Welcome to part 4/5 of TDN editor Trevor Johnson's blog about his and his girlfriend's five-week road trip from Washington DC to San Francisco, which took place earlier this year. This week's instalment opens as they wake up for their first day in Last Vegas... (Click to read part one, part two and part three)
We go out, inappropriately dressed for the scorching heat. For some reason I thought that a long-sleeve shirt, lambswool jumper and summer jacket would be the ideal configuration of clothing for 77 degree weather. We only get as far as the Excalibur next door when we decide to turn back to get the camera and indeed change into more suitable outfits. Delicious sugar cinnamon pretzel in New York New York.
32) Vegas is surprisingly tricky to get around. This is the most important road trip tip you need to take away from us on Vegas. Yes, Vegas has a monorail but the stops are few and far between and often hard to find (good luck if you can find the one in MGM Grand). Walking along The Strip seems like a good idea until you realise that you can only do this on one side of the road – and it's very, very hot. If you attempt to walk on the other side you will find yourself in an endless maze of walkways leading inside shopping complexes and hotels. At least they're air conditioned but it's verrry slow going. After a day out, if you have any distance to walk – ie you're staying at the Luxor – you are best off splashing out on a taxi. Just go up to Caesar's or the Bellagio and join the taxi rank. They usually move quickly.
Rachel outside Bellagio (directly behind her) and Caesar's Palace (to the right).
We can go no further – not without a siesta, so head back.
Matt Goss sharing billboard space with... Jerry Seinfeld? Good luck to the former Bros singer, but who knew!?
33) Go to Mandalay Bay Hotel at night. In the evening we decide to start next door at the Mandalay Bay Hotel – my friend Andrew says it has a great rooftop bar. We struggle to find it within the cavernous hotel but eventually manage to – and it’s spectacular. Rachel’s glass of wine costs $16 but “was completely worth it”. If you're looking for it, it's on the 64th floor and is at the top of THEHotel. Worth remembering or it will all end in confusion.
We go down to the ground floor for dinner, where the waiter asks us if we mind “sitting outside”. This means on the restaurant’s terrace, which is, er, still inside the hotel building. Mad...
Rachel went to the pool while I began an epic odyssey to the Venetian, during which I texted Andrew in London to check directions. He has a good knowledge of Vegas casino locations. I even try to find the monorail within MGM Grand but the signposts unhelpfully run out somewhere around the lion enclosure, which I assume to be a hallucination.
I find the Venetian with 20 minutes to spare and buy into their midday $150 deepstack freezeout.
Doug Lee bizarrely joins our table early into the tournament. Poker people will need no explanation as to who he is. He is reserved and not willing to tell someone his name but we know who he is. He gets knocked out by a wily old Chinese man next to me. I last nearly five hours and come 15/69 in a toughish field.
A small section of the ceiling at the Venetian. I painted it while waiting for Rachel to pick some postcards from the gift shop.
I meet Rachel, who is across the road at Treasure Island, and we go to a buffet where you cough up your $22 and then are allowed to enter the buffet arena, where you can go crazy on all types of food from sushi to barbecue.
We end the evening by catching the classic Vegas public shows: the pirates at Treasure Island, the volcanoes at the Mirage and the amazing fountains at the Bellagio. Rachel even plays a few hands of blackjack - we leave O'Shea's casino $12 up! Come on!
Rachel's brain whirring into high gear, like a gigantic 1960s mainframe.
34) If you want to play some cash poker in Vegas, O'Shea's is unbeatable. Full of drunk tourists enjoying the free drinks, all you have to do is sit tight and wait for a hand and you WILL get paid off. However, you will have to endure the dwarf who acts as a barker on the sidewalk, shouting into a microphone about all the great things about O'Shea's.
We finish with a drink in the swanky Bellagio, where I peek a look into the high stakes poker room – sadly no famous players. Taxi back to Luxor.
The front of our hotel. 'Ere squire, where's your mummy hahahaha!??!!
In the evening, Rachel and I walk down to The Cosmopolitan, which had impressed us with its crazily angled towers and dazzling threads of blue neon glowing in the darkness.
On the way we witnessed the most bizarre sight of the holiday so far – a man in Elvis costume having an argument with his somewhat plain girlfriend, Penny, with him constantly “storming” off, but not really wanting to storm off, preferring to keep turning round to tell her how he had her computer and was going to keep it. When she offered him some notes he said I want all the money. He was through playing games.
Another drink in Monte Carlo and then home.
Finally we leave Las Vegas, but not before, on the morning coffee run, someone wishes Rachel “an exquisite day”. You don’t get that on the Piccadilly Line. It’s not long before we’re in California, our final state. A long drive through the 100-odd miles through Death Valley, including a lunch stop at a strange little “town” (it wasn’t a town, just a cluster of shops someone had thrown together and declared a town) called Stovepipe Wells, which included a brief exchange with two really crazy-seeming dudes (apologies to the crazy-seeming dudes!) at a motel.
Our improvised lunch of Ritz biscuits, processed cheese, ham and hotdog mustard is eaten while, not to put too fine a point on it, sweating in the car park.
Onwards. Death Valley is beautiful, its landscape frequently switching from mountains to pure sand dunes to flat, white, mineral-rich desert, and the roads alternating from hairpin bends to dead straight stretches that rise and fall in dips shimmering in the heat.
For one 20-mile stretch we are told to switch off the AC to prevent the engine from over-heating.
Check in to Dow Villa at Lone Pine, a motel where John Wayne sometimes stayed when making his westerns.
It’s a lovely small town with spectacular mountains on either side, and there is a strong, warm wind blowing that makes thousands of tiny, pasta-shell shaped leaves dance madly round our feet in circles.
Lunch stop at June Lake.
Rachel hits the laundromat while I go back to Death Valley to take pics of the last stretch, which I’d thought so photogenic the day before but had been unable to snap because of the battery problem.
I return to pick up R and we drive through wonderful snowy mountains, which close around us. We hadn’t been expecting the whole snow and mountains thing to continue, let alone grow in scale, and we stop to take a photo at a frozen lake.
Packed lunch at a deserted picnic site at June Lake.
Good fun to be listening out for the sound of bears padding across the frosty snow. When we try to walk to the lake (we fail, too much snow) I see large tracks – including toe marks. Exciting.
But semi-disaster strikes later when our attempt to take a road into Yosemite is thwarted by a road closure (snow). Come on guys, this is meant to be California – I saw CHIPS and Dirty Harry growing up: it was all parched highways and dusty hills. And besides, it’s hot today – it can’t be hot and snowy, that’s science.
We drive another 30 miles and the next entrance road is closed, too. CHIPS? Dirty Harry? Anyone? And the next one, another 30 miles on. He-llo? This wouldn’t have happened under Schwarzenegger. He’d have gone back in time and terminated the snowfall without stopping his goddamned motorbike.
We pull over at the next town – Topaz Lake, just into Nevada – to call the tent reservation people at Curry Village, Yosemite, which Rachel manages to do after a stressful the-money-keeps-running-out phone call. So, unexpectedly in Nevada again. Just.
Head off (again) for Yosemite. By now we are singing “Yosemite” to the tune of Yo-Diggedy, which at least helps to pass the time. We head even deeper into the mountains on winding and deserted roads where snow banks rise above the car on either side of the road for miles on end.
Onwards, through lush countryside, across bridges spanning sparkling blue lakes and then around hairpin bends in ear-popping mountains. We enter Yosemite and the journey becomes even more incredible as we gawp at distant waterfalls playing out in slow motion, and the famous El Capitan, a mighty slab of rock on which you can apparently often see tiny specks – climbers.
We eventually reach Curry Village and experience equal parts excitement, amusement and anxiety as we see rows of white tents lined up in the formidable shade (ie near darkness) of one of the mountains. We check in and receive the first of many bear warnings (we must keep all food, drink and toiletries in the locker outside our tent).
Our moment of expectation is dulled somewhat as the key to our tent fails. An apologetic member of staff soon lets us in and we make our elaborate bed with half a dozen blankets. Then we’re asked to move to another tent.
Here is our new home, number 24. Aaaahhhh. Note the high banks of snow er, insulating, it. Oh, and it's unheated.
We unpack, make the bed again and go out for a pizza – our tent may be unheated and free of electricity points but the facilities in Curry Village are superb, and the staff the most efficient and helpful of the whole trip.
We eat the pizza on the food court’s patio and have a couple of drinks. We later move inside to the pavilion but however warm it is in here, it’s a bit busy and we’re very tired so we head back to the tent, where we put on multiple layers of clothing including hoodies and hats, to go to bed.
We turn out lights – sorry, light – out at, er, 8.45pm. It’s very peaceful anyway, as there’s a stfu rule applying from 10-6, which is observed impeccably. No sound except that of a big waterfall about a quarter of a mile anyway.
9.15am. I’d imagined that, having gone to bed so early, I’d be up at 5am, frying bacon and eggs, having trimmed my moustache and exchanged cricket scores with the nearest Englishman, and then that I would scale El Capitan in a rakish smoking jacket before abseiling down on a rope made of virgins’ hair, in time for lunch.
As it turned out, it’s 9.15am before I extricate myself from the gordian knot of clothes and blankets that imprison me, and stomp down to the “showerhouse” to get naked with a bunch of fratboys.
R and I saunter the mile to Yosemite Village, where we’re disappointed to learn that we’re a few days too early to be able to rent bikes. Instead we walk the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, but the top is closed due to a rock slide. We push on for the further Nevada Falls but other walkers are coming back the other way, saying it was impassable due to snow.
As we’re going to sleep, I think I hear a crack of thunder but then realise it must be some rocks shifting or falling nearby.
Wish I'd seen this yesterday. I feel bad now.
Another very long sleep in the silent but busy camp. This morning’s (lighter) mission is a walk to Mirror Lake, which takes us through mountain lion country, or so the warning signs say. As with bears, you’re supposed to fight back if attacked. Okay then. As opposed to lying down and keeping still?
We walk quietly through the woods, hoping for a shot at being mauled, and there’s a scary moment when Rachel spots what looks like some feral feline skulking at the back of a boulder above us, but it turns out to be a broken tree.
We see the lake and then begin a long journey away from the Yosemite, which is made slow and tedious (if stunningly beautiful) by roadworks and the hairpin bends already mentioned.
Again I want to push on for a really good night stop, rather than just making some arbitrary interstate stop that will cost us a day, and Rachel navigates us brilliantly around San Francisco rush hour so that we are en route for Napa Valley (including passing through Zodiac killer territory, notably past (distant) Lake Berryessa, but more on this will follow when we reach San Francisco, no doubt).
There are three main wine towns on the road to Napa Valley and after a very quick stop at pricey St Helena (think Hampstead) we end up at Calistoga, after somehow spotting a Best Western in the darkness on the edge of town (not a bad name for an album). A very long and tricky drive is over. At first we think it’s just a block of apartments but finally we discover it’s a hotel.
Into town for Italian, back home to watch nicely salacious documentary on Charlie Sheen. Good night.Read Part 5