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.


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

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…