Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Go West Happy Cow

Since we left Madison, our trip has been a bit of a whirlwind tour of the northern states. The brief (or not so brief now that I finally finished writing it) overview goes something like this...

We left Madison with plans to camp nearby and spend a few days in Minneapolis/St Paul. After deciding the twin cities would be better visited at a later date and in the company of two veteran tour guides (Bert and Laura), we pushed past the campsite and drove well into the evening to a rest stop just beyond Minneapolis. We rearranged the car, unfurled the bedroll and bunked down for what we thought was going to be a difficult few hours of rest. Eight and a half hours later we woke up completely refreshed and mildly annoyed that it took us almost six months to master the art of sleeping in our car.

Armed with the knowledge that we could sleep better and more easily in the car, than in a tent we continued the west/northwest journey into North Dakota with Teddy Roosevelt National Park in mind. As we drove across the state, we decided that the state motto should have been "North Dakota....Yup, 'bout what you expected." We pit stopped briefly at the park and let Emma run wild for an hour or two. Back in the car we looked at a map and a calendar and realized that given our motivation, the weather forecast and our projected stops along the way, we could be in Portland in time for Lincoln's first birthday the following Sunday. We quickly outlined a route and headed towards Billings, MT for dinner.

This is a good opportunity to point out that the culinary offerings of Billings leave something to be desired. If you are looking for a good steak joint you're in luck. If you're looking for somewhere you and your wife can eat for under $20 that isn't fast food, you might have a harder time. After running out the clock (everything in Billings shuts down early) looking for something local, we gave up and opted for at least something I'd never had before: Red Lobster. Imagine the joy on our faces when we discovered that it was indeed the last day of "Lobster-fest" and we hadn't missed out on all the festivities! Oh joy of joys! We split the salad, soggy lobster nachos, and cheddar bay biscuits (nothing goes better with nachos than biscuits, right?), came in a dollar under budget, AND got our weekly sodium intake in one sitting! What more could a road warrior ask for?

The next day we got a full tour of Wyoming when we failed to confirm ahead of time that the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park was still closed for the season. You might think we would be past the bush league errors like that, but you'd be wrong. You are never too experienced to continue being a moron. Our detour took us from Cody, down through the glittering, metropolitan centers of such towns as Thermopolis, Rivertown, and Dubois on our journey to Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. All joking aside, of the many detours we've made on this trip, our jaunt across Wyoming was one of the most beautiful.

Most of the trails in Teton National Park were still under snow, but we were able to walk the four miles out from the ranger station to Jenny Lake and enjoy being in the shadows of the Tetons for several hours. We had dinner in Jackson and set up camp near a state park between Teton and Yellowstone. The morning greeted us with panoramic views of mountains and a huge field for Emma to explore. From there we headed into Yellowstone National Park for an animal and geyser filled day. As the afternoon rolled around, we headed towards Helena for dinner and drinks with an old coworker of mine. After dinner with his wife, Tim Guisti treated us to a night on the town we are likely not to forget for a long time.

We had previously decided that given the state of Teton and Yellowstone, Glacier National Park was probably also going to have a significant portion of the park closed. Rather than driving so far out of the way, we took a layover day in Helena. We had brunch, worked out, visited the library and indulged in all the creature comforts we had forgone in the past few days. Sated, exercised and showered, we cruised through the mountains and into Missoula for a tasty dinner of salads and beers at the Iron Horse Brewery. Brunch in Missoula the next morning and we were off again.

We spent the better part of the morning driving down the mountain, alongside the Lochsa river. The hundred miles of white-water rapids made for a very scenic drive and before we knew it, we found ourselves in a wine tasting room in Walla Walla, WA. A few sips of wine and a long walk around town with Emma and we finally admitted to ourselves that there was no way we were going to sleep in the car again (no matter how good we were getting at it) when the only thing standing between us and the basement apartment Monica offered to let us use in Portland was a four hour drive.

And so here we are, in Portland, staying with the perfect hostesses Monica and Anya, and enjoying ourselves quite a bit. Something about Portland just feels right. Maybe it's the home brewed beer that rivals the best from the rest of the country. Or maybe it's the green in the politics as well as the trees. Or perhaps it's the backyard BBQs where the babies seem to always end up running around naked. Whatever it is, something about Portland feels like home. And it is nice to be home...if only for a little while.

North Dakota-Yup

There was a bear down there...we were too far away to see with our camera, but some people let us look through their binoculars. The bear is one of those specks in the middle of the picture. She had just woken up for the spring and had her cubs with her. This picture is really just a spot to tell you this story since you can't see anything. Hope you enjoyed it.

The Tetons

And again

Old Faithful


Lots of Bison

Beer and Cheese

The only sound I could make after our long weekend in Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee was the muted cry from my inner organs (my liver and stomach to be exact) for a much needed cease-fire.

Holly, who lives in Madison, WI, started her all out assault on our once-healthy livers by treating us to an afternoon at Wrigley Field. She opened her sunrise attack by hurling a few rounds of Miller Light towards us from Murphy's bar near the stadium. She continued the barrage throughout the Cubs-Brewers game with bottomless beers and endless food on the rooftop deck. Just when we thought we might be able to retreat with a few liver cells intact, the General MacArthur of Wisconsin assured her victory with round after round poured forth from bar after bar in Chicago.

By the morning light, we were able to gather the wounded soldiers and mount a retreat north towards Madison, where Holly had a milder, more healthful (healthful....what an annoying word) day planned for us. Our powers as rain gods seemed to be diminishing and we were fortunate enough to enjoy a beautiful afternoon walk around Madison and the University of Wisconsin. For our fancy dinner at the local sushi spot we were joined by one Bert Pinsonneault-choral director and runner extrodinaire. We spent the better part of the next day similarly, adding the luxury of fancy cheeses, Wisconsin beers, and card games.

That evening found us at the world-wide movie premier of "Go West Happy Cow," a low-budget movie about a guy wearing a cow costume who drives west with a trailer full of "Happy Cow" brand beer. The cow-dressed-star himself was there to ensure the premier went off without a hitch. Watching the movie was like watching baby movies of children you don't know; it can be cute for a while, but after a half hour you start looking for an exit strategy. Unfortunately, I don't think Paramount will be picking up the movie anytime soon. On the upside, we followed up the premier with a stop in at the Essen Haus for a few boots of quality Belgian Beer. If I recall correctly, my liver might have made an alcohol induced call to Bert for reinforcements. Unfortunately, the reinforcements did not arrive. Shame on you Bert.

Undeterred by a night out on the town, the next morning we were in Milwaukee at noon for a tour and VIP tasting at the Sprecher Brewery with a dozen of Holly's friends. After a rather lackluster tour of the facilities, we were escorted through a large barrel, and into the VIP tasting room. The host more than made up for the lackluster tour with a fantastic hour and a half of perfectly paired beer and cheese tastings. From there we carpooled and cabbed over to the Lakefront Brewery downtown where we just missed the last tour of the day. We consoled ourselves with a few samples and an impromptu dance party to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA." Believe it or not, from there we stumbled to the Milwaukee Ale House for dinner and a final round. While Paige (who had abstained for the last half of the day) drove us back to Madison, I fell asleep at roughly 6pm. A mere 13 hours later, I awoke refreshed and ready to face the day! My only request was please, no beer.

Before we headed out of town we spent the afternoon with Bert and his wife Laura, who had just flown in from her sister's bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Needless to say, she was onboard with the no beer request. We enjoyed lemony drinks at the coffee shop and pizza before he decided it was time to shove off and set sail. And so, shortly before the sun set, we once again, with destination uncertain, hopped on the road and headed west.

Paige on the rooftop

Paige and I with our lovely hostess, Holly

Tulips at the Capitol

Capitol Building in Madison, WI

The Barrel that led to the Magical Tasting and our Tour

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wrapping it Up

Though our trip is not over yet, we're certainly approaching the end of our big adventure. Our original plan involved traveling for a couple more months, starting in the southwest, and then chasing summer north into the mountains.

While a few of the stops planned for this portion of the trip are still on our itinerary, we've decided to shorten our stay in this part of the country. For many of you, this might come as a shock -- arguably this part of the country is peppered with sights and terrain that beg to be explored in an open-ended fashion. But in the end Zach and I feel now is not the right time.

We're worn out. Living on the road takes its toll after a while. We miss the normal routine of everyday life -- having our own space, seeing friends, cooking meals that don't involve more than one canned good, and being productive through work and/or school. Ultimately, we feel like neither of us would be able to enjoy these places like we want to in our current state of mind. Instead of feeling excited and anxious for our next stop, we both struggle with feeling like we should feel those things. This wasn't an easy decision, but in the end we think it's the right one.

So what's next?

Well, we're visiting Portland for one last PNW fix then we'll head back to Houston via a Idaho, Utah, Colorado route. We'll still stop in a few places along the way, but ultimately plan on being back home within a month.

Keep checking for new posts -- we'll still be blogging up until we end the trip (and who knows, maybe even after), and love to hear from all of you keeping tabs on us. To "The West," worry not. We'll be back, well-rested and in a better state to enjoy you soon enough!

Ann Arbor, the bus, and Indy

While Zach was denying himself all the pleasures of modern convenience, I was enjoying a little R&R with friends in Ann Arbor. While the highlight of my visit was certainly seeing old friends, I also found time to stop and take in all the wonders that AA had to offer, including:

  1. Powwow: Fry bread, drum circles, chanting, southern cloth -- so good.
  2. Dominick's Sangria: Nothing says springtime in Ann Arbor like Mad Dog 20/20
  3. Cafe Felix Martinis: Dirty, dirty, dirty -- and yes, I'd like extra blue cheese stuffed olives
  4. Good-Night Gracie's: Ann Arbor, are you really not smoke-free yet?? Okay. I'll drink away my shock.
  5. Pizza House Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake: I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to replicate you since graduation. You were worth all the dairy issues I experienced for the following 24 hours.
  6. Advil (see 2-5)
  7. IRB: I am still the only chick in your weight room.
  8. Rehearsal: Sotto Voce. Do you know what it means? I do.
  9. Zingermann's Raspberry Brownie: Magical.
Thanks to Kat and Lloyd for hosting me...I miss you two already!

Monday I started my greatest solo adventure yet -- taking the Greyhound bus for an 8 hour, two transfer ride to Indianapolis to meet back up with Zach at my cousin's place. I was pretty stoked about my 8 hour ride after reading about "the buses" on the Greyhound site. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the Ann Arbor to Detroit to Dayton to Indianapolis route was not one of those chosen for this improved bus-riding experience. Instead of my own outlet, wi-fi, leg-room, AND a seat belt, I enjoyed 8 hours and two transfers of musty, stuffy, shoulder-to-shoulder fun with 80 of my new best friends. On the upside, several of new best friends were fresh out of rehab camp (this made for good eavesdropping) and my seat mate had the sweetest rat-tail I had ever seen. Go Greyhound!

I arrived, stinky, but safely in Indianapolis where Zach, stinkier, fetched me from the bus station and then drove me to see my cousin, Heather.

Heather and I are only 9 months apart, so we spent the better part of our youth together. Heather and her husband, Justin, and their sweet puppy, Maya, live in a very lovely, soon-to-be-vacated bungalow in midtown. From their place we were able to explore their community via a great shared path that runs through the city. Emma and Maya had a blast on our day out to the brewpub -- both pups were totally exhausted after our afternoon excursion, which worked out well for the non-canines. We got to continue enjoying the beautiful weather over dinner outside. Heather and Justin were also nice enough to show us their very lovely, soon-to-be-occupied new home complete with a fantastic view of the wooded flood plain.

Zach also took a shower. Yay!

Unfortunately, we kinda sucked at taking pictures during this portion of our trip. Bummer.

Fortunately, we took more in Chicago, Madison, and Montana, and if we get our acts together, we'll have posts on that portion of our trip soon for you!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Side Story to Make You Happy

This is a true story. If you are having a bad day and like puppies this should cheer you up. If you don't like puppies then shame on you.

Emma and I were cruising down Bert T Coombs Mountain Parkway in the middle of nowhere Kentucky when I saw a dog loping down the side of the highway. Being that it was a lightly trafficked highway (but a highway nonetheless) I decided to pull over and try to grab her. Emma could use a sibling, right? I chased her up and down the shoulder of the highway until some other people pulled over to try and help. They ended up scaring her into the middle of the road where she got by a car going about 50 miles an hour.

I picked her up to move her out of the road and realized she was still alive. The other people that pulled over offered to take her to an emergency vet. As I loaded her into their car, she started to come around more. We traded phone numbers and they promised to keep me updated as to what happened. I talked to them the next day and discovered that they took the dog to the vet and that she was not only alive, but had no broken bones and no internal bleeding. They were planning on keeping the dog once it got released from the veterinarian's.

So there you go: dog finds new home, people get new dog, Emma gets to remain a spoiled only child- happy endings for everyone! Now cheer up.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

As of late, Paige and I have had a difference of opinion regarding climbing. I acknowledge it for what it is-the greatest sport ever. Paige disagrees. It isn't so much that she hates the sport, but she doesn't like it enough to do it for very long. Alas, when she's done with her three climbs for the week, she tends to gets really, really bored. The problem is compounded when we are in the same middle-of-nowhere place day after day after day. Places like New Paltz, NY and Jasper, AR aren't exactly overflowing with things to do. So in the interest of marital bliss, we decided to split up for a weekend recently while I went climbing and Paige caught up with her friends in Ann Arbor. We would rendezvous three days later in Indianapolis at Paige's cousin Heather's house.

So, we left Rochester and bee-lined it over to Ann Arbor to spend a night catching up with Maggie, Kat and Lloyd. After brunch at the Flim Flam (oh yeah, the diner was called the "Flim Flam"), I bid Paige adieu and took Emma for a weekend of camping, climbing and hiking at the Red River Gorge down in Kentucky.

A scant six hours later Emma and I found ourselves hiking through the beautiful hills in and around the Red River Gorge. We spent the three days climbing in the morning and hiking in the afternoon. The Red River Gorge was a breathtaking place with a higher concentration of overhanging walls, cliffs and natural arches than I would have ever expected possible from a small town in Kentucky. With so much climbing potential, it was no surprise that there was already a small village of tents, hippies and full time climbers in a field next to the local pizza shop. Needless to say I had no problem finding climbing partners. For those that are familiar with the area and/or interested, I spent two finger aching days climbing at the Gallery in the Pendergrass Wilderness Area and the Left Flank & Fantasia in the Daniel Boone Forest. By the end of the three days I was filthy, hungry, sore and overall quite content to spend a few days resting in Indianapolis.

Overall, the split up worked out phenomenally. While I never cease to amuse myself with hilarious quips and commentary along the road, I think I ceased amusing Paige somewhere around Beaverton. The three nights apart allowed us both to do what we wanted, without dragging the other person along. Our only regret is that we waiting so long before flying solo from time to time.

Emma romping along the cliff

Grey's Arch



Row Row Row Your Boat

You might say that rowing was the theme for our mid-week "weekend" in Rochester. We met the master rowers for drinks, yelled at the freshmen rowers from our dinghy, rowed on the "erg," and even practiced with the old fogeys.

In addition to getting his PhD in Rochester, our friend Mike is a full time rowing coach. The requirements for being a rowing coach involve the ability to steer a motorized dinghy and a willingness to yell at people when they do things wrong. This would be a good time to mention that Mike excels at both of these things. Naturally, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn how to row from a world class expert while we were staying at his house.

Rowing lesson 1-Hydration is important:
Like all athletic ventures, hydration is the key to optimal performance. Accordingly, Mike had us meet him at the Acme Bar as soon as we got to town. We spent the evening mentally and physically preparing to be rowers. Like all good rowers, we hydrated with generous servings of Molson and pizza. The highlight of the night had to be near the end of the night when Mike and his friend both shoved their faces into a cake that someone had left at our table. This was all done in the name of rowing excellence.

Rowing lesson 2-Practice time is flexible:
So it turns out 7am practice can be difficult to make. Especially when they don't kick you out of the hydration facility until 2:15am...and then Mike makes you continue to hydrate back at his house with Crater Lake flavored vodka. Fortunately for Mike, his freshmen called him at 7:05 for practice. We decided to skip this practice. Mike showed us proper form later in the day on the rowing machine in his attic.

Rowing lesson 3-Fueling up is important:
After Mike got back from practice we spent the afternoon walking around Rochester and hanging out at Mike's place. After we went to the Salsa dancing night, we decided to fuel up with a traditional Rochester dinner. Mike introduced us to the world famous Rochester plate. It is a plate half covered with waffle fries and half covered with pasta salad. To this natural pairing, the chef introduces a generous portion of chile and finishes off the signature dish with two hamburger patties. If you can eat it without throwing up, you're ready to learn how to row.

Rowing lesson 4-Good form is important:
Since I was barely able to finish the Rochester plate without throwing up (but just barely), we were ready to learn proper rowing form the next morning. Mike took us out in his motorized boat to learn from the freshman rowers. He made them demonstrate perfect form...over and over and over and over again. He put the poor kids through the paces. By the end of the session on the Genessee river and the Erie canal, I felt exhausted for them. After the grueling preparation, we were finally ready to row ourselves.

Rowing lesson 5-Clash of the Titans sucks:
This isn't really a rowing lesson, but it seemed like an opportune moment to point out that the movie sucks. Don't watch it-even if your wife is obsessed with "the original" and you are looking for something to do when it is raining in Rochester-don't watch it. Learn from my mistakes people.

Rowing lesson 6-Practice in a tank:
We had never heard of rowing in a tank, but Mike was coaching an old people's rowing class at "the tank" so he took us with him so we could learn how to row. Basically, the tank is a big warehouse with two ovals of water and a lot of oars and seats. People use it when the weather is too bad to row outside. Mike pushed us and the old people through a blistering workout for an hour and a half. By the end of the workout, I had a whole new respect for his freshmen.

Rowing lesson 7-Don't waste so much time with lessons:
The last day we were there, we were going to take a boat out on the river and actually row. Unfortunately, by this time, all of the boats had gotten loaded onto the trailer for their regatta that weekend. So we didn't end up rowing on the water. Oh well. On the upside, we did learn how to play bridge. Speaking of which, if anyone in Houston is interested in channeling their inner grandparent and joining us for a weekly bridge night, that would be awesome. Old people clothes optional.

Mike Fantasizing about yelling at freshmen

Freshmen Rowing on the Gennessee River

Mike with cake on his face

Mike dreaming about yelling at the freshmen

Rochester plate: not so good for the belly

Look, it's the Erie Canal!

Paige rowing in the tanks

Me rowing in the tanks: spandex is awesome!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paige Smyth: Delicate Flower or Hardcore Beast....You be the Judge

When I asked dear old Paige what I should write about, she immediately replied "I don't know, I've been sick for the past week." Perfect I thought, I'll write about that! So with that as the inspiration, here and now I would like to settle the age old debate: Is Paige a fragile butterfly (one who gets sick at the drop of a hat) or is she a hearty mountain goat (albeit one with an adorable face)?

Argument in favor of Paige's fragile status (fragile):
She gets sick (or at least thinks she does) more frequently than someone on immunosuppressants.
Argument against (Hardcore)
She generally manages to carry on with life while she's sick. During her last round of sickness, she played the role of a tough Vermonter and suffered through a grueling day's work at three different factories. Granted, her only work included sampling Ben and Jerry's ice cream at the Ben and Jerry's factory, sampling cheese at the Cabot Creamery, and sampling syrup at the maple syrup farm. (counter argument: is she really sick every time she thinks she is?).
Edge here goes to: Fragile...
It is not hard to be a factory worker in Vermont. In fact, it must be delicious!

During the east coast's most recent battering of storms, she did not go on a hike in New Hampshire with me.
I did not go on a hike with me either.
Edge here goes to: Hardcore...
Since I am the barometer by which all earthly toughness is measured, if I didn't do something, clearly only a superhuman could have done it.

Paige made me watch the station Bravo while we were waiting out the rain at the Mount Madison Motel in New Hampshire.
She worked out while she watched all the horrible programming.
Edge here goes to: Fragile...
While working out when you're sick might seem like a hardcore thing to do, it is neither a good idea nor recommended by the surgeon general. Penalty point assessed in favor of Fragile.

Paige napped in the car while I went on a ridge-line hike over three "mountains" at Acadia National Park.
Paige hiked up the steepest trail in the park with me the next day
Edge here goes to: Hardcore....
Napping in order to recover and be more hardcore tomorrow always earns you hardcore points in my book--that's why I personally try to nap at least three times a day!

Paige couldn't eat all of her food at the "Angler" in Maine when we sampled their "Restaurant Week" menu.
This meant I got to eat a significant portion of her lobster roll
Edge here goes to: Hardcore...
More lobster for me always makes you hardcore. Everyone, keep this in mind if you would like to be considered hardcore in my book

Paige would not sleep in a tent with me when it was 8 degrees outside in Bishop, California.
Paige did camp with me when it was in the teens, twenties and thirties throughout California, the Florida, the Carolinas, and Maine.
Edge here goes to: Hardcore...
Paige has camped in the cold with me just about anywhere we didn't find a campsite completely under water. This included camping at Acadia National Park during the last night she was sick.

I haven't been counting, but I'm pretty sure I'm right and the total is overwhelmingly in favor of her being a fragile butterfly. Any effort to point out that the opposite is true will be met with a death stare from me and five minutes of shunning. Feel free to weigh in and tell me that you agree with my analysis. Dissenters need not comment.

***Oh, and in case you are curious, we're currently bunked down outside of Boston, MA with Josh and Cameron. We've spent the weekend being showered with generosity, hospitality, and beautiful weather (it certainly doesn't take a hardcore person to appreciate that!). Tomorrow we'll load up and spend the day meandering through Rhode Island and Connecticut before we set up camp outside of New Paltz, NY for a few days of climbing at the Shawangunks! All in all, things are going exceedingly well. As always, thanks for your continuing support and encouragement while we're on this trip.