Phoenix Is Nice, I'll Go Twice
planes trains and automobiles
Next week I'm headed to Phoenix. Twice.

One trip will be for business. I'll fly there on Tuesday morning, do a few customer meetings on Tuesday and one all-day on Wednesday, and fly home Wednesday evening.

Then Friday I'll fly to Phoenix again. But that will be for leisure. To visit Saguaro National Park in Tucson we're actually going to fly to Phoenix, not Tucson, because we can get nonstop flights to/from PHX. It's about 1:50 flying time to PHX then 1:30 driving to Tucson. That's faster overall than taking connecting flights to/from TUS.

Yeah, it's going to be kind of a crazy week. But I thrive on it.

Keeping Pace With My Drinking
I've written a number of times about "my drinking problem". As I've noted it's really more of a shopping problem: In the past I've tended to buy wine (and liquor) faster than I drink it, causing my shelves and cabinets to fill, and some of the wine to spoil before I get to it. So let's check in on how I'd doing with managing my shopping problem.

Four months ago I had 79 bottles of wine in my collection. Today (I just counted as I was putting away a few bottles in the cellar) I have 80. I plan to open one and enjoy it with a grilled steak dinner tonight, which will bring me back down to 79. Well, maybe 79.5. I'm keeping level— or close enough to it.

I figured before that 75-80 is a good level to maintain. It allows me to keep a stock of a number of different varieties of wine and age those which benefit from years on the shelf.

I've shifted most of my wine buying to Costco. Wine country trips just don't interest me the way they did the past few years. When I'm in Costco anyway for household shopping once every 3 weeks or so it's tough resisting the allure of buying good wines at great prices. I bought 3 bottles this past weekend and 5 a few weeks before. Though 2 or those 5 I gave away as party gifts so not part of my shopping problem. Overall I'm keeping my shopping habit in harmony with my drinking habit of about one bottle a week.

About that National Parks Bucket List.... Planning #42.
planes trains and automobiles
A few days ago I wrote about how one of our "bucket list" goals is to visit all US National Parks. The idea to checkpoint our progress came late the week before, when we were on the boat to Key Biscayne National Park. That's where a ranger informed us there are now 60 national parks.

Later that same day, as part of our "Kicking Back in Key Largo", I built out a spreadsheet of what those 60 parks are, and where. As well as ticking off which we've visited. Yes, working on spreadsheets is a recreational activity, if you do it right. Curiously Key Biscayne, which we visted just hours earlier, was number 40 out of 60 for us, exactly the two-third mark. And we had plans laid in to visit Dry Tortugas two days later, putting as at the 41/60 mark where we stand today.

Once we counted that we'd visited 41 out of 60 our natural next questions were, "What are the other 19 parks, and how shall we visit them?" Well, "what" is an easy question to answer having built a list but "how" is a bit more complex.

Some are Hard...

Visiting all the 19 parks we haven't seen yet will be challenging. Several are in remote locations. For example, 8 are in Alaska. You might think, "Just take one trip to Alaska a hit 'em all," but a) Alaska is huge, and b) some of those parks are really remote. Like, not even a paved road to them remote. The Park Service advises visitors to Gates of the Arctic National Park to hire outfitters to fly them in via private aircraft.

With some parks it's not so much that they're remote/expensive to get to as much as they're not worth it. When you think about it it's not terribly surprising that our system of national parks includes several members that are... let's say... political appointees. Unlike parks such as Yosemite and Zion, which were preserved for their multitude of fascinating natural wonders, certain parks got created because someone in Congress really wanted a national park in their state or district. Parks I put in this category include Cuyahoga Valley, near Cleveland OH, and Congaree, near Columbia SC. We haven't visited either one yet. And though they're near populated cities so not as hard to get to as the roadless sub-arctic wilderness of Alaska, they're 2000+ miles away and just not special enough to warrant a separate trip to see.

...Some are Not. Planning for Saguaro!

With us having visited 41 out of 60 national parks already you'd think all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. I.e., all the parks that are relatively easy to get to, we've gotten to. We thought that, too, until I pulled together the list.

One that jumped out at us as "How did we miss that?" is Saguaro National Park. Links: Park Service page, Wikipedia page. It's near Tucson AZ.

We've driven through Tucson once before but didn't plan time to visit Saguaro. We weren't aware the park was there when we planned that trip. Since then we've visited Phoenix, less than 2 hours away, several times for outdoor recreation but somehow, each time, Saguaro wasn't on our radar screen so we didn't consider making a side trip.

Now, Saguaro National Park is not trivial to get to. It's not like we can toss a few bags in the car and make a long day-trip there. It's 800+ miles away. But we can fly there. With my Southwest Companion Pass the cost isn't too bad for a weekend. And April's a nice time of year to visit the low desert. So... now we've got flights booked and a rental car reserved for the weekend after next!

What the Hail?
Wile E. Coyote
With rain last night and then again this morning I was already thinking to myself, "Hmm, the rainy season isn't quite over yet." With warm and dry weather the past few weeks I was starting to feel like we're rolling into summer. I was even wondering to myself how soon I might need to switch on the air conditioner. In fact just yesterday I hauled the patio furniture out onto the balcony. Then this morning... hail!

Brief Hail Storm, Apr 2018

The rain turned to sleet/hail and pounded us for 10-15 minutes.

Since it's not really cold out (it is cool, though) the ice mostly melted away within a half hour.

Three Californias?
Golden Eagle
It's possible there will be a ballot proposition this November to break up California into three states. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper announced this week that he has 600,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, well more than the minimum 365,880 required. The California Secretary of State will now verify the signatures. Example references: San Jose Mercury News article 4/12, article 4/13, Wikipedia page on California ballot propositions.

Draper 2018 proposal to split California (image courtesy Bay Area News Group)The idea of splitting up California into multiple states is not new, with some political movements dating back to at least the 1940s. The idea isn't even new to Tim Draper. A few years before this "Three Californias" idea of his he proposed Six Californias (link: Wikipedia article). He tried and failed to qualify it for the 2016 ballot.

These split-the-state ideas are invariably couched in terms of making state government more responsive to the people: that California as it is, the most populous state in the country with over 35 million residents, is just too big to govern well, can't meet the needs of its people living in economically diverse areas, and its government is too controlled by special interests.

Here's the thing, though, about these split-up proposals: they don't help.

To be sure, there are differences in California that are hard to bridge as part of a single state. The rural northern third of the state is economically challenged, having seen the decline of its main industry, the timber industry, over the past few decades. It's also a politically conservative area, with many residents angry about everything from environmental laws to civil rights laws to high taxes they think liberal urban centers (San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles) push on them. The rural eastern edges of the state, filled with mountains and deserts, often align with the northern third.

Compare what I wrote in the preceding paragraph to the map of the proposed split above. See the problem? The conservative, economically strapped areas that don't like the political status quo are grouped in with the liberal, wealthy population centers enough that they still won't get the political control they desire. And even if they did— guess what? Separating the poor conservatives from the wealthy liberals doesn't mean the conservatives get to throw off the yoke of oppressive taxes. The fact is the poor areas are being supported by the wealthy, not the other way around. Spinning off the rural areas into their own state(s), as Draper's previous Six California plan and various other plans have proposed, would turn these areas into economic basket cases.

I'll vote a strong No on this proposition if it makes it to the ballot, and I urge you to do the same.

Taxes: Filed
Finishing up and filing my family's tax returns is one of two not-fun tasks I'd set for myself this weekend. Thankfully it is now done and wasn't even that hard.

"Wasn't even that hard" is a relative statement, of course. The fact is I did all the hard work weeks ago. I started putting the returns together in February, finished most of it in mid-March, and folded in the last few forms of data three weeks ago. Then I let it sit until this weekend.

Why wait another three weeks, you might ask. Is it to wait for the April 15 deadline?

For me it is not about waiting for the deadline. I've never waited for the deadline. I know a lot of people who do out of some belief that they're "sticking it to the man" by waiting until the last possible day, but I'm not with them. I believe the man doesn't notice and, even if he did, doesn't care.

For me the delay was purely pragmatic. A few years ago I filed my taxes several weeks before the deadline, only to get a corrected form three weeks later from one of the financial companies I do business with. Thus this time I decided I'd hold until at least April 1 to allow for stragglers. That overlapped with our recent vacation. I really didn't want to carve out time from vacation to work on taxes, so I delayed it until now— my first free time without interrupting vacation (or work), and just in time for the deadline. ...Which, BTW, is actually April 17 this year.

National Parks: 41/60
Golden Eagle
41/60. Just over two-thirds there. That's where Hawk and I are at with our national parks bucket list after our recent trip to Florida.

What prompted me to figure out this number was a question a park ranger asked during our boat trip in Key Biscayne National Park. "Does anyone know how many national parks there are?" he asked, trying to engage the group in discussion. "National parks, as in units with the words 'National Park' in their names." The reward for answering correctly was getting to pilot the boat for a few minutes (with the captain standing nearby).

I answered 53. That's roughly what I remember from when we created a list years ago by filtering names from the NPS website. That list became a bucket list: One of our goals in life is to visit all US National Parks.

We've visited a lot of parks since then but at the same time the list itself has grown. Slowly, as designating a national park does require an act of Congress, but several have been added in recent years. One was Pinnacles National Park (link to my blogs about it) elevated to NP status in 2013. The newest is Gateway Arch in St. Louis, re-designated just a few months ago in Feb 2018.

The correct answer today is there are 60 National Parks. So I didn't get to steer the boat. ...At least not for that question. I got another few right later and took a turn at the helm.

The Voyage Home, part 2
planes trains and automobiles
Back home - Sunday, 8 Apr 2018, 7pm

Whew, another long day of travel. Yesterday's "The Voyage Home" was just the sea and land part of getting home. Today was the air portion.

We slept in until a comparatively lazy-seeming 7:15am. We didn't need to get up super early as our bags were packed the night before. Mostly by Hawk. We were out the door by 8 and at the airport terminal well ahead of our 10:55am departure.

Our flight out of FLL pushed back from the gate on time. It looked like we'd have an on-schedule day of flying, rare as that seems anymore. But then we caught some type of delay while queued up for the runway and landed in Denver for our connection 15 minutes behind schedule.

This would have been a great time for our connecting flight to be late as well. Then we'd have more time between flights so as not to feel like we had to dash through the airport. Alas our connecting flight was on schedule... Until it wasn't!

"Parts is Parts?"

The airline boarded us all on time, got the door all closed up and everything, and only then did the delays start. First we sat for about 15 minutes with no explanation. Hey, no biggie, it might've just been another queueing problem... though DEN with so many runways and uncrowded airspace isn't known for such delays. Then the pilot got on the loudspeaker and announced we "needed a part". He didn't specify what part, just that it would take 15 minutes. Then 30 minutes later that it would take another 45.

All in all we left almost 90 minutes late. Why couldn't they have found the problem before boarding us on the plane? As tedious as sitting in gate areas is, they're way better than sitting in a cramped airplane seat.

And we never did know what the mechanical problem was. It's always concerning when the pilots don't say. Minor problems they always seem to explain. "One of the pressure gauges has a low reading, we're going to replace the whole thing just to be safe, it'll only take 20 minutes." That leaves you to wonder what major thing has gone wrong when they don't elaborate. Looking outside it didn't seem like any of the engines had fallen off....

Home, Sweet Home

With the 90 minute delay leaving Denver we arrived at SFO right about 90 minutes late. Then we had to wait for our checked bags to come out, which always seems to take longer at SFO that most other airports. Then a Lyft ride home. At least we didn't have to drive; it was nice to continue relaxing.

We made it through our front door around 6:30pm. That was later than the 5pm we had planned before but still way better than arriving at 10:30, 11:30, or even later. Yeah, we planned an early-ish flight out of Florida on purpose so that we could rest up this evening before heading back to work on Monday morning.

The Voyage Home. The Shakes.
planes trains and automobiles
Miami, FL - Saturday, 7 Apr 2018, 11:30pm

It's been along day. Up around 6am, 5-6 hours on a boat, lots of walking around in the sun, and about 4 hours of driving after all that. Yikes. But we're ensconced in our hotel room for the night now, and I've had a shower to clean up and help feel relaxed. Here's a recap of the latter part of the day.

By Sea

After finishing up our visit to Dry Tortugas National Park this afternoon we ferried 2.5 hours and 70 miles back to Key West. About 10 minutes after departure I finished off that piña colada I bought and promptly nodded off to sleep. My snooze was only 20 minutes or so but it was enough to help me feel a bit refreshed. And it helped kill 20 minutes out of the 150 minutes of the boat ride that were, quite frankly, boring. And also a bit sickening. The waters were a lot choppier than in the morning. I'm not the kind of person to get motion sick easily but I felt like if things were a bit harsher I would've need a pill. Hawk slept most of the ride, which was good because she is more susceptible to motion sickness. Napping through it is a drug-free solution to the problem, so I let her sleep while holding my hand most of the time.

By Land

Back at our car in Key West we began the drive out across the keys to the Florida mainland and our hotel tonight in Miami. Mapping apps told us it'd be about 3.5 hours. I worried it would take longer given some of the slow-downs I'd seen the past two days on the one, narrow highway across the keys.


We broke up the drive with a stop for dinner about 45 minutes in. By then it was around 6:30 anyway. Time to eat. We picked out a "Mexican" restaurant in Big Pine Key that was hard to find because it was identified only by a single sign not much larger than a piece of notebook paper. I quote "Mexican" because that's how the restaurant described their food in the menu— "Mexican" with quotes around it. They also had lots of dishes that weren't Mexican, either the quoted or non-quoted variety, including steaks and pizza. I ordered a pizza while Hawk had New Mexico style enchiladas. Both dishes were tasty.

Sea Legs?

We both noticed a strange thing during dinner. We felt like we swaying forward and back, gently, in our chairs. Hawk expressed concern about it just as I was feeling the same thing. If I'd ordered booze with dinner I might have assumed it was the effect of alcohol after a long day but I was sticking to Diet Coke with the long drive ahead. And even though I'd had one cocktail (that piña colada) a few hours earlier, Hawk had had no liquor. It was some kind of weird aftereffect of the bucking motions of the 2.5 hour boat ride.

On The Road Again

Back on the road we lowered the convertible top to enjoy the sunset. It was beautiful having the light at our backs while whisking across the bridges between the keys. The temperature had cooled off, too, from a brutal 91° F (33 C) to a pleasant 82 or so (28 C). The miles passed quickly as dusk dissolved to darkness.

We stopped again in Key Largo and Homestead (the first city on the mainland) to further break up the drive with stops to rest, use the bathroom, and grab snacks. It's important when driving late into the evening, particularly after an already long day, to do such things to help stay alert.

At each of these stops, when we stood and walked around, the sensation of swaying back and forth was still there. The afternoon's boat ride was definitely harsher than the morning's; we'd had none of this feeling while on the island in the middle of the day.

In For The Night

We arrived at our hotel around 10:30. It's a not particularly special Candlewood Suites near Miami airport. At least it's brand new, so everything inside is fresh and clean.

The location right next to MIA airport would be really convenient for our flights home tomorrow morning— if we were departing from MIA. We're actually flying out of FLL, another 30 miles up the road. Hotels up there were significantly more expensive, though, so we decided stopping here was a reasonable tradeoff. Plus it's 30 less miles to drive tonight atop a long day. We can do it easily tomorrow morning when we're refreshed. And by then the shakes should be long gone.

Dry Tortugas, part 3
life's a beach
Dry Tortugas National Park, FL - Saturday, 7 Apr 2018, 3pm

Today's been a busy day with a schedule to keep. We had alarms set for 6:00am to arrive for check-in to the boat terminal in Key West starting at 7, with boarding starting at 7:30, for departure at 8. We docked at the island at 10:30 with instructions to be back aboard by 2:45pm for departure at 3.

At first having just over 4 hours at the park seemed like it might leave us too little time to see what we wanted to see. It turns out it was just right. Maybe even a little too much, as by 1:30pm I was ready to just sit down a rest for a while. Fortunately the island has some great little beaches to do just that on, including this somewhat isolated and shady spot I found to kick back in:

Taking a break at Dry Tortugas National Park. Apr 2018.

Man, it felt good to get that pack off my back. I've been carrying my camera with three lenses plus a fair bit of water all day.

Hawk and I relaxed here for about 30 minutes before getting up to brush off the sand and head back to the ship waiting at the dock. We boarded around 2:15, well ahead of schedule. But by then the ship's bar was open! We ordered a pair of piña coladas, hers non-alcoholic and mine full-strength, and sipped them while waiting in the cabin for departure.

The ship's about to raise anchor now. The 2.5 hour trip back to Key West seems... long. We're both pretty tired, though. Maybe we'll nap through part of it. I know I'll need rest as once we land we've still got about 3.5 hours of driving to do tonight!


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