Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Where are we at? Where are we going? Soon we will all be dead, returned to the earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
The vastness of Arizona stretches out all around me, home to the nameless dead. For me the sad part isn’t dying. It’s fading away and being forgotten. There’s something to be said about blowing your brains out in your prime and living forever, instead of rotting away in eternal obscurity. There’s something to be said about leaving your mark.
I contemplate the markings at Newspaper Rock at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Birds. Deer. Wheels. Serpents. We do not know who made the stone markings, but at least their work lives on.
In the ancient myth of Enoch, the antediluvian holy man, was instructed to write the sacred secrets of heavens and earth on both stone and clay. If the world ended with fire, the baked clay would survive. If the world ended by water, the stone would live on to tell his story. Written into the myth is this deep throbbing need to continue to tell our story despite all costs.
This is why I write. This is my story.
Petrified Forest National Park is a nuclear explosion. Rock solid bits of wood litter the land landscape. Fell trees snapped like broken bone. It’s a pretty war zone. Souvenir collecting is tempting, but condemned by more than just the weight of the national park service. There is a higher power at work. Stealing bits of petrified wood carries threats of lingering curses. The information center displays letters of people who stole and lived (just barely) to tell the tale.
Lesson learned: buy your petrified wood from any number of the souvenir shops dotting the nearby backroads. Five-dollars is a small price to pay to avoid a curse so bad that a gypsy would be fearful.
We eschew collecting and enjoy the curse-free vistas, bordering up against portions of the beautiful painted desert. Here the gentle rock formations are banded with brilliant reds, purples, yellow, blues, and whites. It’s hot, vacant, beautiful. Our drive continues as we press back toward home, cutting through northern Texas. Just over the border in Amarillo is the Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation. Here mid-century Cadillacs are buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle mirroring the Great Pyramid of Giza. The sculpture is a constant work in progress. The viewing public is encouraged to add their touch, by adorning the cars with spray-can art. The cars are a constant evolution of graffiti tags in a crayon box of colors.
My addition is an ancient pictograph adorning rocks and cave walls all across the globe. This same image inexplicably appears across the American southwest, Armenia, Italy, Spain, the Alps, the Middle-East. It appears on Newspaper Rock. A squatting stick man, waste adorned by twin dots. One of the humanity’s first memes. It’s meaning lost to the ages. What was it to cause disparate cultures separate by oceans to decide to uniformly draw the same image? What was the story they wanted us to know?
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa The Grand Canyon is not so grand. We’re here because it is another lifetime must-see. Sure it’s massive; but perhaps too big for comfort. The natural wonder is not very approachable. Like a large mural painting, I have to step back to take in the view. Even then I’m only getting half the picture. Can something be so overwhelming that it is underwhelming? We stay long enough to take a few photographs to mark the visit and move on.
Williams, Arizona is our stopover. There we find accommodations at the Canyon Motel and RV park. It’s inexpensive, but a bit on the shabby side — hobo shabby, not shabby chic. Worse, the cable is out and the Wi-Fi signal is inaccessible. We see what the town has to offer by way of entertainment. Due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon, Williams is a thriving cluster of motels and tourist dives. Upon our visit, the main thoroughfare is blocked off to allow for an exuberant western show to be reenacted in the middle of the street.
We bypass the enthralled crowd and duck into Twisters, a kitschy diner with wall-to-wall Coca-Cola memorabilia. The food selection is limited mainly to burgers and fries, but the old-fashioned soda counter offers a bevvy of carbonated concoctions. The Cherry Phosphate is a delicious blend of bubbly soda water, thick cherry syrup, and maraschino cherries. The teenage guys working the diner, offer some impromptu entertainment as I eavesdrop on their conversation. One claims with conviction that blacks are better at sports because they have extra bone in their legs. His coworkers nod with belief. The conversation turns to playing the video game, Grand Theft Auto and I turn to my lunch.
The next morning we continue our trek home across the American southwest. We leave hot and dusty Arizona behind for hot and dusty New Mexico.
The Monterey Non-Smokers Motel in Albuquerque offers us comfortable accommodations for the night. The grounds of the motel are well kept with a keen attention to detail. Attractive flower beds of colorful geraniums border the walks and the quaint sparkling blue patio pool.
The motel is located near historic old town, allowing for a nice breakfast at the Church Street Cafe before our Rio Grande experience. This area is interesting with rustic New Mexican adobe architecture. We enjoy spicy adovada y huevos and coffee in a charming outside patio. It would be a great place to linger for a relaxed morning, but we must quickly dash to nearby Bernalillo for our appointment with Quiet Waters Paddling Adventures.
At the Quiet Waters shop we sign multiple waivers in the event that we drown, watch a safety video of people drowning, and get outfitted with life jackets so we don’t drown. I begin to fear for the worst until I actually lay eyes on the river.
The Rio Grande is not so grand. It’s a small stream compared to the rushing, muddy Mississippi back home. On the plus side, it allows for canoeing and kayaking, something that we’d be fools to try on the mighty Mississippi!
We carefully climb into a wobbly canoe and push off down stream. Despite being near an urban area, I feel isolated on the river. For long stretches the only other occupants to be seen are waterfowl, lighting on and off the gently rippling water. Along the way, a small team of firefighters wave from the shore where they are keeping vigilant watch on the surrounding cottonwoods threatened by recent fires.
The change of pace serves us well as we drift slowly by a picturesque backdrop of the surrounding bosque and distant mountain range. In our mad attempt to get back home the the leisurely trip down the Rio Grande is a much needed intermission. It’s a grand time.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
Mecca. Nirvana. The Holy Land. It goes by many different names to the faithful, but for the uninitiated it is known as Disneyland. I prostrate myself at its hallowed turnstiles and I am filled with a shuddering ecstasy: one of those big bastard Pentecostal grand mals.
After numerous trips to Walt Disney World in Florida, I finally get to touch the sacred soil of the California mother park. What’s the first stop? Space Mountain? It’s a Small World? The Matterhorn? All in due time. First I pull up a stool at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. The bar, named after the infamous Jungle Cruise headhunter, is a piece of kitschy South Pacific heaven.
The interior is a cramped space festooned with exotic Polynesian decorations. Outside, luau musicians serenade people lounging around an impressive stone fireplace. The Tiki Bar is everything I love about Disney on amphetamines, it’s not a bar, it’s an experience. I’m served up a tropical drink called the Uh-Oa in what can only be described as a large tiki cereal bowl. As the skipper sets it down before me the whole bar erupts in a chant over throbbing drums: “uh-oa, uh-oa, uh-oa.” Pinches of cinnamon spark as they are flicked on a flaming sugar cube floating atop a pool of rum and fruit juices. Around me, lightning flashes, water sprays, and a volcano goes off. I take a drink and my head spins. It’s that classic wholesome Disney debauchery. If I’m lucky I’ll wake up in the middle of a magical princess orgy. If I’m unlucky I’ll end up floating in the castle moat.
Most likely it’ll just end with me sinking into my posh bed near the top of the Fantasy tower at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s decked with fluffy white comforters and navy blue throw pillows reading “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” The dark wood headboard lights up with a twinkling display and plays a soothing When You Wish Upon a Star. Elegance like this comes at a hefty price. In order to pay for the room we nearly had to sell our daughter as an indentured servant in the Disney college program when she turns eighteen.
It’s worth it for the pure nostalgiagasm of the place. The hotel was opened in 1955, soon after the park opened, and today history oozes out of every crevice. Just off the main lobby is a collection of frame photographs of visiting celebrities and dignitaries over the years, including that lying crook Nixon. Our room has a framed, black and white portrait of the master of the mouse, Walt Disney, standing under the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Outside the elaborate pool includes water slides made out of old monorails winding down underneath a vintage Disneyland sign. It’s a Disney time warp.
At Trader Sam’s I run up a serious bar tab and chat with another couple. I spotted them out of the crowd and could tell that they worshiped at the altar of Disney. We bond over the fruity drinks and our mutual love of the mouse. They are California natives so we trade stories about the differences between the two parks. This particular family one ups me by sharing that they had the opportunity to go to Disney’s new Aulani resort in Hawaii. How was it? “Expensive, but so worth it,” they replied with familiar ecstatic eyes.
As a Disney World veteran, it is great to check out the source material. When I clear the Disneyland railroad berm I’m no longer in the middle of busy downtown Anaheim; rather, I’m transported into that happy place. I skip through the hallowed castle. I bask in the beauty of Mary Blair’s whimsical Small World facade. I join Mr. Toad on his wild ride straight to hell. I loudly catcall to the “red head” as roguish pirates raid the Caribbean town. I never, ever stop smiling.
The Disneyland park is a historical testament to the dedication of one visionary who had invested himself in making so many people happy. It’s an amazing legacy I’m happy to pay homage to. Just across the entrance plaza is the much-maligned California Adventure park. After an extensive billion dollar remodel, the park seems poised to reestablish itself. Through the gates I stroll past the art deco style buildings of Buena Vista Street, a tribute to Las Angeles circa 1923. We enjoy a fantastic meal at the new Carthay Circle Theatre restaurant. The interior of the restaurant evokes strong images of olden Hollywoodland high class. The first floor bar is a particular treasure. Their specialty is classic cocktails served up proper. I enjoy a gin martini, chilled to perfection with an ice sphere and garnished with an olive.
Beyond is the new Carsland, which note for note recreates Radiator Springs from the animated Pixar movie Cars. When the sun goes down the area sparks to life with brilliant neon. Life Could Be A Dream drifts romantically out of the loudspeakers. However, for all of the fun of the cartoon version, the real Route 66 awaits us, as we must soon say goodbye to the west coast and head home.
Our days at Disney end with a viewing of The Wonderful World of Color water show. Acrobatic fountains of water dance to sweeping music in a wild array of pulsating color. Dr. Leary would be impressed. We ignore the “you may get wet” warnings and take up a position right up front near the cascading jets. To quote the Flight of the Conchords, “I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face.” This is heaven.
Story by Anthony Mathenia Photos by Rebekah Mathenia
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
“I’m hungry,” my daughter whines from the backseat. I can think of few things worse than traveling with a newly minted teenager, especially one that happens to be vegan.
“Food This Exit” declares another Interstate sign. However for her the options at this exit are no better than those at the last.
“You want some fries?” my wife offers.
“I’m sick of french fries,” my daughter moans.
“How about a mandarin orange?” We have a bag of Clementines in the trunk.
“I’m sick of oranges.” Her voice is fingers on chalkboard.
I must have done something really awful in a past life. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the meatless horizon: the culinarily diverse cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles are coming up.
As we head west we make a brief side visit to the City of Sin to take my daughter to Veggee Delight. I’m a little worried as the GPS leads us through the Vegas Strip deep into the heart of Chinatown. However, the Vietnamese cafe owners are welcoming to this mid-westerner. It also seems to be popular with non-Asian locals; a few trickle in and take up seats in the tiny dining room.
I scan the menu offering a variety of Asian dishes with fake meat: chicken, beef, pork, tuna. TUNA? I double-check that I read that right. Yes, they have a meatless tuna. I shun the “tuna”, which is barely passable in its legitimate version. My daughter orders some kind of “beef” bowl. I’m not big on fake meat, so I choose something called “wet fried vegetables with noodles”.
I take a moment to ponder the ancient, oriental mystery of how a vegetable can be both wet and fried. Service is quick and soon I am tearing into my dish as fast as my preschool chopstick skills will allow. As it turns out the “wet” is a thin sauce over some fried vegetables (carrots, snap peas, shoots) and some crispy noodles. The food is surprisingly satisfying and soon we are back on our way.
We are only miles down the road before I hear again, “I’m hungry.”
“You want an orange?”
“I’m sick of oranges.” So it goes with vegan teenagers.
Continuing southwest into California, we watch the temperature escalate: 100, 101, 102, 103 … Through the vast Mojave Desert, Joshua trees dot the crispy landscape stretching out into a shimmering, hazy horizon. It looks wet and fried.
Our travel is interrupted as we are commanded off the road to a mandatory car search. State agents wave our Nissan up to a checkpoint. What are they looking for? Drugs? Booze? Illegal immigrants? “Ma’am do you have any citrus in the car?” a no-nonsense woman leans forward to ask. My wife nervously looks at me, her eyes as wide as saucers. Should we run for it Dukes of Hazard style?
Minutes later we are on our way again, but without our contraband in tow. California takes their citrus seriously and our illegal Clementines are not welcome in the Golden State.
“I wish I had an orange,” laments my daughter.
In L.A. we treat my daughter to another vegan meal. We arrive at Flore Vegan Cuisine on a Saturday morning while they are serving their weekend brunch. The diminutive seating area is packed with Californians enjoying a leisurely mid-morning meal and the daily newspaper. For the diners, there is no haste to finish so we join a small line forming outside. I impatiently wonder if vegan food is worth the wait. It is. When our name is finally called we are treated to an outstanding meal, rivaling some of the best I have ever head. I order some beautiful buckwheat blueberry waffles topped with bananas. My wife enjoys a southwest scramble, a tasty tofu version of huevos rancheros.
My daughter enjoys something even better than her vegan breakfast. She delights to spot SoKo, one of her favorite musicians, out for a walk. The French actress/singer is gracious enough to pause for a cell phone picture. She informs us that she is performing at the Make Music Pasadena festival later.
“Can we go?” my daughter begs.
When she hears my answer she responds with the usual.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
No offense, but Idaho is a shithole. This is no mere opinion based on my brief run-in with the gem state, but it has been thoroughly fact-checked and confirmed on Urban Dictionary. We may just be spoiled from the beautiful vistas we have seen over the last few days: the rugged canyons of the Badlands, the rolling grasslands of South Dakota, the tree covered mountains of Wyoming, the colorful thermals of Yellowstone. There may be beautiful places in Idaho, but we see none of them as we drive south down the I-15. It is all farms and factories belching smoke.
The only things worth looking at are the Teton Mountains in the east beyond the vast plains of dirty nothing.
Our next destination is Bryce Canyon in Utah, but first we must slog through Idaho. When headlights flip on and yawns start chaining around the car, an unsettling truth weighs in: we may have to stay the night in this forsaken land. We go as far as Idaho Falls before admitting defeat and pulling off the Interstate. We should be looking for a place to stay, but with the cooler running low, we take the opportunity to restock at a Super Walmart just off the exit.
Here, the universal truth is confirmed: no matter where you travel, the people of Walmart stay the same. A case in point is a lady with an undersized silver t-shirt that makes her look like a pink pork roast wrapped in tin foil. “Sweet Thang,” proclaims the ass of her sweatpants, wide like a billboard. When you shop at Walmart, you take care to dress your very best, and I fit right in with my matted hair, scraggly travel beard, and rumpled “Pawn Star” t-shirt.
Nevertheless, there is something comforting about this little slice of American redneck heaven. As we purchase sandwich goods and beer, I can close my eyes like Dorothy Gail (also from a shitty state) and intone, “There’s no place like home.”
Our shopping complete, we look for a place to sleep. When you stay at a new hotel every night, you are gambling on things like comfort and safety. So far our choices have proved positive, but Idaho Falls is home to the Guesthouse Inn and Suites. It starts out well, with the friendly hotel clerk informing us that they have one nonsmoking room left. We eagerly snatch up the moderately priced room, believing that the hotel roulette wheel is once again being kind to us. Little do we know.
Taking our keycard, we drive around to the back of the building, where it appears that the black asphalt parking lot serves as an unofficial hotel lounge of sorts. Small groups of rough-looking men are milling about, flicking cigarettes and draining bottles of cheap beer. As I park, I look up to a second floor window, where a man in a stained wifebeater is gazing down at us with a piercing stare straight out of a slasher flick. We should turn around, but it is late and it is only one night. That’s what door locks are for, I think as we haul our luggage to the back entrance, only to find that the security lock is broken.
At the door, a bald, heavily tattooed man pushes by us en route to one of the little parking lot parties. We drag our luggage up some stairs to a dimly lit hallway, which is flanked by a couple of worn cowboys.
“I fucked up that sonofabitch real good,” drawls one of the dusty men, sporting a mighty handlebar mustache.
As we squeeze past, he cracks his tattooed knuckles. Hard eyes follow the caravan as we move deeper toward our room number. Once there, it takes a few panicked swipes of my keycard before the door lock clicks open, allowing us entry. The second we open the door, we are smacked with a cloud of cigarette odor wafting out of our “nonsmoking” room. Perhaps there has been a mistake.
But like firefighters, we brave the smoke and push into the room, throwing the lock behind us. While my wife tucks her face into her shirt, I pick up the phone to call the front desk.
“Hello,” a pleasant voice on the other end of the line greets me.
“Hello, we just checked in and we are supposed to have a nonsmoking room, but this room reeks of cigarette smoke.”
“That’s a nonsmoking room; perhaps the smell is from a room down the hall.”
“I don’t see how. The hallway didn’t stink.” Perhaps this smoke passes through walls, Casper style? “There’s something else. The television is missing.” I gaze down at the unhooked coax cable limply hanging across the dresser.
Momentary silence at the other end of the line. “The room was just deep cleaned,” the clerk offers, not really explaining why the television is missing. “Would you like us to send up some air fresheners?”
My daughter starts coughing like a sixty-year-old with a two-pack a day habit.
“I think maybe we’ll just try some place else,” I say.
Moments later, we again move back to our car, past the hard eyes of cowboys, truckers, and potential serial killers. “What a shithole,” I say, as we cruise further down the Interstate.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
We are up early the next morning ready to enter into one of the most emotionally thrilling experiences of my life time. We head south where the road out of Red Lodge becomes framed by stoic white capped mountains. As we ascend the switchbacks, we put the majestic soundtrack to Disney’s Soarin’ on infinite repeat. My heart swells and I bawl like a baby.
There is a reason that Beartooth Road is considered one of the most scenic drives in America. At each bend and turn in the winding road you are treated to a new spectacle. It begins with a view of the snow covered grey mountains in the distance jutting out from patches of dark green trees.
We take a moment at a pull over lot to enjoy the postcard view. The early morning air is crisp and sweet with pine and chipmunks playfully scurry about. From there we continue on up the pass. The air chills noticeably. Heaps of fresh snow are packed on the side of the road and some skiers dart down the steep slopes, disappearing out of view. At the next turn we are treated to an expanse of icy glacial lakes as we near the peak, just shy of 11,000 feet elevation.
Our descent into Yellowstone National Park, brings us past brilliant, sparkling pools of water reflecting the picturesque mountains along side. Our entrance into Yellowstone is spectacular, wide open fields of gentle green hemmed in by tree-lines, and cut through with glittering creeks coursing over smooth stones.
The roads are lined with wildlife photographers hoisting gigantic telephoto lenses. I stop and pull out our diminutive Canon DSLR to take pictures of scampering groundhogs; I haven’t felt this inadequate since freshman year gym class. Yellowstone is a nature photographer’s wet dream.
You can’t turn around without looking at a scene straight out of a nature painting. In the park we are entertained with views of grazing bison, soaring hawks, mule deer, bull moose, brown bears, and hoards of Chinese tourists. At each stop, buses disgorge them and they trail after guides waving little flags. We follow them along the boardwalk encircling the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the park’s most famous geological features.
There, the ground belches out thick plumes of steam, through which tourists attempt to ward off the gripping stench of sulphur by tucking their faces deep into stretched souvenir t-shirts. Only their eyes are exposed gazing admirably at the rainbow palette of intense geothermal features. There are boiling pools of the most brilliant blue giving way to greens meeting edges of fire-like swirls of yellows, reds, and oranges. There are burping puddles of mud making obnoxious noises, which elicit gapes and laughters from amused onlookers. And there are Chinese —
Chinese everywhere. My wife and daughter torment me by picking out my Asian doppelgänger, a dumpy fellow with stringing hair and thick Coke bottle glasses.
There is so much to see, but with the clock swinging past noon, we decide to go and find something to nosh on. Back in the car we cruise past the thick forests, littered with thousands of fallen trees like white bones. These dead trees are a common sight around Yellowstone, knocked over by age, disease, fire, and wind.
We are enjoying our drive when suddenly out of nowhere, traffic grinds to a complete and total halt. Eventually we see the cause, a whole entire herd of bison have decided to use one lane of the two-lane road as a walking trail. My stomach growls angrily. “Run over the mother fuckers!” I road rage to the cars in front of me. They won’t.
According to the vice guide, wanton killing of animals in a national park is a definite no-no. We have to mollycoddle the bastards. Sometimes cars are able to pass them, but most edge back giving the lumbering behemoths the right of way.
The passing lane is blocked by cars going the opposite direction, slowing to take photographs or point and laugh at the long line of us. I learn that the average land speed of a bison on an asphalt road is between three and four miles per hour. After about an hour of painstakingly slow travel, the bison finally decide to get off the road.
We waste no time, exceeding the speed limit toward the Roosevelt Lodge restaurant. When the waitress asks me what I would like to eat. I don’t have to debate.
“One bison burger please.”
“How would you like that sir?”
“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” I snip.
After getting re-energized with lunch and calming down, we drive over to look at the Old Faithful geyser, another one of those lifetime must-do’s. In the packed parking lot, I pass a pickup truck, where ravens the size of small dogs are ripping the soft fleshy sides of a cooler to get at the meaty corn chips inside.
I make the mistake of walking too close and the nearest raven gives me a beady, black stink eye straight out of a Poe nightmare. “You can have the fuckin’ Fritos,” I say making a wider berth.
In the Old Faithful viewing area we find benches and await the explosion of the well known geyser. As I sit I have the opportunity to reflect on the last few days spent touring such scenic places.
Many of the crowd will leave, with a renewed commitment to save the planet. But, I’m not so sure the planet needs saving. This amazing place was carved by fire and ice, forces so much bigger than ourselves. Hell, just underfoot is a super volcano that packs the potential punch of a 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. When it goes it is gonna take a chunk of America with it. It strikes me as egotistical to believe that we can kill or save the earth. The planet has survived things much worse than us and beautiful places like this will probably exist long after we are killed off.
I’m lurched from my thoughts when the geyser begins to churn and the audience perks up. “Ooooh” goes the Americans. “Lalalala” goes the Chinese. The crowd erupts when Mother Nature blows her volcanic load one-hundred-and thirty two feet into the air to the delight of the cheering crowds.
As the crowds dissipate, I duck into a nearby gift shop and look for taffy.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
We leave Mt. Rushmore behind vowing never to return and continue northwest toward Yellowstone National Park. Entering Wyoming, the landscape changes again to sage green hills with a backdrop of dark green mountains. What can I say? This country is big and empty and beautiful.
As we head up Interstate 90, I begin to see signs urging to exit west toward Yellowstone. However, my wife insists we continue on toward Red Lodge, situated just north of the National Park across the Montana border.
We are lured by the promise of an ascent up Beartooth Pass, one of the country’s most scenic drives. Judging by our road atlas, we can continue north on I-90 until it wraps back west.
However, our GPS unit seems to know a short cut through Bighorn National Forest. We put our faith in technology, taking the suggested exit. If nothing else, a drive through of a national forest should offer better views than the Interstate.
The diversion begins in an outstanding matter as we navigate the narrow switchbacks climbing into higher elevation. To our right some fleet-footed pronghorn deer scamper up the rocky side of the road. We continue on through gates that close off these perilous routes during the winter. The need soon becomes clear as the outside air turns ice cold and snow dots the landscape even in summer. Things become even more dreadful in places where the weather battered roads break down.
With a rally car we might be able to make good time, but we have to move slow so as not to careen off road down into deep ragged, inclines. Our GPS continually recalculating our arrival time, pushing it later and later into the night as our fuel gauge creeps toward empty without a service station in sight. Despite our effort, Red Lodge appears as a still distant dot on the GPS display as we cross over the Montana state line. Sleep fogs over my eyes. “Turn left,” demands the GPS. I whip the car around and immediately mash the breaks.
“Road closed” warns a construction barrier. Looking past my headlight beams I see the reason; where my GPS insists there is a road there is nothing more than a roughly road-shaped dirt stretch loosely strewn with gravel extending off into pitch black night.
“Maybe we should turn back,” suggests my wife, “see if there is a hotel or something somewhere else.”
However, I’ve come too far and I’m too tired to admit defeat. I fly my civil disobedience flag and drive around the barrier. I flip on the hi-beams and hope that the road doesn’t terminate in a cliff and our trip gets cut short in some kind of Thelma and Louise tribute. I push the car further down the road, kicking up dust and gravel. I don’t have to fear for police in such a desolate place; my only concern is the road and the fuel.
The needle of the gas tank gauge is now buried on empty. We hadn’t planned on camping out; hopefully the road lasts. If not, at least we have turkey sandwiches and the last of that terrible Bud Light. The Nissan bounces up and down as we stumble over pot holes, fishtailing a bit around the curves.
My wife grips at the handle, cursing me; my daughter ignores the situation completely, zoned out in her iPod playlist. After a tense fifteen minutes the rumble subsides as the car tires clip back over onto pavement. Held breaths are forcefully expelled. My daring is rewarded because just a short time later we roll into the charming mountain town of Red Lodge, Montana.
During winter months, Red Lodge is a brilliant stay for those taking advantage of nearby skiing slopes. The town strikes the traveler as laid back, and perhaps a bit bohemian. The diminutive main street is filled with a chain of small cafes and bars, a legacy kept from the mining boom past, when the tiny town had twenty saloons. I lament that at this late hour, I’m unable to stop and close down one of them. Lodging is more of an urgent need than a gin and tonic.
We hope to stay at the Yodeler Motel, a kitschy chalet that has been in the area for over a hundred years and lovingly maintained. Unfortunately the outside neon decries “No Vacancy” leaving us looking for other arrangements. We find lodging next door at the lesser Lupine Inn.
There is a bed, but unfortunately the Internet connection is spotty leaving me to boost a signal from neighboring hotels. In our room, we spend the next hour periodically checking to see if Beartooth Road will even be open to allow passage into Yellowstone. Even in the middle of June it is iffy if the deep snow peaks will be cleared. Finally word comes from the stolen Internet, “PASS OPEN”.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
My eyes furtively glance at the rearview mirror checking for cops as the family car edges close to forty-five miles per hour, cruising west on South Dakota Highway 44. This particular stretch of asphalt is post-apocalyptic empty and flanked on both sides by green and yellow mixed grasses as the road cuts through portions of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.
My fourteen year old daughter stretches her short legs to give the car some gas as she accelerates closer to the speed limit. Early morning light floods through the windows catching the glint her subtle smile. This family road trip seemed the appropriate time to bump her into the driver’s seat.
The legal driving age in South Dakota is fourteen, so we are not exactly breaking the spirit of the law, though we lack the prerequisite forms and eye exams. I learned this from a vice guide I printed out from the dark basement below the regular Internet.
There you can find practically anything, crazy things like assassins. This particular tome of knowledge provides not just legal driving ages, but also for drinking, smoking, and other activities. It delves across the fifty-two states informing what is legal — some only barely by virtue of long forgotten laws and legal loopholes.
With each state in the union maintaining their own code of law, it can be a challenge knowing which states allow the smoking of salvia or the fucking of pets. In some places you can kill an Indian if he crosses in front of you.
Not that I endorse any such activities, but if you have the urge to get smoked up, screw your pooch, while shooting an injun, it is best to do it within the realms of the law like a good honest citizen.
This is the real fear that keeps good Libertarian men like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson from being viable presidential candidates. What one state views as a felony another simply sees as a wild Tuesday night.
Our next major destination is Yellowstone National park, with a quick bucket-list stop at Mt. Rushmore on the way. The famous sculpture is supposedly something that every God-loving American must see before they kick it.
It comes as no surprise that Mt. Rushmore started out as a mere money making scheme conceived to lure tourists to South Dakota. It’s a legacy that it is kept in tact to this day.
As we navigate the Black Hills region we pass through the small mountain town of Keystone, a terminal place kept alive by feeding on the millions of tourists that flock to see the famous sculpture. Like the corner crack dealer they seem to thrive on dealing their vile product to lobotomy eyed tourists.
Does the free world need this much salt water taffy? We should declare a war on it! Make it where the only way you can get fudge anywhere near a national park is in the ass of a drug mule.
Mt. Rushmore itself is highway robbery of the worst kind. To get up close and personal with the chiseled presidents requires a hefty parking fee. Our annual national park pass is confederate money here. Instead we bypass the lot and hang out of the car window, wildly clicking the shutter gangsta style as we do a drive by shooting of the four presidents.
For those who don’t get suckered into the pay lot, you can pull over for free just around the corner and gaze at the hawkish profile of George Washington. Much like your favorite Hollywood action star, he’s a lot smaller in person.
We take the opportunity to snap some pictures and enjoy a picnic lunch. My wife is a sandwich artist, a true turkey club Picasso, unlike those hacks at Subway. Even though it is a pain in the ass to keep food when living out of your car, the inconvenience is worth the atmosphere.
The luscious backdrop of ponderosa pine trees and blocks of glittering granite is far preferable to the view of a squalid McDonald’s Play Place, ball-pit littered with dirty diapers and used needles. Not to mention the smell; I inhale the sweet aroma of the pine and it becomes clear what all of those air fresheners have been chemically aping all of my life. I’d love to figure out a way to capture it in a brown paper bag and huff it for the rest of my trip.
Nearby the Crazy Horse monument is carved in Thunderhead mountain to honor the heritage of the Lakota people, or perhaps simply as another tourist magnet. As I eat my sandwich I contemplate a new monument to capture the true spirit of America. I just need to find a suitable mountain to deface with the sculpted visages of Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, and Gates.
We’ll have “God Bless America” playing out of loud speakers, fudge making, and five t-shirts for ten dollars for every man, woman, and child. I tear up just thinking about it.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
On the first day, we travel northwest through Missouri, then skirt the Nebraska/Iowa border up to South Dakota. It is a long marathon of a drive, made possible by our freshness and lack of road weariness. We end up crashing for the night in Arlington, South Dakota. It’s one of those between here and barely there blips on the map kind of towns. The whole of it seems to be a hotel, a restaurant, and a gas station sitting in wide open fields of green nothing.
The desk clerk is friendly as we walk into the Arlington Inn, a small hotel with decorative call-backs to its former existence as a Super 8, circa 1989.
“Are you with the class reunion?” she asks with a wide smile.
Is there a discount? I wonder, though it would be a hard fraud to pull off in what is most probably a graduating class of the six people sitting in the lobby reminiscing over tar black coffee.
“No, we are just passing through to De Smet,” I reply.
“Oh Dee Smet,” she politely corrects my foreign tongue. “Laura Ingalls-Wilder fans, hmm?”
She has the clairvoyance to guess the purpose of our visit, though in a place like this, it isn’t exactly hard. Why else would people stop by, other than to visit the places where Laura lived and about which she wrote in her Little House books? I have no embarrassment in acknowledging that her books are among my absolute favorites. I’m also unashamed to admit that I rip off The Long Winter, in my novel Paradise Earth, with gleeful abandon.
Even without a discount, the Arlington Inn is inexpensive. During our trip, we will repeatedly challenge ourselves to stay as cheaply as possible while still retaining the luxury of a room that doesn’t look like a CSI set painted with body fluid.
After unpacking, I walk next door to the 1481 Grille to wind down with a much needed beer. I’m joined by my wife, but my daughter hangs back at the hotel. It’s probably for the best, I think, as I glance over the mile long menu. My daughter entered this world as a picky eater and spiraled into a mad vegan—the kind that doesn’t eat salad.
I order a Boulevard, a crisp wheat ale garnished with an ample lemon wedge. Drinking the cold beer, I survey the seeming regulars at the bar. Sitting next to me is a slender old woman who looks a bit like the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt. She’s enjoying a Hamm’s lager in a tall pilsner glass with a garnish of olives, a touch of tres sophistique. To her right is a dusty fellow in a camouflage hat and a sleeveless jean jacket with motor oil and Harley-Davison patches on the back. He is draining bottles of Bush Light as quickly as the bartender can twist off the caps. Somewhere between bottle four and six, he dials a buddy to negotiate the purchase of a horse saddle.
“I won’t pay less than a hundred and fourteen dollars,” he demands into his antique flip-phone, sharply pointing his finger toward the nonpresent individual on the other end of the line. I’m impressed; even inebriated, he is a master of negotiation. Satisfied at closing the deal, he snaps shut his phone and orders another Bush Light. He has less success convincing the Cryptkeeper to stick around and suck down beers with him. “Stay and have another,” he pleads.
“I can’t have another DUI,” she protests as she chomps down her beer-battered olives and slithers off of her bar stool.
“I got one of those before. It was a setup,” he says and then takes a long drink from the amber bottle.
I shouldn’t have to worry about a DUI with the convenience of a hotel just next door, but who knows what kind of small-town Barney Fife justice passes in places like this. Besides, we have another long day ahead of us. I decide to cut it off after my second beer. As we get up to leave, the man wants to know if I want to buy a horse saddle.
“It’s a steal at two-hundred forty,” he says with a sly grin, tipping bottle eight toward me.
The next morning, we head out to nearby De Smet. In the town, you can take a walking tour of a variety of locations significant in the life and books of Laura Ingalls-Wilder. Our first stop is the original Ingalls family homestead, just outside of town. It is here that the real Laura walked, not the freckle-faced, bucktoothed television version.
Nothing remains of the original 1880 homestead but the twisted, aging cottonwood trees that Pa Ingalls planted to prove up his 157.25 acre claim. Even today you can glimpse what he saw in this spot. It is quite picturesque, as the low wind rustles the prairie grass and the planted grain. Here, along the walking trails, are newly built period buildings: a school house, a dugout shelter, and a reconstruction of the Ingalls’ original claim shanty.
There is a professional “Ma” on staff, who tends a vegetable garden and the small menagerie of barnyard animals in the hay-roof barn. She gives us a tour and is a wealth of olde-tymey knowledge, like how to make lye soap and braided rugs. “If you lived in Laura’s day, you might already be married and pregnant,” she says to my unimpressed daughter. I muse at the lack of privacy in the tiny, thin-walled shanty and wonder how anyone got pregnant at all.
At a nearby workshop, we learn to make rope, corncob dolls, and twisted hay sticks, the kind that the Ingalls family burned to stay alive during the long winter of harsh blizzards when coal was depleted. The activities are overseen by a plump-faced teenager working her first summer job after graduation from high school. It’s her first week on the homestead, and already she likes it more than her previous job at Subway. I tell her I’m from the St. Louis area, and she gushes like it is an exotic, exciting place.
“I want to leave and become a film director,” she says with a careless optimism that only the young can manifest. When I ask her who her favorite director is, I’m ready to fill in the blanks from a short list. “Tim Burton,” she answers. It is embarrassingly predictable. When she laments that her family is not encouraging her to pursue her dreams, I offer that I think she would be a fool not to. It’s a reckless thing for me to advise, because I don’t think that she can actually make it, but I figure failure is a lesser evil than being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
I complete my tour by scaling the lookout tower and surveying the expansive sea of prairie grass extending miles out across the flat land toward the distant horizon. It is here that I attempt to summon the spirit of Laura Ingalls. I recently watched a documentary about comic artist/professional crazy Grant Morrison, and he claims you can conjure up the spirit of anyone.
What the hell. I attempt to clear my mind as I reach back through the ages to connect with the pioneer girl. She appears on the prairie grass below me, running with her older sister. She stops as if noticing me. I raise my hand and wave hello. She smiles and offers a tentative wave, before returning to her play. I blink and the connection is broken. The young pioneer girl fades back into time.
As we leave the homestead, I latch on to a vagrant Internet signal and my phone blips as fresh e-mail funnels in. I read the first one, where the editor of my novel Happiness: How to Find It is taking me to task for my use of the word “boughten.” According to her, using archaic, nonstandard English begs bad reviews.
What she doesn’t realize is that the 19th century colloquialism is another one of my nods to Laura’s books. Will I consent to a change? I look out at the prairie, diminishing in my rear view mirror, before sending a reply. Absolutely not.
Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa
I’m simultaneously trying to keep a blanket wrapped around me and keep an insipid can of Bud Light wedged between my chattering knees, as heavy gusts of wind whip across the South Dakota Badlands.
Despite this being an otherwise scorcher of a summer, the weather at night in the national park is positively arctic. The cutting chill is a small price to pay for the nighttime spectacle—the overhead dome of black sky is lit up like the best Christmas ever.
My God, where did all those stars come from? Back home, the air is choked with acrid refinery smoke and the stars are blotted out by the spillage of city glow. When you have a chance to really see the stars in the most pristine air in America, you don’t ask why the ancients were always looking up. You totally get it. I get it, even though by anyone’s measure, I’m not the outdoors type.
South Dakota is our first stop on what will be a two-week long family road trip. Truth be told, I was dreading this trip. Thousands of miles crammed in a car to see trees and grass and endless stretches of nothing, except for the occasional smeared road-kill—I didn’t think it would be my thing.
I’m not into climbing or kayaking or tree-hugging or whatever else draws people out of hard-won modern comfort to fight the so-called great outdoors. I counted it as an achievement that I made it to my mid-thirties without setting foot in a national park.
When my wife and I first got married, our travel coalesced with the touring schedule of our favorite rock band, Throwing Muses, and the solo performances of front woman Kristin Hersh. Our fandom carried us to cities like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and New York. I love cities—the culture, the entertainment, and especially the restaurants. Fifteen years after the fact, I’m still waxing poetically about a revelatory meal at Nobu, New York, like it was the birth of my child.
When my daughter came along, we traded big city rock clubs for sunny, saccharine jaunts to Walt Disney World in Florida. This was our travel for ten years, until we blinked to find that our pixie-dusted princess was a withdrawn teenager with a faux-hawk.
I think that is part of what lured me out to the road. Somehow an old-fashioned great American family road trip seemed like a last ditch effort to capture a moment before it slipped away forever. It seemed a reasonable effort to reconnect as a family, forced into a Nissan Altima with no place to retreat.
So in the summer of 2012, we decided to tackle this majestic nation, starting from Alton, Illinois, going west and back, hitting as many scenic must-dos as we possibly could. We considered it a tasting sample of the best America has to offer. We had no planning except for our midpoint of southern California and a list of national parks that were positioned between here and there and back again.
We headed out on a Saturday morning, after a Tetris grand master effort of packing our car for our two-week excursion. My mind was stuck on my day job. Would they be able to get along without me? It was tough to get away from my long-term place of employment, because unlike most first world countries, America has a deep-seated grudge toward vacation time. It made me feel strangely ashamed to opt out of productivity like a shiftless vagabond.
It was only for two weeks, but it felt like a guilty luxury, despite other places in the world where three weeks or more was standard—a fact that I was reminded of by the glut of Europeans at most of our stops. I did my best to push the guilt out of mind as I shifted the car into drive and left home.
Story and Photos by Linda Kissam If you miss that feeling of carefree abandon and going on a road trip…then read on my friends. Frankly, I think many of us in our college years were too busy prepping for finals, looking for summer jobs, or just didn’t have the cash on hand or an airplane to fly to do much with their last spring break. So I am offering you a chance to go back in time and have the spring break you should have had in college–but better, because you’re a little older, a little more responsible, and of course better funded!
Picture this: Southern California’s two most impressive wine countries, Temecula and Julian, filled with fun people, all looking to have a blast as they sip, swirl and nosh their way through the vineyards. I can promise you incredible food available all day and all night, premium wines, great accommodations, music, and fun stops, all laid out for you. Think wine tasting, hot air ballooning. Olive oil tasting, golf, hard cider tastings, glider plane rides and more. This is an ideal vacation for anyone, but I am thinking this is really perfect for those who are 35+ and really ready to get loose and have a good time. Sound like you? Strap in and read on!
Day One – Temecula Wine Country
10 AM – Arrive in Temecula Wine Country About 45 minutes from Ontario Airport, about 12 miles from the French Valley Airport (Private planes), andjust about 7 miles off the I-15, this is an easy place to fine. Whether you fly or drive in…take Rancho California Road east. The key to enjoying yourself is pacing yourself and visiting 4 pre-selected wineries. I’d give you directions, but we all have GPS, so I won’t waste the space. Here are my favorites.
10:15 AM – First up, Thornton Winery
This is a beautiful French chateau looking property that offers both indoor and outdoor sit-down tastings in the Champagne Bar or their famous Café Champagne Restaurant. Winemaker David Vergari has created premium still and sparkling wines to die for. Just added to the menu – chocolate wines. Yup, they’re actually quite good! Personable service, good prices and a killer hors d’oeuvre menu created by Executive Chef Steve Pickell sells this place. Check out www.ThorntonWine.com for hours and 2 for 1 tasting coupons.
11:30 AM – Briar Rose Winery
Just around the corner, and maybe 8 minutes from Thornton Winery, this upscale boutique, by reservation only winery takes itself seriously…and for good reason. Their amazing wines ranging from $28 – $1,300 and will knock your socks off. It’s a special experience from start to finish from the Snow White Cottage theme, to the smooth, complex wines. Check out www.BriarRoseWinery.com for hours and reservations.
1 PM – Ponte Winery
Time for lunch. Just about 10 minutes from Briar Rose you simply must stop in at the Smokehouse Restaurant at Ponte Winery where you will sit out amongst the vineyards. Views, menu, and hospitality are incredible. Great wines for every palate and plate. You’ll want to linger for a while and after lunch enjoy their wonderful gift shop – one of the best in wine country. Reservations a must on the weekends! (www.Pontewinery.com)
3:00 PM – Keyways Winery
This winery is on De Portola Wine Trail, about 15 minutes from Ponte. You’ll quickly notice the terrain changes from your Rancho California Road to one that focuses on more of an equestrian feel on the DePortola side. Gorgeous, relaxing, unique is what makes the area and this particular winery worth the drive. The wines are fabulous; the décor is thoughtful and engaging. The best bathrooms in wine country – almost art -like in concept! This owner knows details. The grounds give of a Zen vibe, and when this winery showcases local musicians indoors or outdoors, guests find themselves caught up in the moment. Truly a memorable experience. (www.KeywaysWinery.com) 4:15 PM – Check into your hotel I recommend Temecula Creek Inn. Good rates and they often feature special packages that include golf and wine tasting. Try their Temet Grill for superior wine country cuisine. 6 PM to 8 PM – Head off to Old Town Temecula
About 10 minutes away. Park your car at Front and Main and walk to late afternoon olive oil tasting at Villa Di Calabro or the Temecula Olive Oil Company. It’s a fun, unique experience. There are also four or more tasting rooms to visit. My picks include Lorimar Winery’s tasting room and Tesoro Winery’s tasting room (www.TesoroWinery.com). Both are staffed by fun knowledgeable people and stocked with premium wines you are going to love. Lorimar Winery is known for their incredible promotions. Tesoro features a classy, well-stocked gift shop and an outdoor tasting garden that allows you to people watch well into the evening. For evening fun, try The Collective featuring many local small lot wineries without tasting rooms. Day Two – The Wynola Business District in Julian
8 AM – Road Trip! After a great breakfast at the Temet Grill, you’re ready to get into your car and head out to the Wynola Business District in Julian. Much has been written about the town of Julian, but I am giving you an insiders tip – spend some quality time in Wynola before you browse the town of Julian. It’s about a 90-minute trip. Take Highway 79 South to Highway 78 (left) to Wynola. You’re going to enjoy the pastoral wide, two-lane highway drive. It meanders past cow pastures, the Warner Springs Golf Course www.WarnerSprings.com/golf.cfm, Santa Ysabel Casino www.SantaYsabelCasino.com, and the Sky Sailing facility in Warner Springs www.SkySailing.com. If you stopped at each place, it could be an 8-hour trip. You can also catch an awesome wildflower display in nearby Borrego Springs. Each stop is unique and worthy of a spring break experience.
10 AM – Wynola Business District
Watch out for this quirky, strip mall kind of business district on the left hand side. The easiest sign to read – and your first stop – is Orfila Winery. What a find! Seriously good wines here folks. Manager Jeff is a great host and often offers samples of unique cheeses: Local lilacs are blooming so Jeff will be selling fresh lilacs by the bunch. You cannot possibly imagine what a special spring break sensory treat a tasting room full of Lilacs presents. Linger awhile, take it all in. And hey, Jeff even offers non-alcoholic cider for your designated driver. A must do! Check out their Web site for tasting coupons (www.Orfila.com)
Next door check out the Julian Hard Cider store. It just recently opened. Yup, with 7.27 percent alcohol, this refreshing drink has a good kick to it. The Julian Hard Cider recipe originates from 1670 colonial America and is comparable to the finest British ciders. It took 4 years to build the tasting room. According to owner Paul Thomas it was built using all reclaimed wood from the Julian area. History buffs will be delighted with the interesting photos on display. Seems Paul tracked down a bunch of old photos with historical significance from Julian neighbors, scanned them, and then framed them using frames from the local Goodwill. Paul is a wealth of information and as energetic and friendly as they come. This is a pleasant stop not to be missed. Check out hours, tasting fees, etc at www.JulianHardCider.biz. 12 PM
Walk a few more feet and you’ll find Country Cellars. This small tasting room features San Diego wines and beer. I loved the names as much as the beverages. Who wouldn’t love beers named Inferno Ale, Serpents Stout and Black Marlin Porter? How about wines from Cactus Star/ Scaredy Cat Ranch, or Woof n Rose Winery? This is a perfect place to sample local San Diego adult beverages in a casual atmosphere. Check out all the options at www.CountryCellars.com.
Julian – You can check out Julian on your own now. Spend a couple of hours browsing and strolling the charming town. A great lunch and some more wine tasting is available. It’s just 10 minutes from the Wynola Business District. (www.JulianCA.com)
3:30 PM Julian Pie Company
Who can resist having the best apple pie ever? Certainly no one on spring break. Heading back to the I-15, at the convergence of Highway 79 and Highway 78 , you’ll find the pie place of your dreams. This is a casual place – self-service and counter stools. They’re focused here. No fooling around, it’s all about the pies. Stop in for a slice and cup of coffee or a latte. I am pretty sure you’ll be taking a whole pie to go. www.JulianPie.com
Time for your designated pilot/driver to head back to the airport, it’s about a 90 minute drive, but you’re refreshed, invigorated and loaded down with bottles of wine, beer, and pies. Seriously, did we have fun or what?
Private Plane Pilot’s Guide
French Valley Airport is located in Southwest Riverside County, adjacent to the communities of Temecula, Murrieta and Winchester. The airport, located on Highway 79, is only minutes away from Interstate 15 and the 215 Corridor . Outstanding climate and minimal congestion make takeoffs and landings easy at French Valley Airport. The wide-open approaches and ground support services accommodate most aircraft including jets and turbo-props. The filed is composed of two runways 18 Left, 36 Right. More info here www.rivcoeda.org/Default.aspx?tabid=522
Story and Photos by Brian Leibold Do you own a bike? If not, get one! If yes, do you know how to ride it? If no, learn how! (And question the wisdom in owning a bike and not knowing how to ride it). Now that everybody has a bike and knows how to ride it how about you… Go on a bike tour! But first read this. Then go, man! Maybe train some to prepare and perhaps learn how to fix a flat tire. Then take off, man, ride on! Actually I would strongly suggest purchasing panniers or a trailer to carry supplies first. Then definitely take off, my fellow vagabond, get, ready, set, go! But don’t leave without first of course deciding where you want to take off. Then by all means, what are you waiting for, you nomadic rascal, go! But I would suggest taking your time and thinking about it first. There’s no rush. It’s not a bike race, it is a bike tour (not to be confused with the Tour de France or similar tours of that racing nature. —Words of Wisdom #1: Do not confuse “bike tour” with “bike race.”It is not a race. On a similar but at the same time different note, the words “It is not a race” could also be applied to life. That could be a book, Life: A Tour, Not a Race. Or something. Some might not know what a bike tour is. It is self-explanatory. A bike tour is when you have your bike, you put all the stuff you need for however long you may be touring, whether it is for a weekend or a year, and then you go! Some people just start from where their bike is, while others ship their bike to another place and go from there (I shipped mine to Montana).
— Money Saving Tip #1: It is cheaper to ride a bike that you already have than to purchase a bike that you don’t have to go on a bike tour. Also you don’t really need a great expensive road bike to go on a tour, just a bike that is dependable. —Money Saving Tip #2: Most bike shops will ship your bike to another bike shop for cheaper than it would be to ship it on the plane. So do that. Last fall, I took off time from college and joined my cousin for a leg of his bike trip. His was an adventurous epic that began in Washington (state) and just recently finished in Washington D.C. (On The Res, his blog about his trip). I would bike over 2000 miles and explore the states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona (BML ON THE ROAD, my blog). It surprised me a little just how easy it was to get accustomed to being on a bike for 6 or more hours a day and putting in as many as 100 miles a day. If I can do it, having very little biking experience, so can you! So go! But finish reading this first. The first distinctly memorable place Richard and I biked to was Yellowstone, the first National Park in the country. Yellowstone is made for bikers and hikers. While cars have to wait for scenic overlooks in order to stop, where hundreds of other cars create hungry horrid mobs of mass pulsing humanity, the biker hiker community is able to avoid the mobs by stopping at unofficial points to explore off-road. And so the first place in Yellowstone we biked was famous Old Faithful, which was not off-road but needed to be seen and so we saw it. We experienced the spouting, spurting, springing, old-in-years-but-still-with-youthful-raw-get-up-and-go-energy, timeless geyser that is Old Faithful, uncontrollable in its pure natural wondrous power exploding out of the ground phenomenally and perpetually, with a sort of violent vigor like a surreptitiously but supernaturally strong Samson shaking and bursting up towards the surface, longing for the open air, to be freed from the shackles and constraints which held it down in the discolored volcanic ground.
—Fun Fact #1: Yellowstone is the world’s largest active volcano. In that way, the geyser was sort of like some vagabonds who live in the way they do in order to escape from the shackles and constraints of modern day society and by traveling and seeing and experiencing new places and meeting new and wonderful people, they set themselves free. —Fun Fact #2: I just compared Old Faithful in Yellowstone to vagabonding. We explored Yellowstone for many days, and it never failed to drop our jaws with its geysers and raging rivers twisting with snaky sinewy vigor through the eternal Eden and peaks and mountains and just the general heart-warming wondrous naturalistic beauty of the place. Beauty can be found most everywhere in America if one searches hard enough for it, from big, industrial, neon-brightened cities to small, lonely ghost towns that lay neglected and forgotten off never-ending highways in the western night. But in Yellowstone the traveling vagabond is able to experience a land that is preserved to look like the earth did back before all the skyscrapers and the endless development and the constant construction, and even before there were houses or railroads, and back to an even earlier era still when men and women perhaps lived in caves, or just out in the wild under the stars, reveling in the natural glory of the land around them.
And so with our ancestors of yore in their graves or wherever their spirits may lie, we paid our respects to our possibly-cave-dwelling vagabond ancestors by exulting excitedly in the land around us as the sun slapped our sweaty brows as we biked up to precarious peaks and the wind whipped us with a frenzied rush of bursting gusts as we heehawed and yodeled all the long way down. We would go on to many National Parks on the bike tour, including Grand Teton immediately following Yellowstone, Zion and Bryce Canyon both in Southern Utah, Grand Canyon, and lesser known but no less wonderful in their own way parks such as Craters of the Moon and City of Rocks in Idaho. And at every park, especially when the tourists and sun-setters (those who see only the sunset and then promptly leave) were scarce, I would feel that sensational sensation of experiencing land in its original state. And so if you wish to live the life of a vagabond biker, I would suggest that you get your bike out of the dusty dark depths of the back of the garage, put some stuff you need on the bike, get on the bike yourself, and go! First maybe see if any of your friends want to go with you. Then take off, man, go! First, though, of course say goodbye to your loved ones, and tell them you love them, and give them a handshake or naw, be demonstrative! Pretend you’re going for the handshake but then give them a big old hug! Maybe even get a little emotional. Then go! Ride onwards, westwards, southwards, eastwards, upwards, downwards, any wards! Jump in the air and fly like an exotic vagabond bird, a nomadic eagle with wings spread! —Words of Wisdom #2: Ride out onto the road! It is open ahead. Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.
In early October of last year, I and seven other members of a conservation corps (usaconservation.org, not a bad gig for the youthful vagabond, free housing off project, free food on, free time to explore the American southwest on and off), head eastward, Texas-bound, after a tough 8 days working on trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeast New Mexico. We head to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua.
Our first stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the largest wilderness area in Texas, just over the New Mexico-Texas border. In the midst of the Texas desert, a cool calm stream runs through McKittrick Canyon under the rocky cliffs. When compared to the rest of Texas, there is no comparison. Texas is known for its flatness, its uninteresting monotony, so mountains are a welcome change. The Canyon has life “that is part desert, part canyon woodland, and part highland forest.” We arrive at noon, set up tents, and start hiking.
Early in the hike, we see a rattlesnake. I almost step on it, it blends in so well with the shadows and rocks. We wait for a few moments for it to slink away. And it does, retreating with a sort of sullen hurt pride, snakily twisting its way across the rocky desert floor, aware of its lowliness. Don’t tread on me, the snake seems to hiss. Definitely a Texan snake. We circle carefully around.
As we climb up higher, the typical desert prickly pear cacti and walking-stick chollas and yuccas and mesquites disappear and maples, red and orange under the warm October sun, appear. It grows colder and more colorful, more like the weather and foliage of New England than the Texas desert. We make it back to the campsite at dusk, the sun shining on the very tops of the mountains then slowly sinking down the juniper-scattered hillside.
In the morning, I wake up early while everyone else is still in their tents. We are heading to Big Bend National Park, but not for a few hours. I have time to pack up everything, put it in the van, and start climbing up one of the trails, not stopping until I reach Guadalupe Point, at 8749 feet the highest point in Texas, a 3000 foot climb from the campsite. I stay at the top for a few minutes: the wind is powerful, views spectacular. I am the highest man in Texas, actually the highest man in the US anywhere east of New Mexico. As I descend, another man is coming up, ready to take my place on Texas’ throne.
I run down, in the type of mood where one feels compelled to yodel, singing ZZ Top, those good old boogie rocking bearded Texas boys. Though by no means a sharp dressed man or a man of means, I do have some cheap sunglasses and was for eight minutes the highest man in Texas. And that counts for something.
We drive on to Big Bend in our big white van. Driving is not my favorite way to travel, but there is sort of rambling joy that comes with driving on some desolate desert road to nowhere. We are on the desolate desert road to Big Bend, and we listen to Marshall Tucker Band:
“Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station
I don’t care where it goes”
On the way, we stop at an American Legion for a piss stop. It doubles as a bar and one of the regulars there, who tells us to call him Hollywood, is a character who looks like he may have spent the last ten years continually drunk. He doesn’t stop talking for the hour we are there. Some of my favorite of his lines:
—Everyday above ground is a good one.
—I don’t need any girls. I got my dog.
— You know how Jesus died and then rose after three days. There was this gun fight yesterday. It’s documented. I didn’t even need three days.
Did he have a job? Did he have a wife? Don’t think so. He was just a pure Texas renegade in the wilds close to the border, sure of only one thing, that there was nothing sure in this world ‘cept laughter and beer, a rebel against who knows what.
We spend this night in Terlingua, a ghost town next to Big Bend filled with misfits and travelers and outlaws. When I think Texas, I think of Terlingua. To the wanderer searching for those few places in America outside the law, where unemployment and poverty and a vagabond mentality make one rich and wealth makes one strange, where indolence is seen as a virtue and ambition is looked upon as a bizarre and contagious plague that is ravaging society, Terlingua is definitely worth spending some time in, if only to listen to the stories, because everyone there has got one. The job of the people who live there is to have no job, to live their lives as they please free of all governmental influence.
Personally, I couldn’t spend all that much time there. I respect people who resist normality and live outside the law, but for a bohemian outlaw town full of dissenters from the mainstream world, they seemed a little too content with their place in life, too settled. They weren’t traveling, exploring, vagabonding. Their world was their town. Which works for some people, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks there, but before long I’d get restless, like all vagabonds do. And the cure to restlessness is movement. So we go on down the road.
The next day we go on down the road to Big Bend. We stay there two days. It feels that we are not only out of Texas, but in another world altogether. To describe Big Bend is to fail. It soars above and beyond words, resisting definition and definitive analysis. The first day we lie contentedly in an oasis of warm water next to the river, the muddy Rio Grande, which rumbles through the craggy cliffs.
On our side, America. On the other, Mexico. For a second, I get the insane urge to swim across the border, illegally and ecstatically leaving my friends and co-workers behind, wearing nothing but my shorts, with no plan but to keep moving. I do not swim to the other side, since I would have to pay a hefty fine if caught. Plus, I have no ID on me, a necessity now in this world of identification and regulation. The Rio doesn’t give a damn if it’s flowing through Mexico or the US; it just flows, that’s all. Some people care though and say on this side is one country, on the other side is another, separate and far from equal. The river flows, that’s all.
And, after a long day of hikes and exploration, so do we, leaving Big Bend and flowing on to the next adventure.
Story by Linda Kissam and Photos by Allan & Linda Kissam
Some people like to bring a little comfort from home on vacation – like a pillow. Others want to know their TV shows will be available for them to watch while on vacation. Still others want to leave home behind altogether to learn all new things and broaden their horizons. This Wine Diva wants to bring her favorite wines with her on vacation AND learn about the newest trends in food and beverage combinations. Where did I do that? On a Holland America cruise to Alaska. Buckle up babe; this ain’t your grandma’s cruise line any more.
Cruise ships have so many onboard amenities now that they seem like floating hotels and special event centers all wrapped in to one. Carrying over 3000 guests along with fine restaurants, health spas, yoga instructors, and (my personal favorite ) sommeliers… that’s probably not totally inaccurate. Each day brings a wealth of interesting cruise activity and personal indulgences. A person could get use to this special treatment in a nano second.
Every evening before going to sleep, I looked forward to reading the ship’s daily list of activities. I woke up knowing that this cruise ship brings a wealth of cruise activities and indulgences, along with the freedom to partake in as many — or as few — as I pleased. No pressure, no hassle…just indulgent choice. Every day, every minute…in front of me was an opportunity to try something new that surprised and engaged me. Holland America’s tag line, “Dabble, discover, daydream — do everything, or do nothing at all” pretty much says it all.
Memories are what cruises are all about. Whether you want to work out in the fitness Center, learn how to make some killer cocktails, take afternoon tea, pamper yourself with a massage and spa treatment or sip a cappuccino and check your email in the Explorations Café, there’s a perfect onboard activity for everyone. As a known Internet junkie the last two options – cappuccino and Internet were some of my favorite moments. There’s something to be said about kicking back, surfing the Web, sipping premium coffee…all while doing some serious sightseeing between emails, cruising lazily by the beautiful green, green, green Alaskan scenery.
I could go on and on about the great shore excursions, sassy late night shows, spa services, beer tasting classes, endless exquisite cuisine, jewelry sales, and casino opportunities, but I think The Culinary Arts Center program presented by Food & Wine Magazine deserves some serious space. It is a groundbreaking facility and program that integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine by presenting a unique entertaining experience. I like the way they encourage you to immerse yourself in the unique traditions and tastes of the ports of call you will visit. The best, best, best part for me was the opportunity to dine with the ship’s executive chef Troy Wastell for a gourmet three hour , six course “Dine with the Chef” extravaganza, sample fine wines from California with executive winemaker Don Rhea, and learning to make a new gourmet dish in a cooking class taught by Master Chef Hervé Laurent.
A special toast goes to Mary Schimmelman, Holland America Line’s public relations manager, for allowing the group (50+people) I was with (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) the opportunity to customize a few tasting events over 4 days by bringing aboard our own chef, our own winemaker and our own wines. You may or may not want to do the same, but now you know the opportunity is available to you.
First up was a private food & wine pairing tasting with executive winemaker Don Reha and Chef Laurent. We learned about food and wine matching while exploring the wines of Monterey, California. The wines selected for this tasting were chosen based the unique attributes of the nine diverse AVAs that make up Monterey Wine Country’s Thermal Rainbow™. The coolest regions are north moving to the warmer regions in the south by time dependent thermal gradients that stretch down the valley. The cool to warm gradients present a Thermal Rainbow® effect that reflects the diversity of growing regions and the specific varietals that are grown within each AVA. For example, cool climate-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in the north while Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and many Rhone grape types flourish in the warmer south. It was great fun having both a chef and winemaker explaining how and why food & wine pairing work. This particular tasting served as the foundation for our next three tastings. Hervé and Don did a great job bringing us all up to speed on the most current trends. The Monterey wines were exquisite and set us on the road to expect excellence throughout the next days.
The next day we were back in the Culinary Center with Don Reha tasting three new wines: a bright green fruit and citrus Un-Oaked Roche Winery 2009 Carnerous Chardonnay ($18.95), a 2008 North Coast Cab ($33.95) food friendly red berry beauty and Chocolais ($12) a gorgeous rich Swiss chocolate, thick Dutch cream & fine Italian wine combination. Each wine was paired perfectly with a bite of food. The group was beginning to get their wine & food pairing groove on.
Our next tasting was sponsored by Thornton Winery fine Champagnes. Conducted up in the Eagles nest, this was a one hour casual tasting that included 4 Champagnes with small tray passed hors d’oeuvres. Talk about indulgent pleasures, the group of 40 people were pampered with NV Blanc de Noirs ($24), NV Brut ($24), NV Cuvee Rouge ( $26), and a 2004 Brut Reserve($38).
Our class demo in the Culinary Center with Chef Laurent on salmon pairings was inspirational. We learned how to prepare salmon and three tasty sauces to go with. Chef Laurent is a master of his trade. We were all very glad we were able to spend some time with him.
A new day brought a new tasting adventure. This time we treated to an extensive Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Paso Robles tasting. Niner sent us a short CD to watch which set the mood and helped us better understand the Niner philosophy. The crowd of over 40 attendees was wowed as Don Reha once again led us through a unique food and wine tasting asking us to stretch our wine and food pairing skills. Of note during this tasting were the 2009 Sav Blanc ($17) with tart kiwi, lime and lemongrass notes. It had a beautiful crisp mineral characteristic; 2008 Sangiovese ($24) showing strawberry and carnation spice with big bright juicy raspberry and cherry flavors. Yummy mouthwatering finish; 2007 Syrah ($20) showcasing complex layers of black fruit, berries, plum and a smoky oak character with black pepper and spearmint attributes. My favorite by far; And finally a 2007 Cab ($28) that would knock it out of the park with a Cheddar Bacon Burger or Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Sauce. Classic herbal notes , fine tannins and a long finish made this a group favorite.
Our final tasting before going home featured Zaca Mesa estate grown and bottled wines. Zaca Mesa is a Santa Ynez Valley Estate vineyard and winery dedicated to Rhône varieties. Each wine is hand crafted with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Once again the 40+ members of our group loved these wines for their rich distinctive characteristics. The tasting included a bite of food to go with each wine. Each wine was presented and discussed thoroughly by wine expert Don Reha. Starting with the fabulous 2009 Viognier ($20), this wine had a gorgeous nose of honey suckle and orange blossoms. What the nose promised the palate delivered with rich flavors of melon and peach. A stunning white, worth whatever price you can get it at. Next up was the luscious 2007 Roussanne ($ 25). This is a wine for people who want to explore different white wines. It’s a full-bodied beauty featuring rich apricot, spiced pears, figs and a hint of minerality. Yum! The 2007 Z Cuvee( $ 20), a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault was a charming medium-bodied wine with flavors of blackberries, herbs and some light smoky oak. Our final taste was the 2008 Syrah ($25). Another winner for sure, everyone was delighted by is rich blackberry, cassis and spice nose. All in all, Zaca Mesa was one of the best tastings of the cruise.
So I guess between the beer tasting classes, the high tea adventures, learning how to make new cocktails, dining with two outstanding chefs, getting coaching from a master winemaker, and sipping cappuccinos while watching the gorgeous Alaska scenery float by… I’d have to say that this type of vacation is just what this Wine Diva ordered. I know you’ll enjoy this new kind of wine, brew and spirits adventure as much as I did. Think about booking a cruise for your next vacation.
Chef Hervé Laurent‘s SALMON PAIRINGS
10 people INGREDIENTS:
1 Salmon filet
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Washington red wine
1/2 cup Maple syrup
50 g Dark chocolate
1 cup Washington white wine
50 ml Cream
100 g Unsalted butter
1 Orange (juice and zest)
200 g Firm papaya
50 g Fresh ginger
1/2 cup Sugar
250 g Smoked bacon
1. Chop shallot for both sauces.
2. Reduce red wine by half with maple syrup and 1/2 of the diced shallots. Remove from the heat and add dark chocolate. Season.
3. Reduce white wine and the rest of the diced shallots until dry. Add cream and season – on a low heat add small cubes of chilled butter.
4. Cut papaya in cubes and ginger in small strips – cook with sugar and the same amount of water.
5. Bake the smoked bacon until dry. Then chop using the food processor.
6. Scale the salmon, wash under cold water dry then cut in high cubes, leave the skin on.
7. Season the salmon with salt.
8. Cook the salmon in a hot nonstick pan, with olive oil, ¾ on the skin side, ¼ on the over side.
9. Garnish the dish with turned vegetables (pan fried with butter) or stuffed vegetables with mushrooms (and baked).
10. Decorate the plate, 4 cubes of salmon, 3 with different sauces on top, 1 with chopped bacon, finish with vegetables.
“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “
Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.
I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.
Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.
I’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.
“The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”
I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss. The driver:
Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.
Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:
Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy . out national parks.
For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.
Finally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.
I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.
The same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.
But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.
The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.
The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.
And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.
But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?
Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.
A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.
This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.
With a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.
The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.
Yup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.
Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.” The opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.
Sleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.
If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood