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Ryan's Great Adventures

Volume 48: Tues July 27, 2004


Immediately after finishing the Appalachian Trail, I headed to Boston

Sorry for the long delay. I could make excuses, but I won’t. I last left you in Maine, where I had just finished hiking the famed Appalachian Trail. Amanda, I might remind you, was still in pain from the climb up Katahdin, and would feel the pain for the next five days by her account.

That night, after hiking up Katahdin, we picked out a hotel near the Bangor airport where we would fly out of the next morning. I thoughtlessly got a hotel room on the second floor during a moment when I forgot about Amanda’s sad condition, but on the bright side, it was funny watching her go up and down the staircase backwards because it hurt less. "It uses different muscles!" she’d explain, while supporting most of her weight on the handrail. It was all the more hilarious because our roles were completely reversed when we had met in Hot Springs, North Carolina, and Amanda thoughtlessly got a room on the second floor and I would walk up and down the staircase backwards, my legs and feet sore from the strenuous hiking.

The next morning, Amanda stumbled out of bed. Literally stumbled. Maybe I should have warned her, since that was another symptom of strenuous hiking I was quite familiar with. The first few minutes after getting up, it’s hard to walk without a limp until you get "broken in." On the trail, we called it the Hiker’s Hobble. After just one day on the trail, Amanda was experiencing all the symptoms I experienced after spending three weeks on the trail!


The streets of Boston

But then it was off to Boston, Massachusetts. I know I don’t have to clarify what state Boston is in, but it somehow sounds more exciting and big when you do. Just like "New York City" sounds much more exciting and adventurous than simply "New York." Which I only mention, because I wanted to use it in the following sentence: Our first plane flew to New York City! This was an exciting moment for me, because I’d never actually been in New York City before. =)

Amanda let me have the window seat to admire the view. Oh, it was exciting, let me tell you. I could see the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. I got Amanda’s attention and pointed to the Empire State Building. "That," I said with authority, "is the very building that King Kong climbed!"

She shook her head, probably with either admiration or pity. And I pointed down in a street, "And look! I think that’s a mugging! An honest-to-goodness New York City mugging! I’ve always heard about them, but to see it in person! Wow!" Okay, maybe I was getting a little carried away, but I was flying over New York City! Who wouldn’t get carried away?!

We landed at LaGuardia, I think it was, another exciting moment for me since I’ve always heard about LaGuardia, and now I would be using the airport myself. Wow! That’s in New York City, you know! There, we had to rush to our connecting flight to Boston, Massachusetts. (If there’s one thing I can say I learned while hiking the Appalachian Trail, it’s how to spell Massachusetts correctly.)

The flight to Boston went as well as could be expected, and Amanda and I ended up arriving in Boston about an hour earlier than we had originally planned. The *original* plan consisted of flying through Philadelphia to get a connecting flight, but we switched to New York at the last minute since it was supposed to get us in earlier.


From the Old North Church—one if by land, two if by sea....

You might be wondering why I was going to Boston in the first place. A life-long dream to follow in the footsteps of Paul Revere? To follow in the footsteps of Ally McBeal? Well, yeah, sure those would be fun, but the main reason was I had a cousin, Chris, who lived there. And he and his domestic partner (did I get that right?), Drew, had pestered me for years to come and visit—as if Boston was just a weekend drive from California. *rolling eyes* While Bostonians may not consider Maine to be "in the area," by my standards it is! So naturally I dropped by...

Unfortunately, Amanda and I arrived an hour earlier than planned due to the last-minute change in flight itineraries. This is unfortunate, because when we called from the airport, we learned that dinner had just been served (Drew’s parents were in town), so they gave us complex instructions to navigate the foreign bus and subway systems to a stop near their place. At least for me it sounded complex, but then I couldn’t tell the difference between The T and The F or W or whatever other letters they used. So I gave the phone to Amanda and let her get the directions to whisk me around the city.


The USS Constitution, the pride of our navy

At last we reached our destination and called Chris and Drew again and we were instructed to wait outside on the street and they’d be by in a few minutes to pick us up. Now here’s the problem with those directions: There were three different exits, and all three of them led to streets where we could wait. Chris and Drew only recently moved to this part of town, and they didn’t know the names of any of the three streets. So we didn’t know which of the three streets to wait for them at. So we did what any self-respecting tourist without a clue would do: We guessed! I left Amanda with our bags and ‘scouted’ the streets for places to wait. (Amanda wasn’t inclined to walk any more than necessary since she was still feeling sore from the Katahdin hike.) The first two we looked at seemed mostly for busy bus stops with no obvious place to wait for a passenger car. The last street, though, had a lane with a line of taxis waiting to pick people up, and we figured that would be a good place to wait.

We weren’t here for very long, but I tell you, I’ve never seen so many illegal driving maneuvers in such a short span in my entire life. It was rather terrifying, truth be told. Cars stopping in the middle of rushing traffic. Three (and five)-point U-turns being made on the busy road. Horns honking. I hadn’t seen such daring driving stunts since I was in Central America! I had my doubts about if the sidewalks were safe to walk on...


A row of cannons on the USS Constitution

Chris and Drew looked for us at Street #2, and when they didn’t see us there, Chris got out and hunt us down on foot, where he found us waiting at Street #3. So we walked back to Street #2, made introductions for Amanda’s sake, and they whisked us back to their place.

Where I got another shocking surprise: My mom! Unbeknownst to myself, there was a lot of careful maneuvering going on so my mom could surprise me in Boston. And EVERYONE was in on it—including Amanda. Actually, she was central in making sure all the parts came together correctly. In all honesty, I *did* know something was up since I had been unable to call Mom since summiting Katahdin. Naturally, I wanted to tell her I finished. So I called that afternoon but couldn’t reach her. I called that evening but couldn’t reach her. Finally, I called at 5:00 am, Pacific Time, and she wasn’t home. Now THAT was very suspicious, but I figured it was probably some minor emergency like my sister’s car broke down in the middle of nowhere, or maybe locked herself out of her car, and she called Mom to pick her up or something.(Hey, it’s happened before!) But the last reason I would have guessed for her strange disappearance was flying out to Boston to surprise me because, well, my mom just doesn’t travel. Especially across time zones. She’s not good with time zones. =)

Of course, my ‘off-the-cuff’ plans didn’t help with her planning. I wasn’t sure exactly when I’d finish the trail and didn’t have any access to phones for the last week I was on the trail to make progress reports. Even when I reached Baxter Park, the original idea of summiting the next day didn’t work out due to weather. I wanted to summit on a clear, blue sky, and the weather forecast suggested waiting an extra day before summiting. (Not that I got a clear, blue sky, but at least it didn’t rain on us!)


I went fishing and caught this!

And to make the planning even more complex, Amanda’s cell phone wasn’t working where we were in Maine, so Amanda couldn’t update my mom on our progress. All this conniving behind my back, and I was completely oblivious. But it all worked out. I was surprised. My mom was glad I was surprised. Amanda was glad the whole charade was over.

Amanda had to leave the next morning (she has a job, you know!), and that’s where she exits this story. For the weekend, my mom wanted to head to Vermont where she could visit King Arthur’s Flour and pick up some real, Vermont maple syrup and stuff like that. Mom stuff. And Drew’s parents lived in Vermont, so we even had a free place to stay. And off to Vermont we went.


Once again, I found myself at the Ben & Jerry's factory and the flavor graveyard

Along the way, we stopped at Taco Bell. Chris was delighted to use me as an excuse to go to Taco Bell. Not only are they hard to find in this part of the country, but Drew doesn’t like their food. So Chris doesn’t get nearly the amount of Taco Bell that he should, and I was glad to do my part to help. =)

But I digress... As it turns out, King Arthur’s Flour is perhaps a fifth of a mile from the Appalachian Trail, and it was rather strange seeing that part of Vermont after hiking through over a month before. Being the trail expert, I had to point out every single white blaze I could find while Drew zoomed down the roads. "Yeah, if you were here another month or two ago, you’d have seen all sorts of scruffy, dirty, homeless people following those silly blazes," I’d tell them.

That done, I pointed out to Mom that Ben & Jerry’s wasn’t far away. After all, Vermont isn’t exactly a big state, so *nothing* in the state was far away. And she loved that idea, so off we went to Ben & Jerry’s where I got to do the factory tour a second time. But again, it was a weekend, and they weren’t actually producing any ice cream at the time. Just my rotten luck.

On our way back to Boston, we also hit the Yankee Candle headquarters where you can see and smell more candles than you could probably find in the entire state of Vermont. It was rather hypnotic and I thoroughly enjoyed checking the place out But they get bad marks for not actually having a real, honest-to-goodness factory tours. I like factory tours. I want factory tours.

At the end of the weekend, Mom flew back to California. Chris and Drew went back to work. And I wandered around the Boston area—at least whatever I could reach using mass transit and my feet. I amused myself plenty, but didn’t manage to do much except hide a couple of letterboxes. However, I did learn that during one of my wanderings, a gorilla escaped from the zoo and injured two people before it was recaught! Yeah, I was disappointed that I missed that. It’s all a matter of being at the right place at the right time, and I was at the wrong place at the wrong time—though not by much! Very unfortunate indeed.

Eventually I found my way back to California, my east coast adventures officially at an end. For now....


Crowds are lined up waiting for the arrival of a Concorde's last flight....

I wound up back in the Pacific Northwest arriving just in time to learn about a historic flight coming to Seattle. As had been reported in the news months before, the world’s only supersonic passenger plane was on its way to extinction. The British and French decided it was too expensive to fly the Concordes anymore and were taking the planes out of service. The dozen or two planes would be lent to museums around the world for display until the end of time, presumably. And fortunately for Seattle and myself, the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field would be the last resting place for one of these amazing planes.

Very few times when someone tells you something is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" are they really telling the truth. And watching the Concorde land is no exception—people had been doing that for decades! However, this would be my first and last opportunity to ever see one of these majestic planes in flight, and I wasn’t about to miss it. The news sources said the plane was a British Airways plane, and this particular Concorde was the one that made the last official public commercial flight. And the flight to Seattle would be its final flight. Ever.

Amanda had to work that Wednesday afternoon it was due to come in, much to her dismay. So I drove out to the Museum of Flight on my own.


The Concorde comes in for it's last landing....

The day was beautiful, but cold. I bundled up in warm jackets, put on a hat and gloves, and was off. A special viewing section was set up at the museum for the large crowds expected to show up for the event, and buses whisked people from distant parking lots to the museum. If it wasn’t for the Green River Killer confessing to the largest serial killing spree in United States history several miles away earlier in the morning, it probably would have been front page news. Locally, at least.

I parked in a prominent lot with large signs suggesting that only "authorized" people are allowed to enter, otherwise they’d get us for trespassing. But another impromptu sign was put up next to it saying "Concorde parking", so I felt it was safe. Then I followed the steady stream of people walking to the Museum of Flight.

I paid $5 for the admission price into the viewing area, and staked out my claim. Then sat down and started reading a book to kill the time. The Concorde was due to arrive in about an hour.


I love how the nose cone can move independently of the rest of the plane

News trucks were already filming the growing crowds and interviewing members of the audience. Many people brought radio scanners to listen to the control tower and keep up with the latest news of the Concorde’s arrival.

Time continued to tick away. And at last, over the scanners, we got news that the Concorde was about ten miles away. Immediately everyone started scanning the skies for this legendary plane. At least five helicopters hovered over Boeing Field waiting for the plane. Which of the little dots on the horizon was the plane? Then one of them started to stand out, getting larger, coming closer. Hundreds of cameras started clicking away. Thousands cranked their necks to see. A rumor was going around the crowd that the airport was being closed for the Concorde’s arrival.

The plane did a fly over, like you’d see in an airshow. And it was an airshow of sorts. The crowd applauded as the Concorde flew passed. Cars passing by on I-5 came to a total stop as they pulled over and got on top of their cars to watch the Concorde land. I took a couple of a pictures, but deliberately stopped before it got directly overhead. I wanted to savor the moment, not miss it in the frenzy of taking pictures and look at the pictures afterwards and think, "So that’s what the event looked like!" It was sad moment, for me at least. Watching that beautiful plane fly overhead for the last time of its career. The plane continued past us and we watched it arc around the horizon over SeaTac as it turned back to land.

Once again I started taking pictures and the crowds started cheering and applauding again as the plane landed. The plane landed near the viewing area, but came to a stop at the other end of the runway. It took several minutes for the plane to taxi back to the viewing area, and they shot streams of water over the plane in a "21 watergun salute", I suppose you could call it, as it taxied back. Very sappy. =)

When it got closer, they opened the windows in the cockpit and put out an American flag on one side and the Union Jack on the other, waving them frantically as the plane approached. There was a glitch, though. They hooked the plane up to one of those taxi things—those same carts they use to pull a plane out from the jetway. I don’t know what they’re called—I don’t work in the airline industry! But something happened to the bar linking the cart to the plane. They unhooked it and brought it into the viewing area to try to fix it. A dozen airport workers crowded around and started knocking at it with a large wrench. The prognostic didn’t look good from my point of view.

They fiddled with the thing for quite a while. The announcer on the public address system started telling some of the details of this last flight, including that it made a new speed record from New York to Seattle of 3 hours 55 minutes and 12 seconds. Normally, planes aren’t allowed to break the sound barrier over land because they cause those annoying sonic booms, but the powers-that-be got an air corridor approved over northern Canada where few people live that would complain about the sonic booms.


After running through a watergun salute, the pilots put an American flag out one window and the England flag out the ohter (which you can't really see from this perspective)

After what seemed like 20 minutes of fiddling with it the tow-car, they finally got it working and pulled the Concorde into the viewing area. The pilots raised and lowered the nose of the plane a couple of times to show off—which was a very cool thing to see!

I should have known better than to stick around much longer, because at that point everything went downhill. It was time for speeches. It seemed like everyone wanted a chance at that microphone. A high-ranking representative of British Airways. The pilot. Even the governor of Washington. I finally got bored of the ceremonies and left.

Time passed by rather uneventfully after that, up until December 22nd, 2003. On that day, a 6.4 earthquake struck my hometown in California. Amanda and I were driving south from Seattle at the time. I’d drop her off in San Francisco, while I’d continue on to San Luis to be with my family for Christmas. We hadn’t gotten far (Tacoma, to be exact), when Amanda turned to me and asked if I knew anything about an earthquake in San Luis. "What?!" She said she had just gotten an e-mail, minutes before we left, about an earthquake in San Luis. She didn’t have any other details except that it was apparently very large.

So I had Amanda pull out her cell phone and immediately called my mom. Yeah, it was a big one, but everyone was okay. Just minor damage to stuff that had fallen off shelves and walls. "Shoot!" I thought. "I just missed the quake by a measly couple of days!"

In southern Oregon, Amanda and I stopped at a hotel for the night where I could finally watch the first images of the destruction on CNN. Downtown Paso Robles was hardest hit ("Poor, Grandma!", I thought, who lives there and I was sure wouldn’t see an earthquake as being exciting like I would have!)

Amanda and I got to San Francisco rather quickly—it started to rain steadily after we got out of Oregon and we skipped a lot of side trips and letterboxes we’d otherwise have picked up along the way. And I was anxious to get back to San Luis with the earthquake and all. Maybe there would be a good-sized aftershock! I could still be there in time for it!

So on Christmas Eve, I dropped Amanda off at the airport and I continued driving farther south. Highway 101, which I was driving down, happens to pass right through Paso Robles, so naturally I *had* to pull off the highway long enough to drive through town and see the destruction first hand. Despite the horrible images on television, most of Paso Robles didn’t really look so bad. I could only find one place where buildings had actually collapsed. Many others were taped off with police tape and "No entry" signs, although I couldn’t actually see anything wrong with the buildings. And it seemed like there were hundreds of people milling around taking pictures.

But I was still anxious to reach San Luis, so I continued driving through without stopping. Little did I know about the events then taking place in San Luis that would make this day memorable indeed.

I arrived at my mom’s house to a scene that could have come right out of a TV soap. My mom, who had foot surgery the week before, was sitting on the couch biting a pillow to death from pain she would later say made giving birth a breeze. My aunt was there, who explained that my mom had driven Bob (my step-dad) to the hospital with her one good foot (the left one) because he had been bugging her with his moaning and groaning. Turns out his appendix had burst, and he was undergoing emergency surgery with a very real possibility of not surviving. Had my mom not driven him to the hospital (she wasn’t supposed to drive while she had the cast), I’d probably have arrived to a corpse in the living room. Not exactly the kind of ‘welcome home’ I was looking for.

Never have I seen so much drama packed in one day in my life. Now that I was there, I would take care of my mom. She was put under strict orders not to move around the house. I’d take over cooking, and laundry, and getting anything she needed that was out of immediate reach. My aunt was sent to the hospital to find out how Bob was doing. She passed herself off as my mom since they wouldn’t give out information about Bob except to his wife (my mom), who was now in my care and under strict orders not to go anywhere.

The next day, Christmas Day, was still drizzling and wet. My mom was feeling better, so I drove her to the hospital to see Bob. I got a wheelchair from the emergency room to push my mom through the hospital. Bob wasn’t looking particularly lively at this point. He was in a lot of pain himself since they couldn’t give him as much morphine as they normally would in such a case. I didn’t know this, but it seems that morphine does something to the lungs that makes it more difficult to breath. Bob had been a heavy smoker for years, and the doctors worried that giving him normal doses of morphine could kill him. Later, we would learn he also suffered a mild heart attack. Mild—presumably—means he survived it.

Then I drove us up to Paso Robles for the annual Christmas at Grandma’s festivities. There I could see for myself all the broken dishes and pictures thrown around in the earthquake. And even a heavy grandfather clock fell over, severely splintering the top. Wow. That gave me a new-found respect for the size of the earthquake to hit Paso Robles.

Then it was back to San Luis. Bob, I’m happy to report, finally got out of the hospital several days later and swore off smoking. I guess he didn’t mind that smoking could kill him, but the next time he’s in so much pain, he wanted to be sure he could be fully pumped up with morphine. Sadly, he started smoking again a month or two later. A couple of weeks later, my mom got the cast off her foot and was seen hobbling around in a walking cast doing her usual routines. And after a month of taking care of my mom and Bob, I was ready to leave! =)

However, this makes a good stopping point, so you’ll have to read about the rest later!

— Ryan

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