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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.!

Hola amigas and amigos!

So, this post is ridiculously and beyond fashionably late. Apologies, I must admit I've been reluctant to post just because I knew I had a lot to say, it meant loading pictures, my hard drive died in June (didn't get a replacement until July methinks), and, quite frankly, I just didn't want to. Too busy reading, running, swimming, and chilling!

Got back in the good ol' U.S. of A on June 17th, but I didn't get home until June 18th. That is a rather amusing story, I suppose. In this amusing anecdote you will get a view of humor and pain, tears and laughter, mind-numbing boredom, and OCD. Just kidding, it's not that intense. I think it'll bring about some sort of chuckle to your lips, though!

My last few days in Bangor were alright, just did some packing and then hung out with Carla, April, and Brooke (love them girls). When I packed up I only had about 6 boxes of stuff, and these weren't even big boxes. They were banana crates from Morrisons (the guy kind of laughed at me watching me carry those out of Morrisons and up the street to Gwynant, my dorm). So packed those with clothes, books, and any spare things I had like kitchenware and office supplies. Last but not least, my beloved Texas flag was the last thing to be packed:

Honor the Texas Flag;
I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas,
one state under God,
one and indivisible.

Haha, in middle school we had to pledge allegiance to the Texas flag and the U.S. flag every day during homeroom. I didn't mind, to be honest. I love that pride we've got!


Right, so everything packed up and ready to go, got my boxes picked up by a friend, then finished packing up my suitcase. Here comes the OCD part: for the night I was sleeping with one blanket. In the morning (June 16th) I was catching the 6-something am train to London. My plan was to just get up, brush my teeth, wash my face, pack my toiletries, pull my hair back (what a mess my hair was), dress, pack my pajamas, pack my blanket, bid adieu, and head to the train station with my 2 suitcases (thank Neptune for suitcases with wheels), violin, and backpack. To make sure everything would pack up alright I did a practice run. Yes, I practiced my departure. Well, everything up until the bid adieu. You know what? It worked! Next morning everything went according to plan, I caught my train, navigated the tube with assisted ease, and got to my hotel with no troubles.

Assisted ease: required addition to my travels. In the morning I had to take my stuff with me to hike up a small hill towards security to turn in my dorm key, then stroll down the middle of the road to the train station at the bottom of the hill. The sidewalks in Bangor are terrible as it is (more on that to come), and one of the suitcases I was dragging along does not wheel very well. I swear I had to stop every few feet to set it back upright. Anyway, I really didn't need much help up until I got into London. Navigating the tube with 2 suitcases, a violin, and a gigantic backpack is a nightmare. I would push one suitcase in front, strap my violin across my torso, and drag the other suitcase behind me, and then my backpack was just on my back. There are some stations in the tube that don't have elevators. Flip me, thought I was going to die!  Fortunately there were a few kind strangers who helped me along. Lesson for me? Always help those in need. It can make any day 100000000x better. Anyway, finally get to my stop at Heathrow terminal 4 and caught the hotel shuttle over to the Holiday Inn or something like that. Here's a lesson: when catching a flight from London in the morning, just spend the night in London. I would have had to catch a 5am train to London from Bangor, and that wouldn't even guarantee me making my flight in time. Also, Heathrow airport is terrible in terminal 5. NEVER NEVER get a hotel in terminal 5, it's technically not in London, so if you are forced to get a taxi they charge you an arm and a leg, plus your (future) first born. That is, if you're lucky to get a taxi willing to go to that hotel. Learned that lesson with me mum! Anyway, got to my hotel and waited for my friend to get there. She was exploring Europe with her sister, was getting into London, and needed a place to stay so I offered up my hotel room to share. Unfortunately there are like 3 or 4 Holiday Inns in terminal 4 and she went to the wrong one... she eventually made it though! That's the extent of my adventures for that day.

Next morning: rise, shower, get to the airport. Another feat requiring the kindness of strangers! I've never been so grateful. It was a huge relief dropping off my two suitcases (2 required to get souvenirs home to family...) at the luggage counter. Next stop: catch a flight with American Airlines to JFK! 

Oh my days, it was wretched. Well, ok, could have been worse. All the international flights I've ever been on had individual TV screens for each seat... except for this one. There was a TV screen in the aisle every few rows. This wouldn't have been so bad except I absolutely cannot sleep unless laying down (no matter how many and how strong of a sleeping pill I take), my laptop was dead (stupid hard drive), Sudoku got old after a couple of hours (needless comment), and I have a hard time sitting still for more than an hour and a half (the only reason I have a hard time watching movies).

Eventually landed, missed my connection because my life sucks (jokes, my life rocks), and ended up spending the night in JFK. WITH MY SUITCASES. I was switching over to JetBlue (I think) and couldn't check in until 5am the following morning, so I was stuck with them for the night.

Check out my sleeping quarters:

5-star hotel, I tell you what!

This is what I did: used the giant black suitcase as the mattress for my upper body, used the grey suitcase the blanket is on top of for my lower body, cuddled up with my lovely Toy Story blanket, then laid my violin (behind the blanket-laden suitcase) on one side of me next to the wall, and laid my backpack in front of me. I chose this spot because of that convenient outlet which charged my phone that was lying on death's doorstep. Because sleeping on your own in a large airport can be a bit unnerving, I teamed up with a girl from Italy and we watched out for each other like when we really had to pee (you know how I am about my bladder comfort). My bed was actually right next to the bathrooms. I tried sleeping, dozed for maybe half an hour, but ended up reading the night away. Around 3am I decided to head over to my terminal since I wasn't getting any sleep anyway and chill out there. I said goodbye to my Italian ally, bid her good luck, and started the trek from whatever terminal I was at to whatever terminal I needed to be at. They've got this little metro that goes between terminals, so I lugged my crap on there and rode it to my terminal. Let me tell you, it was really tempting to just camp out there for the night. 

Anyway, got to my terminal and sat pretty much right in front of the check-in desk until they opened. Dropped off my suitcases (hallelujah!) and headed to my hopeful future gate. I was on standby fo' free because my mom worked at JetBlue at the time, so it was iffy if I was actually going to make this flight. At this point I was so tired that I literally prayed for an hour and a half that I'd make this flight. Here's pretty much how my prayer went:
"Please, oh please, let me make this flight, Heavenly Father. I promise to..." then gave a long list of promises I'm ashamed to admit I've not kept very well. I made the flight regardless. Let me tell you, I have no idea how many times I said thank you. Lost count! Anyway, finally landed in Salt Lake around noon (I think) on the 18th of June.

To keep myself from having a horrible sleep schedule I stayed up that whole day... even went on a bike ride! Best bike ride ever.

That was the exciting adventure of Chandrie Elaine Cook back home. I hate flying.

After that start, my summer was destined for nothing but adventures! Jokes, I've had some lull time to read, but I've actually done quite a bit of exploring the U.S. this summer, more exploring than I've done in summers past! I think it started with a trip to Timpanogas Cave near Lehi, UT. My great great uncle or something like that actually discovered Hansen Cave, part of the cave network. Preeeeeetty cool! Pre-note: I went with my mom and youngest brother, Aiden. Here are some lovely pictures:

Mr. Aiden. Constipated. Jokes, making a weird face though... what a cheeky turd!

Me mum! She's a velociraptor! 

Maybe a meteor. Maybe a bird. No, definitely a cloud.

Frightening face on my part, awesome thumbs up from Aiden.

We beat each other up on a regular basis.

Finished with the hike!

Beautiful view of the valley from the hike up to the caves.

Inside the cave.

Awesome formation.

Straw formations! The only formation name I remember. 

That's it for Timpanogas pictures. After the Timpanogas adventure, sometime in June, I went to the Grand Canyon to go camping with my mom and my two youngest brothers (I have three, all younger than me), Ian and Aiden. Now, I am horrible at taking pictures, always forgetting, so for these pictures I had to steal from my mom.

View of the Grand Canyon!

And another view. 

Hiking the Grand Canyon (pictured: me up closer and Ian further ahead).


I absolutely love the Grand Canyon, especially the camping. I've actually been before, back in the summer of 2008, but just for a day. I was checking out Northern Arizona University, and on a whim my mom and I decided to drive out to visit. On this visit we camped for 3 days (I think). I love to camp but have never camped outside of Texas (that I can remember anyway). This was a completely different experience. In Texas, it's hot day and night. It's humid... day and night. The ground is hard and the sun unrelenting. In the Grand Canyon, however, it's freezing at night, moderate during the day, the ground was actually a bit soft causing one of the stakes for our tent to keep coming out, the air super dry, and I personally didn't need bug spray. The hikes were incredible as well, as you can maybe see from the above photo. Then one of the nights we were there we went to an astronomy program the park held. Oh wow, talk about incredible! There's very little light pollution, so we were actually able to see the milky way! THE MILKY WAY! I had never seen that before in my life. Also, so much wildlife! I've seen my fair share of deer, they're everywhere, but I've never seen so much elk before. I swear, everywhere we went, there were elk just merrily minding their own business. One even ate right next to us during a ranger fireside. Incredible.

While in Arizona, we also went to Alice Cooper's restaurant in Phoenix. We literally drove all day just to eat there. No complaints, really cool restaurant! Here are a few pictures from that:

Ian Cook vs. Adam Richman's Bases Loaded Hot Dog
Ian didn't come out the victor.

Aiden Cook vs. The Big Unit.
Aiden just barely came out the victor.

Smart me just went with some green chile chicken. I win.

The four of us with an Alice Cooper cut out! The real Alice Cooper was off playing golf...

Have any of y'all ever watched Man v. Food on the Travel Channel? If you have, and you've watched the Phoenix episode, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I highly recommend you watch it! Quite uh... unappetizing at times, but overall, awesome show. Anyway, Adam Richman visits Alice Cooper's restaurant, hence the giant hot dog named after him. Those hot dogs are 22 inches in length, one pound in weight. Well, The Big Unit is. Adam Richman's Bases Loaded is a bit heavier but the same length. Aiden managed to push it all down, and Ian came really close. I think he had maybe 4 bites left, and it was all hot dog. 

Trip to Arizona: total blast. Loved every bit of it, even when I was a bit grouchy (sorry family!).

The following week brought the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was quite literally the first thing I've done that took blood, sweat, and tears. 

It was...

The Deseret News Marathon. 

I haven't mentioned it on here, but I've been training since April. There were times during the training that I wanted to give up, and I shed a few tears of frustration when I struggled with those wretched long runs. But you know what? I did it. My mom did it. We did it.

I've been running since 8th grade (grew up the fat kid in school, finally started getting myself into shape in 7th grade with volleyball), and I started considering a marathon a few years ago. I read journal articles, checked out running websites like Runner's World, and even read a book by Hal Higdon. I meant to run one last summer, but did a half-marathon with my mom instead. This year I seriously considered it, approached my mom with the idea again, and we did it. It was difficult. This is where my input on Bangor's sidewalks comes in! Check out my battle scar when I tripped on those stupid uneven sidewalks running my first long run:

Beast mode!

Bahaha, it was actually quite hilarious! So I was running by Normal Site (where I have my lectures), tripped in front of some ladies, knew I was going down, and hit the ground pretty hard with my right hand and both my knees. I knew my hand was messed up, looked at my knees and they looked fine, assured the ladies that I was alright, and then ran back to my dorm. I was pretty mad, there was no way I was going to be able to finish my long run. My knees were hurting something fierce. So I got back to my dorm, cleaned up my hand (tons of gravel stuck in it), wrapped it in toilet paper, then proceeded to look at my knees. I thought I'd just hit them, I didn't think they'd bled because when I looked down after tripping they weren't bleeding. Ha, so wrong. So my left knee I'd actually made a cut and some gravel got cut in the flap of skin (wasn't that deep) and I had a stream of dried blood running down my leg. Must have been quite a sight to see for the folks of Bangor as I ran the remaining mile back to my dorm!

So, my first week of marathon training, not so good. My right knee was fine, but my left knee still hurts time to time. I bruised the bone pretty bad. I survived though! So here's the before picture...

Let the torture begin...

We had to be up at 2am because the last bus to the top of the mountain (the marathon started at the top of a mountain, down a canyon, then ended at a park in downtown Salt Lake) left at 3.15am. The marathon started at 5.30am, but the ride to the top of the mountain was about 40 minutes. Luckily my adrenaline kept me wide awake and ready to go! So we get to the top of the mountain, chill in this tent thing they set up, and waited for 5.30 to roll around. Met a few cool people, including an 81 year old running his (I think) second marathon. His name was Woody, and boy was he an inspiration. Oh, our finishing time was something like 5 hours and 18 minutes (I KNOW, a terrible time!) and then Woody finished like a minute or two behind us. The run was incredible. I actually didn't listen to music for the first 6 miles, and then after that I turned on some 70s dance music. Definitely encouraging! There were also two musicians, one at the beginning and one around mile 10, who played their instruments for the runners. I'd set points along the run where I could listen to music on my iPod. One treat came at mile 20: Karl Pilkington. I absolutely love Karl Pilkington. If I were his parent and he had like 10 other siblings, Karl Pilkington would be my favorite child. No joke. I love the stuff that his mind comes up with. I had a podcast of the Ricky Gervais show that was a day in the life of Karl Pilkington. Oh gosh, definitely the boost I needed! That was my big treat and I definitely timed it right. Around mile 17 or 18 my mom and I started struggling and had to run/walk. That's what really slowed us down. Finally, with some block energy shots, water, gatorade, and the encouragement of spectators, we crossed that finishing line. Surprisingly, I had a sprint to the finish! Didn't think I had it in me!

Picture: courtesy of my dad.

I felt bad sprinting away from my mom like that, but I just wanted to get this ordeal over with. Despite the negative tone, I loved every minute of this marathon, pain included. I'm actually planning on doing another marathon next summer with my friend, Chris. Can't wait!

So here are the end pictures:

Mom, Dad, me.

Mom, me, Aiden.

Fact: my family is disgusting. Fact: I sweat like a mad man. Not a mad woman, no, far worse. I sweat like a mad man. Check it:

Super power: Corrosive Sweat.

This armband you see is the armband for my old iPod nano. My sweat ate through the metal and broke it. I sweat like a thousand litres per hour and half of it is pure salt. Just kidding, I'm not as heavy a sweater as Alberto Salazar, but I am a pretty heavy sweater. I'm not kidding about the salt, though... seriously, every time I finish a workout I have a ring of salt around my face and on my arms and legs. Anyway, my dad and I will give out hugs to the family after we work out because we are literally drenched, my family does not hug, and it's just plain disgusting. My thought was the ultimate revenge on my dad would be my mom and I hugging him, drenched in sweat. So we did. Pure awesomeness! 

Right, so after that marathon, like 2 hours after the marathon, we left for a road trip to Texas! Worst idea ever. Dude, I was so freaking stiff and sore from that 2 day drive. Take my advice and get a massage after a marathon. Don't go for a road trip.

Anyway, the trip was awesome. I didn't get to see everyone I'd have liked to because of time, but I did get to see two of my best friends from high school, Mellany and Alli. I also got to see my second family, the Jones. Love them to death! We went to 6 Flags (500x better than Alton Towers!), a Rangers game (the Texas Major League Baseball team), went to the new Batman movie (excellent, but I really struggled sitting through that movie-3 freaking hours!), visited the Stockyards... oh, and we went to the Fort Worth Zoo, the one I mentioned a few posts back. Ummm... I know there's probably more that we did, but I can't remember at the moment.

Gah, even though I love Wales, I miss Texas so much. Really and truly, I do. I miss the heat, the sun, my friends, my family that I'm not so related to, the culture... all of it. It's really hard leaving everything you've ever known.

So, since Texas I've been chilling, swimming (decided to train for a triathlon), and packing. My family moves to Kennewick, Washington on Friday, so the house is currently in the form of boxes. Oh, and today has been horrible. Since my laptop died, I've been putting off reloading my entire iTunes library. It's taken me 3 days. 3 days. I've nearly gone mental! Thank goodness I've pretty much finished. I have a few CDs left, but they're out chilling in the van that I've been driving around town. No, it's not a white van that says candy on it.

Lame joke!

Anyway, yep. That's my life. Oh, one final adventure! So there's this bridge that people jump off of into Jordan River out here near Lehi. I jumped it with Ian, Aiden, and my cousin's daughter, Tav. Talk about adrenaline:

'Frank! NO!'

There are two bridges, a metal one and this concrete one. The concrete one is the bridge the cars drive over and it's higher up from the river than the metal one. Ian and I jumped both, and it is awesome. We're going jumping again on Thursday. Meant to go the other day but the weather was bum. I think this concrete bridge is about 20 feet up from the river, but I suck at measuring distances in my head so don't quote me on that. Loads of fun though.

Also went to a Ringo Starr concert back in July with my dad, Ashton, and Aiden. 

Punching the air like a pro.

For those of you who don't know who Ringo is, he is one of the original Beatles. Although I love Ringo, he did not compare to Paul McCartney! I got to see him in concert in August 2009 at the Cowboy's Football Stadium. Freaking incredible. To this day Paul's concert is the best I've ever been to in my life.

Aaaand this past Saturday I went to a water park in Salt Lake City called Seven Peaks. Pretty awesome! Got completely sunburned, but after a school year in the U.K. I enjoy ever burn I get.

Right, that's been my summer of adventure! More to come in Kennewick, I'm sure, since I don't leave for Wales until September 12th. Got to enjoy the sunshine until then!

Well, good night world! Gotta be up at 4.45am for a morning swim before the movers come pack our house away...

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