I have just returned from a wonderful trip that most of you would be horrified of. In spirit, it was consistent with the Bogleheads principles; but in practice, it contradicted all Bogleheads preferences expressed in the Personal Consumer Issues forum.
It was a 13-day tour of the Western United States in a 55-person group organized by my friends from the Czech Republic. We started and ended in San Diego, with a plan to visit:
(NP = National Park)
o La Jolla Cove in San Diego
o USS Midway in San Diego
o NP Joshua Tree
o NP Death Valley, with stops at Badwater, Artists Palette, Zabriski Point
o Las Vegas
o Hoover Dam
o Grand Canyon, South Rim
o Monument Valley
o Antelope Canyon
o Grand Canyon, North Rim
o NP Zion
o NP Bryce Canyon
o NP Arches
o NP Canyonlands
o NP Grand Teton
o NP Yellowstone
o NP Yosemite
o San Francisco - full day
o Intel’s museum in Santa Clara
o NP Sequoia
o Los Angeles - a day and a half
o Back to San Diego
The group included 52 Czechs, 2 Slovaks, and me. Most people spoke good English, some used me to refresh their old Russian.
My cost of lodging and transportation was $1,100. I am not including the flights, because I was in San Diego for another event following the trip. We stayed in low-cost motels, mostly Motel 6s, four people per room. I was sharing rooms with three women; with one of them I shared a bed. My roommates included a lawyer from Bratislava, a chemical engineer from Moravia, and an accountant from a town that produces Budweiser. We got along very well, but having four women for one shower was a bit challenging, especially as we had to be packed and ready every day by 8 AM.
The meals were not included in the price. We were on our own, and there were few opportunities to get food apart from free morning coffee at Motel 6, convenience marts at gas stations, and occasional 20-minute stops at fast food restaurants. I am not a food snob, far from it, but after the first couple days I was craving vegetables. And so I did something my mother told me never to do: I accepted a ride from a stranger. I came down to the motel reception in Las Vegas and asked where the nearest supermarket was. The receptionist directed me to a gas station mart one block away. A nice man sitting there offered to give me a ride to a Smith's supermarket, because he was going in that direction. I said 'yes' to a stranger in a Las Vegas motel, but it worked out just fine. In Smith's I loaded a few bags of salads, fruits and nuts for myself and my roommates, and my driver turned out to be a nice guy, a retired police officer from Joliet, Illinois.
Our transportation was by bus .. or at least it was meant to be. During the first few days, bus drivers were un-cooperative: they kept the A/C down which was particularly uncomfortable in the Death Valley and Las Vegas, drove 15 mph under the speed limit, and refused to drive to Yellow Stone. The bus company's office was not responding to our calls. Eventually, the bus broke in the Arches NP and we wasted two days in Moab waiting for a new bus. Our bus company contacted another bus company to provide us with bus transportation to the Salt Lake City airport. They did not pay the other bus company and terminated our contract.
We rented cars at the SLC airport, skipped Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and drove to Yosemite over night. It sounds like a nightmare, but in the retrospect, it was a fine adventure.
Of the 55 people, only a few had with them drivers licenses or were willing to drive in the U.S. Nevertheless, the Czechs have organized the transportation very efficiently. We rented 7 cars: two 12-seaters and five 8-seaters, and had 14 designated drivers and 14 designated navigators, two teams per car. I was a designated driver on a Ford Expedition. My first "shift" was to drive from somewhere in Utah to somewhere in Nevada for ~5 hours from midnight to 5 AM on the way to Yosemite. Initially, I was concerned about driving such a large car in comparison to my Honda Civic and about an all-niter, but it worked out just fine. I had an excellent navigator who was vigilant about my alertness; as there were very few other cars we were counting road-side rabbits.
My second drive was on the way to the Sequoia NP. The beginning of my shift was quite boring, but as we were approaching the park I got a thrill of non-stop sharp turns in the mountains. (The primary driver got envious and replaced me after the first stop in the park.)
Missing Yellowstone was unfortunate, but most of my co-travelers have appreciated an unplanned rest in Moab, a town they had known nothing about, and spent it in the motel swimming pool. We also walked into the town, which must have been a sight, because no one except the Czechs and me walks in Moab.
From SLC on we were traveling by cars, which was more fun than the bus. We had various misadventures, but in the end they all ended well. In Arizona, nine people embarked on a Rim-to-Rim hike, but only six of them have emerged on the North Rim the next day. One guy was not feeling well, and two guys stayed with him. Later the weak guy was evacuated by a helicopter to the South Rim, whereas the two guys climbed the North Rim. Two women hired a car to pick them up. They drove almost 1,000 miles in about 20 hours, and on the way back had a minor collision with a deer. In Bryce Canyon, we lost one guy who went on a hike that turned out much longer than he had estimated. He was more than an hour late, was not responding to our communications, and eventually we left the park without him. Later, he made his way to the Salt Lake City airport and we reunited with him there. In San Francisco, one of our cars was broken into in the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot. In a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant, I was grossly overcharged.
But all's well that ends well. Eventually, we all have returned to San Diego safe and sound. I'll travel with this group again. It was challenging but very social and fun. It felt like a student travel rather than a retirement travel, and I think traveling in retirement like a student is healthy.
WINNER of the 2015 Boglehead Contest. |
Every joke has a bit of a joke. ... The rest is the truth. (Marat F)