Thursday, December 01, 2022

The 2022 Radical Sabbatical: Days 4-8

Day 4: Las Vegas to Hoover Dam to Grand Canyon to Route 66

Las Vegas wasn't our thing. It just wasn't. Too much facade; not enough substance.  The food was great and one other thing.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is my favorite thing in Las Vegas.  No admission and the machines still cost a quarter so for $25 dollars we all played an hour on machines that go as far back as the 1930's and 40's. Also, it's air conditioned! Triple-digit temperatures make this invaluable.

We had to make it to our hotel on Route 66, so a mid-morning departure to the east was a must. Hoover Dam is just outside of town, so we made the quick stop and I spent my first moments ever in my mom's birth state of Arizona. I worked a decade in structural engineering, but really Hoover Dam looks like a big concrete wall to me. Fascinating as a short stop, but maybe we should have taken the really expensive tour (we didn't).

We weren't done because the Grand Canyon was just a few hours away. We opted to go to Grand Canyon West to save a day of driving. (Going to the South Rim would have added another 7 hours to our route.)

Here's the deal with Grand Canyon West: it's run like a business. There's roadblocks set up a few miles south of the canyon with a visitor's center and shuttle buses that ensure that you won't even get close to seeing anything without paying admission. We waited for the bus that promised us two stops of panoramic canyon views. The first stop featured the famous Skywalk, gift shop, restaurant, etc. It also featured big fences that obscured your view if you didn't buy tickets to the Skywalk. Blech!

No cameras are allowed on the Skywalk. You can pay them to take your picture. It's not cheap and the lines are long to get one. Mariah opted not to go on the walk due to her fear of heights, so I thought we might not get any pictures at the Grand Canyon. Vegas, Hoover Dam and now the Grand Canyon! I was starting to get frustrated. We bought our souvenirs at the shop and drug our disappointed selves to the second stop.

It was absolutely perfect. No fences and no sales pitches, but just pure and beautiful amazingness. We got our pictures. What was I worried about?

We *still* weren't done because we had a reservation in Seligman, Arizona, at a motor inn on Route 66. It was getting late and we needed dinner. We coudn't find an open restaurant. I hit a jackrabbit (Not kidding. That actually happened.) We pulled into Seligman at 9:15 and found the world's loneliest Subway for dinner just before closing. The longest of long days was over.

Pinball Hall of Fame Radical Score: 7/10

Hoover Dam Radical Score: 4/10

Grand Canyon West Radical Score: 5/10 (go to the South Rim)

Day 5: Route 66 to Sedona to Phoenix

Seligman, Arizona, is the town that inspired the Pixar film, Cars, and it lived up to every bit of it's nostalgic reputation. Diner food, old cars, souvenir shops. Every picture you see in your mind of what Route 66 is supposed to look like, you can find in this town of 450 people.

Route 66 Radical Score: 8/10

Afternoon pushed us on to Sedona, to meet friends at Slide Rock State Park. The 80-foot-long natural sandstone waterslide makes this one of America's best swimming holes and the kids were all in for every bit of it. It's a former apple orchard surrounded by red canyon walls and full of happy people. 

Sedona itself is a high-end resort town that manages to still be accessible. It was a short break for food and shopping, but worth the stop.

Slide Rock Radical Score: 9/10

Sedona Radical Score: 7/10

Day 6-7: Phoenix

We were due for down time and thankful for a comfortable place at Aaron and Teri's house. I'm not even quite sure what we did on day six besides breathe, let the kids splash in the water and refill the snack box for the next leg of the drive. We had a great time at Pentecostals of Phoenix on Day 7.

We were just about recharged to start the second week.

Phoenix Overall Radical Score: Undetermined, because we really didn't do much in town.

Day 8: Phoenix, Mesa and the drive to Tucson

Monday, June 13, was an opportunity to meet one of my longtime co-workers for the first time at his home office in Mesa, Arizona. Catching up on emails and solving problems from the week I was out took a few quick hours. Mesa (on the east side of Phoenix) was where my mom lived as a little girl, so I got to visit her childhood home and school. 

It was time to head southeast for the next leg of our journey, but like I said, we were *just about* recharged for our start to the second week.  By the time we made it to Tucson that evening, we were done. The second week of the trip was set up to be a "freestyle" schedule, so we were ok to take in the Miracle Mile and eat the amazing food before pushing on

Tucson Overall Radical Score: 6/10

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The 2022 Radical Sabbatical: Days 1-3

We chose the name "Radical Sabbatical" because it was ridiculous and crazy and everything the trip was meant to be. June of 2022 marked exactly 10 years since I started my adventure in the wireless industry and I'd earned the break. And, it was a promise.

By the numbers, the RS was a 50-day, 31-state, 125+ stop cross-country road trip that took most of the months of June and August 2022. My next set of blog posts will take you along on the journey and let you know what it might take to do your own cross-country trip. Before I get into boring details about packing, etc., here's the kickoff of the fun stuff and scores for everything we saw and did:

Day 1: Home to Yosemite National Park

To make it all the way to Yosemite meant an early morning. Thankfully, we were energetic and excited to start out and hit the road by 6:30 AM. It's only a twelve-hour drive from Portland to Yosemite and we were going to drive all of it or pay for that hotel room anyhow. 

This gave us a pretty simple mission: head south. 

Stops in Ashland, Oregon and at In-N-Out in Redding, California, were all we needed to break up the trip. We found our first accomodations at Yosemite Westgate Lodge perfectly positioned near the Big Oak Flat entrance east of Stockton. We were ready to drive the 45 minutes into the valley at first light.

Day 2: Yosemite Valley

First light is early in June, so we were up at 5 AM to beat the heat and the crowds in the Valley.  I think it paid off.

Yosemite may be the most awe-inspiring place in the country. The panorama of granite cliffs and waterfalls creates beauty that constantly wanders just outside the reach of the human eye. You turn to look, then you turn again. 

The Valley is relatively small considering how many places there are to see, so we sought out the best views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Upper and Lower Falls and Bridalveil. Lunch at the village and time in the Ansel Adams Gallery gave us our only hints of anything but pure and unsullied nature.

El Capitan (one of my favorite photos from the trip)

Did I mention that Yosemite is only 12 hours south of Portland? Why did I wait?

Yosemite Valley Radical Score: 10/10

Day 3: Yosemite to Death Valley to Las Vegas

On the Tioga Road

Yosemite wasn't over because we were headed through the Granite Domes on the Tioga Road. Tioga is closed half of the year due to snow, but all was clear as we carved our way through the terrain from forest to mountains to desert.

By the time we popped out the far side of Yosemite we found gas at $7.64/gallon. We declined to fill up.

More hours in the desert got us to Death Valley. We ran into the general store at Stovepipe Wells and exclaimed like noobs, "How HOT is it out there?" The clerk knew exactly how hot it was (considering he's asked dozens of times a day). It got up to 116 degrees while we were there, which wasn't long.

Las Vegas was a few hours away and by the time we got there, dinner was way overdue. We stumbled down the strip to Giordano's for pizza, caught the Bellagio Fountains and went to Hershey's Chocolate World. By then it was nearly midnight and our Vegas adventure was already half over. It was time for bed.

Tioga Road Radical Score: 8/10

Giordano's Pizza Radical Score: 9/10

Bellagio Fountain Radical Score: 6/10

Vegas Strip Score: 4/10

Next up: Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Phoenix, Tucson

Saturday, October 01, 2022

The Sabbatical Pre-Game

One of the last promises I made to Anne-Marie was promising our family would take that cross-country road trip we always dreamed about. Though I didn't know she would only live for another week, we knew on that Saturday night in mid-January, she probably wouldn't be making the trip with us. 

But the Garcias were going to find a way.

By February, the kids and I came up with a plan. We were going to make doubly-good on the promise by doing a cross-country sabbatical "warm up." We would take one trip out of town every month over the next year from February 2021 to February 2022 to bond as a family of three and develop our road-warrior mentality before the epic trip in the summer of 2022.

We did it. Let me tell you how it all went down:

February 2021
Siletz Bay, Oregon
The week after the memorial service we stayed at a condo on Siletz Bay. We splashed around in the freezing cold water, ate at Mo's and played arcade games. Back then everything was still pretty locked down, so we kept it simple. It was for the best as we were still pretty numb emotionally from all that had happened.

March 2021
Washougal River, Washington
We found this amazing basement apartment hanging over the Washougal River. Even more amazing is that it belonged to Kevin and Andi, who are travel bloggers, travel guides, travel authors and world travelers. Go follow their latest crazy adventure here. Oh, and we climbed Beacon Rock!

April 2021 
Redmond, Oregon
We stayed in a travel trailer in someone's driveway! This trip was fun because we saw a lot of friends in the area. We went caving in Bend, walked along the river, hiked to a waterfall. Ate crazy food and stayed up late. Some amazing memories were made in our three days in Central Oregon.

May 2021
Lincoln City, Oregon
Our family from Alaska planned an amazing trip to the Oregon Coast at an oceanfront rental and invited us along for the fun. We did coffee runs to Dutch Bros, ate clam chowder at Nye Beach, enjoyed the Oregon Coast Aquarium and did s'mores and campfire singalongs at the beach at Road's End. It was magical.

June 2021
Washougal River, Washington (Trip #2)
Kevin and Andi invited us back and we couldn't say no.  Just a couple months before the Washougal River AirBnB was retired forever, we stayed a second time and the weather was oddly no better than in March. It's ok. We played cards and swam and watched Hachi.

July 2021
Northwest Youth Conference, Beaverton, Oregon
The first every NWYC was in July of 2021. Inspired by the end of local COVID shutdowns and a desire to unite the youth of Oregon and Washington, our local pastor founded a new 3-day meeting for youth that was every bit of a success. This is the only trip of the 12 that the kids did separate from me.

August 2021
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
We had so much fun with the AK fam in May, we decided to take a big trip to see them for two weeks.  Kenai Peninsula had me combat fishing, eating reindeer dogs and exploring Anchorage. I'm thankful for my job that allowed me to work remotely for most of the time I was up north.

September 2021
Astoria, Oregon
The most special of all the trips in 2021 was the one we took to Astoria to mark what would have been our 20th anniversary. Good friends spent the first half with us and Mom came for the last.  We stayed above the river pilot station and watched them come and go as they went to guide the ships.  I was able to visit some of the restaurants that Anne-Marie loved and walk the boardwalk that carried miles of romantic memories. To mark the occasion, we threw 20 roses into the Columbia River and watched them drift off into the dusk. She would have loved it.

October 2021
Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound, Washington
This was the most commercialized of our trips. Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor waterslide park wrapped in a giant hotel. The kids had all kinds of fun in the wave pool and riding the giant slides. Late night pizza, loud music and too many sweets made this a favorite for the kids, but not nearly so much for Dad.

November 2021
Tacoma, Washington
A return to our former home gave us a chance to relive some of the good times we had between the years of 2011 and 2014, when the kids were little and Mommy was their whole life. We drove by the old house and ordered from the old coffeeshop. The best part was reuniting for the first time with so many of our friends from the area. A little piece of our heart is always going to be there.

December 2021
Rockaway Beach, Oregon
Special times continued in December when my brother and his family flew in from Iowa to spend Christmas with us. The sleepy town of Rockaway Beach welcomed us with open arms on Christmas Eve and gifted us with snow on December 27th. It's the first time I've ever seen snow at the beach. It gave us every excuse to spend indoor time together doing puzzles.

January 2022
Portland, Oregon
The twelfth trip was our own special finale. We stayed in our hometown of Portland, Oregon at the Heathman Hotel. This is something we would never normally do, but it felt like the perfect finale. Quality time spent in Pioneer Courthouse Square ("Portland's Living Room") and playing ping-pong at Punch Bowl Social made everything come full circle. If you haven't tried it, I recommend vacationing at home.

Twelve trips in twelve months! And with that, the pre-game was over. We learned a lot about being on the road, packing quick, enjoying through fatigue, making check-out time. So how about a 50-day-long, 31-state megatrip? We had four months to finish planning the 2022 Garcia Radical Sabbatical.

Random notes on the 12 trips:
Best food: Homecookin' in Alaska and Astoria (which always delivers).
Shortest trip: Washougal trip #2. I worked from the rental that time while Grandma swam in the river with the kids.
Longest trip: Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. We stayed at Grandpa and Nana's for two weeks!
Most unexpected good time: Boyd Cave in Bend, Oregon, in April. I was sick the entire time, but the cool air kept down the fever and we had all kinds of fun.
Most active trip: Washougal trip #1. Swimming, climbing beacon rock, more swimming.
Most inactive trip: Portland. After 11 trips, we made every excuse not to leave the Heathman.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022


Like the storyline of your favorite fiction series that the Author never finished and never explained why. That’s 43 to me. The story was a great one and its heroine unmatched, but to my thinking, it's unfinished.  

And, yes, it was so good. Every chapter, every line, every word. Late nights turned into early mornings. I wanted to know how it would end. I couldn’t quit reading, but then it all stopped. It was over before it was over. 

No epilogue or afterword. Just empty shelf space reserved for where the next volume will never go. 

It’s the 43rd anniversary of your birth, but 43 is only fantasy. It never happened. 

Oh, how I longed to know the rest of your story! The return back, the resolution, the changes that resulted from the fight. I think we did get those things, individually. You were resolved; I was resolved. Yet, in this life, we can never enjoy that victory together. 

I'm writing my half of that epilogue so you can read it when we meet again on that day in the land of endless sun. I can’t wait to see you, Anne-Marie. There’s all kinds of story I need to tell you. 

I don’t want to live my life in search of a perfect ending. I've got to learn to love the story as is. 

Perfection will never be realized on this Earth. Those things only happen in fiction.