Archive for the ‘biking’ Category

Eventful few weeks

I’m proud of the many milestones for our family in the last few weeks.

On Jan 23, I drove for the first time on Bangalore roads, all the way from home to my mom’s place (~ 15 kms). Admittedly, it was on a Sunday morning when traffic is minimal (One of my colleagues had this to say – you really have to go look for cars to hit), but still I was pretty much on the edge of the seat and sweating profusely. Was a huge relief when I reached there. Haven’t driven again since. Sometimes I wonder if its worth it. But you can’t a price on independence!

The same morning, a couple of hours later, SK started swimming in the pool, without any floating aids, for the first time.

Then on Thursday, Feb 3, SK started to ride her bicycle without training wheels. I had been coaxing her to do this for 6 months now. We removed the training wheels about 5 months ago and had to put it back on, because she absolutely refused to even sit on the bike. Even now, she need a lot of cajoling, coaxing and bribing. She still needs to build a lot of stamina, but I can see she has improved steadily over the last few days. She could barely go a minute without stopping, now she can do almost 5 minutes.

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Cruise to the coast

For a while now, I had wanted to do a weekend cycling trip. Although we haven’t done any regular cycling in five months now, even before that, riding through the back roads of Sarjapur/Hosur road every Sunday was getting a bit tedious. So I had been following a couple of companies who do organized weekend trips in various parts of Karnataka and Kerala, through forests, hills and such other soothing scenery. These usually start on Friday night and end late on Sunday night, so we would have to leave the kids with extended family. And since there would be school next day, it would have to be on a long weekend where the Monday was a holiday. Luckily one such opportunity came up last weekend. Monday was a holiday for Onam, so we chose to cruise to the coast with Cycling and More. PK, me and a friend signed up.

But before that wonderful trip, there was a harrowing misadventure. The pick-up location for these rides is a common point near the heart of the city. We had opted to take our own bikes instead of renting (it is hard to find good rental bikes, especially for women, height is an issue). This meant that we had to find a way to transport our bikes from home to the pick-up point. We called around for luggage autos/tempos, but without luck. It was Varamahalakshmi festival and no one would come. So, around 7 pm, the three of us started pedaling in the dark. None of us had experience riding in the night or riding in the city. It was all a terrible combination of conditions – peak Friday evening traffic, semi-lit to completely dark roads and inexperienced riders for those conditions. For a minute I wondered what I had been thinking to even attempt this. After a nerve-wracking 1.5 hrs, we reached the pick-up point. I was already wondering how we would get back home after the ride.

The overnight bus journey to Bhagamandala was uneventful. As with most Indian roads, it was a very bumpy road, so we couldn’t really sleep. We reached around 5 am and checked into the KSTDC hotel at the base of Talakaveri. It was simple and clean accommodation. After a nice hot shower, felt refreshed. There was an optional “expert riders” ride to the top of Talakaveri (8 km uphill). I obviously sat that one out. PK went and turned around after 4 km. Breakfast was ready around 7.45 – Idli, vada, coffee. We started on the trail around 8.30 am. Initially, it felt good to be back on the bicycle after a long break. The scenery was mostly lush green mountains with low hanging clouds. The terrain was mostly rolling hills and so it wasn’t easy or anything. After about 10 km or so, it turned to be mostly downhill for the next 15 kms. But the road was a bit wet and slippery, so at least I was afraid to completely let go. I constantly had my hands on the brakes. Also, the road was extremely bumpy, so despite having shock absorbers my whole body was shaking the entire time I was on the cycle during this stretch. We did take a few breaks since there were almost 10 or so waterfalls right by the road side, each more beautiful than the other. Towards the end of this downhill stretch, on one of the several hairpin bends, our friend took a nasty fall. He hurt both his palms, a cheek and chin. He was bleeding profusely and it took a while to stop. Luckily PK had cotton, dettol and lots of band-aids and was very useful for the several people who fell in that stretch. When we were done with this long down hill stretch, my biceps, shoulders and neck were hurting from the vibrations of the bumpy road. Once we were down all the way and crossed into Kerala, it got pretty warm and humid. Legs were tired, and it was drizzling off and on. Quite a few were getting off and walking their bikes on the uphills. I was determined not to and kept pedaling. But at some point, walking is as fast as pedaling on those slopes, but with less effort, so may be those heroics weren’t worth it after all. The support vehicle passed us and everyone who was behind us had got on to it, so effectively, we were the last ones among the ones still riding. They said another 3 km more to the lunch point and we pedaled on. Was so glad to reach the lunch point, it must have been around 1.30 pm or so. Most people had finished eating and we also finished up hurriedly.

At that point, we were told that about 10 or so (I guess the slowest and least energetic) were planning to ride the support vehicle. The others who intended to cycle all the way had already left before we even started lunch. And we were under pressure to reach Bekal fort before 4.30 pm since that would be the last allowed entry. It didn’t look like we could make that 35 km in less than 2.5 hrs. So we decided to get on the vehicle also, although neither of us were proud of it, I was secretly glad that I could rest my weary body. PK called it the “ride of shame”. It turned out it was the right choice. The drizzle turned into steady rain and the last 10 km or so before Bekal fort was on a highway with heavy traffic, so it didn’t look like an enjoyable ride.

Bekal Fort is a beautiful and relatively unknown place. Apparently main Bollywood songs are shot here. The sea, the beaches and everything was enchanting. But we had to see all this in the rain, so I couldn’t really take any pictures. Would be nice to take the kids there one day. Initially, we had thought that we would cycle the last stretch from Bekal to Kasargod, but the rain was so bad by now that another 10 more got into the vehicle. So the support vehicle made multiple trips on that last 15 km. First the cyclists were dropped off and then they came back for the bicycles. Only about 10 or so very experienced riders rode this last stretch. The hotel in Kasargod was decent (actually, above my expectations but I have very low expectations, especially in small towns). I had to plead hard for hot water because they apparently use solar and considering the weather, there was no hope. After much convincing, he provided about 6 of us or so, a bucket of hot water each. The hot shower was good after the very long 24 hrs!

Day 2

The trip director woke everyone at 5 am, knocking on each of our doors. We were ready and down by 6 am. We started our ride with about three other guys, at around 6.30 am, since we wanted a head start compared to those expert riders, who were not even down yet. The early morning ride was good. The terrain was gentle ups and downs with a few sustained uphills. Around 7.15 or so, we stopped at a roadside tea stall but the coffee and tea were pathetic. We poured those down a gutter and settled for 3 to 4 bananas each. By 8 or so, we reached the designated breakfast point and few others had also come by now. There was no sign of the support vehicle, and we could see an uphill stretch, so everyone felt that it was better to keep going instead of waiting there, since this stretch would be difficult to do after breakfast. Breakfast or not, this stretch was very difficult anyway. Today I didn’t have any qualms about walking my bike a little if I had to, so that’s exactly what I did here. After 3 km or so, the slopes become bearable again and we stopped here. By the time breakfast came to us (8.30 am or so), people had eaten up all the vadas and only idlis were left. There were gentle curses being thrown around by some of the more vocal ones, for those who had devoured more than one vada. I don’t know if it was because we were very hungry, breakfast tasted really yummy, especially the sambar – this coming from me, someone who is not at all a fan of idlis. The ride from here was again rolling hills. Today we were determined to do the entire stretch. PK was riding ahead of me most of the way. I guess he had some new-found resolve and energy. There was a beautiful 6 km downhill full of hairpin bends, which was a lot more enjoyable than the previous day because these roads were smooth, dry and wider. There was one viewpoint where 15 of us had congregated and took some group pictures there. This road reminded us of some roads in White Mountains in New Hampshire – the sound of river flowing near by, birds singing and thick green forest on both sides. The milestone markers kept showing us the remaining distance to Jalsoor. Soon we were in the single digits. About 6 kms or so before Jalsoor, there was a beautiful stream where we spent a lot of time. It was only around 11.15 or so and we were not due back at the end point before 12.30. We took off our shoes and rested our feet, chatted, took pictures and hung out. Some good friendships had formed. The last 6 kms was an uneventful ride. We were the last 5 or 6 to reach. We took off our helmets, gloves and put our luggage on the bus and just joined the rest of the crowd who was chatting.

We were figuring we were ready to leave when the trip director V, noticed one person was missing. No one remembered seeing him and I didn’t even know that name. V called his cell and apparently the guy had a flat and was walking his bicycle. He already had walked 6 kms and was 6 away from the destination! They went in an autorickshaw and brought him back. That was a sort of lesson to me to at least ride with a one or two others who are aware whether you are ahead or behind. There were few stretches where many of us were alone, but not for more than 3 to 4 kms I think. Either we would end up catching up with someone or someone would catch up with us. (I was also wondering if the gentle curses thrown around at breakfast time had come true and asked him how many vadas he had eaten at breakfast. This was a recurring theme as a joke throughout the bus ride back).

Anyway, around 1 pm or a bit later we left Jalsoor and reached Sulya (~10 km) and stopped in a restaurant for lunch. It was the slowest service I have seen. The guy seemed overwhelmed that ~35 people descended suddenly at lunch time. I don’t know if they see that much business even in a week in some of these parts. Lunch was a totally forgettable affair, but the socializing with the rest of the riders was good. We left after lunch at around 3 pm. There was one stop at 6.45 pm in a CCD on the way. We had good coffee and picked up some sandwiches to eat later since there wasn’t going to be a dinner stop (which was a wise decision if we had to reach Bangalore before mid-night). We were back at the Hockey stadium around 11.15 pm and it was pouring. We were running from pillar to post to figure out how to reach home and what to do with the bikes. Luckily another couple from Whitefield had arranged for a tempo and they transported our bikes till our doorstep and we took a cab home. They were really our saviors that night.

Overall, we really enjoyed the trip even though we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t do the ride completely (even though that was not a fair expectation of ourselves since we are out of shape and have had no cycling practice in 6 months now, but who says expectations have to be fair or logical). It was organized very well – clean and simple accommodations, decent food and the bike transportation logistics were covered very well. And it was great value for money, the trips are priced very economically. Would love to do another one sometime.

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It took me some effort to familiarize myself with the name of the trail, but it is one of the most beautiful ones we have been on. This past weekend was absolutely wonderful. 70 and sunny for pretty much all four days – Friday through Monday. Even though we had a ton of errands related to the work that is happening this week at our home, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

So, on Saturday we loaded the bikes and headed out to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. Even though we have lived in MA for eight years and I have been thinking of fitting in a trip for years, it had somehow never happened. We have made a lot of such trips happen this year. We had initially considered camping but chickened out since its a bit cold in the evenings. So, this was going to be a day trip (we didn’t make plans early enough and late reservations are hard to get in peak fall foliage season). Ashuwillticook trail is 11 miles long and runs from Cheshire to Adams. Our origin was Cheshire. Parking was very hard to find and after hanging around for a bit, one of the cars left and we grabbed that spot.  We started around 1 pm and it took us about an hour and 45 minutes to reach Adams (including about 30 minutes in various breaks). It is a very scenic trail – with ponds, rivers, mountains and the colors were pretty good. There are plenty of picnic benches along the way. They were all very clean and new. Even the trail is very well maintained. The Visitor Center in Adams was spanking new with clean restrooms and very helpful and friendly staff. We stopped there for about half hour and started our return at 3.15 pm. Some sections were a gradual hill and we were pretty tired towards the end. The last couple of miles all of us struggled. Its nice to have company in misery! We were back at the car exactly at 5 pm. Even though temperatures were in the low 50s by now and we all had our sweatshirts on, we stopped at Krispy Kones for some ice cream. Then it was a long drive back.

The colors were absolutely stunning around Mount Greylock, but it was getting dark pretty quick, so we barely enjoyed that for a few minutes. Most of the towns in the Northern Berkshires (Williamstown, North Adams) were very charming. It had been a while since we had driven in mountainous region and Rt 2 was quite a drive in those parts. I only wished we had a few more daylight hours to enjoy all that.

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As I wrote earlier, we really didn’t have any plans for the weekend. Having returned from a long vacation with family, we were feeling a bit down. And then all the craziness of the beginning of school, soccer season, stuff at work got to me. So on Saturday evening, we made impromptu plans to go camping for a night on Sunday. Since I had heard a lot that Nickerson State Park was one of the most popular camping spots, Ichecked online and got availability for Sunday. Then we got to work, PK had to remove the front wheels, load the bikes and other camping gear in the car. I went grocery shopping for easy to cook stuff, snacks, drinks etc.

We left around 10 am on Sunday and were there by noon time. We had lunch first and then pitched the tent. Then we hit the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Nickerson is almost exactly at the half way point. We didn’t really research too much or look at the trail map and arbitrarily chose to go towards Wellfleet instead of Dennis. I think the main reason was the markers indicated that the sea shore was that way and PK assumed some parts of the trail would be along the coast. Nope, it was just inland all the way, all 12 miles of it. Apparently if we had just gotten of any of the roads and gone for a mile, we would be on the coast. But since PK is on rollerblades, unless it is a paved trail, we can’t do it. Since we have been out of any activity for a month, we did find it tough but we pushed on. Made an ice-cream stop on the way and had some yummy kahlua brownie ice-cream. The return was much harder because we were pretty wiped. Actually, just AK and me, PK was doing quite ok. Overall, we did ~25 miles in 5 hrs (4 hrs cycling time and an hours worth of breaks). The weather was pleasant. Even the evening was awesome – not too cold, no pesky bugs. So, we enjoyed our dinner (veggie burgers, chips, watermelon) in peace.

Next morning, we took the kids to Cliff pond. Initially, they found the water cold, but still played in it.  The water was amazingly clean. No floating weeds or kelp. As usual, SK enjoyed the sand more than the water. We started driving back around noon. Getting out of the cape is always a nightmare apparently. I thought September can’t be as bad as summer, but it still took us almost an hour to do the last 17 miles before we hit Sagamore bridge and came back to mainland. I can’t imagine what summer weekends must be like. I don’t intend to find out.

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For the long weekend, we went camping in Burlington, Vermont. We camped at the North Beach Campground, which is right by Lake Champlain. We have been camping before, but always in State Parks, so this was a new experience for me. I think this is run by the city of Burlington. The sites were smaller and closer to each other than the ones we have seen in state parks. Plus the crowd and atmosphere on the 4th night was a total party scene, so it felt really weird. AK also mentioned that he saw a pizza delivery car going by! I later learnt that many private campgrounds allow that. But the location is prime. The campground is right off the Island Line Rail Trail bike path and also the wonderful North beach, with awesome facilities – snack bar, restrooms, picnic benches, kids playground etc. Also alcohol was allowed both on the beach and in the campground, which is always a huge plus in PK’s book :).
Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

The Island Line Rail Trail is a 12.5 mile trail from Oakledge park in Burlington connecting to the Colchester Causeway which ends 2.5 miles into the middle of Lake Champlain! The campsite was about 4 miles into the trail. So, we did this section first thing in the morning. This part is quite scenic with great views of the lake and the Adirondack mountains in NY on the other side. Towards the end, there are a few street crossings you need to watch out for. At the end of the trail in Oakledge park, there is a tree house, which we almost missed. A kind lady saw the kids and suggested we may want to see it. It was really cool and I enjoyed it as much as the kids. After that we were back at the tent for some breakfast and we were also waiting for some friends to join us. They were there by noon and we set off or the rest of the trail. The next 3 miles or so, is along the backyard of big, beautiful houses by the lake. Then comes the Winooski river bridge, which was built few years ago. Otherwise, earlier bikers had to take a ferry to cross the river and continue biking on the other side. After the bridge crossing, you have to ride about a mile or so on the streets until the Colchester Airport Park around the 8th mile mark. There are good lawns and a kids’ playground, snack bar and restrooms, so we took a break here. Also, from here on the trail is all gravel which is harder to ride on than the asphalt surfaces. So, we took turns doing the rest of the trail to see the grand finale part which juts 2.5 into the  lake, so that one couple could be with the kids at the park. The  1.5 miles to reach the Colchester causeway wasn’t so terrible, but the causeway itself was much harder to ride on. It is a crushed stone path which offers a lot of resistance and the trail is fully exposed to the sun, with no shade. But the views of the lake and the mountains are really worth it. There is a “cut” in the path and some weekends a ferry runs to take bikers to the other end of the cut, from where you can ride on to Grand Isle.  The cut is mainly there for the boats to pass by, and there were lots of them. By the time we reached back the camp site, it was around 5.30 pm. After a quick round of water melon, the kids wanted to play in the water. At the end of it, we were all so tired and the kids were in bed by 9 pm. Then we all sat around by the fire with some wine and Mike’s lemonade and chatted. All I remember though is that my thighs were burning from the ride.

Next morning, packing up took almost 2 hours! I know, camping is supposed to be simple living and all that, but … There were bikes to load (after removing front wheels), tents to take down, sleeping bags to be rolled up etc. Then we headed to Stowe, to hike up the Stowe Pinnacle. My hiking book had said it was a short and easy hike, but it was neither. It was one mile longer than what the book said. And I think we found it much harder than usual because we were doing it after a day of biking 25 miles. I must have asked at least three different groups who were coming down how much further we had to go. The first time I asked, I was estimating that we were almost there but he said that we were probably half way. My heart sunk. We had plenty of water but not enough food. I took a quick vote and everyone wanted to keep going. I was especially proud of how well AK did. I think he enjoys that sense of accomplishment and pushes himself really hard. He named it the mountain which never ends and insisted that this must be the tallest mountain in VT. Anyway, the views from the top were really spectacular. We couldn’t hang around for too long, since we had the long climb down and also the drive back home. Also it is scary to hang around steep cliffs and ledges with young ones. The way down was only marginally easier, but we made it back uneventfully. Then we stopped at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream factory and had huge Sundaes. The kids didn’t eat more than a few bites, but we gobbled up ours. And then it was back home after about 3.5 hours of driving. I wish we had stayed another day. Downtown Burlington looked like a really nice place to walk around. Church Street is cobble stoned and pedestrian-only with good coffee shops. We didn’t get to enjoy it.

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Some people are calling us crazy, but we are making the best of our short summer. On Saturday, we started off @ 8.30 am to one of our favorite bike trails – Cape cod canal trail in Buzzards bay. The day started off damp, cloudy and foggy. But when we arrived there and were getting ready to start off, it cleared up. Although it was a bit muggy, the pleasant breeze from the canal kept us cool through out. Unlike our last year’s experience, the trail was not very crowded. We did the 7 miles in about 50 minutes. AK is not really zipping in his new bike as I had thought he would. I think he still finds it a bit too tall for him. But overall, it was still a good effort. The trail ends in Scusset beach. The beach was deserted and visibility was low from the fog around there. The kids briefly played in the sand. We had a Sagamore bridgequick brunch and started back around noon. We were back at the car by 1 pm. Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge

From there, we were off to North Kingstown, RI to attend the annual RI air show. This year the British Red Arrows were the main draw. I was really blown away by the show. I liked it much better than last year’s Blue angels show (although their thundering sounds were more impressive than the Red Arrows). The Red Arrows were so quiet that, at times, I wouldn’t even know where they were coming from, until the announcer would say it. But the show was spectacular – 9 planes, in all sorts of close formation and giving out red, white and blue clouds of smoke in different patterns! The kids enjoyed it too. Although the show was over by 4.30 pm, we hung around there for an extra hour, with few other friends, mainly to avoid the crawl back to the highway. Last year, it was a nightmare, where it took us well over an hour to go about 4 miles to join the highway.

British red ArrowState Capitol In Providence, RI

Next stop was Providence downtown. When we reached there, we found easy street parking and let SK nap in the car a bit longer. PK caught up on calls to friends and I walked around to the capitol and took the picture above. Even though we had snacked on a lot of junk food during the air show, everyone was hungry. Most of us went to the waterplace basin, to snag good spots to see the Waterfire. Two friends were kind enough to get very yummy Pizza, Onion rings and french fries. The weather was very pleasant and we were well fed. So all of us hung around happily for the lighting to start. Once the fire was lit, it was a beautiful sight and the music and the warmth, sweet smell and crackling sound of the wood made it a truly unique experience. I wished we could have hung around longer but all of us were so tired and we had the hour long drive back too, so we left around 10 pm. Then we had a relaxing, lazy Sunday.


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Toronto is ~80 miles from Niagara falls. Much of the drive was uneventful, but closer to Toronto, the Gardiner Expressway was PACKED and was down to a crawl, even on a Sunday. I found the last 15 miles the most painful – took almost 40 minutes for this stretch! Our hotel was right in downtown (it is PK’s insistence that we stay in downtown in most big cities we visit).

Our plan for the day was to visit the Toronto Islands and do some biking over there and see the rest of the city the next day.From the top of the CN tower But the timing, weather forecast, fatigue etc called for some change of plans. We decided to go see the CN tower. So, after lunch, we started walking there. It was a good 40 minute walk! Kids who live in the suburbs are not used to this. It is not like AK is not physically active – he does a lot of hiking, biking, sports etc, but just walking in the city to get to a place is new to him. He whined a bit, but we goaded him on, trying to get him excited about the trip to the top. The lines for the elevator were long and we probably waited for about 45 minutes for our turn. The guide book had mentioned that on summer weekends, it could be a 2 hour wait, so I can’t complain too much. There were some kids in the line who seemed to be scared at the prospect of going up. It was a clear and sunny day and the views from the top were absolutely gorgeous. Then, we headed to the glass floors section. A small section of the floors of the observation deck have been made of glass. Apparently it can withstand the weight of 14 large hippos, so they assure you not to worry and even jump up and down on it, if you can handle it. Even though I don’t have a fear of heights, I muGlass floorst say that this part was a bit scary, initially at least. This is also one of the most crowded places, with many people just not wanting to leave. We didn’t go to the highest level, the Skypod, since that was extra money. The walk back seemed never ending, even though there was a break for dinner. The kids wanted pizza. The main street in downtown is YongeSt, which is lined witha ton of eateries. The side walks were very crowded with a lot of pedestrian traffic. The Yonge St Square, near Eaton center had a live band playing and the water fountains were on, so we hung around a bit.

Next day’s agenda was Toronto Islands. But the morning started off very damp and the forecast didn’t look encouraging either. But it did say it would clear up by afternoon, so we decided to while away the morning. Hoping to get some Indian food in Little India, we rode the subway there. This was the highlight of AK’s trip so far (goes to show how often we go to Boston, he doesn’t remember riding the T there). It was a wasted trip. First of all, the shops and restaurants open around noon time and it was barely 10.30 am when we reached there. And I wasn’t desperate enough to hang around till noon. So, we turned right back. We exited the subway into a mall, had lunch at the food court and back to the hotel.  After a short nap, weather still didn’t look any better, but we were headed back home the next day, so considering that we had lugged bicycles all the way, I was determined to go. The ferry dock in the harbor was probably 2 miles from our hotel, but parking would have been very hard to find and very expensive. So we decided to bike it up all the way. Our only hesitation was that the streets were crowded and we have never ridden anywhere outside of designated bike trails in state and national parks, so this was very different. We decided to take a longer, less crowded path, but it was still a “stop and Toronto Skylinego” ride since we had to stop at the lights at every block. And at some point, we had to join the busy streets which led to the harbor and it was evening rush hour, but we finally made it there in about 1/2 hr. We caught the 4.45 pm ferry to Central Island. It was a short 15 minute ride with great views of downtown. The islands themselves are heaven. I don’t know if it was because it was past 5 pm or what, it was practically deserted. There’s miles and miles of park/greenery with lots of picnic tables, drinking water etc. Very clean and well maintained. And its free, except for the nominal ferry fare. I couldn’t have imagined such a serene place right across from such a big, crowded city. We rode our bikes (PK on rollerblades) for about 1.5 hours. We first went left to Hanlan’s point. Great views of the city from here. From there we went all the way to the other end of the islands – Ward’s island. The only downside of going that late in the day was all the cafes and eateries were closed. Not to worry, we had our PBJ sandwiches and had a picnic dinner at Ward’s Island. We took the 7.45 pm ferry back into the city. I was dreading the ride back to the hotel for three reasons – by now, my legs were tired, then there was the stop and go thing and the third was that the return back would be slightly more uphill. We somehow made it back – I could see the others were tired too.

The next morning was pretty chilly, so we abandoned plans for any more sightseeing. We anyway had a long drive back, so we decided to just hit the road. We started @ 9 am. 10 hours and 2 stops later, we were home by 6.45 pm. It was PK’sbirthday and I felt sorry for him – he spent most of the day driving and had a terrible lunch at one of the fast food places in the service areas. But friends visited in the evening with cake and some drinks, which was nice, and the kids had a blast. They were surprised at how calm, pleasant and energetic our kids were after spending most of the day in the car. And the fact that we made such few stops each way.

So, may be we are all ready for the cross-country drive PK and I have talked about!





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