Monday, May 18, 2009

Driving Across America: Leg 1.5

I feel like the grandfather in The Princess Bride as I sit down to continue our adventure. I ended the first "chapter" with the swamp rat, and now I'm picking up again with a long, dark journey through central Texas. This stretch of road was pitch black. No street lights. No stars. Never saw the moon. The only light, other than my headlights, was from the oncoming traffic across the wide stretch of median. This meant I had to keep switching from high beams to low beams and back every time I crossed paths with anyone. However, I only saw one other car heading in my direction for the entire stretch between Juan Carrasco's and our ultimate destination.

Melissa remained asleep for another hour or two, occasionally waking up long enough to make sure I was still okay to drive. Unfortunately, this means that there was no note-taking and therefore not as much for the base of our story. So I'll skip ahead to...

Rural route 290. Fog: heavy enough to require windshield wipers on medium intermittancy. We experimented with 290 because we decided sort of last minute to go straight to Austin instead of to San Antonio first. Our master plan was to catch Austin in the early morning hours, find a decent hike, and catch our first Texas-sized sunrise. I woke Melissa up for this part because I didn't know just how rural it was going to be.

Author's Note: On our last non-packing day in Tempe, my friend, Scorza, had an end of the year pool party, where we discovered that some people--intelligent people, at that (no sarcasm)--think the word 'rural' is pronounced 'rule,' neglecting that middle R. I couldn't help but play that conversation over in my head as I wove my way through Texas.

There was an abundance of deer. This was straight out of a horror movie. Nothing but trees, heavy fog, bright deer eyes everywhere, and probably a chainsaw killer stalking us ominously through the woods.

Again, sort of a boring, uneventful leg, so I'll skip ahead. One last note on this stretch, however, is that 5 Hour Energy actually works. And when I say works, I mean that stuff is brilliant. It adjusted for the change in time zone, so that it actually only lasted 4 hours, but the clock read 5 hours later than when I had chugged the entire little bottle. Just an FYI to people out there who need a quick pick-me-up. There was no miserable crash at the end.


I see why people love this city so much, though I didn't figure it out right away. We spent a fair amount of time driving around, looking for a place to hike. Fail upon fail. We found a gas station instead, with a guy that looked like he could have played a central role in Men in Black III. Somehow, through sheer luck, we happened to find the one guy that really knows the best spots to watch a sunrise in Austin. He pointed us in the direction of Mansfield Dam on Lake Travis, and let us know (off the top of his head) that sunrise would be in one hour. We thanked him, Melissa got some coffee, and we were on our way to the Dam.

The Dam was a little confusing, and it took us some time to locate an actual spot to watch the phenomenon. We parked at the top of the Dam, thinking how ugly the view was. Then we thought this couldn't be it and we started to explore our surroundings. A small gate that looked like it was closed off at first glance turned out to be exactly what we wanted. It was not closed at all, and we ended up at a ranger's station with no one on duty. Free park entrance! We parked, grabbed a blanket, put on some warmer clothes, and found a nice park bench to perch on. As we sat and waited, shivering in the surprising morning chill, about 20 people came tearing down the road way to the boat ramp and headed off to fish. Once that stopped happening, it was probably one of the most serene, naturally peaceful things either of us had done since coming out here. The only sounds were birds chirping and preening, the water gently crashing on the rocky sands, and the wind whistling quietly through the trees. No artificial noise at all. It was a perfect way to enjoy the sunrise. I highly recommend that everyone do this at some point in the near future.

We didn't get a great sunrise, but it didn't matter. Once we decided it was up, we snuck out of the park without paying the ranger again (still no one on duty) and headed into town to find a diner. This would turn out to be the day's biggest challenge.

Sunday morning in Austin, TX provided absolutely nothing in the way of breakfast foods. At this point, it was almost 9am. The only place we could find was an IHOP. It had to do. We were both exhausted, starving, and grumpy. I ordered the International Crepe Passport - two scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, and two crepes with Nutella, strawberry, and banana slices. Melissa got a spinach and mushroom omelette with a fruit bowl and some hash browns. It was average, as all IHOPs are. But it filled our bellies and we were ready to find the UT campus.

This was much more daunting than we had imagined as well. Our maps were all atlases and road maps, and none of them had the campus specifically marked, so we had to do a lot of guess-and-checking. You would think a campus of that size and caliber would have signs pointing to it from every possible direction. That was just not the case, however. We spent 30 minutes driving around looking for it before all of a sudden we came upon it without realizing it. Along the way, we saw some of the most beautiful neighborhoods. There is really no uniformity to the Austin suburbs, but the houses are huge and historic looking. The smallest house we saw was bigger than just about anything Tempe has to offer. The campus, however, is a different story. It is gorgeous, with uUniform architecture for the most part. Everything was built with a light, almost yellowish hue of what I can only guess was sandstone because I assume everything is sandstone unless proven otherwise.

I really wanted to find the football stadium. We had planned to park and walk around for awhile taking pictures. But we were too tired. We made a beeline for the stadium, which is monstrous. I have seen quite a few stadiums in my day, but maybe none so impressive as Darrel K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. It's not the biggest one I've been to (I've been to the Big House in Ann Arbor), but it was the most imposing from the outside. We weren't able to get in. We walked around a bit, decided we needed a bathroom and were too tired to continue, so we got back in the car before the traditional "pay for the garage after the first half hour" timer had run.

We found a 24-hour cafe that served breakfast that looked much better than IHOPs and used the bathroom there. Annoying...

So we were on our way to San Antonio and a comfortable bed. We had about an hour of driving ahead of us. Melissa got behind the wheel. I started digging through old CDs for something we both knew the words to to help us stay awake. This was actually really easy. Believe it or not, Melissa (and her cool factor shot up about 30 points) has a store-bought CD that is one-half MC Hammer's greatest hits, and one-half Vanilla Ice's greatest hits. Jackpot!

We somehow grew tired of this pretty quickly and put in Weezer's blue album for the rest of the drive.

San Antonio!

Very cool city from the get go. We hit the heart of downtown as far as I can tell. We drove around longer than we felt like it trying to get a good hotel close to the famous Riverwalk. We finally landed at a Holiday Inn and got a room on the 18th floor. Tension at this point was a bit high. It was 11:30am or so when we checked in. We parked the car in the hotel garage, grabbed our necessities, and went straight upstairs to sleep.

The hotel is pretty nice. There is an outdoor roof-pool on the 7th floor that we can see from our room's balcony. We have not gone down there. Somehow, I managed to dig up my Priority Club membership from my road trip days in college that I had forgotten about. This got us a 2-hour extended check out (to 2pm) and 10% off in the hotel restaurant ("Windows on the Riverwalk").

The room itself has a big flat screen TV with no HD. We hardly turned it on. We have a tiny balcony with a decent view of the city. And we have a king size bed. We both fell instantly asleep at about noon. Neither one of us budged until about 4pm.

This officially ends the first leg of our journey. Miles driven: over 1,000. Stay tuned later tonight (hopefully) for a second entry detailing our exploits in San Antonio.

Author's Note: For those of you reading this who took IP with me last semester, look what we found in Austin!

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