Captain’s Log – Detroit, MI

Detroit – such an iconic American city and a unique case study of the effects of our changing economy. We were told to be safe, we knew about the crime, we had heard that the street lights were out and the police force was spread thin. Yet there were also rumblings about a revival, about blossoming neighborhoods of once abandoned homes, about the downtown business center and about Dan Gilbert’s vision for the city. And so we made our way into the belly of the beast.

Abandoned building and GM Headquarters

Abandoned building and GM Headquarters

We contemplated staying with a host (a local non-profit worker) in a part of town which he had described as, “depressed, but full of hard working people”. We went to check it out then asked a local police officer about the neighborhood – the officer did not recommend we stay there. So we canceled and took safe harbor in a Marriott. While this was the right decision, we all felt a sense of loss about what the experience could have entailed had we been a little more courageous.

The hotel was outside Detroit in the city of Dearborn – which is home to the largest per capita population of Arab Americans in the United States and specifically the largest Lebanese population. We enjoyed a great Lebanese dinner before retiring to our safe, starched, Marriott bed sheets.

Detroit Waterfront

Detroit Waterfront

We awoke well rested and ready to take on the city. We began our exploration at the Detroit river walk which runs along the Detroit River with the city of Windsor, Ontario lying on the other side. Will and I banked right while Matt and Malc took the high road up the hill. Our very first interview was with a couple in their late 20’s who, upon our explanation of our trip asked, “Why would you come to Detroit?”. We explained ourselves and they continued to tell us about the problems facing the city. They clearly hailed from a rougher part of town as they talked about 14 year old kids wielding guns and lacking any sort of moral virtue. While they were excited about the new mayor (Mike Duggan), they were only cautiously optimistic about a turn around and expected “30 years of blood sweat and tears” before the city was back on its feet. While most other people acknowledged the persistent problems – the lack of functioning street lights, the city cutting off water in poor neighborhoods – they didn’t seem to be as in touch with life in the peripheral neighborhoods. I’m glad we got to talk with them and hear their perspective.

The Riverfront area is undergoing some major investments and the area was teeming with an eclectic mix of people – which really epitomizes our entire Detroit experience; the American melting pot on full display. While certain neighborhoods bordering the downtown may have been more segregated by ethnic and socio-economic boundaries, everyone congregates in the downtown and the diversity is refreshing.

General Motors Headquarters

General Motors Headquarters

We walked through GM headquarters which lies on the water front, through their showroom, and out towards the downtown area by way of Woodward Avenue. Where Woodward hits the waterfront is the home of the city’s most iconic monuments – The Spirit of Detroit and the Monument to Joe Louis. As you continue north along Woodward, past One Detroit Center and the Guardian Building, you come upon Campus Martius Park where people gather to enjoy their lunch. One this particular day, there was a soul band laying it down for the hungry, over-worked masses. Just on the other side of the square we came across a more amateur musical busking operation and asked to interview them. They agreed, but only after the lunch rush. Phill and Milo were awesome and members of a band named, “The Vonneguts”.

Reconstruction being done

Reconstruction being done

We continued up Woodward towards Comerica Park and past slews of abandoned buildings. We were surprised to find out that there is actually a housing shortage in Detroit’s downtown area. The renovations are clearly underway and Dan Gilmore’s Opportunity Detroit propaganda is everywhere. I imagine if we ever return to the city, the Woodward Avenue that we saw will be full of posh apartments and office spaces. Comerica park sits at ground level next to a large, semi-circle open space. The area is also home to the Detroit’s Fox theater and is one of the hubs for the city’s burgeoning tech scene – it’s hard not to sense the potential of the area. After an interview with some start-up employees, we met back up with Malc and Matt for lunch at Lafayette Coney Island where we enjoyed a plates that entailed varying combinations of hot dogs, “loose” ground beef, fries, buns, and melted cheeses. The restaurant is famous for it’s proximity to another American Coney Island. The original business was opened by two brothers but following a business dispute, they split the shop and it’s been that way ever since.

Great Lakes Coffee

Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company

After lunch, we headed up to the Midtown area – home of Wayne State University. We stopped for coffee at Great Lakes Coffee – a hip, WI-FI hotspot coffee shop, bar, and liquor store surrounded by dilapidated brick buildings. I enjoyed an arabica bean infused spin off of Mexican hot chocolate – dubbed the “Sexy Mexican” which was probably the best hot beverage I’ve had in recent memory. We strolled around a bit, taking in some of the impressive medical school architecture and old cathedrals before heading back towards the water front. Matt and Malc had been promised an interview by Katie after she got off work.

We rendezvoused at Atwater Brewing Company for some happy hour libations. Malc and Matt conducted the interview outside as planned and we all sat down to enjoy some of the local craft brew – my personal favorite, the Vanilla Java Bean Porter. Katie was a great local to befriend as she told us about some of the different neighborhoods and local politics. She also told us about Detroit’s Purple Gang – the Jewish mafia of the prohibition era that would smuggle Canadian whiskey over the border. You may recognize the line, “The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang! Let’s rock, everybody let’s rock.”



We returned to the hotel, made gruel, and cleaned up for a night on the town. We started the night at an art exposition – which was probably the most Detroit thing we could have done. Art adorned every wall of the empty brick warehouse while DJ’s entertained dance floors and local artists pressed t-shirts. Downstairs was another open art display with a live band and a brick cellar. Several bars scattered around the premises were stocked by Red Bull (albiet not sufficiently for the crowd) and we enjoyed another extremely diverse crowd – pre-post-hip hipsters mingled alongside dads in “Life is Good” tees and the rest of the spectrum filled out in between. The event was over by 10:30 and the Red Bull hyped masses poured into the street.

Our next destination landed us at an awesome bar named D’Mongos. There was a three piece band stuffed into the corner of the hectic little room playing everything from Marvyn Gaye to John Denver. We grabbed a small table in the back and enjoyed the band who shared duty with a juke box loaded up with only the finest Motown. Several Detroit Browns – whisky, ginger ale, and bitters – were enjoyed before we decided to get to bed.

Dilapidated building and car

Dilapidated building and car

The next day we went to the Eastern Market – one of the oldest open air markets in the the country. You walk past a live glass blowing exhibit followed by BBQ and a OMB (One man band). The market consists of three large solid-frame tents that are filled mostly to capacity with produce, flowers, and your other farmer’s market standbys (you’ve got your home made candles, honey, small batch sweets, etc.). We sat down for lunch at Gus’s BBQ and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with our server before heading out of town.

Before leaving the city for Cleveland, we made a quick stop at the Belle Island Aquarium. In this tiny museum, you get what you pay for, and admission is free. The museum focuses on the proletariat of the marine kingdom – the brown swamp dwellers, catfish, etc. While slightly anti-climactic, our stay in Detroit was eye-opening and if anything like the boundless energy and optimism of the people we met persists, there is no doubt the city will make a recovery.

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Captain’s Log – Louisville, KY

Gross' Burger!

Gross’ Burger!

The car ride to Louisville consisted of a lot of napping (a common theme). It didn’t take long for hunger to set in and we stopped for lunch in Danville, IL (very different than Danville, CA), two hours outside Peoria. Yelp led us to Gross’ Burger, which received Frugal Will’s stamp of approval. The walls there were adorned with tributes to the United States Marine Corp, which, coupled with cheap prices and delicious burgers, emanated freedom. We left feeling patriotic and full.

Since we decided to visit Louisville the day before, we did not have a place to stay. But after our experience with Pat in Peoria, we decided to wing it in Louisville. Confident in our abilities to befriend strangers, we arrived around 6:00 p.m. and hit the town.


Giant David Statue Outside Proof on Main

Our first destination was 4th Street Live!, a very touristy and overpriced area. We grabbed a single beer at a dueling piano’s bar called Howl at the Moon (per our Peorian server’s recommendation). The only saving grace of the $10 beer there was the bartender, Alison, who was able to give us the scoop on Louisville. After chatting extensively, we walked back to our car and stopped in at a very hip place that has a giant golden statue of David out front called Proof on Main. It’s a cocktail bar lounge and restaurant that also has a multi-floor art gallery. After grabbing some bourbon we wandered the gallery, continuing another theme of the trip: cultural enrichment.

Next stop was the Magnolia Bar, or “Mag Bar,” and Dosini’s Pizza, which are adjacent to each other. We stopped in and ordered the special pizza (per Alison), which was later delivered to us in the Mag Bar. While waiting, we settled in to a game of pool (we have a running competition: Phil + Malc vs. Will + Matt). There was a guy and a girl playing at the table next to us, who did not get along. After an extended game, we moved into the main bar area where trivia night was happening. The next game was starting shortly, so we decided to make a team: The Turtle Senators (a la Mitch McConnell the Senior Senator from KY).

As Phil was ordering the next round, he invited the girl who had been playing pool to join our team. Her name was Cory, and she happily agreed. As her rude companion returned, we halfheartedly invited him to join us. We played for a couple of hours and thought that Cory would be the perfect person to try and stay with for the night. But before we had a chance to ask Cory, her tactless suitor swooped her away and they were gone. It was now 1:30 a.m. and we had no place to stay.

Alas, our trusted steed Homer would be our nocturnal refuge once again, but the humidity in Louisville was unforgiving. The next several hours were restless, uncomfortable, and something we hope not to repeat. We arose early and peeled our sweaty backs from the leather upholstery; tired, hungry, and cranky, we began the drive to Bourbon County to make the first tour of the day at Woodford Reserve Distillery.

The tour of the distillery was fascinating. They took us through every step of the process, and the different ways the flavor of bourbon is altered. Woodford Reserve Bourbon is distilled three times through giant copper pots (stills), and it is the only bourbon to do so in the country. After the whiskey is distilled, it’s placed in barrels that are charred on the inside. It is at this moment (once the whiskey enters the barrel) that it can now be called bourbon. There are also a host of other requirements from the government for Bourbon to achieve its legal definition.


Aging Bourbon

Woodford Reserve has only been around since 1997 and is actually owned by Jack Daniels. The distillery they operate, however, has existed for over two centuries. Distilling on the site began in 1780 and the distillery building itself was erected in 1838, making it the oldest of the nine bourbon distilleries in current operation in Kentucky — although the site has not been continuously operational as a distillery during that history (the prohibition and all). In 1995 the distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 2000 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Part of what makes the site unique is the water. It’s pumped from a well on site, contains no Iron, and is naturally enriched with Calcium from the area’s large limestone deposits.

The tour ended with a tasting of their two bourbons — Distiller’s Select and Double Oaked — and a bourbon ball. The Double Oaked was more of a dessert bourbon, while the Distiller’s Select was more a traditional bourbon. After the revitalizing injection of bourbon into our bloodstreams, we booked it for a Marriott. Long, comfortable showers followed. Once everyone had bathed, we got tacos from another Frugal Will approved eating location: El Taco Luchador. Next stop was the Louisville Slugger Museum.

The tour was pretty good, though our guide was not particularly enthusiastic. We saw how they can crank out a bat in 15 seconds, or have one created mostly by hand in about 30 minutes. The funny part of the tour was at the end, when Phil, Matt, and I all had the humbling experience of using the batting cages. After only fouling off a few of the pitches we left, convinced the machine was set to pitch for small children (the pitches were at our knees!).

Finally, it was time to get some interviews. Though exhausted at this point, we trudged around their waterfront park and the surrounding area. After a couple hours, and only a couple of interviews, it was time to return to the Marriott. We picked up some meat, cooked our patented Millennial Gruel (Quinoa, corn, beans, meat), booked our stay in Detroit through Airbnb, and passed out. Though we planned to explore one last neighborhood that was recommended to us, it didn’t happen. Instead, we caught up on some much needed sleep.

The next morning we demolished the continental breakfast and headed to Motor City.

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Captain’s Log – Peoria, IL

Peoria is a midwestern gem. We chose to head there because of the old adage, “Will It Play in Peoria?” and to get the feel for a classic midwestern town. Peoria, however, was bigger than we expected. With a population of 118,000 it is the seventh largest city in Illinois, the largest city on the Illinois River, and home to the world headquarters of Caterpillar, Inc.

Matt and Will interview two transplants from Dayton.

Matt and Will interview two transplants from Dayton.

We arrived around 4:30 PM. At that point, our long weekend in Chicago finally caught up with us, so lounging and naps commenced. Around 6:30 PM we hit the waterfront for some interviews. We were determined to get some perspectives different than those of college campuses and the West Coast. After walking around a barren waterfront we started to find some young folk. Matt and Will interviewed two 19-year-old transplants from Dayton who left gang life to better themselves at Bradley College. Phil and I spoke to JD, a 21 years-old father, who seemed mature beyond his age. After landing another interview with some break-dancing Millennial’s, we were energized and ready for dinner.

Fresh off some local recommendations, we headed to Sugar Wood Fired Bistro, three quarters of a mile away. The clouds were dark and ominous, and lighting flashed as we made our march to dinner; another midwestern thunderstorm brewed.

Over delicious Sugar Wood pizza we debated: head to Indianapolis or Louisville next? Our server quickly quashed that debate with a ringing Louisville endorsement complete with recommendations. As we downed our last slice of pizza and finished off our pints, the heavy clouds overhead began to let loose. First a slow rain, as we walked out, then 30 seconds later sheets of water drenched us, and our walk turned to a run. As we approached the waterfront, a dry oasis appeared, shrouded from the rain and lit by the heavens in all it’s glory: Hooters. We entered looking like we were there for a wet t-shirt contest. After drying off ever so slightly, Matt and Phil proceeded to order the worst beer of the trip, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.

Our waitress, Nicole, the consummate hooter’s girl, pointed us towards our next destination for the night. A place called Martini’s On Water Street for their Monday special, half off Martini’s. After laboring through the pitcher of Shandy, we followed her advice.

When we left, the rain had abated to a soft drizzle. As we walked the short distance to Martini, we heard a loud meowing. With fresh images of our South Dakotan cat-friend Clarence on our mind, we investigated the source. Standing over a storm drain it was clear a cat was trapped somewhere down there, but we couldn’t see it. After trying to coax it out by voice we gave up – a half-assed attempt – and proceeded to Martini’s. As we sat down, we all agreed that we hadn’t done enough. So we left, determined to save this cat.

The number for the fire department was no good and we didn’t want to call 911. After exhausting the prospects of reinforcements we turned to the Internet. Of course, Youtube had a DIY-save-a-cat-from-a-storm drain video. Armed with a blanket and jerky tied to a string as bait, we returned to meowing storm drain. For 15 or 20 minutes we tried to coax this kitty into view, but it never showed it’s face. The meows, once strong and consistent, dwindled and weakened. After a loud vacuum sucking sound, there was silence. The rain started up again.

We returned to Martini’s, defeated. By sheer luck we sat next to a table with a Peorian native who was born in Walnut Creek but moved to Peoria in the fourth grade. After chatting a bit, he invited us over. The Peorian’s name is Pat, a talented artist who left a serious impression on us.

That night we imbibed with Pat at his parent’s home with other young locals, swapping stories and learning what it was like to grow up in Peoria, where most people never leave. Although we likely could have stayed with our gracious host that night, we returned safely to our Marriott via our stead, Homer, and its teetotaler conductor, Will.

Caterpillar 797

Caterpillar 797

The next morning we returned to Pat’s house for a one-of-a-kind interview, and then headed to the Caterpillar Visitor Center Museum. The tour begins by sitting in the bed of a Caterpillar 797 mining haul truck, the largest they make. It stands two-stories tall, weighs 1.4 million pounds, and costs $5 million. One of its tires stands 13 feet tall, contains enough rubber to produce 600 regular car tires, and costs $42,000; the 797 uses six of them.

By 1 PM we had our fill of tractors and decided to hit the road. Louisville – or as we later learned Luuu’vill – beckoned.


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Captain’s Log – Chicago, IL

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

We left Madison with 1060 West Addison Street Chicago, IL plugged into Google maps. Traffic, construction, and the lingering effects of Madison night-life slowed our arrival to the matinee game with the Rockies and we didn’t stroll into Wrigley field until the 4th inning. We sat deep down the third base line under the overhang. The old walkways hidden behind the grandstands resemble scaffolding and it’s fun to imagine how the styles of the fans that traverse them have changed since 1914 – when the stadium was first built. Bleachers sit atop the nearby buildings and expand the number of potential viewers beyond the approximately 41,000 capacity of the stadium. The stadium itself sits in the middle of a suburban neighborhood on the north side of the city and the streets bustle on game day. Even on a Thursday afternoon, the stadium was nearly full. Although spent, we enjoyed the game and were revitalized by the Cubs fans – a group known for its delusional, unwavering devotion to the team they love.

We left the stadium and headed towards Wicker Park where we would make our home for the weekend. The emphatic David Goldman was kind enough to let us crash at his apartment just above what’s known as the six corners intersection. We grabbed some tacos and beers at BigStar – the hippest taco joint in Chicago – before nap time.  That evening was spent relaxing as David played host to Ilan Benjamin and his crew of Lollapalooza goers and laughter and mirth was shared by all.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock

The next day we headed for the Art Institute of Chicago. This has got to be one of the best museums on the planet. We started with late 18th century French oil on canvas paintings – they have quite the Monet collection.  I went to explore the armor room where I was impressed by the full busts of ornate metal plates that used to be worn by warriors of old. We then left the old world for some more modernist artwork which I clearly don’t have the cultural complexity to comprehend. There were some Jackson Pollock’s – which actually feel like they have some depth to them despite just being mostly paint splatter. Then there were some Pollock wannabes who’s relevance can really only be attributed what Will described as “a racket” – expletives may or may not have been edited.

We headed downstairs to Josef Koudelka’s very interesting photo journalist collection that captures the Soviet invasion of the Czech Republic in 1968. Also downstairs was the video artist Bruce Nauman who’s Clown Torture exhibit was on display – look it up.  The special exhibit was by Belgian surrealist Rene Magriette who is famous for his painting “The Son of Man“.  Once again, out there, but pretty neat. We spent the better part of the day there and still didn’t explore everything they had to offer.

The Bean - Millennium Park

The Bean – Millennium Park

Freshly cultured, it was time to indulge in Chicago’s true societal contribution – the deep dish pizza.  After an obligatory stop at Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) in Millennium Park, we sat down at Lou Malnati’s and ordered more than enough food. The pizza was good but the bruschetta was enlightening. The other boys finished their pizza but I didn’t have the stomach to down my last slice – a decision that would pay dividends around 3:00am the following morning. We left and carried our full bellies back onto the L (Chicago’s public transit train).

That evening we were ready to take on Chicago on a Friday night. We hopped on the L and made our way back to “the Loop” district. The Loop is the colloquial name for the main downtown business district, home to Sear’s Tower, and where all the L lines congregate – for the BART riders out there, it’d be like if MacArthur was in downtown San Francisco. We were on our way to a hip bar known as Three Dots and A Dash but Matt saw some friends from school in line for Bub City and proceeded into the country music bastion of downtown Chicago. We continued our trek on to Stanley’s where Matt’s awesome friends made up for the bar’s marginal atmosphere. After a nice jog to the L to try and catch a train that wasn’t coming, we resorted to walking some 2 miles back to the apartment – upon our arrival, my last slice of deep dish came in handy.

Wrigley, Chicago Tribune, and a modernist building

Wrigley, Chicago Tribune, and a modernist building

The next day we headed back downtown to partake in the Chicago architecture boat tour. This is well worth the $40 price of admission. Our tour guide J.J. lead us down the Chicago river and introduced us to the wide variety of styles that make up the Chicago skyline. The great Chicago fire of 1871 flattened most of the city and architects flocked to the area to rebuild. The city became the destination for architects and engineers which has endured to the present day with Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill calling it home – the architecture firm behind the Sears Tower, Burj Khalifa, and One World Trade Center.  The mix of old and new styles chronicle the changes in dominant forms throughout the years. We all thoroughly enjoyed the tour and our guide J.J. was quite the story teller. Matt had entered us into a 24 hour radio production challenge and we received the theme just before getting on the boat. In a stroke of genius, Matt recorded our tour and then reached out to the tour company in hopes of getting in touch with J.J. and making him, and the city’s history, the focus of the piece.  Matt left his number and we continued with our day.

We explored Navy Pier which juts out into Lake Michigan – which is like a calmer, less smelly ocean. We took a couple interviews while sailboats cruised by before returning to the apartment. As soon as we got back, tour guide J.J. called Matt back and enthusiastically scheduled an interview for 9:00am the next morning. The 24 hour radio contest would end at noon the next day but Matt was determined and we figured he would still be a fascinating person to talk to.

The rest of us left Matt in peace to do some preparation and headed the the hip bar we missed the night before. After showing the very well dressed bouncer our IDs, we descended under a landing of skulls and into the darkness. As our eyes adjusted to the dim green and blue lighting emanating from the stained glass fishing floats, we were directed to a table and handed menus featuring a selection of mostly rum cocktails and appetizers. We enjoyed the Tiki bar’s deference to its Bay Area forefathers as their menu cited two cocktails that originated at Trader Vic’s in Emeryville and one from Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. Malcolm and I made our orders and enjoyed as the conversation flowed with great ease.  We befriended our waitress and got some recommendations that served as trade winds for the rest of our evening.

Blue Line on the L Train

Blue Line on the L Train

Back on the L again, we headed towards Logan Square for two dollar tacos at L’ Patron. While slightly out of the way, it was nice to explore another part of the city. Logan Square has a Mission District of San Francisco vibe with Latino influences and a sort of prideful grittiness. The wait was long, but the tacos were great and we brought one back to our hard working comrade back at the apartment.

The next morning we awoke as planned and headed to the apartment of one of Chicago’s finest writer-poet-historians. The four of us clamored onto J.J. Tindall’s couch and let the man tell us his story and the story of his city.  Check out Matt’s great piece that tells a little about the history of the city and the origins of the name “Chicago”.

The rest of the morning was spent tracking quotes and then Matt went to work while Malc and I went in search of a couple more interviews before another storm rolled in.  The speed and strength of these Midwestern rain storms has caught us off guard – we’ve probably experienced more rain on our trip then the state of California has had all year.  We tried to wait it out but the hour was getting late and we decided to head back downtown with our sights set on the Signature Lounge in the Hancock Tower.  This is the locally recommended way to take in the skyline.  As opposed to the $20 fee for the Skydeck in the Sear’s Tower, the Signature Lounge is a one drink minimum bar that charges about $8 for a 12 ounce beer and a view only partially obstructed by a giant support beam – still worth it.  We then returned back to the apartment for some gruel and relaxation for our last night in town.

The next morning we headed north on another public transit adventure out to the Heartland Cafe in the Rogers Park neighborhood for a farewell breakfast with our host.  Chicago treated us well but it was time to get back on the road and we packed up and headed out to see with our own to eyes whether or not it plays in Peoria.  Onward and upward.

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It’s Not Onion Creek, It’s Chicago

Matt Boone’s brilliant creation for our submission to the KCRW 24 Hour Radio Race.  We were over time and late but the final product is gold none the less.  Enjoy!

Here’s the link!

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Captain’s Log – Sturgis, SD; Mt. Rushmore; Madison, WI

Coming down from the Rockies

Coming down from the Rockies

With our first major nature leg of the journey finished, we were ready to return to civilization.  But first, we had to get through some large swaths of unsettled territory known as Wyoming and South Dakota.  I kid, but only sort of.  You can drive Interstate 90 for a 1,000 miles without seeing much of anything.

Leaving Yellowstone however, is gorgeous.  After winding through the mountains, we made a stop in Cody, Wyoming for some breakfast at Our Place – the country’s best diner, at least according to the owner and some of his well traveled patrons.  While my omelet topped with melted American cheese squares may not have had accoutrements of a San Francisco brunch, the silence and pace of our meal was a testament to the quality of the food.  With full bellies, we bid farewell to Cody – the hometown of Buffalo Bill (who has a museum there that is supposed to be great) – and continued towards Sturgis, SD.

The man, the myth - Clarence

The man, the myth – Clarence

Sturgis (population 6,600) is home to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which is celebrating its 74th year this week and is estimated to draw over 500,000 riders from across the world to small town western South Dakota.  Our host, Paula, was gracious enough to let us camp in her backyard and introduced us to her trusty sidekick, Clarence.  This week, as they do every year around this time, Paula and Clarence are hosting some 17 rally-goers in the same backyard.

We were only in town for a night so we headed downtown for some beverages at The Knuckle – where our presence significantly dropped the average tattoos per patron.  We were a week early for the rally but already the town was gearing up as canopies, stages, and makeshift traffic signage lay in wait for the coming hoards.  Our stay was short and we set off early the next morning for Madison – another 12 hour day in the car.

Presidential posturing at Mt. Rushmore

Presidential posturing at Mt. Rushmore

The trip to Madison started off pleasantly enough as we stopped off at Mt. Rushmore early before the crowds.  It’s an impressive scene.  Started in 1927, we were a bit surprised to learn that it was created solely in hopes of promoting tourism in the region and well, it works.  As we would soon find out – tourist trapping seems to be a South Dakota past time.

Wall Drug is a drug store, breakfast buffet, ice cream parlor, junk peddling, tourist trap along Interstate 90.  But after 50 miles of nearly endless billboards telling of the free water and five cent coffee at exit 109, we simply couldn’t afford to skip it.  So we went in, enjoyed our five cent coffee, picked up some stamps (they really do have everything), and went on our way.

View of Madison from on top of the capitol building

View of Madison from on top of the capitol building

We pulled into Madison well past sunset after another long day on the road.  Madison is on an isthmus and is centered around the state capitol building – which is the tallest in the city and will remain so due to legislation.  I think this is great policy as the lit up dome takes over the night sky.  We arrived at Will’s old apartment outside of the city and were welcomed by his old roommates despite the fact that their lease was expiring in two days.  We laid out our bags and pads and went to bed – I’m coming around to NASCAR being considered a sport, driving will wipe you out.

The next day, we awoke and Will and Malc headed to the University of Wisconsin campus for some interviews while Matt and I went to Starbucks to try and catch up on some work on the blog.  The city is quaint and reminds me of a larger and more politically geared San Luis Obispo.  The University lies to the south west of the capitol building and the streets sprawl out in a grid around the the capitol square.  Restaurants, businesses, and bars fill out the very vibrant neighborhood and we caught some of the community spirit that the city aims to foster with events like their Concerts on the Square – an event that turns the grass around the capitol building into a vibrant quilt of blankets marking small, temporary territories claimed by the citizens of Madison.

Inside Madison's capitol building

Inside Madison’s capitol building

After lunch with the delightful Beth, we toured the capitol building and its spectacular rotunda before heading back to the apartment to regroup and get ready for an evening on the town.  The safe and walkable streets of Madison bustle in the evenings with college students and young professionals.  This, coupled with the affordable booze prices, can lead to some excesses and our drive to Chicago the next morning got off to a late start.  But, as always, onward and upward.

I apologize for the long winded posts – still working on catching up.  Chicago coming soon!

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Captain’s Log – The Wilderness

Last time we spoke we were in the midst of our death march drive to Glacier National Park.  A dangerous cocktail of ambition, confidence, and grandeur sent us on an 18 hour drive that put us at our campsite around at 1:30am. The thing was, we didn’t have a reservation… At least not until the next evening and we were all far too spent to attempt finding a legitimate place to sleep. So we reclined our seats as much as possible for a couple hours of shuteye. When the thunder storm rolled in around three, sleeping in the van seemed like a brilliant move.

St. Mary Lake at daybreak - Glacier National Park

St. Mary Lake at daybreak – Glacier National Park

We had agreed to wake up before daybreak to move camp in the hopes of avoiding any park service people, and at 5:30 that morning, the alarms went off. At that point, whatever citation the national park service was prepared to levy us was preferable to waking up. Thankfully though, Will was persistent and I jiggled the power seat adjuster to return to the upright position and started the car; in search of a better place to sleep until our campsite was ready at noon for check in. The dawn’s twilight was beginning to reveal the park we had blindly navigated the night before and the thunderstorm that had passed us could be seen in the distance. The scene rallied me to life and we changed course, now in search of a proper place to take in the sunrise. We found one and we’re able to capture some beautiful pictures of St. Mary lake at daybreak.

After the sunrise passed, which had stirred us all to life, the biological and physiological reality of our drive set back in. We stopped at a picnic area to get a couple more hours of sleep which, despite the less than ideal sleeping conditions, came quickly. A tapping on the driver window by a park ranger was our next alarm. “Y’all sleep in your car last night,” she inquired – apparently this is against the rules. “Yes, ma’am,” I responded, barely conscious. I went on to explain our situation. As per usual, my theory on the rationality of people in the face of the simple truth held true and we escaped without a citation. She did take down my information and Homer’s license plate number (sorry, ma) and logged us into what I suspect is the National Park Service’s double secret probation system.

When we finally got situated at our campsite, we took advantage of the free shuttle service provided by the park and visited Virginia Falls – a must do hike if you visit the area. Yet another storm was rolling in and, on the recommendation of a young summer ranger, we visited the local watering hole, Kip’s, for karaoke night and some libations while weathering the storm.

Two Medicine Valley - Glacier National Park

Two Medicine Valley – Glacier National Park

The next day we slept in – despite hurricane winds still roaring throughout the morning. When we finally awoke, we headed south to Two Medicine – another valley in the park – in hopes of avoiding the remnants of the storm. This was not effective. We began our hike to Scenic Point in the hail, until the hail gave way to gale force winds. As we climbed, the groups of bewildered looking hikers making the descent told tales about the even fiercer winds that lied ahead – but we were undeterred. However, after winds forced us to sit down for fear of being blown down the mountainside, we too turned back. Like the hikers before us, we assumed the same stoic paternalism as we warned fellow hikers about what lied ahead.

We returned to our campsite and prepared our signature chicken, quinoa, kidney beans, and corn dinner (dubbed Millennial gruel) and went to bed – wind steadily thrashing our tent. Despite a restless sleep, we awoke in the morning and started the journey south to Yellowstone.

Bales of hay - Somewhere, MT

Bales of hay – Somewhere, MT

The rural countryside of western Montana during July is something to behold. Endless fields of green grass dance in the wind and out of the horizon shoot the Rockies.  John Deere tractors, red barns, and bales of hay give you that nostalgia for the good old America that your grandpa is always reminiscing about. We wound through miles of these back roads before finally making it to Helena – the capital. Helena in 1888 was home to about 50 millionaires, giving it the most millionaires per capita in the world – primarily because of gold excavated from Last Chance Gulch. Much of this abundance of wealth helped spur a modern and fashionable architecture presence in the city – including the beautiful Cathedral of St. Helena. We stopped for a quick visit here before making our way to Bozeman, MT.

In Bozeman, we stopped again for supplies and also tackled some of our technical challenges – replacing cigarette lighter fuses (used to power the slightly absurd number of gadgets we brought) and to fix the adapter for our propane stove (for Millennial gruel). Both were accomplished and, having proven our American ingenuity, we set off for Yellowstone – slightly behind schedule. When we arrived it was dark, again, but at least we had a campsite and we set up shop and had a quick dinner.

We awoke the next morning and decided to get the old tourist trap out of the way.  We prepared some oatmeal and coffee on our newly rejuvenated propane stove and then set out for Old Faithful. True to her namesake, Old Faithful did her business shortly after we arrived and then we puttered around the walkways that tour some of the lesser known geysers and other geothermal attractions. It’s really quite neat if you get the chance to go and worth the crowds. The Old Faithful Inn – a four or five story Lincoln log looking place – is also worth checking out. After that, we decided we’d had enough driving around for one week and we went to the lake shore to read and relax.

Yellowstone Lake at sunrise - Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Lake at sunrise – Yellowstone National Park

The next morning, we awoke at 4:45am – determined to catch the sunrise. We found a nice spot by the lake and did our best National Geographic photographer impersonations before continuing our drive north to the Mud Volcano attraction. Being up so early in a National Park has it’s perks. The animals are most active around this time and we saw elk and bison right outside our car window. We even saw a bear – albeit in the distance – completing our trifecta of Yellowstone large game sightings (Moose are around too but generally roam farther north).

The dawn lighting gives the natural wonder of a place like Yellowstone an even more powerful mystique. We turned north off the lake towards Yellowstone Canyon. Yellowstone Canyon was formed by a river that runs out of Yellowstone Lake and due to geothermal activity, this river can be warmer than the cool morning air – which means it steams. This alone is worth getting up to see. We braved the sulfur odor and cooked some breakfast along this steaming river before continuing to Mud Volcano.

Mud Volcano is yet another example of volcanic activity shaping the landscape. The attraction is quick and worth seeing, especially early before the crowds, but doesn’t offer too much different from the Old Faithful area. We continued north towards the canyon. The road eventually veers from the river and opens into beautiful rolling green hills where the bison roam en masse. We were lucky to get to take this drive in the morning before the long lines of rubber-necking bison watchers make navigating the roadway maddening.

The team descends into the canyon - Yellowstone National Park

The team descends into the canyon – Yellowstone National Park

We took an afternoon hike down into the Yellowstone canyon and were back for lunch – it’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you wake up at the crack of dawn. We returned to our site for some R&R and got ready for another early morning and our next destination – Sturgis or bust!

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Captain’s Log – Vancouver, BC Canada

Crossing the border

Crossing the border

We set out to explore Vancouver yesterday.  Yes, we are aware that this project is called Millennial USA, but as a Canadian half-blood and with Malcolm’s family right over in Richmond, BC (a suburb of “Van City”), we figured a quick check-in with our friendly neighbors to the north was in order.  We first set off towards the University of British Columbia (UBC).  UBC is a huge campus that enriches the minds of just under 50,000 students and it’s location – on the tip of an outcropping into the Straight of Georgia – couldn’t be more picturesque.  We toured the campus and snagged a couple interviews with some unfortunate summer session attendees before heading to the city center.  We grabbed some lunch near the city center where our fun and hilarious waitress recommended we check out the nude beach near UBC campus – our second such recommendation of the day.  While we didn’t make it, she said that it was a place where we could, “find everything under the sun” so if your in the area and that’s your fancy – check it out for us!

Life guard on duty - Stanley Park, Vancouver

Life guard on duty – Stanley Park, Vancouver

Stanley Park lies on the northwest corner of the peninsula that houses downtown Vancouver.  It’s a densely forested park surrounded on three sides by water.  The path known as the Sea Wall runs the perimeter of the park (approximately five miles – or nine or so kilometers) and countless other trails snake through the middle.  We took the Sea Wall around to the Lions Gate Bridge – essentially a sickly, green cousin of the mighty Golden Gate – and then veered into the park and stopped at Beaver Lake.  At this point, our parking meter was nearing expiration and we took an impromptu jog through the remainder of the park.

That evening, we were graced with another great dinner with the Freys – yes, we’ve hardly been roughing it thus far – and they shared some more tales about stand-offs with Grizzlies and stays with Inuit chiefs.  Hearing stories from this well traveled couple was pretty inspiring as young, aspiring adventurer.  We then worked on putting together some footage and getting packed up for our long drive today.

This morning, we awoke around 6:00 AM and headed towards Glacier National Park – an ambitious, borderline foolish undertaking.  The approximately 14 hour drive (although we aren’t there yet) took us to Hope, BC, wound through the Cascades, along mountain streams lined with purple and yellow wildflowers, over the border and into Washington, past the spectacular Coulee Dam, and into the eastern Washington hub of Spokane.  This is where we are now, and where we are going to supply up.  We will be arriving at our campsite well after dark and will likely be off the grid through the weekend as we camp in Glacier and then Yellowstone National Parks.  See you on the other side.  Onward and upward.

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Captain’s Log – Seattle, WA


Girl and her kite - Gas Works Park

Girl and her kite – Gas Works Park

Yesterday we ventured out into Seattle.  First, we checked out Pike Place Market – famous for it’s market where fish are thrown from the back counter to the front.  Our success finding willing interview participants hit a bit of a standstill at this juncture and we headed toward the Space Needle.   The Space Needle was erected for the 1962 World’s Fair when nearly 20,000 people used it per day.  Now, the attraction charges $26 a pop to take a ride to the top.  We skipped out on that privilege but did enjoy the grounds nearby known as the Seattle Center – which was hosting the Taste of Seattle and the championships for the video game DOTA 2 – dubbed The International.  We spoke to one DOTA 2 aficionado who noted that, while gamers do tend to be introverted and nerdy, the gaming community is exactly that, a community, and events like The International demonstrate that.  The International sold out the 10,000 person Key Arena in less than an hour and has a $10 million purse.

We then made our way to Gas Works Park – a must see destination in Seattle.  The park is on the site of the last remaining coal gasification plant in the states which, combined with it’s waterfront view of the Seattle skyline, makes for a very unique park experience.  Here, we were able to get a couple more interviews and end the day on a high note.  We returned to our accommodations to sit down and watch the interviews we’d recorded.  This was very rewarding as we were able to find gems from every single interview we recorded – which just goes to show you that everyone has something to say.  We ended the day with a night out on Capital Hill where we enjoyed a beer at Elysian Brewery before heading to Unicorn – a little karaoke on Pike Street – nothing to report on what transpired there.


Bainbridge Island Ferry

Today, we took the ferry out to Bainbridge Island.  Homer looked at home on the waters of the Puget Sound.  We spent our two hours or so on the island at the Bainbridge Island Brewing Company where we enjoyed samplers of the local craft brew.  Interestingly, the brewery is right across the parking lot from Bainbridge Organic Distillers, home of the 2014 International Vodka Competition gold medalist.  Bainbridge Island is heavily forested, gorgeous, and, if our bartender and fellow pub patrons are a fair indication, houses some down-to-earth and respectful people.

We then made our way north through the farmland and evergreens of Mt. Vernon and stopped for a bite in the quaint little town of Bellingham, Washington.  This place must have been a close second to San Luis Obispo’s famous categorization of happiest town in the country because the old town square lined with ivy covered brick buildings where people where quite literally frolicking to some variant of Nordic folk music brought a tear of joy to my eye.  After our quick stop we finally crossed to boarder where we were greeted by our very gracious hosts, the Frey’s, and fresh Alaskan halibut washed down with some Steamworks beers (the pale and pilsner are both excellent).  Tomorrow we trek the streets of  the jewel of British Columbia – Vancouver.  Onward and upward.

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Captain’s Log – Portland, OR Part II


Multnomah Falls, Oregon

We have reached Seattle.  Yesterday, we followed the Willamette River out of Portland to it’s mother source – the mighty Columbia River.  The Columbia lies to the northeast of Portland and runs east to west.  Near the city, its banks are peppered with colorful floating house communities whose dock porches rest mere feet above the river.  As you continue east, luscious green walls of rock and forest begin to rise up and the landscape is breathtaking.  We visited the beautiful Multnomah falls and took the hike to take if you’re in the area.  Oneonta Gorge is striking and although climbing over fallen trees and putting your pack above your head to wade through frigid water up to your chest is required, the waterfall at the end is a just reward.

We then headed off to Washington.  The Columbia turns north above Portland and we continued to follow it as it runs along the 5 – a much more pleasant experience than the dirt and cow manure that characterizes the 5 in Central California.  We arrived at Will’s father’s place and took our Chief Officer (Will) out to dinner for his birthday at Brimmer and Heeltap in the Fremont district – it’s recommended.  We discussed how the reality of our journey has yet to set in – it’s day 4 of 75, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s in store – and what exactly that will be is still unclear.

Today we venture out into Settle to meet some of the local residents – first stop, Pike Place Market.  Onward and upward. Continue reading

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