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Road Trip 2008: Day 15-16, Honest Abe and the Cave Dwellers


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.

"Star Date 312.882. The atmosphere on planet Vedauwoo seems to be poisoned by a drug killing agent. Live long and prosper bugs. Beam me up Scotty!"

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.

 

"It is better to travel well than to arrive." -Buddha

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.

Not much head room, but who needs standing room when you've got a Workhorse Wheat?

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.

 

"See you next summer, douche bags!"

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.

 

Oh, the stories I could tell of the classic games played on this field in an alternate video game universe.

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.

Coach Schroeder posing on a giant cowboy boot: classic.

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.

 

I wish I had taken a picture of the foam wrestling wall dummies. Instead, I just got a picture of this human dummy.

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.

 

Abraham Lincoln + rest area = The Great Constipator

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.

"I claimed not to have controlled events, but have confessed plainly that events have controlled me." - Abraham Lincoln

 

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12. Road Trip 2008: Day 10, Rocky Mountain High

It’s Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky mountain high

“Rocky Mountain High” John Denver

The next morning all of us were hurting.  We didn’t start dragging around the motel room until 10 a.m, which gave us about an hour to shower and pack up.  My prospects of getting in the shower were slim, so I pulled on my swim trunks and stumbled out into the morning glare.  After exploring the motel, I found the quaint little 10 x 10 swimming pool.  Without hesitation I tossed my dirty shirt onto the fence and dove in.  Instantly the hangover washed away as the chilling water rushed over my achy body.  As a lifeguard (many, many years ago) I learned the power a morning swim can have over a drink related headache.  Not only did I eliminate my weary head, but I got a quick chlorine bath in the process (my friend Tony takes these exclusively).

Tony preparing for his morning bath.

I swam a couple mini-laps, kick-starting the blood flow in my sore muscles and joints.  Refreshed and rejuvenated, I jumped out and let the air dry me as I walked back to the room.  On the way I passed a gorgeous woman with jet black hair hanging down to her curvy waist.  Her dark almond shaped eyes glanced at me, a dripping mess clomping down the sidewalk.  Once I reached our room, I glanced back to her pushing a cart filled with towels – she was the cleaning lady.

“Hey guys, the cleaning lady is hot!” I announced upon entering the room.  They chuckled and casually returned to their packing.  In fear of irritating the rapidly approaching hot cleaning lady, I tried hurrying up the process making comments like “We’d better get going” and “They might charge us extra if we aren’t out by eleven.” When we finally straggled out, she rolled up to our door, looking annoyed.  I gave her a big dimply smile, but she didn’t share the sentiment.

Probably the most American picture ever taken.

John and Tif decided to follow us up the scenic route to Long’s Peak (the mountain Paul and I would be climbing that afternoon).  They contemplated pushing back their biker road trip a few days to hike with us, but based on the look of the hung-over couple, I doubted they’d be joining us.

When we reached Lyons, we stopped at a coffee shop to get breakfast and of course feed my desperate thirst for coffee.  Armed with a Grande Americano, I noticed an internet ready computer in the back corner.  I realized I hadn’t been on the internet for over a week, a fact that would usually drive the web junky in me insane.  But lost in the joy of the wild, I completely lost track of my life in the digital world.  This of course didn’t keep me from getting online for a few minutes; I hadn’t completely weaned myself from web’s teat.

With tummies full and caffeine rushing through my veins we set out for Long’s Peak, traveling up the winding road lined with signs marking it as Roosevelt National Forest.  I wondered if my old fave FDR was responsible for the grandeur or if my new hero Teddy had anything to do with it.

WE pulled into the Long’s Peak entry and soon after discovered a parking lot filled to the brim with Outback station wagons and Land Rovers.  Earlier in the morning Paul expressed his concern about the amount of people out on the weekend, and he had been correct.  Our hiking experience wouldn’t be as intimate as the Sphinx.

We began filling our packs once again and made sure to include the Cliff Bars we bought at Target.  Paul insisted we buy the high priced granola bars that I’d never tasted before. Paul promised they’d be worth every penny.  Plus, in a recent SPIN article, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes said he wouldn’t sell any of their music for commercial use, unless it was for Cliff Bar.

While stuffing my pillow into the pack, Jon Jon approached nervously.

“Hey Andy,” he whispered. “I’ve got something for you.” He stuck out his hand and dropped a little self-rolled cigarette into my palm.  “Since I’m not climbing, smoke that for me when you reach the top.”  Smoking amidst the thin air of a mountain top didn’t sound very enticing, but I nodded and held the wad of paper awkwardly in my hand.

“Put it somewhere safe.”  Having little experience with a hand-made cigarette, I put it into my pants pocket.  Upon seeing this Jon gave me a nudge and yelled in a low voice, “I said put it somewhere safe!  Here, I’ll give it to Paul.”  I handed it back over to him like a scolded child and watched him give it to Paul, who placed it into an Advil bottle, then into his pack.  This surprised me.  To my knowledge, Paul hadn’t smoked since high school, so I figured he’d turn down the offer.  My experiences were also few and far between.

Once we had all our gear packed, we said our goodbyes to Jon and Tif, then wished them good luck on their bike trip north.  With memories of Montana still fresh in my mind, part of me wished were joining them.  Around 2:30 they rumbled off into the distance and we began our climb.  As we made the ascension, we found ourselves surrounded by other hikers: healthy old people, hippie youth, and even church-going families.  Everyone was cordial and friendly, but our climb felt far removed from the journey into nature I anticipated.  The peak was obviously a big draw for the area with fences alongside the path, stone stairs on steep inclines, and sitting areas every few minutes.  Even when I did see beautiful waterfalls and rock formations, it seemed like the fake scenery you’d see at an amusement park.

After reaching the top of the tree line, the path split into three options.  We decided to set up camp quick, and then explore one of the paths.  We walked back into the woods and found a nice flat space to throw up the tent.  We had it assembled in minutes and rushed back to the path.  The far left path was the only one Paul had never been on, so we decided to give it a try.

The walk wasn’t very exciting, although I did enjoy the constant appearance of animals.  Chipmunks and marmots skittered across the path every couple minutes and they didn’t seem scared in the least of our approach. An hour into our hike, we began to realize the path didn’t lead to much and headed back to camp before sun down.

At camp, we both grabbed our books, him Harry Potter, me Kerouac (you decide who is the douche).  We headed into different directions, finding our own personal reading solitude.  I made my first venture into The Dharma Bums and quickly found myself once again engrossed in Kerouac’s words.  (I still prefer the depressed, self deprecating Jack of On the Road over the happy-Buddhist-Zen-mad-man of Dharma Bums).

With our reading light setting behind the mountains, we began to gather firewood and lit the kindling.  Paul soon had the fire raging, so I put a couple soup cans into the red coals, letting the flames lick the edges of the Chunky soup, performing cunnalingus on Donavan McNabb’s smiling mother.

"Keep toking that fire boys!"

Paul broke me from my soup can fantasy, asking, “Soooo, you want to smoke Jon’s little gift?”  It felt like we were teenagers trying beer for the first time, a combination of curiosity and guilt mixing in our jerky filled stomachs.  I thought it over for a while, and finally came to the realization: why not? How many times in my life would I be sitting on a mountainside with Paul and a little jay of joy.

With only matches to light the cig, Paul unsuccessfully lit it several times before finally succeeding.  Sitting next to the fire, we began trading drags from the little roach.  When there no longer remained paper to hold onto, Paul threw the remainder into the fire and awaited the affects of Jon’s little gift.  The few times I’ve smoked I’ve had the opposite affect from the lethargic, slothful interpretation you see in the movies.  Instead, I become overtly energetic, bouncing off the walls and spouting random, moronic thoughts.

I grabbed the soup from the fire with my BloodRayne beanie/oven mitt and handed one to Paul and then grab one for myself.  I sprawled back onto a rock and stared into the night sky.  The glistening lights above seemed to be smiling down upon us.   I sat up for a moment and opened up my can of soup to enjoy the medley of steak and potatoes.  Out of no where, Paul broke the silence muttering, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if Bono suddenly floated down from above, singing ‘In the Name of Love’?”

“What?” I asked.  This surprised me.  Paul despises U2. He had to be in another state of mind to be dreaming of Bono.

“Yeah, like Bono just floats down, and then Edge emerges from the trees playing guitar.” I giggled at his idea, and added, “Yeah, and then the bears and marmots come out of the trees singing along to the chorus.” Caught up in our imaginings, I stood up and yodeled into the night sky, “In the name of love, what more in the name of love!” We both chuckled at the echo of my howling voice.

I then had a sudden flashback to childhood, remembering when The Muppets performed Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”.  “Dude, dude! I’ve got it! What if Bono and Edge were on the Muppets, and it was like a bunch of puppet bears singing along.”

Paul looked confused (in hindsight, he might have just been stuck in a stupor).  “And then like Fozzie bear comes in and ruins everything yelling ‘Wok ka Wok ka? Eh? Paul?”  He stared at me glossy eyed. I lost him with my random Muppet reference, but didn’t care, thinking back to the classic Muppet scene, hunters and all. I began pacing around the fire, continuing my random ramblings while Paul just kind of lifelessly laid there, much like the rock beneath his head. I looked down at him and asked, “Are you feeling it already?”

“Yeh,” he mumbled.  “Aren’t you?”

Feeling chock full energy, I should have known the affects had taken over, but for some reason I was convinced I remained unaffected. “No dude, this sucks.”  I then continued rambling – talking about what a strange word “pertinent” is, questioning where soup was invented, and spouting off a jumbled mess of ideas for the upcoming Repeater and the Wolf album.  Paul finally broke my stream of consciousness, asking, “Aren’t you tired?”

“No!” I responded.

“Well, I’m ready to crash,” he said, closing his eyes.

“Um…okay.” I looked at the time on my i-Pod, and realized it had already reached midnight.  The night had flown by us, lost in our fire side reverie. I crawled into the tent and laid back, trying to find the calming solace Paul was feeling.  Unfortunately, my crazy legs continued kicking and my brain couldn’t stop wondering where marmots sleep at night.

To help ease my mile-a-minute mind, I put on my ear buds and began listening to some Opie and Anthony, letting their conversation occupy my brain.  I don’t remember much of the show I listened to, but  O and A have never seemed quite as funny as they did that night on top of Long’s Peak.   I’m not sure what time I finally went to bed, but the next morning Paul complained that he could hear my maniacal giggling into the early hours of the morning.

"To answer your question, marmots sleep where ever the hell they want. Now go to sleep before I eat your toes you giggle-y fuck."

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