SWeAT '05

South WEst America Tour

"The more you travel, the larger your horizons become."

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03-Sep-05 (D+18 / Mile 7,416): After a restful night in Morganton, NC, and an after-breakfast tour of Shane's aunt Peggy's new home town, we made our final leg of SWeAT-05 in an uneventful six-hour drive through upper North Carolina and the dreaded speed-trap-rich Virginia Highway-58. (We believe the communities of Emporia and Franklin get about half of their operating budgets just from moving citations.) Throughout this trip we have enjoyed spectacular weather (it rained just twice: driving by Knoxville, TN on D-Day, and an afternoon thundershower in the Grand Canyon after hiking the Transept Trail). And we enjoyed remarkably little traffic, with "stop-and-go" in only three places (southern California at rush hour, Austin TX road work, and crossing the Mexico-U.S. border). Now we end our SouthWEst America Tour with fond memories, a renewed sense of resilience, and gratitude for our good fortune in life.

02-Sep-05 (D+17 / Mile 7,077): Our final full day of SWeAT-05 began at the Hampton Inn in Jackson, Tennessee, where we met several families who had evacuated New Orleans as KATRINA bore down on them earlier this week. One woman said her son saw his car "floating" down the street on the televised news coverage, and that their house (on the high ground in their neighborhood) was flooded to the eaves. It helped put our tribulations of this trip (E.R. visits, altitude sickness, "check engine" lights) into perspective -- even the $3.599/gal gasoline no longer fazes us. After stopping briefly in Asheville, NC to see the grounds of the Biltmore Estate (winter home of the Vanderbilts, billed as the "largest home in America"), we continued on to Morganton and Shane's aunt Peggy's new home. Jarrett and Shelby got to play "Find the Kitty" (Snowball was hiding under the bed) and break out their toys one last time. Tomorrow after breakfast we'll cover the final 300-mile leg of SWeAT-05, arriving home by late afternoon.

01-Sep-05 (D+16 / Mile 6,599): After seeing the devastation of KATRINA while in San Antonio, we diverted to the northeast -- opting instead for Interstate-30 from Dallas toward Memphis, TN. We paused briefly in Austin, TX once again, this time to have breakfast with Graham Kinahan (one of Shane's colleagues from Lawrence Livermore National Lab in the late '80s and a groomsman in our wedding, now with Advanced Micro Devices). Graham is one of the smartest people we know, and even more gadget-friendly than Shane (he has loaned us his USB-connected GPS navigation unit to help us on the final two legs of our trip). Shane logged his 49th state visit (leaving only North Dakota as "unseen") when we crossed the Texas state line at Texarkana. Arkansas is remarkably similar to western Virginia -- even Little Rock was reminiscent of Richmond, VA. While crossing Arkansas, gas prices steadily increased as we moved both in space (toward the northern swath of KATRINA) and time (i.e., closer to the Labor Day holiday weekend) until settling around $3.399 per gallon in Memphis, TN. The net result for us? About $9.00 more per tank from when we started SWeAT-05. At least we made it "sans traffic" to Jackson, TN in about 13 hours -- just 400 miles from our final SWeAT-05 stop near Asheville, NC.

31-Aug-05 (D+15 / Mile 5,785): Remember the Alamo! Today we had a relaxing day in central San Antonio -- after lunch on the Riverwalk with Susan Medlin, Renee got to spend the afternoon shopping at the River Center Mall while Shane took the kids touring. We went through the Alamo (the Shrine of Texas Liberty) and learned that the seige of the Alamo by Mexico's General Santa Anna culminated four days after the declaration of independence by the Texas Republic. That pre-dawn assault on Sunday, March 6th, 1836 was therefore an attack on a sovereign nation that was to be recognized by five other nations (including the U.S.) before its annexation as America's 28th state in 1845. Shane and the kids toured the Riverwalk, taking a boat tour through both the natural and the manmade portions of the river, before joining Renee at the mall. We all enjoyed a Rudy's BBQ dinner with the Medlins at their home, then viewed Darren's Iraq photos with his dad (visiting from Dallas) to end a great day in central Texas. Tomorrow we'll break from our planned path through Louisiana (Interstate-10 is closed east of Baton Rouge), opting instead for a northeasterly path through Little Rock, Arkansas (one of the two states Shane has never visited) toward Memphis.

30-Aug-05 (D+14 / Mile 5,727): After sleeping in until almost 8:00 AM [Mountain Daylight Time] and sitting down for breakfast at Cactus Jack's (attached to the Best Western Resort in White's City, at the entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park), we took a short drive to the caverns' Visitor Center. Our National Park Pass got us free tickets for the self-guided tour, where you walk into the "natural entry" of the caverns and descend some 800 vertical feet along a one-mile-long paved walkway. Each "room" was successively larger, leading us to believe we had made it to the "Big Room" -- only to learn something bigger was around the next bend. The "Big Room" itself is very impressive, with many varieties of stalactites, stalagmites and other calcified formations (and a "Bottomless Pit" -- named so because early explorers a century ago did not have lights powerful enough to see the bottom 170' below). By noon (1:00 PM CDT) we were back on the Texas highways bound for Austin -- covering 420 miles in 6-1/2 hours! (I *love* Texas highways!) After a short visit with the Brooks family (Ken was a fraternity brother of Shane's and a fellow physics major; now he's a patent attorney) we continued on to the Medlin household in San Antonio. We'll stay in San Antonio for two nights, then adjust our route to Asheville, NC due to Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. We learned today that a general evacuation has been ordered for the City of New Orleans (our anticipated "beignet stop" on Thursday evening), so please keep the people of the Gulf Coast in your thoughts and prayers.

29-Aug-05, Supplemental Entry (D+13 / Mile 5,127): We did get to see Brent and Cammie Fraser after all -- a true "drive by" at the Village Inn on Airway Blvd. and Montana in El Paso. Brent recently completed a tour at USJFCOM J9, pinned on Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, and is now a brigade executive officer bound for battalion command in about a year. He's in the Air Defense Artillery branch, so he will most likely get a PATRIOT battalion (Remember the "anti-missile" missiles that shot down Saddam's SCUDs in DESERT STORM? That's Brent's business). After showing off the "SWeAT Wheels" and talking about trips and kids, we took a right on Montana and drove another 130 miles to White's City, NM -- just outside the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Tomorrow we'll spelunk before continuing on to Austin and San Antonio.

29-Aug-05 (D+13 / Mile 4,900 and counting): A quick update while in transit (presently crossing New Mexico, just west of Las Cruces). After this morning's spectacular sunrise -- unusual being on the "left coast" and getting a sunrise over water -- we left El Dorado Ranch with Renee's Dad and headed for the U.S.-Mexico border. Good news on many fronts: the "Check Engine" light did not come back on (my guess about the slightly-low coolant must have been correct), and we breezed through both the Mexican military checkpoint north of San Felipe and the Calexico, Calif. border crossing. Our $51.00 three-day Mexican auto insurance policy remained (thankfully) unused, though there was a little bit of drama as we merged into the flow of traffic waiting to cross the border (memo to self: next time get a map to the "Calexico-East" port of entry). We stopped in Tucson for a late lunch at "El Charro" in Old Town (best tamales I've had since "Las Cuartro Milpas" in San Diego's Barrio Logan), and a photo op with Jarrett by a saguaro cactus. It will be after 9:00 PM by the time we reach El Paso, so our hoped-for "Border Station" dinner with Brent Fraser and his family will regretfully not happen. Instead, we'll make today a LOOOONNNNGGG haul past El Paso toward Carlsbad Caverns -- so we'll have a short trip tomorrow to central Texas and our Austin and San Antonio reunions.

28-Aug-05 (D+12 / Mile 4,259): Though we planned an early departure, we decided to spend one final morning with the Miltons -- our wonderful hosts in Murrieta -- before braving Mexico's "Baja Hwy 5" for San Felipe and the El Dorado Ranch. After filling up in Calexico, Calif. (both the car with 91 octane fuel, and the kids with McNugget Happy Meals) we entered Mexico without incident ("Nada para Declarar") and crossed Mexicali to the intracoastal highway. Renee and I counted thirty (yep, 30) rolled-over, burned-out car chassis remains in that 100 mile drive -- definitely not a place to run out of gas. (It didn't help that our "new" Montero's "Check Engine" light came on while nearing El Centro, Calif.... My guess is low coolant in need of a flush, so I topped off the radiator and have crossed my fingers....) Renee's Dad Jim and his wife Sandi have a beautiful home in El Dorado Ranch, a community of mostly ex-patriate Americans looking for a simpler life. Just a short drive away is the coastal town of Puerto San Felipe (home of the original Rubio's Fish Taco) on the warm-as-bathwater Sea of Cortez. Add in some spectacular salsa cruda and I'm in heaven!

27-Aug-05 (D+11 / Mile 3,935): A whirlwind day of reunions with many dear friends today. We met Shelby's godmother Lynne Tucker and her husband Jim on San Marcos's "Restaurant Row" for breakfast and some deep political discussions (Jim and Lynne always get one's head in the game!). Then we dropped in on Craig and Jill Anderson (of Worship for Kids) and their kids for an impromptu visit. Their second daughter Brooklyn was born when Renee and I first met, and Craig and Jill sang at our wedding. Boston and Shelby did sofa head-stands, while Gibson and Jarrett guarded the perimeter. Then a quick pit stop at Fins for a shrimp burrito (best in the world!) before visiting Renee's mentor and former massage therapist, Lisa Sweesy (and kids Jack and Sofia). A quick bottle of Sonoma Cutrer at the Napa Valley Grill in Horton Plaza with Chip (Shelby's godfather) and Theresa McAteer, then an early evening with Gina and Kent Johnson and their daughter Casey (just two months older than Shelby).

26-Aug-05 (D+10 / Mile 3,791): Today's reunions began with Jarrett visiting the Milton kids' pediatrician to get his stitches removed (she was very pleased with how his ear had healed the past week). Then we got our morning coffee at the Starbucks-Carlsbad (at the outlet mall near Palomar Airport) with my Grandmother (the Marine), Aunt Pat and cousin Ryan. Pat and Ryan are longtime Carlsbad residents; "Kapuna" is visiting this week from southwest Michigan. Pat had to return to work, but the rest of us went to "Legoland" for the day. Debbie Tunnell (one of Renee's bridesmaids in the Wedding of the Century, with daughter Brittney [at right] our flower girl) and her three kids also joined us -- then hosted a BBQ this evening for all. More reunions are in store for tomorrow, then an early-morning run for the border on Sunday.

25-Aug-05 (D+9 / Mile 3,670): Another sunrise (this one over the northern end of the Las Vegas strip from our 12th floor suite at The New Frontier), a poolside continental breakfast with Shane's parents, then back on the road. While Shane's folks went south on to San Felipe (our destination for D+12), we went southwest across the Mojave Desert to Murrieta, CA -- home of Jarrett's godmother Andra and her family. Shortly after we arrived, Darth Jarrett and Obi Wan Cody pledged friendship and posed for a picture while Amber, Shelby(1) and Shelby(2) donned swimsuits and headed for the pool. South Orange County temps have reached triple digits -- not unlike Las Vegas and the Mojave. Tomorrow we'll visit Legoland with the kids, and see many more friends from our years in San Diego in the mid-1990s.

24-Aug-05 (D+8 / Mile 3,385): After catching the sunrise over Bright Angel Canyon and a campside breakfast of "Joe's Special" (see below), we left the tranquility of the Grand Canyon and Kaibab Plateau behind for the bustle of Las Vegas. Shane's parents staged their own road trip, departing the San Francisco Bay Area late last week for Yosemite and Tioga Pass to meet us in Vegas. Though Jarrett was looking forward to the Treasure Island sidewalk-side pirate show, high winds forced a cancelation. So we continued to the Fashion Show Mall (aptly named, in Shelby's opinion) for dinner with Renee's cousin Lee and his wife Michelle. Tomorrow we'll cross the Mojave Desert for southern California and a reunion with many dear old friends and family members.

23-Aug-05 (D+7 / Mile 3,141): Wow.... Words can not describe this place. You see pictures, movies, even see it from the air -- but nothing compares with seeing it in person from within. Truly a humbling and emotionally moving experience.

Click here to hear Shelby report on the Grand Canyon (11MB)

22-Aug-05 (D+6 / Mile 3,139): After a leisurely stop in Durango, we decided to stay in Colorado for one more night -- stopping at the Mesa Verde National Park, home of the ancient cliff dwellings below the mesas. After breaking camp, we headed deeper into the park for a guided tour of the "Cliff Palace". The Cliff Palace is believed to be a largely ceremonial site with dozens of "kivas" (circular ceremonial rooms with fire pits, vents, tunnels and a "sipapu" -- a symbolic entrance to the underworld). Jarrett and Shelby easily navigated the narrow paths and ladders. Then a quick stop at the Four Corners Monument in the Navajo Nation (where Jarrett and Shane demonstrated "Interstate Twister" -- "left foot on New Mexico; right hand on Utah...") and another Navajo National Park visit: Monument Valley, featured in over a dozen major motion pictures. The 14-mile dirt road takes you between many of the buttes and mesas, offering spectacular views of the "Mittens" (seen below). Shane had to lift a sandstone rock out of our way for our Montero to pass through.... :-) Tonight we'll camp on the Kaibab Plateau, along the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

Take a right!

21-Aug-05 (D+5 / Mile 2,673): After a night with the Stoughtons in Castle Rock (and a photo of our two kids and their Kate as "disembodied heads"), we stopped briefly at the Air Force Academy. Whamo, Nic and Tis will be happy to learn that Jarrett has decided he's going to be a Zoomie -- our future Airman is here in front of the AFA Chapel. By lunchtime we were climbing the Rockies along U.S. 160 -- the San Juan Skyway, shown in the photo above -- toward Durango and the southwest. Shelby got to see just how narrow the "Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad" really is (so as to better navigate the mountains). We have decided to stay at the Mesa Verde National Park tonight, saving Four Corners and Monument Valley for tomorrow.

20-Aug-05 (D+4 / Mile 2,283): While Renee and the girls immersed themselves in praise and worship at the WoF Conference, I took the kids (plus Jill & Tim's eldest, Sam) to Breckenridge for some "Alpine Sliding" -- the summer variant of luge. My fraternity brother Tony Stoughton and his family staged a moving intercept route on I-70 (needing just two cell phone calls to link up on the move). They and their friends the Chaneys (and their girls) spent the day on the slopes, with three sled tracks set up on the slope below Breckenridge's Lift 5. Shelby rode solo four times -- each one faster than the last. After a late lunch at the Breckenridge Brewery (including several "samplers" of their craft brews and an absurdly large plate of nachos) we returned to Denver with some sleepy kids. Tomorrow we'll head through Durango into the western desert -- and possibly out of touch with the 'Net until we reach Las Vegas on Wednesday.

19-Aug-05 (D+3 / Mile 2,043): The main event today was the mustering for the Women of Faith Conference at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. Five of Renee's girlfriends from Virginia (Jenny, Heather, Becky, Holly and Denise) flew in to attend this inspirational conference with Renee and her cousin Jill. "Shane's Shuttle Shervice" was back in business, with three (yep, 3!) trips to/from Denver International to (a) pick up Renee's mom (who also came to town for the weekend), (b) pick up Heather and Denise to get them to their hotel on Denver's 16th Street Mall, and (c) return Jenny's rental car. I live to serve. :-) For those unfamiliar with the central Colorado area, I think the Denver International Airport is actually located in Kansas. The sheer genius of Secretary/Mayor Peņa.... Renee's aunt Helen made brunch, and cousin Mark joined us for a little while. Tomorrow I -- the temporarily-single-parent -- will tempt fate and follow my fraternity brother Tony Stoughton and his family to Breckenridge for some "Alpine Sliding" with the kids.

18-Aug-05 (D+2 / Mile 1,829): After our "out of gas" experience last night, we spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in Salina, Kansas -- and I felt a lot smarter. We were just 400 miles from Denver, past the worst of Kansas's road work, with a Starbucks squarely in the middle of our day's route. Renee's cousin Jill and her family (including newest addition Allison, adopted in China just last month) had a wonderful Italian feast -- after the kids got their fill of toys and play, of course. Then I was to head to DIA (Denver International Airport) to pick up three of Renee's girlfriends who were arriving late this evening for the Women of Faith Conference at the Pepsi Center. It was a perfect plan ...

... Except that we have a boy who likes to bounce. And bouncin' he does, sometimes right off of beds and sofas. Instead of a T-I-Double 'Guh'-Errr Tigger, we have a J-A-Double Errr-Ett Jarrett -- who bounded right off the bed and into the beveled marble nightstand, lacerating the cartilage in his right ear lobe. Three hours in the Centennial, Colorado Level 2 Trauma Center, and I now have a much deeper appreciation for just how tough this four-and-a-half-year-old is (look closely at right and you'll see the suturing needle that was just pulled through his ear lobe). The ladies at the airport, it so happens, were either staying at an airport hotel (thanx Denise) or already planned to pick up a rental car tonight for their travels tomorrow (thanx Jenny -- I'll gladly shuttle you back from the rental car return tomorrow! :-). And we adapt while the adventure continues....

17-Aug-05 (D+1 / Mile 1,230): After a light breakfast (and strong coffee) at the Soard Farm in Tennessee, we crossed four states before dinner to see Shelby's first best friend in Virginia, Renae. The Rogge family now lives in Kansas City, just a 7-iron from the state line separating MO and KS. Young James was born last summer, shortly after our MoART visit, and is approaching his first birthday. The rest of the kids played -- including Shelby and Renae playing "evil stepsisters" to Kristen's "Cinderella" while the younger fanned the big girls. A late night drive (and our first "out of gas" experience of SWeAT... In rural Kansas... At midnight... Without our trusty gas can...) and by 2:00AM we're just 400 miles from Denver -- tomorrow's destination.

16-Aug-05 (D-Day / Mile 626): Our early morning departure took us through the heart of the Commonwealth of Virginia, including a visit to the restored village of Appomattox Court House (where Robert E. Lee accepted the terms that ended the Civil War in 1865). The McLean House (where the surrender took place -- about 100 yards west of the actual court house) has been restored, with some of the original furniture returned for display to the public. Then we continued on to Buffalo Valley, Tennessee -- near former VP Al Gore's adopted hometown of Carthage -- where my aunt Kathy and uncle Tom own a farm.

15-Aug-05: T-minus seven hours and counting... "Retro" ("Go!"), "Guidance" ("Go!") -- we're Tennesse-bound by 6:00AM tomorrow morning. Two lessons for today: (1) How do you fit 10 pounds of stuff into a 5(k) pound SUV? And (2) How much Diet Mountain Dew Code Red is enough?

08-Jul-05: Barely seven weeks prior to SWeAT -- less than a week after the previous post -- and our trusty 4Runner is no more... A "perfect storm" of mechanical problems at the wrong time on July 1st (i.e., just as I was entering the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel) led to a catastrophic failure of the engine. Rings and pistons, meet cylinder walls.... Farewell, Miles -- you served us well for nine years and 150,000+ miles. I am now the proud owner of a 2000 Ford F150 extended cab pickup, and two monthly car payments....

25-Jun-05: We traded in Renee's minivan for new "SWeAT Wheels" -- a 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited. Though our trade-in 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan had just passed 142,000 miles (i.e., low trade-in value), the Montero only has 27,000. Some mods to the "entertainment system" and we'll be ready! Our trusty 1994 Toyota 4Runner of MoART fame (182,000 miles and still going strong) will get a break this summer.

18-Jun-05: Stay tuned to this blog for status of our August road trip as we pass through Tennessee, Kansas City, Denver (and Renee's WoF Conference), Durango, Four Corners, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon North Rim/Kaibab Plateau, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Felipe Mexico, El Paso, San Antonio/Austin, Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, New Orleans, Asheville and home.

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