Friday afternoon came quicker than expected. I had just switched my hours at the bank from 40 to 30 per week and my Friday shift only went until 3:30pm as a result. I looked out the large windows in the bank and saw Joey in his new blue Trail Blazer waiting in the tow-away zone to pick me up. I hustled outside and hopped in, grinning from ear to ear as my coworkers gave me sidelong jealous stares. Delilah’s wet nose poked at my elbow from the backseat so I leaned around to scratch behind her ear and she lay down satisfied with the attention.
Joey raced us home and we piled the car up with our camping gear and headed back downtown to pick up Tom from work one hour later. The drive up to Olympic National Park was going to be long so we couldn’t burn any daylight on the way there if we wanted to set up for the night easily. Tom had picked out a camp site in the Hoh Rainforest and we pointed our GPS that way.
The ride down was serene. Stress from the rushed morning and afternoon melted away as the highway stretched out in front of us. The sun hung low in the sky and we listened to music on the radio until we were out of range for anything but Church channels and then switched to a book on tape reading of Alice in Wonderland. Delilah mostly slept or rolled on her back and pawed at me to scratch her belly.
Night began creeping onto the scene and it was unclear whether or not we would make it to the camp site with time to set up so we settled for a closer spot that caught our eye from the road. We finished setting up and making a fire just after the last hazy light faded from the sky. We settled up by a campfire and Delilah defended us from any unexpected advance by the only other camper at the site and her two dogs.
Soon though, the long day caught up to us and sleepy heads sought pillows. Joey and I went to lay down in our tent and Tom took Delilah with him to cuddle with for the night.
The next day was mostly a driving day with several scenery stops and hiking breaks. Delilah hopped in and out of the car ungracefully before a backdrop of mountainous greenery. Olympic National Park is a unique place because it is made up of three different temperate zones: mountain, coastal and rainforest. We began our day on the coast wandering up and down the shore line while Delilah happily played tag with the retreating tide. A ranger was slated to join us on the beach and lead some sort of talk so we hung around to see what it was all about. It turned out to be aimed at a younger crowd so we made our way to the back for the group and slipped off to the car. We spent the rest of the day making our way around Hurricane Ridge in the Rainforest region of the park over to the mountainous part.
The day came full circle and soon it was time to set up camp again before the last of the day’s light disappeared. On a whim we plugged the apartment into the GPS and when we realized we would get there by 1am or so we decided to call it a trip and go home.
48 contiguous states later we pulled into the parking lot at our Apartment and silently trudged in through the early morning dark. As I began to drift off to sleep that night thoughts of my next big adventure began to dance in my head…
Getting a job once we got out to Portland was a high priority for obvious reasons but having a job sure does put a damper on having fun. Due to schedule and budget restraints we decided to leave for Seattle on Saturday morning rather than Friday after work. Friday night we got ourselves ready and hashed out a loose plan for the weekend, which included going to see the Space Needle, eating Dim Sum for brunch, and then a return trip through Mount Rainier National Park at the end of the weekend.
Saturday morning we packed up the car with our stuff and our dog and rolled out to finish up day 99. First things first after the long drive to the city, we checked into our dog friendly room at the Seattle Pacific Hotel then it was out to explore.
It was about lunch time so we headed over to the Public Market to check out the offerings. The market was a large several storied building on each side of the street with an open area for food stands as well as clothing and trinket shops spread throughout. We wandered for awhile until finally settling on Jack’s Fish and Chip Spot for a delicious greasy portion of the namesake fish and chips and a bowl of chowder. On the way out of the market Joey caught me eyeing up a stand that was brimming with beautiful bouquets and stopped over to buy me one.
We headed back to the Seattle Pacific to drop off my flowers (which I unceremoniously shoved into a Styrofoam cup) then took Delilah out to wander around by the Space Needle. On the way there we ended up walking past the SFM which is a loud exciting looking building that was too expensive to go inside, besides which we had the dog. Also along the way we came across several Duck Tours making a lot of noise and looking silly. We wandered past a Peruvian Flute Band, a carnival and some large red art right before we got to the base of the Space Needle. It was a very happening scene.
While we stood starring up at the Space Needle I pictured it’s silhouette on our logo. The three of us agreed to head to the top the next morning and satisfied ourselves today with pictures from the bottom. We had skipped going to the top of the Sears Tower back in Chicago due to the horrendous multitudes of long lengths of lines and I had it in the back of my head that Joey was a little bummed about it; I knew I was. As a result I think the two of us sort of silently out voted Tom and determined early on that we were in fact going to the top of the Space Needle once we arrived in Seattle. Tom didn’t object. For the moment, however, we continued on through the Olympic Sculpture Park by the waterfront to look at more large arts that lay scattered across the hillside.
Somehow or another we had settled on a place called the Crab Pot for dinner so after working up an appetite by walking all over the city (and first stopping to drop off the dog) we headed over to eat. What a feast! The table had a piece of butchers paper on it and each place was set with a mallet so you knew this was going to be amazing. We ordered a bucket of seafood and veggies to be poured out onto the butchers paper and ate until we could hardly breathe. We managed to get ourselves back to our hotel and slept soundly until top- of- the- Space- Needle day (aka Sunday).
We hopped in line and waited- not a terribly long time- until we got to the top. It was everything you would expect out of being very high up in the air on a large structure. It was windy, looking over the edge was thrilling, the building swayed a little bit under you making you just that little bit nervous and there was a gift shop.
We took the elevators back down after getting our fill of the scenery far down below and headed to the New Hong Kong restaurant for Dim Sum. I had never had Dim Sum so didn’t know what to expect. We were lead to a seat and a woman with a cart full of food looked like she might want to get by me so instead of sitting I stood squeezed against the table to make room for her to pass. She just looked at me though and I felt sort of awkward so I sat down and she rushed right over with her cart. “You want some more", she asked me? Joey said yes so she started offering him different dishes and he kept saying yes until after awhile we had a bunch of little containers on our table and decided it would be best to start eating and see how far we could get before taking more. Ladies with carts kept coming by our table asking if we wanted more and after the first lady we mostly said no unless something looked really crazy. After what didn’t seem like that long of a time I felt really full and looked up at the boys who were sitting with hands across their stomachs looking sweaty and uncomfortable. We decided it was a good time to pay the check and leave Seattle behind us.
On our way back to our Portland home we passed through Mount Rainer National Park. The views were amazing and we got out a few times for photo ops and quick walks. Tom snapped a really great series of pictures where Delilah sniffs out the perfect spot in front of the park sign and leaves everyone a stinky gift.
We arrived back home late Sunday with work looming ahead of us early on Monday but we felt accomplished in coming one stop closer to finishing our great American journey.
Until next time, America.
So its been awhile since the last post but if you’re still out there checking in on us, and feeling curious, this is what we’ve been up to.
The boys quickly found an apartment and sent me an email with the application. They had completed task one: find a place to live. They began their job search in our new home while I worked from Massachusetts scouring the internets for job postings. Soon, Joey flew back east for his cousin’s wedding and I drove out to meet him. We headed back west together and three days later I stepped into our new apartment for the first time.
The job search intensified as the communal funding dried out but we were successful in completing task two: acquire gainful employment. I scored a job first as a teller with Chase Bank, Joey found a job in purchasing at a VOIP company from which he later quit over a moral conflict, and Tom found a job as a server at Pastini Pastaria downtown.
Birthdays were the next big events to cross our paths, Tom lead the way to the quarter century club on October 1st which we celebrated in style with meatloaf and cheesecake. My 25th came next and the boys surprised me with a trip to the Humane Society of Oregon to pick out a dog. We took home Delilah, a seven-year-old yellow lab mix who has been a wonderful (albeit hairy) addition to our apartment.
Joey didn’t get to spend his birthday in such joyous fashion, however, as news from home came of his stepbrother, Brock Choate’s death. Joey flew home and spent the Thanksgiving holiday with his family in mourning.
Joey came back and Tom flew out for Christmas. Joey and I spent a quiet Christmas in the crisp Portland sunlight. We had sent home webcams so we were able to see our families for awhile which was nice.
In February my parents flew out to Portland for a few days and then took me with them to a week long vacation on Oahu, Hawaii.
The lovely Bernadette visited a few times and Tom took her to see the sighs of our laid back city.
We went to several shows including Parliament Funkadelic, Furthur, Doug Benson, and an unbelievable showing of The Room, complete with a guest appearance by Tommy Wiseau himself. A highly watchable film, no doubt.
But most importantly and most recently we did the most impressive things of all - the last two days of our trip! We headed to Seattle, Washington first and followed that trip a few weekends later by camping in Olympic National Park. Look forward to us (finally) wrapping things up here with those posts.
Until next time America!
We woke up from our last night in a hotel. We had been arranging to stay with Jason and his wife Angela for a few weeks prior, and today would be the first day of doing so. Jason could be described as my cousin-in-law (the brother of a husband of a first cousin of mine). Though we may have met at the wedding ceremony where he became my cousin-in-law, neither of us remembered each other. What I did know is that he had a young son, lived in Portland, was an easy going guy, and had great taste in blogs; he had been following ours for some time.
We arrived, and any awkwardness having to do with asking for a place to stay was immediately alleviated. Angela and Jason had Grateful Dead playing. Tom correctly guessed the year of the live show from their 30-year career, and the ice was immediately broken. I soon got around to asking if they had gathered our preferences from our blog and put on our favorite music. Jason replied in the negative, this is just what he listened to. Awesome.
One of our first items of business was to go on a walk around the Southeast neighborhood where Jason resides. Let me back up. Portland is divided into four quadrants. They are: Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and, you guessed it, Southeast. Numbered streets start low in the center of the city and increase outwards. The Southeast is a really great area– here you can find people living together in a constant celebration of individuality and community. Of all the places where we had seen “Keep <insert city name> Weird” bumper stickers (Austin, Texas; Ashville, N.C.; Boulder, Colo.; Louisville, Ky, and the whole state of Vermont), Portland was, in my opinion, the weirdest.
Our short walk with Jason, Angie and their young son Niko confirmed this. We strolled past several boxes of free stuff left on the curb for neighbors to pick through and find something useful. There was a giant, permanent sunflower pained by the community on a local intersection. Rose bushes were in many front yards and planted in the grassy areas between the sidewalks and curbs. VW busses and campers, some presumably with permanent residents, were parked along curbs everywhere. Houses were purple, with yellow accent or some other amazingly interesting combination of colors. Previously, we had seen constantly running, beautifully designed drinking fountains downtown. There are perhaps more bikes than cars. The downtown free trams in “Fareless Square” are immaculately maintained and widely used. Busses are fast and reliable. In some streets, two lanes are devoted to these modes of public transportation leaving only one for cars, but even so, traffic is not overwhelming when compared to the east coast.
Jason relayed the story of the McMenamins, two brothers who had helped to start the Microbrew revolution in Portland. Part of their portfolio includes properties of historical significance, including a church, a Masonic retirement home, an elementary school, and more. These and other old, weathered buildings have been converted into a small empire of local brewpubs and microbreweries, hotels, theatre pubs and music venues. More than one of their locations is “themed” around the Grateful Dead or other similar music.
Our heads whirling with all this cool stuff, we sat down for a beer at the outdoor restaurant section of the Bagdad Theatre (that is the correct spelling). The inside is a theatre that serves microbrew pitchers of beer with glass pint glasses that you can take to your seat with you. We got a round of IPA’s and some pigs in a blanket and tots, which were all tasty.
We sat and told stories, first at the Bagdad and later back at Jason’s house. Angela and Jason asked us to be careful not to tell any stories that would “ruin” surprises that hadn’t been posted in the blog yet, a request that I took as a compliment. That evening, they cooked excellent vegetarian spaghetti with tomato sauce. From what I have seen, tomato plants in the backyard are as common as rose bushes in the front (we however, have seen only one house that had a chicken coop in the back yard, which produced fresh eggs daily) and several people had told us what a great year it had been for tomatoes. It came through in the sauce. We enjoyed dinner and got some sleep, readying ourselves for the next day’s search for living quarters. This had been the first day after the temporary suspension of our road trip, a transition marked by the re-entry to the real world, where we would no longer be living off our savings and waking up in a new city or national park almost every day.
If we had to stop somewhere, however, I am glad that it was in Portland.
The Eugene sky was overcast as we woke to hit the road once more. Before we left town, a bite to eat was in order, which we located with the help of our trusty GPS. I'd never seen an entire restaurant that hinged on ramen noodles as their primary ingredient, and Joey and I have certainly had some memorable ramen experiences already, dating to our days as college roommates. Our visit to Toshi's Ramen
The menu, I thought, went a little overboard. While it was nice to see some visual representations of their menu, it didn't help the fact that everything looked pretty much identical to my untrained eye. And frankly, many items were nearly identical, varying by as little as a single ingredient from item to item.
We ordered Gyoza (pot stickers with pork and veggies) to share, and I ended up with this surprisingly attractive bowl of ramen. The ingredients were fresh and unique, and must have been very cost-effective for this Toshi person, since about 90% of my main course was water.
Our drive north to Portland took a little over two hours, filled with lush, almost-autumn foliage and bumpy, mountainous landscapes. It was a surreal experience, this drive, because as some of you might remember, Portland is our endpoint. This drive, for now, signified the end of our long trek across this vast country - at least until Sarah was back with us. Joey and I had decided that it wouldn't be right to finish our ascent into Washington for the final two days of our voyage if Sarah wasn't with us. So for now, we were landing in Portland on day 98 and setting up shop.
We pulled into town and circled around for a while, getting some looks at our new home away from home. Right off the bat, we found ourselves encountering far more purple houses and VW buses than we were used to seeing.
I don't think it will come as a surprise to many of you when I tell you our first stop. A quick visit to BeerAdvocate
yielded some excellent advice as to where to wet our whistles with sweet, sudsy microbrew. We found ourselves at Deschutes Brewery
in the Pearl District, a section of town that boasts a plethora of unique spots for a bite or a bev.
Joey and I found seats at the bar, planted ourselves down and exhaled two long sighs of satisfaction at the sight of this wonderful place. Our bartender greeted us with a pair of beer menus, printed on green paper and rippled with dried droplets from the customers before us, which we briefly perused before formulating our plan of attack.
Among our options was a six-beer sampler, with five-ounce glasses of whichever beers we chose. We counted our way down the line, and found that they had 18 taps - which just happened to be perfectly divisible by six. So Joey and I shared a sampler comprised of the first six beers on the line, followed by another with the next six, and then the final six. The styles ranged from their refreshing Green Lakes Organic Ale to their robust Black Butte Porter, and we both knew we'd be drinking plenty of the deliciously hoppy Inversion IPA in the weeks and months to come. Somewhere in there, one of the kegs kicked and a new one went on tap in its place, of which our bartender was kind enough to offer us a free sample. 19 beers in one visit is nothing to sneeze at.
To aid in the digestion of all these delicious microbrews, we ordered some bites off the menu, which was about as expensive as I expected for that part of town. Our plate full of fries was as good as anywhere, but the other half of our order was a trip. Being well aware of Portland's reputation for good, fresh seafood, I ordered a dish with jumbo buffalo prawns. This would be the first time I'd ever had prawns before - I had no idea what to expect.
Well, guess what? It turns out I have had prawns before. They're just shrimp. The bartender claimed that prawns are slightly larger than shrimp, but as far as I'm concerned, they just changed the name so they could fish for suckers. They caught me, all right. Still, the dish was very tasty.
Joey was driving, and had left a lot of the beer consumption to me. So he took us a few blocks away to the Alexis Restaurant
, as he wasn't quite ready to call it a day. We sat down and talked with the bartender about our circumstances, that we'd just arrived and now it was time to start looking for a place. He said he lived in the Northeast part of the city, a decent place to be, as he put it.
Soon we were back in the car, and Joey took us to our temporary dwelling at a hotel in nearby Lake Oswego. The trip was not quite over yet, but for now, it was time for us to start taking root. More on that from Joey, coming very soon.
Our first morning in Oregon was fairly indicative of what the future months would often bear for us in terms of weather. The sky was cloudy, the rain threatened all day and never really turned into anything.
We were hungry, and had all but forgotten about relics of the more industrious stages of the trip, like our now-semi-functional skillet with the cigarette lighter plug. Eugene offered us a decent selection of culinary selections, from which we selected a spot called Sushi Pure
The two of us drank wine, with still a taste for the stuff on our tongues from Central Coast wine country. An appetizer made us think of Sarah, a sensational small loaf of baked brie with some kind of delicious berry coulis. And somehow, we ate lunch at this sushi without getting any sushi, just a pair of sandwiches. What a strange decision in retrospect.
We thought it'd be fun to be-bop over to the University of Oregon
and poke our heads around, maybe get a look at what kind of people a school like this attracts. We were under the impression that school was in session, but we couldn't really find any large crowds of people anywhere.
The campus is beautiful, however, and very large, so we took a little time to walk around some of the unpaved areas and shoot some photos.
It makes sense when you think about it. Native Americans were generally capable of coexisting with their environs without decimating them and robbing them of all their beauty. We settlers cannot make the same claim. However, it took us some time before we made it to Oregon - about two hundred years more than it took for us to settle many cities on the East Coast.
That time lapse might be the difference in the natural beauty that remains in plain view here in Eugene, compared to the sheer lack thereof in many places back east. Maybe it was just my imagination. But this place felt fresh, vibrant and proud.
C'mon Tom, get to the beer already.
Right. So with no Sarah around, there's nobody to keep us from going to a bar at something like 4:00 in the afternoon to start enjoying the joys of Oregon beer culture. A quick visit to BeerAdvocate
revealed a very desirable establishment in downtown Eugene called the Eugene City Brewery
This lovely watering hole featured a vast selection of beers on tap - about 35 - most of which were products of the Rogue Brewery. Rogue is one of many brewing companies local to Oregon, which take pride and garner much respect in the beer world for their big, powerful brews with exceedingly generous helpings of hops. As I would come to discover in the weeks to follow, thirteen different types of hops grow in this state alone, making it an ideal location for making amazing IPAs and what have you.
During the four of five hours which we spent sitting at the bar and tasting all kinds of mind-blowing beer, a small festival had been brewing outside. We'd been totally comfortable at the bar, and as long as we stayed there, we didn't have to pay for anything going on outside, which featured live music as the main attraction. And by the time we'd had our fill at the bar, we had a significantly decreased interest in taking part in anything outside. So we left the bar and quickly walked past the music, in a fashion quite uncharacteristic of us. I shot this one photo on the way out.
Not a bad day in town. We hit the hotel and geared up for the big day tomorrow - our first day in Portland.
Day 96 was our final day along the Pacific Coast, before we made our way into inland Oregon and the places of our future residency. I'd be foolish not to share some extra photographic results of the day's travels. Click below to enlarge.
Highway 101 was just as beautiful, and about as sparsely populated, as some protected drives we've seen in the past, like the Blue Ridge Parkway back in the Shenandoah Valley. On this side of the country, the Pacific Coastal Highway would do well to have federal protection from the National Park Service, to preserve and maintain this magnificent stretch of highway. Believe me, it deserves the attention.
We woke in a Motel 6 and got ready for another day seeing some of our most incredible views since the Grand Canyon, and by far the most scenic ocean views of the trip. We passed a little-bit-nicer-than-hole-in-the-wall place called Amigas Burritos, and after a bit of a delayed reaction, Tom and I decided to circle around and pick up some lunch. The food was excellent, and it was nice to have something more filling than a dish from one of the Taquerías we had been passing. I had the Enchiladas.
As we continued to drive along the cost, we spotted some redwoods every so often on our way to higher concentration in Redwoods National Park. It took us about an hour to get to the park entrance.
We didn’t know how long the drive in the park was going to be, but we were not disappointed with the length or scenery. I didn’t notice as high of a concentration of the Giant Sequoias here as in Yosemite, but the forest had some great views and the overall experience was very satisfying, with great views of tree-covered mountains for miles and miles. Besides the great views, there was nothing particularly notable to non-dendrologists like Tom and I to write about, so enjoy the pictures.
Eventually, we drove outside the forest. We realized that our choices were to turn around and see something we had already seen, or make a big loop south and get back to highway one. We elected the loop and as we followed the road outside the national forest, we were going down in elevation quickly. Neither of us thought much about this until the tires started smoking. A rock must have gotten stuck in the brakes, or there was something else wrong with them. What a place to have something like this happen, I thought, just when we need the brakes the most.
I took over the driver’s seat and continued down the hill. To keep our speed down, I didn’t use the gas unless absolutely necessary and shifted down, using the lower gears to reduce speed as we drove towards a bare, treeless area. The brakes still played a role during some of the sharper declines, but it was a minimal one. We finally arrived at a river and the bottom of this part of the mountain. We got out of the car and threw some of the water from our five-gallon camping “water bag” on to the wheels, which cause large puffs of steam to form and hiss back out at us. We kept putting more and more water on the each of the wheels, and the steam did not slow down, the wheels were hot to the core. We waited for fifteen minutes and decided it was safe, and then drove to the nearest convenience store.
I went inside. The lady was Native American, and kind of laughed at me. She told me that lots of people’s breaks overheated, and it was not an unfortunate coincidence that it happened while we were in the steep grades of the mountain road. She said we didn’t need a mechanic, we should just let it sit for about an hour and we would be fine. She suggested we walk down to the river.
Tom and I looked for a path to the river from behind the convenience store, but the walk down would have been more of a climb. We walked across a bridge that we had just driven over, and down a dirt road. We went past a stage of sorts, and down to the river, the river was fast moving and provided something fun to do, but we had to walk over rocks and through thorn bushes, making Tom wish he hadn’t worn flip-flops. We walked around and Tom skipped some rocks, and finished by hiking back up the hill. On our way, we noticed that the “stage” from the walk down was dug into the ground.
“It’s a cock-fighting ring,” Tom said.
“Really?” I questioned. We quickened our pace up the hill, walking quickly away from the houses with people who knew that we knew their secret.
We stopped back in the convenience store to grab some Gatorade. I told the lady that we had walked on the little dirt road down to the river. She commented that we must have seen the stage where Indian ceremonies were preformed. We had been on an Indian reservation the whole time! Had the lady know our suspicions, she would have had an additional reason to laugh at us. She told me a bit more about the ceremony, including how only virgins were allowed to dance. I chuckled inwardly thinking ‘how do they know?’
We continued driving and saw some paragliders. One was in the air and one had already landed. We watched and talked to them about the sport briefly. It looked like quite a sport, and the area this hobby club had available was beautiful.
We finally made our full loop and ended not too far from where we had started that morning. I joked that we could go back to Amigas for more Mexican. We drove up the coast, stopping to take pictures until it was too dark to continue, and Tom got some great sunset photos. We stopped at a tax-free liquor store that must have been on a corner of the Indian reservation and picked up some cheap name-brand liquors. We crossed into Oregon, the state where we would end our Journey (but not the last we would visit).
That evening, we drove into Eugene after having gotten a hotel on Priceline. We were very pleased with the quality of the hotel, and the general quality of the not-very-planned day.
It has occurred to me in the past that we might have some cosmic force following us across the country, something that uncannily puts us in the perfect place at the perfect time. It reared its head back in Boston
, when the Yankees just happened to be visiting Fenway on the night of our visit. Likewise, our swing through Denver
just happened to coincide with a Dark Star Orchestra show, one of our favorite bands to see live. Our fortune has been very, very good thus far for these and numerous other events.
Well, the hits just keep coming. While we stayed overnight in Sonoma a few miles back, I happened to visit BeerAdvocate
and took a curious look at the list
of their highest rated beers in America. First and fourth place both belonged to a place called Russian River Brewing Company
in Santa Rosa, Calif., which I immediately looked up to see if we were anywhere close. As it turned out, we were about 40 minutes away.
We walked in the door at about 11:15 a.m., which seems insanely early to get a drink after two solid days of wine tasting. But we're troopers, Joey and I - we had some extreme drinking situations during our freshman year as roommates (which I'll tell you about in person sometime), and we've turned out okay so far.
The guys behind the bar were happy to have a conversation about the house brew. I quickly inquired about Pliny the Younger, their creation which holds the #1 spot on the BeerAdvocate list mentioned above. As it turns out, Pliny the Younger is a seasonal, and only available for a short time in February.
Their other champion beer, Pliny the Elder, was on tap and ready to go. It lived up to every bit of its reputation. It was sharp, full of hop flavor, and one of the most perfectly balanced beers I've ever tasted.
My eyes drooped shut with every delicious sip. This would be a dangerous place for an IPA lover like me to work. Wisely, we ordered up some pizza to insulate our stomachs for the afternoon, which was pretty delicious in its own right.
On our way out we bought a six pack or so for wherever we stayed for the night. We had two days in which to conquer the Pacific Coastal Highway, so we had time to be leisurely.
Thank goodness for that. Once we reached the coast and hopped onto Highway 1, it wasn't five minutes before we were out of the car, in awe of the scenery. I can't describe it was well as the photos below can. Click on any of them for a larger view.
Our good friend Joe
told me a good deal about what to expect of the Pacific Coastal Highway's culinary offerings: Mexican, more Mexican, and the occasional gas station hot dog. But he said that along the highway we'd run into more than a few taquerias and other small operations, and find some of the best Mexican food we'll ever have.
Joey and I made a point of following his advice, and got these three astounding creations from two different, unassuming little places we ran into on our way north. The first were chicken tacos with a delicious green sauce; below that, you'll see a beef taco overflowing with fresh vegetables and salsa; and finally, the avocado-covered morsel was made with juicy, chilled white tuna and tomato. This was nothing like the "Mexican" food from the East Coast, and equally dissimilar to the numerous Tex-Mex meals we'd eaten recently. Once again, Joe was right.
After a little more driving, we found ourselves a Motel 6 and laid our heads to rest for the night. The next day we'd be seeing more of the same, and we couldn't have been more excited.
If everyone doesn’t mind, I am going to break the “fourth wall” of blogging past events. Today, I am writing about the day Tom and I shared in Napa Valley, the wine capital of America. As I write this, Tom, Sarah, and I are currently enjoying a day in Oregon wine country in real time. Right now we are driving towards a bunch of wineries on a wine trail. Tom located it by plugging the word “winery” into the GPS, finding a cluster of close results, and picking the closest of them to drive towards. We had Mimosas this morning to kick off the day, as well as fried, flat cut home fries in a cereal bowl with tender, delicious sausage links, thick cut bacon done to perfection, two over-easy eggs, and quick-fried, cherry-sized heirloom tomatoes on top.
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In Napa, Tom and I started our day off with Jack in the Box burgers. They had some good, thick cut veggies, but overall they were a little dry and pretty boring. Carl’s Jr. remains at the top of the West Coast burger chains for now.
We then headed to a winery called Stonehedge in downtown Napa, and ordered a tasting of several wines for three or four bucks; we each enjoyed five tastings of our first on-site Napa Valley wine. We liked them all, again with Tom accepting the dryer wine and the fact that he would, indeed, have varying levels of heartburn all day. The man was very talkative and friendly, and he told us about something that some of the later wineries maybe hoped that he hadn’t. It was the Napa Downtown Wine Tasting Card.
We immediately went downtown and purchased one at the Tourism Center. Unlike any wine region we had visited thus far, the wine card guaranteed us free tastings at each of the downtown tasting storefronts. Napa has a sleepy little town center, which was fine with us — especially because it is small enough that we would both be walking all day. This meant that Tom and I could both drink as much wine as we wanted, as long as one of us took a break at the end of the day to drive back to our hotel.
We parked the car on the side of the street and ventured to our second wine-tasting location, “The Wineries of Napa Valley.” Here, they had a cool tap system, with each bottle hooked up to a hose that pressurized and preserved (but not carbonated) each bottle. We didn’t do the full five wine tasting that was suggested, but instead had our two free tastes and moved on.
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Today, we are traveling by car with our new humane society dog, Delilah. We just stopped on the top of a mountain for Tom to take a picture of the fog-filled valley below. We are continuing on gravel and paved roads, and just got to Adelsheim Vineyards. I’ll let you know how they were when I get back. The wine was light and clean if not a little watery and boring, even to Tom’s taste. It was fifteen dollars for a tasting. We just arrived at Arbor Brook. BRB. Arbor Brook was similar but better, I think I am noticing a style. Oregon wine is crisp, not as sweet as upstate New York, and not as gloriously bitter as Napa and Sonoma Valleys. We just arrived at Bergstrom, these wineries are like one mile apart each, and I am not getting much typing done. And I’m off!
Bergstrom was good, depending on whom you ask, just a little better or worse than Arbor Brook. The wines, again, were refreshing and clean-tasting. They had a big German Shepherd hanging out in the Winery. We just passed some llamas and sheep.
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After we visited the “Wineries of Napa Valley,” we started hitting actual… well... not wineries, but downtown tasting storefronts. Ceja Vineyards had a different menu for tastings, again, but we weren’t worried. We took whatever we could get for free, the drier for me and the sweeter (not much sweeter) for Tom. We walked a bit to Trahan Winery, where they also had a dog which which was featured in a “Dogs of Napa Valley” coffee table book that focused on wineries. We went to another winery on the Napa Card, and found that a few wineries were closed…
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Their wine was very good, more flavor and small batch. All the grapes that they grew on their own vineyard were Pinot Noirs, and they seemed to me to be aged in the perfect barrels and made from the perfect grape. When we paid we picked up some French truffles, which are delicious and unique chocolate. They look like they have a dusting of cocoa powder on the outside, almost like they are going to be dry before you take a bite, but they are smooth and rich. Sarah is sleeping now and it is only 4:38. It doesn’t require a long day on the wine trail to get a little tired.
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We continued to the Napa General Store. This place was indeed a general store, but it was also geared for tourists, as evidenced by the touristy trinkets and wine bar. The latter is what concerned us most. We were served by a very helpful lady who gave us some free wines; it was one of the longer walks of the day to get here and would be another longer jaunt back. We continued to Bounty hunter wine bar and restaurant, which had a bunch of local wines, a great pub atmosphere and big pours, an experience we were happy to have. The Copia Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts was closed, and we headed towards Oxbow Tasting Room, which was shared between two friends, Waterstone Wineries and Mahoney Vineyards. Again, we tasted some great wines. The partial owner of the store explained that for him, wine making was not an extremely profitable business, but a passion of love. I can appreciate that. We continued to another store that also shared the name “Oxbow,” this time the Oxbow Cheese Merchant. We tasted our wines and bought eight kinds of Cheese, each a generous portion, for thirty dollars or so. These included Caprino Cramosa, a goat cheese, Prefere des Montagnes, a cow milk cheese and Salametto Fra’Mani, a handcrafted Italian sausage, and some mixed Italian Olives. See the picture to get an idea of the variety that we were eating.
We walked back to Stonehedge, our first stop of the day, and got the free tastings that the card allowed. The friendly man that was there earlier was still present. He appreciated that we enjoyed the wine enough to come back. We told him about our day, he gave us what would be considered big pours for tastings, and about a half dozen cork screws/wine keys. We chatted and drank a bit more and headed back to our hotel room, where we ate as much cheese as we could. Rich, unique cheese was a poor choice as the only item eaten for dinner after a day of wine drinking, but it was verifiably delicious. We ate as much as we could enjoy, which was most of each kind and all of the meat and olives, and went to bed.
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Right now, we are heading back to Portland. We are going to wake Sarah as soon as we get to Pastini Pastaria, a restaurant where Tom has been working for several weeks and we had not visited as patrons yet, and where Tom gets fifty percent off on parties of four or less, a welcome respite after spending ten to fifteen dollars each for tastings today. Wine tasting days are the best days, whether in the greater Portland area, Upstate New York, or Napa Valley. Plan a wine tour right now. I insist.