Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On travels and tribulations

I just came back from a three-week trek to the US. And what a wonderfully varied trip it was!

First stop, Minneapolis for the 2011 NASSS Conference. I was giving two presentations, though that's against the rules, in theory. But, I wasn't breaking the rules, in theory. My first presentation was actually for a co-authored paper, as part of my summer research assistanceship. You can re-watch Avery-one Has An Opinion: Twitter, Same-Sex Marriage, and the NHL here. My second presentation was based on a paper I wrote last year. Watch Tweeting the Game: Is live-tweeting reshaping the NHL fandom experience here.

But this trip wasn't all business. I did some shopping at Target. Several times. Including at the original store location. I rode a rollercoaster at the Mall of America. And I got to see the local area through the eyes of a co-conference attendee and friend who is from the area. Plus, I got to meet Celebration Generation!!

Next stop, Phoenix, where I stayed with a friend and explored the area for a few days before attending my cousin's amazing wedding. I visited the Heard Museum, an experience that made me smile at all the beautiful symbolism but also deeply angered me. There was so much "othering" in the exhibits, as well as by the tour guide, that I left more frustrated than anything.

I also drove up to Meteor Crater (on Historic Route 66!!), the largest and most well-preserved meteorite landing site on Earth. What an amazing and jaw-dropping experience! It's one of those things that photos just can't do justice, so I won't even bother posting one here. You have to see it in person to understand. The vastness makes for a truly spiritual experience that cannot be replicated. Nature is simply... ungraspable.

The wedding events were absolutely spectacular too. As a part of the family, I was able to attend basically everything, and, as a wedding lover, I was in heaven. On one of the days, between the civil ceremony and the mendhi night, I also got out for a hike! I chose Pietsewa Peak rather than Camelback or Echo Mountain because it was supposed to be less steep. This was the case... in theory. The terrain was very rocky and there were several ups and downs along the way. My knee was very unhappy. But just imagine if I'd gone with a steep trail! After 2.5 miles of my 4ish, I started feeling stabs of pain that made it very tough to walk. It didn't help that the trail indications were a bit confusing. But with some rest and inspiration from a Ms Tracy Lee I met on my last leg, I made it 'til the end!

Tracy told me about her connective tissue disorder, and how her doctors say she should be in a wheelchair. Instead, she hikes Phoenix mountains almost daily despite her torn ligaments and dislocations. And the best part is, she was inspired by me in return! She was glad I took the time to appreciate the mountain when so many locals don't, and despite my recurring knee pain. And all of this started with my simple question about how her Vibram Five Fingers were holding up on the rocky terrain.

After a day of rest, it was time to test my knee on the dance floor... but sadly, I could not bear to even stand in heels. I did dance most of the night away in my flats though, and the fun and cousin time was absolutely worth it!

The one downside of this leg of the trip was our hotel woes. We stayed at the Homewood Hilton in Biltmore-Phoenix. The room was fine... until the card reader decided to stop working on wedding day, leaving us stranded without our outfits and running hours late. After 3.5 hours, two technicians, and two failed attempts to get us in (using a card reader resetting machine and attempting to jack the door), the manager finally decided to take us up on our many many suggestions to try to get in through the window. Within 10 minutes, she was in, having shimmied the locked window "just enough". At ceremony start time. My brother was therefore 2.5 hours late, and I, 1 hour late.

Needless to say, we were very unhappy. We refused to pay for the rooms, and requested a new room. How can I feel safe knowing that, 1. I can get locked out at any time, and 2. Someone can come in through my window in the middle of the day or night and steal my stuff, or worse? But that's all water under the bridge now. The wedding - the part I got to see - was wonderful

Next up, a family roadtrip to the Grand Canyon. Absolutely spectacular. Sunrise, sunset, a few hikes (mini for me, short to average length for everyone else), and amazing once-in-a-lifetime sights. The first day started off on a sour note, though. After all my careful planning, we ran late and missed the very beginning of sunrise. Then, in the afternoon, when my memory card was full, I tried to delete the first batch of pictures, which I had already transferred. For some reason, despite the confirmation message, my camera deleted that morning's batch instead. I was heartbroken. I only discovered this on our very last stop of the day. I lost so many unique shots that the rest of my family didn't get to capture, including shots of them. Thankfully, my SLR captured the landscape, but it's the people shots and the things I wanted to share with all of you that I (still) miss the most. Oh, and to cap off the day, I lost my new thermal hat.

Good news though! Day 2 was better! We found my hat in a parking lot we'd frequented, got to sunrise in plenty of time, and had another wonderful, jaw-dropping Grand Canyon day. And after sunset in Sedona, we hit the road for...

The final stop: Los Angeles for some time with our family there. So much fun! We got to hang out as cousins, I relived my childhood at Disneyland (best part: Aladdin the Musical), shopped at some outlets (and another Target), got an amazing $30 full body massage (Super Relax Massage in Chatsworth. Look it up!), finally saw Santa Monica and biked to Venice Beach from the pier (at sunset!), and had some wonderful food (Mmm... Rock Sugar). Oh, and I discovered my new favourite store ever: Cost Plus World Market. WOW. Walking through that store is like taking a stroll in my brain. But... my camera's acting up again, refusing to focus. I guess it's time for a new toy!

After a quick stop in Montreal, I'm back in Kingston trying to sort out my life. If history is any indication, it'll take me three days to unpack. And then a week to do laundry. But hey, that's what happens when you get back to real life, right?