Canada 3: Rocky Mountains – South from Jasper

Waking early, the team drove south back along the Icefield Parkway.  On the earlier north bound journey, in the race to get accommodation in Jasper, a number of points of interest were strategically skipped.  These were visited on the return trip and included:

  • Mount Edith Cavell (the team met an Australian retired couple who had driven more than 10k km in their hire car that they picked up in Vegas.  Inspired!)
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Mistaya Canyon
  • Parker’s Ridge
Icebergs at Mount Edith Cavell Athabasca Falls
Glacier behind Parker’s ridge

Just before the Columbia Icefield, Ang, had gone from not wanting to come across a bear to being disappointed with the numbers seen thus far.  She said to Simon ‘I really want to see some bears , keep looking into the forest as we drive as we don’t have much time left’.  Banff and Jasper National parks were soon to deliver.

Standard Canadian flood plain
Yet another Standard Canadian lake

The first animal the team came across was a Caribou.  It had run into the middle of a freezing stream to avoid being eaten by a wolf.  The Caribou jam it caused had the usual assortment of high powered camera and lens assemblies.  One ‘imager’ was kind enough to let the team have a look through her scope.  The Caribou didn’t seem too happy and the wolf was nowhere to be seen.  An earlier photograph taken by the ‘imager’ allowed the team to see the wolf. After seeing the picture, Simon remarked that “the Caribou seems to have the right idea”.

Swim buddy!

About 2 km further down the road, the team spotted the next jam.  This one was for a juvenile grizzly bear that was feeding on berries.  The bear attracted about 30-40 cars and twice as many people.  The team observed the bear for a good 40 minutes as it came progressively closer to the road.  At one point the safer option was the back of a nearby pickup truck when the bear came within 30m of the road (recommended distance is 100m plus).  The team stayed amongst the crowd until the bear decided it was time to go eat a salmon, or that thing bears do in the woods.

Large bear jam
Close enough to see the whites of the grizzly’s eyes Right on, maul that bush

Back in the car, the team stopped briefly at the Athabasca glacier, then soon after spotted the next bear jam up ahead.  This time, there were two black bears, munching on the roadside berries.  The advantage for the team was little time was lost as the convenient roadside location allowed photos to be taken from the car.  Fading light meant the team was soon driving again. The Icefields Parkway came to an end and the team arrived at Banff.  There they slept before the short drive the next day back to Calgary.

Bears want berries eh? Black bear random berry walk

Racing into Calgary, the team attempted to complete an ongoing challenge of the exclusive race – find and purchase unique cowgirl boots for Ang.  By the time they had arrived in the city centre and checked the location of western shops, less than 2 hours remained to return the hire car to the airport.  Racing through the city streets, shop after shop was checked by the team, but with no success.

Back to the car and then out of the city and on to the airport they went.  At this point heavy rain made driving conditions difficult, but the team managed to navigate their way to the hire car drop off.  Then it was onto the red eye flight to Montreal, some 3028 kms to the east.

Arriving in the middle of the night, the team took a crazy taxi ride through countless construction sites to Merryl’s place, checking into the pitstop for this leg of the race.

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Canada 2: Rocky Mountains – North from Calgary

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two flew over 700km from Vancouver to Calgary. There they picked up a hire car, and after a brief monster nachos lunch at Loco Lulu’s, they commenced the drive to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Their first stop was Banff. There they hiked around the town, check out the hot Springs and looked for bears. Simon mused at the sheer number of Australians living in the town. Ang remarked that she liked the town for its picturesque setting and that it was not overly touristy, even though it is a resort town. Later, a brief side trip was taken to Johnston Canyon and on to the Ink Pots.

Johnston Canyon falls

The hike to the Ink Pots, while more remote, was still on a well travelled path. Heels were cooled in the mountain stream before the team, in typical Exclusive Race fashion, took an alternative, less trodden track back to the car. This soon led to concerns about bears, particularly due to the team being without a map, the lack of signage on the trails and the many tasty berry bushes in the moose meadows. After a tense solitary hour long walk, the team returned to their car, successfully avoiding any potentially nearby bears.

Next, the racers departed for Lake Louise. The lake is a stunning body of water set below a mountain range and is fed from glacier melt water. The team’s task at this destination was to complete a hike around the area. This hike included Lake Louise, Lake Agnes and the Plain of Six Glaciers. Racing up the 400m elevation the team sampled some of the treats at the Lake Agnes teahouse, climbed the Big Beehive and witnessed the sanitation helicopter in action. The team then continued along and up to the Plain of Six Glaciers and its associated teahouse.

Lake Louise through the trees Ang contemplates the Lake
Even more of the Lake
Plain of the Six Glaciers

The last hot weather of summer was causing significant melting (and avalanches), so the team did not progress all the way to the top of the trail. They returned to Lake Louise, having completed the 15 km hike with no bear sightings. The night was spent at Lake Louise.

Second day Lake Louise

Leaving Lake Louise town the next morning, the racers headed briefly to Moraine Lake for some log walking. The next clue sent the team to Emerald Lake before they headed north to the Icefields Parkway, one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Their route took them past a variety of aqua lakes, precariously perched glaciers and vaulted peaks.

Emerald Lake, might as well go ahead and jump! Emerald Lake complete with Canadian paddelling a Canadian
Natural Bridge
Moraine Lake Noice lumperjack

Visited attractions on the drive north included:

  • Crowfoot Glacier
  • Bow Lake and Bow Glacier
  • Waterfowl Lakes
  • Mistaya Canyon
Driving the parkway Dramatic random mountain range

With accommodation not yet sourced and the sun beginning to set, the racers pushed north to Jasper. Both Ang and Simon briefly considered sleeping in the car, but with the high probability of Grizzly bears coming to investigate, they had to find proper digs. Right on dark they were able to find beds in a large dorm room (40+ persons) just below the Whistlers.

The town of Jasper, while not as pretty as Banff, seemed to be more true to the Canadian Rocky experience. Receiving a challenge from a friendly shop assistant, the team planned their next couple of days.

The first activity was to visit Maligne Lake.  There they saw deer and looked out over the 25km long lake. On the drive back to Jasper, they came across a Bear Jam, with traffic stopped in both directions, watching a lone brown bear eat berries. Then it was on to Miette hot springs, an area surrounded by Cougar warnings. Not wanting to squeeze into a pool that was dangerously overloaded, the team set off to find the source of the hot springs. These were located soon after, with the team deciding not to swim in the smelly water and that bears are probably more friendly than cougars. A retreat to the car was quickly completed.

A deer with no fear Mmm tasty pavement
Bighorn sheep Ang says hello to Mr Sheep
Lake Jasper, away from Mr Sheep Mmm tasty salty road

Back the team headed to Jasper and sampled some great gluten free pizza, then drove out of the town, out of Alberta and on Mt Robson. The mountain is the highest in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and was the northern most point the team travelled to in North America.  The team spent the night at a ranch that overlooks Mt Robson. Their host at the Ranch was an eccentric Japanese man called Rocky, who apparently had an ‘understanding’ with a local black bear.

Mt Robson on dusk Mt Robson sunset drinks (Winelands plastic ‘glasses’in hand)

The core challenge provided by the shop assistant was to hike to Emperor Falls in a day. Knowing that by accepting this challenge it would take most of the day, the team set off on the 32 km hike at a cracking pace. Lots of multiday back country campers were quickly passed by as the racers had the luxury of carrying much less gear. The team was also sans bear bangers (bear mace that is 6x stronger than human mace) and bear bells. This helped keep the per kilometre average high.

Standard Canadian lake

The track led the racers past aqua marine coloured lakes, through forests and up scree slopes. The valley of a Thousand Waterfalls was for Simon a highlight, although it would be much more impressive in early spring. Climbing the steepest portion of the track, the team arrived at Emperor Falls. There they received their next clue – make their way to Montreal by the fastest means possible.

Mt Robson and Emperor falls
Simon has an audience The Emperor and Ang

Then it was back 16 km to the car, passing the same groups with their Nordic walking poles and huge backpacks. The team was passed by a runner who had continued to Berg Lake (a ~42km round trip that seemed to be taking everyone else multiple days). No bears were sighted on the return journey.

Rest stop Another rest stop where the marathon trail runner caught up to us
Another standard Canadian lake Rapids!

The day’s racing continued with the team driving back to Jasper to spend the night in the mega dorm. Just before entering Jasper, a random posing elk stag was spotted.

Ang found a bear! Mr Elk

… to be continued

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Canada 1: Vancouver

The Vancouver leg of the race commenced with the team hiring bikes and proceeding, along with Alissa, to circumnavigate Stanley Park. Once this had been completed, the team headed in to the internal forest where they came across a racoon. After this sighting, the team climbed to the summit of the highest point in the park where they received their next clue – “survive the annual shuffling migration”.  Zombies!

Vancouver skyline The Beach
Tour de Stanley Park Surprisingly not glued
Racoon! Three dogs!

Knowing zombies prefer commercial centres, in particular flat shopping streets, they proceeded back towards the centre of the city.  There they rendezvoused with an advanced party of zombie hunters that were running ahead of the horde.  Soon, the team was engulfed in the thousands of undead.  Simon remarked that “you could smell the fake blood long before you actually saw the fake horror” and commenced taking photos.  The team battled their way through and survived.  They received their next clue and were soon on their way.

Zombie rights

Collecting a hire car early on the Sunday morning, the team, along with Nathan, Sarah and Alissa, drove north toward the Chef.  There they were joined by Shelly.  The challenge was to climb the Chef and eat cherries once on top.  The climb was at times steep, but relatively easy, until they had to make use of chains.  Soon, the team, along with the other Australian types, had reached the top.  Both Simon and Ang were impressed with the scene, with Ang equating to Norway.  Many cherries were sampled.

Racers on the Chef with Shelly Racers on the Chef with Alissa
Ang getting ready to go back down

Completing the hike, the team dropped the festival goers at Live at Squamish and continued to Whistler.  There the team spent the afternoon experiencing the resort town vibe by first spying a brown bear, then eating lupper (lunch and supper) before watching Barenaked Ladies perform.  As the Whistler challenge was now complete, the team headed to a conveniently located fast food car park and waited for the festival goers to emerge from the woods.  This wait was accompanied by the sounds of Major Lazer, last heard in San Fran.

Waiting for the Barenakeds to start Olympic seating
Cow hugger!

Back to Vancouver they headed and the team enjoyed a rest day.  The race recommenced the next day with the team boarding a flight to Calgary.

After 10pm late night op shopping

… to be continued.

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United States 7: Seattle

Space Needle – see the future

Margie, a former resident of Seattle, provided the team with a variety of interesting tasks to complete during this leg. First checked off the list was Riding the Ducks.  The team boarded a duck driven by a guy initially wearing a red crazy spider hat.  They, along with a bunch of other rolling party goers, completed a lap of Seattle’s most interesting sites whist singing along to tunes and getting people in the street to join in with dance.

Sleepless in Seattle location by day Floating houses, Union lake
Gasworks Duck 4 Docked at Duck HQ

Having ridden the ducks, the team raced to attend a ball game and try the garlic fries.  Joining a nice Canadian couple, the team watched the Blue Jays destroy the Mariners.  Ang, figuring that with no national allegiance the best team to support would be a fellow Commonwealth member, joined Donna in annoying the surrounding American crowd with their cheering.  For the record, the Blue Jays won the game, 5 to 1.

The thin air at Safeco You need a bigger sign
The more expensive sea level seats
Commonwealth in a sea of Yankies at altitude Garlic fries
Mariners had a Chance, but it was a ruff one.

The team’s next challenge was to visit EMP (the Experience Music Project), and experience both music (almost a shrine to Nirvana) and sci fi (Avatar and Battlestar).  Simon remarked that “eccentric billionaires make the best museums” (eg MoNA) . Moving to the waterfront, the team walked through the Pike Markets.  Later, they proceeded back to the hostel where they joined up with a bunch of backpacker types and went on an art walk.

Big pile of axes Ready to hunt Cylons
Towards Pike Street Art Pike

The art walk had very little to do with art and very much to do with drinking and socialising.  Highlights included the tattoo parlour and Bambino’s (where pizzas redefine the word ‘large’).

Spied during the art walk and played the very next day.

The final task was a quick visit to Kerry Park where they were treated to a spectacular view of Seattle.  Their return trip to the hostel to collect bags was made all that more interesting by a Weird Al look and act alike bus driver.  He verbalised to each person who was dressed in all black their pick up number (4 people during the team’s ride) and that he thought they were going to a convention.  He said to one customer that he was happy to drive his bus to Kansas or Australia, should that be where she wanted to go.

Kerry Park panarama

The team proceeded on foot to the Greyhound bus depot and took a bus ride north to Canada. Four and a half hours later the team were once again the first racers to check into the hostel in Vancouver, winning this leg of the race.

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United States 6: San Francisco

Waking after a restful night’s sleep, the team set out to explore metropolitan San Francisco. Challenges included riding a cable car, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge (from a far) and locating the elusive Buba Gump restaurant at Pier 39. Angela was pleased to have finally had the chance to have a beer at the restaurant bar, fulfilling a childhood dream (by being in the restaurant, not drinking the beer). Later, the team was particularly impressed with the showboating and snoting of the harbour seals.

Abandoned dogs! Success!
Fortune cookie manufacturing (all fortunes were excellent)

Returning to Sarah’s cool apartment for an optional 12 hour rest period, the team set off for Golden Gate park. Their main task was to complete the Generic Festival Clothing Outside Lands challenge. To complete this challenge, the team was required to collect tickets from the Will Call and spend the next three days at the Outside Lands festival. As a bonus, the team would also attempt to work out why a band called Phish (who basically just jam for 4 hours straight) were so popular.

Festival art Slack waste removal or more festival art?
The sun is smiling, the weather is fine.

Most of the three days of Outside Lands involved checking out the bands and sampling a variety of foods including what Simon termed “grade A awesome strawberry gelato”. Following the second day, the team were given and completed a surprise detour to China Beach. There they again attempted to see the Golden Gate up close. But it was a bridge to far…

Golden gate by night China beach

The multifaceted event that was Outside Lands also included viewing art and a rather expensive wine tasting. The team correctly identified Seven Deadly Sins as the best Napa wine on offer at the festival.

Demonstrating the hand signal (easy to spot in a crowd) Generic ground shot
Muse turn it up to 11

At the end of the challenge, both team members gave their top three music highlights. For Simon these were OK Go, Muse and Deadmau5. For Angela, hers were Arcade Fire, Muse and ‘some New York band’. Unfortunately, they were unable to complete the bonus challenge as they were no closer to understanding why Phish was so popular. Simon’s best theory was that Phish is some sort of cult.

Another day of festival racing

With the Generic Festival Clothing Outside Lands challenge completed, the team resumed normal sightseeing racing. They continued to walk most of the city, visiting the Mission, Painted Ladies and the most crooked street. They finally managed to see the Golden Gate up close. Simon continued his invented Prius game, much to Ang’s annoyance, and managed to spot 4 Prius in 30 seconds. The team also discovered Sarah’s aversion to brunch.

Golden gate by day Windy but clear
Mission mural alley Lenin appreciates the mural irony
Silly crooked garden street

Soon it was day six of this leg of the race, the last day. Keen to get as much value out of their remaining hours in San Francisco as possible, the team visited some art galleries, Haight street and rode the cable cars couple of more times before they raced back to the T line and back to Sarah’s. Then Sarah kindly drove them to the airport, where they boarded the flight to Seattle.

SF streetscape Near Haight
Please keep your body outside the moving vehicle Better than walking up the hill

The pit stop for this leg of the race was the city hostel in Belltown. The team was the first to check in, winning this stage of the race.

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United States 5: Los Angeles to San Francisco

After the optional rest period, the team were the first up and out of the dorm room at the hostel.  They headed to Union Station and boarded the Coast Starlight (also known by some as Coast Starlate) for the 10-hour train trip north to San Francisco.

Free IQ tests! Capital Records
Union Station Inside Union Station

The team was treated to a rolling scene as the train rumbled north through the sprawl of LA onto Santa Barbara and along the Pacific Coast.  The large number of eucalyptus trees and coastline reminded Angela and Simon of parts of southern Victoria.  Simon commented at one point that “it was excellent to see so many gum trees, growing like weeds.  Finally, a little native Australian battler gets revenge”.

Santa Barbara Station Coast Starlight by daylight

The train took the team through Vandenberg air force base after hugging the coast for a bit.  The base was relatively uninteresting as all launch sites (including the shuttle site) were empty.

Surplus shuttle launch pad The view at lunch
Feed us!

Sunset was enjoyed in the scenic observation car with a glass of Californian red. There the team, along with a younger version of Charlie Sheen (before he started ‘winning’), played ‘guess what is growing in that field’ and tried to follow the ranting of a rather opinionated northern Californian girl whose topics of conversation included, among others, Vikings, feminism, Obama and cheese.

Sunset over the fields

Eventually, the train arrived 45 minutes late at Oakland and there the team boarded a bus to the Ferry Building in San Francisco.  This was the pit stop for this leg of the race.

Finally in Oakland
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United States 4: Monument Valley to Los Angeles

The lengthy drive to Bryce Canyon took the team north into southern Utah.  Soon after leaving Monument Valley, the team entered a landscape that could best be described as lunar or Mordor (take your pick).  Populated centres were few and far between with highlights including Mexican Hat and Hanksville (seemingly the wakeboarding capital of Utah due to its proximity to Lake Powell).  On board fuel reserves were also limited at this point, so the team made full use of cruise control.

Ang is happy to be there Monument Valley Road
Follow that RV! to Mordor

The stretch of drive through the Glen Canyon Reserve, including the crossing of the Colorado River and views of the upper reaches of Lake Powell was particularly harsh and alien.  So much so that Ang remarked soon after leaving Hanksville “not more spaceland!”, which Simon agreed with, as there is only so much barren waste land you can look at and still be interested.

Luckily, the terrain changed again as the team first entered the Capital Reef National Park and then climbed 9600 feet over the range to Boulder and on to Escalante.  There they spent the night in the Cowboy Country Inn. The highlight of Simon’s stay was the brief moment when “two local hoons blasted through town on what could only be described as a recreation of American Graffiti”.  Ang’s highlight was “the fishing themed room that had a bear on the bed that scared me”.

There is a bear in there… Workin’ on the land
Old School

But this was not a pit stop, so early-ish the next morning, the team set off to Bryce Canyon.  Arriving they commenced a survey of the park’s ‘scenic turn-outs’.  The main features of the park are a multitude of spires and eroded canyon gullies.  Ang said “it looks like Cappadocia
in Turkey”.  Simon thought that it kind of looked like those sand castles you make with wet sand.

There are a few walking tracks within the park, and the team set off to complete a circumnavigation of the area to receive the clue to their next destination. They were able to cover the 4 mile circuit in about half the national parks service allotted time and were soon on their way to Zion National Park.

Rock on at Byrce Crumble rocks at Byrce
ARRch at Bryce

Driving to Zion, the team stopped at the Thunderbird Cafe, Mt Carmel Junction, which was mainly notable for its ‘Ho-Made’ pies (which of course has an apparently innocent explanation).  After lunch Ang tried one of these pies, “delicious”, and the team was soon back on the road.

Getting briefly off track for the first time of this trip, the team entered Zion national park on dusk.  Spectacular is a word perhaps used a little too often, but both Ang and Simon agreed, the drive through the park in the fading light was spectacular. They spent the night near the exit to the park and were rewarded the next morning with views that Simon called “comparable to the Grampions, but much bigger”.

Zion at Dusk Zion, sponsored by Toyota

With the rental car return deadline fast approaching, the team down the Colorado Plateau and back to Vegas.  They then flew back to LA for an afternoon and evening in Hollywood and some much needed rest, completing this leg of the race.

New casino soon to open in Vegas – the Sesame Street Exprience Airport slots while you wait
Everything is better in Hollywood, but the signs are tiny
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United States 3: Grand Canyon to Monument Valley

With the Grand Canyon challenges completed, the team set off on the next leg of the race.  Driving east along the Canyon Rim, they stopped in at the varying scenic turn offs along the way.  Then on the long descent from the Canyon Rim to the plains below, they received their first surprise detour.

A surprise detour is a challenge that is sprung on the team at any moment during the race, and usually will significantly alter travel plans.  In this instance, the surprise was to drive a couple of hundred miles further east to Monument Valley where they would receive their next clue.

For the Half Life fans out there

Driving east, they entered what could only be described as a moonscape, a vast barren land devoid of anything living, except Navajo settlements amongst the rock piles and sand aggregate hills.  Simon again wished for a rope as there were stretches of exceedingly straight and long roads through this area.

Until that is, they crested a hill and entered the Monument Valley region.  Their pace of travel slowed considerably as every opportunity was taken to stop and take photographs of the buttes.

The team entered the Navajo Tribal Park, and quickly decided to see if accommodation was available for the night at the Navajo Monument Valley View hotel.  There was one room left so they were in luck yet again.

The view from the team’s room
Valley Panarama

The team enjoyed the spectacular view whilst dining in the hotel restaurant.  They then joined the crowds watching sunset and 2wd car get rescued from the 4wd track before watching ‘Stage Coach’ (starring the Duke, John Wayne).  Their hosts, the Navajo who worked at the hotel seemed to all be young with great senses of humour.

Late afternoon Monuments Sunset Monuments
Monument and Moon

Again alarms were set early and Ang and Simon commenced the main task for this leg of the race.  They watched the sun rise, then headed off to walk the Wild Cat Trail, a 6.5km round circuit that passes up close to the buttes.

Sunrise Monumets by day

Despite some mild concern regarding rattlesnakes and actual wild cats, the team enjoyed the spectacular walk.   They covered the first section easily and were on the return journey when they lost sight of the stone cairns that marked the path.

Slanty Valley

Picking up an alternative path through the desert flood, the team walked along what seem to be a goat track (with a few human footprints thrown in for good measure).  It turned out that it was indeed a goat track as the team happened upon a herd of goats guarded by a lone dog and three to four Navajo on horseback, high up on a ridge.  The team knew they were being observed as they made their way back to the visitor area.  Simon said, “now I know what John Wayne must’ve felt like”.

Then it was north out of Monument valley, stopping only for brief moments to recreate pivotal moments from the Beatles and Forest Gump’s careers, and onwards to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Ang does this all the time Monument Valley Road
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United States 2: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

For the few who don’t know, Americans drive on the other side of the road.  If you have not previously driven on the other side of the road, there is a certain amount of anxiety to be had by first timers.  Said Ang regarding right hand drive, “the last time I drove on the opposite side, I was just back from Norway and it was in Australia.  Lucky no one died”.

With the space of a few minutes, much of the traffic rules had been worked out and the team headed south out of Las Vegas towards Flagstaff.

Hoover Dam

They drove for about five hours and after taking short detours to the Hoover dam and along the largest remaining stretch of route 66, they decided to try the small town of Williams for overnight accommodation.  Their accommodation of choice was a restored former brothel and was located in convenient walking distance to the main after 6pm attraction in Williams, the nightly gunslinger shoot out.

Shop in Williams

Refreshed after their night’s sleep, the team commenced the next task of this leg of the race.  They were to drive themselves to the Grand Canyon, but first they had to complete a detour to Sedona, a small Bangalow-esk arts and crafts town located amongst a bunch of impressive rock formations.  Ang remarked that “she was really glad to have come to Sedona and couldn’t get enough of the views”.  Simon was particularly interested in locating or at least viewing a vortex, as the area is famous for having the highest concentration of vortices in the world.  Unfortunately the local hippy types were either away or still in bed, so exact coordinates could not be given, meaning the team had to skip this task.

Sedona

Done with Sedona, the team commenced the drive back north through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.  Simon, who had previously been to the Canyon, said that “he didn’t remember there being such long straight roads on the approach, and that if he had remembered, he would have brought some rope to tie off the steering wheel to make the car (with cruise control), fully automatic.”  Ang just rolled her eyes with a smile.

Arriving nearly 2 hours after setting off from Sedona, the team progressed through the park to the rim lodges.  There they asked for and were granted the last remaining room in the complex.  Booking formalities completed, they approached the rim of the Canyon for the first time.  Ang said “Holy crap”.  Simon had that tingling sensation, which soon past, but was still impressed, “it is just like a painting”.

Grand Canyon

The first task at the Canyon was to find the ideal vantage point for sunset.  Ang was particularly keen to take the perfect photo but with the heat in the canyon it was quite hazy.  After walking about 8 km, they team watched the sun descend over the western rim.   Alarms were set for the second part of the challenge, sunrise.

Ang and Canyon
Simon and Canyon
Plank and Canyon
It is a big hole
Even more Canyon
Possibly Rabid, but cute

Waking before dawn, the team took a shuttle to Yaki point with a bunch of Euro types.  There they took full advantage of the lack of crowds to position themselves to photograph and watch the sun come up over the eastern edge of the canyon.

The race continues…

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United States 1: Las Vegas

Receiving their first clue at Brisbane Airport, Ang and Simon boarded a 13 hour flight to Los Angeles. A slight delay at the airport was overcome in the air and the flight arrived on time at 7am. Clearing customs, the team transitioned to the domestic terminal for the wait for the Delta flight to Las Vegas.

Arriving at Vegas a few short hours later, the team checked into their hotel for a well earned rest. Strategically, they did not sleep straight away, instead heading to the strip on sun down to check out the lights and sights and complete the major task of this leg of the race, a grand survey of the major Vegas Casinos.

At the pool – Platinum The view from our room

The walking tour of the strip included reviews of the following (in order of visit):

  1. Bellagio (1st night – $1.6 billion construction cost)
  2. Bally’s (1st night – air con for part of the walk home)
  3. Paris (1st night)
  4. Planet Hollywood (1st night)
  5. Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon
  6. Flamingos
  7. Caesar’s Palace
  8. Bellagio (again cause it is pretty stunning for a hotel – think Ocean’s 11)
  9. Aria
  10. Crystals (not a casino, but a slick expansive mall)
  11. Mandarin Oriental
  12. Monte Carlo
  13. New York – New York
  14. Excalibur
  15. Luxor
  16. THEHotel
  17. Mandalay Bay
  18. MGM Grand
  19. Cosmopolitan
  20. M&Ms world (4 levels of chocolate candy fun – including a hilarious false fire alarm situation – staff had no clue and the alarm was quieter than the music)
  21. Coca cola world (strangely not as fun as M&Ms world)
  22. Planet Hollywood (Erotic dancing dealers = classy)
  23. Fremont Street Experience (not a casino, but an interesting bus ride there)
  24. Wynn & Encore (+$2 Billion per tower buys a lot of class! The team remarked that along with the Bellagio, this was their favourite. Ang said “if it wasn’t 1am by the time we reached the Wynn, we’d so would have taken a dip in their gorgeous pool”)
  25. The Palazzo
  26. The Venetian
Lobby ceiling flowers (Bellagio) Ang and I (Bellagio)
Mashmellow train! (Bellagio) Liberty bell garden (Bellagio)
A bike in the Bellagio Real flower painting (Bellagio)
Caesar’s Palace entry Best review ever (Caesar’s Palace)
New York Vegas style Cheesy streets of New York New York
Luxor on the outside Luxor Lobby
Extreme wine rack (Mandalay Bay)

The tour totalled approximately 6.5 km of straight line foot travel and a lot more when you consider casinos are built to keep you at gaming tables and not make it easy for you to walk about.

Over the course of their walk the team marvelled at the alternatively ornate and silly entries into each of the casinos, engaged in a few gaming related challenges (including a couple of rounds of a hilarious mechanical horse race game) and managed to get within 5cm of a pair of live casino tigers.

But, Vegas being the cruel money hungry mistress that she is, soon had to be left behind.  The next leg would take the team through to the Grand Canyon…

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