All Dried Up

I meant to leave home at the solstice yesterday, for purely symbolic reasons, but I couldn’t get my crap together fast enough.

Also shamelessly stolen

Symbolic because of this.

No matter, though – I got to my friend Mike’s house outside of Roanoke in time for us to go into the city and get some kick-ass barbecue and beer.

Neither place was a brewery, but that’s never stopped me before. I did sample a couple of brews the BBQ joint had on tap and, uncharacteristically for me, I ordered an IPA. I don’t usually like IPAs because a) they’re too hoppy and b) they’re too popular. But all of the beer snob sites assure me that the Next Big Things in Craft Brewing are sours.

Compared to sours, IPAs are nectar. Sours are just that – sour. I was sampling some sours at a brewery in Richmond one day a couple months ago, among their other selections, and by the time I was done there, I was just buzzed enough to hand the sample glasses back to the bartender – all empty except for the three sours, which I’d dutifully tasted, made faces at, and left most of behind – and reply to her question about how I liked the beers with, “Great, except for the sours. I just can’t drink something that tastes the same going down as it does coming back up.”

Really, I’m not usually that rude. I still feel bad about it.

But it’s true.

Anyway, so, I guess some IPAs aren’t that bad after all. And some of them make a fine accompaniment to real Southern barbecue.

Then we caught the first part of a blues act. This 17 year old ginger kid was seriously singing the blues at this other bar in Roanoke. I really don’t know how you get to be that good at the blues when you’re 17. And ginger. Well, at least we know that, unlike Robert Johnson, this kid won’t be able to sell his soul – being ginger and all.

. . .

This morning, after seeing that there’s a fairly clear forecast across the middle of the US, I just pointed my GPS at Vegas, told it to avoid highways, and drove through the incredibly cool (as long as you don’t stop to listen for banjos) Appalachians, in Virginia, a bit of West Virginia, and Kentucky.

Now, since one of my purposes here is to see the countryside, I decided that when it started to get dark, I’d find a place to stay. It’s even harder to see the country in the dark than it is from an interstate.

This landed me in a little city called Monticello (yes, named after a famous landmark from home) in south-central Kentucky.

And then I discovered the true horror of south-central Kentucky:

This is a dry county.

Not that I’d planned on drinking anything tonight. It’s the principle of the thing, dammit.

I think I found the one decent restaurant in town, incidentally. Well, decent except for the no-alcohol thing. The place had a horse for a logo, which I trust was because this is Kentucky horse country and not for the same reason that a lot of barbecue restaurants have pigs in the logo. I’m pretty sure the whinnying sound I heard when I bit into the steak sandwich was my new phone making unfamiliar noises.

I’m going to try to get an early start tomorrow, get out of this hellpit* as soon as I can. No idea where I’ll end up tomorrow night.

Hopefully not Arkansas.

. . .

*the hotel is actually quite nice. It’s just that ALL dry counties are automatically hellpits.

Advertisements

Winter Storm Warning

Back after a long hiatus!

I’m going to be traveling again, driving across the US in late December and January.

Silly time to travel, I know, but I like the cold, empty places and I’ve been craving adventure – if by “adventure” I mean “never knowing where I’m going to go next because my original plans might be thwarted by snow and ice.”

Shamelessly hotlinked from NOAA

Aiming for the tan areas.

The title of this post, incidentally, refers not to an actual storm, but the amount of posts I hope to make over the next few weeks.

I hope it’s not referring to an actual storm, anyway. While anything could happen, it’s not like I’m making another trip through the northern plains or New England, for now.

I got a great deal on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas, which has been something I’ve wanted to do. NYE in NYC never appealed to me, but Vegas? Bring it on.

And in my continuing beer tourism, my quest to visit every brewery in America, I find that the sheer number of breweries in California (nearly 450, or almost 1/5 of all the breweries in the lower 48) will continue to stymie me unless I spend a good bit of time in that large, populous state. In about a half-dozen trips to the Republic, I’ve managed to visit… two of them. I hope to improve on that score. It’s just, I mean, how could I be in California and not give priority to wine?

The plan is to leave tomorrow, but the first night will be at a friend’s house outside of Roanoke, VA. After that… well, we’ll see. South and west, for sure.

Fasten your seat belts – it could be a bumpy ride.

Forest, Mississippi

It’s almost worth visiting here just so you can see the signs that read “City of Forest.”

Sadly, elves do not live here.

Only reason I’m here is I still had the goal of attaining a random point. The third and last random destination is not far from here, closer to the town of Morton.

The second point, which I guess I forgot to mention, was in Nevada, miles away from any road. So I got as close as I could on the road and called it good. Nevada’s got more empty spaces than the brains of reality show stars do.

The third point’s in the middle of a field. Not sure, but I think it was soybeans. Wasn’t cotton, corn, wheat or sunflowers, at any rate.

Nearest semi-interesting thing was this sign, on the corner of Measels Road (yes… Measels Road) and Reeves Road:

And next to the sign, some ruins overgrown by trees.

So I went on the Great Oracle and tried to find out if there was any other information – perhaps something about Mississippi’s troubled pre-Brown v. Board of Education school history. But a few different searches (including one for Measels Road) came up empty, and I’m frankly too tired to pursue it further.

The end of this journey is now in sight. A friend of mine got a beach house in North Carolina starting Wednesday, and my next goal is to get to that by Thursday at the latest. Wednesday would be pushing it, but let’s see how far I can get tomorrow. It’s still a long ways from here.

And with my luck, there’ll be a hurricane when I get there.

Magnolia, Arkansas

Ack! I’m in a dry county! Help! Help!

Gasp. Pant. Wheeze.

Vernon, Texas

Last entry prompted a comment by my friend Mindfulmoon:

So, I have to ask… red or green chili with your meal? I got so tired of that question. I’m not a really big Mexican (or even NEW Mexican) food fan. Hot is not my idea of good. Strangely, I do love Indian food a great deal. New Mexico is not an ideal place to live if you’re not a chili fan (the vegetable, not the soup) which, I suppose, is why I stayed for 5 years. I’m glad you got to go to the monastery though because there are some truly impressive religious communities in New Mexico if the overwhelming majority are of the judo-christian persuasion. Also, I found the people in general to be some of the nicest I’ve had the pleasure to live near.

Yeah, I got asked that. I asked her, “What do you get?”

“Both,” she said.

I decided I liked this bartender. But then, she’s female and a bartender so I’m going to like her anyway. “Okay, both.”

And it was good.

I love spicy food. My favorite hot sauce these days is ghost pepper sauce.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those macho idiots who are like, “Dude, pile on the hot sauce! No such thing as too much!” And then they drink five gallons of milk to try to get feeling back in their mouths (milk doesn’t do much against the Bhut Jolokia). No, that’s not me. I use it very, very sparingly.

Just the right amount (a quantity measured in nanoliters) of ghost pepper sauce added to food enhances it, gives it a bit of a tingle, like five hundred kittens are purring in your mouth.

Too much, though, and those kittens start hissing, spitting, and tearing at your mucous membranes with their claws and teeth.

So yeah, hot sauce is a delicate balance. And at least I wasn’t in Texas then, where they drink that stuff right out of the bottle.

Poor kitties.

I only got the “red or green chili” question once, being in NM for only one night. You know what question I’m getting tired of, though?

“Credit or debit?”

Argh. It’s 2012, people. We have Star Trek communicators, computers in cars, instant money transfers, satellites, the magic internet thingy, and there’s even talk about a potential warp drive. How come every time I hand my credit card to a cashier, they have to ASK? It’s even worse when I don’t have to hand it to the cashier, and there’s a little electronic pad there. I swipe the card, hit the “credit” button, and… “Credit or debit?” I get asked. Okay, I just pushed CREDIT. To make matters worse, the two words end with the same syllable, so if I go into a shop in Minnesota with my Virginia accent and mumble “credit,” they might even hit the wrong button.

Okay, yes, I know, there are debit cards that get used like a credit card. I even have one, though I never use it (no cash back rewards). Still: technology, people! And no, I do not want fries with that.

Now, I’m not shooting the messenger here – not mad at the minimum-wage cashiers who must get even more tired of asking that every. single. day. It’s not their fault. Let’s just get the technology up to speed, okay?

Speaking of speed (I was wondering how I was going to segue into this), I got pulled over today!

I deserved it – I was totally speeding. It’s the first time I’ve been pulled over in years and years, but drive long enough and you’re going to get busted for something, and I’ve been driving a lot. Only trouble was, it was in Texas. I hear they execute people here for jaywalking. One cop got all my information while the other peered into the visible sections of my car.

I got a warning. I don’t think they cared much about some tourist doing 9 mph over the posted limit; I think they were looking for other things and using speeding as an excuse to pull people over. In any case, no ticket this time.

No pictures today, though – it was a long drive and after the awesome scenery of northwest New Mexico, it was back to fairly ordinary ranches and cultivated fields. Not even any cool roadside attractions, unless you count some small town in New Mexico that claims Billy the Kid. I don’t. And tomorrow’s a long drive too, so we’ll see if there’s anything worth taking the time to snap or not.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t care for Mexican-style food, you should stay the hell away from New Mexico.

Me? I love the stuff. After being entirely unable to find tonight’s designated brewpub (Second Street Brewery), I drove around until I found a different brewpub, Blue Corn Cafe and Brewery. Good beer, if a bit too much emphasis on IPAs, and excellent food.

It was important to me that I find one brewery or another, because tomorrow, I leave the water desert and enter… the beer desert. No breweries in the Beertabase near my route for a few days.

First thing this morning, though, the route took me near Four Corners – the one spot in the entire country where four states come to a common point: Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

That concept always struck me as kinda cool but mostly silly. After all, the state boundaries are largely arbitrary in that region; most don’t follow anything real like rivers or mountain ridges. But I’ve spent most of my adult life working for and with surveyors, so from that perspective, I wanted to see it.

The official corner, complete with tourists.

Which means that I finally managed to set foot in Colorado (a stopover at the Denver airport twenty years ago does not count).

Two things, though:

First of all, the site not only divides four states, but two nations: Navajo and Ute. The Navajo maintain the site, and they’ve got booths set up in all four states for a massive marketplace. And the stuff they sell is pretty cool – some of the usual tourist trap crap, but also some very awesome art and jewelry.

But the greatest amusement value, for me, is that it’s in the wrong place.

The geographical coordinates, based on Wikipedia (which as we know may or may not be correct, but the point remains that the point’s off), are: 36°59′56.31532″N 109°02′42.62019″W. While the longitude is fairly close (it was never meant to be based on Greenwich-standard meridians, which are the ones used on maps these days), the latitude should have been exactly 37 degrees north.

Without getting too technical, though, I’ll first say that the corner is the corner – the surveyed point takes precedence over any theoretical values; this is a principle that holds true for most surveyed lines. And considering that the latitude line was surveyed around the turn of the last century, before any kind of GPS or modern survey techniques, I’d say they were damn good.

See, surveying a straight north/south line – a longitude line – is pretty simple, once you know the longitude of a given point (which is itself tricky – it requires an accurate timepiece and knowledge of where certain celestial bodies should be at a given time) you just survey a straight line north or south. Simple in principle – though it still requires good survey skills.

In contrast to the mathematical trickiness of determining longitude, determining latitude is fairly simple: you set up a level instrument and take the angle from horizontal to celestial north, which is close to but not spot on the North Star, Polaris. (Or the south celestial pole if you’re in that other hemisphere.) That angle is your latitude – if you’re at sea level, which is useful for sailors. Takes skill, sure, and there are complications, such as local elevation above sea level (which itself is fairly arbitrary on a world with tides). With a quick search, I couldn’t find the actual elevation of Four Corners, but it’s very roughly a mile above mean sea level (based on signs in the vicinity that proclaim a 5000 foot elevation).

Okay, I’m getting too technical after all, but just one more point: while a latitude line appears straight and horizontal on a Mercator map projection, when you’re on the ground surveying the thing, every so often you have to bend the line to approximate a very large radius curve – it’s not a “straight line” from the perspective of spherical geometry. The only latitude line that’s truly straight (ignoring the curvature of the earth) is the equator. Look at the 37th parallel from a point on the 37th parallel, viewing east or west, and there’ll be a very slight curve to the north.

So, all things considered, it’s pretty damn close. We could get it much, much closer with modern GPS surveying techniques, and you’d find that spot to be located about a third of a mile away. But again, it doesn’t matter – because the surveyed boundary takes precedence over the theoretical one.

Surveying isn’t a glamorous profession, even though at least two of the U.S. Founding Fathers (Washington and Jefferson) practiced it, but they have some pretty serious responsibility in a country where land boundaries determine so much.

Okay, enough about that. Back to important stuff.

When I was going through my Beertabase, I discovered another unique thing in New Mexico: an abbey brewery. Common in Europe (some of my very favorite beers are from Belgian monasteries), you don’t get a lot of that in the U.S. As far as I know, this is the only one (if there’s another, I’ll find it eventually). And it was close to my route – close enough to the route, but remote enough from other places, that I knew that if I didn’t visit the [warning: audio on the linked page seems to start automatically] Monastery of Christ in the Desert on this trip, I might not ever make it there again.

Just in case it’s not clear, that is not the building where they make the beer.

So I drove 16 miles along a single-lane, rutted, gravel road, past some of the most amazing scenery I’ve encountered, and then had to walk the final 1/3 mile or so to the gift shop.

Where I discovered that they don’t actually sell the beer there.

In fact, disappointingly, I think they contract with some other brewery to actually make the beer – but from what I understand, it’s still under their supervision, and the trip was totally worth it, so… no regrets.

I probably should point out that I’m not Catholic. In fact, I’m not religious in any conventional sense – unless you count what Ben Franklin supposedly said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” But you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the scenery, setting, solitude or serenity of the place.

I even got to meet one of the monks, at their gift shop, where I made some small keepsake purchases (including a little book on abbey-style brewing around the world). Anything to support the Cause (that is, the Cause of promoting craft brewing regardless of the religious or political affiliation of the brewers).

On the way from there to Santa Fe – a good hour’s drive – I stopped in a local convenience store and picked up a six-pack of their Abbey Ale. Haven’t had any, yet, but I will.

I’ll just leave you with one more pic to give you a better idea of the setting.

Yep. Totally worth my car’s ruined suspension. (Just kidding – my Subaru can take way worse than that)

Kayenta, Arizona

Today’s destination is deep in Navajo country. I went up to the hotel counter. The woman there said, “Hi! Can I help you?”

Me: “I have a reservation.”

Then I realized what I’d just said and I’m sure I turned beet red. I don’t even know if she caught it or not. But I’m still embarrassed about it. Next time I’m on Native lands I’m going to be sure to say something like “I have a room booked.”

Problem is, today’s internet connection is very, very slow, so instead of the complete update I’d been planning, I’m going to go for a summary: Reno, Virginia City, Carson City, and Vegas. Some good beer and good company (at least in the Reno area). And a picture of me in a Porsche.

What’s the difference between a Porsche and a porcupine?

I have other pics now, since my camera’s working again, thanks to my friends in Reno, but since it took me five minutes to upload that one, they’re going to have to wait.

Oh, and one reason I haven’t been updating is y’all saw the Reno-to-Vegas thing I did last year, and there’s not much point in rehashing old routes. It’s a boring enough trip to have to endure, let alone go through more pics of empty desert (at five minutes a pop).

I’m hoping I’ll have a better connection tomorrow, because I expect to have some semi-interesting things to post.

On a Dark Desert Highway

Well, okay, it wasn’t dark. But U.S. Route 50 through Nevada is billed as “the loneliest road in America.”

I imagine there are worse tracks in Alaska, but until I go there, I’ll accept that description. Deserted (pun intended) or not, I do love the Nevada scenery. I even saw a road runner, and spent part of the drive deciding what to order from Acme Corporation to catch it.

I have no pictures today – though I should be able to work my camera again tomorrow, as my friends near Reno were nice enough to order a replacement battery and charger for me. Haven’t tried them out yet, but the battery seems to be the right type.

So really, I’m only posting so you don’t think I’m stuck along Route 50 somewhere. Car’s fine.

Tomorrow? Nevada mining towns and maybe some breweries. And hopefully, pics.

Ely, Nevada

All day yesterday, on the way to Ogden, it was all I could do to stay awake.

Naturally, last night, in Ogden, I had trouble sleeping.

If I moved to Thailand or something, I’d probably be awake during the day and asleep at night like a normal person. Even the three hour time difference between Eastern and Pacific time (the latter being when I am now) doesn’t quite cut it.

There was one benefit of being up before the sun, this morning: I got treated to an excellent view of the crescent moon and Venus, which I’d totally show you if my camera had been working.

As it is, this is the only camera-phone photo I can post today:

And I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in its historical accuracy.

But before I left the Salt Lake area of Utah, I dropped by a Subaru dealer in SLC for some scheduled maintenance – just an oil change, really.

While I waited, I ogled their collection of carefully restored vintage Subarus, which I would totally show you if my camera had been working.

Then the guy came in and said I might have a coolant leak.

A coolant leak is bad enough, but I was about to travel across 250 miles of some of the most sparsely populated areas of the US that aren’t in Alaska. Also, desert. So I let them check it out further.

They found no coolant leak.

So, fully expecting to get stranded somewhere in the wasteland of western Utah or eastern Nevada, I got myself a full tank of gas and took off.

Well, I’ll save you the suspense: nothing happened except all I wanted to do was sleep, again. Only reason I’m posting this later than usual… okay, only two reasons. One, Pacific Time, as I mentioned above. Two, blackjack.

No, I did not visit the brothel, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

But anyway, I still have a maybe-coolant-leak, and tomorrow I get to cross some even less sparsely populated sections of the US so I can visit my friends in Reno. If I get there.

But hey, that’s what adventure is all about, right?

Ogden, Utah

Wyoming is cool.

Bit boring sometimes on the road, but mostly awesome views. Lots of big empty prairie interspersed with uplifted, colorful and broken sedimentary rock formations. And sometimes igneous. But mostly sedimentary.

Did I get any pictures, though? No, of course not, because my camera is still on the fritz and I won’t be able to do anything about it for another couple of days.

One thing has been bugging me for the past few days, though. I’ve seen it on ranches from South Dakota into Montana and on into Wyoming, but I don’t recall seeing any in Utah (mostly because so far, Utah is an enormous mountain range).

Basically, what’s been bugging me is: what in the hell are these things?

Srsly, wtf?

They’re on prairie ranchland, usually to the west of the road (and never on both sides); they’re all made of the same thing: wood, modular, angled slightly back from vertical toward the road.

They’re not fences, because they don’t hold anything in – the ends are open. The actual ranch fence is visible in the foreground of that pic – mostly just the posts, because my camera phone isn’t the greatest.

I rejected a few theories, such as:

– Alien landing signals (aliens don’t need signals)

– Things to annoy cows

– Tornado early warning devices (you see one in the air, run for shelter)

– Things to annoy curious city boys from back East (there are cheaper ways to do that)

– Warnings for when the kids are having tractor races that a road is nearby

– Jackalope traps

– Things to bounce basketballs off of

About the only thing I can figure is that they’re driftbreaks, meant to keep blowing snow off the roads. But I don’t know, and the one and only time I approached an actual cowboy and said “Howdy…” he said, “That Obamma bastard has ruint the country!”

Seriously, all they can talk about around Wyoming is the upcoming election, and I have a good idea which way Wyoming’s going.

Anyway, web searches haven’t helped much, either. Just try searching for “weird wooden fence-like structures on ranch land.” Be sure to turn SafeSearch on if you value your sanity. So if anyone knows what these are, please tell me.

So. Utah. First time here. A lot greener than I expected, but then I didn’t really know what to expect. The hotel I’m in, Ben Lomond Suites, is just a couple blocks from the brewpub, Rooster’s. Both are pretty awesome. Ben Lomond has amazing rooms at cheaper than I’ve paid for crappy ones elsewhere – but then, this is probably an off-season for Utah; too late for summer activities and too early for serious skiing.

Skiing’s a weird word. I always want to put in an extra i. Skiiing.

In any case, I take back what I said in a previous post about not selecting lodging based entirely on proximity to the brewpub. Sometimes, you get lucky.

I’d been warned that Utah has funny rules about bars. For one, there are no bottles behind the bar. Rooster’s had a glass wall behind which was the brewing equipment, though, so I enjoyed the scenery. Apparently the reason for the no bottles behind the bar rule is that if you watch the bartender make you a drink, you might think it’s glamorous or classy or something, and you can’t have that.

Well. I’ll just be pleased that Utah has brewpubs at all, though this might be the only one I visit on this trip.