Monday, October 27, 2014

Snacking our way into the South

From Maryland we headed to Virginia, and visited the colonial town of Williamsburg, which was an interesting look back in time. Our favorite part of the town was the little garden and nursery we found, full of rusty old tools, cute sheds, drying flowers and herbs. After a day of exploration, we decided to spend the night in Charlottesville, a college town. We sampled some beers at Three Notch'd Brewery, and then wandered around a bit before climbing up onto a stone wall overlooking a bustling street to drink beers and people watch. We ended up making friends with a few chatty college students that climbed up to talk with us about our adventures for a while.

We were urban camping in front of a fratty-looking college house, and when we returned to the van there were ton of bros milling about on the front lawn, so we figured we should check in about camping out, and while they didn't seem to mind, they did mention that they'd spotted Finn and were plotting about how to "break him out" of them van. We reassured them that Finn was quite set with food, water, litter, and toys, and that we figured if the van was enough space for us to sleep in nightly, it seemed to us that he was fine to hang out for a bit in there as well. We put Finn on his leash and introduced him to everyone and they seemed convinced, as well as a little incredulous about our whole set up.

Kelsey's aunt, possibly one of our most enthusiastic supporters, Carole, lives near Asheville with her boyfriend, Danny, so we headed there to hang out with them. They have a beautiful hilltop property with an amazing view, and took us driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and then downtown for a zesty "thai-dye" pizza and some beer. There were SO many cute dogs in downtown Asheville, it was hard to contain ourselves. That evening, Kelsey baked a scrumptious apple cake and we had a relaxing movie night. After a leisurely morning breakfast and some much needed van-organization, we said our goodbyes.

Our next stop was Charleston, West Virginia, where we were excited to meet our couchsurfing host, Justin, and his canine companion, Pearl, who he said would be fine to hang out with our feline Captain! We had a chatty evening with Justin and Pearl, sipping on Sierra Nevada and watching the two critters get to know each other. They got along marvelously, and Finn was quite bold, batting at Pearl from beneath the couch at first, and eventually coming right up to her and giving her a careful sniff. The next morning, we attempted to take Finn for an autumnal hike, but were thwarted by rain, so while Kelsey jogged, Tressa holed up to work in a little cafe, where a few people spotted our van decal and eventually we were chatting with a man named Charles who had returned to West Virginia three years prior, as an experiment in rediscovering what it meant to be West Virginian, and had been thinking a lot about home and place. We ended up meeting up with him and a friend later at a nearby bar, to drink beers and discuss West Virginia, which they were incredibly enthusiastic about, as well as disappointed that our time there was so limited. As the night drew to a close, Charles took us to Tudor's Biscuit World, a West Virginia standby that consists of tasty biscuits topped with greasy breakfast food.

Our host in Lexington, Kentucky, was an incredibly cheerful Japanese translator. His name was Chuck, and he had a big ole ginger cat that Finn was soon chasing and romping with in some truly glorious wrestling matches. Chuck has a radio show at the WRFL college radio station, so we accompanied him to the station and even got on the air briefly to promote our trip and play some California tunes (California Honeydrops)! When the show was over, we drove around Lexington for an impromptu night-tour of the local street art, and then headed back to the house for a dinner of tortellini with some fresh herbs from Chuck's garden. In the morning, we decided to go check out the horse races, and afterwards we headed to Red River Gorge, which Chuck said was one of the most beautiful places he'd ever been. It did not disappoint, it was all autumnal colors, breathtaking views, and gorgeous rock formations. We didn't quite realize how much we had been missing the woods until we got to stand beneath the deciduous trees, listening as the leaves fell all around us, and we felt a great sense of peace.

We were a bit torn about where to go in Tennessee, but ended up Knoxville, where we ran some Halloween-related errands (it's hard to get costume crafting time in when there's so much to do and see!) and then checked out the Sunsphere at the World Fair Park, where we even sneakily harvested some chard that was growing in planters which appeared to be mostly decorative, and then had some work time at Old City Java, which is apparently the oldest coffee shop in Knoxville and is also adorable, found some dollar pizza nearby, and then meandered around Market Square for a bit. We decided we'd attempt to return to Tennessee to check out Memphis when we explore Mississippi and  Arkansas. The next day, on our way to Charleston, South Carolina, we stopped at the Smoky Mountain National Park, which Justin had highly recommended to us. We made breakfast in a picnic area and let Finn explore a bit, before heading out on a little hike, where we met a gregarious retired military pilot, who had spent the last seven years living in his motor home and was looking for an adventurous older lady to share his life with.

In Charleston, SC, we met up with Ben, an old high school friend of Tressa's who had moved to the area for Navy training. We hung out at a dive bar that is the self-proclaimed #2 seller of PBR, and the next day went for a beach excursion with Finn, who we even let romp around sans-leash for a bit. We were a bit pooped, so we meandered lazily through town, lounging for a bit in a park where a few men were yelling at each other, before checking out Pepper Palace, where we did some extensive hot sauce sampling, and then returning to Ben's to make an epic lasagna and watch a movie.

We're writing you now from the Blind Tiger, a cute little pub we were recommended by a gorgeous lady that lived in the house we were parked in front of this morning, who popped out and asked to say hello to Finn and then informed us that her pub was animal-friendly. We spent our day wandering through Battery Park and checking out the historic water-side houses and cannons, before coming in here for wifi, coffee, and fried green tomatoes — perhaps an odd combo, but a delicious one. Finn is a bit of a celebrity, of course, and even the waitress keeps taking his photo.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Canoes, Critters, Creeps & Crafts!

From New Jersey, we headed to Philadelphia, where we couchsurfed in this gorgeous house decked out in all kinds of crafty, thrifty fun stuff and full of foliage. We walked several miles to get a feel for Philly on our way to visit the Mutter Museum, which is full of medical oddities, taxidermy and models and weird body parts and deformed fetuses. It was a truly fascinating little shop of horrors, and we wish we were allowed to take photos. That night, we joined our hosts and a few of their friends for some nearly full moon canoeing along the Schuylkill River, the serenity of the water juxtaposed starkly with the industrial scenes springing up alongside us — tall buildings full of bustling trains and bright lights, clanging and banging and flames.

The next day, although drizzly and wet, was spent checking out the Elfreth's alley, the oldest occupied street in America, cute shops in Old City, and the historic district where we saw the Liberty Bell. We also visited the Chemical Heritage Museum which has an interesting exhibit about the development of different space suits. That night we attempted to get into some sort of Friday night shenanigans but ended up at a bar full of people far older than us that eyed us with amusement, and so meandered back towards the house in the mist, where we found a table full of free books and food, and scored a few veggies and a science fiction paperback. The next morning we took Finn for a damp walk in Bartram's Garden before heading to Delaware. 

Our Delaware plans fell to pieces a bit, as we realized that a.) Dogfish Head Brewery is not where we thought it was, and is also closed on Sundays, and b.) our couchsurfing host fell ill and was unable to have us. We found a coffee shop in Newark to do a bit of work in, and then ventured a bit further South for no apparent reason, and ended up spending a day meandering through the Bombay Hook Wildlife Preserve, which was mediocre. We were not sad to leave Delaware.

Our next destination was Washington, DC. We knew it'd be madness to try and do it all in our brief time there, so we just hit the Natural History Museum, which we absolutely loved, and got lost in the animal and evolution exhibits for quite some time before heading to check out the Jefferson, Washington, MLK, FDR and Lincoln monuments, as well as the World War II memorial. It was dark when we left, heading South to tiny La Plata, Maryland, where we found a Little Caesar's dumpster full of pizza and even scored some decent dumpster salad ingredients.

We were reveling in our victorious dinner loot and getting ready to head to a Walmart to camp out, when our headlights caught the attention of two young guys that came to our window, thinking we'd flashed our lights at them. We assured them we hadn't, and they chatted with us a bit, asking if we were van dwellers, if we were "down on our luck" and offering us help — first asking if we needed a place to stay, if we needed food, even asking if we needed help cleaning out our litter box! But we told them we were quite self sufficient, and headed out. After a fabulous dinner and some outdoor rumpus time with Cap'n Finn, we were settling down to snooze when someone knocked at the front door. Tressa cautiously peered out and was surprised to recognize the face of one of the guys that had approached us at Little Caesar's. We hadn't told them where we'd planned to camp, so their reappearance was a bit strange. Again, he asked if we were hungry or needed anything and when we told him we were fine, he asked us if we wanted to hang out. "C'mon, I'm a nice guy!" he said. It was awkward, to say the least, and it was nearly midnight. As we uncomfortably insisted on not hanging out through the (locked) door, a cop rolled up, and called the guy over. We peered out of the cracks between our curtains as another cop arrived and the four of them talked at length, before all departing. Whether they took the guys with them or they left of their own accord, whether they were in trouble for something in particular or were just being stopped for being lingerers, and how exactly they spotted us at Walmart remains a mystery. However, we slept with one eye open that night.

On Tuesday, we made our way to Hollywood! Hollywood, Maryland, that is, where we met with Tressa's great aunt and uncle, Linda and Jack. Our stay with Jack and Linda was marvelously relaxing and fun. They took us to meet Linda's sister, Mary, who runs a wildlife rehab out of her home, specializing in raccoons, which we got to hang out with for a bit! We also visited some Amish farms, and took Finn to a little nearby beach, enjoyed an incredible dinner of salad and eggplant Parmesan, tried some Maryland beer, and played board games and heckled each other relentlessly. Wednesday, we visited the colonial plantation down the road, although it was dumping rain, and then holed up inside to work and do crafts with Linda. Although we'd planned on leaving in the late afternoon, we had so much fun learning how to quill and making stickers and drinking Chai that we stayed well past dinner. Not only were we spoiled, but Finn was given an enticing squeaky mouse toy that he went absolutely wild for, and even some kitty treats. As we wound our way towards Virginia, we reflected on the comfort of family, even family we may not have seen in a long while,  and how fortunate we've been to encounter so many generous people that have opened their lives to us completely and made us feel so at home.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Driving our beast in the East

Moving fast is harder. We're already in New Jersey, with full bellies and a purring kitten, wondering how the hell we've gone something like eight states without writing. Oops. From Detroit, we headed to Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sometimes, you have to be a tourist, right?

We wanted an east coast autumn, and when we sliced across the corner of Pennsylvania and headed into rural New York we got it — flaming red leaves as far a the eye can see. We took a beautiful day hike in the Adirondack mountains and took a long hard look at Lake George, icy blue and surrounded by more Fall foliage than we'd ever imagined and we realized we never really knew what autumn meant.

Then we headed into Burlington, Vermont, all expensive shops full of cute things we can't afford, pet every dog in sight, watched some lively street performers singing Hotel California with happy homesick hearts, and took a free chocolate tasting seminar at Champlain Chocolates. In the evening we drove to Spider Web Farm and met wonderful Will Knight, who spent two hours with us, chatting about his unusual business and his incredible collection of old sailor tattoos.

In Berlin, New Hampshire we stayed with a woman named Lynn, 60 years old and still traveling. Lynn had an enormous US map on her wall and had driven across the country four times. She pointed us in the direction of a Lumberjack festival, where we were quite impressed with the turn out of Lumber-Jills, and less impressed with the beards. As with many of our hosts, we wished we could stay with Lynn and her two sweet dogs longer, but soon we were in Portland, Maine, wandering the art galleries and coffee shops and the Lobstah themed souvenir shops. Our hosts were a house of good-natured boys that let us cook in their kitchen and were bemused by our frequent spells of caffeine induced laughter. The next day, we walked alongside the water and took in the oceanic views before meeting Wesley for a tour of the adorable hand-crafted distillery he works at and stocking up on stickers.

We planned to be in Boston next, but were intimidated by the city traffic so we spent the night in Salem and visited the old cemetery and the Witch Trials Memorial, eerie in the drizzly morning of the first day of October, and then attempted Boston once more, only to be thwarted by the slippery insanity of the city streets that managed to beguile even our GPS, full of angry honking drivers and panicky confusion. Nope, decided, Boston will have to be another trip, one with a more specific destination and no giant van.

In Providence, Rhode Island, we went to a karaoke bar that had $3 nachos and watched someone sing a flabbergasting rendition of With or Without You before meeting our Australian couchsurfing host and her local boyfriend at a Blue Grass show nearby. Sunara had also done some extensive van dwelling, so we had a great time sharing stories and tips over beers and then again over breakfast before we checked out the town. She directed us to a weird little storefront that had some wild puppets, and when we arrived we knocked on the door and were invited in by the owner and artist, who even let us try on some of the costumes and took photos with us! The weirdest suggestions are always our favorite.

Next stop: Hartford, Connecticut, for a dual tour of the Harriet Beecher Stowe house, which made us feel unaccomplished and lazy, and then the Mark Twain house, which made us want a cat. Afterwards, we were hungry, so we headed to a nearby park to cook some pasta, and as we parked, we saw a tiny ginger kitten rubbing against a confused looking Pitbull, whose owner looked equally, or possibly more perturbed. Kelsey hopped out of the van before it'd been parked, and offered to snag the kitten so the Pitbull and its human could continue on their way, and suddenly we had a skinny little furball purring in our van and snacking on canned chicken. Naturally, we named him Captain Huckleberry Finnegan the Second, and decided to see how he felt about being in a moving vehicle — he didn't mind at all! So now we have a van kitten, harness and leash and all.

We know we're crazy, guys, we know. We took our kitten to New York City, where we miraculously found parking with the help of Evan's sister, who lives in Manhattan. New York was overwhelming, so much to do, so little time, and so much expectation. We gorged ourselves on dollar pizza and sesame balls, people watched in Central Park, gawked at buildings and ran into people, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, stared at the skyline and the distant glimmer of the Statue of Liberty, the silvery expanse of water. We made breakfast with Carrie, drank beers in Williamsburg, waited for trains in the hot dirty subway, checked out the High Line, peeked at Times Square before running far away, met up with friends and for drinks at a wonderful weird old biker bar, and still managed to wake up at 7 in the morning on Monday to get out of our parking spot in time.

Kelsey's brother has a friend in New Jersey he told us to come see, with tales of a wonderful sassy mother that we had to meet, and before we knew it, we were being stuffed with delicious ravioli and salads and bread and sausage, and our kitten was being fed tuna and meatballs and romping around the house in awe (his first house ever!) We had a mellow evening playing foozeball with Matt's friends and for the first time ever we both slept in a house because Candace wouldn't hear of us staying in our van. "Shut up," she told us, "What, do you want to pee in the bushes, too?"