Monthly Archives: December 2011

The End (For Now)

And so it ends – yesterday, I got home around 11 pm Eastern time, during the longest night of the year.

Total miles traveled: a bit less than 9000. I saw a lot of new things, met many interesting people, drank wonderful (and not so wonderful but still interesting) beer, won a bit in Vegas, and for a few minutes at least, I had a monkey on my back.

Not one ticket.

Not one accident.

And it could have been a lot worse – I could have had this chick’s luck:

A 23-year-old Arizona State University student was found with her Toyota Corolla on a remote dirt road in northeastern Arizona after being stranded in the snow for 10 days, authorities said…¬†Around 11:30 a.m., Lauren Elizabeth Weinberg, an ASU senior, was found “alive and well” 46 miles southeast of Winslow. She was located with her vehicle, which was entombed in snow at Forest 34 and Forest 100 roads, according to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.

I’m not going away now – I may not post as often for a while, but I will post (though I want a few days off). And sometime soon I’ll be traveling again, so please stay tuned. Until then, I want to wish all of you a happy and prosperous holiday season and New Year, whatever it is that you celebrate at this time of year. Because it doesn’t matter what you celebrate or how, but it’s important to celebrate, if for no other reason than we are alive and we are all traveling, in our own ways.

And I’ll leave you for now with this, my favorite holiday song:

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Further On Up the Road

I think, if my luck holds out, tomorrow will be my last day on the road.

Today, I stopped in Oklahoma City to meet someone I’d only ever met online. We had a nice lunch and then I got back on the road, making it the rest of the way through OK and on across most of Arkansas.

At this point, I mostly just want to get home – it’s been over a month, now, and while I’ve enjoyed most of this trip, it’s time to wind things up. So, no pictures today. Driving from Arkansas to central Virginia will be a long hike tomorrow, but I’ve had worse: earlier this year, I drove home from Cape Canaveral in Florida. As long as the weather holds out, I’ll manage.

This trip may soon be over, but never fear: the blog will go on.

White Out

Today, I drove from Winslow to Shamrock, Texas – mostly in a blizzard.

I can’t believe I’m still awake. Hell, I can’t believe I’m in a warm place with internet access. Or that I managed to escape significant snow while driving west through the northern part of the country, and then hit a massive blizzard while driving through the southernmost states.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Remember yesterday, when I said Winslow made a tourist attraction out of the Eagles song? Well, this morning, before I left, when it was still kind of dark, I got some pictures of “Standin On The Corner Park”. Seriously, that’s its name. It’s actually kinda cool – see how the painting of the “girl in the flatbed Ford” seems like it’s a reflection in window glass? It’s not. It’s a mural. But the illusion is pretty damn clever.

Sorry about the overexposed part - it's the "US 66" shield, and it's reflective.

And then I got back on I-40, headed east. And from eastern Arizona all the way through to Amarillo, snow happened. I didn’t get any pictures of it, but if I had, they’d look something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only whiter.

So please excuse me if I cut this entry short here – today was just a bit tiring.

Standin’ on a Corner

I was pretty much forced to abandon my interstate-shunning behavior today, for two reasons: one, the weather was shit; two, if you examine the map below, you’ll see that there is no way to visit Meteor Crater without using either interstates or shitty gravel roads, and due to reason one, I didn’t want to use shitty gravel roads. And I wanted to visit Meteor Crater. I mean, misnamed or not, I’ve been wanting to see it since I was a little kid.

And so, with a two-hour detour to see the big hole in the desert, I made it to Winslow, Arizona at dusk. I’d hoped to go further, but again – weather. And this way I get to put an earworm in everyone’s head: Tomorrow I’m going to find and stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

You know, it would be a lot cooler if Winslow wasn’t using that song as a tourist attraction. Seriously. Listen: as you approach Meteor Crater from Flagstaff, a sign informs you to tune to some AM radio station for crater and Winslow information. This is kind of like when you’re playing Fallout 3 or Fallout:New Vegas, and a new station appears on your Pip-Boy as a recorded message on repeat.¬† It explains about how to visit the crater, which you expect. But then it urges you to visit Winslow so you can get your picture taken with a girl in a flatbed Ford.

Um… it occurs to me that some of you might not know what I’m talking about here. Sorry. Here:

There. You’re welcome.

Oh. Yeah. Speaking of Fallout:New Vegas, I discovered a while back that many of the places in that game have real-world counterparts, like Goodsprings, Primm, and the Hoover Dam. So, being an utter geek, I decided I had to visit Goodsprings. Now, this next picture won’t make any sense to you unless you’ve played that game, but if you have played it…

I didn't go into the saloon to see if my babe, Sunny Smiles, was in there.

 

I also passed by Sloan, but wasn’t attacked by Deathclaws. Primm really does have a roller coaster; there really is a correctional facility near Jean (which also exists and has an airfield), and while I didn’t go there, Nipton exists, too.

Novac, on the other hand, does not.

There are no Caesar’s Legion encampments near the Hoover Dam, and okay, I’m going to stop geeking out now.

Well, about Fallout, anyway. Meteor Crater is kinda geeky too, what with all the science and shit. Here’s a picture I took of it from the rim. I don’t have a wide enough angle lens to capture the whole thing. One of these days, I’ll get a panoramic stitcher.

Where's all the meat? They said this one was meatier, dammit!

 

And with that, I’m going to get ready to get some rest, here, so tomorrow I’ll be prepared to go runnin’ down the road, tryin’ to loosen my load. Until then, take it easy.

 

(Come on. You knew that was coming.)

Something to Hide

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
-Lennon/McCartney

Okay, I wasn’t going to blog about this, because I could think of no good way to do so while avoiding attracting innuendo. But hell, I write comedy, and I figure, “anything for a cheap laugh,” so here goes:

I played with some guy’s monkey yesterday.

That’s not a metaphor, so shut up.

I’m driving through the blink-and-miss-it “town” of Beatty, Nevada (it was on yesterday’s map) when I decide I really need a Rockstar to keep me awake. Next to the convenience store is a t-shirt store, which I go into because some of the t-shirts look amusing. I find a jar of fission-strength hot sauce I want to try, and go up to the counter. The guy behind the counter is talking on the phone, but I can tell he’s wrapping up, so I wait patiently, looking around. Over by the window is a cat carrier. Something’s moving around inside. I assume it’s a cat, until a tiny, dark hand with an opposable thumb pokes out of one of the air holes. I’m like, wtf?

Guy gets off the phone and goes to ring up my purchase.

Me: “Is that… a monkey?”

Him: “Yep. She’s very friendly. Want to say hi?”

Me: “Um, sure.”

Him: “Okay, try not to make any sudden moves. She might grab your hair and any shiny objects.”

So he takes the monkey out of the carrier, telling me she’s a 9-month-old Capuchin monkey named Hannah. I’d never seen a monkey outside a movie or a zoo, let alone had one climbing me like I was a rainforest tree. And the monkey had a hell of a grip.

Him: “Don’t worry; she hasn’t bitten anyone yet.”

Wow, I’m thinking, what a relief. When she opens her mouth, she’s got a little pink tongue and neat rows of teeth that look a lot like ours only maybe a little sharper.

The capuchin, by the way, is the kind of monkey you used to see with organ grinders (hey, there’s another phrase you can make fun of). I think the monkey in Pirates of the Caribbean was one of that species as well. And I understand that lately, they’ve gained some popularity as helper animals for the disabled. Dogs are fine, I suppose, but without the whole opposable thumb thing it’s hard to convince one to open your beer. Point is, these monkeys are intelligent and highly trainable. Also, freaky-looking – they appear just human enough, with their close-set eyes and relatively flat face, to be a bit disconcerting. And then there’s the tail: as long as the rest of the monkey and prehensile, almost a furry tentacle, really.

From what I was able to find with about five minutes of quick internet research, I think the evolutionary lines of new-world monkeys (which include capuchins) and humans diverged something like 30 million years ago. This was long before the chimp-human line divergence of about 7 million years ago. For reference, the dinosaurs went extinct about 65.5 million years ago, and there have been animals on Earth for nearly 600 million years. So yeah, there are striking similarities – and even more striking differences, like the tail thing.

Anyway, I think the dude said he was training Hannah to take money from tourists. Fortunately for me, he had just started the training, so I was only out the price of a bottle of hotter-than-hell sauce – though I found myself checking to make sure my wallet, keys, hot sauce, energy drink, and glasses were all there as I made my way back to the car. The thought of a 15-pound capuchin monkey drinking a whole can of Rockstar is not one I’d like to consider for long.

Now, if you’re wondering why I’m talking about yesterday and not today, and perhaps why there are no pictures or maps, it’s because my sightseeing plans were thwarted by un-desert-ish weather around here. Plus, I didn’t sleep worth a damn last night – the guest bed at my friend’s house near Reno was incredibly comfortable, and after that, a cheap hotel bed is a bit of a letdown. So today, I mostly had a pounding headache (until I got a couple of beers and some tequila in me, this evening) and hung around the casino winning more money.

Tomorrow (Friday) promises to be mild and sunny, so maybe I’ll get some sightseeing done then, if I can fight through the Vegas traffic. I intend to leave early Saturday morning, so I really would like to see something other than blackjack tables before that happens. Now, go ahead and get the “monkey” innuendo out of your system in the comment section. I know you’re dying to say something about shocking, or spanking, or some such.

Vegas, Baby

What happens in Vegas goes on this blog. Well, some of it, anyway.

Yes, this is a late update – that happens when you’re winning at blackjack and lose track of time. Not enough to retire on, but enough to pay for my room. Which is not to say I won’t lose it back tomorrow – though I have some sightseeing goals to meet instead.

Today’s map:

The trip here from Reno is long, and some might consider it dreary, but I think the sere desert mountains of Nevada are pretty awesome. And sometimes there are nice surprises like Walker Lake here:

Seeing a lake in the middle of the desert was a surprise to me, anyway, but I've visited deserts like twice.

 

Then there are the mountains, which are omnipresent on both sides of the road through the whole trip – that is, when you’re not crossing one. As far as I can figure out, on the other side of the mountain in the next picture, a whole lot of atomic bombs have been detonated. I don’t mean that figuratively, either.

And even further beyond that is Area 51.

 

So yeah – long drive, but worth it. Even if I didn’t get to drink any beer today.

Reno, Part 2

It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that I didn’t go anywhere today – but I didn’t drive anywhere today. My hosts were kind enough to show me some of the sights around Reno. There’s too much there to see in a day, but we got to a few things.

First, there was nearby Lake Tahoe, which involved a brief jaunt back into California.

A small part of this enormous lake.

 

Then it was back to Reno for a visit to the National Automobile Museum, where we saw an amazing collection of classic cars.

And classic hood ornaments.

 

And what visit including me would be complete without a brewpub? My friend and I visited Silver Peak Brewery for dinner, where, since I wasn’t driving, I sampled all 11 of their beers – and 10 of them were exceptionally tasty examples of their various styles (and the 11th wasn’t that bad).

A beer sampler: one of the most beautiful sights on the planet.

 

And so I got through Reno without visiting even one casino, nudie bar, or adult bookstore.

Tomorrow: Vegas, baby.

Reno

Well, actually, Sparks, Nevada, which is pretty much Reno.

I haven’t posted the last few days because I haven’t really gone anywhere, and I got kept busy running around and having a party and such. But this morning, I got back on the road and headed for Sparks, where an old friend lives. Well, she’s not old, being about the same age as I am, but we’ve known each other for a very long time.

After I got to Livermore, my first order of business (other than getting a full night’s sleep) was to get my car serviced – oil change, tire rotation (don’t they do that on their own?) and so on. I’d brought it to the Subaru place back home before I left, and they recommend service every 5,000 miles (look, folks, the “every 3,000 miles” thing was made up by Jiffy Lube to get people to go there more often – follow your car’s recommendations). Astute readers will note that this means that I’ve now driven over 5,000 miles on this trip. Holy shit. And I still have most of the way back to go.

While in Livermore, as planned, I visited a few wineries with my friend, who was awesome enough to drive while I sampled. Some of the places, however, were disappointing – I mean, do you really have to pay $50 for a mediocre bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon? Fortunately, not all the wineries were like that. Two in particular I’ll give a shout out to:

Tesla Vintners, home of the Singing Winemaker. Reasonably priced wines, and Steve’s cool. He even came, with his family, to the party on Saturday.

He really does sing.

And Thomas Coyne – by the time I was there, I was taking blurry and double-visioned pictures (it was the last place we visited), but there are good pics at the link.

Another thing I did was drive up to Stockton to meet someone I’ve known on the internet since about 1999. Odd to finally meet in person after all that time, but glad I did. You hear all these horror stories about people from online meeting, but in my experience people are just people, and once you’ve talked to (or, well, typed to) someone for that long you can be pretty sure what they’re like. At least that was my side of things – I hope she wasn’t disappointed.

Getting back to today: crossing the Sierra Nevada was interesting. Fortunately, the weather stayed nice – it’s called Sierra Nevada for a reason; Nevada means “snowy” or some such. And I got high. Seriously – I think the route through that range tops out at 8,000 feet, with mountains looming on either side.

It might have been psychosomatic, but there were times I was wishing for an oxygen mask.

It starts out lush and green, and as you get higher in elevation, the mountains become more bare, and rocky. Trees become stunted at that height. And then once you’re closer to Nevada, the trees disappear, replaced by desert scrub. And then you descend into the valley and it’s like someone took a rolling pin to it. This is probably old hat to some of you, but I’d never done it before.

And good luck finding a restroom along that route. Sheesh. Some days I’m just glad I’m a guy.

Views like this one, though, made it all worth it:

Of course, it was also about 20 degrees F.

Planning on some sightseeing tomorrow – more pix then.

California

I’m pretty sure California Route 1 is the dark and twisty road where they film all the TV commercials that show how awesome a car’s handling and suspension are.

Mine are pretty awesome.

I’m going to be here in Livermore for a few days, but I’ll still have updates. For today, though, I give you this picture of a vacation clock that hangs at the Travelodge in Fort Bragg, which turned out to be a very good place to stay – comfortable rooms and free breakfast. Plus, of course, the proximity to North Coast Brewing Co.

Whatever, indeed.

Bragging

I made it to Fort Bragg (hence today’s title).

U.S. 101, as you go south from Oregon into California, becomes a string of expressways. This explains why my GPS balked at the idea – “avoid highways” doesn’t just mean interstates; it means avoid any limited-access routes. I ignored the machine and stayed on 101 until California Route 1.

The Pacific Coast affords some of the most awesome views ever, like this one of Port Orford, Oregon:

Just one of those views.

 

And these rocks, somewhere along the Oregon coast:

I don't know where exactly this is, but it was cool.

 

Once in California, U.S. 101 leaves the coast. The road began to cause me severe fatigue, to the point where I actually pulled off to close my eyes for a few minutes. The few minutes became about half an hour, but it was needed – I didn’t want to tackle the last few dozen miles while fatigued.

To get back to the coast, you have to get onto California Route 1. I took a little detour to see a thing I’ve known about since I was a kid, but never got to see, until now.

Yes, I drove through it.

 

A bit of a tourist trap, yes, I know, but I’d never even seen a redwood before this trip.

I was expecting a twisty, turny mountain road for California 1, but the reality was much, much worse. The late afternoon sun barely even made its presence felt as I negotiated the corkscrew turns of this tiny, two-lane road. I’d say it had hairpin turns, but the turns made hairpins look straight. The road was, well, it was a bit of a challenge.

But it was totally worth it – after several miles of nearly empty roller-coaster track, I finally returned to the coast – just in time to experience my very first Pacific sunset. Some days just work out that way. I mean, I pulled off just as the sun was about to kiss the ocean.

Like, totally gnarly, dude.

 

And then, finally, I came to Fort Bragg. The importance of Fort Bragg, to me, is the presence of North Coast Brewing Company. North Coast makes my favorite beer of all time, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.

I like a lot of beers, ranging in style from American to European, from light to dark, from malty to hoppy and all points in between. Otherwise, why bother going on a beer tour of America, right? With the current Golden Age of brewing here in the U.S., there aren’t many styles I don’t get to sample. Well, from the moment my lips first kissed Old Rasputin, I knew I was going to have to visit Fort Bragg at some point. That point was today.

A bit of a digression about that particular style:

As I mentioned in a previous post, beer, at its purest, consists of malt, hops, yeast and water. A stout is a particularly dark beer; it is dark primarily because of the roasting process for the malt.

Now, you might think that Russian Imperial Stout was Russian, because of the name, but really, it’s British. Legend has it that sometime during the reign of Catherine the Great (the one with the horse), the British ambassador to Russia brought some good British stout along. It was a big hit. So, in a gesture of international good will, the ambassador arranged for several casks of stout to be shipped to Moscow.

Moscow being Moscow, the stout froze in the barrels, ruining the barrels and the stout.

The British, in a flurry of innovation not seen since Newton invented gravity, devised a way to increase the alcohol content of the brew while balancing the malt and whatnot to compensate. The increased alcohol content acted as antifreeze. The beer survived the trip through the harsh Russian winter, and Russians being Russians, they fucking loved the stuff.

Thus was born Russian Imperial Stout.

Other brewers produce Russian Imperial Stout, but my favorite remains Old Rasputin. Weighing in at 9% ABV, it’s not the highest alcohol content out there (even North Coast makes a higher ABV brew), but it’s got twice the kick of most ordinary beers.

And today, I got to sample from the source. To drink straight from the teat, as it were.

My Precious.

 

Fortunately, I got a room just a couple blocks from the North Coast taphouse.

Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting up with my friends in Livermore, east of San Francisco, so I’ll finally be off the road for a few days – and my focus will shift from beer to one of my other great loves: wine. There are dozens of wineries in the Livermore area, and while I don’t think we’re going to be able to visit them all, we can sure as hell try.