I was a little nervous to go camping for the first time, so Rob took it a little easy on me. Our first night was in Coeur D’Alene in Idaho, and it had more amenities than one needs when “roughing it.” The description online mentions bathrooms, showers, a pool and hot tub, as well as a pool table, paddle boats, a convenience store… You get the picture. It was fun, though. I enjoyed setting up the tent, sitting by a campfire and eating food soaked in fire smoke goodness. We toasted some bread, cooked jiffy pop and shared a few local beers until it got too dark and cold.

Which brings us to the one downside to camp night one: it was bitterly cold and we only brought a few blankets. I spent half the night shivering, cured up closely to Rob for body heat, while thoughts of hyperthermia raced in my head. On top of the fact that I had to pee. And the nearest bathroom was about 500 yards away. Uphill. In the cold. But I’m not complaining too much because Rob’s telling me that soon we’ll be camping where I’ll have to dig my own ditch to relieve myself, something I’m trying to ignore in hopes that he’s kidding me.

Needless to say, Rob and I didn’t sleep so well our first night camping together. But even so, when we got up, we were both eager for instant coffee and breakfast from our portable burner and were able to shrug off the cold night as lesson learned. We immediately made plans to find sleeping bags in the next big town: Missoula.

Camp night two in Helena, Montana: So far, so good. Already things are looking up because I managed to set up the tent all by myself (well, Rob assisted on a few key points), giving me time to curl up inside on the cozy air mattress (complete with new sleeping bags!) with warm dusk sun streaming in through the tent’s vestibule. The fire’s already going and the smell of firewood burning is putting me at ease.

Portland to Seattle (Seattle is grungier).

For the short stay that was Portland, it was charming. I loved it. Microbrews on every other block, clean streets and great coffee.

In Portland, Diana and I stayed at the Governor Hotel — lavish digs at a decent price. We visited the Tug Boat and Deschutes Breweries, among others, and even paused to marvel at the solar-powered compacter trash bins outside center city’s whole foods.

I must admit all the microbrewery “hopping” and sampling of the past few days have made the Protestant ethic in me soft. I don’t mind lushing it up, but Seattle is the breaking point.

In Seattle’s world famous fish market I did see charismatic mongers screaming something like, “2 pounds of herring, Harry!” all in unison, then to see a fish fly 15 feet across the market air into the deft catch-and-paper-wrap action of a smooth professional. That was kinda cool.

But, but, but. With Seattle comes some buts. The homeless. The tourists. The hills.

Perhaps I’m spoiled. Maybe I didn’t give Seattle the right chance. But, but, but. I don’t care. That’s life. I guess it’s like any other thing in where you have just the one first chance. Maybe you’ll get more, but probably not if that first chance is blown.

…but Portland was nice. I’ll definitely visit Oregon again.

Oregon to Washington

Portland: As we entered the city, parked, and walked throughout the city I felt at home. It wasn’t terribly congested like NYC but still had decent foot traffic and patrons at restaurants to make it not feel like a ghost town. It was extremely clean (I only smelled garbage once in our entire day and a half in Portland), and extremely young. The average age was late 20’s-early 30’s. They were our age, and some had young kids, and many of them were walking dogs or riding bikes. I felt like I was on a completely different universe. I was walking in a city run by kids my age, and running it much how I would want to run it.

When we walked by a solar-paneled trash compactor, I was floored. I’d never seen anything like this before but it makes so much sense: it’s why the city doesn’t smell like garbage.

Portland, OR: Carbon neutral by 2030

I HAVE to say a few words on the brewpubs. We almost skipped over Portland. We almost went from Crescent City CA to Seattle WA. It would have been a long drive, and I woke up very cranky in Crescent City. So I suggested that we stop in Portland, completely forgetting about it being THE brew city. So we decided to pub crawl, and did samplers all night. Here’s why I love brew culture: it’s young, smart and creative. Folks enjoying good microbrews are generally well-educated, like to have a good time, but aren’t in it to get trashed (like in Vegas, for instance). The end of it: we want to go back to Portland on our next vacation, there are so many brewpubs we didn’t hit.

Portland, OR

On our travels up into Washington: It’s been wonderful. The northwest air is cool and moderate. Much like home. But it’s mountain air and it feels clean in my lungs. We drove up I-5 listening to tunes with the windows open, letting in that refreshing mountain air and life felt grand.

We got into Seattle around 2:30 and decided to do a self-guided walking tour. We basically saw Pike’s Market Place and that was enough. It was fun, bustling, and the cool air coming off the water was refreshing. Driving down to the waterside was interesting: each block toward the water was like a giant stair-step at a very steep decline. Walking down a (perceived) 45 degree angle street was interesting. Walking back up it was a test to my lung capacity.


Check out more Seattle pics.

Next up: we start camping as we head back east – Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas.

California to Oregon

Here is where I try to crunch in a quick blogpost while I have wifi. After leaving San Bernardino, we headed due north towards… wine country.

Check out the large-scale pictures here.

Quick rant before I extoll the virtues of NoCal: On-route from San Bernardino, we found ourselves in the outskirt suburbs of LA searching for a restroom. I hit a Starbucks, another coffee place and a Subway. They either did not have a public restroom, or had a padlock with a numberpad attached to it. I finally had to pay a quarter to the padlocked grocery store bathroom. LA is the land of nothing is free, not even the bathrooms.


We had it in our heads that we would hit Healdsburg, CA because there appeared to be quite a bit of wineries there, and it was a decent drive from San Bernardino. A plus was there were breweries in the area as well, something for Rob to enjoy. What actually ended up happening is we got off the highway at some point for a bathroom break, and while driving through this little town of Petaluma, my google map informed me of a brewpub nearby and we decided we were game. It was a little place called Dempsey’s Restaurant and Brewery. We stopped in and had a sample paddle and a pile of shoestring onions to soak it up. While we were sitting there trying to decide our next move, Rob got into conversations with the bartender and the locals who insisted we try Lagunitas, just up the road a ways. Again, we were game, so after a nice stroll in downtown Petaluma (it feels sort of like a smaller version of Collinsville) we got back in the car, headed for this legendary Lagunitas.

Petaluma, CA

Well, you read Rob’s blog post about the place, so I’ll try not to repeat him. It was a lot of fun, and we did what Rob loves best: talk to the locals. I had 1 or 2 pints, but for the rest of the time I was enjoying the interesting open air bar that moved seamlessly from outside, where they featured live music, to inside where they had tons of their own creative brews on tap, to the back outside patio area for smokers. We stayed here till closing, which was only 9 p.m. and found our way to a hotel half a mile away.

The next morning we headed due north again, headed for Crescent City which is a small town on the shore, just by the border of Oregon. We were so tired by the time we arrived. We’d spent the entire day driving the Pacific Coast Highway which is an insane feat.

Oregon has been amazing so far. Nice, quiet, young, but still a city. They’re very green, organic, and friendly to vegetarians. It’s been a wonderful trip here so far. Maybe I’ll write more about this city later. For now, we’re packing up and headed to Seattle.

The Car is named Nola.

Dear Toyota Motor Co.,

I wish to express my appreciation for the fine motorcar that is the 1997 Camry. Mine is tan, but I didn’t choose the color. I did however name her Nola.

This car is my roadtrip chariot for the summer of 2011 — a journey quite literally of 10,000 miles across the contiguous United States of America.

She is a fine vessel with over 100,000 miles. Her paneled aluminum sides show some careworn rust spots and an obvious crumple and dent under an obvious do-it yourself fix, but she runs strong and true, and her AC blows mightily frigid.

Though her shiftshock shuns a strange driver, I have found the subtle nuances of her transmission to be charming, almost poetic.

There have been repairs and there have been replacements. I am the second owner so such things are expected, but she has always gotten me from A to B without fail.

Domo Arigato.

Sincerely, Rob Dixon

Beer in Wine country

Petaluma, California
Lagunita’s Brewing Company
Rob Dixon

I have to say Northern California is awesome. Yes, there are the stonified hipster hippies and the trendy Prius-piloting iMac attackers, but my interests drew me to the budding brew culture.

As an outsider in new surroundings, there’s nothing like this back home. We have our microbrews, but out here the micro is macro. Every town, village, crossroad and alcove seems to harbor a brewery, and every brew is amazing.

Take the Lagunita’s Brewery’s malted magnificence for example — they have names for their brews like “The Hairy Eyeball” or “Secret Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale.” Let’s just say on that last one they went a little overboard on Proposition 420 and named a beer after the subsequent events. Anyways, they are fantastic…the brewery and the beers.

NoCal truly is beer heaven. If your love for ale coincides with the phrase “joie de vivre,” then you must visit. Take any exit after San Fran on the 101 northbound and find yourself a watering hole. I guarantee you’ll be pleased.


The Priceline Lesson

Dear Priceline dot com,

Congratulations. You got me. I hate to admit it, but this seems like the ideal forum to profess I’d been had — hoodwinked, flimflammed, et cetera…and you did it so well.

I love star trek, ergo William Shatner is usually entertaining. I enjoyed and appreciated his kitsch air-chopping taglines for you, the company, but no more. Fool me once, blah, blah, blah.

The way you offered high-class accommodation at a name-your-own price was great, but the real genius was in using an unaudited rating system that puts the money in your pocket before the mark knows what they have. And the mastery of the runaround from your customer service is supreme. P.T. Barnum would be proud.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the way the scam works, but those devilish details need praising one by one.

When Kaptain Kirk tells you it’s a 4-star hotel at half the price, AAA might say that’s a 2-star at super cost plus. You beamed me up when I should have stayed grounded. Brilliant.

You have your patrons pay before they know which hotel to stay at. The complicated legalese in the charge implies that a customer may cancel with some effort if they are dissatisfied, but we both know that’s just hokum. Brilliant.

When a customer calls you to cancel, you say, call the hotel. When they call the hotel, the hotel refers back to you. It’s a endless cycle. Brilliant.

Then the prompt e-mail sent by your service department explaining they did all they could do (which is nothing) seals the deal, leaving the customer throwing up their hands in surrender. Brilliant.

I commend your unscrupulous practices and wish you the best before the wiser catches up with you. You should have a Skype session with the MGM Grand and trade sucker stories.

As for me, $97.16 and 40 minutes on the phone is a bargain for a refresher course in scammery. I will now only use your website as a reference, but never again for a transaction.

I leaned my lesson. Thanks.

Rob Dixon