June 2011


I’m writing this from the Tokyo-Narita airport. This airport makes me want to stay in Japan. It’s fantastically organized and spotless. It is hot though. I read somewhere that the Japanese government is keeping buildings at 85 degrees to conserve energy. “Good for them,” I’d thought, not remembering that I would be sitting in a Japanese government building for four hours. Oh well.

But this post isn’t about a Japanese airport. It’s about someplace even hotter: Modesto, California. The problem is that I’m traveling faster than I’m blogging, which is pretty much the best problem in the world.

So Modesto. Not typically a sought after destination, unless you are a minor league baseball fan. Last Tuesday (June 21st) the Modesto Nuts hosted the California-Carolina League All-Star Smash, wherein the top prospects for both leagues battle out their nine innings together. The game is played in different stadiums each year, alternating between the east and west coast. This year it was Modesto’s John Thurman Field turn to host the event.

 

Modesto pulled out all the stops for the 5,000+ fans that were in attendance, from Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers throwing out the first pitch to the fireworks show after the game. California even beat Carolina 6-1, thanks mostly to a typically minor-league 3rd inning which included two walks, a fumbled double-play ball, a hit batter, two singles and a sac fly. Buy hey – we’ll take it!

 

John Thurman Field is located at 601 Neece Drive, Modesto, CA 95351. The area is pretty nice (not always the case for baseball stadiums), tucked near a park and golf course. If you want to avoid the parking fee, plenty of street parking is available.

The stadium features mostly bleacher seating, but those bleachers have backs, so they’re not too bad. The only seat-seats are in the section behind home plate. But no matter where you sit, your less-than-$20 seats will have a great view. Thus the allure of minor league baseball.

If you go to a game, be sure to get an autograph or two. The players are more than happy to oblige, and you never know…they could be major leaguers someday! 

So I’m training for this ½ marathon in Inner Mongolia. I have the VERY lofty notion that I might be able to complete the 13.1 miles in less than two hours. This assumes that…

  • I can breathe through the China smog
  • I don’t get lost on the course and end up in some random yurt village
  • Inner Mongolian aide stations feature bottled water
  • A yak doesn’t eat me

 I’m not too hopeful, especially as I’ve just noticed that the race is advertised as an “extreme” marathon. I hope that’s just a random adjective and doesn’t mean I’ll be running up mountain slopes or anything.

Anyways, my training has been going well, but the three weeks before the race I’m traveling, which really gets in the way of training. For the first leg of this vacation I headed to Tucson (average temperature during my stay: 110 degrees) to take care of some family stuff. After two days I ditched my mom and uncle and hightailed it up to Sedona where it was a noticeably cooler 100 degrees. I sought out the longest, flattest trail in the area and woke up for my run at 5:30am to beat the heat.

 

My flat, long trail of choice was the West Fork Trail, about three miles north of Slide Rock State Park on highway 89A. The trailhead is on the west side of the road and is well marked. You do need a $9 trail pass to park at the trail head which can be purchased in the parking lot near the trailhead…unless you arrive at 6am. Despite the sign that indicated that the trail was open from dawn to dusk, the parking lot was gated shut. I guess I was up earlier then the park people. Luckily there was a place to pull off the side of the road and park about ¼ mile north of the trailhead on highway 89A.

 West Fork Trail was indeed long and relatively flat. The trail runs 3-4 miles (depending on which signs you believe) into the woods, creating a 6-8 mile round trip. There were some hills and inclines, but nothing too strenuous. It’s a perfect trail to run on except for the numerous times (over ten) you are required to cross Oak Creek. Sometimes this was accomplished by teetering on logs and rocks and sometimes my shoes and socks just had to get wet. However this year was one of high rivers and Oak Creek was pretty shallow in mid-June. By August of this year and probably the whole of next summer the creek will be mostly dried up.

 

The West Fork Trail is gorgeous. The clear water, blue sky, red rocks and green vegetation provided numerous excuses for me to stop running and take pictures. However, I wasn’t the only one enjoying West Fork Trail that morning. Every spider in the southwest decided to spin webs across the trail exactly at face level. After spitting out the first dozen cobwebs, I took to running through the forest whilst waving my arms in front of my face to knock down the webs.

If a runner looks like an idiot in the forest but no one is there to see her, did she really look like an idiot at all? Hmmm.

To avoid this problem, I’d suggest that you aren’t the first person on the trail in the morning. Let someone else knock down the webs for you.   

In addition to spider-clearing duties, The West Fork Trail requires that you pay attention. (not my strongest skill!) Before crossing Oak Creek each time, look ahead to where the trail continues on the other side. Sometimes it’s hard to pick it up once you’re on the opposite bank. In at least one instance, I thought I had to cross the river but the trail continued on the same side of the river. A few times I thought that the trail ended, only to climb over a boulder or cross another bend in the creek only to discover more trail ahead of me. This is where I decided the end must be:

 

By nine o’clock I emerged back onto highway 89A. I had not gotten lost in the woods, bitten by a poisonous spider, nor passed out from heat stroke. I celebrated my successful run with a burger and chocolate milk shake (available at the Dairy Queen four miles south of the trailhead towards Sedona) before heading back to Tucson.

“And you’ll be in room number seven, just down the way,” the hotel clerk says, smiling and handing me an old brass key.

I hear an exasperated sigh behind me. 

“Is she the one that reserved room number seven last week?” Exasperated lady asks. She and the cat she’s clinging to both eye me suspiciously.

“Um, I did reserve last week,” I say apologetically. “But I really don’t care about the room number.”

“Great.” Cat lady says. “You don’t mind if we switch then? It’s just that seven is my lucky number, and there’s a full moon tonight, and rooms on the end are my favorite.”

I turn, roll my eyes at the hotel clerk who just checked me in and tell her to go ahead and switch us. Cat lady immediately becomes my new best friend, informing me that room number nine is a great room too, that I’ll love it here, and the jacuzzi tubs are great. She then suggests that I light candles and soak in the tub for three hours as she did last night.

I will SO not be doing that.

I wheel my trusty cooler into room number nine. It’s cute. A little romantic for my single self (and Lord knows I won’t meet a man to my liking in Sedona), but whatever.

I made my way through the Oak Creek Terrace compound, where the other guests all seem to be normal. The porch overlooking the mountains is perfect for writing. The grassy courtyard is adorable, complete with kids playing hide and go seek. Down several sets of stairs is Oak Creek. The Creek here is nice for a quick splash, but two miles north on 89A is Slide Rock State Park where the real river run is at.

 

Fishing poles are available in the lobby for free – and no fishing license required if you stay on Oak Creek property. However, the last time I went fishing I ended up in the lake and the fish ended up in the boat, so I leave the poles alone. I do take them up on the trail pass. The Oak Creek Terrace people have a few year-long on hand, complimentary for guests. This saves me $9 on my hike the next morning.   

I stayed at Oak Creek Terrance for just under $100 on a summer weekday. The cabins (as opposed to the single room I stayed in) are naturally more expensive. Oak Creek Terrace is located at 4548 N. Highway 89A, Sedona AZ, 86336. Call them at 800-224-2229. It’s about 6 miles north of Sedona’s touristy city-center on highway 89A, right across the street from the Dairy Queen.

I thought Oak Creek Terrace was great until I visited some friends staying up the road at Garlands.

Oh. My. God. Heaven in Sedona.

Garlands is one of those vacation spots that families go to year after year for generations. The small group of cabins embodies the close-knit family resort feel that instantly reminded me of my family’s favorite vacation spot. The tucked away log cabins, with their fireplaces, huge beds, and picture windows scream romance are what every “authentic-looking-rustic-lodge” strives to be. Your stay at Garlands includes access to Oak Creek (and the trout that inhabit it), and meals (breakfast, high tea, dinner) at their lodge.

After dinner, residents enjoy a campfire on the immaculately kept grounds. Many vacationers know each other well, as they’ve all return the same week, year after year. The talk around the fireside is relaxed and welcoming.

 

But back to the meals. Garlands features an on-site apple orchard, herb garden and hen house, so you can taste how fresh the food is. For dinner I enjoyed coconut/corn/lobster soup, salad with pickeled onions, halibut (not from Oak Creek, I presume) with mango dressing, saffron rice and a light banana chocolate tart for dessert. Everything tasted even better than it looks.

 

If you are not staying at the resort you can still enjoy their prix fixe dinners (starting at $40), but be sure to call ahead (928-282-3343) for reservations. I got the last spot three days ahead of time, and this was on a Tuesday. If you want to stay at Garlands, call a several months in advance as regulars get first dibs. Garlands is at 8067 N Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336. It’s 8 miles north of Sedona, 20 miles south of Flagstaff. Look for the small brown sign on the left side of the road if you’re coming from Sedona. The road immediately forks, and you want to take a left (the bigger road heads right – don’t be tempted). This one lane driveway crosses unsettlingly over Oak Creek and then it’s a steep drive up to the lodge. Garlands is only open April through November because the creek floods over the road for the rest of the year. They are also closed most Sundays.

 

The last time I was in Sedona I came screeching into town, my brake pads shot because a rock had gotten lodged in there during a jaunt through the Navajo Reservation. Although a wanna-be-retired mechanic (“I tried to close my shop but people kept knocking on my door asking me about tires”) in Teec Nos Pos assured me it would work itself out, things were not well in the driving department.  

“Did they check the aura of your car?” My brother quipped when I called him with the news. “Did they light incense and read your palms while they installed recently blessed brake pads?”

That would be a no. Big O Tires fixed my car in the normal fashion – slowly and expensively. My mom and I were left to our own (carless) devices for nearly five hours in Sedona. After waiting an hour for the city bus to take us into town, we wandered around the main street and wished that we were people who liked tourist traps better. As soon as the car was fixed we hightailed it to Slide Rock State Park – a place so gorgeous I needed to return with a camera.

So here I am. This aptly named State Park is a family’s dream daycation. Oak Creek has so graciously carved out several areas in the river that make perfect waterslides. The best spots provide pools to slide into (while screaming, of course) before the river sends you down the next slide.

The fun is endless. Parents claim a spot among the red rocks for beach chairs, coolers, and towels while their children breathlessly race up and down the river, water sliding to their hearts content while never having to wait in the lines that pervade commercial water parks.

And it’s not just kids. Teenagers are here on group dates, the daring among them jumping off huge rocks into (hopefully) deep water below. My 50+ mom even went through some slides, after getting encouraging tips from six year olds on how to “make it even faster!” She first applied their suggestions in reverse, but was soon zooming down with the best of them. On my return trip I witnessed one of my mom’s generational peers also take a turn on the slide, much to the amusement of his family.

Slide Rock State Park is located on highway 89A, seven miles north of Sedona and 23 miles south of Flagstaff. Summer hours are from 8am to 7pm. The fee is $20 per vehicle (1-4 adults) during the summer (Memorial Day through Labor Day) and $10 for the rest of the year. Get there early because the parking lot fills up by 10:00 on summer weekdays. I’d be there right at 8:00 on weekends. If the lot is full, continue driving north on highway 89A. About a quarter of a mile up you can pull off the side of the road and take a little trail along the highway to the park. There’s a steep climb down right after the pullout, or you can take the trail all the way across the bridge for an easily trek down to the river. This path bypasses the State Park fee station, so proceed as you see morally fit.

If you stay the night in Sedona, I’d recommend the cabins or inns along 89A, north of Sedona. They are quieter, provide river access, and have a homier feel then the commercial hotels in the city center. Tune back in on Wednesday for a review of a couple places, but here’s a teaser:   

Not that I’m complaining, but one of the problems with going to China in June is that you miss out on all the fun summer activities with your friends. My favorite tradition is the Salt River Float in Mesa, Arizona. A group of fifteen of us caravan from California and Las Vegas, stay in the cheapest motel we can find, and float the Salt.

 

This is not a family activity. Picture a frat party on a river, add ten (or so) years to the revelers, and you’ve got yourself a river float. Here are some tips for a happy float.

 

You need to bring:

  • A cute suit and sunscreen
  • Water shoes. Yes, flip flops look nicer (by a lot) but they will drown. If anyone wants to open up a used flip flop shop, a decade worth of inventory can be found on the bottom of the Salt River.
  • A bed sheet that you’re not attached to. This is to go over your inner tube, which, being black, gets very hot. The bed sheet will never smell good again, so throw it away after you’re done floating (or donate it to an animal shelter).
  • A cooler full of drinks and snacks. Although I’m not going to publically recommend drinking on a river, SOME people might fill this cooler with alcoholic beverages. Just make sure that all of your drinks are in non-glass containers. Your cooler will be checked. You can find Corona beer in aluminum cans if you’re so inclined.
  • Rope and scissors. The rope to tie your tubes together and the scissors to cut them apart when you’re finished.
  • Money (cash only) and ID to rent a tube. Tubes are $15. Remember you also need to rent an inner tube for your cooler. The Salt River Float guys take your ID as insurance that you will return your inner tube unscathed. Your group will need at least one ID for every five tubes.
  • Fun stuff! Marshmallows and Mardi Gras beads are fun to throw at other floaters. Someone usually has a huge speaker blasting Sublime, so if you have a cooler with speakers it’s an excellent time to bust that out.  

Some things to know:

  • To get to the Salt River, take highway 202 to the northeast corner of Phoenix/Mesa. Take the Power Road/Bush Highway exit north. About seven miles up this road you’ll see a four way stop. Turn left towards the huge parking lot and sign for Salt River Float. You can’t miss it.   
  • The Salt River tube rentals begin at 9am, with the last rental at 3. Your tube must be returned by 6:30.   
  • A bus will take you to your river put-in spot. The ride is free with your tube rental. If you brought your own inner tube you have to cough up $12 for the ride, although I think sneaking on would be pretty easy, especially during the busy weekends.  
  • There are cops all up and down Power Road on weekends, so be careful driving back home.   
  • Check out the Salt River Tubing website for deals and special events.

During my first trip to China I frowned at the complicated dashes, squares, and boxes that make up Chinese characters. I listened to Chinese voices rising and falling, their words changing with subtle tonal inflections undetected by my Western ears. I spent an entire day trying to master one simple phrase (“you have a beautiful baby”), only to have Chinese moms eagerly nod at me with absolutely no understanding at my failed attempt to compliment their ‘little emperor.’

 So I gave up. Chinese was obviously impossible. While my students poured over English textbooks and vastly improved their speaking skills, I stayed pitifully ignorant of even the most basic Chinese phrases.  

 I’ve vow to do better this time. I have un-given up.

Refusing to pay the ungodly amount of money that Rosetta Stone wants for their language program, I hit up my local library and scored a similar program, “Living Language” with four CD’s, accompanying book and a dictionary. The only problem is that I have to give it back to the library.

It took me a few days to not feel like a dork while repeated Chinese get-to-know-you words in the confines of my car to and from work, but I got pretty comfortable with the first unit of words after a couple weeks. Learning Chinese wasn’t turning out to be as bad as I’d thought five years ago. Hopefully when I get to China people will only say things to do me like “good morning,” and “what nationality are you?” I can only run into teachers, students, doctors, nurses, businessmen or taxi drivers – those are the only professions I know how to say in Chinese.

I’m now working on the language unit entitled “family.” This has me wondering how China’s one-child policy will affect language. I’m busily learning the five different words for “sibling,” when nobody even has one in China.

Then there seem to be 700 different words for aunts and uncles, depending on whether they are from your mother’s or father’s side, blood relatives or in-laws, and if they are older or younger than your parents. This too will all be irrelevant for future generations as no siblings now means no aunts and uncles for future children.

Hopefully I’ll have my family works locked in and memorized so I can start the “around town” unit before I land in Beijing. Wish me luck, or in Chinese:  好运

Most working professionals who are thinking about quitting their jobs and traveling for a year are not worried about what I’m worried about. Rational people worry about money, mortgages and health insurance. They don’t worry about actually missing their jobs. Forgoing the nine-to-five grind, unchaining themselves from the cubicle and giving the boss a certain finger on the way out the door is usually the best part of exiting corporate America to become a wandering nomad.

Due to an utter lack of common sense and an ‘I’m-not-thirty-yet’ naiveté, money is not my number one concern.

But I panic at the thought of not getting to go to work.

I’ve wanted to be a teacher my entire life and I love it. I dream about creating lesson plans. My co-workers are some of my closest friends. I get really excited whilst figuring out how to make population density fun. (If you want to know how, email me. It’s a great lesson.)

But I really love my students. This might sound crazy coming from a middle school teacher, but my kids are my sanity. For educators in urban schools, it’s often said that you – the teacher – can be the one constant in a child’s life.

But it’s the other way ‘round for me. My kids are my constant. They keep me happy, energized, and productive. My students (VERY unknowingly) got me through a divorce last year. When a doctor called my classroom earlier this year and told me “I’ll keep the office open for you, get here as soon as you can” (Health tip: If a doctor tells you this – you have cancer), I couldn’t dwell on it too much. I had to teach geography that day. I had to worry about why straight-A-Jose had failed his test, why “Nikki” had scratch marks up her arms, and why only three people were grasping the similarities between African and Australian colonization. Two days out of the hospital I was making up excuses so I could go to school and just see some of them for a minute.  

So as my fifth school year ends and I (willingly) don’t have a job next year, I can only hope that traveling around the world will be half as fulfilling and rewarding as teaching has been.

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