Summer Days On The Road

In the summer of 2015, before leaving for China, my elder sister and I embarked on a cross-country road trip – from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and San Francisco and back again over the course of 35 days, making many stops along the way. What follows is a chronicle of our travels, as best as I can recreate it from memory and with some help from my photo library and Untappd app history.

Day 1: June 5, 2015 – Doylestown, PA to Toledo, OH (8 hours, 527 miles)

Went to the Attic and drank with Madison before going to her friend’s old house in the Old West End and testing out my new camera!

(Glass Hopper IPA by Maumee Bay Brewing Company at The Attic on Adams)

Day 2: June 6 – Toledo, OH to Cedar Rapids, IA (7 hours, 478 miles)

Stayed with our good friend Tyler (conveniently located within the void between Ohio and Colorado) for the night and sampled a wonderful medley of amazing beers!

(Hop Sutra by Peace Tree Brewing Company, a Speedway Stout (2013) by AleSmith Brewing Company120 Minute IPA (2013) by Dogfish Head Craft BrewerySága IPA by Summit Brewing Company at Bushwood Sports Bar & Grill)

Day 3: June 7 – Cedar Rapids, IA to Lake McConaughy, NE (9 hours, 603 miles)

Drove a long way this time all the way across Iowa and Nebraska and found a lake to camp next to just next to the border of Colorado. It seemed like a fantastic idea, but we weren’t quite equipped for this sort of camping – no wood, and no stove… not even much food to eat considering. While looking for a place to camp, I drove into a sandy area with some speed, thinking that my momentum would carry us through… I was wrong. We ended up quite stuck for a long time. Meg and I were digging trenches in the sand so that my poor little 2WD Matrix could potentially back its way out using a combination of pushing and feathering the throttle. After much exertion, we eventually made it out. Continuing onwards, a suitable location eventually presented itself and this time, we were careful not to drive in too far. So we hoofed our gear a little ways through the sand to a nice secluded area between the dunes and the lake.

Despite the beautiful location, we didn’t end up sleeping all that well because, in our exhaustion, we were both strangely paranoid about imaginary lake tides! Sleeping on the beach to the gentle sound of waves coming in sounds a lot more pleasant than it actually was. Needless to say, we broke camp pretty early the next morning right around sunrise.

One of the best things about this area ended up being this little local diner next to a cattle auctioning farm (I think) called Kathy’s Kafe. Bottomless coffee and the large American portions of breakfast food that you’d expect from a diner in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. To this day, my sister and I both probably thank that diner for its existence in our moment of need. The smell of horse/cow poop and strange stares aside, that place was great!

 

Day 4: June 8 – Lake McConaughy to Denver and Boulder (3.5 hours, 228 miles)

Short drive this day considering our long drive and poor night’s sleep the previous day. We have many relatives living in Colorado and got to see almost all of them on this trip. The first ones being our Uncle Kevin (our mom’s brother) and our cousin Addison. They live in Denver. We were so exhausted, we took showers and napped almost immediately. Then we decided to head off to Boulder to see an old friend and of course, to go enjoy that amazing mountain city.

(Trilogy IPA by Shine Brewing Company at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place)

Day 5: June 9 – Denver, CO to Ouray, CO (8 hours, 415 miles)

We opted to take the super-scenic route through the Rockies to our great aunt and uncle’s house in beautiful Ouray (boxcanyonblog.com) instead of taking the interstate the whole way. Complete with detours and stops here and there, it probably took us over 8 hours altogether, but it was worth it!

If I remember correctly, we took Route 70 from Denver until the Carbondale/Aspen exit, where we got off the interstate and drove as if going to Aspen, but veered off to the west at Carbondale towards Somerset, Hotchkiss and eventually Delta. Or, it’s quite possible we went the even-more-scenic route and hopped on route 12 (which doesn’t show up on Google maps until you’re practically all the way zoomed in where an inch equals 2 miles) towards Crested Butte (I remember something about making Crusty Butt jokes the whole time) and then approaching Montrose from the east instead of north. Either way, we finally made it in around dusk. Our family had pizza and IPAs waiting for us! Love those two!

Day 6: June 10 – Ouray

We finally had a full day without sitting in the car once! We rested in Ouray for two nights, waiting for our brother Brad to start his vacation and come meet us in Grand Junction on the 12th. So in the meantime, my sister and I got to relax. I went for a bike ride, got rained on and headed back, and then once the rain had cleared up, we took a hike up to see some falls before resting our weary feet at the local brewery!

(San Juan IPASummer SaisonBox Canyon Brown AleCarson’s Chocolate StoutBluegrass Pale Ale by Ouray BreweryModus Hoperandi by Ska Brewing at Ouray, CO)

Day 7: June 11 – Ouray to Grand Junction, CO to Bryce Canyon, UT (7 hours, 400 miles)

Leaving very early in the morning, even before dawn, we left for Grand Junction to pick up our elder brother from the bus station (side note: apparently the massively obese Greyhound passenger with whom Bradley had to share his row with was not particularly reasonable or considerate with their shared space, so Brad was fairly exhausted upon our meeting with him in Grand Junction considering he’d spent the last 300 miles cramped up on a Greyhound bus). We grabbed breakfast and supplies, and took care of some “emergency  medical” needs before hitting the open road between Colorado and Los Angeles. Oh, and another reason (besides the fact that our brother is awesome) it was really nice to have Brad with us is the fact that he can drive! I forgot to mention, my sister doesn’t drive, so it was essentially just me doing all the driving up to this point. Having another driver on the trip with us was a fantastic (but short-lived) relief.

We got to Bryce Canyon National Park just a bit before dusk and managed to find ourselves a decent camp site in the nearly-full park. We spent some time enjoying the twilight scenery (I managed to catch a DOUBLE-RAINBOW on camera!) before setting up our camp site and making dinner.

Poor Brad forgot his sleeping bag at home and ended up practically freezing in the car all night! Especially after a terrible night on a bus, I didn’t envy him.

(Hop Abomination by Dry Dock Brewing CompanyHop Hunter IPA by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. at Bryce Canyon NP North Campground)

Day 8: June 12 – Bryce Canyon, UT to Grand Canyon, AZ (5.5 hours, 285 miles)

In the morning, Brad promptly bought a new sleeping bag at the store the next morning. Before departing for the Grand Canyon however, we went on a hike down into the canyon. It was a stunningly beautiful hike. A fantastic way to begin the day!

It was nice to have someone from out west with us who had previous experience visiting the Grand Canyon because he suggested we go to the other side of the Canyon instead of the North Rim. This made a pretty big difference! If you look on the map, the North Rim is almost an entire hour off the main highway, whereas if you go around (a route we’d have to take anyway) you can see the Grand Canyon from the south without even going very far out of the way! Plus, we were able to find an amazing place to camp with nobody around for a long ways after we had gotten a good look at the canyon.

This night may arguably have been one of the greatest of the trip. It had been a flawless day with a beautiful drive across some of the most scenic parts of the Western U.S., saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and found a secluded forest with ample amounts of dead wood to burn where the three of us were able to while the night away in good company by a roaring campfire.

Day 9: June 13, Grand Canyon, AZ to Los Angeles, CA (7 hours, 484 miles)

This day was rough… Driving through the dessert… Thankfully the A.C. in the Blue Pill (a.k.a. my blue Toyota Matrix) was working just fine, so we were able to drink our water without it evaporating before hitting our tongue.

Our destination was LA! My sister had been longing to make it back to California, and we were finally there. And, for the first time this trip, we opted for a hotel (courtesy of our brother) because Brad was also in town to attend the wedding of an old family friend.

Johnny’s American IPA (7%) by Moab Brewery

Day 10: June 14 – Los Angeles & Hermosa Beach

Waking up in LA was pretty great. Being in California was also pretty darn awesome considering all the awesome new beers I now had access to. We took the morning nice and easy, heading to the pool at our leisure and so on. I took a trip to the nearest beer shop I could find, and came back all stocked up on new and exotic, California-exclusive IPAs!

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After a while though, we rallied and headed to a house where many of the wedding crew were gathered to enjoy a nice brunch by the pool. We stayed there for a few hours until it came time for Meg and I to depart and leave Brad to do his own thing.

Meg and I headed back to the hotel for a just a little while, to get showered and such before heading to Hermosa Beach to go exploring and get some dinner! We had a blast, driving the practically empty LA highways after dark. We found a fun boardwalk area to explore. Eventually, we landed at a brewery, which always tends to be the best option if you have nothing else to go on in a new area. Places that care about good beer always care about good food to go along with it! This rule has yet to let me down.

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(Far Out IPA by Bootlegger’s BreweryThe Orange Curtain by Barley Forge Brewing Co., and West Coast Pale Ale by Abigaile Brewery at Abigaile)

Day 11: June 15 – Los Angeles to Morro Bay (4 hours, 230 miles)

The next day began what I had been quite looking forward to – our drive up the California coast on Route 1. We planned to do it in a 2-day stretch, taking it nice and easy, stopping whenever we felt the urge.

That being said, the drive may have been about 230 miles, but it was definitely longer than 4 hours because by the time we were ready to stop, it was quite difficult to locate a viable campsite. Lucky enough to get one of the last available spots, the campsite then had to be set up in the dark by flashlight. Once that was done however, we enjoyed yet another night by the campfire. At some point during our enjoying of the campfire, we witnessed another car pull in quite a bit later. We witnessed someone struggling with their tent, so we went over to help them, empathizing well considering we’d struggled with the same thing not too long before. It turned out to be a mother and her young daughter getting in much later than they’d expected. In the morning they shared some breakfast with us! 🙂

(805 Blonde by Firestone Walker Brewing Company at Summerland Foods & LiquorDBA (Double Barrel Ale) and Union Jack IPA by Firestone Walker Brewing Company at Morro Bay State Park Campground)

Day 12: June 16 – Morro Bay to Mountain View, CA (4.5 hours, 212 miles)

Brad, unfortunately, had to get back to work before too long and had planned to fly out of the San Francisco airport back to Denver on June 17th, so our destination this day was to get in range of the airport for the following morning. Fortunately, I had a friend from CMU living in Mountain View, a town just a little further south from San Francisco than the airport.

This drive turned out to be spectacular, with many breathtaking views out over the Pacific.

We took a surprise detour to a little town called Salinas, where my brother knew exists the National Steinbeck Center – a museum and memorial dedicated to one of my sister’s favorite authors, John Steinbeck, who grew up in that town. So while Meg nerded-out at the Steinbeck Center, Brad and I found ourselves another brewery to chill at! 🙂

After our arrival, there was still some time to kill before heading to our host’s home for the evening, so we navigated our way to the nearest bay access point where Brad and I went sailing while my sister napped in the car.

(IPAPale Ale and Harvest Wheat by Monterey Coast Brewing Co at Monterey Coast Brewing Company, and Surf Black IPA by Surf Brewery)

Day 13: June 17 – Mountain View to San Francisco and Santa Rosa (2 hours, 94 miles)

San Francisco had essentially been our unspoken yet symbolic destination for the road trip. Despite that however, due to many complicating factors (not the least of which being my dread for the return journey and wanting to get it out of the way asap without it lingering over my head), we merely passed through San Francisco without staying for more than half a day, which I eventually came to regret. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time there, having been able to see some sights and just enjoy the cool temperatures and hilly nature of this city by the sea.

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We even had got to hit two different and amazing breweries in the same day! The first being Southern Pacific Brewing in SF where we met our host from the night before and bought him a beer, and the second being Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa where I was able to fulfill an (adult) life-long goal of mine, which was to try the fabled Pliny the Elder double IPA from Russian River.

The lodging we acquired for this night simply goes to show how well-accustomed we had become to our vagabond lifestyle these last 2 weeks. We found a campsite in the wine country east of Santa Rosa and arrived there after hours finding ourselves a camp site that we ended up occupying free-of-charge, set up our tent and went to sleep, waking up early enough to sneak out unnoticed by anyone. Honestly, we didn’t see anybody at the gates upon entry nor exit, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Plus, it was quite a blessing considering we were on a budget that allowed for not much more than food, beer, and gas…

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(Tricerahops Double IPA by Ninkasi Brewing Company at Southern Pacific BrewingCalifornia Blonde and Alt by Southern Pacific Brewing at Southern Pacific Brewing, then Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing Company at Russian River Brewing Company!)

Day 14: June 18 – Santa Rosa to Salt Lake City, UT (10.5 hours, 746 miles)

This leg began our trek back east; it felt like going downhill. With nothing much between NoCal and Colorado (our next semi-long term destination as compensation for leaving Cali so early), we decided to head to Salt Lake City and stay there for a night, even going so far as to splurge for a hotel room! Despite being a long drive, it was a fairly easy one, being practically a straight line for most of the way! There was some cool scenery here as well because of the dried salt beds next to the highway.

It wasn’t until after going out in this city in the early evening that we noticed that SLC was actually pretty cool! I particularly took a liking to it because of its urban infrastructure design (nerding-out, civil engineering style!). Moving around in this city was particularly easy and not entirely car-centric! It was quite a relief. We even found another cool brewery to check out that night! There are actually lots of good breweries in SLC other than the one we found, like Uinta Brewery! The city’s library is also very modern!

(Rye Pale Ale by Red Rock Brewing Co. at Red Rock Brewing Co.)

Day 15: June 19 – Salt Lake City, UT to Golden, CO (7.5 hours, 517 miles)

The next morning, we found a cool local craft bagel shop to grab ourselves some breakfast. This added even more to my fondness for SLC because in my opinion, a good bagel shop is an essential part of any town or city. A part that even Pittsburgh was lacking in…

Enough about bagels however. Our destination today was to get back across the Rockies and make it to our other aunt and uncle’s house in Golden, CO. But before that however, we found another brewery to enjoy a little pit-stop at!

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(Hula Hoppie Session IPA by Palisade Brewing Company at Palisade Brewing CompanyFresh Squeezed IPA by Deschutes Brewery)

Day 16: June 20 – Golden, CO

It just so happened that our aunt and uncle were taking this particular weekend to get away on a trip-for-two, leaving our cousins in the care of a distant relative of ours, our aunt by marriage’s cousin from the UK. So we ended up getting the weekend to relax in the beautiful town of Golden, spending time bonding with our Johnson cousins!

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It was really great! Our uncle, like his brother (our father) likes to keep a good IPA or two on tap. There’s even an amazing brewery within walking distance from their house! Mountain Toad Brewery is really a top notch brewery. The atmosphere, staff and (most importantly) the beer were all phenomenal.

(Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point Brewing & SpiritsParadise HopWhite RanchRyrish Stout, and Throne Taker Imperial Red Ale by Mountain Toad Brewing at Mountain Toad Brewing)

Day 17: June 21 – Golden to Fort Collins, CO (1 hour, 73 miles)

Now back in Colorado on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, we were only a short distance away from Fort Collins, where our brother lives, so we headed up there next. After a nap, we all went out to a lake together to jump off cliffs and swim while enjoying the sunset before proceeding to a local watering hole for food and drinks.

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(Breck IPA by Breckenridge Brewery at The MainLine)

Day 18: June 22 – Fort Collins to Cedar Rapids, IA (11 hours, 777 miles)

It was a brief stop however, and we were on our way again in the morning for what turned out to be our longest haul yet! Instead of camping somewhere along the way, we decided to push all the way out to Cedar Rapids, IA! Almost 800 miles in a day was not easy, but it was rewarding! We got a chance to relax with our friend Tyler again for four nights! We ended up having a lot of fun here!

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Day 19: June 23 – Cedar Rapids, IA

(Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing CompanyApex™ by Bear Republic Brewing Co.Hop Hunter IPA by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. at Shaver ParkAmerican IPA (AIPA) by Schlafly – The Saint Louis Brewery at Shaver Disc Course)

Day 20: June 24 – Cedar Rapids, IA

(30th Street Pale Ale by Green Flash Brewing CompanyStone Enjoy By 07.04.15 IPA by Stone Brewing, and Mach 10™ by Bear Republic Brewing Co.)

Day 21: June 25 – Cedar Rapids to Toledo, OH (7 hours, 478 miles)

On our way out west, we stopped in Toledo at our grandparent’s house while they were away on vacation, but this time we were able to catch them! They prepared a nice dinner on the grill for their travel-worn grandkids! 🙂

 

Day 22: June 26 – Toledo, OH to Pittsburgh, PA (3.5 hours, 232 miles)

The sister of one of my good friends was getting married on the 27th in a small city in eastern Ohio. So my sister and I headed for Pittsburgh where I went to grad school and where my former roommate was still occupying the apartment I lived in and we were welcome to stay there for a few nights!

(Two Hearted Ale by Bell’s Brewery at Union Grill)

Day 23: June 27 – Pittsburgh to Youngstown, PA (1 hour, 66 miles)

So while my sister chilled in Pittsburgh, I went to Youngstown for TC’s wedding!

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In the meantime, I think my sister explored Pittsburgh!

(Grapefruit Sculpin by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and Guinness Draught by Guinness at Red Roof)

Day 24: June 28 – Youngstown to Pittsburgh (1 hour, 66 miles)

The next day, I returned to Pittsburgh to enjoy some of my old city’s great food and beer offerings along with my sis for a couple days.

(The Orange Curtain by Barley Forge Brewing Co.Keri Kelli/Kyle Hollingsworth/Stone Collective Distortion IPA by Stone Brewing at La Palapa)

Day 25: June 29 – Pittsburgh

After chilling another day in Pittsburgh we realized we were at a crux point in our journey; do we head home after merely 25 days on the road? Or do we keep it going and head back out west to spend our 4th of July in Chicago with our friend Tyler and another friend of mine from CMU who was doing a summer internship there? You guessed it! We went back out west!

The morning before we left, we got to get brunch at one of my favorite spots with some of my CMU buddies. At this point we were running just a smidgeon low on money, so we broke into our emergency stash of cash, which was in the form of a cash lay that my great aunt and uncle made for me out of $1 bills! (Yes, we did feel badly for the server having both been one ourselves… :/ )

Ivan The Terrible by Big Sky Brewing Company

Day 26: June 30 – Pittsburgh to Toledo (3.5 hours, 232 miles)

With some time to kill, we stopped off in Toledo for a few days to enjoy some more time with our grandparents, as well as visit a couple good friends. One was Madison, who had lived right across the river from my grandparents the whole time I went to school there in Toledo.

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Day 27: July 1 – Toledo

The other was Dejan, who by now has successfully succeeded me as the foreign research student at Kagawa University from Toledo. Since this road trip, I’ve seen him on many different occasions in Japan. On this day however, my sister spent the day back at the grandparent’s house relaxing. It was one of the rare moments during this road trip when we weren’t close enough to holler at each other, let alone poke each other.

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Day 28: July 2 – Toledo to Chicago (4 hours, 245 miles)

Timing it so that we had enough time to relax and see the sights, as well as see and spend time with friends, we arrived in Chicago a couple days before the Fourth and met up with my friend from CMU, Lamyae! Unfortunately we timed our arrival in Chicago poorly and landed there right around rush hour. Our destination, Lamyae’s apartment, was up north of Chicago in Evanston, and we were coming from the south. But we eventually made it, all the while enjoying the nice scenery of the city while driving along Lake Michigan.

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We didn’t linger for long since we were hungry and ready to see Chicago, so we deposited our bags, and headed out for the train downtown. Lamyae led us to Clark St., an area with lots of restaurants and bars. After much deliberation, we ended up going with a new-age American food joint with small, unique, exquisite-looking dishes. We were not disappointed!

(Snaggletooth Bandana by Solemn Oath Brewery at Bottlefork)

Day 29: July 3 – Chicago

The next day was great! We went to Northeastern University to take advantage of their sailing center and rented a catamaran! Afterward, we went to visit the Baha’i Temple of Worship, one of only 7 throughout the world, in Wilmette, a town just north of Evanston. After a brief stop back at the apartment, we went out again and found ourselves a brewery called Smylie Brothers Brewing. Enjoyed the beautiful weather outside on their deck while enjoying some fine beer offerings. Finally, we ventured south to where we would once again meet up with our friend Tyler who was in Chicago for the Fourth as well! We enjoyed an awesome pre-Fourth celebration complete with sausages, other grillables, amazing craft beer, fireworks, charades and wheelbarrow races!

(Double Fist by Revolution Brewing CompanyPurple Line and Smylie IPA by Smylie Brothers Brewing Company at Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.Pompeii by Toppling Goliath Brewing5 Grass Hoppy Ale by 5 Rabbit CerveceríaZombie Dust by 3 Floyds Brewing Company1492 by Toppling Goliath Brewing, and The Cherry Bohemian by Exile Brewing Company)

Day 30: July 4 – Chicago, IL

Our actual Fourth turned out to be another fantastic day. After waking up in our tent that was set up in the back yard where, during the previous night, wheelbarrow races had been held, we rallied for brunch and bloody marry’s at a local strip in this particular Chicago neighborhood. It was then that we made our plans for the day’s festivities. We made the decision to go to the North Avenue Beach where we would have a clear view of the fireworks from across the bay. It was also the perfect place to spend a day relaxing. We had lunch supplies, snacks, a frisbee, bathing suits, music, and a place right next to the water so that whenever we got hot, we could take a few steps and dive off the pier!

We stayed there for probably close to 8 hours! The fireworks were, unfortunately, lackluster, but everything else that day had been great. We had lots of fun and were in good company.

(Anchor IPA by Anchor Brewing Company and Modelo Especial by Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V.at North Avenue Beach)

Day 31: July 5 – Chicago to Toledo, OH ( 4 hours, 245 miles)

Back eastward again; the final homeward bound stretch. Since we had simply passed through the last couple of times in Toledo, this time we decided to hang out for a few days. My photo library, as well as my Untappd check-in’s don’t tell much of a story over these few days, so it’s safe to assume we used the time to relax and enjoy our grandparent’s company and hospitality.

Day 32: July 6 – Toledo

One of the only pieces of evidence from these few days of what transpired is this picture here,

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Which indicates we got to hang out with Madi again! 🙂

Day 33: July 7 – Toledo

Day 34: July 8 -Toledo

On the last day before we left toledo, our grandparents took us to a nice little restaurant by the Maumee River called LaRoe’s. It was a nice sendoff. It was sad to leave since it is so peaceful there, but it was time to head another step closer to home.

(Firefly Rye by Great Black Swamp Brewing Co at LaRoe’s)

Day 35: July 9 – Toledo to Pittsburgh (3.5 hours, 232 miles)

One last stop in Pittsburgh. We were only there for one night, so we made the most out of it, in honor of completing our road trip successfully! Thankfully, our friend Mark was around to help us celebrate properly.

(Big Hop IPA by East End Brewing Company at Industry Public HouseD’Tango Unchained by Weyerbacher Brewing Company at BierportTurtle Power by Evil Genius Beer CompanySlow Ride by New Belgium Brewing Company)

Day 36: July 10 – Pittsburgh to Philadelphia (5 hours, 304 miles)

And that was it! 35 days on the road, thousands of miles, hundreds of photos, and countless fond memories.

Here are some fun statistics about our trip:

Total miles traveled: 8,169

Total hours spent driving: 128 (that’s over 5 whole days – almost 15% of the entire trip was spent with our butts in those seats!)

Number of different states passed through: 12

Breweries Visited:

  1. Ouray Brewery
  2. Abigaile Brewery
  3. Monterey Coast Brewing Company
  4. Southern Pacific Brewing
  5. Russian River Brewing Company
  6. Red Rock Brewing Co.
  7. Palisade Brewing Company
  8. Mountain Toad Brewing
  9. Smylie Brothers Brewing Co.

 

Finally, I would like to dedicate this post to my amazing siblings, MJ and Bradley. I love you guys. The inspiration to do this post was my sister’s birthday, so I hope she likes it!

Our Time In Takamatsu…

…was short but sweet. We’re already on a bullet train bound for Kyoto, but over the last couple days we were able to do quite a lot! 

When we got off the bus on Saturday, Mr. Oki was already there waiting to pick us up. We stopped briefly at the house to drop off our things and then went to eat lunch at the most famous udon shop in the city that is already famous for udon; Baka Ichidai Udon! 

Afterwards we went to drop off my mom and sister’s belongings at a Japanese inn named the Makiya Ryokan, which is very conveniently located in between Takamatsu Station, the ferry port, and a local train line station Kotoden Takamatsu-chikko. It offers traditional Japanese-style lodging in a tatami room, which is nice, but from what I heard from my mother and sister, it is a bit old and slightly rundown. However, considering the international art festival, the Setouchi Triennale is currently going on, they were lucky to find a room available even remotely close to downtown Takamatsu, let alone one so perfectly located.  


Once their things were dropped off, we made our way down through the city via the shotengai, the famous covered malls of Takamatsu. There, we ran into a beer festival that happened to be going on, and so grabbed a beer and continued walking. One thing that is fairly common is Asia that is not allowed in the States is that one can openly drink alcohol and even be openly drunk in public without any repercussions under the law. 

As we continued walking, we eventually made it to my host family’s shop, Olive Hills! It is a gorgeous little shop where they offer exquisite olive oils from Italy as well as some local offerings. One of the best olive oils in the world comes from olive orchards located on an island near Takamatsu called Shodoshima. The Oki’s also have an olive orchard and have even begun to produce their own olive oil as well! 


Still being jet-lagged and also having traveled that day, Mom and Meg were tired so we decided to head back to the Oki’s home for a rest. While they were resting however, magic was happening in the kitchen…


But before we ate, we went around the corner briefly to see the end of a little festival that the neighborhood puts on every summer.


They had prepared an incredible meal! There was squid, locally caught sea bream (both of which Mr. Oki prepared himself!), salmon, garden-fresh tomatoes, home-made pickles, cucumbers, Japanese basil, avocado, chicken, red bell peppers, and specially cooked thin-cut beef. The theme of the meal was centered around temakizushi (手巻き寿司), which means hand-rolled sushi. After putting some rice on one end of a seaweed wrap, you can pick whatever other ingredients you want, put them on the rice and then roll it up and eat it. After we had all eaten our fill, we all found ourselves in the car heading for karaoke at around 11pm, ready for the night to continue!


We all very much enjoyed ourselves at karaoke. For Mom and Meg, it had been their first time singing Asian-style karaoke, and they had been slightly hesitant at first, but after a few songs, they had gotten used to it and we’re really into it. After a couple hours, the Oki’s drove them to the inn, and we all got a good night’s rest.


The next morning took us to the port where we boarded a ferry bound for Megijima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea! It was a short ride, about 20 minutes. There are lots of things to on these islands, especially during the art festival season, however we opted to simply have some lunch and then enjoy some sand and sun on the beach. 


After a few hours on the island, we made our way back to land and decided to relax even more; this time at the famous hot spring, Busshozan Onsen! 

 This particular hot spring is special because of its diverse types of baths. There are hot baths with natural oils, warm carbonated baths in cedar tubs, as well as cold baths in stone tubs. This place is easily accessible by taking the train from Takamatsu-chikko station a few stops to Busshozan Station and then walking for about 10 minutes down a quaint, narrow village street. Also, I should mention that if you tell the person working at the Takamatsu-chikko train station that you’re going to the onsen, they’ll give you a package price that not only includes the entrance fee for the onsen, but also round-trip train fare, a special fan called an uchiwa and a Busshozan Onsen towel, for only ¥1000! 


After soaking for an hour or so and relaxing with a beer afterwards, we meandered our way back to the Oki’s home to have a rest before going out to meet my former research advisor, Kii-sensei, for dinner and drinks. Mom and Meg, not able to get enough raw fish yet, were very happy with the food selection.


After dinner we migrated to my favorite bar in the world, Amazon! There, I was able to meet a few more friends of old, Shin-san, the best bartender in the world, and Dejan, my successor from the University of Toledo. As always, we had a blast at Amazon until late in the evening when we all began departing in ones and twos. Last but not least, was Dejan and his friend from the dormitory, and we all got some late night food together before parting ways. Dejan is also keeping a blog! You can check it out here: The Long Route Around the World


The next day, we hopped on the Shinkansen (Bullet train) to Kyoto for the next stage of our journey!

From Beijing to Osaka

On my last day in Beijing, I started by meeting with my friends in a nearby Starbucks for coffee and a croissant, followed by a nice chat and picture exchange until one of them, Gi, had to leave. 


So around noon, Mari and I went and hopped on a bus that took us across town to a restaurant she wanted to take me to. It was pouring, but we still had a nice journey. 

Having enjoyed our last meal together before parting ways again, we said our farewells and I found my way to the bus heading back to my hotel. Once there, I got some work done because despite being on vacation, there were some things that I couldn’t actually finish before leaving Dalian. For example, there are some students that got to take “resit exams” that DJTU offers that are not acknowledged by Valpo, but I still have to grade them. In addition to that, I’m in the midst of an uphill battle trying to get my new visa for the coming year. The good news is that it will be abetted visa that will allow me to stay in China for longer than 60-day periods. The bad news is that the application has many diverse and time-consuming elements to it. 

Anyway, after getting some work done, I decided to relocate to the bar across the street.


It was a cool spot with a nice atmosphere and decent drinks! I stayed there for a bit and got to practice my Mandarin with the owner and his friends. But once 10:00 rolled around, I decided I’d best go back and get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow’s traveling. That was, until, I ran into a nice-looking family of foreigners outside my hotel who were looking to have some fun. I told them of the establishment across the street and decided to accompany them for another drink. 

But, as these things tend to do, one thing led to another and before I knew it it was 2:30 in the morning and I knew tomorrow was going to be hard enough without me pushing it any later. It was already too late… I slept through my alarm for an hour! It was set for 7:00am, but I didn’t wake until 8:10. With my flight leaving at 10:10, I was going to be hard-pressed to get there on time, so I hurriedly packed the rest of my things and let the race against the clock begin. With my pack strapped, I began sprinting the not-insignificant distance to the subway station through the pouring rain without stopping (thank you ultimate frisbee for getting me back into shape). I had 6 or 7 stops on the subway to get to the Airport Express line, from which it takes another 25 minutes or so to get to terminal 2 of the Peking Airport. I got there around 9:25 and ran through the airport as well; was expidited through customs and security and got to my gate with 10 mintues to spare! The fact that the flight was delayed made me feel a bit better.


My day ended in the best possible way in my opinion; with a bath in the hotel’s hot spring and Japanese BBQ!


What’s travel without a little drama, right?! Well anyways, now I just have to wait and relax until my mom and sister arrive Saturday morning! I’m so excited! 😁

Back In Beijing: The Great Wall

Today was a day I’d been waiting for ever since my last trip to Beijing. Last trip was so exhausting that I decided to put off going to the Great Wall of China. This time however, it was my highest sightseeing priority. My friends and I rendezvoused early and navigated the bus system for about an hour in order to get to Mutianyu, a location of the Great Wall that came highly recommended by a friend and colleague of mine. It did not disappoint!


For Christmas last year, my mom gave me a FitBit (the wrist watch you see me wearing in the above picture). Of all the uses it has served thus far, my climbing the Great Wall of China is by far the best one yet! Thanks to it, I know how high I climbed at the wall – 150 stories! During the course of the entire day, I managed to climb even more, and traveled over 20 kilometers! 


Needless to say, we were all thoroughly exhausted once we’d returned to Beijing. My friend Mari’s grandmother was kind enough to cook us a wonderful dinner at her home! 


It was the perfect end to a perfect day. Everything on the table was delicious! After parting ways and arriving at our respective homes, we all slept very well indeed. 

Dan – In Seoul!

Due to reasons beyond my control, every 60 days I must leave China and come back, just to get some extra ink on my passport. It is incredibly inconvenient when considering I maintain a full-time teaching schedule, the preparation for which most certainly digs into my weekends. However on the bright side, it gives me a fantastic excuse to get some traveling in! My destination for this brief outing was Seoul, South Korea, only a 55-minute jaunt by plane to get there!

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Unbeknownst to me, despite all evidence to the contrary, I actually DID NOT fly into Seoul, but a different airport in the metropolitan area. Even though my China Southern Airlines itinerary stated explicitly “Seoul,” apparently that actually means Incheon International. Being completely oblivious though, upon arrival I went and found a taxi and told the driver to “take me here,” as I pointed to my hotel’s address. Immediately, a big goofy grin spread across his face, and he kindly took my bad to put it in the trunk for me. Fifty minutes, and 45,000 won (~$45) later I had arrived at my hotel, conveniently located next to the airport that I failed to land at.

Despite all of that, actually thoroughly enjoyed my taxi ride. Unlike the rundown old VW taxis in China (of which I am going to begin taking note of each Check Engine light I see when riding in them to get a feel for just how many taxis run with them on, because I have this feeling that the percentage is somewhere above 80), these Korean taxis are higher-end Hyundais with plush leather seats, window tint, and AC. Furthermore, the drivers don’t tend to drive like they’re racing in NASCAR. During the drive, I was able to chill for a bit, look out the window, and even snapped the above picture.

Even though my hotel was close to the other airport that is closer to Seoul, it is still about a 40 minute subway ride into downtown, so the first night I opted to wander around the area nearby my hotel. I found a dark little corner bar to sit down at, eat some food, have a couple beers, and chat with the bartenders. Not a very exciting night, but totally satisfying!

The next day was meant for nothing but exploring, sightseeing, and eating! I started off my day slowly, enjoyed a luxurious shower under a supremely large and powerful shower head, had breakfast, then took the subway into town. My first stop – Gyeongbokgung Palace (good luck saying that one)!

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The palace is massive and beautiful. So many different paths to wander around, discover, and explore the various structures within its walls. Each time I thought I had finally reached the other end, I’d notice another small doorway leading onward. I was able to kill nearly two hours here easily.

The picture below shows a nifty little setup they had for letting people discover which Zodiac animal represents the year they were born. Mine is the Year of the Horse – 1990!

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After wandering around, I grabbed a cab to go to a place I’d scoped out on TripAdvisor for lunch. This situation provided a great illustration of my struggles while in South Korea. In case you don’t know, I can only speak two words of Korean, and they are “Hello” (for use on a phone), and “gimme ______.” I had all the addresses of the places I wanted to go printed out, but they were written in roman letters, not Korean characters, so some taxi drivers, not understanding, just drove off without even trying. Others, however, would put in some effort for me and call the location to which I was trying to get. Those were the cab drivers that I felt very fortunate for running into! I don’t usually go into a country to ill-prepared as this, but when I’m already bogged down living in another foreign country, sometimes it simply cannot be helped…

In the end, I got there okay, but the place was closed! So I opted for the Mexican joint next door. Before you judge me on that, just know that it is very easy to find good Asian cuisine in China, however finding good Mexican cuisine is very near impossible!

Next stage of my journey, after eating, consisted of many many miles of wandering! I strolled through alleyways, shopping districts, industrial, commercial, and automotive supply shop districts, business districts, and finally the place known as the Hypershopping District. All in all, it was a pretty uneventful yet fulfilling journey taking about 5 hours (including a beer stop to rest and read about halfway through).

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I continued walking until night fell. I timed it well enough so that I arrived at my destination right on time – the N Seoul Tower! I took a cable car up to the top of what would have been a dreadfully long climb up some stairs. Feeling justified in the amount of walking I had done that day, I felt no regrets in riding up.

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On the short walk up from the cable car to the entrance to the tower, I came across some truly amazing views of the city…

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…and some other sights as well…

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…Going up…

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…and back down again…

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I found a taxi that was able to take me the rest of the way to my final destination of the evening a bit further south, to the district of Itaewon. I found a place called All That Jazz via TripAdvisor that boasted “Great live music” so I checked it out. The band was composed of a surprisingly young yet talented group of musicians! I particularly loved listening to the pianist as I love jazz piano. I killed an hour or so here and left to go find food.

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After eating and wandering around some more in the packed streets of Itaewon at night, I found the subway terminal and went on back to my hotel. 13 hours in downtown Seoul was good enough for my first (1 day, 2 night) trip to there. Next time I’ll be able to dig a little deeper, with a bit more confidence as well.

Anshan and the Thousand Mountains

One of the beauties of living and working abroad is, you never know when the local holidays are, so you are often surprised whenever they DO come around – especially when they last for 12 days AND it happens to fall on your birthday which, in the States, never falls on a holiday. I love China if for none other than for that reason alone… 😀

So naturally, with such a long holiday, my colleagues and I planned and set off on an adventure. Not wanting to overdo it over this holiday, we decided to keep it local and took a train ride to a different city within our province. As you may have gleaned, the name of this city is Anshan.

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Before departing, we of course had done some research, booked a hotel and located some things worth seeing while in the area. However, this hardly prepared us for the experience we actually had there. It was like something out the Twilight Zone. It was as if not a single person we saw in that city had ever seen a white person before. We saw jaw drops, double-takes, triple-takes, friends pulling on sleeves and pointing, stop-and-turn-arounds, you name it. At one point, in a local park full of elderly folk, it was so intense that we had to just put our heads down and keep walking as quickly as possible to escape the insane awkwardness we felt.

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We also had no idea that this city was famous for its heavy industry and steel production… This starkly contrasted with the very nice hotel that we pooled our resources together to book. The Air Quality Index (AQI) for Anshan is almost perpetually in the red/purple zone – which is terrible for your health if you live there, not to mention the environmental harm. It certainly made us all feel happy to be living in Dalian where the AQI is mostly in the green and yellow and only every so often in the red. Fortunately we (other Dan and I) had brought our recently purchased Cambridge Co. masks with us that filter out 99.9% of all particulate matter larger than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) and even has a literal silver lining that kills 99.9% of bacteria and viruses! A tad bit pricey, but totally worth it. Rachel totally felt it after walking and breathing in that pollution all day… 😦

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Photo by Dan Wagner, Editing by Dan Johnson

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Aside from these surprises, which were tolerable at least, there were some pleasant ones too. We went to see the Buddhist temple of the giant jade Buddha!  A bit touristy, but totally worth it.

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Photo by Dan Wagner

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After a long day of walking and exploring, we finally made it back to our hotel to dig in for some serious relaxation and enjoyment of amenities! We went for a swim and soaked in the hot tub as soon as we could. Then afterward we hung out in the downstairs bar lounge for dinner and drinks listening to a solo saxophone player recite that more well-known Celine Dion tune. Before that, there was a self-playing grand piano playing nice music. All-in-all we had a fantastic evening, and we all slept pretty darn well!

The next day, after a hearty and delicious breakfast…

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…we took a taxi to the land of a thousand mountains, Qianshan, for a day of hiking, temples, and picturesque Chinese landscapes.

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Photo by Dan Wagner
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Photo by Dan Wagner
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Photo by Dan Wagner, Editing by Dan Johnson
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Photo by Dan Wagner, Editing by Dan Johnson
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Photo by Dan Wagner
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Photo by Dan Wagner
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Photo by Dan Wagner

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After hiking for nearly 5 hours, we grabbed a taxi, hit the hotel to pick up our bags, then went to the train station to head to our next destination, Dandong (no seriously, that’s really the city’s name!). We had already booked a hotel there for that night. But unfortunately, what the concierge at the hotel failed to mention is that despite the fact that there IS a train that goes there, it is likely it will sell out because there is only ONE of them. We got there too late, and couldn’t get to where we needed to go, so we ended up forgoing Dandong for some other day, and headed home to Dalian to indulge in beer and burgers at our favorite Western-themed bar.

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And that is that! Hope you enjoyed!

Here We Go!

The day has finally arrived! In just under 2 hours from now I’ll be taking off from Detroit International Airport for a non-stop 14+ hours-long flight to Beijing, China. I’ve been traveling for a couple days now however, having been flown to Valparaiso on Monday to attend a new Engineering faculty workshop (Tuesday) to help us develop our courses for the coming academic year. Among the six attendees, I was the only one who is going to Dalian. It was very helpful; covering topics such as syllabus construction, active learning techniques, how to effectively motivate students, developing a healthy rapport with students, as well as how to accommodate multiple different learning styles in your classroom. Many of these matters I am woefully underprepared for, but at least I am much less so now.

The project manager for this international initiative between Valparaiso University (VU) and Dalian Jiaotong University (DJTU), Erik, took me out to dinner for these final nights of mine in the country. Suitably, last night I got an amazing all-American dinner in the form of a gourmet cheeseburger – along with a locally brewed IPA from 3-Floyds Brewery! Honestly, I feel an adequate amount of closure after that… 😀

Over the last couple of days and weeks, I have learned many new minor details regarding my upcoming stay in China; some more or less minor than others… For example, now instead of teaching Fundamentals of Engineering and Statics simultaneously for 16 weeks, I will be teaching each of them back-to-back for 8 weeks at a time. I’ll be teaching two sections of students: one group of 50 mechanical engineering majors, and another group of 46 civil engineering majors. Also, I’ve discovered that my living accommodations in Dalian have been fully furnished as well as outfitted with Internet access already. This will save me an extraordinary amount of work and stress in during my initial settling-in period. It will also allow me to spend more time preparing for my classes which will be starting on the 30th of August.

My travels have gone fairly smoothly so far (knock on wood)! I said farewell to my parents at the airport when I left for Chicago on Monday.

IMG_6895I woke up with plenty of time to spare (3:45am) to get to the airport on time this morning in Chicago. Managed to beat the rush hour, return my car, check in to my flights, get through security, and find my gate, all with an hour-and-a-half to spare before boarding. When I got on the plane, I was able to meet up with my travel partner, Rachel, who will be teaching English as a second language (ESL) in the DJTU-VU program alongside my engineering courses. We’re currently sitting at our gate waiting to board the plane for Beijing, and all is well. I am looking forward to writing my first post from the ground in China!

Cheers, and stay tuned!

P.S. – Feel free to click “Follow” so that you’ll be notified whenever I post something new! 😉