Monday, August 07, 2006

Walking In America

Sounds like a grand title but read it closely - I'm not walking ACROSS America, just IN America. Huge difference I believe.

I got here safe and sound on Tuesday at 12:45pm after a relatively good flight and a relatively easy passage through immigration. Both these are good things and rarely happen together for me. Actually I had to have 2 flights to get from the UK to America but the first was just a short hop to Amsterdam so hardly counts. They did manage to piss me off once again (last January Amsterdam airport security goons confiscated some of my carry on items even though I'd passed through US checking procedures with no hassle at all) but I didn't know about it till I got to Detroit so I'm getting ahead of myself already.

So I'm going down the plane (at Amsterdam) to get to my seat and I see from a distance that some bearded youth in the seat next to mine is reading a book and has got his right leg up over our communal arm rest and his bare foot is on my seat. Oh what a lovely start to an 8 hr flight. He moves his leg slowly to let me know my presence onboard has ruined his karma and for the next 8 hrs we take turns on the armrest and not a word passes between us. Sadly the same can't be said about his bare foot and several times it landed in MY foot well and on a few occasions it even touched my innocent leg. At 35,000ft no-one can hear you scream !

Anyway I watched Mission Impossible 3, Inside Man and The Incredibles and apart from a bit of a turbulent period over Thailand (we took the scenic route to America), the flight passed quite quickly. I'll draw a veil over the food which would have been better if the crew had done the same.

We arrived at Detroit 30 mins early due to some clever downhill flying from Northwest Airlines' finest - but then lost most of that time by first of all taking a sighseeing tour of every inch of every runway on the way to the terminal and then by finding someone had selfishly taken our parking bay with their plane. Damn cheek. After the usual spectacle of 200 people totally ignoring the announcement to remain seated until the plane comes to a complete standstill, we got off and hit immigration running. This can be my undoing and I'm never able to get excited about any US trip until I've cleared this hurdle. But it was a breeze this time and apart from the usual questions relating to my lengthy visit, I was fingerprinted, photographed and told I was welcome to enter ! Wooohoooo.

I went to the luggage reclaim area and that's where I discovered that Amsterdam had shafted me again. The special TSA lock that I'd bought and used on my one case was gone. Ok I guess the fault was mine as I never thought to check what TSA stood for. I thought it was a worldwide company that dealt with airport security. No I tell a lie - I never stopped to think WHAT it stood for at all. I just bought the lock thinking it would be accepted worldwide. Seems not. Amsterdam security cut it off and that was that. Bye bye expensive lock. I'm definitely getting a thing about Amsterdam and it's airport.

But I was in Michigan and could NOW get excited about my holiday. My friend Debby met me as arranged and called up Dennis by phone and in a few minutes a huge 3500 Silverado behemoth loomed into view, gobbled up my luggage and whisked me off up I-75 to Houghton Lake and my US home. After 44 hrs with no sleep, I fell into bed at 10pm and zoned out for 8 hrs.

Next morning I decided to make a start on an early walk as the heat index was heading off the scale again. I started at 11am and walked along the lake side for 30 mins and turned back to make up the hour. I felt that was good enough for the first day and it WAS very hot and humid. No point in overdoing it.

And so to today. It was overcast after a wet night but with the promise of blue skies to come. I took the camera with me as I knew I'd be creating this post. I set off at 2pm intending to try for the 5.5 mile route along the lake. The first photo is of the road the house is on but I won't name names. It's certainly wider than the ones I'm used to at home and the other difference is the lack of a pavement (sidewalk to my US friends).

It's still creates a pretty start to the route as it's very quiet and best of all, almost flat. Over on the right is part of the new 5th wheel that we'll be using this summer and of course for the trip down to Florida in November.

There was little or no sunshine at this time and the temp was about 77F so very pleasant indeed for walking.

I'd noticed yesterday that my heart rate was about 15% higher on my walk than I'm used to - but I put that down to my lack of walking for the previous 4 days and the heat of course. Today was much more normal and my pulse never went into the 90's at all. At the bottom of this road, I turned left and approached the intersection with the towns main road. Now this was where I had the problems yesterday as you take your life in your hands trying to cross it on foot. I know America is infamous for not considering the needs of the pedestrian, but this junction sets new boundries. The red 'wait' hand never changes to the white walking man. Never.

In this photo, I've managed to cross the road and am looking back from whence I to speak. The main road is going left to right (ok and right to left too !!) and you can maybe make out the red 'hand' on the far side. I'm amazed the bulbs haven't burned out by now as it's always lit. The little white man below it must be on vacation himself as he never appears.

Thankfully Houghton Lake is no Chicago and if 3 vehicles are in a line, it's called rush hour. So once the lights on the main road have turned to red, I've time to cross while looking for cars turning from the other road. This is the point in my walk where my heart rate gets close to 90 but it has little to do with the effort being expended and more to do with the adrenaline rush I get trying to avoid an unexpected and ill prepared for meeting with my Creator.

This then is the start of the road that wends it's merry way along the southern end of the lake. There are houses on both sides and the ones on the left are 'on the lake' and so prime properties and cost twice or three times as much as similar homes on t'other side of this road.

Many, if not most, are vacation and weekend homes and lie empty in the colder months. I love looking at houses on my walks in the UK and even more so here in the US as they are so different.

The road is very quiet with little traffic which also suits me and reminds me of home. The home owners are very friendly and most wave and say hi as I pass by in a blur of Olympian speed. I will admit to being a drug taker but in my case they are prescription ones and if anything, slow me down more than anything else !!

There is a good spread of house sizes along this road and they range from places which must only have one bedroom to awesome mansions which could probably sleep The Osmonds if they came to town.

This is one of my favourites of the ones that are on the lake front and I can just imagine John Boy and Jim Bob and Mary Ellen etc all shouting out their goodnights here. Ok it's a long way from the nearest mountain but maybe they could be on vacation for a few shows.

The lake is just visible on the right as this view is of the side and rear of the house. As with all the properties along the road, the lawns are immaculate and better maintained than most golf courses - well the owners have plenty of time on their hands so can keep their places looking nice. It might also be an area where you have to keep your lawn neat as part of some sort of local by-law. In any case, it works for me.

The road doesn't hug the lake but has numerous little offshoots leading right to the waters edge.............and where you can launch your boat of course. I went down one of these off shoots in order to dip a toe in the water but when I got to the edge, there was a load of nasty froth goop floating about and so my shoes and socks stayed firmly in place.

Overall, of course, the lake is very pretty to the eye but like a lot of things in life, it often doesn't bare close inspection.

As you can see, the weather had improved 100% and I was starting to regret not having slapped on the factor 15. My neck was toasting nicely on one side and in an effort to get an overall burn going, I walked backwards for a while ! Only kidding.

There are a couple of pontoon boats out on the lake in this pic and those are boats we don't have in the UK - to the best of my knowledge but I may be wrong. Feel free to correct me btw as I'll readily admit to not being a boat buff.

By this time I'd reached my mid point on the route and turned round. I should walk it in 45 mins but as I'd stopped a few times to take photos, it took me a bit longer today.

On the way back I really wanted to go to the front of a waterfront home to get a view of the lake from that view point. I came to a house where the owner was outside and I kind of invited myself in. My accent can be VERY helpful in situations like this and after changing his will to include me, the owner let me go out along his private dock where he had 5 different kinds of water vehicle moored. Talk about the good life. He was enjoying his and taking quite a chunk of mine too ! But as with most Americans I've come across, he was very open, friendly and happy to share his good fortune (ok not literally) with me.

After about another 30 mins of good hard walking, I was back at the 'intersection of death' and ignoring that darn red hand again, I jaywalked across the main road and was almost home. I thought I'd take a better photo of the 5th wheel but this is the best I could get as a friends boat was in the way and stopped me from getting a more impressive side on view.

This shot almost compresses the unit and makes it appear shorter than it really is. (I'm really saying this for the benefit of most non Americans who may have NO idea what a 5th wheel looks like). It's not much longer than my old travel trailer but it's much wider and when the three 'sides' are out, it's VERY roomy.

We'll be going on a trip soon to test how the 3 of us get on in such 'cozy' conditions but I'm sure it'll be fine. Hell, we camped with a popup a few years ago and if we survived that and remained friends, the 5th wheel should be a mansion.

And that was it. It total I walked 6.3 miles and ended up with a neck the same colour as the previously mentioned cross walk hand. Thankfully I'd worn a cap or I dread to think what I'd have looked like - the only head to be visible from the space station !

I'm ending with a shot of the house that is my home for the next few months. I know, it's a hard life. It's even in my favourite colour

The power lines spoil this shot and I could edit them out but hey, lets go for realism for a change. No touchups.

So all in all I think I'm going to enjoy my walks here. It's hard to better a good combination of light traffic plus beautiful scenery and this route has both. I'm sure I'll master the intersection - hopefully before a local runs me down - but if nothing else, it gives my heart a much needed boost !

I got back, had a shower, shaved off my hair (seriously, I did) and fixed supper for myself as I was home alone. That just about ended my 2nd full day here - only 176 more to go !!! Sighhhh.

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