kept me going through that last leg. First was the anticipation of food and beer. At the five-mile mark, we saw a huge sign for Glacier Bay Bar & Grille (and every mile thereafter). The very name promised coolness and rest, and we determined that this would be the destination we bent our paths toward the moment we reached our sleep town of Lake View.

Laura attempts a smile after a grueling day The second thought was a result of a disquieting realization I'd been grappling with throughout the day. Our current leg was 62.0 miles in length. The next day's route would be 81.2 miles, or nearly 20 miles longer. We were already pushing seven and a half hours on the road. I couldn't see a way, with weather just as hot if not hotter, for us to finish the next day's ride in anything under ten hours. Even if we managed to hit the road by 5:00 am—not by any means a certainty—we couldn't hope to finish until after 3:00 pm, and would probably finish much later. I was on the verge of collapse. Laura was on the verge of collapse. So I gave my permission to entertain what seemed, in the company we were keeping, to be a wickedly transgressive thought.

I told myself that if I could just make it to Glacier Bay, and if Laura were amenable, I would find a way to leave the ride and get us home early.

It worked.

Glacier Bay was located on the near edge of town. At 1:45 pm, we dumped our bikes and hobbled on wobbly legs into a huge wooden building that wasn't as cold as we had hoped but by God was cool enough. I bought us drink and meal tickets and staked out a table while Laura went to the bar to fetch us beers. The best option was Budweiser, but it came in those new aluminum bottles and was so cold that it could have been captured directly from the runoff of a melting beer glacier.

When our beers were half gone, I turned to Laura and said, "I have a proposition for you."

[ to be continued ]


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
[ continued from yesterday ]

We woke up on the morning of Sunday, July 22, not nearly as rested as we had hoped to be. But at least the heat of the morning meant that our tent was already nearly dry after the night's thundershower.

Our hosts provided coffee and delicious pastries, not to mention bathrooms where we could suit up and apply our No-Ad 85 SPF, our Body Glide, our Chamois Cream, our Monkey Butt. We struck our tents, and Laura and I helped pack Team Nasty's gear into the support van that would meet us in that evening's destination town, Cherokee. Two members of our subgroup, Barbara Lynn and Jenny, hopped into the two SUVs to drive back east across Iowa to the yoga retreat where they would spend the next week. Team Nasty jersey, as worn by @chavoen #RAGBRAI #jimnasty Laura, at more than one point during our months of training, had nearly made the decision to join the yoga party and leave me to bike alone. Part of her may have regretted the decision as we mounted up on our bikes and hit the road.

Colin, veteran of two previous RAGBRAIs, had explained in advance how to expect the days on the road with Team Nasty to proceed. They were a sleep-late, stay-up-late kind of team, getting on the road after the morning rush was over, and lingering for food and beer in each of the towns along the route. "You never do eighty miles in a day," he said with authority. "You do a series of eight ten-mile rides with plenty of recovery time in between."

Still, having seen the weather report, Laura and I weren't convinced that was a strategy that was going to work for us. The rest of the team was faster cyclists than we were, and neither of us particularly relished the idea of slogging through a full afternoon of triple-digit temperatures. We had resolved to leave as early as possible each day, although between everything going on at the campsite that morning and our unfamiliarity with the routine we didn't actually get underway until 8:30 am. We did get on the road before the rest of the team, but our start time was still more than two hours later than what we'd been shooting for.

That was fine at first. It was exciting to be on the road with dozens of other cyclists around us. On our way through town, little kids would rush to the curbs and hold out their hands for a slap as we passed. Out in the countryside, farm families had set up umbrellas and chairs to cheer as they watched the riders pass. Hand-lettered signs posted along the route promised cheap breakfasts in the upcoming town, or $1 water, or Gatorade or ice cream, or roadside Slip 'N Slide stops. No hill was insurmountable. Every downslope was exhilarating.

Only in America. Or Holland. Our first town, about ten miles along the route, was Orange City, one of those Dutch towns that celebrates it's Dutch-ness with copious tulips and windmills and wooden shoes. We grabbed a quick coffee and a water refill there on the crowded streets and continued another four miles to Alton. That's where signs had promised us a $5 breakfast of all-you-can-eat pancakes and bratwursts and scrambled-egg croissants cooked by firemen. Delicious.

It was another seven miles to Granville, and I believe it was early on that stretch of road that we saw what we presumed to be our first victim of heat stroke. A whole pace line of cyclists in identical jerseys who had passed us earlier were pulled off at the side of the road. One of them was kneeling, red-face and gasping, while others poured water over his head. (It was either heat stroke or a baptism.) A few minutes farther down the road, we all moved over into the right lane as an ambulance passed us heading back in that direction. It was the first of many ambulances that day and the next.

After Granville, we hit the slow 14-mile stretch to Marcus. Most days on RAGBRAI are laid out so the route runs about ten miles between towns, but not Day 1. I started making it a practice to buy water from roadside stands every chance I got, one to go straight into my insulated bottle, one to stash in my pannier for later just in case.

Something we would see in many towns It was not quite noon when, with relief, we spotted the water tower in the distance. (We had learned that a water tower in the distance indicated we were nearing a town. That or an American flag hanging from the extended ladder of a fire engine.) We were entering the broiling portion of the day, and a couple of miles later we were rolling into Marcus, a town singularly devoid of shade. We ate corn on the cob and watermelon and rested a while. Several times already through out the day we'd been passed by the young teenaged members of Team Nasty (Laura dubbed them the Nasty Boys), who seemed to have boundless energy, but it was in Marcus that we saw our first fellow adult Nasty. We didn't stick around long to chat.

The final segment of Day 1 was the brutal 17-mile stretch to Cherokee. Shade was rare, and the temperature was now over 100 degrees—and even higher on the road surface, as some folks with bike thermometers assured us. About a mile past the last good water stop, with about nine miles left to go, I stopped at the top of a long hill to wait for Laura. Often I would get moving faster than she would on downhills, and I'd wait for her to catch up so we didn't get separated. But this time, she didn't catch up.

Growing more nervous and agitated, I waited at that turn in the route for about ten minutes. I checked my phone for text messages, but the AT&T service in rural western Iowa is ridiculously bad. One of the Nasty Boys rode past and I flagged him down. "Have you seen Laura?" I asked. He hadn't.

Finally, unsure whether she was hurt or having mechanical problems or had somehow gotten past me without my noticing, I began the dicey proposition of backtracking along our route. I went all the way back to the water stop without finding Laura, which made clear to me that she'd gotten past me without my noticing. I had no choice but to set out again.

It was maybe twenty minutes later that I found her. She was waiting for me well ahead of where I'd stopped, frantically flagging me down. "My fault, my fault!" she assured me. When I stopped at the top of the hill, she had passed me and yelled that she wasn't going to stop there, but hadn't paused to confirm that I'd seen or heard her. When I didn't catch up, she assumed I was either looking for her or was hurt. The Nasty Boys passed her at one point and let her know that, yes, I was back there hunting for her. So she waited.

All this put us quite a ways behind schedule, and the final seven miles were horribly difficult. Two miles short of Cherokee, I was so worn out from the heat that I endured the ribbing of spectators to pull over and take a ten-minute break under a clump of trees. For much of the day I'd been in the lead, but this was where Laura began to pull further ahead of me. Hell, everyone was pulling ahead of me. It was like riding through hell.

Finally I dragged myself up the last hill before town, where a long, long downhill between leafy trees awaited. As I picked up speed and raced through that final mile, my bike picked up so much speed that my pedaling couldn't keep up. It occurred to me that if I turfed at that speed, I would break something, if not everything. But with the wind in my face, it was the grandest moment of the day.

Laura and I had completed the second shortest day of the ride, grand total of 54.4 miles. And it was already 3:00 pm.

Camp We were the first ones to reach the camp site that our support drivers had found for the team. All we wanted was to get our tent pitched (which we did), to get a shower at the adjacent city pool (which we did, though it was crowded and uncomfortable), and then get some food. But that last goal proved elusive, as the rest of Team Nasty rolled in over the course of the next two or three hours. It was evening before Laura and I managed to overcome the group's inertia and assemble to posse to head into the busy town center for food.

As we sacked out in our tent later that evening, well before the rest of the group turned in, tired and sunburnt, we resolved two plans of action. First, with a 62-mile day ahead of us, we would leave before sunrise the next morning without fail. Second, we would find food and beer on our own when we arrived in the next sleep town and not wait to make it a group outing. That had turned out to be like trying to steer an oil tanker.

[ to be continued ]


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I know you've all been holding your breath for the past couple of weeks, waiting desperately to hear how RAGBRAI turned out for us. Herein lies a tale.

RAGBRAI, as you may recall, is a seven-day bike ride across Iowa that takes place every year at the end of July. Laura and I had been training for months, and more than once during that time we had to talk ourselves out of bagging the whole adventure and selling our bib numbers to hardier folks. But our friends who would be riding with us assured us that, despite the predictions of very hot weather, we would do fine and have a great time.

Team Nasty (in part) So it was that we were ready and waiting when those friends, having driven through the night from New York City in two SUVs, arrived at our place in Chicago on the morning of Friday, July 20. After they had rested up for a while, we loaded up our gear, strapped our bike rack to the back of the Jeep, and hit the road.

The seven of us stayed that night in three hotel rooms in Dubuque, Iowa, about three and half hours from Chicago. We had an early birthday dinner for Laura at a very fine restaurant in town, though the tenor of the evening was one more of forced hilarity and final meals than of pure celebration. A band was playing in the town square beneath the clock tower later, and we joined the party for a while before retiring.

The next morning, Saturday, July 21, we continued west. I was impatient to get started with the ride, and excited. We crossed most of Iowa in daylight, moving from U.S. highways to narrow county roads. Throughout the day we began to pass converted buses painted in bright colors ("Team Bad Monkey," "Team Love Shack") Team Love Shack with ranks upon ranks of road bikes in racks welded to the roofs. Clearly these were teams with far more commitment to RAGBRAI than we had. It was fun to honk at them and have them honk back, but I also found their very existence intimidating.

We reached Sioux Center, Iowa, the start town, in late afternoon and soon found the house where Team Nasty had arranged to spend its first night. Team Nasty is a group of about two dozen cyclists mainly from the DC and NYC areas who've done RAGBRAI together a few times before, and that's the team our little subgroup was part of. The house belonged to relatives of one of the team members, and we all pitched our tents in the back yard.

Shelter We rode our bikes into town to get some food and beer—not as easy as it might sound, given that the small town had swelled with 10,000 riders and their support teams—and to wander around the RAGBRAI expo. Then, full of that Iowa specialty, the giant breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, and corn on the cob, we headed back to our tents.

The forecast promised nothing but hot weather for the next several days, but that didn't prevent all of us from being awakened by thunder in the middle of the night. Our back yard campsite turned into a surreal scene of silent zombies lurching around dragging their gear into the shelter of tents and porches before the downpour began.

Welcome to RAGBRAI.

[ to be continued ]


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I'm not sure when or why we first started thinking it was a good idea. Probably nearly a year ago, when we were visiting our friend Colin and the ride seemed fun and impossibly far off in time.

I'm talking about RAGBRAI—the [Des Moines] Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Yes, across Iowa. Four hundred seventy-one miles across Iowa, to be exact. In seven days.

Laura and I have been training for this since April, though not quite as successfully as I had hoped. The RAGBRAI training schedule suggests logging 1,500 miles in the run-up to the ride. My personal goal was 1,000 miles. I've made 756.

I've vacilated between euphoria, terror, anxiety, and zen acceptance over the past four months of training. I felt great when Laura and I completed a 70-mile training ride at the end of May. I felt horrible when I bonked last week at mile 66 of a 75-mile training ride. (Laura did fine that day.)

Now I have some trepidation, but mostly I feel a passive acceptance of the fact that we're on a conveyor belt that will take us to the start line in Sioux Center, Iowa, and there's nothing we can do about it. Everything will be fine.

Our teammates from NYC are here, and we're loading up the cars and bikes. From Sunday through Saturday, we'll be riding an average of 67 miles a day, and camping out in tents at night. I'll try to check in once a day.

Wish us luck.

The RAGBRAI crew tanks up in Chicago before hitting the road


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Into the belly of the beast I keep not finding time to post about my trip with Laura to the SXSW Interactive conference last month, but it was a swell time and I should probably jot down a few memories before a) they become totally instead of just mostly irrelevant, and b) they fall completely out of my head.

Laura has been to SXSWi a few times before, and she was adamant that I should come with her this year to feed the programming consultant side of my brain. We bought our memberships and booked our hotel last summer. We flew to Austin on the morning on March 8, the day before the conference started, which turned out to be a good idea in several ways, the first of which was entirely accidental. We ran into our good friend Scott Smith of Chicago magazine in the departure lounge at Midway that morning. With him were Andrew Huff of Gapers Block and Steve Prokopy of Ain't It Cool News. We were all on the same flight, and we ended up riding the bus from the airport into Austin together and all trekking to Frank for lunch (the only time that weekend we were able to get in, incidentally). We were also able to go to the convention center that afternoon and pick up our badges in fairly short order. The next day, lines at registration were a couple of hours long.

Venison sausage at Frank The panels themselves were varied and interesting. I attended discussions of augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smarter algorithms for pinch-and-zoom on touch interfaces, social/local/mobile services, online privacy, and even more abstruse topics. These panels all seem fascinating in retrospect, though I'm afraid that at the time most of them suffered from the problem of not quite living up to the promise of their descriptions in the program guide. Very useful stuff that, at worst, got me excited about doing more iOS programming.

There was time for entertainment, too. We made it out to Skinny's Ballroom to see Scott and Andrew (along with 18 other readers) participate in 20x2, an evening of two-minute readings. (They both crushed it. By which I mean they were good.) I saw a hilarious panel on comedy podcasting featuring Kevin Pollak and Doug Benson and others, and I attended Rainn Wilson's (sadly hit-and-miss) presentation about his spirituality site Soul Pancake. I managed to get into my own top pick of events, which was a live taping of Marc Maron's WTF podcast featuring Jeffrey Tambor. Jay-Z at Austin City Limits Live But it was Laura who scored the coup, using her Amex membership to get us a free pair of tickets to a special Jay-Z concert at Austin City Limits Live. ("HOVA! HOVA!")

And then, of course, there were the people we got to hang out with. We had dinner with our old friends Donna and Tad, who left New York for Austin even before Laura and I left for Chicago. I saw Stina Leicht—author of the new And Blues Skies from Pain, and with whom I share an agent—a couple of times. Welcome to 6th Street We ran into Rik Catlow, an artist we both used to work with well over a decade ago and whose work hangs on our wall, and Erin Dorr, whom Laura used to work with. And then there was that epic night with Scott and Andrew and Matt Wood and Paul M. Davis that started outside a journalism party and traveled through the Hilton bar on its way The Jackalope and a pedicab and shouted advice from a homeless man before it blacked out in a stupor. The less said about that, probably the better.

In any case, SXSW was a great time, worthwhile from both a personal and a professional standpoint. I hope to go again next year, although I'll be tempted to add a film badge on top of the interactive...

A full set of my photos from SXSW is here.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
21

I'm still not sure quite how I managed it,
but I somehow talked my parents into giving me
the family van for two weeks that spring,
two long weeks that stretched into three.

It was my best friend Tim and me--
we'd been missionaries together in Idaho--
returning to the scene of the crime
visiting all the families we used to know.

No doubt I got the van because of that girl,
Miss Bonners Ferry, the lumberjack
who played classical piano, was a lifeguard too
and the whole reason I wanted to go back.

A nice girl for a change, good wife material,
instead of the tramps I usually chased.
Tim had his eye on her younger sister,
but those were long odds we faced.

A thousand miles I rebuffed his offers
to help drive. Insurance reasons, I'd say,
but really I didn't trust him at the wheel.
My father had treated me the same way.

Things were good in Bonners Ferry. We hiked,
climbed rocks. The girl let me hold her hand
one night, and we played duets at the piano.
Tim and I stayed longer than we'd planned.

Then one day he left his journal sitting out,
open to a page about what a jerk I was being,
always making him look bad. I asked the girl,
but she couldn't guess what he was seeing.

A thousand miles home is a long, long way
to drive when you don't know what to say.


28

I-80
Wyoming
night time
snowstorm
eastern slope
Continental Divide
15-foot U-Haul truck
  50 to 60 miles per hour
      girlfriend white-knuckled
           behind the big wheel
                swerving skidding
              on the downhill ice
           all our possessions
        rocking in back
      not quite
   overbalanced

I pump my
passenger brake
of course to no effect
snowflakes like hyperspatial
streaks in the headlight beams
    I gently suggest slowing down
            or even pulling over to let
                          me drive instead
                              but not gently
                                      enough

                              I'm an excellent
                            driver she insists
                      you should have seen
               that time I spun out in Texas
    and I didn't even run off the road

  but I grew up driving in snow
I tell her and you didn't
you have to slow
down

  it's the wrong thing
            to say and we
                            fishtail
                                            again

                                                                  one
                                            moment
                          of terror in the
          long, slow slide from
west coast to east coast

one harrowing strobe-lit frame
   from the superslow-motion
           accident that is

                    us


24

Wait, that's the one where
I lost my virginity.
Sorry, not this time.


23

Immediately after the tiny little Salt Lake City wedding,
I jumped in the Nova with Tim and his blushing bride—
not the sister. We raced straight to Evanston, Wyoming,
taking adjacent motel rooms. All night I had to imagine
what might be going on next door—which turned out
the next morning to have been nothing much. (We had
size issues, Tim whispered.) Their friend, a guy named
Bart or some stupid shit like that, met us in the parking
lot, having driven from who knows where for who knew
how long. I rode shotgun across Wyoming and sunny
Nebraska in Bart's Japanese pickup truck, all day long,
all the way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where we staged a
second ceremony for the benefit of the bride's family.
Before the sun was up again, Bart had lit out west with
me groggy in the passenger seat, on our way back to
Utah. I could barely keep my eyes open, but late that
morning when I caught him nodding off, the adrenaline
jolted me like paddles to the chest. I begged him to let
me spell him behind the wheel. He denied having fallen
asleep, and when argument failed I resorted to Plan B.
I talked my way through that day like I've never talked
since, and never before—babbling, burbling, blabbering,
spinning stories like Scheherazade staving off death.
I even sang my heart out, and every time I saw those
eyes drift closed I cranked the volume. It occurred to
me, thinking of Tim and his impenetrable bride still in
Iowa, that this longest day of my life was my payback.
It's just a good thing that road was so damn straight.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Of 2011, I mean. This has been one crazy travel year. Seems like every other week we're rushing off somewhere or other, and we're kind of tired of it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. It's been a great year, a ton of fun. Well, Laura travels all the time for work, and that's not always fun, but as far as personal trips go this year between the two of us we've been to Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, St. Louis, Lake Geneva, a hunting lodge in southern Illinois, Waukesha, and then New York City at least four times. Also, Venice, Paris, many small cities and towns in Normandy, and we even spent three days with friends from London at Disneyland Paris. I keep meaning to post here about all those trips, but I haven't even had time to sort out and label all the photos on Flickr. Every time I think about it, it's time to pack for another trip.

I'm posting this trip report preemptively from our flight to San Diego. Yes, we're on our way to World Fantasy, even though we don't have memberships. We hope to see a shit-ton of you there, because it might be our last chance to see you until you come to Chicago next summer for Worldcon. (You are coming to Chicago next summer for Worldcon, right?). This is absolutely our LAST TRIP of the year, and the only one we intend to take next year is to SXSW in March.

Yeah, right. Just wait and see how that works out for you, buddy.

Butt

Jul. 29th, 2011 02:39 pm
stubbed-out cigarette
moldering wet in the sink
on the Paris train
I'm looking for some advice, friends. Laura and I will be traveling in France and Italy this summer. We are reasonably experienced world travelers, which of course means we have a small collection of electrical power adapters and transformers. Our last overseas trip, though, was three years ago, and in the time since our fund of small devices has proliferated. Between us we now have two iPhones and two iPads. We plan to bring those with us this summer instead of bulkier laptops and piles of books.

Instead of relying for power on a bunch of big transformers, I figured that Apple would probably make travel adapters that would be easier to carry and safer to use. It turns out that, yes, they do make a World Travel Kit with replacement adapters to plug your USB cable into. Unfortunately, they only seem to sell them in sets of six—one each for region of the world.

I need four European adapters, but I don't want to spend $160 to buy four full kits. Does anyone know of an alternative whereby I can purchase only the adapters I need? I'd prefer to buy Apple products, but that's not an absolute requirement.


UPDATE: I feel I should clarify that I have generic plug adapters and step-down transformers aplenty. I just want to minimize what I pack and still be able to recharge four iDevices simultaneously.
I was going to catch up on more of the week at the workshop yesterday, but Michael Jackson died and took Farrah Fawcett and most of the internet with him. You live on earth. You know.

On Tuesday, Brad Beaulieu made us all eggs benedict with crabmeat for breakfast. This was somewhat suspicious, given that he was first on the critique schedule for the day, but I don't think any of us actually changed our comments because of the fantastic food. Most of us joked about it, though.

My first-fifty was the fourth and last to go under the scalpel that day. I got a ton of very helpful feedback. There were elements of the book that I was very happy to hear that people were responding to, I got confirmation that the bits I suspected were big problems really were big problems, and then I heard just oodles of impressions and misimpressions On the Zane Grey Ballroom balcony that helped me see where I was setting the wrong expectations, where I was being unclear or vague, or where I was just being silly. Leaving the critique session, my mind was already whirring, working on how best to integrate the feedback I received into the next draft. I was very happy with the way it all went.

From this remove, some of the days begin to blur together, but I think I'm pretty safe in saying that we returned to the balcony at the Zane Grey Ballroom to enjoy beer in the open air at an even greater altitude than that of street-level Flagstaff. That happened almost every night.

On Wednesday, we began convening in smaller groups to do dissections of full novel manuscripts—or, at least, of whatever portion of those manuscripts does exist. That's been going on in groups of three or four ever since. Each of us was assigned two full manuscripts to read, and in turn had two participants read our Meet the authors own full manuscript. My session took place this morning at Macy's Coffee. Eugene Myers and Rob Ziegler gave me an incredible thorough, helpful, and encouraging critique of my 70,000 words so far. When this book sells, I will owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

To hop back a couple of nights, now, on Wednesday evening we had a group viewing of Cloverfield. The movie was a lot more fun than I expected it to be. I found it well-made and effective for what it was, and of course it's always fun to see a city you know well get destroyed by a giant monster. It shared a lot of plot elements with one of my favorite little movies, the 1988 Anthony Edwards thriller Miracle Mile, but of course was a very different film. I jumped when the first explosion hit.

For Thursday evening, which would be last night, Sarah Kelly set up a Meet the Authors event at the Wine Loft in downtown Flagstaff. [livejournal.com profile] gregvaneekhout was featured prominently in an Arizona Daily Sun article promoting the event, in fact. Six of us sat on a panel of sorts and answered questions about our writing that we had come up with ourselves and given to Sarah. Eatin' pancakes The audience actually outnumbered the panel, and they had good, solid questions for us when we had run out of our own questions. From there we shifted our base of operations to the Beaver Street Brewery.

This morning before my critique session, Greg and I rounded up what equipment and food supplies we had in our apartment and hosted a banana pancake breakfast for the women staying in this same building with us. (Most of the men are staying in another place across town.) This was greatly aided, and in fact suggested, by the two boxes of pancake mix we found in our cupboards, and by the bottle of imitation maple syrup in the fridge. I think the pancakes were a hit!

Around noon (actually a bit later because on my way back from my critique session at Macy's I realized I had left my leather coat on my chair and ran back only to find that the coat was gone and hadn't been turned in but thank goodness Rob Ziegler had grabbed it for me before he left), we convened as a group briefly so that Mike Kelly could photograph us for the obligatory Locus workshop pic. There is melancholy in the realization that things are winding down, but I'm starting to miss home a lot, and I can't wait to see my wife and dog tomorrow night. I'll be internalizing the stuff I learned this week for a while, and I'm really glad I was able to come.

P.S. Greg van Eekhout is best roommate! And his novel Norse Code rocks. Buy it.
The first official day of Starry Heaven went very well, I thought. We critiqued the first four of our twelve first-fifties. (For those curious, we spend the first three days looking at the first fifty pages of everyone's novel, on the theory that those pages have to be strong when they go to an editor or agent as a proposal.) Many helpful comments were offered and received, and there was a satisfying and comfortable lack of drama. Everyone here knew at least one other person prior to the workshop convening, and some of us knew a lot of the other participants. It looks to me like everyone is managing to fit in, which is good. (And we were all glad that E.C. Myers, who had the worst travel luck of any of us, finally managed to make it here late Saturday night. It was too bad that he missed dinner, though.)

Starry Heaven convenes Lunch yesterday was catered. We had delicious little baked burritos, spicy tomato soup, and chips and salsa. After the afternoon session, a few of us hauled our stacks of stuff still to read down to Macy's and sat around chatting as much as reading for a couple of hours. Then the whole gang convened the Zane Grey Ballroom at the Hotel Weatherford and milled about on the balcony listening to reggae from the festival down the street, and later watching police, fire, and ambulance converge on the crowd. I hope whoever had the emergency down there was okay. Also, we saw a few trucks equipped with snorkels pass by in the street below. (I wish I had one of those for my car in Chicago on Friday. The water in the depression under the Metra tracks at Foster and Ravenswood was well over my axles.)

A highlight for me at the Zane Grey was getting to meet Mike Kelly, our organizer Sarah K. Castle's husband. Mike is James Patrick Kelly's brother, and since I also (entirely coincidentally and unconnected to the science fiction world) know Dan Kelly from Brooklyn, I have now met three of the Kelly brothers. My new goal in life is to collect all four! But quite apart from his Kelly family connections, Mike is a charming and fascinating fellow in his own right, a textbook-writing geologist who also designs interactive museum installations.

Oh, and the Zane Grey also had Lagunitas IPA on draft! $2.75 a pint!

After Zane Grey, we schooled over to the Black Bean Burrito Bar & Salsa Co. for a late dinner. Then it was home, where I crashed disappointingly early. Maybe they stay up later and drink more beer over in the other house. Going to have to find that out tonight.

Okay, now I'm going to put on the 2006 FourPlay String Quartet album Now to the Future (which [livejournal.com profile] frogworth kindly sent me) and get another critique written.
shunn: (Tattoo)
In other news, I arrived today in Flagstaff, Arizona, to attend the Starry Heaven novel workshop! I'm here with my poor half-finished novel Technomancers, which I hope my fellow workshoppers give a swift kick in the ass. I was hoping that at 70,000 words I'd be close to finished, but as it turns out I'm only about halfway through the first draft.

But anyway, Brad Beaulieu and I ended up on the same flight from Chicago and rode together in the 90 mph shuttle van from Phoenix. Sarah Kelly picked us up with Gary Shockley and whisked us off to lunch at the Beaver Street Brewpub where we met up with Sarah Prineas, Sandra McDonald, and Greg van Eekhout and Lisa Will. A pitcher of Lumberjack Lager couldn't get to our table soon enough!

Then we checked in at our B&B, where the room Greg and I are sharing pretty much boggled our minds with its palatial dimensions. Blue Heaven will henceforth have a lot to live up to! A trip to the supermarket and our fridge is stocked, although it was pre-stocked with bagels and cream cheese and milk and OJ and coffee and syrup and the cupboard with cereal and pancake mix and stuff when we arrived.

Okay, I'm starting to gush. We hear via Twitter that Eugene Myers is having extreme travel complications, but with luck he'll be with us late this evening. I'm now drinking a Four Peaks 8th Street Ale and signing off. The week begins!
Old man: "Where are you going?"

Waitress: "India."

Old man: "Have you seen Slumdog?"

Waitress: "No."

Old man: "You need to see Slumdog."

Waitress: "I'm not going to that part of India."

Old man: "Every part of India is that part of India."

In London

Oct. 17th, 2008 12:35 pm
Having a great time. Have seen [livejournal.com profile] fjm and [livejournal.com profile] secritcrush and [livejournal.com profile] grahamsleight. Now at crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. More later, and photos.
The morning I found out about the AC/DC ticket snafu, I was very upset. Finding replacement tickets on StubHub helped, but didn't lift my (back in) black mood. It took a special delivery to accomplish that.

Wild Bill What arrived in the mail was a Sinclair Edwardian club collar shirt and a red Baker City vest. I tried them on immediatetly, and they fit perfectly. I looked like Deadwood had ordered me up from Central Casting.

Together with the black tuxedo jacket Laura found me on eBay, and this facial hair I've been cultivated, my getup for the "old timey" wedding in London this weekend is complete. And what's more, I have my Halloween costume too. No, you're never too old or too male to play dress-up.
So, if we were going to London next week on the cheap, what sorts of things should we not miss that guidebooks would not tell us about?
Just when you thought it was safe to come back to my blog, I'm going to start talking about Egypt again. I've been uploading more of our Flip Videos to YouTube, and here's one Laura took of me just after (as I've mentioned earlier) I emerged from my journey to heart of the second pyramid. She, of course, is conducting the interview from off-camera:



A few new video playlists are also available, including five short videos from around the pyramids and the Sphinx, and four videos from our overnight train to Aswan. (But not that video.)
We knew that Friday, May 30, as another long travel day, was going to suck. We just didn't know yet how badly it was going to suck.

Over dinner the evening before, Ra'ed had broken the news to us that there would be yet another change in our travel plans. It seems the tour company had not booked our return tickets on the morning ferry to Taba soon enough, and the earliest ferry with berths still remaining would not be until 7:00 pm. That would get us to Taba far, far too late to make any bus that would reach Cairo at any remotely reasonable hour.

The solution foisted upon us—dreamed up by that same favorite benefactor of ours in Cairo who only days before had failed to get us from Hurghada to Sharm al-Sheikh by boat—was overland travel. It seemed fairly straightforward, if tedious, on the face of it. Ra'ed would drive us back to Aqaba, hand us seventy American dollars, and drop us off at the border crossing to Eilat, Israel. Once in Israel, we would take a cab to the Egyptian border, where a driver would be waiting to spirit us south to Dahab to catch our bus.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it?

As it turned out, the crossing into Israel went just fine. There was only one dicey moment, when a large and scary immigration officer demanded to know the origin of my family name. ("I—I don't know," I said. "We're American or Canadian on both sides going back two hundred years." Now, I do know that my roots stretch back to England, Scotland, and Wales, but who can recall that when confronted by a hulking Israeli who probably thinks your name sounds Aryan? Laura, obviously French in extraction, had no problem.) This, by the way, was the only man among all the border personnel we encountered on our adventure in Israel. The women were generally much more pleasant.

Once we made it through passport control, a border guard hailed a taxi for us, and we were on our way. The cab driver sped us through Eilat, pointing out with pride such consumer temples as Zara and Club Med. He seemed a little offended when I asked him if his accent was French, but I think I managed to smooth it over by saying we knew Israel was like our home in New York City, full of people who've migrated from all over the world. At the Egyptian border, the driver charged us $25 American. I gave him a fifry, and he gave me back 50 shekels in change. (Two shekels to the dollar!)

Our exit visas ended up costing us, much to the amusement of the woman at the exchange desk, 50 shekels plus 20 dollars plus 2 dinars. That meant our transit had cost us, thus far, approximately three dollars more than the travel company had spotted us at the outset. And there was still one more border left to cross.

Leaving Israel was perfectly pleasant. We crossed the long barren stretch of pavement between Israel and Egypt and entered the Taba border station. In all innocence, we strolled right up to the Egyptian passport control officer, handed him our passports ... and were denied entry to Egypt.

Let's back up over a week, to the day we flew into Cairo. The very first person to meet us there was a travel facilitator from our tour company. His job was to provide immigration with a "guarantee" for our stay in Egypt—proof that our travel was all prearranged and would be supervised by the company for the duration of our time in country. This allowed him to purchase our fifteen-dollar entry visas for us. Without such a guarantor, the only way for us to enter the country would have been for us to acquire visas at an Egyptian consulate before leaving the U.S.

The passport officer at Taba pointed to the visas in our passports, which had been closed out when we left Egypt for Jordan two days earlier. "If you don't have a company here to purchase your visas," he rather impatiently explained, "then you can go back to Eilat and apply for visas at the consulate there."

Of course, it was a Friday, and in that region of the world the weekend is Friday and Saturday. The consulate in Eilat would not be open until Sunday.

"We were probably in a rush, and missed our tour guide," I said. "We'll go back and find him. Sorry."

It turns out that in our hurry to reach passport control we had strolled right past a small group of tour guides inside the border station. We went back to them and asked which of them was from our company.

Ahem. None was.

The tour guides were as helpful to us as they could be, though. They got on the phone to our accursed travel agent in Cairo, who, when the cell phone was passed to me, seemed utterly mystified that we hadn't been able to waltz through the border like Fred and Ginger. "You don't need another visa," he said.

"Um, yes, we do. Now, where's the guy who can get it for us?"

I won't detail the further phone calls and mounting anger and frustration we experienced over the next couple of hours, stymied at the border as we were. A driver was waiting for us on the far side of the crossing, but he wasn't authorized to make the kind of guarantee required by Immigration. A helpful and friendly tour guide explained to us apologetically that there were guides who could be bribed to provide such a guarantee, but that his was a reputable company which could not assist us in that regard.

Eventually our nimrod in Cairo called with a brainstorm. "Do you have e-tickets for your flight out of Cairo?"

"Yes."

"You have your flight itinerary handy?"

"Yes." I had taken to a certain measure of curtness in my dealings with him.

"Take it to the passport control officer. Explain that you've been in Egypt already, and you need to enter again in order to leave."

Next to the currency exchange, there was an office marked "Immigration." The door was open. I shrugged, and Laura and I walked over to peek through the door. Inside was a tall, stern-looking man in an immaculate white uniform seated behind a desk. His hair was steel-gray and receding, and his nose was a thin curving blade. I sat down, laid the itinerary before him, and explained the situation—adding that our travel agent in Cairo was an obvious loser with a camel and a donkey for parents. (Okay, maybe I only said I didn't know why their man wasn't there.)

The immigration officer said, carefully, "I am only immigration officer. I am sorry, I can do nothing. But perhaps I have possible solve for you."

He went on to explain, as the reputable tour guide had, that certain companies would provide guarantees to tourists for a fee of $35 American. He pressed a button and went to the door. After a moment a fellow appeared in the doorway. The immigration officer raised his hands, palms forward. "I am only immigration officer. I know nothing of these things."

To truncate a long story, the man at the door wrote out a travel guarantee for us, purchased two visas from the bank, walked us through passport control where the same officer who had denied us entry stamped our visas with a cynical smirk, and walked us outside to the parking lot beyond. That's where I forked over 380 Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of 70 bucks—30 for the visas, 40 for the grease.

And that's what it took. We were back in Egypt.

And hopping mad.

We met our driver and set off south in his van. It was now 1:00 pm. We had missed our 12:30 bus from Dahab. The next bus would leave Dahab at 2:30. It was a two-hour drive from Taba to Dahab. By now we were impervious to terror on tortuous, twisting desert highways. Our driver got us there in ninety minutes. We barely had time to pee, and then our bus was off and rolling.

It was a large, comfortable coach-style bus, but with no restroom on board. We tried not to drink much water for the duration of the ride. We'd been told the trip would take six hours. Actually, it took eight. Having traveled south down the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba, we then drove west across the Sinai Peninsula, back north up the coast of the Gulf of Suez, and then through the tunnel back underneath the Suez Canal. There was one rest stop in the middle of all this, but it was only a quickie so the men on the bus (Laura was the only woman) could have a smoke and pee in the sand. I held it, in solidarity with Laura.

Here, Laura interviews me on the bus:


We reached Cairo at 10:30 pm. Our guide Shiko was there at the bus station—had been, for a couple of hours—with a van driver. Our dear friend the travel agent was waiting to meet us at the hotel. Believe me, when you haven't peed for eight hours, the man who put you in that situation is is the last person you want to find standing between you and the nearest plumbing.

The idiot didn't even realize that we had another full day in Cairo ahead of us. He tried to tell us that our van would be there at five in the morning to take us to the airport.

Koshary (yum!) in Cairo, Egypt Okay, let's fast-forward past the discussion that followed. It was past midnight by the time we managed to get rid of the tour people and get settled in our room. That's when Laura and I set out in search of food. All we had eaten since breakfast seventeen hours earlier in Jordan was a banana apiece and some of those crumbly chocolate-creme sandwich cookies that come in a tube. I had spotted a sidewalk cafe a couple of blocks away on the way to the hotel that looked inviting, and it wasn't difficult for us to walk there. Our waiter was funny and nice, and I ended up eating a dish called koshary, sort of a kitchen-sink affair built from lentils, chickpeas, tomato sauce, rice, pasta, chunked meat, and assorted other ingredients. It damn well hit the spot. Laura had chicken shawarma, and we took turns feeding bits of meat on the sly to the two stray cats that prowled up to our table from beneath a parked car.

It was a good way to close out an interesting but ultimately shitty day.

April 2014

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