Category Archives: Road Trip

Ridiculously stunning, captivating

Myanmar: An introduction to Southeast Asia

Aug 04, 2016

Eastward I went. Far, far eastward. Across the Atlantic. Passing over the UK. Past Western Europe, my last great adventure. Past Eastern Europe, an adventure for another day. Eventually to the Middle East, an area that has been growing in appreciation in my heart. Into the desert. The rich sands and haze of Qatar.

Aug 05, 2016

It had taken me 12 hours to get here from New York City. I wish I had something poignant to say about such a travel. The flight was beautifully uneventful. In a world where everything is taken for granted, I have few words. I just flew on a $300 million dollar piece of magic. An engineering marvel that would shatter your brain if you could fathom the intricacies of it all.

I watched Big Hero 6 off of a recommendation. That movie will give kids a false sense of inventing in a way that any Disney princess movie gives kids a false sense of love and life.

I watched Casablanca. It’s still rated as one of the best moves of all time and I had to see why. Classics are classics for a reason. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would have. It’s a bit absurd, but it’s a bit beautiful.

I sat in the airport in Qatar for about three hours. The sun was setting when I left New York, and the sun was setting again here.

Onto another plane I went. Eastward still. Across India, until finally my destination approached. Myanmar. Or Burma as some people might still call it. Yes, they are the same place. No, Burma is not some island. For me, it’s the entry point and the introduction into Southeast Asia.

Aug 06, 2016

Beautifully complicated, Myanmar is a place that was pretty much off limits for travel only a few short years ago. It all started in 2007 with 100,000 monks. They weren’t happy. And when you manage to mobilize that many peaceful warriors, you are in for a fun time. Fighting in the streets. Revolution. The entire country was flipped upside down, just as I would be by visiting it.

Twenty-two hours. Somewhere around 9,000 miles of flying. Finally my adventure could begin.

The first stop was Yangon, the capital. I had arrived at about 6 AM in the morning. Saturday morning. I boarded my first flight in New York around 10 PM, on Thursday night. We all have Friday nights that we can’t remember, but in my case it feels like this day never existed.

Eventually I made it through customs, picked up some local currency and grabbed a taxi to my hotel. The city passes me by as the driver maneuvers through traffic, beeping at anyone he feels the right too. I think it’s a beautiful city with a lot of character. Some people would probably say it’s too gritty. I think it’s a very truthful place. Its presence would go on to charm me.

I check in early to the hotel. It’s the rainy season. Everyone seems to point this put to me. I want to go out and explore, as there seems to be a break in the weather. I decide to nap first which eventually leads to a long sleep. I wake up around 5 PM and decide to quickly get a move on to go check out what the town has to offer.

The weather ends up being fine for the night. There are some showers, but never anything more. I thought the rainy season would be a lot worse, but I think it really just makes you appreciate the fine weather. If you can’t enjoy life with bad weather, then feel free to be held back from a good time. Feel free to be miserable. Or move to San Diego or something.

The first stop is Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s a short walk from the hotel. I start walking on the sidewalks before I kind of realize they don’t exist and join the locals on the road. Cars have the right of way, but you kind of just use your brain and follow other people. You quickly get the feel for how to operate. In general when you’re in a new place, just follow along. It will get you to a point where you can start to think and make decisions for yourself.

The cloudiness of the night mixed with the fogging of my camera lens. My lens was sitting in an air-conditioned room. Out in the real world it gave me problems until it adapted to the temperature. I didn’t really notice it too much at the time of this picture. And I didn’t really mind. I was just absorbing everything on the walk. Even when I eventually go to the pagoda I didn’t really want to shoot pictures. The new sights had consumed me, and I gave into them.

The streets of Myanmar consumed me
The streets of Myanmar consumed me

There are lots of little stores and carts and setups of all different kinds. Many of the practices would be against many of the rules back home. Things are just different here. It seems to work well enough.

I passed about a dozen stray dogs on the walk over. They all look the same. Just a different color. They’re also really smart. They wait for cars and sprint across the road. They stay clear of people. They eat every single scrap of food that hasn’t been consumed. They kind of are like pigeons in New York or seagulls down the Jersey shore. They are just kind of there. Part of the scenery. They don’t really bother you. No one pays them any mind.

You can’t wear shoes to see this Shwedagon Pagoda. No socks either. You need long pants as well. Respect and whatnot. Walking the wet stone floor is another little indication that I am not home. This is how things are done out here.

The pagoda is breathtaking. Honestly. I went into this trip really wanting to shoot some good pictures. But the sights of the street have consumed me, and the beauty of the pagoda had rendered my photography skills useless. There are some incredible shots here, but I wasn’t able to capture them as I had wanted. I walked around in awe of the place. How different. How beautiful. As the cathedrals are to Western Europe, I feel so too will the temples of Southeast Asia be for me.

Ridiculously stunning, captivating
Ridiculously stunning, captivating

Even though it’s rainy season, there are a fair amount of people here, but its not overwhelming. There’s a mix of tourists and worshippers of all different levels. I thought this picture of these people lighting candles gave me an interesting perspective. Religion is kind of religion everywhere. In Myanmar you might be a Buddhist. Back in the states you might be Christian. So much of what vehemently believe in are truths or ideas that were given to us based on such unexplainable things like where we were born.

Worshippers at Shwedagon Pagoda
Worshippers at Shwedagon Pagoda

After walking about the pagoda I strolled off. I wanted to walk to the Chinatown area because there was supposed to be some good bbq on 19th street. I like walking when I’m in new places. It gives you a great perspective and time to look around and process the place. It let’s you discover new things about a place. It gives you some much needed exercise on the road. Unfortunately the walk was a bit uneventful. It was mostly along a wide road.

There are several streets and vendors all over the Chinatown area. 19th Street was alive with a mix of vendors, and places to sit down and grab some food and drink. It looks like this. It’s a reminder again that I’m so far away from home. This place has all of the essentials that you would want back home, but it just looks a bit different.

Streets of Yangon
Streets of Yangon

I settle for a location that is crowded. My plan for the trip is to sometimes reference reviews online, but often just find places that are crowded or look good and venture in. I don’t normally post pictures of menus or anything but I have to in this case. Both the drink menu and the food menu. Keep in mind when looking at these menus that $1 US dollar is equivalent to about 1200 Myanmar kyat. So yea, that gin and tonic or mojito you want is 75 cents.

Absurd prices
Absurd prices

Chicken wings are about $2.50. Beef kabobs for the same. Egg fried rice for a buck twenty. Stuff is pretty cheap here for sure.

Not bad at all
Not bad at all

I grab a Myanmar Black Shield stout. I wasn’t expected such a delicious stout to appear and certainly not for $1.75.

Pretty good stout
Pretty good stout

I ask for a table for 1 and was sat at a table of one Japanese guy who is living in Myanmar and three locals. Everyone at the table is very friendly. The Japanese gentleman strikes up conversation. He went to New York to try to make it in broadway several times. But he chose a life as a guitar instructor. The three guys from Myanmar were friendly. The one I spoke with the most gave me his card and told me to have the authorities call him if I got myself into trouble. I’m not sure how useful that will be, but he seems nice. He says I look like Jason Bourne and asks me if I’m on a secret mission. I laugh, I may be on a personal mission here for sure, but I doubt it will be as glamorous as Bourne’s. I hope parts of it can be as exciting though. He says Myanmar is a great place. I agree with what I’ve seen so far. He says everyone wants to talk to tourists but they are afraid their English isn’t good enough. I think that it’s a lot better than my understanding of the local language.

Dinner ends up going well. It gives me the obvious comfort that I will be able to find food and drink on this trip. Everyone has to eat and drink, so it should be obvious that it won’t be a problem to find such necessities. But I guess sometimes when you are planning a trip back in the comfort of your home you want to have that comfort that you will be able to both survive and enjoy it.

The walk back to the hotel is along a different road. It too mostly follows a major road. You pass some rats from time to time but they are nowhere near the size of the ones I once saw in New Orleans. At times I’m thinking it might be worth it to grab one of the many taxis that beeps at me or pulls up and asks me if I need a ride. But I’m happy to have the opportunity to explore.

I book the next night of the trip. A flight to and a hotel in Inle Lake. Sleep goes well but at about 5 in the morning I no longer can sleep. I flick the lights on to grab my computer to figure maybe I’ll go through some pictures. It’s at this point I’m tested for the first time with my accommodations. So far the hotel has been great. Everything is nice and clean and comfortable. So when I see a cockroach I have a decision. Be irrational and let it ruin my life, or accept that the world has bugs and carry on. How you approach bugs probably says a lot about who you are, and whether you would enjoy or hate a trip out here. I’m not entirely convinced these are worse than the silverfish we have at home, but they might be. As long as they’re not going to kill me with a slew of diseases like mosquiteos or be a nuisance like bed bugs (my luck will eventually run out with these), then I’m probably fine. I put a glass around it to let housekeeping handle it in the morning and snap a picture to present here so that you may find out what type of person you are lol.

Eww gross, haha not really
Eww gross, haha not really

Aug 07, 2016

Morning eventually comes and with it a stop for a breakfast dish I have heard is a must try it Yangon. Mohinga is a noodle soup made of fish stock. Add some cilantro, lemon, chili flakes, a slew of mystery spices and ingredients, and you have a bowl of magic. Couple that with chicken puff pastries that completely destroy anything I’ve ever gotten anywhere in my life. Imagine you’re eating a cloud. Add a cup of tea that has probably thousands of years of tinkering with the blend of ingredients. And a lychee soda because you may as well, and you have one of the most beautiful breakfasts of your life. Each bite a great experience in itself. An amazing meal in so many ways. And of course all for about $2 US dollar.

Breakfast and pillowy amazingness
Breakfast and pillowy amazingness

After breakfast I pack up my bag, then repack it because it doesn’t fit just right. I’m quickly figuring out the best way to pack this bag. I think I have it down. A quick taxi and I arrive back at the airport to catch an hour flight to Inle Lake. My journey includes a lot of these short flights. Apparently they are preferable to the disastrously long bus rides, which take you often uncomfortably the same distance in 8-12 hours. I’m sure I’ll figure out how to travel this area soon enough.

The flight to Inle Lake goes well. Again I have to check my bag. It seems like unless you go ultra light with something like a 22-liter pack, you will always have to check your bag, whether it’s on a flight or a bus ride.

Inle Lake is about an hour taxi from the airport. I try to find someone to split the cab with since everyone is going to the same direction. After a couple minutes I partner up with a girl from Madrid. We bounce back and forth between talking in broken English and Spanish. This is her seventh trip to Southeast Asia, and likely will be her last. There are new adventures ahead for her. She’s thinking Cuba to play and learn music. Seems like a reasonable play.

I show her my itinerary and she says it’s impossible. She says it’s too fast and I should slow down the pace. I’m not entirely convinced but she offers a lot of other valuable information about my trails that lie ahead. She gives me a list of places to check out, most of which I’m already going to, and others that just couldn’t make the cut.

The drive to Nyaung Shwe, the main city near Inle Lake, is a beautiful one. The flight has brought me into a region that has some mountains and also so flat open areas. If you’re not careful you may run into a water buffalo. They are some pretty cool looking creatures.

The road to Inle Lake
The road to Inle Lake

We get to a checkpoint, which the girl assures me she read is legitimate, and we have to fork over 12,500 kyats for a one-week pass for the Inle zone. It’s in addition to the 12,500 we each end up paying to split the cab.

We finally get into town and end up going to a hotel she’s trying to stay at. She doesn’t like it for some reason so she asks the driver to take her to another one. The taxi driver tells her the one she wants is dirty and instead drives her to a place that he recommends. She doesn’t want to see it and so the taxi driver, who is a bit upset at this point, takes her to the other hotel she wants. It does look pretty dirty but she says she’ll stay there and figure it out. We wish each other safe travels.

The taxi driver finally can take me to my hotel. Hotel Brilliant. What a name I’m thinking. The taxi driver says it is a very nice hotel. It ends up being one of the favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at. The service is really amazing. It has a resort vibe to it almost. I doubt I’ll ever stay at a better hotel for $32 US dollar. Even the rain has seemed to subside, and I’m greeted with a rainbow.

Views
Views

The only negative is that there is no wifi available. But it’s not a strike against the hotel. Rather the main internet connection to the town is broken. Apparently it has been for about four days. There’s only one working atm in the entire town.

Without internet access I have no idea where to head to for dinner. Or where and how I’m going to my next destination tomorrow. But I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out. The hotel recommends a place named One Owl Grill. It’s an eight-minute bike ride to the center of downtown. The hotel let’s you borrow bikes for free. I haven’t exactly ridden too many bikes lately, just occasionally in Asbury, but I get back on my way. It’s dark out. I’m trying my best to drive a straight line and stick to the traffic pattern, which is to mostly do whatever you think you can get away with. It’s not too busy but I’m being passed my mopeds and taxis. I may have ran a red light in front of a group of police officers. I don’t hear anyone call for me to stop so I guess I’m in the clear. It’s a great feeling riding this bike. I’m in the middle of darkness passing stray dogs in some country halfway around the world that I mostly knew nothing about only a few short days ago when I was planning for this trip. The wind whips past me and the darkness allows me to blend in with all the other people. I feel in that moment like I belong. I’ve tricked the city under my mask of darkness and I’m no longer a Westerner. I just am. Entirely free of everything. No connection to my life 9,000 miles away. No connection to anything but the present moment.

I see the restaurant approach and I park the bike and head inside. There seems to be only tourists here, a group of twenty and thirty year olds. It’s a mix of backpackers and hippies, couples and groups. People seem to know each other a bit. For food I get a chicken fried rice with egg and some chicken and garlic skewers and grab a Mandalay and a Myanmar beer.

I watch the world pass before me. The chaotic scenes of town. The interactions of the tourists. It’s a beautiful night. The pace here is much more relaxed than in Yangon. Even the country dogs differ from the city dogs in the same way people do. They’re a lot more relaxed. They’re not as nose down and deliberate like the city dogs, who are probably off to some meeting that their project manager called to discuss the productivity of acquiring scraps from the various locations around the city.

The meal is nice and relaxing. It gives me confidence that I will be able to not just get through the itinerary, but to have enough time to enjoy the travels and time to be in the moment and enjoy the trip. Let us die young or let us live forever plays in the background at some point.

It seems about time to head out. The town has quieted down a bit. I somewhat want to hop on the bike and keep exploring but I decide to head back to the hotel with since I want to be up early to check out the lake. It’s probably the right call. Those two beers gave me the confidence to crank the bike into the sixth gear. I’m now keeping a steady pace with the mopeds. The eight-minute ride turns into about a four-minute ride. I pull into the hotel and there’s about three staff there to take the bike from me.

I head to my room to sleep. It goes well but I can’t sleep the best. At a certain point in the night I just wake up. For the last two nights I’ve brewed up a cup of coffee and got to work on some of the pictures I’ve been taking. I give one last late push for some more sleep before the alarm clock will ring.

Aug 08, 2016

In the morning I grab breakfast at the hotel. Less than $3 for a plate of delicious fruit, unlimited tea, four pieces of toast, two eggs, then another two eggs because I looked hungry, a slice of frittata, an almond cookie, there may have been more. I was stuffed though.

The hotel books a tour of the lake for me for 18,000 kyat. It includes a ride to and from the boat. The ride also is the person who told me about that one working atm, and stops along the ride so I can withdraw money. It also is a tour that is only for me. I thought I would be put in a group but it’s just me and my own private captain. He takes me to the sights of the lake and let’s me come and go at my own pace.

I love these textures and colors
I love these textures and colors

The lake is beautiful. Mountains on both sides. Wide and open in the middle. There’s a lot of commerce going on here. Traditional fisherman. Harvesting of various sea plants. The transportation of goods such as fruits and bags of what could be rice. Of course the transportation of the newest commercial venture which is the tourists themselves.

Fisherman at Inle Lake
Fisherman at Inle Lake

The tour takes you to a bunch of traditional workshops where you can see how local goods are made and you can purchase them afterwards. They show you how to make silver jewelry or the actual boats you see being used on the lake. If this was another part of the world this might feel scammy, but a lady trying to sell you a local scarf that is actually made in that country is being pretty honest. The goods for sale at these places are actually a pretty good quality.

These little fishies
These little fishies

They also have the ladies who wear the neck rings.

Do it for the gram
Do it for the gram

There’s a Buddhist temple on the lake. After seeing Shwedagon Pagoda I’m not really impressed. I mean sure it’s in the middle of a lake. But Shwedagon was awe inspiring and captivating. Shwedagon also had really clean floors. This temple I have to take my shoes off again. But they throw food around to let pigeons shit all over the place. I’m not sure why animals get a pass to be disrespectful, but I don’t make any of these rules.

Every picture with a boat in it
Every picture with a boat in it

Eventually we had back. I’m pretty beat from the sun and lack of food and water and the amount of stores we went into. When we get back my friend who dropped me off is there to pick me up. I ask him about heading to Bagan. He says it should be a good time to go. It might be muddy, but not too much rain.

When we get back to the hotel he orders me up some chicken fried rice with egg. The hotel staff brings me a fruit plate and they also bring over a large bottle of water. As I’m eating the hotel staff figures out how to get to Bagan and how I can book a hotel with the internet down.

Apparently there are no flights tonight, but they book a bus for 7 PM. It’s 18,000 and should take five and a half hours. It will give me an idea for how I feel about these bus trips compared to flying.

I finish my lunch. The hotel gets some kind of arrangement to get me a tablet that’s connected to the internet. I’m able to book my hotel for the night in Bagan. It’s sad to know that it won’t be another night at this gem of a hotel I’m currently at.

At this point it’s after 2 PM. I checked out before I went on the tour but the hotel let me keep my bag there. I know have to stick around until 7. I somewhat don’t want to head into town as I’m a bit tired. I guess the staff can see. One of the girls escorts me up to the top floor that I didn’t even know existed. She says I need to rest.

The view up here is beautiful. As I’m sitting she brings over a pillow and a mat to lay on. Seems pretty good. She also brings over a tray of these snacks, another bottle of water, and a full pot of tea, all complimentary. I enjoy that and end up napping off and on, waking to watch the clouds pass.

Relaxation
Relaxation

This relaxation time was amazing. It felt good that faced with some questions about how the trip would go that this is what would end up happening. It seems that there will be a lot of these pauses in the trip where there is time that must be passed. I hope they are all as enjoyable and amazing as this.

Seriously getting it in
Seriously getting it in

Eventually the time comes for the bus ride. But not before a dinner of chicken fried rice and these fried vegetable fritters from a restaurant right across the street. Those fritters were gorgeous. Excellent use of delicious ingredients.

Fried deliciousness
Fried deliciousness

A quick stop back at the hotel and the bus arrives. I say goodbye to about ten people that made my time there amazing. I’m actually a bit sad to part ways. I just want to take that hotel and its people with me.

A five and a half hour bus ride should put me at my destination at half past midnight. That’s not too bad. It should give me enough time to get a decent night of sleep before venturing out. This is my first time taking a bus in the area. I’ve heard a lot about them.

This bus is supposed to be a pretty decent one. When the hotel booked it for me they offered me the choice between the normal bus and some upgraded bus meant for important people. They strongly recommended the better bus because it had more conveniences.

The bus ride kind of goes as you would expect it to go. It’s raining out. The trip is across mountainous areas. The roads are small. It’s dark out and I wonder if they run a lot of busses late at night so you can’t see just how close to the edge of a cliff you are getting. The drivers around here drive. They pass other vehicles aggressively. They barrel into blind turns. Some of them beep a lot. But they get you were you have to go.

I spend the trip between some combination of sleeping and typing up part of this write-up. There’s a half hour break stop for food, at which I get some weird version of a Red Bull. There seem to be other breaks on the trip but I am not sure what they are for. The supposed five and a half hour drive extends long into the night.

It’s about three in the morning by the time we finally get to our destination. We arrive in Nyaung U and so I need to take a taxi to my hotel in New Bagan. The taxi ride ends up going well. It’s a lot faster than the slow pace of the bus. The taxi driver drops me off. I ask him if this is the right place because it doesn’t look like it. He assures me it is.

I go to check in and they can’t find my booking. I’m not at the right hotel. They are able to point me in the right direction and my gps should take me the rest of the way. I walk about 8 minutes in the darkness to my hotel. When I get to the location there is a different hotel in its place. I talk to security and eventually he walks me about a block and points out into the darkness as to where my destination will be.

Finally I get there. It’s 4:30 in the morning. The hotel is pretty lame in comparison to my last one. It’s not as nice. There’s even a couple mosquitos in the room that I have to kill before I am able to slide off to bed. It’s about 6 before I head off to sleep.

Aug 09, 2016

Morning comes quickly. I wake up after about two hours of sleep. I have to plan my tour of Bagan for the day and I also have to plan where I’ll be for the next day. Neither really gets done in time and checkout time comes before I can book either. The long bus ride, the short sleep, the constant being on the move, the lame hotel, and the difficulty in booking some of this trip kind of gets to me. I’m a bit bummed and starting to reconsider my trip and how I am going about it.

I go to check out and ask the hotel if there is a tour of Bagan that I can take. The manager guy suggests an electric scooter bike. I don’t know the area at all and I was kind of hoping for a bus tour or something but I decide to go for it. These two German guys hear my hesitation and tell me to do it. They’ve been here riding these things for four days and have said it’s a really great time. Seems like I can’t go wrong for 5,000 kyat.

I also ask about a bus ride to Mandalay for later in the night. The original plan was to spend the following day in Chiang Mai. The options for swinging into Chiang Mai are pretty bad. It’s looking like I’ll need a bus to Mandalay airport and a flight out to Bangkok and then start doing a large loop of my itinerary in reverse. We’ll see how it all goes. The hotel manager books me a bus for 8 PM at night, so I have eight hours to explore around on this scooter. I’m pretty excited. The hotel just answered two big questions that I had. Going forward I’ll be using the hotels to book things and listening to the advice of the hotel staff and locals.

The scooter ride is amazing. It has to be the best way to explore Bagan. I doubted the manager’s choice to use a scooter initially, but of course his recommendation is going to be better than anything I can think of. This is what he does for a living. This is where he lives. He knows what to do and where to do it in this area a lot better than I ever will.

The freedom and access that the bike gives you is great. You can drive along from place to place. You can move from temple to temple with ease. I was able to get it up to 67 kph at one point so the thing really moves. My progression from bicycle to scooter has been rapid. I wonder if I’ll ride anything more serious on this trip.

Zipping around on this thing is such a joyful experience. You have to be careful of the other people on the road and stick to the strict policy of stay to the right unless you are passing (something only Americans can’t do), but the drive is generally just awesome. You pass temple after temple for miles and miles and miles. Eventually you stop in to a couple. They are all so different.

Temples everywhere
Temples everywhere

A lot of the times you have these temples completely to yourself. There are thousands of them. At one point there were as many as 10,000 temples built in this area. It’s the craziest thing. The temples rise like anthills out of the ground. I took this picture by entering into one of the temples and climbing up these small stairs on the second level. There is a third level to this temple that you could access if you are really feeling adventurous. But there is a no sock and no shoe policy here as well, and the view gained didn’t seem to be worth the risk of tumbling to the ground.

Temples rise like anthills
Temples rise like anthills

It’s weird that even though the earth is reclaiming this structure that you have to remove your socks and shoes to view them. The process of always removing your socks and shoes in the area has made me want to start wearing shoes less in general. And while I don’t think that will actually happen when I get back home, there is definitely a freedom and connection to the world gained that is not there by the sensory depriving layers of socks and shoes.

Thought this was alright
Thought this was alright

And here’s a selfie because I need a pic of myself in here.

Travel beard starting out strong
Travel beard starting out strong

I drove further and further. Into shady sections of town. Making wrong turns and driving far into the countryside. Every temple you go into offers a new surprise.

Feeling like a video game
Feeling like a video game

Eventually I swung back into town to grab some food. As I’m pulling into the restaurant I tragically forget to turn the bike off and it jerks forward and falls down. Luckily I avoid any serious injury. But yea I was that guy. At a restaurant that faces the entire town. I knocked over a candle in the process leaving my shorts, shirt and arms covered in flammable liquid. Seems like a bad play. Some guy picks my bike up. The restaurant worker brings me to a sink to wash up. I’m sure they see worse stuff all the time from tourists, but it’s still a bit embarrassing to have it happen to you.

No worries though. I’m starving and need food and drink. I order a soda called a Code Zero and an iced coffee. I figure it will be nice to try some local soda I’ve never heard of. It ends up being just a Coke Zero and the menu had a spelling mistake. Oh well. Food is pretty delicious. Shrimp tempura, spring rolls, and a chicken and rice dish. I end up hopping on a wifi network to book my flight and hotel for Bangkok for the following day. I sit and watch the town pass by. It’s a busy area. It’s also the same area that I first got to the night before. It was almost completely dead at 4 in the morning, but it is alive and well at dinner time.

I swing out to a store to grab another of those Red Bulls and a large water before heading back to the hotel. I repack my bags and need to grab a change of clothes to get out of this dirty gear I currently have on. I use a body bath wipe to freshen up and throw on all new clothes. It’s the first time since I’ve started traveling that I have on all new clothes. I’ve been testing how long I can get away with wearing the same clothes and surprisingly I think I can manage for a decent time.

The bus for Mandalay eventually arrives. The shuttle picks me up at 8:30 PM and takes me to Nyaung U where the bus is scheduled to leave at 9:30. This bus ride is also supposed to arrive after five hours. It ends up only taking about four. It’s a smaller bus but I have two seats to myself and can manage to be reasonably comfortable. The plan on this bus ride is to sleep. I end up getting a couple hours.

I could have spent a day in Mandalay and took a flight the following day but decided I’d rather just move on to another location. This meant that I wasn’t going to use a hotel for this night and was instead going to try to get enough hours of sleep on the bus and at the airport. This ends up working out well. There is no one at the airport but it is open. I get here around 2:15 AM after a taxi from the bus station. I sleep for a while and spend some time charging up my gear and working on this write-up.

I am going to be taking a flight in a bit to Bangkok. I will be leaving Myanmar behind. Myanmar was a tremendous introduction to Southeast Asia. It definitely provided many challenges, but also offered much to see and experience. I had a great time visiting the country. There are great people here and great times to be had. I guess its legacy with me will always be that it was my first in Southeast Asia. I am not sure I will ever make it back to Myanmar, but if I did I would be happy to explore some more.

Next up is Bangkok. But with these busses and flights and everything else I will have to see where the road will take me. For certain I am having a blast, but also I think I will be happy to return home when I have seen and experienced what I came for.

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.

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

On a canoe

Road trip 3: Oregon, Washington, Canada

Well it has been a while since last posting. Swung in and out of Canada. Saw a whole bunch of great things and have been having a blasting grinding away on this road trip. Since last posting I had my picture of Dungeness crab viewed by over 100,000 people, which is pretty cool. It’s the most viewed picture that I have ever taken. 100k views, yay! It’s not my best shot but so goes life. Thanks reddit.

28-Aug Mount Hood, OR & Multnomah Falls, OR & Mount Saint Helens, WA

Before leaving Oregon and heading into Washington, there were two stops that we wanted to make. Before we could venture off we were held up for about ten minutes from the lady at the front desk of the hotel. She was giving us random tips about some local cheese farm that we should check out. She told us a bunch of things to do and what to avoid. The people in Oregon all seem to want to chat your ear off. Most people we talked to while getting gas or a coffee would have stories to tell or advice to give. It’s great if you have time to spare but if you’re in a rush you might want to keep your head down and keep moving.

The first place we wanted to check out was a drive around the Mount Hood area. Mount Hood stands out alone amongst the many cliffs and mountains in the area. Apparently the odds of an eruption in the next 30 years are around 5% but it’s generally considered a safe place to visit. Grabbed this panorama during a quick stop at Trillium Lake.

Mount Hood
Mount Hood

There are a bunch of areas to see the mountain and you can spend time hiking or fishing or picnicking around. We tried to drive up the top but were met with a pretty rough road and decided it would be best not to risk the eight mile trek with the rental.

After checking out Mount Hood it was time to venture off to the Columbia River Gorge area. Checked out the famed Multnomah Falls.

Always reminds me of Lothlorien
Always reminds me of Lothlorien

I love this place because the pictures that I have seen always remind me of Lothlorien, a fictional Elven land from The Lord of the Rings. We took a hike up to the top of the falls. It was a nice two and a half mile hike with about 700 feet of elevation gain. Hikes like this have been a good way to get out of the car and get some much needed exercise to break up the sitting around.

After checking out the falls we headed out to Mount Saint Helens. We drove to the Climber’s Bivouac. It’s an area you can park and take a ten mile round-trip hike with 4500 foot elevation gain to the rim of the volcano. As it was getting dark and we weren’t prepared for it we obviously opted out. If anyone is up to climb to the top of the volcano you will probably be warned not to get to close to the edge. People have fallen over and fatalities have occurred. Just like in any of the parks there are tons of dangers associated with what you do. Be smart out there. That’s GoPro footage we just don’t need. Snapped a picture near the top facing the other direction. Descended down and got out for a little more hiking until the darkness rolled in.

Top of Mount St. Helens
Top of Mount St. Helens

29-Aug Seattle, WA

Decided to call our first audible of the trip. Originally the plan was to spend the day in Mount Rainer, WA & Olympic, WA but we decided to skip those for Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

Seattle was an awesome city. Spent the beginning of the day in Pike Place Market. Checked out the little shops selling fresh food and drink. They have everything from seafood to fresh flowers and coffee.

Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market

The market was packed so we opted for seafood at Elliott’s Oyster House down by the water. After a nice lunch we swung back to the market to grab coffee from Storyville Coffee. It’s tucked away a floor above the ruckus on the streets. We could have went to Starbucks, as their first store is located in Pike Place. But a huge line for coffee I can get anywhere else didn’t seem worth it. Nothing but props to Starbucks for what it has done for coffee in this country, but we have moved past the quality that it provides.

After coffee it was time to head to the downtown area. Saw the Space Needle. So here’s that obligatory photo.

Space Needle
Space Needle

Afterwards we went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It features some incredible work by famed glass blower Dale Chihuly. I always thought his work was impressive so it was awesome to see many of his great pieces all in one place. If you haven’t heard of Dale Chihuly he is possibly the greatest glass artist ever or possibly an old hack that wouldn’t be anyone without his amazing team of blowers. I think his work is impressive. As it goes with artists, having a large super talented team is often necessary to achieve the long lasting success and fame that many of the greats hold. Regardless here are a few pieces that I thought were great.

Look at this insane detail, transparency, quality, thinness, etc.

Transparency, detail, delicacy
Transparency, detail, delicacy

I loved this wild and colorful installation.

This is some cool glass
This is some cool glass

Here’s an angle from the rear.

Fun stuff
Fun stuff

These two boats loaded with various glass pieces is so crazy looking.

Mastery
Mastery

I honestly thought this piece out in the gardens was just a cool looking tree when I saw it from a distance.

I thought it was a tree
I thought it was a tree

After the museum we headed out to Brouwer’s Cafe to check out the beers that Seattle had to offer. Like some of the places in Portland, Brouwer’s Cafe had an out of control bottle list. I’ve been trying to have a taste of Firestone Walker Parabola for some time now. They had four different years available. Ended up trying the last 2010 they had in stock, leaving them with the 2013-2015. Unfortunately the bottles at the shop cannot be purchased for taking home.

2010 Firestone Walker Parabola
2010 Firestone Walker Parabola

30-Aug Mostly driving from Seattle to Jasper

The plan for the next day was to hang in the San Juan Islands, but we decided to invest most of the day in making the long trek from Seattle to Jasper. Some of the locals who have been to the East Coast referred to the San Juan Islands as the Cape Cod of the North West. I can’t say whether that is true or not but sounds like it would have been a fun time. While Cape Cod may be a great time, there’s no way we were willing to give up the epicness of Jasper and Banff.

The day started with a last taste of fresh Dungeness crab in the town of Oak Harbor. It came from a half seafood and half smoke house place called Seabolt’s Smoke House. They had good seafood and awesome beef jerky and smoked oysters that I have been enjoying to keep me fueled up on the trip.

More crab
More crab

After hanging in Oak Harbor for a bit we set off for a whole bunch of driving. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for some rain, high winds, water accumulation, fog, darkness, insane truckers, and wildlife. We took our time and crushed the drive without any issues. No road is ever going to hold me back.

31-Aug Jasper, AB, CAN

The rain continued into the following day but there was enough sunshine to make the day in Jasper a beautiful one. I think this park will look great in any circumstances. Started off the day with some elk.

More elk
More elk

Then some driving through the park.

Driving through Jasper
Driving through Jasper

Random pull offs in this park give you views like this.

Random pull off in Jasper
Random pull off in Jasper

We ended up taking an hour and a half boat ride from the Maligne Lake terminal out to Spirit Island. It’s an island that you may see frequently photographed from people who visit Jasper. The clouds are there but that glacier water is still gorgeous.

Spirit Island
Spirit Island

Finished off the day with some awesome Indian food in the town of Banff and then grabbed some sleep at this awesome luxury resort. It was a great night of sleep, or editing photos and working on this write up.

1-Sep Banff, AB, CAN

Banff is another amazing park. You don’t really have to say much about it. The nature is big and beautiful out here like it is in Jasper. Everywhere you look there are gorgeous views and sights. We headed off to Lake Louise.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise

Hopped out on a canoe. There was some rain rolling in so we got rained on a bit while we were out there but it was a great time. Pretty awesome experience canoeing out on Lake Louise. I’ve seen a ton of pictures of that lake and never thought I would be out in the middle of it on a canoe with my love. Was a great time.

On a canoe
On a canoe

After Lake Louise we stopped in Peyto Lake. It’s another glacier fed lake. The color of this water gets me every time. Such a great view after a short hike.

Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake

After Peyto Lake it was time to leave Canada. We made it back into the United States a little late at night. It’s weird that the borders of the country are closed at certain hours, but luckily this wasn’t an issues going in to Canada or coming back into the United States. I guess if you are locked out of your own country for being a little late then you just bum around in whatever country you are in until it opens. Pretty bizarre but something to keep in mind if your crossing borders.

So that’s about it. At the moment currently in Glacier, getting ready to see the park tomorrow.

Haystack Rock with bae

Road trip 2: Oregon

Oregon has been a blast.

25-Aug Crater Lake, OR

It seems the whole state of Oregon is on fire. The whole place smells like a camp fire. You can see the smoke from fires many miles away. Some of the fires are wild and some of the fires are controlled burns. You see many homemade signs driving through the towns that say things like “Thank you firefighters” and many of the local business are offering small gestures of gratitude such as free cups of coffee to the firefighters. Everything seems to be under control, but it’s pretty amazing how much smoke there is and how much it smells like burning wood.

For example, check out this picture from Crater Lake facing in one direction. This was shot on a sunny day. The sky is blue with some minor clouds.

Crater Lake, OR
Crater Lake, OR

The following picture is facing the other direction. It shows just how much smoke is present in parts of the state and the scale of these fires. All of the gray and hazy clouds you see in this picture is smoke from the fires. It’s quite a contrast from the blue skies in the opposite direction.

Smoke from the fires in Oregon
Smoke from the fires in Oregon

The hike we took was the Garfield Peak Trail. It’s a 3.5 mile hike with an incline of about 1,000 feet. The views along the hike are gorgeous. We got to the top without too much trouble. It was well worth it to be able to see the whole lake without any obstruction.

Crater Lake from Garfield Peak
Crater Lake from Garfield Peak

After the hike we were hoping to drive north along the lake, but the north entrance was closed due to fires. So we returned the same way we entered. This added about an hour onto our trip to Newport, OR, but still left us enough time to grab a nice dinner in Newport. We opted for some seafood at Local Ocean Seafoods. Went with some local Dungeness crab soup, clams, and halibut.

The view from the docks outside of the seafood restaurant looked like this. It was a beautiful night.

Newport, OR
Newport, OR

26-Aug Newport, OR & Cannon Beach, OR

We woke up in Newport and spent the beginning of the day relaxing. Grabbed a coffee on the pier. Watched the sea lions. Watched a boat come in with a haul of crab. Some kid asked me if I was from the city. He said I was throwing off that big city vibe. Not really sure what he meant. Had on a Hawaiian shirt, jeans, and boat shoes and several days of a beard going. I thought I was dressed in the standard Newport, OR outfit but I was outed as a tourist from the big city.

Hey there
Hey there

We strolled around the shops. Eventually grabbed some lunch at another seafood place. Scored some oysters and some local fresh caught Dungeness crab.

Dungeness crab
Dungeness crab

After lunch we strolled around the beach in town and then hopped in the car for the drive to Cannon Beach, OR. When we arrived in Cannon Beach the fog made visibility very difficult. It looked like we wouldn’t be able to see any of the beautiful coastal scenes that we came to see. We took a drive through Ecola State Park to kill some time in hopes that the fog would clear. The fog ended up clearing. And when it did we were left with views like this.

Ecola State Park
Ecola State Park

We drove back down the coast a couple minutes to check out Haystack Rock. It’s almost impossible to get to. Almost all of the land around it is private property and all of the houses in the area try to make visitors feel unwelcome with signs like “Private beach access only,” “No trespassing,” “This is not a turnaround,” etc. There is a single public access row of stairs that you can walk down from the road to the beach where the rock is. I almost just wanted to leave the stupid rock to the locals since they went through such extreme measures to prevent people from enjoying it, but since we were already there we ventured down. It’s a cool rock but the coast is littered with similar rocks that are much easier to access.

Haystack Rock with bae
Haystack Rock with bae

Figured I’d snap a panorama while I was down here.

Haystack Rock
Haystack Rock

Hoped to score a sunset but the clouds were too thick to allow it.

Hopped back in the car and ventured off for Portland, OR. When we got into town we stopped at a place called Apex that had an outrageous tap and bottle selection. Since we loved the Russian River Supplication so much we decided to split a bottle. Yes, that’s a 2011. They had three different years available in bottle. They also had Evil Twin Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Biscotti Break, Anchorage Brewing Company A Deal With The Devil, different years of Firestone Walker Sucaba, Stickee Monkee, Hair of the Dog Adam of the Wood and Matt, etc. I’ve never seen as many top beers available as there are out here.

2011 Russian River Supplication
2011 Russian River Supplication

But we have a long trip ahead of us so back to the hotel it is for some rest.

27-Aug Portland, OR

Portland is a cool city. It is very sprawled out. All of the things you want to see and do are all over the place. Everything is a 15 minute drive from one part of the sprawl to another part. Sure you can get good coffee and good beer in any location, but if you want to go to a specific place then it will take you 15 minutes to get there. If I lived in Portland I guess I would figure out the rhythm of the city, but for a tourist with only a day to explore I was definitely off of the tempo.

Regardless, we has tons of great coffee drinks like this cappuccino at the Red E Cafe. Not pictured is a coffee soda. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Fresh coffee in soda form. We really wanted to try coffee on nitro (think coffee poured in the style of a Guinness beer), but they were out.

Cafe in Portland
Cafe in Portland

We ventured over to Hair of the Dog brewery. The flights didn’t feature their top beers so we opted to split a bottle. So we split a 2011 Adam of the Wood. There were also 2014 and 2015 bottles available. I think three versions of Matt available as well. And also Dave. Yea. $1500 for a bottle of Hair of the Dog Dave. Unfortunately had to pass on that.

2011 Hair of the Dog Adam of the Wood
2011 Hair of the Dog Adam of the Wood

Hung around the down town for a little bit. Finally was able to grab a coffee on nitro at Stumptown.

Coffee on nitro
Coffee on nitro

Afterwords strolled to Deschutes brewery for a bite to eat. Made our way over to the famous Voodoo Doughnut for some dessert.

Eventually left for a hotel near Mount Hood which ended up being a sweet resort. And the lady at the front desk gave us a free upgrade to an awesome room so we are living large tonight.

Went out to a local bbq place for dinner tonight. I liked this one light that they had in the place so I snapped a pic and thought it came out pretty well.

Ceiling and light at a local bbq joint
Ceiling and light at a local bbq joint

So that’s about it. Leaving Oregon tomorrow after a couple more stops and heading up into Washington.