While reading No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan several months ago, the fact that Bob Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota struck a nerve with me. Not that I didn’t already know Robert Zimmerman’s hometown; what caught me off guard was the way author Robert Shelton described Dylan’s disdain for small town life. Being a fellow small town Midwest boy who couldn’t wait to escape, I felt a spiritual connection to Bob, like maybe that internal yearning for bigger things is what has always drawn me to his music. On the first page of the biography, Shelton encapsulates the mining town: “Hibbing had dug its own grave with sixty years of mining shovels, now only good for burying miners.” This description reminded me of my hometown that imploded when the Morrell’s meat packing plant left town three decades ago. As the book went on to describe the very familiar scene of empty storefronts and prevalent backwater conservatism, I decided I had to visit Bob Dylan’s hometown, a seven hour drive north from where I grew up.
Category Archives: Road Trip Blogs
“Nature is a revelation of God; Art is a revelation of man.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
After our tour of the abandoned Lyman high school (which will someday be “Paul’s Brewery/ Concert Hall / Apartment Complex/ Campground/ Baseball Diamond/ Center”) we walked back towards John’s place. On the way, we stopped at the only bar in the area, also the only beer retailer in town. Located right next to the bar were three coolers. We scoured the small selection of brews, yearning for the great dark concoctions we enjoyed the past few weeks, but there were none to be found. Paul decided we should get Coors. He claimed it tastes better since we were so close to the brewery. I agreed to his logic and lunked a 20 pack onto the counter. Fully stocked on beers, we walked across the lot to John’s place.
John’s dad was already at his trailer setting up the cream can. We exchanged handshakes, his father looking like an older version of John but with a long grey beard and rosy red cheeks. He opened up the cream can (which is exactly that, an old style metal cream can) and showed us how he filled it to the brim with corn on the cob, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, sausage, and anything else you can imagine. He then walked me through the cream can process. With a couple cans of skunky beer, he filled the container. He placed the lid on top, set it onto a propane burner, and turned the flame up to full to get the beer boiling.
“In forty five minutes we’ll have ourselves some cream can to eat,” his dad proudly announced, taking a seat in a lawn chair nearby. I liked John’s dad; he seemed so calm and easy-spirited. Soon, more and more people showed up, the familiar faces I’d met in the past (Doug, Eric, Wes, and Carl) and people I’d heard about in Paul’s stories of growing up (both John’s brothers, Crazy Jimmy, and Frano). It was a strange experience finally meeting all the crazy characters I heard about in Paul’s stories. It felt a bit like the funeral scene in “Big Fish” when the son realizes his dad’s stories were all true.
With the beers flowing smooth and easy, the cream can finished boiling before we had the chance to get hungry. Jon Jon came out with an aluminum baking pan, and his dad poured the contents of the cream can out. It looked like a shark getting his stomach cut open, with a menagerie of vegatables and chunks of meat spilling out.
We all lined up and dumped the buffet of beer baked food onto our plates. Once seated, I took my first bite from a sausage and couldn’t believe the burst of flavor within my mouth. A minute later the entire sausage had been devoured, forcing me to move on to the vegetables. I’ve never been the biggest fan of veggies, so I cautiously approached. To my surprise, the veggies tasted amazing, challenging the godliness of the sausage. Why I doubted veggies boil in beer and sausage grease, I’ll never know.
(As a testament to the greatness that is cream can, that summer I told my friends in Iowa about it and they decided we should give it a try one night after golfing. We used Tony’s turkey fryer, and it did the trick, although not up to Papa John John’s standards. My friends loved it so much that we ended up having a cream can a week later when another friend came to visit.)
After eating and filling our stomachs to bloated conditions, a bunch of us guys took seats on the back porch letting the food settle. I’d heard so much about Paul’s friend Frano, and he lived up to the tales. He had all of us cracking up with his stories. For some reason I envisioned Frano as a fat little dude, probably due to all of Paul’s stories of going to his house to gorge himself on quality Mexican food. In reality, Frano had the physique of a stocky wrestler, and even talked of his exploits in mixed martial arts.
Once our food had settled we returned to our drinking. Many of Paul’s friends who had kids had left already, which seemed kind of rude since Paul rarely comes back home. Some wives allowed their men to stay, including one of Paul’s best friends Carl, so I couldn’t completely denounce all wives as “evil hags”. The living room became party central with the bugs getting nasty outside.
I talked with Wes for a while, a friend of Paul’s who lived in Omaha during the couple years I also lived there. We always seemed to get along great when Paul tried mix-and-matching his friends. After getting his degree at Creighton, Wes returned to his hometown to work in the local hospital. Paul never understood this move. He always asked, “Why would anyone want to return to small town life when you’ve lived in a town like Omaha?” I could see Paul’s point, although part of me will always miss the simple-ness of small town living.
When Paul noticed us talking, he joined in and began berating Wes for moving. Wes tried defending himself, but his defense of saving money didn’t float. I began thinking about Paul’s future – where he would end up. I knew he would like to stay in Omaha, but I’d already moved away and then Wes followed suit. It had to be tough seeing all of his friends jump ship just as he finally got his diploma.
After a few more beers, a case of the dizzies began to haunt my weary head. I approached the tray of left-over cream can and began grazing the cold, slimy vegetable chunks. It still tasted pretty damn good. When the left-overs didn’t stop me from seeing double, I somehow moseyed into John’s spare room and passed out, leaving Paul and his friends to their reminiscing.
The next morning I awoke with a major hangover. I laid there for a while, still in my t-shirt and shorts, dreading the long bike ride home that lay ahead. I thought back to how rough the drive to town had been when I was completely sober. Then Wes, my knight in shining armor, burst into the room with glorious news.
“Paul’s going to ride his bike back to the farm. Do you want me to give you a ride? We can just throw your bike in my trunk.”
“Yes!” I shouted, jumping up from bed. Suddenly, my hangover didn’t seem so dreadful.
“We have to find my brother’s glasses first though.”
“What?” I asked.
“Oh, you missed the fight. My brother and John’s brother got into it. Crazy Jimmy’s glasses are somewhere out in John’s lawn.” Obviously I had missed a lot of action while passed out, but I was hurting too much to endure a long-term conversation about what happened. We wandered around the lawn for a while, squinting and shielding our eyes from the sun’s harsh morning glare. After 10 minutes, the glasses turned up, slightly bent and covered in chunks of grass like a football cleat.
We loaded the bike into the trunk and headed back toward Paul’s.
Once there, I thanked Wes for the ride and wished him luck with his new job. Back inside the Peterson household, I headed straight to my sanctuary downstairs and fell asleep as Jesus glared down at me with disdain. I hibernated for a few hours. When I heard stirring of the farm family upstairs I realized I wouldn’t be able to fit in any more of my nap. I grabbed Dharma Bums and began reading once again. As Kerouac talked of finding God within the nature of Desolation Peak, I looked up at the traditional version of Jesus staring back at me with his baby blues. When I prayed as a child, I always envisioned God as the same long haired bearded hippie tacked on Josiah’s wall. But no longer. I knew what Kerouac talked about as he said goodbye to Desolation Peak:
“I don’t know when we’ll meet again or what’ll happen in the future, but Desolation, Desolation, I owe so much to Desolation, thank you forever for guiding me to the place where I and I’ve grown two months older…God, I love you.”
The hour I spent on the top of the Sphinx mountain was the closest I’ve ever felt to God. I saw his face in all of the splendor around me. I don’t know if what I saw was Buddha, Christ, or an eight armed elephant – the denomination didn’t matter. But I have no doubt that I saw God. In each wild flower, in each jagged rock, in each green valley at my feet. And as I sat looking at the blue eyed Jesus printed on a piece of manufactured cardboard, I thought about how no artist could capture what I saw with my own eyes – who I saw with my own eyes.
I went upstairs to find Paul’s mom slaving over the stove, cooking chicken fried steak. Out in the living room Paul and his siblings sat around busting jokes on each other (mostly Paul making fun of Caleb and his hippie hair). Paul’s dad sat at the computer, occasionally chuckling at the banter coming from his children. Soon after, mom appeared from the kitchen with a plate of sizzling fried steaks. My grumbling stomach yearned for grease to coat its aching walls, easing the drunken sickness churning below. I’d never had actual homemade chicken fried steak, but I think I have the authority to profess Paul’s mother’s as the best. The steaks quickly remedied my stomach ache, and I even went in for another half of a steak.
With lunch finished, we began packing up the car, preparing for the final leg of our drive. We had eight hours of blacktop ahead of us, so we knew we had to hit the road soon. Before leaving, Paul said his final good byes, hugging each of his siblings. His dad came over and gave him a big bear hug, wishing him good luck on his job search. As the family wishing Paul off, I wondered where his mom had gone. I knew she had to clean up the kitchen, but during the entire visit, she had been cold toward Paul, speaking only a few words to him and rarely spending time in the same room as him. Just as these questions crossed my mind she came out from the kitchen and approached Paul. She gave him a quick hug, then stood back and smiled. As she looked at him, I could see she did care a lot about her boy. Sure, he caused a lot of stress and mental anguish over the years, and he was far from being the obedient young man her other sons had become. Maybe she didn’t understand her son and his love of “devil music”; maybe she couldn’t comprehend his penchant for the unexpected. Despite all that he had done wrong over the years, she still deep down cared about her son – I could see it in her eyes.
I thanked the family for everything, and we headed out, back up the gravel road that led us to what Paul once knew as home. Our drive across Nebraska would be one of exhausted reverie, thinking back on all of the experiences we had the past few weeks. We kept ourselves entertained for a while practicing “rock screams” while listening to Iron Maiden, but nothing seemed quite as fun as our foray through the mountains. We both knew the end of our trip would come alongside with sun down.
At one point Paul put in Destroyer’s latest “Trouble in Dreams” and let Dan Bejar’s nasally voice and morose tunes drive us down the final stretch of endless corn fields, all waiting to be detasseled in mere months. As the album came to its final song “Libby’s First Sunrise”, ironically during a sunset, I caught myself listening to the lyrics, and quickly realized how fitting they were with the lights of Omaha in the distance ahead.You’ve been wasted from the day
of wandering, boozing and sleeping outside
Playing the idiot all of your life
and this is what you get
Master of all you survey, but today
You’ve been wandering around
You’ve been fucking around
You’ve been wandering around
You’ve been fucking around – oh And this is what you get
Now the light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The light holds a terrible secret
The lights of Omaha did hold a secret, although I hoped they weren’t as terrible as Bejar had foretold. What did Paul’s future hold for him? This thought prompted me to ask Paul what his plans were for his job search, and his response was exactly what I expected from him, ” I have no clue.” I didn’t know what would become of my friend Paul. I mentioned he could move to San Antonio and substitute for a year, but his silence told me he had little interest in Texas life. I wondered if he’d stay in Omaha now that so many friends had left the city he loved so much. With the sun setting on the plains of Nebraska, I looked out toward the horizon and wondered what the future held for my comrade. A semblance of a smile grew on my face, realizing he would be fine, regardless of what happened.
That is the dangerous part about caves: you don’t know how far they go back, sometimes, or where a passage behind may lead to, or what is waiting for you inside.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
We left O’Dell’s, obviously in a merry mood, and began our return trip to Omaha. Along the way we planned to stop in Laramie, Wyoming, where Paul attended college for a year. We also figured we’d stay in Paul’s hometown of Lyman, Nebraska for a few days to get some R and R. That evening, our drive north flew by, probably due to a combination of inebriation and the TurboNegro blaring from the speakers (I bought a re-issue of “Ass Cobra” at Wax Trax in Denver).
A song named “Hobbit Motherfuckers”? Yes please:
When we reached Laramie, storm clouds stared us down in the distance. We had a choice to make: get a hotel or risk it in the wild. With neither of us being decision makers, we opted to go to the grocery store to feed our growling stomachs. Our hunger actually made our lodging decision for us with me craving hotdogs and Paul’s appetite for chunky soup – in order to appreciate both of these camping staples, we would need a campfire.
After loading up our cart with processed food, I sauntered into the liquor store next door to check out the beer selection – my buzz from the afternoon of perusing breweries was beginning to wane. Besides, we hadn’t drank any during our night’s camping, and with this being our last outdoor excursion, I decided we needed to celebrate our extraordinary trip with a beer and a campfire. In the cooler I found rows of familiar faces on the labels of six packs. Each label, like photographs, brought me back to the experiences from the past few weeks: Snake River and the snobby snow bums, Bozone and the mutt puppies, Left Hand and our drunken conversations, O’Dell’s and the gum chewing douche, and Grand Tetons where we were treated like kings. I decided upon Grand Teton’s Workhorse, recalling the refreshing American wheat we enjoyed over a week ago in Idaho.
Fully loaded on food and “supplies” we headed toward the outskirts of town where Vedauwoo was located, a state park comprised of rock formations resembling mountain sized gobs of dried bubble gum on God’s headboard. As we drove down the gravel road leading up to the park we passed a sign that read “Closed Due to Bug Spray”. Paul continued driving toward the parking area, so I spoke up.
“Um, dude, I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Well, that sign said they are spraying for bugs.”
“Good thing we’re not bugs,” he responded, pulling into a parking spot. He had a point…I think.
We got out of the car and the air didn’t smell poisonous, so I followed Paul to the back of the car to load our packs for the last time. After grabbing food, tent, and sleeping bags, I wrapped four beers in a sweatshirt and placed them in the bag. With packs strapped to our backs, we walked a winding path that led us through the scattered rock formations. They looked almost fake, like something out of an old Star Trek episode.
We walked for a while, searching for a camping spot. With the dark clouds still threatening in the distance, we found a large rock that had a sloping overhang, perfect shelter from the storm. But just as I turned to take my pack off, Paul was walking toward the largest mound of rocks, apparently looking for a better shelter. I followed him from a distance, and finally caught up as he was crawling through gnarled branches that led to a crevice between the enormous boulders at the foot of the mound. Soon, he disappeared into the darkness of the cave. I stood in silence for a moment, awaiting his return.
“Dude! This rules!” Paul’s voice echoed from out of the opening. We had found our campsite.
I followed Paul’s trail of broken branches and entered the cave he discovered. Inside it felt cozy, although I couldn’t stand straight up; actually, I had to walk on my knees the majority of the time. Sure, there wasn’t much headroom, but what does that matter when you’re sleeping? After accessorizing our humble abode with sleeping bags and firewood, I grabbed Dharma Bums and told Paul I was going to go read before the sun set. I knew I’d be cramped up in the cave all night and should appreciate the freedom of the open range before bed.
I meandered between the rock formations for a bit, admiring Mother Nature’s grand sculptures. I finally came to a stop when I found the perfect reading spot atop a rock that stood around 10 feet tall. I crawled up the angled side of the rock and sat on the flattened top like a Zen Buddha. I tried reading but couldn’t help spacing off, staring out into the great western horizon, the sun slowly saying goodbye to another fruitful day. I sat there for an hour in a blissful haze, entranced by the skies pastel beauty.
When the wind picked up, I decided to head back to camp. Nearing the entrance of our little home, I could see the glow of a fire, shadows dancing upon the sides of nearby rocks, smoke crawling sneakily out the cave entrance. I entered to find Paul near the back, toking a fire and setting a soup can into the pulsating embers.
I went straight to my pack and pulled out some hotdogs and a couple bottles of Workhorse Wheat. Popping the top off the bottles and placing a couple hotdogs on a stick, I sat down next to Paul and relaxed with the flames at my feet. I’ve sat next to many campfires and bonfires, but none quite compares to the fire that night inside our cave. Paul and I raised our beers and took a sip commemorating our last night of camping.
Once again, our conversation led to The Hobbit, prompted by our stay in a cave which reminded me of Bilbo and the dwarves in the Misty Mountains. I knew we wouldn’t get attacked by goblins, but I questioned whether we might be sleeping in a mountain lion’s den. When asked, Paul responded, “Maybe.” This didn’t put me at any more ease. With the soup cans steaming and hot dogs bubbling we pulled our food from the flames and enjoyed our hearty meal by fireside. Hotdogs have never tasted better.
We sat there for another hour, eating, drinking, and laughing.
When the bottles went dry and the fire died down, we decided to head to our cave floor beds to catch some Zs. The mouth of the cave lay right in front of me and for the first night all trip there was a full moon shining down on us. I laid there for a while just starting at its brilliance, nature’s last big show, bidding us farewell in the only way Nature can.
The next morning I awoke all a shiver. The stone floor felt like a slab of ice beneath my back. I dug into my pack, pulling out a sweatshirt and my trusty BloodRayne hat. I wrapped up in my sleeping bag, letting the heat envelope me. Once the sun peaked over the rock terrain, we packed up camp for the final time and headed back toward Laramie in search of a coffee shop. Our search didn’t last long since Paul knew the layout of the town pretty well. Inside the antique building we ordered up breakfast and took a seat at a large wooden table fit for King Arthur and his knights.
When we finished our hearty breakfast, we headed over to the University of Wyoming store in search of some Cowboy gear. I’ve always felt Wyoming has the coolest colors in college sports: tan and brown. I’ve loved the color combo so much that numerous years I’ve coached the Cowboys on EA’s NCAA Football for PS2. My last coaching stint ended when I realized there was a glitch in the game that wouldn’t allow teams from the Mountain West Conference to compete for the national title, even when I pumped up their non-conference schedule.
When Paul transferred to Laramie, I always asked him to get me a cowboy t-shirt which he never followed through on. But there we were in a store adorned wall to wall in the tan and brown. While Paul looked at sweat pants, I scoured the t-shirt racks, but nothing jumped out at me. The brown basketball jerseys looked like something I might wear to the gym, but then I realized they were women’s and I decided against them. I eventually left the store empty handed.
Our plan was to visit the town’s brewery, Altitude Chophouse, but it didn’t open until noon. With it only being 10, we had some time to kill. Paul suggested giving me a tour of the Wyoming campus, which I thought sounded like a great plan. We pulled into a parking lot located outside War Memorial Stadium, the same field I coached so many digital football teams to victory on. As we got out of the car we noticed a beautiful blond leading a group of business-looking men out of the gate to the stadium.
We watched her walk away, and then noticed she left the gate wide open. JACKPOT. Coach Schroeder would finally set foot on the hallowed ground he once ruled upon with an iron fist. We started off slowly approaching the unmanned gate but progressed to a speed walk. Once we reached the entrance, I gave a quick glance around the premises for security. Seeing the coast was clear, we made our stealthy entrance. Walking toward the track I felt overcome by the immensity of the stadium. Who knew a school of Wyoming’s size would have such a grand football stadium, especially considering how perennially bad they are in football.
I stepped onto the field, feeling the cozy astro-turf beneath my flip flops and then decided to venture up into the stadium seats. Like children we ran up the stairs to the tip top, getting a complete view of the entire empty field that reminded me of “Rudy” when the black janitor dude first showed him Notre Dame Stadium. Paul suggested we head to the opposite corner of the field to explore the athletic facility located right outside the gate. Along the way, we came upon a giant cowboy boot statue decked out in Wyoming brown and tan. In true senior picture form, I asked Paul to take a picture of me posing by the boot.
After my photo shoot, Paul approached the door of the building, gave it a tug, and we were instantly unauthorized personnel roaming the halls of Wyoming’s Athletic Facility. We walked down the hallway, lined with large circular windows that you’d find in a submarine, descending gradually until we had completely entered the bowels of Wyoming. Suddenly, a pack of four volleyball players came around the corner. They obviously had just finished a workout with their red faces dripping in sweat. Both of us stiffened but continued walking nonchalantly down the hall. As we passed, the girls smiled and said “Hi!” in unison. We replied with a greeting and continued on our way, shocked that they weren’t alarmed by two scraggly bearded men roaming through the athletic facilities. Who did they think we were? Coaches? Students? Or future recruits?!
Whatever the case, I didn’t care; we had passed our first security test. We continued down a silent corridor, entered a practice volleyball court, and crossed the court to enter the darkened wrestling room. We roamed the room with Paul pointing out the different workstations, including a foam mannequin bolted to the wall. Paul tried explaining how you wrestling a mounted foam doll, but it still didn’t make sense.
He led me through the weight room and into the wrestler’s locker room. I’d only seen a locker room of its quality in movies or Spurs Championship videos. The lockers stretched around the plush room, filled with leather couches, white boards lining the walls, and large wooden lockers with name tags.
Spotting the bathroom stalls near the back, I told Paul I needed to take a piss quick. I stepped into the stall and began urinating when I heard a noise behind me. I glanced back thinking I’d see Paul; instead I spied a gentleman in a suit, looking at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands. He looked like a coach or at least someone with power to crush a couple scruffy intruders. He turned his head in my direction so I quickly ducked down. CRAP! He had to hear me. I knew it. I was so fucked. I felt like Marty McFly hiding in Biff’s backseat, except I wasn’t whispering loudly into a walkie-talkie.
I stood still, then heard the man begin pulling paper towels…maybe he didn’t see or hear me? I remained completely quiet, listening to the man dry his hands, wondering where Paul had gone. He had been in the locker room. How did the guy not see him?
I remained as motionless as a wall wrestling dummy, waiting for the sound of a closing door. The sound of hand drying came to a stop, and there was a silence all throughout the restroom. He had to know I was there. I started thinking of excuses, knowing this was probably a wrestling coach who could whoop my ass if needed. Just as I was about to peek over the partition again, I heard the snap of the door handle. Phew. I zipped up, pushed open the door, and headed out the mystery door the man didn’t exit. I came out to an empty hallway and began running toward the nearest exit. Mid-sprint I heard a voice yell, “Stop!” Oh no, I was done for!
I turned to see a smiling Paul walking toward me. “Why are you running?” He asked with a grin.
“Where the hell did you go?” I asked, heaving for air.
“I was just sitting in the locker room…you’re fucking stupid.” He said laughing. I followed him out the door, feeling a bit dumb, and returned to the car. Whoever the guy was, he had seen Paul and thought nothing of it. In the car we saw the clock read 11 o’clock, beer time.
Paul quickly located the brewery downtown and we moseyed in to an empty bar. I guess 11 isn’t happy hour in Wyoming. We ordered up a sampler and sat back to watch some Sportscenter, catching up on all the world happenings we’d missed during our trip. It was like we had entered an alternate universe: Elton Brand was now a Warrior, Baron Davis and Marcus Camby both Clippers, James Posey a Hornet, and Brett Favre was coming out of retirement.
The samplers came out, nine large sippers filled with a multitude of colors. We drank them down slowly in silence. I could tell we were both winding down from our trip, realizing it was coming to an end. None of the beers tasted as special as what we’d tasted the past few weeks. The wheat and porter were decent, but the positive reviews end there. The amber made me yearn for Madison River’s Irresistible Amber Ale; the stout made me wish we were still back at O’Dell’s drinking their specialty black brew.
We left an hour later, and headed toward Cheyenne where we were set to meet one of Paul’s high school friends for lunch. About 10 minutes outside of Laramie Paul asked me to stop at a rest area to take a whiz. When we got out of the car, I noticed a tall statue near roadside. After taking care of our business, we walked over to discover a giant Abraham Lincoln head peering down at us.
Staring up into the earnest eyes of Honest Abe, I was reminded of the first day of our road trip, driving across South Dakota arguing about who was the all-time best president. I would eventually learn about Teddy Roosevelt and his conservative ways – actually, I learned a lot over the past few weeks: music, beer, and most importantly, life. Although my opinion of Abe as the best president remains the same, I will forever be changed by our experiences on the winding roads of America.
“They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
–I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.” “Terence this is Stupid Stuff” by A.E. Housman
The next morning we hung out in the woods for a few hours, eventually packing up, hiking back down to the car, and heading into Estes. Paul wanted to show me around downtown. It’s designed like one of those mock old timey towns with extravagant street lights and roads made of brick. We roamed around for a bit, got some burgers, and returned to the car a few hours later (I honestly can’t remember one highlight from our little stroll through tourist town, so I’ll spare you the details).
Next up breweries (now that’s more like it!). We headed west toward For Collins, a virtual Mecca of brewing with a whopping six breweries to choose from, including: Odell’s, Coors, Fort Collins Brewing, and the birthplace of Fat Tire (my all-time favorite brew): New Belgium. As we drove I became giddy. Sure, we already visited 17 breweries during our trip, but New Belgium was the Holy Grail (or pint), the Beer-topia, the Oz at the end of our beer soaked brick road.
Unlike me, Paul’s enthusiasm for New Belgium was less than thrilled. In fact, he suggested several times that we skip the brewery altogether in order to visit some of the lesser known breweries in town. I stuck to my guns; we had to visit what I imagined to be a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type of wonderland with rivers of Fat Tire and little midget workers called Hoppa Loppas (I know, I’m reaching).
After driving around Fort Collins for about 30 minutes trying to locate the mystical brewery, we finally found 500 Linden Street, the address I’ve read many a night while staring lovingly at a Fat Tire box. The brewery was impossible to miss; the large New Belgium emblem emblazon on the sign out front, the enormous steeple of glass, the log cabiny wood siding, and the parking lot filled with cars, bumper to bumper. Even the bike rack out front was filled, reminding me of the bike rack area in front of the middle school I attended as a kid.
When we finally found a parking spot, Paul turned off the car and looked at me. “I’m telling you this is going to suck…” I didn’t really understand his hatred for New Belgium: maybe the popularity? I still think he hates Vampire Weekend due simply to their popularity. Or was it Paul’s penchant for disagreeing? I didn’t care; we were going to the promise land, whether Paul liked it or not.
Instead of acknowledging his negativity, I handed him the camera and commanded, “Take a picture of me in front of the New Belgium sign douche.”
After our photo session we finally entered the tasting room, which was more like a tasting hall: the walls were adorned with moving sculptures constructed of bike parts, Warhol-esque paintings stretching to the top of the vaulted glass ceiling, and pristine wooden tables stretching the length of the extensive room. Pushing our way through the crowd, I noticed that the patrons were much different than what we’d seen at most breweries. Instead of middle-aged beer connoisseurs with curly moustaches and bald spots, we were surrounded by a combination of touristy rich old people and young naïve couples.
I hadn’t seen more than a couple women at the other 17 breweries we’d been to, yet inside New Belgium the females outnumbered the men, all of them clinging tightly to their male counter part’s arms as they daintily took sips of their beers, usually grimacing in anguish at a beer that didn’t taste like Bud Light. We took a seat at the bar, and after surveying the scene, Paul turned to me and mumbled, “Fucking terrorists.” He was right about the crowd, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin my New Belgium experience. I convinced myself that the crowd was due to the popularity of their beer.
We waited around for about 10 minutes to be served – I can’t blame the bartenders, the place was packed. Eventually, a flustered server brought us over a piece of paper with a checklist of beers on tap. He told us to pick the four beers we’d like to try and left us to our decision making.
Being a big New Belgium fan, I had already tasted most of the brews they had to offer: Sunshine’s citrus zest, Trippel’s fruity hops, 1554’s version of stout light, and Abbey, a malty journey that challenges the crown that Fat Tire holds in the kingdom of New Belgium (Mothership Whit, Skinny Dip, and Blue Paddle are like the red headed step-children I don’t acknowledge). I decided to try the three unfamiliar flavors (Old Cherry, Loose Lips, and Mighty Arrow) and chose Fat Tire for my final taster. I figured when you’re on Mount Olympus, you have to try the ambrosia.
When we handed in our slips the bartender glanced at them, grimaced, and handed them back. “You guys need to answer the question of the day.”
“What?” I asked in confusion.
“The question of the day: what super power would you have if you could have any?” He pointed to the bottom of the checklist as I pondered a question that sounded reminiscent of an 8th grade journal topic. I thought back to when my brothers and I would visit my grandparent’s farmhouse and wear dishtowels as capes. We decorated them with markers: I was Lightning Boy, Alex was Fire Man, and my brother Nick was Everything Man (basically, he had every power you could imagine, which in hindsight was pretty much bullshit). I contemplated jotting down Everything-Man, but decided upon the power of reading minds, simply because Matt Parkman is easily my favorite character on “Heroes” (You know, that super heroe show that was good for a season and a half?). Sure, there’s the goofy Hiro, the cute Cheerleader, and the brooding Peter Petrelli, but Parkman is just some dude. Not a complex character, not funny, not adorable: just an everyday guy who just so happens to read minds.
The bartender picked up our slips again, and didn’t seem too impressed with my choice of “reading minds”. After another 10 minute wait, four small glasses were placed in front of us containing a rainbow of brew colors, from gold to brown.
First up, Old Cherry made me wince in a cough syrup kind of way. But then again, I wasn’t expecting much. I love eating cherries, yet I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something cherry flavored that I’ve enjoyed. I followed this up with Mighty Arrow, New Belgium’s version of a pale ale, and after all the amazing pales I tasted in Montana and Idaho, it paled in comparison. Strike 2. I didn’t know what to expect with the Loose Lips, and it’s a good thing I wasn’t expecting much, because it was pitiful…just plain pitiful. I should have known; loose lips are never, never a good thing.
Finally, after this series of brutal disappointments, I came to my saving grace: Fat Tire. I sniffed the frothy head, cherishing every moment, looking for one last beacon of hope amidst my day of disenchantment at New Belgium. But for some reason, after an hour surrounded by terrorists, gaudy decorations, and a series of ever worsening brews, the Fat Tire didn’t taste quite right. Maybe it was in my head, but the nutty undertones were gone, the refreshing finish vanished, the chocolaty aftertaste unrecognizable. Maybe the poison’s I drank moments before deadened my taste buds, or maybe my anticipation guaranteed disappointment. Whatever the case, my visit to New Belgium ended up being a bust. The curtain had been pulled back by little Toto (or Paul), and the money making tourist machine of New Belgium had been exposed.
As I dragged my feet back to the car, Paul mocked my discontent, “I told you it would suck. New Belgium are sellouts.” I ignored his taunting, got in the car, and put the key in the ignition.
“Where to next,” I mumbled.
“O’Dell’s my friend. You will not be disappointed in them.” I scoffed at his confidence and drove around the block toward O’Dells. You have to love a town with four breweries located within a block of each other.
Like New Belgium, O’Dell’s had all the trappings of a widely distributed brewery but lacked the packed parking lot. Inside the walls were decorated with beautiful oil paintings depicting the labels of the various beers on tap. We walked to the register and were greeted by a skinny hippie chick with shoulder length blond hair.
“Hey boys, can I get you a sampler or a pint?”
Paul and I shared smiles and told her a sampler sounded perfect. She left to fill our beers as we looked around in awe at the spectacular surroundings. When she returned she held a thick 2 X 4 with holes cut in it to hold six large sampler glasses filled with beer of gold, brown, and amber.
After paying she commented, “By the way, I love the shirt.” I looked down to see I was wearing my worn out, stinky Built to Spill t-shirt.
“Oh…thanks,” I sheepishly answered.
“Yeah, I almost got Doug Marsh to perform at my wedding.”
“Whoah, that would rule,” Paul commented.
“Yeah, unfortunately the band was touring out east at the time…anyways, enjoy your beers. The IPA is amazing.” A girl who appreciates a hoppy IPA and Built to Spill? I envied the man who found a girl with such great taste.
We took a seat near the back and prepared for our trip down O’Dell lane. I sat staring at our wide array of choices, trying to decide which would be the perfect choice for beginning our drinking journey.
I tried the IPA first, and Built to Spill girl couldn’t have been more right. All of the beers on our wooden platter were as amazing as the Built to Spill music catalog, but if the IPA were a song it would be “Carry the Zero”, a notch above the rest.
If only this song had come out when I was 10, I would have been good at math:
While Paul and I conversed over some of the best beer we had the entire trip, I noticed a couple guys next to us sitting with a tall brunette. One of them was wearing a No Fear cap backwards and chomped away at his gum as he sipped on the Cut-Throat Porter. This irritated me to no end. “Paul, look at that douche over their chewing his Juicy Fruit while drinking these beers.”
Paul began to laugh, saying, “Dude, you’re just like the guy from ‘Sideways’, freaking out about his buddy chewing gum while drinking wine.” I joined in on the laughter, realizing I’d transformed into a beer snob during our brewery tour, a road trip that originally spawned from the classic Alexander Payne film.
I continued watching the douchey group of two red necks and a hot brunette, occasionally making eye contact with the towering vixen. Like I’d done many times before on the trip, I wondered if one of the dudes was a boyfriend. If they were, I didn’t think they would have appreciated her glancing at me once every minute. Was she checking me out, or was I creeping her out? If only I were Matt Parkman…
Finishing up our tour, feeling hopped up from the welcoming atmosphere and stupendous brews, we noticed a nearby table with a different sampler that contained only four beers. Once finished, feeling quite accomplished, we returned to the counter and asked Built to Spill girl about the four beer sampler. She informed us of the Specialty Sampler comprised of all their recent seasonals and cask brews. We ordered up a round of specialties, had a little more small talk about Built to Spill with her, and returned to our table to continue our path to Shit-Faced Town.
The new four beers were surprisingly even better than the original six, although our inebriation may have been overpowering our taste buds at that point. The stout was especially potent packing a powerful burst of flavor to our palettes, mixing the hints of espresso, chocolate, and malts into a creamy poison fit for King Mithridates. Paul fell in love with the stout proclaiming it his favorite of the trip (I don’t get Paul’s love of stouts considering he despises the taste of coffee). He decided to approach the counter to buy a growler of the stouty goodness so he could enjoy the brew while back home in Nebraska. A few minutes later he returned, not with a growler of black gold, but two pints of the coffee black liquid.
“The guy at the counter rules. He said they don’t sell the stout in growler because it’s a limited edition special reserve, so I just started going on and on about how it’s the best stout we’ve had on our brewery tour and that we really wanted to take some to appreciate back home. I think he might be the brew master or something because he talked about how proud he was of this batch and said we could have a couple free pints to appreciate the stout one more time.” Overflowing samplers, flavorful brews abound, and free pints of the greatest stout in the United States? Our O’Dell experience was possibly the best yet brewery-wise. After the disappointment that was New Belgium, O’Dell’s totally redeemed our day. We sipped our brews slowly, savoring each drop, while talking endlessly about our incredible road trip.
As I watched the pint slowly evaporate the next half hour, I knew that just like that pint of heavenly goodness, our road trip would soon be finished, and all we would be left with were the memories. I knew I’d have many more tasty stouts in my future and that more summer road trips laid in the years ahead, but none would be quite like the one I’d just experienced. As I sipped the last drops of the stout, I let it sit upon my tongue just a little bit longer, letting the flavor soak deep into the recesses of my memory.
“Always rise to an early meal, but eat your fill before a feast.
If you’re hungry you have no time to talk at the table.”
Odin from the “Hávamál”
By the time we reached Malcolm’s, the sweat from the concert had dried, yet we decided to go to bed, stinky and all. I fell asleep instantly, completely worn out from the evening of ultra-violence.
The next morning we went out for our last breakfast at a place called “Twisters”, kind of a poor man’s “Chipotle” (yes, we were going for breakfast burritos). Paul and Malcolm relished their last tortilla based meal together, talking about their college days and even a little about how underrated Tom Arnold is as a comedic actor.
“Dude, we could bring back the Tom Arnold Schwarzenegger connection! You can be the tough Arnold character, and I’ll be the funny sidekick.”
Outside we said our goodbyes and thanked Malcolm for his hospitality and returned to the road. Our days of rest at Beorn’s had refueled us, heading back out on our adventure in search of strange music and exotic brews.
We headed into downtown Denver and decided to check out Wax Trax, a record store nestled amidst the ghetto. We found it by accident the night before while searching for Bush and Bull Pub. The ratty outside appearance intrigued both of us. The inside was much homier than the exterior with posters and CDs lining the walls. As Paul began his meticulous scouring, I roamed the used CD section and discovered Dinosaur Jr’s “Where You Been” for five bucks, a CD my brother owned over a decade ago. I listened to the disc endlessly, enjoying J. Mascis and his boistrous guitar while playing Madden 95 on Super Nintendo. The songs on that album still conjure up images of a pixilated Cris Carter running for a touchdown.
I ended up buying some more CDs, and Paul made his visit quick, only picking up another five or so albums. On our way back to the car we passed a quaint little bookstore and decided to take a quick look. Inside I found myself entranced by the selection of Kurt Vonnegut books, the majority of them being in original hardback, mint condition. It had been almost a year since I had read any Vonnegut, so you can imagine how tempted I was to purchase an original hardback version of Blackbeard, a book my friend Eric recommended to me. As I pondered spending more money (I had already spent 50 dollars at Wax Trax), Paul approached the counter with a handful of books by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.
The clerk said to Paul, ” So you’re a Philip K. Dick fan?”
“Yeah, I love Dick,” Paul responded. I wasn’t sure if he said this on purpose, but I held my laughter down to a snicker from behind the Vonnegut shelf. Once the “Dick-Lover” paid for his purchases, I decided Bluebeard could wait and followed Paul to the door. As I passed the counter I caught a glimpse of a t-shirt with a picture of a trout on the front and the words “Kilgore Used Book’s and Comics”.
Two steps out the door I made the connection. Kilgore….Trout….Kilgore….Trout…. “KILGORE TROUT!”
Paul turned to me, “What?”
“Kilgore Trout! That’s the name of a recurring character in Vonnegut’s books. Dude, they named their store after Kilgore Trout!” Before Paul could respond, I was heading back into the store on a mission: get a Kilgore Trout t-shirt. I approached the counter blurting out, “Is your store named after the Vonnegut character?”
A smile grew on the clerk’s acne covered face, as he nodded and said, “A ha, you got it. Most people don’t. I take it you’re a Vonnegut fan?”
I went on to gush about the late great author for a few minutes, and then threw a t-shirt up on the counter for purchase. That day, my “Kilgore Trout” t-shirt officially took the top spot of my coolest t-shirt roster, closely squeaking past my “ELC Midget Special Olympics” t-shirt (my high school mascot was a Midget).
After paying for my new shirt, Paul and I returned to the Element and drove north towards Boulder through Denver’s afternoon traffic. Paul thought we should hang out in Boulder for the afternoon, and then hit a couple breweries before camping for the night. We arrived in downtown Boulder and parked on a side street so we could roam Pearl Street that sunny afternoon. We didn’t have any purpose set other than to enjoy the hippie atmosphere and admire the college women sauntering about. We hadn’t been a part of civilization for a few weeks, so upon first sight of a few attractive girls, we began behaving like Encino Man, stalking and sniffing the civilized females around us.
As we meander through the street performers, hippies with petitions for Darfur, and street stands selling tie-dye shirts, Paul would turn to me occasionally and say, “Dude, did you see that chick?”
And each time, I would turn to him in confusion and ask, “Which chick?” I would then turn around to see the backside of a ratty haired hippie chick wearing one of those earth child, renaissance, nature dresses. I knew I hadn’t lost my radar for attractive women over the duration of our trip. In fact, my sensors were on high-alert due to the lack of women over the duration of the trip. As our walk continued, I made sure to take better notice of the women that passed.
Paul continued his occasional exclamation of, “Did you see her?!” and with each girl he pointed out, I began to come to a realization. Every one of these “attractive” women he pointed out were wearing the same style hippie, moo-moo dress. I didn’t say anything to him, but began searching out girls who looked like they raided Mother Earth’s closet. Lo and behold, my theory rang true. Each time a girl with unshaved armpits walked by in one of these dresses, Paul would turn to me and profess her hotness.
As we neared the end of the street a tall Asian girl in her hippie gear approached us. Her face was a disaster area, with her wide nose, flared nostrils, beady eyes, and a drive-in movie theater forehead all disproportionately placed upon her greasy face, flat as a frying pan. I began to grin, knowing she was the true litmus test for my theory that Paul responded to hippie dresses like Pavlov’s dog. As hypothesized, once the monster passed, Paul turned to me saying, “Tell me you saw that hotty.”
“Seriously?! She was nasty!” I answered.
“Are you kidding?” he said in shock.
“Sorry, but I have this weird attraction to faces.”
“You’re crazy; she was gorgeous,” he said, dismissing my opinion.
“Dude, you would be attracted to a turd if it was wearing a hippie dress.” He didn’t like this assertion, and decided my hormones must have somehow evaporated in the mountains, turning me into some type of balding androgynous freak.
By the time we got back to the car, Paul was acting grumpy, probably due to my ribbing. Once inside the car I asked, “So you want to go to that Meadery outside of town?”
“Eh,” he noncommittally answered. He seemed unenthused. I didn’t care; we were going to the meadery. I’d never tasted the ancient wine that I imagined that Beowulf and the Vikings chugged while playing Mead Pong in some ancient temple basement.
When we pulled into the mini-mall where the Redstone Meadery was located, Paul mentioned that he might stay in the car and take a nap. My response? “You have to come in. It’s mead, dude; fucking mead!”
Much to his chagrin, Paul joined me. Inside we were greeted by a waif of a man, asking us in an effeminate voice, “Would you gentlemen like to sample some of our mead?” It’s not often that you get such a proposition, so we both bellied up to the taster’s bar.
After giving us a brief history of the honey based wine, he began leading us through the gauntlet of mead: meads that tasted like wines ranging from the pinot to the red; meads that tasted like beer from the amber to the hoppy; meads that tasted like candy from the Bit O’ Honey to the Shock Tarts, meads that tasted like preserves from the raspberry to the boysenberry. By the time we had finished, we’d tasted 15 different varieties of mead, and as you can imagine, we were feeling pretty good. Paul’s grumpy attitude, just like the mead, was a thing of the past.
We both bought a bottle of the nectar of the God’s and returned to the car, feeling both slightly buzzed. Giddy from our trip down meadery lane, we giggled the entire drive north to Longmont where we planned to visit Left Hand Brewing Company. I’d tasted a few Left Hand brews over the years and always enjoyed what they had to offer.
Once we located the bar, we made our way inside, where we found a rustic atmosphere and a large crowd of drinkers. We plopped down at a table and began sampling the beers on tap, one after another. At that point, I don’t recall any beer being better than the other, but I distinctly remember enjoying every pint that came to our table (even the ginger beer Paul ordered).
With the combination of mead and Left Hand beer pumping through our blood, we rambled like school girls about our past fuck-ups and laughed about the idiocy that was created when the two of us joined forces with Tony back in college. We lost track of time, and two hours later the Left Hand brews were going down easily. By the time we stumbled out of the brewery, the sun had set and we were faced with the task of finding a place to set up camp in the dark. Fortunately, we were feeling too good to care about the difficult task ahead.
We drove the winding road north toward Estes, and came upon a hiking trail, where we parked the car. We filled our packs quickly by dome light, and began hiking up a path we could barely see in the moonlight. 15 minutes into our drunken hike, we came upon a camping area. We found a flat spot hidden by trees and set up camp by flashlight. We had little trouble assembling the tent; at that point in the trip we could have done it blindfolded. Since we hadn’t eaten since our breakfast burritos with Malcolm, we needed to get a fire going, so we could enjoy a late night soup. Paul searched for rocks while I gathered wood. When I had enough wood, I grabbed a rock and completed our rock circle for the blaze. Soon, we had ourselves a crackling fire to cook our soup upon.
Still both feeling pretty good, we continued giggling through the night, talking about our trip that was coming to an end in a few days. When thinking about that afternoon, Paul mentioned, “That mead was amazing! That might be my favorite stop yet. We gotta go to another meadery tomorrow; I think there’s one in Denver.”
I smiled as I looked into the flames, nodded my head, and said, “I told you dude: mead; fucking mead.”