Monday, April 30, 2012

Sin City: Day 2

We began our second day in Las Vegas at an hour when most visitors are stumbling back to their rooms, tripping over their nine-inch heels and reeking of cigarettes and shame.

The kayaking company we'd chosen, Desert Adventures, picked us up from the hotel at 5:30 a.m. After a quick stop at their shop (and the last bathroom with real plumbing we would see until we returned that evening), an ID check, and some pedal adjustment (did you know kayaks have pedals? Nope, me either. The pedals control the rudder) we were on the water by around 7 a.m.

My girlfriend had suggested the Black Canyon kayaking tour, a trip she'd done before. The website listed the skill level of the journey as "beginner +." The difficulty was "moderate." I failed to notice the distance: just under 12 miles.

Husband and I had never kayaked before. We'd never even contemplated kayaking. "Why kayak when land is so nice and firm and difficult to drown in?" I wondered. But the group was excited, and Husband and I were up for anything, so that's how we found ourselves at the base of the Hoover Dam in the cold wind, with rain imminent, our legs locked under the plastic ledge of the kayaks, clutching paddles that read "Escape."
This picture cannot possibly capture the magnitude of the Dam or the magnitude of my anxiety.
Here's what I thought would happen: we'd paddle a bit, stop often to hike the beautiful, rugged terrain, pause for a bite of lunch, and paddle a bit more, ending the day kissed by the warm sun and the soft waves.

Here's what actually happened: I died. And then I complained a whole bunch about dying and was generally annoying to my friends for the rest of the trip (they were kind enough not to confirm this).

Starting at the base of the Hoover Dam was incredible - the size of the dam was awe-inspiring.
The whole gang in front of the Dam, ready to depart.
We began to paddle, and I tried to get the hang of it, though I ended up plowing into my fellow kayakers more often than not. The wind was quite chilly, and blowing against us, so it was a bit of a fight (let me be clear: it was a fight for me. None of my fellow kayakers are as weak and mincing as I. I would hate to sell them and their rippling muscles short.). It wasn't long before we made our first stop. We trudged up a steep incline and then stripped down to enter a 130-degree cave. It was completely dark, and we laid one hand on the wall and one on the ceiling to navigate our way forward. Breathing the stifling, wet air became difficult, and tiny, jagged rocks were loosened from the ceiling by my hand and fell down the front of my swimsuit (when I showered later that evening, I would find that I brought a little bit of our trip back with me). We finally stopped, and our guide told us we were about to cross a large, deep hole (giggity). He said he would show the first member of our group how to jump across, and then that person would help the next, and so forth. I think I momentarily blacked out. Thankfully, the guide turned on a flashlight and revealed the end of the cave, laughing (a bit evilly, I thought). We turned around and emerged from the cave, the outside air even sharper after 130-degree heat.

Donning our damp clothing, we returned to the water. It is important, at this point in the story, to mention that the rudder on Husband's kayak was broken. He was the first to depart the docking point, and when he got caught in a bit of current, he had to paddle quite hard to make sure he didn't become too far separated from the group.
One of these kayaks belonged to Husband. I'll give you one guess.
We then paddled a bit farther and stopped again, this time taking a short hike to a natural hot spring, where we soaked various body parts. Another guide and his two middle-aged clients were already there soaking. The guide photobombed us. Awesome.
Guess which one is the photobomber.
After another departure and another bit of paddling, we stopped for a third time. "This isn't bad at all!" I thought, foolishly.
You fool. You won't be smiling soon.
Another hot spring. This one a bit harder to reach (I was nervous scaling an aluminum ladder slick with rain; I don't have a problem with heights, but I do have a problem with ladders).
The unnamed woman in red does not like what she's about to do.
The hot spring was tiered with sand bags, and I relaxed in the warm tier with our friends while Husband climbed into the boiling tier with our guide. We sloshed around and had a wonderful time chatting with each other. This was my favorite part of the day (next to the sight of our final destination spot).
Husband, doing an imitation of a lobster being boiled alive.
This turned out to be a cruel prelude to my death. Upon leaving the second hot spring, we paddled, and we paddled, and we paddled. I'm pretty sure we're actually still out there, paddling. By this point we were hungry and cold and very wet. I had to paddle at my top speed to keep up with the group. They were great paddlers and occasionally rested their arms and gazed around, enjoying the beautiful scenery. Meanwhile, I was pretty sure I was actually moving backward in spite of all of my effort, so I did the only sensible thing and began to cry. No one could tell, however, because I was at the back of the group (obviously), and my paddle splashed chilly water onto my head every few seconds. I didn't want to do what any reasonable person would have done, which was to stop, lay down my paddle, and drown myself, so I continued on, dragging in huge gulps of air between exertion and weeping.

Somehow, miraculously, we finally, finally, finally landed at our lunch spot. I had to swallow the sobs that I felt welling up, simply because I was so happy to not have to move my arms. Lunch was incredible, decadent, succulent - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has never tasted so good.

Inevitably, we had to return to the water. However, praises to the Gods of Kayaking, the final leg of our trip featured a more leisurly pace and several stops.
People who somehow were not dead and even appear to be enjoying the experience.
We paused at Emerald Cave, which really was Oz-like, listened to our guide describe some historic features that I really didn't catch because of the sound of the wind, and the sun finally shone bright.
See the green? All I needed for this trip was the heart, some brains, and the noive. 
It was beautiful, really and truly, though I will admit that catching sight of our final destination was even more breathtaking at the time.
Even though you people put me through this, I will continue to love you.
We finally arrived back at our hotel, and I slid out of the van on my backside, pooled on the sidewalk, and died again, this time from happiness.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sin City: Day 1

Do not fear, dear reader, for I have returned unscathed from a long and treacherous voyage. For my extended silence, I have no excuse.


Husband and I returned about a week ago from a long weekend trip to Las Vegas. Husband had visited the city a few years ago for a work-related conference, but I was a Sin City virgin, so to speak. We ended up experiencing the trip with two of my high school girlfriends, and the boyfriend of one of those girls. I adore these people, so the vacation was really secondary to my primary excitement to SEE these people and HUG these people and talk about how AWESOME each of them is.

We flew in very late and met one of the ladies and her boyfriend at the airport, then we shuttled off to our hotel, the Mirage. It has a tropical theme, and this was part of the lobby.

We went to our rooms and collapsed, then arose the next day bright and early to slay a Stormtrooper.

Then we waited for our last friend to arrive...

And she did!  Next we decided to walk the strip, on a pilgrimage to the Burger Bar, the only restaurant that Husband demanded we visit (it was a good demand). We went into most of the casinos to take a peek at the different themes, saw the Eiffel Tower, Lady Liberty, and my girlfriend even got her hands on a hot, sweaty Chippendales man.

We saw giant clogs and giant dragons made out of chocolate and giant flowers.

And then we even saw a giant statue made out of boats and canoes and kayaks. This would turn out to be prophetic. The following day we were scheduled to kayak down the Colorado River. Let it be known that I was not physically or mentally prepared for this (beginner's) adventure. I will describe the carnage in a post profiling DAY 2...DUN, DUN, DUN.

We finished our day with bellies full of burgers at a Blue Man Group show. It was so worth the money (I'd seen them in Chicago, and the show was just as wonderful as I remembered). Husband had a particularly great time. Then we returned to our hotel and collapsed in bed once again.

Oh, these happy fools. Little did they know what the next day held.