Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The A, B, Zs of Fall!


Autumn leaves, Bermuda waters and Zion park – all in the month of October. Racking up the miles, on our return from Western Colorado (last post) we drove the Jeep to the east coast, hopped aboard a cruise ship to Bermuda, became leaf-peepers on a northern drive up the Hudson River Valley before stopping by Montreal and Toronto, and then on our return to Boulder swapped the SUV for the RV and headed to Zion National Park.

For many readers, this has all the appearance of a normal month for the Buckle family, but even by our standards, it was a tad extreme. However, the opportunity presented itself and we took full advantage of the circumstances and in the process, covered a good portion of the planet in the process. When it comes to the fall here in North America, a very strong case can be made that it is the most picturesque time of the year and in our travels we came up with more than ample evidence to concur. Fall is colorful and fall is just a great time to hit the highways (and seaways).

There was a strong business component to all of this that cannot be overlooked. I had the opportunity to give presentations in Philadelphia and Toronto / Mississauga, not to mention a business dinner in Chicago and an important stop at New Britain, Connecticut. Finally, business necessitated a short trip to Nevada by way of Utah as well – all of which allowed us to draw up the itinerary that we did. Nevertheless, it’s not over yet as shortly we head back to northern California for the annual gathering of NonStop users, but more about that next month. The picture above was taken as we approached New York after a weekend spent in New Britain. 


Adding New Britain to the itinerary happened at the last moment. Since we would be wrapping up business on the Thursday and we didn’t need to be in New York before Sunday, Margo discovered quite by accident that the township of New Britain contained a large Polish community and that there were restaurants, bars and delis worth exploring. In fact, because of its large Polish population, the city is often playfully referred to as "New Britski”, according to local sources. A couple of internet searches later and we had reservations for two nights and in no time, we found ourselves on the Jersey turnpike that traces the New Jersey shoreline directly opposite the Manhattan skyline.

There was a delay continuing our journey north, unfortunately, as an early morning fatal accident on the George Washington bridge forced us to detour further west than we had planned, but regrettably, the more time we spend on America’s highways, running into such incidents are not unusual – indeed on our final day as we were driving back across Nebraska, we ran into one more such fatal accident and it bothers both of us that there’s still no let up on our national highways in such incidents.

Getting to New Britain proved interesting – in the fullest meaning of the word! The township was a ghost town, in many ways, with multiple deserted factories. Evidence of the days when the city earned its official nickname, “Hardware City” because of its history as a manufacturing center and as the headquarters of Stanley Black & Decker, it was clear that industry had relocated elsewhere. A rusting cityscape was all that remained and it only added to a sense of a “typical Polish township” from the soviet era. However, once inside the local deli, it was all smiles from Margo as the display cases brought tears to her eyes so much so, she simply had to leave the place before purchasing any of the sausages on offer. 


How often can you say you were truly lucky? When are there occurrences that go way beyond serendipity? The business meetings in Philadelphia and Mississauga were separated by almost two weeks necessitating us spending time on the east coast and with New York beckoning, we just had to go there – it seemed all rather logical. Until we began checking out hotel rates; ouch! Our plans had called for eight days (seven nights) in New York where I could work during the day and catch a Broadway show or two, along with a couple of good meals at nearby restaurants, during the evenings. However, a budget of $500 per day was quickly passed, with estimates going much higher.

Exasperated, by pure chance, we came across a cruise ship offering from Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). Long before we had put together our itinerary, we had looked at fall cruises that took in New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces – something we have wanted to see for some time. However, the cruises quickly became almost as expensive as staying in New York, but then we received a phone call from NCL asking us why we didn’t complete a reservation for a fall cruise. Too expensive, I responded but before I hang-up, our “personal concierge” at NCL suggested we might like a cruise to nowhere, utilizing the port of New York. Quickly it became clear that the ship, the Breakaway, would stop in at Bermuda but here was a way to enjoy three Broadway shows, drop in on several good restaurants, including Cagney’s Steakhouse, and for a very small premium over the lowest fare on offer, we could get a verandah suit.

Looking at a fare that came to just over $500 each for the full eight days, and in no time, we had our cabin reserved. And what a great trip it turned out to be on nothing short of a monster-ship – the biggest I’ve ever sailed on by far! With a tonnage of 145,000 plus, a length of more than a 1000 feet and, most impressive of all, a beam of 170 feet, this vessel was huge! But a great escape from normal, so as to speak, and it fit our schedule perfectly. So it was a simple case of interrupting our drive with a boat trip into the North Atlantic. Sailing out of New York on a Sunday afternoon and watching the new One World Trade Center building glide silently by was worth the diversion. As for Bermuda? All we did was simply step on land to stretch our legs – we still have little feel for what’s on the island but perhaps, we will return to it again. 


The opportunity to sail to Bermuda came about following a season of less hurricane activity than normal. Unfortunately, about a week after taking this picture of Margo inside the harbor in Bermuda, Hurricane Gonzalo bore down on Bermuda severely damaging much of the southern and central portions of the island, but from what I was able to determine, with no loss of life, fortunately. The opportunity to simply kick-back, pull out the laptop and write and all the while look through the veranda out onto the open sea? Priceless! Well, at any rate, considerably cheaper than the alternate – a week on Manhattan! It was a far cry from driving that was for sure, and surprised many of our friends.

Over the years we have completed several cruises to several corners of the globe. We have sailed the Baltic, cruised the Danube, passed through the Straits of Malacca, sipped cocktails in the South China Sea, and ridden the big Southern Ocean rollers as they passed underneath on their way into the Great Australian Bight. We have sailed through a Force 9 gale in the North Atlantic that pushed us south, past our intended destination and much closer to Africa than planned, and we have sailed numerous catamarans from the Florida Keys to Hawaii to the Great Barrier Reef. I have even raced sloops inside Sydney Harbor and outside, in the Tasman Ocean. But never before have I been aboard a ship that exhibited absolutely no pitch or roll – so much so that for me, I became disoriented and unsure where I was. And that was before the cocktail hour!

The business end of the week saw us first in Montreal and then, in Toronto before finally making it to Mississauga. The drive to Canada was something we did last year, too, and the trip was covered in the post, Time spent on the track and on America’s byroads … Whereas last year we drove the Maserati at first we thought of taking the company command center this year where we would be able to entertain our clients. Talking to one client, such a prospect began to look real, but the opportunity to sail the Atlantic meant we would be crossing New York and experience suggested such a drive in as large a coach as we have would be a mistake, so we took the Jeep. However, once back in Boulder and needing to head south, we indeed took the coach.


As you may have surmised from the intro, with as much time as we spent on America’s highways again this year, there was no time for our monthly track outing. The Corvette stayed in the garage and probably is done for the year, despite the great weather we are currently enjoying. As much as we love our track outings, and the friendships we have made trackside, at heart Margo and I remain “grand tourers” – enjoying the drive even more than the destination on most occasions. The trip back east put another 4, 600 miles onto the Jeep’s odometer, not to mention chewing out a set of front rotors and pads, but the quick change to the coach and heading into much warmer weather was something we both had been looking forward to.

The business we had planned for Nevada was to be easy and as such, would give us time to stop by one of our favorite national parks, Zion. It’s popularity with us is due to how easy it is to see the sights and how well the park looks after coaches like ours – maneuvering almost 40 feet of big rig through a tree covered park is never trivial, but somehow with familiarity it’s becoming a simple task to accomplish. Even with the demolition of a couple of low hanging dead branches, we came home with little damage to show for our trip – probably a first for our family. Also contributing to the popularity is the ease with which our good friends Brian and Jan made the decision to join us - indeed, it was through Jan's work that we had the campsite we had. Brian remains our business mentor and with the business changes Margo and I are experiencing right now, it was good to be able to  talk with someone who was able to bring an objective view to the discussion.

For me, the highlight was definitely the hike up Zion’s famous “Narrows”. It’s a riparian activity of course, but rather than a walk by the river it’s a walk in the river. The views, on the other hand, as the canyon narrows considerably, is well worth it and as tiring as it proved to be, I made it as far as I could safely negotiating and that took all day. Parked under a mountain simply called The Watchman was a further reminder of just how close everything inside the park is and of how quickly one can take it easy. Again, we set up the office so I could continue working early mornings and again, at night, but there was no denying that a long weekend in the bush proved to be a great way to come down off the insanely hectic weeks that had led up to this trip. In less than two weeks’ time, we will be back in the Jeep tackling not just the Rockies in winter but the more hostile Sierras as well as we return to Silicon Valley for yet one more conference!  


Looking back at posts written over the past couple of years so many of them have ended with yes, there’s more to come … Whether it was a fault of either of our parents or simply an extension of what they all liked to do, Margo and I are not sure. But the one thing we do know is that given the opportunity to live and work in America, why not see it all! As I pull out and ratty, dog-eared, copy of a map of North America’s highways and highlight in yellow yet another highway we have driven, it’s not so much the roads painted yellow that stand out but just how many more roads are out there – so yes, track months continue to remain of interest, but a return to the open road? More A, B, Zs? Absolutely!

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