Is This a Poor Second to Vegas?

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April 5th 2012
Published: May 7th 2012
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My footsteps are making inroads into the field of white land that’s before me. I am in the mountains and less than half an hour away from the biggest little city in the world. It maybe a poor second to Las Vegas but what Vegas has Reno can match it with other activities that surround in multiple directions.

That could be the nice problem with Reno. There are too many other things to do and see to worry about gambling. I came here for cheap, nice accommodation to just relax a bit, have a game of ten pin bowling and maybe explore a little of the edges. With this Reno can leave you questioning whether it’s crap or actually quite a nice stopover?

Casinos weren’t around much until the early 1960’s when the resorts came in. On the Monday I was there Cal Neva was celebrating its 50th year anniversary. Opened on April 2, 1962, at the time 4 other casinos existed of which only one remains. That’s across the road in Harrah’s Casino. The only time it has closed was in November 1963 when President Kennedy was shot.

The main area is downtown but it’s not as lavish as Vegas, closer to Vegas’ old downtown. I went to pretty much all of the casinos and the better casinos are the ones on their lonesome, away from downtown. Like Peppermill and Atlantis. Whilst driving around parking the car at the different casinos I noticed that there are many disabled gamblers in Reno. You would have never seen such a high percentage of disabled spots taken.

The downtown casinos look rundown with some awful carpet. I found it so uninspiring I didn’t bet until the last night. I couldn’t even be arsed to get myself free drinks. Admittedly, I was here on a Sunday-Tuesday nights. The only thing that got me excited was the ten pin bowling which I could see from my room but that was closed during the week.

Reno is situated less than an hour from Lake Tahoe, which is a lake shared with California’s northern east border. To get there you have to drive over the mountains. This means during the winter months and shoulder seasons (when weather permits) skiing is a great alternative to gambling your day away. There are over 10 ski resorts around the lake with the closest being Mt Rose. 22 miles up the mountain from Reno and 10 miles from the north part of Lake Tahoe.

Here already you could kill two days whilst living it up in some nice accommodation for the same price as some crappy highway motel. After my failed effort in Idaho I wanted to hike around the ski field to take photos.

I had only the day before gotten over my no snow shoeing experience in Idaho so I was content with it but the opportunity presented itself to me again. The ones in Idaho take you along specific Nordic ski tracks. Like cross-country skiing tracks. Whilst in Mt Rose the track according to the map was a separate part and not much just you on your own on pretty flat ground.

Unadventurous I decided to hold onto the $20 or so and hike it myself using all those specific clothing I’ve lugged around for almost 2 years. So for one last time I brought out the waterproof pants and shoes and those ski gloves that helped me those few times in the freezing parts of Africa (no sarcasm there.)

The whole idea I suppose was to take a few photos and then just role around like the big kid that I am. The obligatory fast walk half way up the wall as if I’m in a hurry cause someone’s chasing me like in the movies. I do this too in sand dune places, only then, I’m acting like I saw a mirage.

Anyhow, it was quite tranquil as I used my waterproof bag cover as my blanket and just reminisced a bit. Once my brain was over the solitude I went back to that powdery place I walked through and picked another section and made full body plants in it. I’d run from a distance and jump into it because hey why not.

I didn’t study much about this part of the trip just learning along the way and with the petrol gauge showing orange again I was forced to gamble and not on the table. Instead of going all in on the tables I gambled on whether I will be able to survive the drive up, down and back again to see Lake Tahoe. It’s amazing how quick the gas goes in this part of the states. To compensate I would put the car in neutral when going down the hills. On the way down towards Lake Tahoe numerous view points provide the ideal spots to appreciate the lake.

I was fortunate enough it was a great sunny day so the large lake glistened whilst being surrounded by small mountain ranges full of green trees and white snow on the ground. The scenery just continued on its epic way.

Still it was time to move on and give gambling a go on my last night. I did it mainly through necessity. I had to talk myself to do it. “Come on, this will probably be your only time in Reno and you didn’t gamble! Just give it a go once.” So blackjack it was.

I went up to a table with my nemesis a guy playing in a cowboy hat and an Asian female dealer. A never win in this situation and this time things looked grim as I was down to $20 on a $10 minimum table. So I go all in and win, win the next game and call in even and collect - Some would say a winner. But that’s not the Reno experience, I had to put some money in the poker machines and a few goes on ‘00’ for Robert Parish and it was no good so I was down about $15. Cash I could ill afford to lose at this point of the trip so it hurt a little.

I have a conspiracy with these places. I think they have guys on the tables with cowboy hats as fillers to entice you into the game. The guy next to me was only playing small than when I came in after a few goes he went big and continued. I left and he went back to small bets.

After Reno I was heading toward San Francisco, where you can head straight there via the main highway 80, which passes the Californian capital Sacramento. You can still see Sacramento but for a couple of hours more you can visit the old gold rush town of Virginia City.

Up the hills and in the desert the old wooden buildings have kept the old theme going and even older poker machines. In desperation to hang a pee I went into Bonanza casino. I saw a machine with some chillies on them and I figured to honour my new found friendship to the hot spice I’ll put a couple of dollars in and what do you know? First hit, we have a winner and enough to make up the difference of last nights loss.

The next stop before heading to California is Nevada’s capital Carson City, which gave me no encouragement to stay. The county is one of the few places in the states to allow prostitution. Just off the highway an MTV program is filmed in a place called the Bunny Ranch. I saw the sign just off the highway so drove to the car park entrance where they have a yellow sign indicated two rabbits are mating ahead. That was about as exciting that city got for me.

Gas again lit up orange by the time I hit Sacramento, which is nice enough to stop over for a few hours. To the west is the old town whilst the central figure is again the Capitol building. It is not a must see but nice enough to break the journey.

I’d again put the car in neutral and crawl my way in the slow lane. At times joining the other crap cars with dents in them to eventually arrive in San Francisco and dropped it off early the next morning. The reason why I didn’t put anymore money toward gas was because of the car hire policy on petrol.

See Hertz have a policy where they fill the car before your drive off and you don’t fill it when you drop off. Problem with that is that they charge you as if it’s a bone dry tank so in the end you are paying an inflated rate. Well not this guy, I’m thedribbleman. How else do you think I squeeze the dollar. I handed the keys over to the Hertz guy who turns the ignition on and looks at the gauge twice over. The needle didn’t even budge, “Hey you barely even got here!”

Acting quite dumb “Sorry what was that?”

“I said you barely made it here.”

“Oh yeah haha but its sweat it ran smoothly the whole time.” And I was given the all clear.

It can not be underestimated how vital the decision (I made back in September) to ignore the financial burden hiring a car in USA will be to the JP5 budget. Outlandish spending is not one of my good traits but every now and then a backpacker bites the bullet and goes for it and that’s what I did in this case.

One of the proudest moments in this part of my journey is when I start talking to people from the states and they ask where I’ve been in America. From that moment I start rolling off the states I went to totalling around 33 (obviously not reeling them off all at the same time.)

The comment that doesn’t get me going is “Oh gee you’ve seen more of the states than me!” It’s “That is so good you’ve really been able to see the real US.” And that was the meaning of me being here. I didn’t want the US to just be the big cities. I wanted to see its faults as much as its glories.

I had 10 days left of JP5 and it would be seen in a different light. The public transport light of Greyhound buses and bus stops and transits. It would be unfair to judge USA purely on the convenience of a car.

Interestingly to this point two of my highlight destinations in JP5 have been Namibia and USA ironically when I’ve gone out and hired a car. I thought I loved getting squashed in African buses. Maybe I’m starting to discover a new me who’s taking a liking to small creature comforts? I just think some destinations you need to see as much as you can and the car is the only way.

America is a great true road trip destination. Unlike other countries where you have your set itinerary to follow because there is not much else. The states provide so much alternatives you would never want to replicate in fear you’ll miss something equally impressive even jaw dropping gorgeous. I’ve never said “Wow!” and the almost speechless words of, “This is incredible!” so many times in such a short space of time.

The superlatives could just keep on coming but I will stop for the now and just thank thedribblemans decision to balls the day before I was to begin the car hire. On that day the Australian dollar dropped to an almost 2 year low. My biggest gamble ever in 5 Journeys was rewarded soon after with the dollar recovering for the reminder of JP5. So as well as myself I suppose I should thank the soaring Aussie dollar too. But lets finish this blog by putting out a big thank you again to yours truly. Heck why not it is up there with the best decision I’ve made since discovering diving.

Additional photos below
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7th May 2012

Glad you enjoyed America...
I look forward to visiting your fair land in October.
8th May 2012
7 - OMG mouth watering isn't it!

I'm guessing you're being ironic...
...or maybe not. :-/
8th May 2012

Why do you gamble when you can't afford to lose money? And when the guy asked you where you've been to in America, you should have started counting your countries like "Let me see...Uruguay, Suriname, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bolivia, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago...". Would have loved to see his face. I just have to say this one time: writing stuff like "America is a great country" makes you sound like a brainwashed bogan. Not that the USA isn't a nice country to visit, but chiming in with people from the US and using the name of the whole continent to refer to their country and their country only is terribly grovelling. If you spoke a little more Spanish, you could have asked people in Ecuador or Nicaragua about that, and you would have realized that they find this highly offensive. "If only they are Americans, what are we?" Anyway, sorry about that, it's 6am and I can't sleep, so I'm a bit too grumpy to be writing friendly, reassuring comments. Cheers, Jens
8th May 2012

Always good to get a comment from you Jens. Yes I was told about the whole America thing but sometimes every now and then it pops in. When you've been brainwashed for your whole life its hard to change. I have made a concerted effort to not refer to the country throughout like that but every now and then I slip up. Apologies
8th May 2012

No need to apologize, mate. Sorry about my previous rant, I've taken a little nap and I'm more upbeat now. I liked your Central American and African blogs a lot better, maybe I just shouldn't read your USA blogs if I'm not really interested.

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