Monday, November 24, 2008

Dog Park Heaven

I'm getting settled into the stateside gig now. When I got back from New Zealand, I had an epic 2800 mile road trip. Drove from my dad's place in Louisville, Colorado, up to Helena, Montana to pick up Conan. I scooped him up and headed back to Livingston to check out my house. The renters had everything in great shape. I let Conan rip around his old yard a few times and hit the highway. It was about 50F with 90MPH winds in Livingston, which was just too nasty for me. I went down to Prescott, AZ, my old stompin' grounds. I hit a bluegrass festival in Wickenburg, and visited some friends up in Prescott. Conan got pretty sick of riding in the truck all day, but he was a trooper.

My dad had foot surgery scheduled for the twentieth, so I headed back to Colorado to stay with him a while, as he wouldn't be able to drive for some time.

There's a great dog park close by, where I've been hanging out with Conan for hours a day. He's not too interested in socializing with other dogs, but he sure likes to take a dip in the lake and jump up on as many people as possible. The Louisville dog park is a hoppin' place-- sometimes as many as 30 dogs there.

The weather has been great, for the most part. Very warm for late November. Today was over 60F and sunny. I still feel like I need to thaw out a little-- I wonder if that will ever go away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


After a marathon of travel, I'm finally back in the states. I checked into the airport in Christchurch at 1:30 PM on Monday the 10th, and arrived at my dad's place in Colorado 27 hours later. 1.5 hours of waiting, a three hour flight, a three hour layover, a twelve hour flight, a three hour layover, a three hour flight... I was exhausted.

I spent one night at my dad's place, then hit the road for Montana. I drove as far as Billings the first night, then on to Helena to pick up Conan the next day. He was SO glad to see me! I was really feeling stressed on the way up, but couldn't put my finger on the cause. I suppose I was feeling guilty for leaving him, and was slightly worried that he wouldn't remember me right away. Fortunately, he acted like I had just left him for the weekend, and he had been waiting for me the whole time. He tried to jump out of his pen when he saw me-- a big relief.

He stayed with Daisy and Roper (his parents) for the last nine months. Daisy and Roper's parents, Wayne and Judy Carlson, did a great job taking care of Conan while I was gone. He looks great. I went back to Livingston to check on my house, and the weather drove me out. It wasn't too cold (about 50F), but the wind was whipping. After just being in balmy New Zealand and Australia for the last month, I just couldn't handle it. I left springtime, and found myself in winter. Yuck.

My house looks great (the renters have taken very good care of it). I really had no more business in Livingston right now, so I decided to take Conan on an epic road trip. I drove all the way from Livingston to Cedar City, Utah in one day. We drove from CC to Wickenburg, Arizona the next. I attended one day of the Wickenburg Bluegrass Festival, which was great. I'm not a big fan of country music, but Rhonda Vincent and the Rage were epic-- they did an all-bluegrass and gospel set.

The next day I headed up to Prescott, my old stomping grounds. I lived here from 1988 to 2005. Nice to be back-- it's been three years. Staying with a friend now-- I'm going to round up some old friends tomorrow.

The weather has been amazing. About 83F for the BG festival, and about 78F today in Prescott. It is hard to beat winter weather in AZ, though that's about 10F above normal temps in mid-November. I'm glad I came down-- I still need to thaw out a little more.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lee Ving

Yep, I'm getting ready to leave New Zealand. I spent the last couple of days over on the west coast of the south island, wrapping up my vacation. I stayed at a really cool inn called the Pioneer Hotel over in Hokitika night before last. Built in 1866, it is just a little neighborhood put with eight hotel rooms. (

I checked out the Hokitika Gorge area, and took a little day hike up the Styx River Valley. Incredibly gorgeous there. Bright blue water, running down out of the Southern Alps, through an incredibly dense jungle. The whole west coast is like that-- epic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


After my incredible travel misadventure yesterday, I was in for a nice, easy day. Today was great. It was a little cool here in Christchurch (about 54F), but sunny and nice.

I ran into several ice friends in my travels around town, and had some nice visits. Some are just leaving the ice, some are getting ready to go back down, and some are in the middle of travelling.

I rapped with some friends for a while down at Bailie's, a downtown Christchurch pub. Our schedules didn't match for dinner, so I decided to get a bite on my own, and head back to the hotel.

Right across the street from my hotel is the Christchurch Arts Centre, a really cool old stone college campus from the 19th century that has been converted to art galleries and other artsy venues. Really cool.

The Dux de Lux is a trendy restaurant situated among the Art Centre's buildings. I hadn't had dinner there this trip (though it is an ice veteran favorite spot), so I decided to grab some chow.

I ordered the Yellow Thai Curry, and picked a spot out on the patio. I kept my jacket on, and I probably wouldn't have sat out there if it weren't for the outdoor radiant heaters.

The curry was stupifying. It consisted of fish, rock lobster, shrimp, and the most outrageous mussels, in a spicy yellow curry broth. It was literally some of the best seafood I've ever had, and it was only about the equivalent of $US15. Yikes.

I rented ("hired") a car today, and I'm headed out for the west coast of the south island tomorrow.

I'm still conflicted with the urge to go pick up Conan (my corgi, in Montana), and the need to soak up as much sun as I can before heading back to the states at the beginning of winter.

Life is good.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bad Karma?

I wrapped up my two-week blitz of Australia, arriving back in Christchurch today. Since the last post, I've been to the Sunshine Coast, the Glass House Mountains, Brisbane again, Sydney again, and some more touristy stuff around Sydney (Manly beach, the Blue Mountains).

I've had a very lucky, easy time of it so far. At least until this morning, that is.

My luck was to take a turn for the worse today. I was booked on JetStar airlines for my flight back to New Zealand. I knew from my trip out that arriving early is a very good idea with them-- long lines. I got up early, took a shower, packed up my stuff and headed across the street to the train station with plenty of time. I got a ticket, got on the train-- no problems yet.

Got to the airport with time to spare. Read my book for a while, then got in line to check in. It took me over half an hour to get up to the check-in kiosk. I gave the woman my passport and itinerary, which she checked over carefully. She asked to see my ticket back out of New Zealand. What?! I hadn't even booked my trip from NZ to the states yet-- my travel plans were still open. That's not unusual-- all we have to do as USAP participants in name the date we'd like to fly home, and they issue us tickets. I wasn't sure how long I would be travelling, so I left my exit tickets open. Well, it turns out you can't fly into NZ without a hard copy of your exit ticket. I had no idea-- nobody had ever mentioned that to me.

I ran over to a pay phone and called the USAP travel agent in Christchurch. They put me on hold for what seemed like forever, then told me I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars over my travel allowance to travel anytime in the next couple of weeks. I knew that couldn't be right, so I had them explore my options while I tried to get my ticket extended-- it was pretty clear that I wouldn't find a solution to this problem in the next hour before my flight took off.

I called the airline. They told me I would have to talk to the staff at the airport to beg to have my flight extended. I went back and waited in line again. When I got up to the front, they suggested that I talk to their customer service folks at another desk. I went over there, and (thankfully) didn't have to wait in line there. I was now completely sure I had missed my flight, and was throwing myself on their mercy. They said that pretty much the only thing I had hopes of doing was to purchase a refundable ticket from NZ to somewhere else, so I could legally leave Australia for NZ. I went over to the Quantas ticket desk and told the man that i would like the cheapest one-way ticket from Christchurch to anywhere (knowing that I would cash it in as soon as I landed). He sold me an $800 one way fare from Christchurch back to Sydney. I raced back over to the check-in kiosk, waited in a short line, then talked to the agent. She said I couldn't do that, since I didn't have a visa to go back into Australia! Argh! (Of course, I had no intention of actually using the ticket.)

Another ticket agent looked up my visa information in another program, and proved that I was legal to fictionally fly back into Sydney in about a week. Whew! I got my boarding pass, and raced across a huge expanse of airport to get to my gate. According to the time on my pass, I had three minutes to get to customs, fill out my declaration form, wait in line, clear customs, go through security, and get to the gate. I made it to the gate about one minute after the supposed cut-off time, to find that the plane hadn't even arrived yet, and was delayed about twenty minutes. I was home free!

The plane eventually showed up, and we boarded. The flight was completely full, but it looked like I had my little row all to myself! My luck was improving! Wait-- here comes a couple with a little baby. They sit right next to me. Another couple with a baby comes and sits down right across the aisle. Groan. Then I notice that the couple in the row in front of me has a little baby too. What are the odds of sitting with three screaming babies in a ten foot radius around me?

Luckily, the babies took turns with their blood-curdling, apoplectic screaming. Never two at once. The little girl next to me was a professional screamer, though. She screamed at the top of her lungs for at least a half hour straight, and nothing the parents were doing was working. I may be deaf for life in my left ear.

I survived the three hour flight okay (if you disregard the deafness part...). I hustled over to the Quantas counter to cash in my temporary ticket. Guess what? They didn't let me, because I didn't have a hard copy of my real exit ticket in my hand. Argh! I got with the folks at the CDC (USAP travel office), and got them working on getting me a real ticket back to the states (which they actually do through Denver, for some reason). When I get it, I can get my $800 back, minus about $A105 in fees.

I have to admit, it was my responsibility to know what my visa requirements were, and I didn't have the right information. In the end, it all worked out all right, except for the loss of a few bucks and a portion of my ability to hear, forever.

I can't help but wonder what it was that I did to bring this horrible string of luck upon myself. I can't imagine what it was... I didn't steal any hotel towels. I didn't double park. Not sure. I did engage in some questionable Indian food, though. A couple of days earlier, I had some Beef Vindaloo. Now, Hindus regard cows as holy, so there is no such thing as beef Indian food. I thought it odd at the time, but it looked good, and I was really hungry. I wished I had been more careful, in retrospect. Now I see the error of my ways. I undoubtedly angered Brahma, or Vishnu, or whichever Hindu god it is that is responsible for travellers. I was punished in the most heinous of ways-- I will never do it again! I have been smitten by the triple-screaming-baby demons, and I must repent.