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September 27, 2010

Las Vegas, the vice city :)

On our way to and from the canyons, Vegas was a mandatory stop. There is nothing more than a large avenue full of hotels and casinos called “the Strip”. Each place has its own design, looking like Paris, New York, Venice or other mythic cities. In fact, we saw most of the city in 4 hours, but this special atmosphere made us stop one more time on our way back. Free alcohol and concerts in casinos to hold the customers :) In such conditions, ATMs are running H-24 and it’s likely to cross drunk people between Black Jack tables :) But we didn’t drink and lose that much :)

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Thanks again Kim for the great time we spent in Vegas !

Canyons, Canyons, Canyons

On our way to Cancun, via Miami, we are catching up with the blog update ^^ So these are some shots of our road trip through California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

The first canyon, Bryce, was a surprise for us. Not as well-known and touristic than Grand Canyon, but top-ranked among the locals, Bryce Canyon is a small but amazing place to see beauties from Mother Earth. The classified “best 3-mile hike in the world” (we didn’t hike the whole world yet, so we cannot confirm :p) offers awesome views on the multi-colour limestones.

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Then, we left Utah to move to Antelope Canyon/Lake Powell, the county of Indians Navajo! They are pretty well mixed with white-americans, holding bars and opening indian casinos (special regulation!). Partying among indians was a great fun :)


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And, last but not least, Grand Canyon, the most famous one. Surprisingly, not the nicest, but the most impressive by its size. There are two main accesses, the North Rim, and the South one for people coming from LA & Vegas. The south part is therefore the most touristic, busy... it has a trail going down to Colorado river (2 days required, if you don’t want to pay $2’500 for a lift in the safety helicopter at sunset…). We found the nicest spot and hike on the North Rim, definitely the one to chose for a tour.

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Unfortunately, the photos do not reflect this gigantic space… it’s a place to see through your own eyes ;)

This road trip was quite a drive… around 3’000 miles, 4’800 kilometers, 45 hours on the road, during 12 days… our little Nissan Versa suffered !


Tips: choosing a backpack

Now that we spend 4 hours in transit in Miami, it is a good time to start to fill up the blog with some practical tips as well. How to choose the right backpack for a year-long trip?

First of all, the ideal backpack for such a trip doesn't exist. If it would, it would be lightweight yet huge to hold all your stuff, would have wheels to roll it in the airports yet comfortable when wearing it on your shoulders. Since such magical pack doesn't exist, you will have to make some compromises. Most packs you can buy today are categorized in one of the following categories:

  • Daypacks are small packs designed to hold only your most necessary items for a day-long hike. Obviously these are out of the game.
  • Huge pack-unzippable daypack combo. These are offering usually great capacity but uncomfortable to wear. The shoulder and waist straps are usually lightly padded only, and while the unzippable daypack might sound practical in the beginning, you will end up packing it fully and attaching it to the main pack, thus further increasing the weight that is far from your spine. Stay away from these.
  • Technical hiking packs. These are professional packs, usually featuring an internal frame and high durability materials, but they are not designed for a longer duration. They often lack side-pockets in order to provide free movements for the arms.
  • Technical multi-day trekking packs. These are professional packs designed to hold stuff for a hike that spans multiple days. These are probably the closest match to that of a “year-pack”. Most of them have an internal frame and large padded straps both on the shoulders and the waist. Often they feature extra stuff like built-in water tube or rain-proof cover. These things you will most likely not need so you can look for one without them, or just get rid of them once you have the bag.

So once you know what kind of pack you look for, time to look for the features you want to have.

Probably the most important feature you will need is multiple access. Classic backpacks offer top-only access, newer ones have top and bottom access, but the feature you need is top-bottom-middle access. Such packs offer you the flexibility to access any of your stuff immediately without the need to mess up everything that is already inside. The middle access is normally a large zippable flap on the front side of the pack giving you a good overview of what is inside. The bottom access is often separated from the rest of the pack with a zippable internal separator.

Another good to have feature is security. Most packs come with a traditional click-strap on the top access, which makes it impossible to secure them with a padlock unless you buy some kind of steel-mesh. These meshes are super heavy and not worth to take them. Instead what you should look for is a separate compartment of your bag, for example the bottom access, which have two zip carriages that you can bind together with a padlock. Use a numeric padlock instead of a keyed one, this way you are not in trouble if you lose the tiny key.

Third thing you can look for is additional pockets and hidden compartments. The latter is ideal for storing all your documents that you don't need in a daily basis yet you have to carry with you. Side pockets are ideal to separate items that you might need quick access in certain occasions. They can also hold things that would otherwise soil your clothes if stored inside the main compartment.

Durable materials are also vital to help your pack withstand the tortures of airport handling personnel. Probably they are the biggest threat for your backpack and its content throughout your trip:)

Once you found the bag with all the features you need, you try it on and it is comfortable to wear, you might find yourself in a situation when you have to decide between two different sizes of the same bag. By experience the capacity you will need is around 70L. In my case, I had to decide between a bag of 65L and one of 75L. Some of the wise men say go with the smaller one as it will force you to pack more efficiently and you will end up carrying less weight. While it makes sense, I was settling with the bigger one and filling it up to 75%, knowing that I will fill up the rest of the space with stuff I obtain during the trip.

Apart from your main pack, you will need a daypack but not the zippable ones (see above). The daypack will be useful for sightseeing, short hikes and to store all your valuables that you don't want to check-in inside your main pack in the airport. While carrying, store it inside your main bag, or wear it on your chest.

Finally it is important to note that all trips are different. Maybe you are happy with a smaller backpack, maybe you don't need a backpack at all, but use a suitcase instead. That's all fine, what matters is to try to plan ahead and imagine what are the most important criteria for your bag that essentially will be your home for a year or so. And how to pack it? That is a subject of another article:) 

San Diego and the USS Midway

San Diego is a good place for spending your holidays just a few hours south of the megapolis Los Angeles. It offers a friendly downtown, a surprisingly good looking Balboa park (no, not Rocky Balboa:P), numerous beaches for the surfers, expensive seafront apartments for the riches and the USS Midway aircraft carrier for the kids like us:) The atmosphere is relaxed, and probably best described borrowing the words of a local bum: “In San Diego everyone is a star. In Los Angeles everyone wants to be a star.” Nevertheless the unusually cold summer made us leave the city behind and head for the city of the angels.


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September 22, 2010

Yosemite: land of the bears

So lets catch up with the number of national parks we have been to and put Yosemite in the spotlight. Yosemite is great if you like giant rock formations, huge pine trees and German tourists:) The park offers many great hikes but they can be pretty packed during holiday season. The funniest thing though is the all-around paranoia of bear attacks. On every possible surface they hang notices to warn you not to leave ANY food in your car, in your tent, on your table, and if possible don't even think about food. They have bear-proof boxes made of steel to store all your food and smelly items and preferably lock them up with a numeric padlock secure enough that an average bear or a crafty squirrel will not figure out the combination. These rules and the lack of sufficient benches makes it pretty difficult to eat anywhere at all after sunset, Anyway in the end we didn't meet any bears even though Paul kept dangerously attractive socks in our tent:P

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September 14, 2010

Stayin alive in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is a land of extremities. Not only it is the largest national park in the USA, but it is the lowest point under sea level in the western hemisphere, and one of the hottest places on Earth. The record temperature ever measured was 57 degrees Celsius, but we were lucky to have some mild 44 C (111 F) temperatures. Due to the big distances and the lack of mobile phone coverage, it can be pretty funky if your car breaks down or runs out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. As a matter of fact, we had some hot moments running on the last drops of fuel at one point:)

Some car manufacturers are actually using the Valley to test upcoming car models in extreme conditions, so it is not rare to see an unknown branded car shielded with black cover cruising up and down on the motor roads.
The Valley also features an Inn and a ranch to stay at. The Inn is closed down during the hot months of summer, but we had the luck to stay at the ranch. Probably it is the only place in the world where no matter how you operate the taps in the bathroom, you will end up with striking hot water.

Death Valley is a must if you travel nearby, but it is not for the faint hearted. During the summer take lots of water with you, buy a cool cowboy hat, and never leave your car if it breaks down: it is the only shadow you will have:) Ah, and don't try to fry an egg on the top of your car, we tried, it didn't work:)

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September 11, 2010

San Francisco: home of the homeless

Our first impressions about San Francisco: chilly, smell of marijuana in the air, a number of homeless people on the streets. In fact, according to the statistics, SF has the highest number of homeless people per capita in the USA. And it feels. Literally. Just a few blocks from the upscale shops of Union square, one can see all the less fortunate men and women trying to survive the cold San Francisco winds wrapped into several layers of sheets and rugs. As a matter of fact I have never seen a woman pissing in her pants while walking down the street until I have been to downtown Frisco.

All the rest is pretty much candy for the millions of tourists arriving every year: walk the Golden Gate, see the Alcatraz, ride the cable car, eat at fisherman’s wharf, buy a discounted camera, etc. The western part of the city with the beach, the huge park and the quiet residential neighborhoods is nice, but the rest was a disappointment. Thumbs down for SF:)

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September 9, 2010

Couchsurfing is king

Just a little retrospective to send out huge thanks for our first official couchsurfing hosts: Val and Theron.
They made our stay so pleasant in Chicago that we still wanna leave windy Frisco behind and go back to the not-so-windy city:)


Also not to forget our welcoming hosts in Toronto: Detti and Raza. Together with Mehmet, “Peppino”, Rafa and the other guys, they showed us how to party before the party:)

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Last but not least huge thanks to our very first hosts, Fru and Jonathan, for offering their comfy couch in Montreal, and showing us what a real poutine is:)

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Thank you all!

Last day in San Francisco... heading to the desert !

Here are my last pictures uploaded (Chicago & SF):

And we might be silent over the next days as we have a long long road before reaching LA. For those interested, here is the roadmap (merci Bidi!) :

Afficher US West Coast sur une carte plus grande

September 6, 2010

Chicago, 1 st foot in USA !

Let’s catch up with the blog updates, and continue with Chicago. First, we were hosted by an awesome couple who cheered us up during 5 days ^^ The large flat turned quickly into a youth hostel or as in “l’auberge espagnole” for those who knows. After some time to get used to the strong texan accent of Val, serious things started…


The crazy noisy Train from the serie Emergency Room, the “El”, lead us to Downtown.










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to finish the day at the musical Billy Elliot.

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The day after, the weather being a bit rainy, we were a bit lazy, going to the laundry (finally!), chilling out on the beach, going to a comedy show (and trying to understand it!). We recovered to continue the city tour, to the Navy Pier, and on top of Hancok tower…

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for finally making friend with the bus driver, who drove us to Little Italy to drink the best limonade in town ^^

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To finish the day by an totally wicked diner in Yoshi french-japanese fusion restaurant !!! (teriyaki sea bass !!!!!!)


Finally, last day… hungarian/french dinner party which was not that bad neither ^^

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After having left Chicago with a tear in the eye, comes San Francisco for new adventures!