In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

The largest living thing on earth

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From:       Stuart
Subject:   The largest living thing on earth
  Date:         21st June 2005
     Sequioa National Park, California, USA


"Is that it Dada?" asked Matthew staring at the enormous bum and belly obscuring his view.
"No Matt, move this way a little and you'll see it," I replied.
He shuffled into the shadow of the overweight man and looked around impatiently. "Where is it Dada?"
"There, right in front of you," I said pointing to the majestic sequoia tree. "The largest living thing on earth." Ribbons of golden bark reached up to a snagged crown that touched the sun. It was a monarch, a tree of ages, strong and silent, old and wise, now sadly reduced to a tourist photo stop.

The largest living thing on earth

Matthew took quick look then, like most of the milling day-trippers, seemed to lose interest. "Can we go and get that ice cream now?"
I tried to buy a little more time for me to take in this colossal sight and to help him appreciate its significance. "Did you know that this tree is taller than twenty two elephants standing one on top of the other?"
He looked unimpressed. As if twenty two elephants would ever stand on top of one another.
"You know, this giant is so wide that even if our whole family stretched out holding hands we still wouldn't be able to give it a hug."
He looked bored. Why would we ever want to hug a tree.
"And it's been growing here for over two and a half thousand years, that's older than you, me, granny and granddad put together, times ten."
He looked curious for a moment, like a question was forming in his mind.
"Do you have a question Matt?" I asked pleased that I'd finally captured his interest.
"Yes Dada. Why is that man so fat?" he asked loudly.
I gently shuffled him back into the crowd and backed away. "Let's go and get that ice cream shall we?"

One of the things it's hard not to notice in America is just how big everything is. And arriving here after six months in New Zealand and a month in Samoa has made the contrasts all the more dramatic. Compared to those two smallish countries, the scale of this place is hard to comprehend; people live a lifetime here and never get to visit all fifty states. But it's not just that distances are greater, the whole scale of things seems grander; mountain ranges stretch further, peaks reach higher, canyons plunge deeper, rivers run wider, faster, stronger. In the two weeks we've been here we've crossed vast baking deserts, peered into the chasm of Grand Canyon, camped under Giant Sequoias and strolled beneath the massive granite buttresses of Kings Canyon. Nature certainly does it large here. And if a nation's identity is in some part a reflection of its' landscape, then it should be no surprise that America sees itself as big, strong and powerful.

Nature is BIG here. The Grand Canyon looking..... grand.

And it shows in the way mankind has left his mark here. In less than 300 years the population here has grown from way less than one million to almost 300 million. It's strange to be amongst so many people after the relative quiet of Samoa and New Zealand. The population of LA alone is almost the same as that of New Zealand and nearly forty times that of Samoa. And all those people need food, water, homes and of course cars. Big cars.

The little people visit the BIG city

For some reason a big country needs big cars. We rented the most compact vehicle we could which turned out to be a 2.3 litre Mazda coupe. More power than we needed but a small car in America where we share the road with gas guzzling station wagons, pick-up trucks, SUV's, hummers and RV's (recreational vehicles) the size of a fifty two seater bus. And lots of cars means lots of roads; big roads, wide roads, long roads, straight roads, the more lanes the better, carving their way across the land from town to town and city to city. Getting around couldn't be easier, even if it takes a while. And once inside your vehicle there's little reason for you to ever get out again; you can do your shopping at the drive-in shops, get your meals from the drive-in restaurants, get your medicine from the drive-in pharmacy, grab your entertainment at the drive-in movies and even get married at the drive-in wedding chapel. Convenience and the car are king.

A small Recreational Vehicle

The one thing you do need to get out of the car for is the toilet. But even those really are rest rooms. Doors open by themselves, toilet tissue is dispensed automatically, bowls flush when you get up, taps turn on without human intervention and machines auto-issue hand towels. It doesn't leave much for you to do except sit down and have that rest.

And rest is one thing we've not been short of. It's like we've gone from one extreme to another; from cycling three hours a day pulling 100kg loads and sleeping on half an inch of camping mat to doing little more than walking from the car to a motel or restaurant three times a day and sleeping soundly in soft queen size beds. Mind you, you can burn a lot of calories getting to your hotel room. In Las Vegas it took nearly forty five minutes each way to get from the car park to our family room, finally located high on the 35th floor of a four thousand room hotel. Now that's what I call a big hotel. And it brought big smiles when Matthew, Cameron and Kirstie saw the size of the bath. After seven months with barely a bath in sight, they were finally able to relax in one big enough to take the whole family and with enough space for snorkelling.

The view from our room in one of the BIG hotels in Las Vegas

But life in hotels and motels was starting to get us down a little; after a while they all feel the same and leave you us little sense of place, so we bought ourselves a small tent for camping in the National Parks. We spent two hours exercising in Wal-Marts before we tracked down the camping section and were able to purchase a small family tent to replace the one we sent home when we left New Zealand. We're now the proud owners of an eleven person, three room tent complete with two queen size inflatable mattresses and an electric-inflator; camping American style. The kids think we've bought our own mobile fun factory and we're all pleased to be able to get away from the towns and cities again and sleep under the stars.

But you can't get away from the food; even National Park Centres have concession cafes serving eat as much as you want breakfasts, pizzas, burgers, fries and 42oz refillable sodas. The boys are loving it and seemed pleased at the increasing amount of junk and fast food we are consuming, but Kirstie and I are limiting everyone to one unlimited buffet meal a day to try and avoid us coming home as the largest living family on earth.

Matthew and I slipped away from the giant sequoia to get some ice creams and cool down. The ice cream parlour had a wide selection of ices, cones and frozen chocolate goodies.
"Hi there. How're you doin'? What can I get you?" asked the large lady serving.
"Just four small cones please," I said.
She reached deep into a vat of ice cream, once, twice, three times, four times, adding scoop after scoop of ice cream to a tiny cone. "There you go, there's the first," she said as she passed a tottering tower over the counter.
"Is that a small?" I asked looking at the over loaded cone.
"Sure, would you prefer to go large?" she asked, "it's just fifty cents more."
"No, no thanks. Can we just make it two small cones. I think we'll share." I replied.
I passed the first cone to Matthew. "There you go Matt, that's why that man was so fat."




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