Saturday, December 31, 2011

We Do One for the Gipper

December 29,  2011

Today’s big event was our visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, an awesome 100,000 square foot temple where the Party faithful come to worship the Great Communicator (known in prior incarnations as the great Gipper and the Great Governor).  The library’s lofty site—100 mountaintop acres with spectacular panoramic views--represents the “shining city on the hill” that the President so often invoked. 

Our President’s temple has many rooms – 24 to be exact – and each gallery has a burnished golden tablet expressing gratitude and praising the works of the wealthy and influential friends whose generous contributions made this flashy place possible. Boone Pickens funded the world’s most beautiful airplane hangar and relocated Irish Pub, where Airforce One is now parked and accepting visitors.  Merv Griffen funded the reproduction of the White House Rose Garden out back.  

We hardly know what to say about the place.  We were struck by how much the country’s travails at the start of his presidency paralleled our current state of affairs – an economy in the dumps, people disillusioned with government, troubles in the middle east.   The story according to Reagan is that he solved all these problems, plus single-handedly conquered Communism and made the world safe for democracy.  Boy, could we use another dose of Reagan now!  

Some of our favorite parts of the visit:  a very good lunch out on the terrace overlooking rolling rural hillsides dotted with orchards, and the ocean in the distance; a portrait of Reagan made from 10,000 jelly beans (very much out of keeping with the decorum of the rest of the museum); a walk through Air Force One;  an exhibit of some of the extremely ornate belt buckles the President was given as gifts (he got 372 in total);  

a case full of 3x5 cards covered with aphorisms, adages , and anecdotes that Reagan wrote in very tiny writing and filed away for future reference (his writing was so tiny we couldn’t read much, but the sheer volume was impressive).  Standing behind the presidential podium looking at the teleprompters, Reagan's optimism must have really inspired Dick, because he had a very strange visiion that if only he had Reagan's hairline he could have been President!

More than any other presidential library we have visited, this one portrayed everything about the President, from his boyhood to his passing, in the most highly positive light.  It isn’t hard to see why people like President Reagan—he was a nice handsome person with a positive and upbeat demeanor, a great sense of humor and a big friendly smile.  And, a lot of things did get better during his administration, although perhaps not solely due to his efforts.  

In these troubling political times, when the Republican Party is struggling to find a viable--if not likeable--candidate for President, Reagan is very much on the minds of our populace.  When we arrived half an hour after the museum opened the parking lot was 90% full, and when we left mid-afternoon visitors’ parked cars lined both sides of the street for over a mile down the hill leading to the museum.  Many were the pilgrims visiting the shrine to Reagan this holiday season.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

California Dreaming Is Becoming A Reality

January 29
Los Angeles and Woodland Hills
We are on our way to experience the Tournament of Roses Parade live and in living color, broadly and deeply, behind the scenes and in the bleachers.  But first, we will add an installment to our Presidential Library tour sequel with a stop at the Ronald Reagan Library.  Then, after all the Parade festivities are over, we will drive up the coast for another week of California adventures.
Our flights from Savannah to LAX were unremarkable, save for the dramatic contrast between our quiet, sleepy, empty intimate-sized airport and the crowded confusing hectic impersonal urban transport jungles of Atlanta and Los Angeles.    

As if to emphasize the point that Los Angeles is operating in a different universe from  sweet Savannah, we spotted this building straight out of "The Jetsons" as our shuttle drove us toward the rental car outpost.  (Amazing that I got this picture through the tinted window of the shuttle while it was moving, eh?) We almost expected to see George Jetson land his hovercraft on the roof.   

A little online research revealed that this place, known as the “Theme Building,” was completed in 1961 as part of a Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal Project, and is now designated a City Cultural and Historical Monument.  Those 135 foot high parabolic arches supporting the structure were a big design first in their day.  The building houses a restaurant now.   

On the way to our hotel in Woodland Hills, we passed another notable example of curvilinear architecture that caught our eye, due to the 32 foot diameter donut on its roof.  (The photo is from Randy's website--I couldn't snap it from the rapidly moving car.)  This architectural gem dates back to 1953 .  We were so intent on getting to our hotel after hours on the plane that we didn’t even exit the freeway to sample a donut.  That is just so unlike us! 

Chalk it up to freeway madness.  I know I got my share of cardio fitness today through all my heart palpitations experienced as Dick masterfully drove and dodged in the densely packed quickly moving herds of cars dashing home during rush hour.  The need to concentrate was so intense that we could not adequately ogle the many expensive cars zooming about us—a couple Ferraris, assorted Porsches, lots of big black Cadillac Escalades, and so on.  

Nonetheless, we made it to our hotel, got the car parked safely, were assigned a fabulous room with a panoramic view of the mountains, and were off to dinner without incident.  

Our notable discovery of the evening was that there must be some law here requiring restaurants with fixed menus to divulge the calorie content of their offerings.  This information is very disconcerting.  After seeing how many calories were in stuff I would normally order, I navigated to the less exciting (and very small) section of the menu featuring meals under 600 calories.  We came here to learn about the Rose Parade, and I fear I may get some unwanted nutrition lessons in the bargain.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving From the Grove Park Inn

November 24, 2011
Finding ourselves too stuffed and tired to tell many tales, we will let our pictures carry the day.

The Grove Park Inn was built in 1913, and its distinctive exterior features huge granite boulders dragged from nearby quarries. 

We spent a lot of time eating today--first at the spectacular breakfast buffet, then just a few hours later at the tremendous Thanksgiving Feast buffet.  Note that the flowers in this arrangement are all carved from fruits and vegetables, just one example of the artistry applied to creating a buffet that looked as appetizing as it tasted.

Here we are before sitting down to our Thanksgiving dinner.  Someone told us that the dining room where we had our dinner served 3,000 meals today.  We knew the place was hopping, but we had a very leisurely meal, with lots of trips to sample from the many the buffet stations and plenty of attentive service, and never a hint of being encouraged to move along to vacate our table for waiting diners.  Edwin Grove would be proud that, in the tradition of his famous tonic (see yesterday's post), the buffet at his famous Inn successfully "made children and adults feel as fat as pigs."

We took advantage of the indoor tennis courts to work off a few calories.  (The boys also burned off some calories swimming this afternoon, but we didn't get pictures, because we were napping.)

There are hundreds of entries from the inn's annual gingerbread house competition spread throughout the hotel. Here is the grand prize winner.

We have a bounty of blessings to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Celebrating the Groves Legacy with the Glovers

November 23, 2010
Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC
Could there be a more appropriate place to spend Thanksgiving than a resort built from the profits of a product formulated to make you fat?

We are at the Grove Park Inn, built by Edwin Grove in 1912, using a fortune acquired from the sales of his famous Tasteless Chill Tonic (which outsold Coca Cola in the 1890s), and other miraculous medical concoctions. We are spending the long Thanksgiving weekend here with our Indiana Glover grandchildren and their parents.

The Inn is decorated for Christmas and filled with fanciful elaborate gingerbread scenes from its annual competition (stay tuned for pictures another day).  There is a roaring fire and non-stop musical entertainment in the Great Hall. We joined  a small crowd gathered on the deck with their wine or hot chocolate to watch the sun setting behind the Blue Ridge Mountains in grandeur.  We have gone with the boys to check out the tennis courts and the indoor pool which we will visit tomorrow to work off a small fraction of the calories we consume at the breakfast and Thanksgiving Dinner buffets.

Let the Thanksgiving festivities begin--we are thankful to be sharing the holiday with family from afar!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sunshine Makes Everything Better

FestiVELO Day 3
November 5, 2011
The temperature was no warmer today than yesterday and the winds were stronger, but the sun shone bright and the ride was scenic, which made a world of difference.  Bike Club friends Lucille and Arte rode thirty miles with us today, while other Bike Club members did longer rides.   

Our first destination was Cypress Gardens, where the butterfly pavilion-- heated to a tropical temperature and filled with colorful flowers, birds, and butterflies—was the most popular attraction for our cold and windswept riders.  

Then it was on to lunch in the Old Santee Canal Park, on the site of America’s first canal, which began operating in 1800.  Jimmy Buffet songs blaring from the sound system in our picnic shelter inspired us to think of tropical locales, and our lunch menu was inspired by his song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”  

We didn’t have time to stop in the Museum or Interpretive Center, but took a moment to learn about this interesting vessel.  It is a full size model of “Little David,” a semisubmersible torpedo boat built in Charleston in 1863 which earned fame during the Civil War as the first submarine to make a successful torpedo attack on a warship. 

We rode from the rest stop back to our starting point, changed from our bike gear into warm dry clothes, then headed by car to the next stop on the 70-100 mile rides—Mepkin Abbey. The Abbey has been home to a colony of Trappist monks since 1949, but the property dates back to 1681, when it was a 3,000 acre land grant plantation.  The plantation grew to 10,000 acres in the early 1900s, and was purchased in 1936 by Henry R. Luce--publisher  of Time, Fortune and Life magazines, and his wife Clare Boothe Luce—playwright, author, congresswoman and ambassador.  Clare found religion and joined the Roman Catholic Church after her daughter died in a car accident in 1944, and she donated most of the plantation property to the Catholic Church for the use of the monks in 1949.  

We visited the Abbey gift shop and wandered the tranquil garden and grounds, but did not see any monks out and about.  The woman at the shop told us that this time of day was when they were in their rooms meditating or taking naps, since they get up at 3 a.m..  

This is a sculpture that the monks made using wood from trees downed here by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  The hurricane was devastating to the area, downing 12,000 trees in Cypress Gardens as well.  We never missed the extra trees at either the Abbey or Cypress Gardens—the monks could probably find in that a meditation on time’s power to heal, or resilience (or maybe they would just shake their heads and tell us that we are not very observant).  

From the Abbey we headed south to Charleston, where we stayed overnight in an unremarkable Best Western Inn near the starting point of our Sunday ride—a bike tour of Charleston’s historic district.  

Finding Fun in the Face of Adversity

FestiVELO Day 2
November 4, 2011
A cold front with a hard rain blew through late last night, and although it was mostly gone by this morning, it left behind grey skies, a temperature of 52 degrees and 15-20 mile per hour winds—conditions just barely within our riding tolerance range.   

On today’s thirty mile ride chain link fences and modular trailer style homes replaced the white picket fences and gracious Victorian homes of yesterday.  Our destination was St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, built in 1767.  There was supposed to be a docent there to give us a tour, but he or she was a no-show (no surprise), so all we know is what we read on the historical marker out front, and the grave stones all around the church, many of them marking the final resting places of Confederate soldiers.   

There was also supposed to be a tour of a fish lift (whatever that is) just down the street from the church, but the drive to it was gated closed and there were no trespassing signs all over the property.  The ride organizers also made a spontaneous unannounced decision to move the scheduled lunch break from the rest stop in front of the church to a rest stop that was only on the 60 and 100 mile ride routes, so we had the unexpected, but really fortunate, opportunity to find lunch on our own. 

After long hot showers back at our hotel, we headed to Summerville by car for lunch at Ladles, a cozy restaurant offering a dozen different soups daily.  Soup was the perfect lunch on this chilly day.  

Then we went to the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site nearby.  Congregationalist descendents of Puritans who settled in Massachusetts to find religious freedom from the tyranny of the Anglican Church of England traveled south to make their fortune here in 1697.   Ironically, just nine years after they settled in this area they called Dorchester, Anglicanism was declared South Carolina’s official religion.  In 1720, St. George’s Anglican Church was built in Dorchester, and although the Congregationalists worshipped two miles away, they were taxed to support St. George’s.  All that remains of the church is the bell tower, because the British (Anglicans all, no doubt) burned the church (and most of the town) during the Revolutionary War.   

We also wandered around the town fort, heralded as the “best preserved tabby fortification in North America,” surprisingly intact in light of the success of the British in destroying the rest of the town.  Even more surprising to us was that in 1726, less than 30 years after the founding of Dorchester, slaves made up 70% of the population of the town.

Back to FestiVELO—dinner was a “Seafood Extravaganza,” which started out dismally (a bony catfish fillet was the only seafood served, with a promise of crabs and clams to come “later”), but unfolded over the course of the next couple hours to  eventually include all the seafood we could eat (as long as we could figure out how to eat whole crabs using only our hands and plastic utensils—no crackers, mallets or other tools one normally uses to crack the shell and claws were available).  Clams, shrimp, and low country boil all made an appearance for those who waited, and probably oysters showed up as well after we stopped checking back in the seafood tent.  

The Charleston Hot Shots string band made another appearance tonight, with Lucille back on the spoons, and the rest of us providing back-up on our complimentary kazoos. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Southern Sampler

FestiVELO Day 1
November 3, 2011
There are some things that really bug us about the South, like shoddy planning and a lack of punctuality (maybe Southerners would call these things spontaneity and a relaxed lifestyle).  This ride is full of examples of those qualities, but I am working really hard to live in the moment and ignore them, so I will focus on the highlights of today.

We rode in Summerville, a truly beautiful little inland town that became world-renowned after it was named one of the two best health resorts in the world at the 1899 tuberculosis World Congress in Paris.  Its claim to fame was its mild climate and long leaf pines that “charged the air with derivatives of turpentine,” according to a Chamber of Commerce brochure.  We failed to smell the piney air, but had a wonderful time riding the winding roads through the historic district, admiring the beautiful Victorian era and early 20th Century homes and cottages and their lushly landscaped yards.  

We rode six miles around town, using both the ride cue sheet and a Summerville Walking Tour of Homes and Flowers brochure as our guides, making frequent stops to read about notable homes (and to take photos, of course).

Our lunchtime rest stop featured favorite foods of the south—shrimp and grits, moon pies, and Yoo-hoo Chocolate drink (a very unusual, but surprisingly tasty, beverage we have never taken the opportunity to sample before).  Here we are enjoying shrimp and grits and Yoo-hoo.

Not so much of a highlight was a fourteen mile ride on the Sawmill Bike path, which ran beside the “channelized” Sawmill Creek, now a drainage canal that only occasionally smelled of raw sewage.

The highlight of our evening was the Chocolate Obsession, a chocolate lovers’ feeding frenzy featuring two chocolate fondue fountains with lots of sweet treats to dip in them, and a more than you could possibly sample selection of chocolate cakes, pies, cookies, bars, candies, and  √©clairs, plus hot chocolate to wash it down, and ice cream to put on top of it.  Our bike club friends were very impressed by Dick’s capacity for chocolate and his ability to get every last bit of ice cream out of his cup.  (It’s a good thing we enjoyed the chocolate, since it turned out to be our dinner—but we won’t go into the details of the shoddy planning and lack of punctuality in reference to the low country boil that was supposed to be our dinner, but was not finished cooking until sometime around 9 p.m..)

An old timey band with two ukulele players and a washtub string bass serenaded us during dinner time, and our bike club friend Lucille joined them playing her wooden spoons—they were good, and she was terrific.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Monck's Corner, South Carolina
November 2, 2011
We are in Monck's Corner (near Charleston) for FestiVELO, a four day long celebration of bicycling and food.

We haven't started riding yet, but our adventures have already begun.  We met our bike club friends at FestiVELO sign-in and all went to dinner together at Gilligan's, a local shrimp and catfish joint.  Here is our view from the dining room.

After dinner, we decided to skip the campfire, popcorn and s'mores at ride headquarters, and just head back the the hotel. We were driving along a dark road when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a big old lit up sleigh being pulled by reindeer.  Of course we turned in to investigate, and found ourselves driving onto the campus of a big company called Santee Cooper. We drove through a red and green light tunnel into a fantasy Christmas world with hundreds of displays, millions of lights.

There were a bunch of security cars patrolling the grounds, but they did not stop us, so we cruised the mile-long drive, stopping along the way to take a few pictures. Dick asked a worker what was going on, and he told us we were previewing "Celebrate the Season," a new holiday attraction debuting on the day after Thanksgiving. Dick asked him what Santee Cooper makes, and the worker said, "electricity." Dick said, "Then I guess they can afford to run all these lights."

Just after Dick snapped this picture, all the lights went out at once, and we had to find our way out of the maze-like office campus in the dark.

Here's HO HO HOping that our the rest of FestiVELO brings us more great surprises and magcal moments!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chattenooga, Chickamauga and Cherohala

October 16-18
DISCLAIMER:  We are having technical difficulties in getting the site to reproduce our photos in their true clear focus--apologies for any visual shortcomings, and we will continue to try to come up with a solution.

The Landings Automobile Society is on the move, and we’re along for the ride.
First stop—Chattenooga.
The last time we visited Chattenooga we were aboard Starsong, tied up along the riverwalk, in the shadow of the city’s landmark aquarium, and almost within misting distance of the massive water cannons that serve as a riverfront focal point—or exclamation point.

This time we are staying with our auto tour pals at the luxurious Chattenoogan Hotel on the other side of town, but Chattenooga is pretty compact, and it only takes us about 20 minutes to stroll down to the river and revisit some of our favorite spots. We can also hop on the free electric shuttle bus that pops by every five minutes, and get to the riverfront even faster.  

We especially enjoy walking along the bluff high above the river and admiring all the sculptures around the Hunter Museum of Art, as well as an art gallery sculpture garden tucked into a tiny slice of hillside that abruptly drops to the river below. We hunt for this sculpture of Icarus taking off from the edge of the cliff, and are glad to find he is still flying high in the sculpture garden six years after we first discovered him.

New to the Hunter Museum’s collection since our last visit is a Tom Otterness sculpture entitled “Free Money” featuring two people dancing on a money bag.  Tom Otterness is apparently all the rage now—we saw his chubby money-grubbing figures popping up all over New York this summer.  How ironic that Mr. Otterness is getting rich off his works poking fun at people’s relationships with cash--laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt.

Thanks to the great travel planners in our car club we visit an unusual attraction that most visitors don’t even know is here—the world headquarters of Coker Tire, a family-owned company that owns the molds for, and therefore is the sole supplier of, thousands of vintage car tires which are no longer made by major tire companies.  Corky Coker, the President of the company, has an impressive eclectic collection of rare cars and motorcycles, and his wife collects cute little cars.  We have an entertaining guided tour of their collections during our visit (wherein we learn, for example, that the original National Park Tour buses like the one in Corky’s collection had rag tops so that  passengers could stand up and “safely” feed the bears by reaching down from the roof level). 

It was the first battle ground to become a national monument.  It was arguably the battle ground that turned the tide of the Civil War.  Our outstanding ranger guide leads our entourage around the vast expanse of fields and forests where about 80,000 men fought on Chickamauga’s rugged terrain, and he tells us many stories.  No matter how many battle fields we visit, the scale of the war—and its casualties-- is beyond comprehension. This is the statistic that is most astounding to us:  At the start of the Civil War, the United States military had just 16,000 troops.  By its end, 3.5 million men had fought in the Civil War.  The fields and forests around Chickamauga are abloom with hundreds of monuments erected by states to commemorate their militia men who fought and died in battles throughout this vast park. 

We also learn that no war re-enactors fight battles on National Park lands, since the park service protects these areas as sacred ground (and, also, the Ranger told us with a twinkle in his eye, there are liability issues, since once in a while an inexperienced re-enactor will do something dangerously dumb like forget to take the tamping rod out of the gun before shooting, thereby sending the rod out as a dangerous projectile).  The park service feels so strongly about this policy that even the battles in the orientation films we see at the visitor centers in battlefield parks are filmed off-site, rather than on the park lands where the battles were actually fought.  

Cherohala Skyline Drive
Twisting and turning through the Smokie Mountains, reaching up to a mile in the sky, the Cherohala Skyline Drive is a favorite route for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. On this sunny fall day the leaves are ablaze with color, and the drive is pure joy.

It takes us three hours to traverse the 46 mile route. We stop beside a mountain lake for a picnic along the way. We stop at just about every pull-out and overlook, and take hundreds of pictures. 

Just a little postscript—a glorious road like this one does not come cheap, or easy.  The Cherohala Drive took 34 years and $100 million to complete, making it North Carolina’s most expensive highway (and it is probably its only highway with no restaurants or gas stations). 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

We Turn 100!

Savannah Century Ride
September 4, 2011

Does this look like people who have just finished a 100 mile bicycle ride? (I don’t think that Dick used Photoshop magic on this photo—we really were smiling and standing without assistance).

Here is the evidence—Dick photographed his bicycle computer odometer to capture the moment (just under 7 hours riding time, 101.27 total miles, at an average speed of 14.5 mph and a maximum of 29.3).

Here are the top ten keys to our success:

10. Heat Trials: We have ridden 598 training miles over the last six weeks, mostly in temperatures over 90 degrees (it was 97 degrees when we finished our 80 mile training ride). So, we were ecstatic when today’s ride was under partly cloudy skies, with temperatures topping out at a "cool comfortable" (relatively speaking) 88 degrees.

9. Torrential rain: Our favorite part of the ride was a zero visibility deluge at Mile 75 that soaked us in seconds, pulled the temperature down (very briefly) to 77 degrees, and pulled our heart rates down by 15-20 beats per minute.

8. Training diet: A double dip hot fudge sundae for Gayl and Red Velvet Cake a la two scoops mode for Dick the night before the ride, and cookies at every rest stop. Now, that’s carb loading!

7. His and Hers Heart Rate Monitors: Mine says I burned 6,819 calories on the ride. So, why am I afraid to get on the scale? (See Training diet above.)

6. Ibuprofen: and lots of it, at 800 mg a pop!

5. Chamois butt’r: Any explanation is too much information.

4. Team work: I drafted on Dick’s pulling power in our little pace line of two for most of the ride. When I had a hard time keeping up with him, Dick boosted my energy by pulling cookies from his personal stash and passing them to me on the fly. In return, I think I might have pulled him for a tenth of a mile. It’s that kind of reciprocity that cements our relationship of equals.

3. Fear of Failure: After telling forty or fifty of our closest friends about our plans to ride the Century, we couldn’t face the prospect of telling them all that we failed to make it.

2. A kiss for luck at every rest stop.

1. Our greatest motivation: This is our big chance to grab our lives back from the tyranny of training. It is time to check this one off the list and get on to the next adventure!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back for More Fun in the Dells

July 16-17
We had so much fun beginning our adventures in the Wisconsin Dells that we are glad we planned to come back to have a few more adventures here on our way home.  We arrive back at Meadowbrook Resort mid-afternoon, and Andrew is in the pool within minutes of our check-in.

Our main event today is the Tommy Bartlett Water Ski and Stage Show, celebrating 60 years of entertainment in the Dells.  We find a somewhat shady spot in the huge amphitheatre overlooking Lake Dalton, and buy icy treats to cool off in the record breaking temperatures climbing somewhere in the 90s.

Once the show starts it is so exciting that we forget about the temperature.  There are barefoot skiers and acrobatic men who do stunts and jumps on skis that are just thirteen inches long.  A team of beautiful young women do synchronized moves on skis, and racing boats with loud engines compete in time trials.  Our hands are just about sore from applauding after all the great water acts.

After the intermission there is a stage show with a juggler who juggles chain saws and knives and eats apples while he juggles them.  A team of three acrobats does balancing and strength feats, and even involves real audience members in their act.  A man and woman team do tricks on a huge double wheel.  It is just like a little circus.

When the show is over, we drive around the lake to have dinner on the deck of a restaurant that is right across from Tommy Bartlett ski show amphitheatre.  It takes so long for our dinner to arrive that we get to watch skiers from the show practicing and warming up for the second show.

After dinner, we pick up our complimentary bucket of s’more supplies at the front desk of our hotel, and head to the campfire to toast up some marshmallows and make s’mores for dessert.  There is a party of people speaking Polish enjoying a cook-out at the picnic tables nearby, and one of their little boys is toasting marshmallows at the campfire with us.  One of the men from the group brings us plates of food, and encourages us to enjoy his Polish specialty. It is a very delicious combination of bacon, onions, peppers and potatoes cooked in a lot of bacon grease and some other spices, and it has enough cholesterol to really clog our arteries but good.  We can’t eat it all, but we do eat enough to be polite and have an authentic cross-ethnic experience. Of course, we have to top it off with another s’more.

We head for bed shortly after we leave the campfire—we have a busy last day in the Dells planned for tomorrow.

We wake to a day so hot and humid that our camera lens fogs up the minute we go outside.  The temperature is predicted to hit a high of 99 with a heat index taking it close to 110.

We start the morning at the Bigfoot Zip Line course, which includes six long lines, including the longest zip line in North America.  Dick wears a helmet with a video camera mounted on it to capture the action and leaves his fancy cameras in the car, so that he will not be inhibited from doing fancy tricks, like hanging upside down while zipping down the wire at forty or fifty miles per hour. 

Yes, he and Andrew both actually do this upside down trick.  I do not.

By the time we are done with the course, we are all soaked in sweat and the temperature is definitely approaching 100.  We had had an exhilarating time flying through the air on the zip lines, but we are eager to get to our next destination -- America’s Biggest Water Park.

We change into our bathing suits in the rest rooms at Bigfoot, then go just a short distance up the road to Noah’s Ark Water Park, where we spend the whole afternoon enjoying the wave pools and wet and wild attractions.

Our favorite experience there is America’s longest water coaster, the Black Anaconda.  The three of us ride together on a specially designed raft.  We hold on tight as we streak up and down and all around in dark tunnels and the daylight, while being spritzed and splashed and dumped with water all along the way.

Andrew chooses where to have dinner tonight, and we are delighted that he wants to go back to the fanciest restaurant with the best food we have enjoyed during this trip.  We have the best table in the place, next to a window with a view of Japanese fish pond with koi swimming beneath the water lily pads.  We spend the meal talking about all our great memories and favorite experiences of the past ten days, and there are many.

We are all ready to go home, but sorry that our adventure is coming to an end.

Roller Coasters in the Rain

Mall of America
July 15
We enjoy our last lumberjack breakfast at camp (including cinnamon rolls that are way bigger than our fists), then pack up our car, which with the addition of our camp projects and purchases appears to be at maximum capacity.  Andrew’s nest in the back seat is getting smaller, as the pile of essential items surrounding him gets bigger.

What started as misting rain as we loaded the car becomes a gusher of a rainstorm as we drive south.  Although it is not the best of driving weather, we are thankful that the rain came today instead of this time yesterday, when we were doing Adventure Ropes.
Today weather does not matter nearly so much, because our destination is Mall of America in Minneapolis, site of an awesome indoor amusement park with lots of thrill rides.  As a self-described “roller coaster maniac,” Andrew has several to choose from here. 

The obvious first choice twists like a writhing snake, turning the riders upside down more times than we can count.  Gayl is the designated photographer, granddad rides with Andrew. 

His next coaster has cup and saucer-like cars that twirl and swivel wildly as they careen around the mountainous track.  Granddad actually kind of likes that one.

Andrew goes solo on a ropes course that has multiple levels, soaring much higher than our Wolf Ridge Course, culminating in the opportunity to walk a plank sixty feet above the floor of the amusement area.

Here is a close-up of him at the end of the plank.   

Fortunately this ropes course has a “two falls and you are out” rule, so our little dare devil is not tempted to dangle from this height just to see what it feels like. 

We have dinner in the lushly landscaped jungle of the Rainforest Caf√©, where there is a tropical thunderstorm every half hour.  This is somewhat ironic, since there are severe thunderstorm warnings in the area, so we are pretty sure that we are enjoying artificial storms while the real thing is raging outside. 

We top off our very good meals with a massive chocolate volcano dessert (a brownie mountain filled with vanilla ice cream, with chocolate and caramel lava oozing down its sides, delivered with a sparkler blazing atop it).   We aren’t sure that stuffing ourselves like this is wise before heading back to the amusement park for more rides, but we just can’t resist.

We try a few more rides and visit Lego Land, then Andrew decides he really wants to swim in the hotel pool.  His day ends with a good long swim and a relaxing dip in the hot tub before it is time for bed (or, more accurately, quite a bit past his bed time).