Category Archives: Travel

Backpacking: Southeast Asia Itinerary

The time has come to travel again. I was aiming for a trip towards the end of the summer but for some reason wasn’t feeling motivated to figure out where to head to or to make travel plans. Thankfully that has changed. Travel is and has been one of the best things in my life for a few years now. It’s opened up my view of the world. It’s allowed me to connect to and understand different people from both my country and from the world. It’s allowed me to see some of the most amazing things that both nature and humanity have been able to create. I need travel. I need to see the world. It’s something that I have to have in my life. So if there’s ever a time I don’t want to be making travel plans, it is worrisome for me. It’s an indication that some part of me is broken. I’m glad that the desire is back, and I can’t wait to get back on the road.

I have a somewhat rare chance to be able to do whatever I want to do with my life. For months now there have been no restrictions on what I’ve been able to do. I haven’t enforced any rules for myself and I’ve stepped into areas that I was not able to explore previously. I’ve been able to live exactly as I have wanted and have been able to openly feel and explore the world. It’s been great. Time like this is somewhat rare, but an effort should be made to obtain it if you can find a way to do so. With having so much time to myself I knew that I wanted to go through with some big travel plans.

My top five lists of travel destinations in no particular order are:

  • Southeast Asia
  • Eastern Europe
  • Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand
  • India
  • Southern Africa

When I travel I like to visit a lot of places in a short period of time. I like to road trip around and bounce from place to place. There are few better places in the world for me than being on the road, or the water, or in the air traveling to some new destination that I have always wanted to go to but have never been to before. These five destinations provide plenty of earth, water, and sky for me to explore. They are all places I have never been to but want to go to at some point in my life. I’m not really sure where the desires come to for some of them. I definitely want to see the entire world, but these five are preferences that I want to see first.

Initially when looking at this list, there was no place where I wanted to go to more than any other. So I needed to work through some sort of process to figure out where my adventure would be. One thing that I usually do when I travel is check up on current events. The first place I usually start is the U.S. Department of State’s International Travel’s list of alerts and warnings. The U.S. will “issue a Travel Alert for short-term events they think you should know about when planning travel to a country… and a Travel Warning when they want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all.” I wouldn’t use this list exclusively to determine if a location is safe or not safe to travel to, but it’s a pretty good start.

There are currently some interesting alerts and warnings on this list. For example there is a Travel Alert for the entire continent of Europe. That’s something that to me seems insane. Specifically France is listed for the European Soccer Championship and the Tour de France cycling race. Poland is listed for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day event, which is expected to draw up to 2.5 million visitors to Krakow. There’s no other specific countries European countries listed under this travel alert but the U.S. had decided to group the rest of Europe in as a general alert.

The Philippines Travel Warning was another thing that I was not familiar with. It applies mostly to the Sulu Sea area and is there due to the high threat of attacks and kidnapping of international travelers.

The list of alerts and warnings and the state of the world is constantly changing, so this information will be out of date within a few days, but the point is that it would be somewhat irresponsible to head out to a location without knowing a bit of the risks associated with the journey. I wouldn’t let most of these alerts or warnings keep you from traveling but you should be smart about the environment to limit your risks.

I laid down the 42 alerts and warnings listed at this time on to a map. I used the online tool from Maploco if you have an interest in generating a similar map. It’s pretty remarkable what is listed here as either an alert or a warning. Again this map is not definitive. It includes areas that I don’t feel should be on here and it does not include other areas that it probably should. For example you are probably fine touring around the vineyards of Bordeaux or the Alps of Switzerland although there technically is an alert for these areas. You also might want to consider Rio if you will be in the area during the Olympics. Research the area you are going to for current events and be smart and keep an eye out when you head to new locations. Don’t be paranoid, but be safe.

Travel alerts and warnings
Travel alerts and warnings

Most of my top 5 came up as places that were safe to travel to. Eastern Europe I guess is technically under alert. Sure the eastern areas of Ukraine around Donetsk and Luhansk are certainly pretty dangerous. Violent clashes there have led to over 9,000 deaths. A portion of the Philippines is under warning. While eastern Ukraine and the southern part of the Philippines are likely to be off limits for me personally, most of my top 5 is still feasible.

Now that safety is confirmed, I need to look at some other aspect to cut down my list to an individual destination. One place I can remove from that list is Eastern Europe. I recently saw a large portion of Western Europe two years ago. Eastern Europe, while extremely different, is too similar of a destination for me. It’s not challenging enough to me at this point in my life. I want something more difficult. I want something that will change my worldview and push me as a person.

For the same reason I can get rid of the Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand trip. That also would be a tremendous trip. But the difficulty level associated with this trip is not much. It seems too easy and not rewarding enough. How challenging can it be for me to be relaxing on the beaches of Waikiki, spending time in Sydney, or bouncing about the Milford Sound? That’s all stuff I’d love to do someday, but it won’t be my first choice for this trip.

That leaves me three locations that I might want to travel to at this time. Southeast Asia, India, and Southern Africa. All three of these locations are going to shatter my worldview. They are going to challenge me. I am going to grow from the experience of traveling around these places.

At this point I’m going to read about other people’s trips to these areas. I’m going to try to assemble a list of things I want to see or do in each location. If this sounds like a lot of work to you, it’s probably because it is. It’s just the way I like to travel. I don’t mind the work and research because in doing so I am learning about the world and learning about myself. Any time spent on travel in any way, even these planning stages, has always paid dividends in my life.

The plan is to spend about a month and a half or two months traveling. I’m not sure why that number but it just feels right based on past travel, the time I have available, and the things that I want to see on this trip. Anything less probably wouldn’t gain me the experience I am looking for and anything more would probably conflict with things that I want to do after this travel is over.

After some time looking into my remaining locations I decide on Southeast Asia. I chose it mostly because it’s a popular traveler location. The path is fairly worn. The areas have been tested and tried. I’m not pioneering anything by going on this trip, but it allows me the right mix of seeing a totally new part of the world while still doing it in a safe and comfortable way. Sure every travel blogger and instagrammer has been here and taken all of the cliche shots way before me. But for me this trip is pretty much exactly what I want. It seems like a natural progression from my Western Europe trip.

I also really really want to eat the food that I’ve seen so much of on television from this area. Soups and noodles and mystery meat street food. And the sights. Epic historic buildings and locations that I haven’t even heard about yet. Cultures that I have no experience in. Beautiful beaches. Nature that I can’t find anywhere else. I suppose this would have been the same for the Southern African region or the entire country of India, but I just am a bit more interested in Southeast Asia at the moment. It’s been a thought on the backdrop of my subconscious for a long time.

So where am I even going? How do I get around from place to place? How long am I going for? Do I have time to squeeze in a bit of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia since it’s on the way? Will I be able to swing further up the coast into China, South Korea, and Japan? Time to plan out this itinerary.

The way I went about building an itinerary is to start with googling “best places to visit in Southeast Asia”. From there I took the first two pages and parsed through the results, assigning a ranking to each location and country based on how many times it showed up on a list and how high it scored on the list. This is a process I think I want to automate when I get back as it is very valuable. I basically have no clue about where to go in Southeast Asia outside of some general ideas. But by parsing through Google results I am able to assemble the knowledge of many professionals which gives me a good idea to start with. By using the average knowledge of various experts you quickly have access to very useful information even though you are clueless on a topic.

For example the countries that showed up the most are shown below. Note that results like China and Japan and India show up. Sure they are not part of Southeast Asia, but within the first two pages of Google results there were articles for “Best Destinations in Asia” and “10 Best Places to Visit in Asia” etc. Personally I don’t mind these results showing up. The ranking algorithm I used keeps them towards the bottom of the list. I think there is an advantage to keeping these false positives in the list of results. It gives me ideas for where the trip can extend to. The 11th and 12th results for best places to visit in Southeast Asia return China and Japan. Even without knowing the geographical location of these two countries, this list suggests I may want to look into them to see if they fit into my trip itinerary. These false positives provide suggestions to better my trip in ways I may not have initially considered. I am pretty happy with this list. It is hard to argue against Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia as three of the best countries to visit in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia country rankings
Southeast Asia country rankings

Likewise I went through and parsed out and ranked the specific locations. In order to do this I had to make some decisions as to how to cluster the data. I mostly tried to keep these location results at a city level although sometime it dips down into the individual attraction level. I am kind of more interested in the general city or province level of granularity because from there another Google search can easily return the top things to do in that location. I am pretty happy with these results using rough algorithms and clustering. But eventually I would want to improve on them if I do ever automate this process. Again these results are just ideas and suggestions for someone who is clueless on the area. I think they ended up being rather useful. It’s hard to argue against the beaches of Bali, the ruins of Angkor, and the city of Singapore as being some of the best things to see in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia location rankings
Southeast Asia location rankings

I previously used a similar process to this to come up with a list of books to read, without having any knowledge of these books. Obviously the power of being able to assemble such information automatically without having to have any knowledge of the subject is extremely powerful. It certainly is the way that search results are heading. Eventually you will be able to tell Google “give me an itinerary for a month and a half to Southeast Asia” and it will give it to you. Until then we have to struggle through with a lot of manual data collection, parsing, and interpreting.

After laying out these Southeast Asian locations on a map, I made an initial route and timeline. From there I saw that I might have some more time available in my travel. I decided to look into Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii. I ended up googling “best places to visit in Australia” and parsed through results and made a potential route for this area. Same with New Zealand and Hawaii. At the moment I am leaving these destinations as audibles for the trip. The ease of these locations may provide a nice contrast to some of the more difficult travel that I will be on.

This entire itinerary is open to how I am feeling at that time. I booked a one-way ticket to Myanmar. I have nothing else booked. I looked into travel and it look like I’ll be taking a lot of flights. I hear the flights are the best option but there are overnight buses and buses that you can sleep on that I may try out as they provide a great look at the country scenery. My trip is definitely extremely aggressive, so I may remove some of these destinations. I may spend more or less time in certain areas. I will book flights, buses, hotels, and attractions as I go. And I will take a one-way flight back home when I am ready.

SOUTHEAST ASIA:
4-Aug NYC
5-Aug Flying
6-Aug Yangon, Myanmar
7-Aug Inle Lake, Myanmar
8-Aug Bagan, Myanmar
9-Aug Mandalay, Myanmar
10-Aug Chiang Mai, Thailand
11-Aug Chiang Rai, Thailand
12-Aug Luang Prabang, Laos
13-Aug Luang Prabang, Laos
14-Aug Hanoi, Vietnam
15-Aug Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
16-Aug Hoi An, Vietnam
17-Aug Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
18-Aug Phnom Penh, Cambodia
19-Aug Angkor, Cambodia
20-Aug Bangkok, Thailand
21-Aug Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
22-Aug Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
23-Aug Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
24-Aug Singapore, Singapore
25-Aug Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia
26-Aug Bali, Indonesia
27-Aug Komodo National Park, Indonesia

AUSTRALIA:
28-Aug Sydney, Australia
29-Aug Sydney, Australia
30-Aug Melbourne, Australia
31-Aug Great Ocean Road, Australia
1-Sep Adelaide, Australia
2-Sep Uluru, Australia
3-Sep Uluru, Australia
4-Sep Uluru, Australia
5-Sep Cairns, Australia
6-Sep Cairns, Australia
7-Sep Great Barrier Reef, Australia
8-Sep Gold Coast, Australia
9-Sep Gold Coast, Australia

NEW ZEALAND:
10-Sep Christchurch, New Zealand
11-Sep Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand
12-Sep Milford Sound, New Zealand
13-Sep Queenstown, New Zealand
14-Sep Punakaiki Coast, New Zealand
15-Sep Lake Taupo, New Zealand
16-Sep Lake Taupo, New Zealand
17-Sep Rotorua, New Zealand
18-Sep Waitomo, New Zealand
19-Sep Bay of Islands, New Zealand
20-Sep Auckland, New Zealand

HAWAII:
21-Sep Hawaii, Hawaii
22-Sep Hawaii, Hawaii
23-Sep Maui, Hawaii
24-Sep Oahu, Hawaii
25-Sep Kauai, Hawaii
26-Sep NYC

Where I might be
Where I might be

Once the itinerary was planned it was time to get vaccinations and visas. I would recommend getting these done as early as is possible. If you definitely know the countries and style of traveling you are doing then definitely get these vaccinations done first. Vaccinations can take months to get done. Visas may take weeks. Obviously these things are critically important. I would recommend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for vaccinations needed for each country. Is Zika prevalent? Do I need the typhoid vaccination? Is the yellow fever vaccination required to enter the country? Etc. You’ll find the answers at that site.

Same with the visas. If you don’t take care of this stuff you may not be able to visit a country. Or worse, you may be arrested, deported, etc. during your travels. Make sure you research this from an official source as these requirements change. I would recommend the Department of State’s travel page. How many passport pages so I need? Is a visa a required? Can I get the visa in person in the country or do I have to get it before I leave the US? Are there any entry/exit requirements I should be aware or? Any events that I should be aware of when traveling there? You’ll find it all there.

As far as packing I’m going to be backpacking. I’m pretty excited about this. I’ll be using some of the gear that I picked up for hiking but also a lot of other stuff I have lying around the house. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to fit everything inside of my pack, but after watching some YouTube videos I became pretty confident that I would be able to. Some people travel for a really long amount of time with a really small pack (18L!) and only like two quick drying shirts, two underwear, and two socks and just wash them every day in a sink. I kind of want a bit more comfort than that so I’ll be going with about a dozen of each. The environment is pretty hot and casual and a complete downpour depending on the country so it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep the clothes light and compact. It’s also nice that I don’t have to pack my tent, sleeping bag, food, etc. like I would if I was hiking. There should be plenty of room in the pack for everything I need, and it should all fit as a carry-on.

So that’s about it. Can’t wait to get out there. If anyone is interested in joining up for any part of this trip feel free to reach out. I won’t be available on text or phone for the next two months but will have WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger, Google Hangouts, email, Snapchat, Twitter, and this site during times when I grab Wi-Fi. I don’t believe I’ll be rocking a phone plan because Verizon doesn’t offer service in some of those countries and I don’t feel like grabbing a new SIM card every time I cross borders. It will be nice to unplug and go see the world.

Portal

Hiking the Columbia Trail

My buddies told me they wanted to get some more hiking in to get ready for the Appalachian Trail. They wanted to do a 15-mile trail with packs on to see how the body would respond. I told them I was in. I later found out the trail was the Columbia Trail, which runs through a portion of New Jersey I never really imagined I would ever be back in. Oh what a stroll down memory lane this would be.

The Columbia Trail is a trail that runs through Northwest New Jersey from Chester to High Bridge. It’s an old rail trail that has been converted to a trail for the public to use for biking, running, walking. It’s well paved and since it’s on an old rail line is extremely flat and straight. The difficulty of the trail is very easy. We wanted to walk the whole thing so we dropped a car off at our destination of High Bridge and then drove out to Chester to get the hike started.

Back at it again
Back at it again

The trail offers some of the standard New Jersey forest scenery. Nothing epic, but there are some nice things to look at. The trail goes through many towns. After getting our first few miles in we stopped at the Old Stone Union Church to have a look. The church, from 1774, was the site of pastorate Henry Muhlenberg. He’s credited as being the father of Lutheranism in America, a religion that has 4,000,000 followers in the States. It’s kind of cool that you can drive past or walk past areas of such influence and significance without really knowing it.

There are a lot of gravestones at this location. I love old cemeteries. There’s something beautiful about them. Maybe it’s the closeness to death. The peaceful time that you have there to contemplate what it’s all about. The immediate reminder of where you are headed usually puts me in a good perspective to go forward from there and do great things. We all are headed there someday soon. We may as well be great and have fun with it until then.

I love cemeteries
I love cemeteries

Soon after we grabbed a bench and took a break. We were five miles in. It was time for beef jerky and trail mix and some water. My body was holding up fine. A little shoulder tightening but nothing major. I should probably throw some yoga back into the rotation. The first five miles brought a lot of cheerful people. People out on the trails seem to be some of the nicest people. They’re usually in good spirits and very friendly. I’m not sure what it is, but they seem to see the world in a different way than the general population.

Continuing on in the hike we saw another cemetery. This one of a different nature. Something about the death of an automobile is kind of beautiful. You can still make out the lines or the body. You can make out the beauty. The potential. Think about what if things happened differently. But the car has been covered in rust and wear. Usually there are weeds eating at it. The earth is trying to reclaim what we took from it.

I love all of the cemeteries
I love all of the cemeteries

Heading further down the trail we stopped over a bridge to look at the sights below. It seems the bridges on the trail come every mile or two and provide a good quick moment to stretch the legs and have a closer look at the world that has slowly been moving by.

Blah blah blah
Blah blah blah

One bridge provided very clear water so we could see the fish swimming about.

Clear water
Clear water

Further and further we went. We walked through this shrub and tree farm. I loved the ways these trees, bushes, and grasses looked in real life so I was hoping the picture would come out great, but the lines aren’t as straight as I wanted them to be. The pine trees at the top also looked a lot more purple in real life, but this was probably just the result of dehydration of hiking all these miles with 40 pounds on my back in this heat.

Wish this was better
Wish this was better

The road continued onwards. There was a pretty cool old building on the trail. There was a sign that said what it was and it’s importance but I didn’t read it. I wasn’t really in the mood to read signs that day I guess. I just wanted to hike and explore a bit.

These natural tones
These natural tones

Eventually we crossed 10 miles and with it we needed another place to break. The balls of my feet were starting to hurt for some time. We eventually took a break in Califon. One of my buddies decided we should eat at this place that had wraps, sweets, salads, coffees and cold sodas called BEX. It’s a place I have been before about two years earlier. They have weird hours, usually 8-3 but it varies and they are closed on random days. I passed on the brownies and iced coffees and instead opted for a chicken wrap and a soda. It was a good spot to wash my face off with some cold water.

Not bad for a bite
Not bad for a bite

After a nice lengthy break we got back on the trail. There was a little bit of wild life on the trail.

Mr rabbit
Mr rabbit

And there was some more further down the road.

A million deer
A million deer

This stretch of the trail has a lot of cool gnome homes and weird little decorations along the trail. I enjoyed all of the little things that people built or put out on the trail. Apparently in 2014 the Hunterdon County rangers had received enough complaints about all of the magical gnomes that they went out and collected almost everything up to throw out into the garbage. I understand that some of the stuff may have been unsightly but the magical fun feeling of this part of the trail was one of my favorite parts of the trail. I guess since the 2014 event there has been some sort of understanding amongst the people and the enforcement because there were once again things on the trail and everything I saw was pretty tasteful. If you’re visiting the Columbia Trail for it’s epic nature, you’re probably doing a lot of things wrong with your life. If you have a problem with Mr. T-rex and you want to ruin the lives of little children you probably are a horrible person.

Mr. T
Mr. T

Carrying on we got to yet another bridge. It’s a bit high up, but not outrageously high. I normally would hate the fence over this bridge as it’s so absurdly overprotective. We all know if you go over the edge of a bridge you probably will be hurt. You don’t need a fence to hold you back. In this case the lighting and the fence provided a nice shot. It almost looks like you are going into some unknown dark portal of the trail.

Portal
Portal

I remember seeing some flowers earlier in the trail and I was thinking how I wanted to photograph them as they were gorgeous. I only saw about three of them before I had the chance. I didn’t see them again for about ten miles until towards the end of the trail where we ran into another patch of them. I really should have used the macro lens here to get a nice shot but I was too lazy to switch lenses and didn’t want to keep the guys waiting while I messed around with the photography. So I like this wildflower but the picture really should be a lot better.

Wild flower
Wild flower

So overall we ended up hiking 16 miles. Including the two breaks we hiked for 7 hours. That put us around 26 minutes per mile or 2.3 mph with about 40 pounds packs on our back on a very easy trail without much elevation or difficult terrain. I burned over 4,000 calories and apparently lost 7 liters of water. It was definitely a good little workout.

Endomondo stats for the win
Endomondo stats for the win

The body held up reasonably well. A bit of soreness or pain and the beginning of some blisters but overall nothing to complain about. Sixteen miles has to be the longest I have ever moved in one day on foot. I can’t recall any other day in my life in which I walked for 7 hours.

Overall I’m happy to have gotten through these sixteen miles without too much pain. It was a good hike to get the body ready for the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail later on in September.

Iconic Delaware Water Gap

Backpacking at Delaware Water Gap

Since my last backpacking trip I decided to pick up some gear of my own. One reason is because a couple of the guys from my last trip want to hike the portion of the Appalachian Trail all the way across New Jersey in September over the period of about eleven days. Another reason is because backpacking opens up some options with travel. Being able to have four or five days of food, clothing and shelter in a bag that you can carry anywhere allows you to see a lot for a little. Another reason would be that hiking and backpacking allow you to get into some beautiful parts of the world that simply aren’t accessible via any other way than to physically walk to them.

In order to try to attempt this trip in September I need to put some miles on my new gear and on my body so that I’ll be ready for such an extensive trip. So when my buddy reached out to me for an overnight kayaking trip I decided I would spend the day before it by myself testing out my gear.

The location for the kayaking trip would be the Delaware Water Gap. It’s an area I’ve wanted to check out for some time as it has some of the nicest views in our area.

I was looking to get about eight miles of hiking with my pack and to find an overnight place to camp out. It was taking a little time to figure it out online so I figured I would just ask at the visitors center. My first stop was the Pennsylvania Welcome Center. I asked where I could hike eight miles and where I could stay overnight. The lady I talked to said she had no idea where I would be able to do that. She suggested I go 5 minutes to Kittatinny Point Visitor Center or 35 minutes to Dingmans Falls Visitor Center. I went over to Kittatinny.

The rangers there were much more useful. They showed me where I could hike, where I could camp, and where I could park my car for the overnight trip. The hike would be from the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center to the Red Dot (Tammany) Trail. After climbing the Red Dot I would move on to descend the Blue-blaze Trail. From there I would ascend up a leg of the Appalachian Trail up to Sunfish Pond. Finally I would set up camp about a mile back down the Appalachian Trail on the Douglas Trail at an area that is designated for overnight campers.

The Red Dot is a nice hike. It’s rated “difficult” on the park’s website, but that rating is relative. It’s 1.2 miles and the elevation rise is 1250 feet along some pretty rocky terrain. It’s a bit strenuous but plenty of different people with all sorts of different levels of experience seemed to be hiking it. The terrain can be rather rocky at times. Hiking up this with my full backpack was certainly a good workout.

Red dot gets a bit steep
Red dot gets a bit steep

The trail provides you with some iconic views of the Delaware Water Gap. I missed taking pictures of one of them because I had initially planned on descending back down the Red Dot and figured I would shoot it on my way back down. As always with pictures you should get the shot when you have a chance. The following shot is Mount Minsi of Pennsylvania along with the Delaware River as shot from the top of Mount Tammany of New Jersey. As a quick side note I never realized how big of a river this was. The 388-mile Delaware River forms borders between PA and NY, the entire border between NJ and PA, and most of the border between DE and NJ. Wilmington, Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton and Easton all touch the river at some point.

Iconic Delaware Water Gap
Iconic Delaware Water Gap

After enjoying the sights of the Red Dot Trail, it was time to descend back down the Blue-blaze Trail. The 1.7-mile descent has much more gradual than the Red Dot’s incline. The hike passed without any issues. The hike then switched onto the Appalachian Trail for another 1000 foot incline over 3.4 miles out to Sunfish Pond. The pond was alright. There is a sign out front of it declaring it as one of the seven natural wonders of New Jersey. I never knew NJ had a list of natural wonders but apparently they are the Delaware Water Gap, Great Falls of the Passaic River, High Point State Park, New Jersey Shoreline, Palisades, Pine Barrens, and Sunfish Pond. That’s not the best looking list, but certainly Sunfish Pond doesn’t belong on any top seven list. I dunno. Here’s a picture of it. It’s nice, but it’s a rather mild looking for a wonder.

Sunfish Pond
Sunfish Pond

After checking out the pond I hiked about a mile down the AT to the Douglas Trail where I would be setting up camp for the night. It was my first time setting this tent up. It setup without much of an issue. I cooked up some Thai curry vegetables and rice. It was pretty tasty for one of those dehydrated food packs. I added a couple bars, some pepperoni, and trail mix and tossed the rest of my food in a bear box that was a reasonable distance away.

My first overnight by myself
My first overnight by myself

Parking, trail access, and overnight parking is all free here. So technically I guess you can have this view for $0 per night. Especially since I have gear enough for two people and if I’m driving anyways then it would cost nothing to bring someone along. So if anyone is interested in jamming something like this, even if I don’t know you, feel free to hit me up.

Backyard for the night
Backyard for the night

A ranger came to visit me to explain where the water was and to use the bear boxes. She said there haven’t really been bears in the area much. I told her it was my first time overnighting by myself and I was a bit unsure whether I would be able to survive the night but she told me I would be fine. I ventured off to grab some water from the stream that she recommended. It was nice to crack out my water filter for the first time. The water seemed a bit sketchy but it was running and it is what she recommended so I used it. It ended up being alright but it’s a bit weird grabbing water from a stream in the middle of the woods and filtering it yourself. It’s a far cry from the luxury of the civilized world where unlimited drinkable water can be flicked on at any time or purchased at any store for a few cents.

I spent the rest of the night slowly getting ready for bed, as I was a bit tired from the long hike. The night was pretty uneventful. I woke up a couple times here or there. But for the most part the sound of crickets and nature had me in a deep sleep. I think I may have heard an animal breathing in the middle of the night but I’m not sure I did.

Eventually morning came. I woke up at 530 because I had to break everything down and then hike 3.8 miles back down to my car to meet up with the group that I would be going kayaking and canoeing with. As I was packing up another camper came over and told me that there were bears last night. He said he saw one about 20 yards from my tent. He says he thinks one followed him from the outhouse to his tent in the middle of the night. I’m not certain I believe the story but maybe there was a bear or two. He was a nice kid regardless and we had a good talk.

I hit the trail a couple minutes later than I wanted to but still early enough that I would be able to meet up on time if I hustled. The hike was downhill and the footing became easier and easier with each step. I was definitely the first person on that stretch of the AT that morning as I kept running into singular strands of spider webs that lay across the track. I got about halfway through the hike and the spider silk was becoming a bit annoying. I finally saw a girl walking up the trail. We said good morning. I added “I knocked down all of the spider webs for you.” She seemed a bit puzzled at what I had said until she realized what I meant. She thanked me and then said “oh, and I knocked down all of the spider webs for you too.” I thought that was a cute moment. People who are into all this nature stuff generally have seemed to be ultra chill so far.

Soon after I saw a deer poke its head out of the brush and onto the trail. It was maybe a hundred yards down. It paused. I paused as well. The way the lighting was and the serenity of that deer poking its head out onto the trail was for some reason a beautiful moment. I went to open my camera bag to grab my zoom lens but as soon as the velcro peeled the deer hopped back in the direction that it came from. I guess deer out here have very sensitive hearing.

The trail continued with a few more people here and there as the day grew older and the trail got closer to the parking lot. Eventually I made it to my car. I swung out to meet up with the group I’d be hanging with. There was one kid I used to work with and five other characters who all seemed like a fun time. I could not believe the amount of gear these guys had for a single overnight trip. Several coolers with all sorts of cold drinks and food that needed refrigeration, several ways to cook food including a spare grills, I think three six-man tents, luxury foldable lawn chairs. Basically everything that goes against keeping weight and space to a minimum ha. Eventually we got all of the gear on the shuttle. The shuttle ride over to the launch ramp was full of nonsense as I got to know the guys.

Eventually we loaded the canoes and kayaks with our gear and hopped in to get the trip started. Here’s a cliche kayak shot going down some body of water. I hate kayak shots like this. You see them on people’s instagrams and whatnot all the time. I also kind of hate how most people shoot and display a lot of travel/backpacking stuff in general. It just always seems so cliche and braggy and overly happy and shallow and simplistic. It often has some stupid quote from some famous traveler, author, or anonymous in some disgusting font. And the pictures are always overcontrasted and oversaturated. I dunno. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Gross
Gross

Travel/backpacking/life is never like this. It’s full of a lot of challenging moments. It’s full of a lot of difficulties and annoyances. It’s a lot of work and there are a lot of trials. Sometimes you wonder why you’re doing it or wondering whether you’ll be able to get through it. I think a lot of the times you will end up alright. But pictures likes this are infuriating. Don’t make stuff like this. Don’t double tap stuff this. I mean you’re not a bad person if you like this picture. Actually you are. You are a terrible person. There’s no need to involve Krakauer, Thoreau (or Theroux), or Muir in this. I’d much rather prefer reading a paragraph you wrote or talking about your trip over a beer. The following is the same picture done much more in a style I agree with that I think most people will tragically like a lot less. It’s still photoshopped. It’s still a lie. It’s still just another cheesy kayak picture.

Do it for the gram
Do it for the gram

Remember that Emerson quote I posted before? It was just a cheesy adventure quote I grabbed from online, and wasn’t supposed to have a meaning to this write-up. But I have to go back to it for just a quick moment. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” My hatred of quotes like this is the lack of context, the overall worthlessness of practical application, and the immediate head nodding that happens when people hear it. Would you agree or disagree with this quote? I suppose I could divert into a long rambling here but I’ll leave this to only a couple pros and cons and a reference to the trip. I like that the quote says to be innovative. Try things that haven’t been done before. But I also hate that the quote says to not follow any roads or paths. Many of the great treasures of the world are accessible via large roads because they’re amazing. A lot of the world that doesn’t have paths is because it’s just not that spectacular or interesting.

I had two campsites on this trip. One was along the Appalachian Trail, pretty much one of the most famous hiking trails in the world. The other was our kayaking campsite that we had to row to because it had no path. It was on a tiny island that had no areas to explore. We literally had to use machetes to cut our own path and leave our own trail. The camping site on the Appalachian Trail was clearly a lot nicer. Gorgeous views, trails to explore, there was even running water and a primitive bathroom. The camping site along the Delaware River had only a small view of the river, no trails to explore, no water to drink or place to shit. I’m not saying either one was better or worse than the other. They were both great and the contrast was appreciated. But following Emerson’s quote too rigorously would lead you to missing out on many beautiful things that life has to offer. It’s ok to follow paths and it’s also ok to leave your own trail. Do both. But as always with this stuff there’s no proof Emerson ever said the quote in the first place. So good luck even trying to identify things like context, etc. that are critical to try to get anything useful out of it. Sigh.

Kayaking a little over eleven miles was great. We ran into a couple raindrops but ultimately avoided too many mishaps. None of the kayaks or canoes tipped over although we did have one man go overboard at one point. We tried to get this one campsite on the Pennsylvania side that the group had got the first year but it was occupied this year. So we drifted along to a nearby island to setup shop. Setting up camp went without much difficulty.

I guess I needed some filler in this story, and that was the purpose of that rambling, as I have no pictures from kayaking to breakfast the next morning. There was a lack of things to do on the secluded island. There was a lot of drug use and people got pretty chill. It’s not exactly my style but I’m not trying to fuck up rotation either. I at first didn’t mind sitting glued to my seat for several hours as I was a bit beat from the eight miles of hiking the day before, the four miles of hiking earlier this morning, and the eleven miles of kayaking in the day. But eventually it got a bit tiresome being a prisoner on an island and being incapable of moving on to something more exciting.

Eventually morning came, and with it some more delicious food. The day before brought chicken tacos and steaks. This morning it was time for pork roll, egg, and cheeses. Well we forgot the cheese, but the rest of it was there. It kind of blows my mind that these guys are eating this good on this trip. It makes sense with all the gear that they brought but I’m more used to a world of dehydrated eggs or just having some beef jerky and trail mix to start the day off. One luxury I do bring backpacking is coffee. It’s nice to have a cup and provides something to do when you’re done setting up camping or relaxing in the morning before you head out for a long day of hiking. Also I can’t believe this is such a bad picture of pork roll but so it goes sometimes when you’re sloppy behind the lens.

Different kind of camping
Different kind of camping

After we fueled up and broke down camp and loaded up the kayaks and canoes we hopped back in for another five-mile paddle back to the parking lot. The weather today was nicer. The clouds, which provided sun protection the day before, yielded to provide some gorgeous views. Here’s another shot with a kayak in it, since you know I am so fond of them. I really like how clear the water is at some points. Being able to look down at fish, grasses, and textures of the river floor is rather beautiful. We kept an eye to sky to try to see some bald eagles like we did the day before but we had to settle for watching some hawks hunt.

I hate shots like this
I hate shots like this

Kayaks and canoes are pretty cool because you can just paddle here or there and tie off and go exploring. It’s neat being on the Delaware River as you can bounce back and forth from NJ to PA quicker than a car would even be able to.

Getting around
Getting around

The guys wanted to do a jump off of a cliff that they have done in previous years. Apparently the first time they attempted the 35ish-foot jump they kind of looked down at the water and guessed it was deep enough. The casualty of risking serious injury is impressive. Depths in this area seem to vary between deep and shallow significantly and to dive without verifying the depth seems insane. You also need a good clean jump to be able to clear the base of the cliff here. We had three of the seven successfully complete the jump. Props to those guys for getting it done. I was happy to use the excuse that I was better suited to try to take some awesome pictures than performing the jump myself.

These boys are crazy
These boys are crazy

After the jump we hopped back in the canoes and caught a nice drift that swung us underneath the Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge and back to the Kittatinny Visitor Center where our adventure would end. We unpacked our gear, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways.

Here are the endomondo stats from the two days of kayaking. For whatever reason my phone wasn’t cooperating on all of the hikes so I won’t be posting the partial data from that. Unfortunately that’s the data I’m more interested in as I’d like to know how I’m doing so that I can get ready for this longer trip in September.

Kayaking 16 miles
Kayaking 16 miles

I don’t really know if there are many takeaways from this trip. I was happy with how carrying, setting up, and breaking down my gear went as it was my first time with a lot of that equipment. I used a lot of what I learned when I was out at Round Valley and everything went smoothly. I removed a couple pieces from my pack when I got back that I don’t think I’ll use in the future to save a little space and weight, but overall I was pretty happy with all of my gear and how everything worked out. You don’t really need all that much to survive and there are plenty of luxury items that I’m happy carrying in my pack to make life on the trail a bit more enjoyable.

I was a bit surprised by how chill I was with hiking and setting up camp and sleeping by myself. Pretty much at no point was I physically or mentally uncomfortable with the overnight backpacking trip by myself. It kind of just felt like life as usual.

I liked the group I hung with on the second day. It’s not a group I would seek out to hang out with but they taught me some important things. They’re all doing the best that they can and to hear some of their stories or to see some of their hidden skills was cool. Some of them definitely are living a great life compared to where they came from. You could see there are layers and layers of complexity in these people that just are completely invisible upon first glance. In many ways their progress as an individual has exceeded mine. I had a great time with you guys.

I guess finally coming home to my little place on the border of Asbury Park and Ocean Grove felt like home more than it ever has. I’m not sure why as I was really comfortable sleeping in the woods. But for some reason driving home and slowly being caressed by that ocean breeze and getting back into the beautiful mess that is summer at the shore were comforting.

Moon

Backpacking at Round Valley

Went on my first backpacking trip from Thursday to Friday at Round Valley Recreation Area in Lebanon, NJ. I didn’t have the gear that I needed so I borrowed enough from my buddy Dave to make it through the trip. We went with two of his buddies from his work.

I initially didn’t plan to cook, only having dry food on me. This included such delicacies as prosciutto, Genoa salami, and Parmigiano Reggiano cubes because they seemed to make sense when I was shopping at Wegmans the night before. But on the way up we stopped at a Walmart and I picked up a 24-oz Stainless steel cooking pot, which can be used to boil water in combination with a lightweight alcohol stove. The pot included two 10-oz plastic cups which were great for cups of coffee. I also picked up my first freeze-dried meal of sweet and sour pork and rice. I added a LED headlamp flashlight that allowed provided hands free light for the nighttime.

The rendezvous point was the Spinning Wheel Diner which is a few miles away from Round Valley. It’s a classic New Jersey diner that allowed for a final meal of eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, orange juice, and coffee before leaving the luxuries of the civilized world behind.

Here’s a shot of us at the start of the Cushetunk Trail, which is the red trail at Round Valley.

Backpacking squad
Backpacking squad

The hike was about 7.5 miles to get to the campground. It has a decent amount of up and down and comfortable terrain. On the hike in I spent a lot of time looking around and soaking up the view.

Hike had some nice scenery
Hike had some nice scenery

Don’t forget to look in every direction.

Views from the bottom
Views from the bottom

And don’t forget to take a couple selfies on the trail.

Trail selfie
Trail selfie

Here are the Endomondo stats of the trek. I started it a couple minutes late. The return trip was almost the same except a slight bit longer.

Endomondo stats
Endomondo stats

The campsite looked like it hadn’t been used in some time. We swept the leaves away from the campsite with homemade brooms. We build seats and benches as needed to provide for seating. At least us guys that didn’t have the fancy lightweight chairs that the experts had.

After a bit of preparation of the campsite we ventured down to the lake to get some water. This was accomplished via the SweetWater Microfilter water filtration system. Basically you stick the filter in pretty much any water and pump it into your container. Then you add a couple drops of the SweetWater purifier solution, which is pretty much 3.5% sodium hypochlorite and wait about ten minutes and you have drinkable water. It’s amazing. It’s especially amazing when you are in a place with no drinkable water and you just ran out of water.

Filtering water
Filtering water

There are a lot of cool things to explore and discover down by the lake. I though these shells were pretty cool.

Little details around the lake
Little details around the lake

And here’s a picture of a piece of broken glass I thought photographed decently.

Piece of glass
Piece of glass

Here’s another shot of the lake. The water level seemed a little low but I am not too familiar with Round Valley. The last time I was here I was out on a boat with my pops fishing on the lake many years ago. While I remember those times I don’t remember what the water level was at that time.

Round Valley
Round Valley

We went back to the campsite and hung out and cooked up a meal. Surprisingly that freeze-dried stuff is pretty decent. The rice has the taste and consistency of a reasonable risotto. I’ve definitely had risotto at several places which wasn’t as good as this stuff.

After some time we strolled down to the lake to catch a pretty glorious sunset.

Caught a nice sunset
Caught a nice sunset

It definitely was a pretty nice sunset.

It was pretty lit

Day turned to night. With it came the Ghost Radar app to try to hunt down some ghosts. I think we had a bit of success.

Moon
Moon

We were all a bit tired from the hike earlier in the day so we proceeded for a somewhat early night of sleep. Some people say the two-man tents are too tight for two people, but they are acceptable. I think it’s definitely good to get a two-man tent even for yourself because a two-man tent provides allows you to keep your gear covered from the rain. It also allows a newbie like me to tag a long and doesn’t add much more weight to your pack.

The night of sleep was mostly uneventful. I woke up at one point and heard a deer. I also heard something else that I am not sure what animal it was. There was a point in the night when I kind of realized I love the conveniences and modern luxuries that we have back home, but by the end of the trip I would be grateful for the challenge and the simplicity of the trip.

In the morning we woke up and brewed up some coffee and had some breakfast. We packed up and made the hike back to the entrance. We said goodbye to one camper who was stayed a second night. Another 7.5 miles. There was some rain on the return leg. It wasn’t so bad though because it was sparse enough and the trees often provided a comfortable amount of cover. The walk back was certainly more of a head-down hike, just trying to push my body back to the car. But there was great scenery to be had as well.

Return hike
Return hike

Overall my first backpacking experience was great. I kind of want to get back out there again. Burning off 3600 calories just on the two hikes and working the legs and shoulders was great. When you get into some space and are hiking alone in the woods and only have the sound of the woods and your footsteps you can drift off into some deep thought. It was also a good experience to learn what you have to do to survive and to reflect on how absurdly fortunate we are to live the lives of luxury that we live.

Shout out to my backpacking buddies for showing me the ropes and keeping me alive. I learned a lot and had a great time.

The city is in complete disrepair

Road trip: Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit

I’ve been wanting to travel lately. Well, I’m always wanting to travel. So when two of my buddies had a break in their schedule and ambitions of a short road trip I was excited. A couple days in Delaware and Maryland, or maybe north to Massachusetts would be a nice break away from Asbury.

The plan is to head out from Wednesday to Sunday. It’s Tuesday night and we’re out for a birthday party. We start discussing locations since we don’t have the trip planned yet. Kind of out of the blue Jesse throws out Chicago as a destination. As soon as he says it I agree. I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for some time now. Sure, it’s probably too far for a four night trip. But distance has never really been an issue. Scratch Delaware. Bring on Chicago.

The party wraps up and we swing over to Wal-Mart to grab supplies for the trip. There’s the usual suspects. Water, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Rockstar, Monster, beef jerky, Chobanis, hummus, crackers, deli meats, cheese, bread, mustard, tangerines, granola bars, and almonds to provide for fast meals and snacks on the road and save a couple bucks from paying twice the price at gas stations.

By the time we all pack up clothes and gear we’re left with about three hours of sleep since we have errands to run in the morning. Laundromat, bank, rental car. All stuff that probably could have been taken care of the night before. The plan is to drive straight out to Chicago and try to do a bit of hanging out for the night. Then recharge and spend the following night in Chicago. Then swing up to Milwaukee for a night. And out to Detroit for a night on the way home.

30-Mar Chicago, IL

Jesse wants to drive the first leg. I tell him I got it. I love driving. I could probably drive for the rest of my days. Twelve and a half hours on three hours of sleep is nothing. I think it’s the longest distance I’ve ever driven straight through. Regardless we grab a couple pork roll, egg, and cheeses and zip off for the midwest.

The ride out includes a ton of music. One of the favorite songs ends up being Subway Crush by Erin and Her Cello which somehow only has 150 spins on SoundCloud in the last 5 years. It’s a song I first heard on thesixtyone, a website that has a lot of pretty cool music.

Much of the drive is open space and farmland. There’s a lot of open space and farmland in this country. Hours and hours of open space. Eventually we get about an hour outside of Chicago. It’s still farmland. The sun is only just going down. Slowly there are signs of civilization. A bit of concrete. A couple buildings. Lights. With every minute passed, more and more of civilization. Eventually all of the grass and trees and open space are replaced with concrete and buildings. You can see the transition from what nature has made to what mankind has made.

We eventually arrive in Chicago. The plan is to grab some deep dish pizza. Yes, it’s cliche. It probably won’t even be all that great. And yes I’ve heard how people in Chicago don’t actually eat the stuff, just like people in Philadelphia don’t eat the cheese steak. But it’s what’s been decided upon for the night. Googling around reveals Pequod’s Pizza is probably the place to go. Either that or Lou Malnati’s. We decide on Pequod’s.

Jesse grabs a personal plain and Mikey and I split a medium with half pepperoni. I’m pretty pumped to see 3 Floyds on the menu. That’s a brewer that we don’t have back in New Jersey. The pizza eventually comes out and it is spectacular. The ingredients are all individually delicious. The ratios are all appropriate. The cheese melts into the side of the dish and crisps up to form a crispy cheesy crust. The pepperoni is quality and it adds a spiciness and pleasant fattiness that elevates it above the plain slice. This is a magical meal and I recommend it. There’s a lot of Chicago locals eating here, and throughout our time we find out that people from Chicago do in fact eat deep dish pizza. I’m glad we didn’t try to be too cool and pass up on this gem.

Deep dish pizza at Pequod's
Deep dish pizza at Pequod’s

We hear Wicker Park and Logan Square are good places to check out after pizza. We swing over to the Logan Square area. It seems pretty busy. Parking is a bit rough. We’re a bit tired. We’re between heading out and heading to sleep. We decide on sleep. I would have loved to sleep in the car because that’s one of my favorite things in the world, but we agree a night on a bed would probably be beneficial after the late night last night and the long drive today. We grab a Hotwire and it ends up being the Holiday Inn in Skokie.

It’s kind of a massive hotel with a Bar Louie inside. I’ve never heard of Bar Louie before but we notice them throughout our trip. Apparently there’s about 85 of them throughout the country. Bar Louie is a casual America dining bar thing. You can get such annoying things as Bavarian pretzel sticks, Thai chicken flatbread, or the voodoo sandwich and drink some generic beverage off of a list. I probably shouldn’t complain about having food and drink available at a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicago, but it’s frustrating that a concepts like Bar Louie can continue to be successful. It’s mediocre. I guess it gets the job done. A bucket of beers for $10 and everyone is happy but I can’t recommend these things to anyone.

31-Mar Chicago, IL

The plan for the morning is to check out Millennium Park and take it from there. But first we make a stop at Binny’s Beverage Depot on 3000 N Clark St to check out the beer selection. I like to pick up beers to throw in the fridge from when I travel as there is a lot of brewer’s that are not available in New Jersey. I grab the pair of 2014 Old Stock aged in rye and wheat whisky and the Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales.

On the way to Millennium Park we drive along Lake Michigan. Surprisingly we see water that is a gorgeous hue of blue. We decided to swing by the Navy Pier to get up close and personal with it and snap some pictures. I had no idea these lakes could look anything like this. The water here is nicer than some Caribbean islands. Apparently the color changes and it looks like this sometimes after the lake has unfrozen and the winds stir up sediment.

Water of Lake Michigan
Water of Lake Michigan

Here’s a view of it with a bit of Chicago in the background.

Chicago has nicer water than most islands
Chicago has nicer water than most islands

After a quick stop we swing over to Millennium Park. The area has a lot of cool things to check out. The most famous is the Cloud Gate structure, which goes by the nickname the bean amongst people because of it’s shape. I can definitely see people not liking the sculpture but I really think it’s a gorgeous piece. If I lived in the area I would try to make a visit to it late night or during a storm to try to get some alone time with it. Even with the mass of tourists I was impressed by it. The smart curvatures allow for some great scenes and the reflective material really makes it a living piece that changes its appearance based on the world around it.

Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate

Here’s a picture of the three of us with a reflected Chicago in the bean. I believe it’s the only picture of the three of us from the trip. We weren’t the best at taking pictures of ourselves, so please take time to enjoy our beautiful mugs before proceeding because there won’t be any more.

I think our only picture together
I think our only picture together

Walking under the bean transports you into a different dimension.

Reflection underneath Cloud Gate
Reflection underneath Cloud Gate

We walked around the park a bit more snapping pictures and checking out the sights. As you can see from this picture that Jesse took the park provides great views of the city.

Photographer never gets photographed
Photographer never gets photographed

We only have two total hours on the meter so by the time we explore the park we’re in search of a quick bite. We decide to grab a couple Chicago hot dogs from Max’s Take Out on 20 E Adams St. We ask for six dogs with everything which includes mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and celery salt. There’s a lot of stuff on these dogs and we joked throughout the trip about taking ordinary food dishes like the hotdog and putting a garden salad on it, because that’s kind of what a Chicago dog is. Apparently it’s a crime to order ketchup on your dogs here but the guy in front of us did. He apologized to the owner but the owner seemed pretty easy going and let it slide.

Put a garden salad on it
Put a garden salad on it

The dogs were alright for a quick bite. They didn’t provide the same magical experience of the deep dish pizza.

Since we have to move the car we decide to head over to Bloomingdale Trail. Someone (Jesse) suggested it based on pictures that they saw. It was supposed to be a urban hiking trail along old railroad lines. We pull up to the trail and spot a shop called Donut Delight and so we fuel up on donuts and coffees. We walk up the ramp to the trail and pretty much for as far as the eye can see it’s a straight line with nothing but bikers and joggers. So yea, Bloomingdale Trail is great to exercise on if you’re a local but otherwise it doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

However it’s around this time that we discover one of the most ear bleeding songs on the radio. If you have a sense of humor feel free to check out 1Night by Lil Yachty but I would be totally fine with you passing on this one. It has about 19 million spins on SoundCloud. Apparently Lil Yachty played Webster Hall back in February. Guess we just missed him.

Oh well, we decided to figure out a place to hang out and book a hotel next to it. A buddy we plan on meeting suggests either Old Town or River North. We drive through both and decide on the Hubbard Street area of River North. We check in to the Hotel Chicago Downtown where the parking is almost as expensive as the room. They want $70 to valet. That’s the same price as direct flights from O’Hare to Denver for that day. We knew the price to fly out to Colorado because we’re always down for an adventure.

We meet up with our buddy at the hotel. He’s going to be our tour guide for the night since he lives in town. He ends up taking us to a several places, one of which was Three Dots and a Dash, an underground hidden tiki bar. There are a lot of speak easy type establishments in Chicago so if that is your style you should look into some of them.

1-Apr Milwaukee, WI

Morning comes and with it more pizza. We’re a couple minutes walk from Lou Malnati’s, which is the other pizza place we were considering. We sit down at the bar and strike up conversations with people around us and with the bar tender. We have a half hour talk while waiting for our pizza to be made from scratch (they have pre-made pizza available if you’re in a rush, gross). We’re thinking of where to head to next. The plan is either take a nice leisurely drive up to Milwaukee for the night and then spend the following night in Detroit or try to swing all the way around Lake Michigan. Supposedly there is some pretty beautiful parts up north. We decided to head into Milwaukee for the night as the recommendations for the town aren’t terrible. No one’s really recommending it and no one’s saying not to go.

Deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's
Deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s

It’s raining in Milwaukee. It’s been raining off and on during the trip. There’s not really too much to do in town but the Milwaukee Art Museum seems pretty highly rated. We decide to check it out.

We park in the underground deck and head to the museum. As we get out of the car a lady asks us if we can help her. She says they’ve been trying to get a baby seat out of the car so that they can fit all five people in the car. I guess the group of four at some point got tired of the baby and traded it for a full grown adult. This is a great trade as a baby is only going to slow down your travel plans. Of course the difficulty is that you still have a baby seat in your car that you have to get out. The lady asks if there’s an engineer in the group. Mikey says I’m an engineer. I deflect. I might be able to do some math and science but baby seats are designed to never be able to go in or out of the car. I’m an engineer. I’m not a wizard. I’m a mortal. I’m not a superhero. What this group needs is a hero. Mikey gives it an attempt to try to get the seat out. It’s a bit dark so I shine my flashlight on the area that he’s working. After about a minute he says I’m doing a useless job and grabs my phone. A couple seconds later and he’s got one of the straps unlocked. Another second and the other lock has been unloosened. The group breathes a sigh of relief. They will be able to carry on their adventure. And so will we. It’s nice when your friends are superheroes. It makes the whole journey a bit easier for everyone.

Apparently the first Fridays are free so we luck out with free admission and avoid having to pay the $17 a ticket. There are a lot of really great things to see in the museum. I really liked this infinite reflection piece.

Dark magic on exhibit
Dark magic on exhibit

The exhibits are all pretty diverse. There’s a lot of detail that can be missed. The woodwork on this piece was rather fantastic.

Loved this woodwork
Loved this woodwork

The art building itself is a piece of art. The architecture incorporates a lot of natural lighting, which leads to some tremendous views. This dandelion room is beautiful. If I had the money I could see myself building a room like this for the only practical purpose being to stir the soul and provide temporary seating. It sits on Lake Michigan and overlooks the Michigan Bay.

The dandelion room is clean
The dandelion room is clean

The diversity of paintings is rather large. There are the usual suspects, Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Claude Monet. One piece that stuck out to me was this 1883 painting of The Two Majesties by Jean-Leon Gerome. It doesn’t look that old. I can see this being painted much more recently. It’s easy to see how someone can look at this painting and get inspiration for something in their field of study. I don’t believe this was in any way inspiration for The Lion King, but it’s not a stretch to see how it could have been.

Les Deux Majestes by Jean-Leon Gerome
Les Deux Majestes by Jean-Leon Gerome

There are a couple exhibits that you can immerse yourself in. I didn’t have time to do the Walk-In Infinity Chamber because the line of high schoolers was on fleek. But right around the corner was an installation featuring a projector that was projecting a sine wave on a wall and a smoke machine in a dark room. This resulted in a beam of light and smoke that would take on different shapes. It was pretty neat. I was in the room for a few minutes watching different groups of people coming and going and seeing how they interacted with the piece. Some people put hand puppets on the wall. Some people put their hand over the projector to make the room go dark. A little boy was with his mom and he was putting his hands up and disrupting the beam of light. His mom told him to stop. If he was closer to me I would have told him not listen to his mom and carry on. Eventually I had the room to myself. I moved through it and snapped a couple pictures. Each picture individual and impossible to recreate. Here was my favorite.

Smoke and light
Smoke and light

It was getting late and the museum was slowly starting to clear out. I was able to grab a shot of one of the hallways without much disturbance. I love how the evening light makes this otherwise white room appear bluish gray.

Milwaukee Art Museum is a beautiful building
Milwaukee Art Museum is a beautiful building

The museum actually connects to the city via a bridge that was built by architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001. Here it is photographed by Jesse.

Reiman Bridge connects the museum to the town
Reiman Bridge connects the museum to the town

We needed a bite after spending a couple hours browsing the museum. But fist we swung over to liquor store to check out their beer selection. We stop in Discount Liquor on 5031 W Oklahoma Ave and grab a 4 pack of Toppling Goliath’s PsuedoSue. It’s an American Pale Ale that doesn’t show up back home.

As far as food and drink we’ve had some recommendations from some of the locals and from browsing online. Some 19 year old told us to check out Water Street. So we know that’s probably a terrible place to go. We make the drive down it just to see. It looks pretty touristy, so we could probably do better. A Bar Louie confirms we need to get out of the area.

We swing down into Walker’s Point. Since we’ve been eating the prototypical dishes of the places we’ve been, we decided we need cheese. Wisconsin is the known for its cheese and dairy. We hear Camino is a good place to go. We stop in. The bar tender recommends the cheese curds which is a good sign. I grab the kimcheese sandwich with bacon off of recommendation, which is kimchi and three cheeses. The boys grab some sort of spicy sausage with sauerkraut. There’s a lot of good beers on tap. I end up grabbing a Tyranena Brewing Wrath of Rocky. Everything ends up being delicious but those cheese curds were the star. Some of the best fried cheese I’ve ever had.

Doesn't look special, but it is
Doesn’t look special, but it is

The bar tender gives us some recommendations. He tells us to stay away from Water Street. He gives us a list of things to do. He mentions music venues. It’s clear to see he’s into the music scene. But he also gives us a list of places to dance if we’re into that. He’s not. But it’s nice that he’s smart enough to realize that other people may be into other things than he is.

We decide to swing over to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge based on his recommendation. It opened in 1938. A fire in 1971 led to a remodel. I don’t think a thing has changed since. In a good way. I think. The stereo system is approaching 50 years old. It’s playing cheesy tunes that have an overly pronounced baseline. The lighting may as well just be red. There’s velvet. Cramped table seating. There are no menus. You ask the server or the bartender for a drink or you give them an idea of what you’re into and they’ll mix something up. I’m in the mood for a dirty Hendrick’s. Mikey grabs a Ray Gun which is a mix of bourbon, Aperol, and lemon. That leaves Jesse to get the obligatory iced grape drink that’s brought to the table on fire. I snap a picture of a lit up plant in the corner that comes out better than I expected. While it is black and white just put a transparent blood red filter over top and you will have the look of the place.

An unexpected good shot
An unexpected good shot

We swing over to the Hyatt to check in for the night. It has an interesting layout. The middle of the hotel is open and a huge piece of art hangs down the middle of the eighteen floors. Everyone’s front door faces each other and you can see people on each of the eighteen balconies. We drop our bags off, catch the end of a Warriors loss, and head out for a walk to some of the late night bars.

We walk over the Milwaukee River along the Riverwalk Way. It’s a nice walk. We head to Dick’s Pizza & Pleasure because there’s supposed to be music but they are closing up shop. Flannery’s, Plum Lounge, Taylor’s all look like misses as well. The only thing I would probably recommend is My Office which is a dive. The nightlife in this area doesn’t seem to be too impressive. You honestly might be better off checking out Bronze Fonz, Milwaukee’s #21 thing to do. Nah, I’m kidding. Don’t go to see that. Also don’t go to see the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, the #41 thing to do. We saw it back near Camino and we were not moved in the slightest by it. Apparently it’s called Milwaukee’s Big Ben, but they should call it Milwaukee’s Big Waste of Time. We grabbed a couple snaps and proceeded to the hotel for some sleep.

2-Apr Detroit, MI

The morning would bring a drive to Detroit. It would also bring Kangaroo Court by Capital Cities which is a fantastic song and video.

Before we ventured out we stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market because Mikey wanted to grab some cheese to go. The market isn’t the biggest or best in the world, but has a good mix of things that should provide something for everyone. I picked up some beef jerky for the road and a BLT for lunch because the bacon looked so good. There was an oyster place that looked pretty good but we didn’t grab any.

Milwaukee Public Market
Milwaukee Public Market

The drive from Milwaukee to Detroit was a wild one with the weather. It alternated between sunshine, heavy snow, dark clouds, rain, and wind. The weather forced us to drive a little slower than we wanted to but it provided for an interesting ride. About an hour from Detroit we stopped around the Waterloo State Recreation Area to poke around. There are a lot of small lakes in this area that provide for a nice break. The snow made for a nice backdrop.

Snowed a bit on the trip
Snowed a bit on the trip

The last bit of driving was a bit dangerous with the snow and wind. The dropping temperatures had adding some ice to the mix. We were about twenty or thirty cars behind a dozen car pile up.

Eventually we got to the city, stopping at Slows BarBq off of a recommendation we got back in Chicago. They have a rather large beer list, which is great. But the bbq isn’t the best I’ve had. It’s ok but I probably couldn’t recommend it. There’s probably a lot of interesting food being made in the city. Hipster stuff like pickled absurdo, obscurata treated with liquid nitrogen, and sauteed radicchio. One of those things is edible, one of them isn’t, and another is a completely made up thing. Hint, don’t eat the obscurata.

Anyways we check into the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. On the elevator up some lady asks what we’re doing in Detroit. She says we’re tall and asks if we’re on a sports team. She used to be a cheerleader. I’m thinking maybe she’s thinking we’re on some college basketball team. I could almost see that. She says she wants to know what team we’re on and she promises she won’t tell anyone. She asks if we’re on the Red Wings. Sigh, I mean we’ve been getting big out here but I think we all have to toss on a bit more muscle on if we’re going to be playing in the NHL.

After dropping off our bags we head out in search of a bar that’s supposed to have music on Saturday’s. It’s a recommendation from a friend. I can’t find the thing in Google and the address we have doesn’t show a bar or club in Google Map’s Street View. Regardless we head out to the address. The GPS tells us we have arrived and I’m not sure what’s up. There’s no bar here. But we see a building with some lights and can hear some music. There’s a bunch of cars parked down the next street. I guess this is the place. We decide to check it out.

We walk up to the two security guys at the door. The smell of marijuana is in the air. “We don’t need no IDs here. Just $10 cover.” Alright, seems questionable. Let’s do it. Pay the cover and get inside. There’s a DJ spinning some pretty cool dance and hip hop mixes. He’s accompanied by a drummer who proceeded to crush it on the drums.

Looking around you see a really chill group of people. There’s a kid with a wig on, another kid wearing bunny ears I think. There’s a bar with PBRs. People are smoking cigarettes and blunts. There’s ashtrays on tables. There’s a slew of random pieces of furniture, couches, chairs, skate ramps. It’s an interesting environment. I heard Detroit was the wild west, or the wild midwest, but I didn’t expect it to be like this. I’m not sure how many laws were being broken here but it was probably a lot.

I go to order three PBRs and while I’m waiting I notice a guy dressed in a police uniform walk up to the guy behind the counter. I don’t really think any of it. I think he’s just a regular guy until I see how close he gets to the bartender’s face. Ahh. This is definitely a cop. No one seems to really care but the guy behind the bar is freaking out. He tells me he’ll be right back and goes and runs off. Looks like he was ready to boogey out of there.

Eventually we get our brews and get a little dancing in. The DJ and drummer combo are killing it. After a bit of hanging out we decide to make a move to try to catch another place. This place was great but we can pretty much only get into trouble here.

As we head outside we see about ten police cars and about twenty policemen getting organized outside of the entrance. The place is about to get raided. We have nothing to hide so we walk past the police and they don’t bother with us. By the time we get to the car and sit down we see the lights go on in the place. Some people start quickly walking down the sidewalk. As we pull out of our spot and pass the entrance the entire club is out side walking one way or another

I’m not sure if this place will be shut down for good or if it will go on. Regardless I’m sure other venues will pop up around the city to take its place. All you have to do is go out and grab one of the many abandoned garages, warehouse or pieces of land for cheap and you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want with it, even if you’re doing some illegal things. The cities in too much of a disarray to care until you’ve made quite a bit of noise.

I didn’t really want to take any pictures in there. It kind of has the feel of a no picture zone but here’s one that Jesse grabbed.

Couple minutes before getting busted
Couple minutes before getting busted

Since it was getting late we decided to head back to the hotel. It’s amazing how few people are in this city. You drive on three lane roads and you’re the only car in sight. There are abandoned buildings, factories, warehouses, churches, hotels, and schools everywhere. Everything is crumbling, graffitied, or was set on fire. Occasionally you get to a house with a car parked out front where someone lives. Detroit is a wild place.

3-Apr Back to Asbury

Finally the day comes to drive back home, but not before we go strolling about the city. There’s a community garden right outside of the hotel. It’s faced by an old brick wall that is boarded up with some heavily contrasted boards. This picture is courtesy of Jesse.

Wall facing the Lafayette Greens community garden
Wall facing the Lafayette Greens community garden

We drive over to St. Agnes Church. It’s an abandoned church. It used to be opened for people to go in and view but it’s closed now. There’s fence around it that you may need to scale to get inside. It’s freezing cold so it’s unlikely we’ll run into any trouble in the church. But we do have our car with the Jersey plates parked out front on an otherwise empty street in a questionable area. We want to peak inside but we have to be quick. Between the police and the hood there’s a clock that’s counting down to bad news.

The place definitely has a creepy vibe to it. Luckily I haven’t been playing many zombie video games or I’d probably be a bit more terrified poking my head around some of these corners. Here’s a shot of the church facing the altar area.

The city is in complete disrepair
The city is in complete disrepair

And here’s the church facing the rear. There’s abandoned stuff like this all over the city. The scale of the abandonment is massive. Every type of building has been left in complete disrepair in many miles all around the city. Much of the community has picked up and left, and results like this are to be expected.

The earth will eventually consume everything
The earth will eventually consume everything

Here’s a picture of a window along the side that Jesse grabbed.

Window of St. Agnes Church
Window of St. Agnes Church

We decided to check out a bit more of the city. The plan is to drive by the Packard Automotive Plant. On the way we take back roads and end up stumbling upon this ghetto Louvre. There’s a lawn with a group of exhibits that look like they are made from recycled products. There’s a 40-foot dinosaur, murals, and other sculptures. It ends up being the Lincoln Street Art Park on 5926 Lincoln St, established in 2011. It was built as an effort to clean up the area and it’s meant to inspire and bring joy and creativity. I definitely recommend swinging through and checking it out.

Lincoln Street Art Park
Lincoln Street Art Park

We continue onward to the Packard Automotive Plant. As we get closer we pass the Chene-Ferry Market on the corner of Chene and E Ferry St. It looks like a cool shot so we pull into the parking lot. As we’re getting out we see an Escalade pull up. An Escalade in the hood is usually a questionable thing but we want to grab the shot. Almost immediately we see a second car pull up right behind the Escalade. Nope. We’re getting out of here. I do not want to be a white guy with a camera taking pictures with a drug deal going on. We hop back in the car and get the hell out of dodge.

We finally get to the area around the Packard Automotive Plant. It’s unbelievable seeing this completely falling apart. Everything is all tagged up. Here’s a shot at the intersection of East Palmer and Bellevue near the plant.

East Palmer and Bellevue
East Palmer and Bellevue

As we’re taking the picture a security car comes up to us. We explain we’re just taking pictures and she’s says not to go in. We’re only allowed on the sidewalks or the street and that they’re towing a lot of cars that day. She sees our New Jersey plates and asks us if we’re with a gang from New Jersey. She says there’s a lot of people from New Jersey out today in the area. Not really sure who she’s talking about as it’s just us three but apparently there’s a big group from Jersey out here getting into trouble.

We spin around the block a bit more and decided to make the trek home. We have about nine and a half hours to get home and work the next day.

The drive home is fast. Not much wind. The weather is clear and sunny. We zip it home pretty quickly.

We make it back in time to unpack, drop the rental car off and swing out to Asbury for a celebratory beverage. We meet up with some of people in town. We were talking about the trip and how we were just in Detroit earlier in the day. We find out a group of Instagram photographers from Jersey went out to Detroit. Some kid we’re talking to has a friend who went out to Detroit. He’s one of the people that security guard was talking about. There’s zero doubt in my mind. If any of you are reading this, you were making waves out there, ha. Hearing that story brought the whole trip full circle.

So that’s about it. A quick trip out to some great cities. There was a lot of cool stuff that we got into. I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for some time and it exceeded my expectations. There’s a lot to do in the city and there are many neighborhoods to hang out in. Milwaukee is a city that you can definitely spend a day in. The art museum was great. Detroit has more character than any place I may have ever been to. Driving around the hood and gawking doesn’t really solve any problems, but it doesn’t hurt to pump a couple bucks into an economy that has been obliterated. I recommend messing around Detroit. Your fears of the city are probably unfounded. Just keep a smart head about yourself and you should be alright.

I feel like if any community or person has a problem they think they can’t solve that they should go to Detroit. Drive around for a while. When you see that mass disarray and abandonment and see that destruction you can’t help but feel your problem is probably pretty simple in comparison. After driving through Detroit I felt like the hood of Asbury was like Disneyland. There are cars. There are people. There aren’t really any abandoned buildings. There’s businesses, schools, and churches open. There’s people fighting for themselves and for their community. They haven’t given up and left.

Joe

Walk by Myself: West Coast Road Trip Summary

So this writeup has been a long time in the making. A lot has happened since this trip that has made looking through this footage a long and difficult process. I kind of haven’t hated doing anything more than this video. It’s been emotionally draining looking through this footage day after day and reliving painful memories over and over again. I guess traveling can be painful when you lose your travel partner. Hopefully the end video gives some sort of justice to situation. I made it the best I could.

In addition to dealing with the whole emotional journey of the break up, I decided to record my own song for this video. Getting the recording equipment, learning recording software, writing music, and mixing it all together has been a process that has taken some time.

I was able to finally make my way through the footage and write a song that I was happy with. It was certainly not the video I had planned to make when I was shooting this trip. But I think there was enough footage that I was able to present a story that ultimately is true to where I was, where I am, and where I will be going. It’s kind of interesting to go through footage that you thought would look so much like one thing, and piece it together to look like something else. I guess my world was ripped apart and I had to pick up the pieces of this footage to tell a different story than I had anticipated.

Outside of the video, here is the rest of the standard road trip conclusion notes. It would be difficult to bother writing this up had I not had the majority of it completed.

First question I generally get asked is what was my favorite place. I can try to overgeneralize this answer but if you are really interested it’s probably best you read through the write ups from the trip.

The most beautiful single view was of Peyto Lake in Banff. A picture I took on this trip of Peyto Lake scored me over 200,000 views, which is my most viewed photograph ever. I think this is the second most beautiful nature view I have seen outside of the view at the top of the hike of Preikestolen in Norway.

My favorite park was Yellowstone. Cliche, I know. There’s a reason why this is the first national park in the world. This park is perfect. It doesn’t have the over the top views like you may see elsewhere in the world, but it is the most well rounded park I have been to. It has great landmarks. It has amazing animals. Diverse terrain. It’s huge. The layout is just right.

The most surprising nature moment was walking the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail in the Redwood National and State Parks. The sun was setting and based on recommendation from the park rangers we took this hike. The 1.4-mile trail is short and easy and gives you a great view of the Redwoods. On this specific day there were low lying clouds that floated among the tops of the trees. You’re walking on this trail with your head craned upwards, staring at these enormous trees that extend into the heavens. The beauty of this place was unexpected and we caught it with some amazing circumstances. Sometimes on the trip you will have some spots that are worse than you imagined and sometimes you get some unexpected gems that stir your soul.

Crater Lake was solid. It’s a great park because you can drive right up to some amazing views, and there are a bunch of great trails that you can take. If you don’t know about Crater Lake I’d recommend giving it a look. It’s a huge gorgeous lake inside of a volcano.

As far as the cities I have to say San Francisco was my favorite. San Fran offers a lot. There’s a great touristy waterfront. It has its iconic spots. The food and drink is class. There are many diverse areas to hang out in. And not that it matters too much, but the residential and business sections for locals seem pretty cool as well.

The biggest surprise city for me was definitely Vegas. There’s the new Vegas, the old Vegas, and then the Vegas suburbs. The new Vegas is fancy. The old Vegas is gritty. The suburbs are awesomely authentic and nothing like the rest of Vegas. I recommend checking out all three of those places.

Seattle was a better time than I thought it would be. It’s definitely worth spending a day at the market and the Chihuly Museum.

Portland is a must stop but it was frustrating. Everything was spread out all over that city. It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, probably because it’s so hyped, but it’s still a great city. Once you figure out how to navigate its quirks I imagine it would be a top spot.

You probably don’t have to go to Salt Lake, but I didn’t explore there much. Just grabbed Thai food and made plans to go to Vegas.

Another question that I get asked is how much it cost. I have again summarized the costs so that you can see how much a trip like this might be, and where the individual costs are coming from. I am sure there are some costs that I have overlooked but it is not necessary to give exact costs. One of the flights was paid for with credit card miles so it’s not included here. The costs are for two people and they are divided per person in the following chart. More or less travelers would affect these numbers in predictable ways. Everyone planning a trip will have to pay a little more for certain things but also a little less for certain things. Travel offers an infinite amount of options and ways to customize your trip so that it works for you.

West Coast Road Trip
West Coast Road Trip

As always this cost is just an example of this one specific trip. You can probably do the same trip for $700 or $70,000. Along the trip there were a lot of travelers who were simply hitchhiking their way across the country, spending their nights where they ended up, and eating simply. There were also plenty of travelers paying thousands of dollars for meals and expensive alcohols and driving fancy cars and shopping at expensive stores. Use this chart to give yourself an idea and feel free to move the numbers up or down to suit your trip. For example, we ate whatever we wanted and stayed at nice places. Just these two costs alone came out to about $5,000 or two-thirds of the total cost of the trip. If you eat and sleep cheaper then you can quickly cut off a bunch of the costs.

Normally this is where I would probably give some advice on the trip or talk about takeaways. I kind of can’t do that so easily since it has been so long since the trip. And with the changes to my life my memories will be recalled differently and my emotional response to certain events will be different. I had an awesome time on this road trip and an awesome time traveling this metaphoric road with my favorite travel buddy. I have had the best of times and have many great memories. Surely this isn’t the end of the road that we wanted, but we certainly never thought we would venture off on such a great trip at the start of it all.

Unfortunately I kind of arrived at a path that I did not want to go down. In life there are many important themes and ideals that you strive for. How important is love? How important is happiness? Which is more important than the other? What about comfort, success, family, work, friends, money, innovation, philanthropy, social impact, education, music, experiences, etc.? Everyone has different weights associated with all of these different topics. Maybe family is more important to you than money. Maybe success is more important than happiness. Maybe the opposite is true, etc. What is right for you is different than what is right for other people, and that is fine. For myself I guess I value truth very highly. I can’t imagine anything being more important than the truth. I arrived at a road where I had to choose truth over something that was also very important to me. I had to choose truth over love.

This whole topic of travel and truth and love reminds me of one of my favorite poems and I will end this post here. Its words have always resonated with me and it cannot be more appropriate at the moment. It is a poem called “The Wayfarer” written over a century ago by fellow Asbury Park local Stephen Crane.

The wayfarer,
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
“Ha,” he said,
“I see that none has passed here
In a long time.”
Later he saw that each weed
Was a singular knife.
“Well,” he mumbled at last,
“Doubtless there are other roads.”

I wish you courage in your travels,
Joe

rue de Petit Champlain, Quebec City

Road Trip: To Quebec and Back

So my buddy Mikey and I decided to jam a quick road trip. It wasn’t as crazy as the 6,000 mile two week adventure we took the last time, but we still got out there and did our thing. The itinerary is pretty much as follows:

19-Nov Burlington, VT
20-Nov Ottawa, ON, CAN
21-Nov Quebec City, QC, CAN
22-Nov Jacques-Cartier National Park, QC, CAN
23-Nov Mount Washington, NH and Portland, ME
24-Nov Portsmouth, NH
25-Nov Tree House Brewing Company, MA

Rough outline of the trip
Rough outline of the trip

The route would allow us an average of five hours of driving per day with a lighter rest day in the middle of the trip. We had the option of still arriving home Thanksgiving morning if we wanted to stay anywhere a little longer. It let us see a good mixture of great cities and great nature.

19-Nov Burlington, VT

I get out of work at 5 and head up north to grab Mikey. The car is already packed with a cooler full of food as I went grocery shopping the night before. I also picked up a fresh vehicle registration on my lunch break, but you probably want to make sure all your documentation is up to date well ahead of time. When I get to Mikey’s place we toss two of his bags in the car, say our goodbyes and head off. We have a lot less packed for this trip than the last one, but we’re also starting to become pros at this. We know what to take and what not to take. I’ll include a list of the essentials here in case you are planning a similar trip:

  • 24 pack water bottles
  • Energy drinks
  • Mountain Dew
  • Gatorade
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • 1 box kind bars, 1 box builders bars, 1 box fiber one bars
  • 1 box crackers
  • Loaf bread
  • Beef jerky (I like to buy this on the road to try new kinds)
  • 6-8 bananas
  • Bag of clementines
  • Plastic utensils (especially spoons for yogurt)
  • 1 roll paper towel
  • Save your shopping bags for gathering garbage
  • For cooler:
  • 8 Chobani yogurts
  • 1 or 2 hummus
  • Small bag carrots
  • Deli meats
  • Slices of cheese
  • Mustard

Use your discretion. Feel free to add or remove items. Some of that stuff should definitely not be included (energy drinks, soda, gatorade) but most of it (nuts, bars, fruits, yogurt, hummus, etc.) provides some great advantages. Sure you save a couple bucks on meals (this list will cost you about $50 per person and really includes all you breakfast and lunch and occasional dinner), but the real advantages are time savings and ability to be flexible around your road trip schedule. Instead of sitting down to breakfast every day just grab a bar and a yogurt and get on your way. If you are in the middle of nowhere and are hungry just pull over and grab some hummus or make a sandwich. Depending on the weather you may want to keep the drinks in the cooler or out of it, and you may need to replace ice every day or every couple days.

Anyways, the car is packed up with goodies. The ride out to Burlington involves a bunch of rain, which gets pretty heavy at times. The temperature is plenty about freezing or else we would be looking at heavy snow.

We make it out to Burlington, Vermont at around 12:45 AM. We kind of want to grab a celebratory beverage and a bite to eat. We stop at The Vermont Pub & Brewery because it’s one of the few places still open. Food is closed but the bartender is nice enough to grab us some chips and salsa, which is all we were looking for at that hour. The beers are alright, but there are better beers to come.

We end up making friends with a group sitting next to us. They say they’re off to some place Red Square and invite us out. The town was quiet when we drove through it, and it’s still quiet as we’re walking through it. We get to this place, about a half hour until close, and it is jam-packed. There’s a lot of people dancing either to hip hop in the main room or electronic in a back room. Wasn’t really expecting this since it seemed so dead in town, but after such a long drive we figured we would dance the night away.

The place closes down for the night and we still don’t have a place to stay for the night. We wanted to jam a night in the car on this trip for old times’ sake, but the temperatures were supposed to be way too cold for that. Tonight the low is somewhere around 45, so we decided to give it a go. We find a 24-hour McDonald’s and knock out for the night.

20-Nov Ottawa, ON, CAN

The sleep is pretty uneventful. It wasn’t too cold and no one bothered us. I’ve slept in a parking lot of a 24 hour McDonald’s when I was in Europe and I’m 2/2 on not getting asked to leave from there. Seems like most places that are 24 hours like McDonald’s or Walmart (I think I’m 4/4 here) are fine for spending the night, especially if you can tuck yourself away in a good spot.

Morning arrives and we grab some McDonald’s breakfast. While most companies would probably be against you sleeping in your car on their property, it’s pretty beneficial to both parties, as I tend to buy things from the place I’m sleeping at and there are an infinite number of parking spots available during those overnight hours.

Before heading back into Burlington we decided to stop in Beverage Warehouse, which is a liquor store on the outskirts of Burlington. They are supposed to be receiving a shipment of Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine IPA, which is a good IPA from Vermont. The whole route that we are driving through is filled with some highly rated beers, with the state of Vermont being one of the best. The delivery truck is late so Mikey decides to grab my camera and proceeds to take his first ever shot with a DSLR. It’s a pretty bad one, but it’s included here for historical value should he ever become a world class photographer lol.

Mikey's first ever DSLR shot
Mikey’s first ever DSLR shot

Eventually the delivery truck comes and we grab a 4 pack of Lawson’s Sip, two of which I’m giving to my cousin, and one can a piece for Mikey and I. We also pick up a 4 pack that is part of some fundraiser. It includes 1 can each of some Vermont beers; the Alchemist’s Heady Topper (for a long time considered the #1 beer), another Lawson’s Sip, Fiddlehead Brewing’s Second Fiddle, and 14th Star Brewing’s Tribute. This fundraiser package also includes a $10 gift certificate for some place in town and $9 of the $20 package goes to charity so it’s an easy choice to pick that up.

Heady Topper and Lawson's Sip
Heady Topper and Lawson’s Sip

After the score we head back to Burlington. We drive down to the Lake Champlain waterfront. It’s a pretty nice area to stroll the lake.

Since it’s almost lunchtime we stop in to The Farmhouse Tap & Grill. It’s supposed to have good beers and it certainly does. A flight of Hill Farmstead, one of the great Vermont breweries awaits. They have the Edward, Harlan, Citra, Dorothy, and Madness & Solitude. The Edward is an absurdly well-crafted American Pale Ale. It’s simple but just really really good. It’s hard to find simple beers that are that well made, as breweries tend to focus their efforts on the trendy more complex big dollar varieties like bourbon barrel aged stouts and double ipas. The Madness & Solitude was also exquisite. It’s their Ephraim beer (an already really highly rated and pretty rare Imperial IPA) that is aged in second and third use bourbon barrels. The Madness & Solitude is supposed to be the best beer, but that Edward really is a surprise. We try some other beers and the Ballast Point Rum Barrel Aged Victory At Sea ends up being our favorite on tap, which is in agreement with the bartender. We chat the bartender about our road trip and he says Portland, Maine is a great place. We hear this often throughout the trip.

Some Hill Farmstead brews
Some Hill Farmstead brews

After lunch is over we stroll about Burlington. The weather is pretty glorious for heading up and down Church Street. We stop in at Leunig’s Bistro & Lounge, which is a Parisian-style dining place. We spend our $10 gift certificate we picked up earlier in the day on an Alchemist Focal Banger (Heady Topper’s little brother usually only available at restaurants), a double espresso, and a duck pate. The server here also says Portland, Maine is a great place.

Church Street, Burlington, VT
Church Street, Burlington, VT

After this stop we stroll about looking for a restroom. We head into some restaurant and end up running into one of the girls that invited us out dancing the night before. It hasn’t even been 24 hours and we’re already started to feel like locals. She’s been here her whole life. I talk about Asbury Park and how it has a similar small city feeling to Burlington. Everyone knows everyone. You see each other everywhere. We sit down at their table and chat about the trip and what we’ve been up to. Before long it’s time for her to head to work, and probably time for us to head off to our next stop.

It’s only about a three and a half hour drive to Ottawa but we have to cross over the border. The line at the border is short. We get to the booth and the lady asks us the typical questions. We answer them. Doesn’t seem to be any problems. Then she tells us to pull ahead to some parking spot and holds on to our passports. It’s generally not a good sign when someone holds onto your identification. We have some border officials come out to our car. They tell us to sit out on a bench in the freezing cold. They take out and open all of the bags, the cooler, go through the entire car, and put everything back. I don’t have a jacket on because I wasn’t expecting this 20-minute search to drag on this long. They ask us some questions as they’re doing it and then tell us to go inside. We wait a little longer. Mikey gets called up to answer questions by himself. Then I get called up to answer questions by myself. Then we sit down for about another 20 minutes. Not really sure what the hold up is but eventually after about a total of an hour they tell us we are free to go. We hop in the car and zip off to Ottawa. Maybe going to Ottawa and Quebec City instead of Montreal was what set it off. Everyone we talked to kind of thought we were idiots for choosing to go to Ottawa over Montreal lol. Maybe I’ve been over the border at about a dozen different entrances and exits recently. Who knows.

We get to Ottawa and check into our hotel. It’s pretty cold out but we have things to see and do. After unpacking and relaxing for a bit, we stroll along Parliament Hill. The buildings here are enormous and beautiful. It must take several minutes to walk from one end of these buildings to the other end. We stop in and grab some pictures before venturing onwards.

Parliament Hill at night
Parliament Hill at night

We continue the walk and get to Byward Market. It’s an area to hang at with many bars and restaurants. The Market area has a very diverse mix of people. Young suits mix amongst more casual wear. We walk up and down all of the streets of the market looking for a place to grab dinner. Most of the places are charging cover, even to grab a bite to eat. We eventually stopped in at King Eddy Burgers. It’s a pretty cool spot that seems to be housing some locals for the night. The staff seems pretty cool and we probably should have chatted them up about recommendations for things to do since the Market area has a lot of pretty lame looking clubs. The bouncers make you wait in line in the freezing cold even if the inside if fairly empty to give the appearance that they are busy. Anywho, the burgers are pretty delicious but I’m kind of upset I didn’t order the fried chicken as it looks amazing coming out of the kitchen.

After dinner we head off to find some place to dance. Sitting in a car for several hours a day means you have to be out and about doing something active so we’re trying to jam dancing to get our cardio in for the trip. You can kind of tell based on who’s waiting on line what the vibe of the place will be. We decide on Tequila Jacks because the people in line seem our age and seem to be dressed pretty casually. We hop inside and do our thing. Dance until the night is over. Afterwards we make the long stroll back to the hotel in the freezing cold.

21-Nov Quebec City, QC, CAN

After the night of sleep we wake up deciding on what to do. There are a couple things we can check out in Ottawa but we’re both pretty pumped to zoom over to Quebec City. Quebec City is a place that I have wanted to go to for some time, but I never really had anyone who wanted to make the trip. It’s about as close to a European city as you can get on this side of the Atlantic. The drive over goes well. There is some farmland out here that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s weird that you can have a place that you can mistake for France so close to a place you can mistake for Kentucky. I guess that’s just how Canada works sometimes. Here’s a shot of Mikey having one of his trademarked naps through the countryside.

Mikey you sleeping though?
Mikey you sleeping though?

We get to our hotel and unpack and relax for a bit. Since we are in the middle of French Canada, we decided to find a French place to grab some food at. According to the 2011 Canadian Census over 99% of people know the French language in this city, and about 62% speak exclusively French. That’s how French this place is. Everyone talks to you at first in French, but if you respond saying you only know English then everyone we ran into was nice and switched languages for us. The language is just magical to hear. Upon leaving the hotel to head to Old Quebec we heard a group of girls talking in French. I told Mikey, not remembering that they obviously knew English, that it sounded magical. They heard and turned around and laughed and I muttered “pardon, pardon,” which really should have been “je suis desole,” but all was well. They were heading into some place that was buzzing with people, either into the movies or a theater. I think they are playing Trainspotting or some rendition of it.

The walk to Old Quebec from our hotel was perfect. It’s amazing how well put together the town is. Everything is in the right place. The colors are just right. The fonts and the paint are perfect. The restaurants and bars have exactly the right people wearing exactly the right clothes and enjoying exactly the right foods and drinks. It almost feels like the whole city is under management by Disney or something. For example this is rue de Petit Champlain, that same street that our restaurant was on. It’s pretty much perfectly decorated for the holidays.

rue de Petit Champlain, Quebec City
rue de Petit Champlain, Quebec City

When we get to the restaurant we can’t get a seat. It’s a small French place that is booked for the night. It’s no worries as the reviews for several of the places in the area were highly rated. We can’t pull them up because our cell phones have been in airplane mode to avoid absurd roaming charges. Verizon charges $2.05/MB and $0.50 for every sent text message unless you enroll in a plan, which for three days wasn’t worth the hassle. Being disconnected is a great feeling so I don’t mind. No one can get in touch with me and I can’t reach out to anyone. We’re all just going to have to get through life on our own for the next couple days. We end up picking a place by judging the exterior of the restaurants along with the items on their menu.

Eventually we pick out Restaurant L’Echaude. The menu looks great. We get inside and this place is completely packed as well. Luckily we’re able to score two seats at the bar just as two people are leaving. Dinner ends up being great. Mikey goes with the steak tartar with red bell peppers and chorizo for appetizer (or entree as you call it in French) and the duck confit for main course. I opt for the foie gras mousse tartine with figs and nuts for appetizer and the black pudding, Jerusalem artichokes with garlic and sorrel and seared foie gras for the main course. All the dishes are excellent and we bounce back and forth between plates to have a try of everything.

Black Pudding, Jerusalem Artichokes, Foie Gras
Black Pudding, Jerusalem Artichokes, Foie Gras

At the time I had no idea what black pudding was, and there were many delicious sounding dishes that I could have ordered. I was on a foie kick and was in the mood to push myself a little and try something different. I wasn’t expecting it to be a brownie thing. The texture of this specific black pudding was very much like a fresh out of the over gooey brownie. The flavor of the pudding was dark and rich and earthy. In combination with all of the ingredients it was one of my favorite bites of the trip. It’s not until I get home and am talking to my mom that I realize that black pudding is blood sausage. It’s a dish made with pig’s blood. I kind of laughed and was pretty happy when I realized that. It made the flavor make so much sense. And while I’m not grossed out by a dish named blood sausage, I probably would have opted for the fish and mussel soup, rib eye steak, shrimp stuffed squid with squid ink risotto, or deer dishes over it, which would have been a shame.

Dinner wrapped up with some espresso, coffee that was lit on fire, and honey wine. I do have to say that the bartender really took care of us on the bill, so thanks for that. Coupled with the exchange rate and the discount we ended up paying a ridiculously low amount. It’s definitely an example that I see time and time again of locals really giving you respect if you give them the respect. We’re in a place where we don’t know the official language, and everyone loves us. I wouldn’t listen to anyone who had one bad experience on one specific occasion and then harps on it and makes such large generalizations. Often times I would probably find more of a fault with the person complaining than with the person who apparently caused the complaints.

Anywho, after dinner we venture off into the city. Across the cobblestone we go. Trying to dodge the wind and the cold, which is now the coldest we’ve had all trip. Past the many perfectly laid out little stores and restaurants. This city has a bridge running right through it and it is perfectly covered in street art.

Sweet street art in Quebec City
Sweet street art in Quebec City

Occasionally we pass someone talking in English and it just sounds so silly and out of place in this city. We head back to the hotel so that I can drop off my camera. We head to some bar off of a recommendation that is pretty empty, so we go inside to a little livelier one next door. We hang around for a moment before hitting the streets to stroll about again.

We stroll up and down the streets and the city looks quiet. The freezing wind is howling and we’re thinking of maybe heading back to the hotel. Eventually we find some place called Boudoir that has a pretty big crowd of people hanging outside of it. We hear some hip hop coming from it and head inside. After a coat check we realize there’s two floors of different music. Hip hop is upstairs so that’s where we stay. The crowd is pretty chill and we end up dancing the night away again. Wasn’t really planning dancing so much at the start of the trip but there’s only so much to do late at night. It’s the weekend and we need to get our exercise in. The dj is solid, and I barely have a minute to pause. He ends off on a couple Kanye joints, it’s hard not to vibe to “don’t let me get in my zone,” which is a phrase I’ve been vibing on lately. The great thing is I’m pretty sure I’m in my zone again, which is right where I want to be.

We shut the club down and head back to the hotel for a night of sleep.

22-Nov Jacques-Cartier National Park, QC, CAN

In the morning we head off to Jacques-Cartier National Park, which is a short drive from the city. While it’s officially a provincial park it is referred to as a national park, so I guess it’s size is somewhere in between. The weather looks a little worrisome with some snow on the ground and some snow falling, but we make our way through the park.

Jacques-Cartier National Park
Jacques-Cartier National Park

There are several times where it looks like we may have to turn around due to the weather and we have to drive at a crawl through the park. Although there are some hills which look like they may be a little challenging to get up on the return route, we have some extra weight in the car. There was definitely one point where I was ready to turn around, but in an effort to take on a little more risk in my life, I decided to throw a bit of caution to the snowy wind and proceed on for about ten more kilometers.

Snow covered trails
Snow covered trails

After a while, the slow pace and repetitive scenery of the park makes us turn around. We don’t really see anything of interest on the park map, but we may have missed some stuff because it was a pretty useless map. With a six hour drive to the Mount Washington area we decided to set off for the states.

There are a couple routes that can be taken back in to the US and I really wanted to hop onto Wi-Fi to confirm which was the fastest. So we stop at a gas station with a McDonald’s. A lot of people don’t know but you can use your gps on your phone without having your data on. But you have to set your route while you are connected to the internet. So for example, once we signed on to the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and put Mount Washington into our gps and set the route, we would be completely fine with driving all the way there without having data on. You only need data to set the initial route. I used this method all the time when I was in Europe, and you can really get all the data you need by connecting to Wi-Fi when needed. If you really are taking a trip where you don’t want to worry about data at all then you can use an offline gps such as Navmii, but you will have to download huge maps beforehand. While it is not as good as something like Google Maps, it is not a bad backup to have stored on your phone.

Eventually we hit the border and are thinking about the fiasco we had trying to get into Canada. We’re prepared for the wait. The questions start. The officer opens the hatch and starts poking around. Apparently you aren’t allowed to bring citrus fruits into the US for whatever reason, so he grabs our half bag of clementines (he allows us to keep the bananas), and sends us on our way.

We realize that there isn’t anything to do in any of these towns around Mount Washington. It’s about 8:30 PM and our only hope was a bowling alley that closed at 9 PM. We decide to stay at a hotel in Gorham, which is at the top of the Mount Washington and White Mountain National Forest area. We spend the night eating sandwiches from the cooler, playing Magic the Gathering, and having a tasting of the Heady Topper, Lawson’s Sip, and Second Fiddle. The Heady really lives up to the hype. It’s one of those beers that you drink and just say “wow, this is a great beer.”

23-Nov Mount Washington, NH and Portland, ME

The day starts off with some granola bars and chobanis and we make our way to Mount Washington. I remember I used to always see those bumper stickers that said, “This car climbed Mount Washington.” I haven’t really seen those bumper stickers in a while, but I’m pretty pumped to take the drive up.

Nope. Apparently the tentative closing date for the road up Mount Washington was October 25, bummer.

You can't close a mountain
You can’t close a mountain

You can still hike the mountain in the winter (if you dare), or you can register for some adventure trip, which was sold out for the year. Hiking is certainly not for everyone. There have been 150 fatalities on the mountain in the last 150 years, but only 3 of them have been from the auto road. The others were all people who greatly underestimated the power that even a 6,288 foot mountain possesses.

I didn’t think to check the closing date because you can get almost twice as high in places like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and only portions of that park close. There also was no snow on the mountains so it was a little annoying not being able to drive up but I guess that’s the difference between a place like New Hampshire and a place like Colorado.

Still, the Kancamagus Highway was open and would provide some nice views. We decided to take that drive, but before we can make it to the highway we see a beer store advertising over 400 beers so we decide to stop in. I grab a bottle of Shipyard 2012 Bourbon Barrel Aged Double ESB because stuff like this just isn’t available for pickup anywhere. There were 2,100 bottles of this beer ever made and it released in September 2012. In line at checkout I look up and I see Founders KBS sitting on the shelf, my favorite beer. I’m not sure what this is doing there, but I ask the man if he has it for sale. He says yes and I say I’ll take it. I would take all of it to be honest but Mikey and I decide that splitting a 4 pack is the right move. We want to leave some behind for other people who will be happy to see it randomly sitting on the shelf.

No idea why kbs was on shelves
No idea why kbs was on shelves

After adding to our beer collection we proceed to drive the Kancamagus Highway. We take it all the way to the top at the Kancamagus Pass before swinging back around. We get out to take a couple pictures and it’s easily the coldest weather we will face on the trip.

Panorama of one side of Kancamagus Pass
Panorama of one side of Kancamagus Pass

The biting cold wind makes you a useless human being within a few minutes. It’s amazing to see nature just destroy your body that quickly to the point where you get out for a couple minutes and you have to run back to the car because you literally start freezing.

And the other side
And the other side

After driving through the White Mountain National Forest we head out for a short and leisurely two hour drive to Portland, Maine. The first stop is actually a couple minutes outside of the city. We stop at Maine Beer Co and have a sampler of beer. There is no Maine Dinner around. I believe it was put out the month before. But the Maine Lunch is on tap, as well as the rest of the lineup. After splitting a pretzel and booking our hotel for the night we head off to the city. We unpack and rest up and head back out to the city.

Flight at Maine Beer Co
Flight at Maine Beer Co

I always thought the bars and restaurants in Portland would be a lot cooler from my memories when I was younger, and also form all of the positive opinion that people had in regards to the city. I’m not sure if it’s more of a place to visit in the summer season but the majority of places we walked into were sports bars filled with bros watching the Patriots game. Unfortunately the first place we went to, Novare Res, was closed. They have a pretty sweet looking beer menu. I was hoping to jam a five year old barrel aged Old Rasputin. Eventually we found ourselves at Central Provisions and decide to give it a try. We have some sea urchin, bone marrow, foie gras, octopus, swordfish, suckling pig, and finish with a key lime tart so all is well.

We ask the waitress how to avoid the sports bars and she says to check out Novare Res, which we say is closed. She says that’s a bummer because that was her plans after the shift gets out. She tells us to check out Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and so we head over. One of their options for their 11 PM happy hour is called the Service Industry Happy Meal, which is a Miller High Life and a shot of Fernet Branca. We end up running into some of the workers from Central Provisions and they give us some recommendations as to what to do for the next day. One of the recommendations is to check out Mackworth Island. The night comes to an end and we head off into the freezing cold for a brisk walk back to the hotel.

24-Nov Portsmouth, NH

The day starts and we try to find a place selling lobster. The original plan in Portland was to grab lobster but many of the places were closed for the season. We eventually find some place called Scarborough Fish & Lobster about 20 minutes south of Portland. Their menu is very simple. There are only a couple items available to order. I want to get a three pound hard shell lobster but there aren’t any available. The guys working say they come and go really quickly. We go with an order of steamers and a couple lobsters.

Yum Maine lobster
Yum Maine lobster

The food is delicious. I’ve wanted to eat Maine lobster since I last had it years ago to see if the taste is as good as I remember it. And it definitely is. The taste of fresh caught lobster is hard to beat. As we’re eating a couple lobstermen come in and drop off some fresh lobsters. One of the guys working shows me the three pounder that I wanted. Ha, so it goes sometimes. We eventually finish off with some chowder and set off for Mackworth Island.

Sweetness
Sweetness

Mackworth Island is a tiny island that takes about an hour to walk around with a very leisurely pace. It’s about 10 minutes from Portland and you can drive right onto it. As we are driving over the bridge to get there I immediately recognize it as a place I had been to when I was younger with my family. It’s weird because Mackworth Island is a place that I have been thinking about off and on for a while now. It’s one of those places that you’ve been to when you were younger but you can’t quite remember where it was. I always thought Mackworth Island was more north, closer to Acadia National Park. Either way we are about to arrive at the island and I’m pretty excited for a stroll down memory lane. The island is one of those places that I remember visiting with my family when I was younger. I miss those trips. I guess everyone is too busy to put work and life on hold to travel together again, but maybe some day it will happen.

The stroll about is a beautiful. It’s definitely a place where I would run if I lived in the area. It’s also a bit chilly but we’re doing it up.

Strolling Mackworth, pretty chilly
Strolling Mackworth, pretty chilly

It’s easy to spend time stopping with great views everywhere on the island.

Bench on Mackworth Island
Bench on Mackworth Island

Walking a little further will give you another great view.

Panorama from Mackworth Island
Panorama from Mackworth Island

And spinning around to walk back to the island you get this view.

Mackworth Island
Mackworth Island

The island definitely has some interesting vibes. I think fairies have lived on this island for a really long time. You can make little homes for them out of sticks and clamshells and such. The homes are nice to keep the fairies safe from the weather which can be pretty brutal up here. I remember my little sister and I found fairy wings on the ground here the last time we visited. I tried to put them in my pocket to save them but they were gone forever when I got back to the car.

Fairies live on the island
Fairies live on the island

There’s also a pet cemetery on the island and some other cool things to check out.

I loved the way this next shot came out. It’s sky reflecting on water and mud and rocks.

Sky reflecting in the mud and water
Sky reflecting in the mud and water

We catch the sun setting on the island and then head off because the cold is quickly coming in.

Sunset on Mackworth Island
Sunset on Mackworth Island

We decided to check out Allagash Brewing but we get there for 4:30 PM and apparently it closed at 4 PM on that day. We contemplate spending another night in Portland but decide to drive an hour south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for the night. I message some girl from Tinder that plans are off and we are heading out of town. Tindering around has been a great way to get recommendations of what to see and do and having a local to hang with is a nice bonus.

The drive to Portsmouth is a fast one. Once you’re used to the pace of the road trip, hour long trips are a joke. They’re equivalent to a ten or fifteen minute drive from your old life.

We get to Portsmouth and check in to the Hampton Inn Portsmouth on 99 Durgin Lane. I specifically make note of this hotel because it was one of the greatest hotel deals I have ever had before. There was some sort of event going on with free food and drinks for all of the hotel guests. We arrive around 6 PM and the event ends at 6:30 PM. We toss our gear in the room and proceed downstairs for some food and drink, because why not. Over the next half hour we proceed to crush through 8 beers, 6 bowls of popcorn, 4 plates of homemade shells, and 2 bottles of water. All for the lovely price of $0 lol. During the time we chat the director of sales and the concierge and share stories and get some recommendations as to what to do in town.

8 beers, 6 popcorns, 4 plates shells, 2 waters, $0
8 beers, 6 popcorns, 4 plates shells, 2 waters, $0

After a little nap, or a long one, we venture off to town to stroll the streets. We hear Portsmouth Brewery and Thirsty Moose Tap House are two good places to check out. We stroll past both and head into the Thirsty Moose. It’s alright. Mostly a sports bar with tvs and a bunch of beer, a couple of which seem alright.

We squeeze out of there and stroll about the town some more. As we’re walking we approach a crosswalk with a police car sitting right on the corner. A huge truck pulls up and doesn’t let us cross. He blows through the sign without stopping. I look at the police car and kind of toss my hands up. He or she saw the whole thing though. After we cross the street the police car zips out to follow the truck and approaches the truck at a stop light down the street. About ten seconds pass. The bells of the North Church start ringing to signify midnight. Ten more seconds pass. Eventually the light turns green and as soon as the truck makes the left turn the police officer flips the lights on to pull him over. Mikey and I high five each other knowing the tough guy in the truck is probably getting a DUI and tickets for running a stop and not yielding to pedestrians.

Eventually we find ourselves at the Press Room. There’s some pretty good live music being played downstairs and it looks mostly like a typical pub would. We venture upstairs to check out what’s going on and the scene is totally different. There’s 4 player Mario Kart going down. Some kids are jamming some commander games of Magic the Gathering. The music is like weird 90s electronic. It’s an interesting spot. After assessing the situation Mikey decides to ask if he can be the 6th player for a game of Magic. One of the guys allows us to borrow a deck and we get to playing. The place closes at 1 AM but the workers let us stick around for a while to finish up the game. We’re not locals of Portsmouth but I guess we’re given a temporary local pass. After the game gets out we stroll back to the hotel for night.

Pickup game of Magic the Gathering
Pickup game of Magic the Gathering

25-Nov Tree House Brewing Company, MA

We check out of the hotel and head to the car to throw our gear in the car. While we’re packing up and eating breakfast out of the back of the car, the director of sales lady pulls up to start her next shift. She asks if we stole any beers for the road and we laugh and tell her no. She’s great. I ask for a hug before we go and give her about a twenty second super uncomfortable hug because I love doing that to people. I’ve never met someone who ever held a hug longer than me, true story.

The plan for the day is to swing by Tree House Brewing which is about a 2 hour drive in the direction of home. Stopping at Tree House would only add on about 20 minutes of additional driving so it seems like a good place to stop at on the way home.

When we get there the place is a zoo. There are cars up on down the road parked on neighbors’ lawns. The parking lot is completely booked. A huge line is hanging out on the shoulder of the road. It doesn’t look good but Mikey and I decided to get out and figure out what is going down. The huge line that is running along the road isn’t even the whole line. It’s just part of it. The line winds to the right around the brewery. Then it makes another right and continues on. And finally another right until it approaches a door to the brewery. Looking at a satellite image and estimating, it was a line about 700 feet long. About two and a third football field lengths. It’s two deep half the time. There are literally hundreds of people waiting in line, and I estimate it would take two to four hours of waiting to pick up some beer (these numbers were confirmed on social media later in the day via people who decided to wait). We finally find a worker and ask and he says there’s no tastings today and you can only buy cans and get growlers filled. The craft beer scene, a place where you wait in line to not drink. Tree House is a hot brewery right now. Their Good Morning stout just recently replaced Heady Topper as Beer Advocate’s #1 rated beer (Good Morning wasn’t even available that day). We’ve had enough top beers on the trip and have a great haul to bring home so we decided to get out of there instead of waiting the absurd amount of time to pick up beer. I can’t imagine the tasting room at Tree House will be able to stay open for long since the place was a zoo. The neighbors and local business probably will put a stop to that nonsense really quickly.

Line for beer was hundreds deep lol
Line for beer was hundreds deep lol

We have a four hour drive to Asbury Park and decide to just head home so that we will be back in time to spend the night out in Asbury. There aren’t too many interesting stops on the way so homeward bound we are. We run into a little traffic since it’s the night before Thanksgiving but all ends up going well. We get home, unpack the gear one last time and freshen up before venturing out into Asbury.

So yea, that’s about it for the write-up. Been a while getting this out, but I haven’t been in a rush lately. I wanted to just spend the time enjoying this trip and being in the moment instead of documenting it via the camera and the keyboard for you all. The pictures definitely could have been a lot better, but I wasn’t so focused on the photography on this trip. And I’m happy with the decision to experience the trip at the cost of getting this out late and not as beautifully as I might have wanted.

There should be enough footage from the trip to jam a video together. When I get it done I’ll release a little overview recap like I usually do. I still have to do one from the last trip I was on. But I’ve been waiting on microphones and learning video and audio software to make a couple original pieces to accompany the video. Probably will end up using both the songs from both videos for an album that I plan on making so I’m pumped to get to work on that. The plan for the time being is to pretty much lock myself in my house or the library or coffeehouses for the next bunch of time and just pour my soul into things that I really want to work on. The beers we brought back will be sitting in the fridge for some time (minus the hoppy ones).

Pretty sweet beer haul
Pretty sweet beer haul

They let me get back in my zone so that’s where I will be for some time.

I hope everything is going well with you and you are pouring your soul out into the universe as well.

Cheers and love,

Joe