Friday, October 15, 2010

Camping Out West....Day 79...Friday, September 3, 2010...Burning Man Day #5

It's windy this morning...and...this being the desert, windy also means dusty. Out here, there is no escaping the dust. From the time you arrive and, as a "first-timer", roll around in it until the day you leave, the dust is always with you. It's in my camper, my vehicle, my clothes, my hair...everywhere.
I've got goggles to protect my eyes, but I really should have brought something to cover my nose and mouth (lots of people are wearing those paper "painter's masks). Fortunately, the nice couple camping next to me (Jason and his wife) are kind enough to give me a bandana to wear. So, now sufficiently protected, it's off to the "Porta-Johns".
The Porta-Johns here are quite a story. They have banks of twenty or so of them between streets B and C (Baghdad and Cairo) and H and I (Hanoi and Istanbul) at each of the clock positions (3:00, 3:30, 4:00, 4:30, etc.). So...for 55,000 or so people, you've got around 600 toilets. During the day, they get emptied and cleaned about very four hours. Four pump trucks and a bunch of guys pull up and empty, hose out and all takes about fifteen minutes, and then you're "good to go" to speak. I read somewhere that the cost for this service is several MILLIONS of dollars (the figure of $8,000,000.00 sticks in my mind). The cleaning is less frequent at night...and...if you're unfortunate enough to arrive in the very early morning, the conditions can be pretty bad. How bad? Well, let's just say that I have seen people come out reduced to tears.
Today, however, is my "lucky day"...they're just finishing up the morning cleaning as I arrive. Standing in line, I can't help but marvel at how "orderly" things are here. you'd think that, with a group of 55,000 people, the potential for "chaos" would very high.'s just the opposite. Lines form naturally and easily...people are polite and all just "works". Everybody seems to share a deep sense of "community" here...and with that comes an equally deep sense of shared's really remarkable.
My morning "business" completed, I take a short walk over to the cafe at Center Camp.
The cafe sells coffee drinks, tea, and an electrolyte replacement drink...these, along with ice, are the only things that you can "buy" here at Burning Man. I'm sitting on a bench in the cafe enjoying my morning coffee...a few feet away, there's a gal on stage playing a guitar and singing folk tunes...very relaxing. Plus, I'm sheltered a bit from the wind, so it's slightly less dusty. A couple sits next to me, and it takes a few seconds to identify the language of their conversation...Italian. I say "Good Morning", and they switch over to English. Then there's another couple from Australia...a guy from New York...and two gals from Wisconsin. And we're having this discussion, the main point of which what other event could you experience this kind of diversity? 55,000 people representing all 50 states and over 40 countries, camping together, for a whole week. And, thinking about it now, as I did back then, the only answer that I can come up with is the Olympic Games. And, for that experience alone, this trip to Burning Man has been worth it...for me.
Two more cups of coffee (really good coffee) and now sufficiently "caffeinated", I head back to camp...into the wind and through the dust. Standing or sitting outside in this dust is not an option...shelter is a must. So...I crawl into the camper and for the next couple of hours, I listen to music and read. I would like to be out exploring, but it's no fun as long as the wind continues. I finish the last of an excellent biography of Woodrow Wilson by John Milton Cooper...great read! Then I start yet another Nevada Barr "National Park mystery" fifth on this trip.
Around 1:00 or so, there's a break in the weather as the wind dies down for awhile. I wander over to our camp shelter where Stacey is putting together another interesting meal. There's a bunch of ham and bacon...I donate a can of tomatoes...some rice and...voila...we've got "Spanish rice". Two bowls of that, and I'm feeling pretty good and ready for some more exploring.

I have, subsequent to Burning man, procured the recipe for this follows...

Spanish Rice

* 6 to 10 bacon strips, diced
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 medium clove garlic
* 1 medium green pepper, chopped
* 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped* OR small can diced green chiles
* 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
* 1 1/4 cups water
* 16 oz can tomatoes, chopped
* 1 teaspoon chili powder* OR 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper + 1/4 tsp ground oregano + 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/2 teaspoon salt


In a large skillet, cook bacon just enough to get some fat melted in the pan. Add onion, garlic, and raw peppers and saute until fatty part of bacon is translucent but not crisp. Add rice; stir until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Bacon should be crispy not burned. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and DON'T LIFT THE LID for 25 minutes.

Taste the rice-- I swear every bag of rice I buy cooks at a different rate-- it should be uniformly firm without any "kernel" in the middle.

If it is still a little too firm, put the lid back on and return to heat for two minutes before testing it again.

If the rice is very soft after 25 minutes, transfer it to a bowl to cool it down quickly and stop it from continuing to cook.

Now, after lunch, the wind has died down enough go back outside. As with every other day here, I walk far and wide all over Black Rock City. Along the way, I enjoy some freshly-made cheese popcorn...a cold beer...a Margarita of all...a group of particularly ingenious souls are handing out ice cream the middle of the desert...amazing.
Back now at camp, it's late afternoon...time for a nap. It's plenty hot outside, but my "Little Guy" has a great little vent roof...with that going, it's pretty comfortable inside. I'm sound asleep in minutes.
When I awake, the sun is just barely above the mountains...just enough time to put dinner together before it gets dark. Rummaging around the cooler, I find my last prime steak from Costco...I've also got a few potatoes and an onion left. So...I open up a cold beer and get to work. Potatoes get peeled and sliced...onion peeled and chopped...that goes into a pan with a slice of bacon, and then on the Coleman stove. Charcoal and newspaper go in the chimney...another beer(!). Thirty minutes later, I'm having a great dinner with a nice bottle of the middle of nowhere.
After dinner, I clean up my cooking stuff and lay back for a smoke. It's still windy with plenty of dust flying around, but there's another spectacular sunset down...over the mountains.'s time to explore the night once again. I want to see as much as I can tonight because I have decide to head for home on Sunday instead of Monday. Tomorrow night is the big event (the actual "burning" of the man), so I'll be around for that. There is something called the "temple burn" Sunday night, and I'd like to see that, but (like all my other trips) there comes a point when it's just time to start home. And, by leaving a day early, I'm hoping that I can avoid the massive traffic jam that I experienced on the way in.
Despite the wind and dust, there are plenty of people out and about tonight...thousands of people. I wander in, around and through Center Camp and, around the perimeter...out toward the "man"...there are more "mutant vehicles"...driving around...a few shooting flames or "belching" huge rings of smoke.
Further out on the playa, I see that there are even more giant works of art than the day before...huge metal statues, geodesic domes...all the more impressive at night.
After a few hours of pretty much aimless wandering, I turn back into the outer camp and start crisscrossing the avenues and streets. There is a LOT going on...there's the "New Wave Zombie Prom", playing 80's hits and lots of folks dressed as zombies. The first annual "Nuclear Powered Vodka Vodka Party" is pouring cold shots of premium vodka (it would not be polite to refuse!). The "Veg Camp" is showing a documentary exposing unhealthy practices in the egg industry...I skip most of that in contemplation of breakfast. At "Stupid Ticks for Drinks", I show off my Backtacker GPS...not exactly a "rick", but I get a free drink anyway. And there are quite a few places playing "techno", among them "Camp Beaverton for Wayward Girls", Rhythm Wave" and "Camp Fuzz Control".
By now, I figure that it's probably one or two in the morning...but...when I look at my watch, it's 4:00AM! Time to head back to camp and sleep. On this particular night, my Backtracker proves to be an invaluable resource...without it, I don't know that I would have made it back to camp. Even with it, the trip back takes almost an hour...through the dark, the wind and the dust. Back in the "Little Guy", I unde the down comforter...and I'm fast asleep within a minute.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 78...Thursday, September 2, 2010...Burning Man Day #4

Lots of sleep and plenty of water have done the trick. I'm feeling good this morning...ready to head out for new adventures. The Cafe at Center Camp sells coffee, so that's my first stop. Two cups later, and I feel like a million bucks...I'm also hungry.
So I set off on my bike because I know that somewhere, somebody is going to be cooking breakfast. And sure enough, five minutes later, I'm having pancakes for breakfast at the "Pancake Camp". They've got big griddles and large bowls of batter...and they're cooking up pancakes as fast as people can eat them.
Thus fortified, I'm back on my bike and heading to the far end of camp. There are several seminars" today...tantric massage, converting to solar energy, "fisting" (women only, so I have to skip that one).
I should, at this point, mention something about photographs. You've probably noticed that I haven't taken too many "close-ups", not even the folks in my camp. There's some real "sensitivity" here on that issue. In an atmosphere that encourages "being yourself", there's a healthy respect for privacy. And, in the Internet Age, people here don't want any "candid" photos ending up on somebody's website. I understand and respect have not taken as many photos as I'd like.
Around 2:00PM or so, it's really hot (really). So, I head back to camp and pull up a chair in the shade to read for awhile. Around 4:00PM, I have a little "snack"...cheddar cheese, hard salami, Ritz crackers and red wine...excellent!
My "snack" has made me sleepy, so I decide that it's a good time for a nap...avoid the afternoon heat and rest up for tonight! As always, I'm "out like a light". When next I open my eyes, it's after 8:00PM...near dark and much cooler out.
I'm hungry, so I fire up the grill and throw on a steak for dinner. That, some chips, and the rest of the red wine from "snack time" make for a pretty good dinner.
Well-fed and well-rested, it's time to venture out into the night. My inability to navigate in the dark (particularly after a few cocktails) is legendary. I can get lost coming back a hundred feet from the bathroom to my camp site. at Burning Man, I have come prepared. Months ago, before I even thought of coming here, I bought something called a "Backtracker", made by Bushnell (famous for their binoculars). It's a simple GPS unit about the size of a hockey puck. You turn it on, wait to lock on to the GS signal, and then push a button to "store" your position (like the location of my camper). When you want to return to your stored location, you just tun on the Backtracker, and an arrow points you in the right location, and a digital display tells you how far away you are...ingenious! Just a few days here, and it's already saved my butt at least a dozen times.
So now I'm wandering the numbered streets again in search of tonight's adventures. There are many...over the course of the next five hours, I stop to play poker, have a "spaghetti taco", hear a poetry reading, watch another foreign horror film, meet a lot of fun new people...and...consume several handmade Margaritas, some red wine, more home-brewed beer and God only knows what else...everyone is very hospitable.
Around 2:00AM, I head back to "Center Camp", out around the Burning Man statue and further out into the desert away from the crowds.
Soon, I'm all alone...and I lay down on my back and look up at the sky. The night is clear and the stars are's beautiful. Then, I'm up and, with the help of the "Backtracker", I'm headed back a mile or so to camp.
Sleep comes fast and easy tonight.

Subsequent to Burning Man, one of my camp mates "Cheese Simon" posted a video on YouTube. He asked a bunch of folks to sing "Don't Stop Me Now" and filmed the results. I'm including a link here to that'll have to copy it and paste it in as "Blogspot" is not cooperating in my attempts to create a real "link" You can see parts of our camp, get a look at some of my fellow camp mates and, perhaps, get a better feel for what things were like.
*Caution, video does contain some mild nudity.

Camping Out West....Day 77...Wednesday, September 1, 2010...Burning Man Day #3

My eyes are barely open this morning when I realize that I have made a serious mistake. While I was careful yesterday to stay hydrated during the day, I was not so careful last night. Out the is just as important to drink plenty of water in the evening as it is during the day.
And...last night while I was eagerly "swilling down" the dirty martinis made with pickle juice, the cold shots of Absinthe and the home-brewed beers, I was not drinking any water. At home, you can get away with that...but out here, the desert always makes you pay the price...and, this morning, I am paying a heavy price. So...I chug down two litres of water and half of a large bottle of Gatorade. This helps to relieve the chills, cramping and dizziness...somewhat. Now partially rehydrated, I crawl back inside the camper to sleep another hour or two.
Around 10:00AM, I head over to the main part of our camp...still somewhat shaky. I've got a big roll of Mexican Chorizo to contribute to breakfast and, soon, that's cooking up with some scrambled eggs. The food helps, and I'm now functioning at around 75%.
Part of the Burning Man "philosophy" is to leave the "playa" as you found it. That means no littering of any kind...not so much as a cigarette butt. It also means that you can not dump your cooking/cleaning water or even your cooler water. I volunteer to help build a "grey water evaporator". My new friend, Hoopy, has designed a system and brought all of the things that we need to build it. Soon, several of us are using PVC pipe and a large black tarp to create a collecting pond. At each end, we secure sawhorses and from those, we string a line to hang some sheets. The sheets wick up and help to evaporate the water. It's simple, works.
But a couple of hours of working in the sun, even while drinking plenty of water, just knocks me out. So, as soon as my work is completed, I'm back in the camper and sound asleep. By the time that I wake up, it's after 8:00PM and already dark outside. I have neither the energy nor the desire to cook an elaborate dinner, so tonight I'm having a can of "Steakhouse Chili" from Costco along with a lot of water.
Except for my "volunteer work", this has been a lost I'm thinking that now I've got to make something of the night.
So, for the next four hours or so, I just wander...out to "Center Camp" and beyond...out towards the Burning Man structure. Thousands of people are out there with me...wandering.
I get a few shots of the Cafe in Center Camp and a few photos of the activity out away from camp. Along the way, I stop for an hour to watch a horror movie on a huge's one of several "theaters" here. I stop again at the camp that's serving dirty martinis made with pickle juice...tonight I have just one, instead of the four last night. I'm also drinking one litre of water every sense repeating the same mistake.
Sometime around 1:00AM, I'm back at the camper. A good night's sleep, and I'll be ready for a day of exploring tomorrow.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 76...Tuesday, August 31, 2010...Burning Man Day #2

I have slept well...despite waking up twice during the night. The first time, around 1:30AM, I awoke to see/hear a vehicle lighted up like the state of Texas rolling down my street, playing county western music. This was a "mutant vehicle"...think of them as motorized parade floats as envisioned by Salvador Dali. Later, around 3:30AM, I again awoke, this time to the sound of Techno music from one side and and a female voice singing opera from the center camp.
After the long day yesterday, I'm sleeping in this morning. Around 10:00AM, I walk over to the main part of my camp...and people are cooking breakfast. One gal, Stacey, has a real "touch" for cooking for a large group. People have contributed "stuff" for breakfast, and Stacey is mixing this with that to create a pretty darn good meal.
This is my first day for "exploring" so, after breakfast, I set out.
As I may have mentioned, Burning Man is laid out in a semi-circle. There are "streets" that correspond to hours and half hours on a clock...from 2:00 to 10:00. Intersecting these are "lettered streets"...A (Athens), B (Baghdad), C (Cairo), D (Detroit), etc.
My camp is near 6:30 and Athens, so I head out on foot toward 10:00 on Athens. Along the way, I discover one (of many) of the nice things about Burning Man...the tradition of "gifting". Many "camps" have a food or beverage (or both) theme...and so, all along the way, there are friendly people handing out great food...others are handing out beer, wine, and other homemade beverages. These are all "gifts" as there is no money used at Burning Man (except for ice or coffee in Center Camp). And, it's a chance to sit down and converse with different people from all over the U.S. and all over the world.
Now I'm on Baghdad heading from 10:00 to 2:00...and it's clear that many people have given a lot of thought to the "shelters" at their camps. There are the usual tents, but there are also "structures" built with wood, aluminum, name it. There's a whole lot of creativity here.
Burning Man offers people the chance, for eight days, to be whoever or whatever they want to define themselves. So many of us are "defined" by our job, our family, our past. At Burning Man, you define yourself. So...there are lots of elaborate "costumes" of a sort. Some people wear nothing at's whatever YOU want to be.
As I near the 6:30 position, I stop back at the camper for water...this is a desert environment, and it is critical to stay hydrated.
So...I continue to walk...traversing B (Baghdad, C (Cairo), etc. All along the way, I'm stopping for a bite to eat, a cocktail, a conversation. Soon, it's 6:00PM...and I've been out in the sun all day. After a short rest, I haul my little Weber Grill, plus charcoal, etc., over to the main part of my camp and proceed to grill up about eight pounds or so of Tandoori chicken. Back when I first decided to come to Burning Man, I thought that Tandoori chicken would be a great thing to "gift" to the people in my camp. About the time that the second batch of chicken comes off the grill, the bus arrives with the remaining members of our camp. They set off days ago from Ann Arbor, and their journey has been a difficult one...the first bus broke down in Illinois...they found another bus. The second bus had brake problems...they fixed it...fuel filter problems...they fixed it. And now, at last, they have made it to Burning Man.
So, for an hour or so, we all pitch in and help unload the bus...tents, sleeping bags, and also the rest of the stuff that we need to complete our "maze". Bus unloaded, I'm back to grill duty. People are tired and hungry...the chicken does the trick...soon, it's all gone.
Later, after dark, I'm out again to explore...this time the area around the Central Camp. There's a little bit of everything...more food/drink, music (of all varieties)...there are two camps showing movies on giant screens (European films and classic American horror). And, all around, there are people (50,000+ at this Burning Man)...and those "mutant vehicles"...some look like giant birds...or sailing ships...or animals...I've never seen anything like it.
By 1:00AM or so, I am "whipped" (or, perhaps, overstimulated). As I'm climbing into the camper, I look up into the night sky. People have sent up several illuminated weather I'm drifting off to sleep, it's like I'm on another planet...this one with four "moons" instead of just one.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 75...Monday, August 30, 2010...The Trip to Burning Man

I'm up really early this morning after a restless night. I must confess that, on this particular morning, I'm a little nervous. Normally, I tend to do things without "over thinking" them. I evaluate the options, assess the risks, then just do it...whatever "it" is. But, this morning, I'm "over thinking" Burning Man...there's the drive up there, then getting into the event, then finding my "camp"...all in a crowd expected to top 50,000.
After coffee, I'm loading up the Escape. I packed most of my supplies yesterday, but I waited until this morning to pack the cooler. Soon, I'm packed up and saying my farewells to Tom. It has been great to have the opportunity to spend time with him after so long.
At 9:00AM, "on the dot", I'm off. First, I work my way through Reno to I-80. From there, it's a about fort-five miles to the exit for Gerlach. Traffic on I-80 seems backups or delays. Then, I exit I-80 and pick up Route 447, north to Gerlach. As I head north, the traffic starts to pick up...rising the crest of a hill, I can see a long line of cars, vans, motor homes, etc. in front of and behind me. Still, I make pretty good time on the 80 miles or so run to Gerlach. Along the way, it's hard to miss the heavy law enforcement "presence"...local police, county sheriffs, State police...they're stationed every few miles along the way. I also notice that a lot of my fellow "Burners" are having problems...quite a few cars, vans, etc. are stalled along the way.
At Gerlach, I turn east for the final ten miles to Burning Man. Turning into the entrance, the traffic is now heavy (really, really heavy). Soon, I'm in one of eight long (really long) lines of vehicles. The line moves slow...really slow. But people, including me, are out of their vehicles walking around...chatting with fellow "Burners". Four and a half hours later, I am directed out of line to "will call" to pick up my ticket. The line at will call is long (really long), and it's oven an hour and a half before I'm back in the vehicle line, ticket in hand.
Now the wind has picked up, and the swirling dust is so thick that you can hardly see ten feet. They hold Burning Man in the middle of the Black Rock Desert on land leased from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The whole area is covered by a layer of very fine, high-alkali dust...and, when the wind picks up, it gets pretty dusty.
It's another hour and a half or so before I finally get to the "gate"...a few questions (no firearms, fireworks, etc.) and I'm "in"...well, almost "in". Now I'm in line to to get to the "greeters"...they answer questions and help with directions. I pick the wrong line, as my "greeter" is a hairy older guy as opposed to the cute gal in the next line over. As a "Virgin Burner", the custom is to get out of your vehicle, lay down, roll around in the dust, and ring a large bell...OK...I comply.
Te Burning Man "site" is laid out in a large semi-circle. Main streets correspond to hours on the clock...from 3:00 on the right to 9:00 on the left. Intersecting these streets are cross streets alphabetically named..."B" is "Baghdad, "C" is Cairo, "D" is Detroit, etc. My "camp" is in the top and middle of the semi-circle at the inner Ring Road and 8:30. So...I turn down 6:30 and head into the crowd. I'm having trouble finding the Ring Road, but a couple of volunteer "Rangers" try to point me in the right direction. The problem is that the Ring Road has it's own set of "hours on the clock", and those "hours" are different than the rest of the site. So...I'm driving along...totally lost...when it starts to rain. That Black Rock Desert dust, known by fellow Burners as "Playa Dust", becomes stiff as cement when it gets wet and...soon...there's a couple of inches of it caked on my tires. Still lost, but convinced that I'm close, I pull over and head out on foot...big mistake. By the time I walk twenty feet, the mud has built up on my shoes...they're higher than those of a Bourbon Street stripper.
Now cold, wet, muddy, hungry, thirsty and thoroughly discourage, I head back to the Escape and resume my aimless driving. And then, a small "miracle". A guy walks over to my vehicle and, seeing that I'm thoroughly lost, asks me where I'm heading. I tell him the name of my it turns out,,,that's HIS camp. I made it! Well, not quite. I still have to go forward a hundred yards or so to turn onto a one-way service road to get to the parking for my camp. My new friend and camp mate, Barnaby, tells me he'll be waiting with a cold beer. So...I start forward and, after 50 yards or so, I'm directed to stop by a Ranger. Because of the rain, all traffic has been stopped. So...I'm less than fifty yards from but I can't get there...yet. The wait is over a half hour and, after ten minutes or so, Barnaby catches up with me to make sure everything is OK...I feel most reassured. During the wait, a beautiful rainbow appears...then a second one...a good omen!
Then, the traffic stop is lifted, I'm in my "spot" and I'm enjoying that cold beer with Barnaby and his wife. And, as Barnaby puts it..."Bill, you're home". That I am.
Now relaxed, I meet some of my other camp mates. The bulk of our camp is arriving by bus, but no one knows for sure when. They've had mechanical problems and, at last word, were on their second bus of the trip from Michigan.
As night falls, the temperature's cold. With my famous knack for getting lost, I decide to stay close to camp. A can of "Steakhouse Chili", while not "gourmet", is an easy dinner. A few beers and, by 10:00PM or so, I'm ready for bed. There will be plenty of time for exploring tomorrow and over the days to come.
It has been a long (really long) day. But...I made it. And for seven days, I've got a new "home".

Camping Out West...Days 72-74...Friday-Sunday...August 27-29, 2010...Back to Reno

Friday morning, I'm taking my time before leaving for Reno. It's only a four hour or so drive, so I'm not in any big hurry. I've had a great time in the Napa Valley...visited the wineries that I wanted to see...ate at the restaurants that I wanted to try (an old favorite and some great new places).
Around 11:00AM, I'm finally on the road, rolling through the last of the vineyards. I'm concerned that my "arthritis" might act up while I'm at Burning past Sacramento, I take a little detour to the town of Orangevale for a stop at the "Magnolia Wellness Center". They're friendly people and, once I explain my problem, they're happy to recommend the proper "treatment". It's great to be treated with such "THC"...oops...I mean "TLC".
Then, I'm headed back up and over the Sierra Nevadas for the last time on this trip. As before, it's slow going on a mostly uphill route. But, once I reach the summit of Donner Pass, it's all downhill into Reno.
I make it to Tom's around 4:30PM or so...cocktail time! And, for dinner, Tom whips up a great dinner of homemade Tagliatelle pasta with a light tomato sauce...delicious.
Saturday morning, Tom and I are both up early. It's going to be a busy day of shopping...gotta stock up for Burning Man. First we stop at Costco for some prime steaks and some big packages of chicken (I'm going to make a couple of big batches of Tandoori chicken to grill at Burning Man). Then, we're off to two grocery stores for pasta, pasta sauce, bread, etc.
At every stop today, you could tell that Burning Man was quickly approaching...lots of people were stocking up on things...particularly water. The people of Reno seem to have mixed feelings about Burning Man...the merchants like it because there's a big boost to sales, but others have a less than charitable view.
For dinner, I grill up a couple of those prime steaks from Costco, and Tom makes baked potatoes and squash on the grill.
Sunday morning, I head out on my own in the Escape to fuel up for tomorrow's trip. Along the way, I stop at the bank, pick up ice, and stop at a Border's to post a quick blog entry. Then, I head back, and Tom and I go back to Costco for "brunch". On Sundays at Costco, they hand out lots of samples of food...ham and cheese sandwiches, pasta, grilled beef, ice cream bars, etc. It's easy to "build" a meal with appetizers, main course and dessert.
Tom and I spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing, watching sports and planning out tomorrow's trip. Around 5:00PM or so, we head out for dinner with Tom's Mom and Aunt to the nicest of the local casinos, the Peppermill. Their steakhouse is excellent...I have a wonderful piece of prime rib, and we all share a terrific bottle of California Cab. Then, it's back home. I'm calling it an early night...BIG day tomorrow.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 74...Sunday, August 29, 2010...William Thee, B.A., MBA, JD...and...BURNER!!!!!

A very quick and short post from here in Reno on Sunday morning.
I'm leaving for Burning Man early tomorrow...about 100 miles from Reno. Roads will undoubtedly be problem!
There is no Wi-Fi at Burning Man and, I am about 80% sure, no cell phone signal either.
So...after about noon tomorrow, I will be completely out of touch until sometime next Sunday afternoon when I leave Burning Man to head home.
I'll post on the blog ASAP after I leave.
I am camping with the "Syncytiun" group (great folks from Michigan and other parts of the Midwest) and our camp is locate at 8:30 and the Ring Road.
Dudes! is going to be awesome!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 71...Thursday, August 26, 2010...The Latest on Cleo....One of My Greatest Meals Ever!

Cleo Update...I talked to Doc Howard, and things are going well for Cleo...blood sugar under control and infection subdued. It looks like she'll be coming home at the end of the week.
The morning sky here is dark and cloudy but, by 10:00AM, the sun has burned that away...another bright and sunny day in the Napa Valley.
I can't help but be excited about lunch today (gee, really?). So many people have spoken so highly about "Redd" that my expectations are very high. At 11:30AM, sharp, I'm seated at the bar looking over the menu. Everything looks good, but understand that I have to limit my choices. I ask if, perhaps, the chef could do a "tasting menu"...doesn't matter what...anything he feels like making. And, of course, he's happy to comply.'s the six-course (seven, with dessert) meal...
#1 Sweet corn soup with chives and chive oil...paired with a local Sauvignon Blanc...outstanding!
#2 A tartare of ahi tuna and some sliced hamachi (fresh from Japan)...with a German Reisling for the tuna and a local semillon for the hamachi...sublimely delicious!
#3 A single Maine sea scallop atop a bed of pureed cauliflower and little bits of roasted cauliflower...paired with a local Viognier...a perfect combination of flavors.
#4 A piece of grilled Perale Sole served with clams and chorizo (a classic Portuguese preparation)...paired with a local Chardonnay...fabulous!
#5 Freshly-made linguine with a creamy sauce including sauteed fresh porcini mushrooms...paired with a local Carneros Pinot Noir...wonderful!
#6 A few slices of prime Sonoma beef with aioli and balsamic-baised onions on one side of the plate...tender braised shortribs with a red wine sauce on the other side...paired with the 2005 Larkmead Cabernet...heaven on a plate!
#7 For dessert, a slice of chocolate/hazelnut ganache. a chocolate/hazelnut "milk shake" and a soop of chocolate sorbet...paird with a glass of Hungarian Tokaj dessert wine and a glass of local "port"!
After all that food, I'm full, but not really "stuffed"...still, I decide to walk through downtown Yountville for a half hour or so before heading off to my wine tastings.
At around 1:45PM or so, I'm at the Flora Springs Winery tasting room. For my neighbor, Spike's, distributor in Michigan, Flora Springs is the "flagship" of their portfolio. A Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, "Italian-style" blend and Meritage later, I've tasted all that I can taste...even from the cute bartender there, Chloe (I'm seeing a pattern here!).
At 3:00PM, I'm at Nickel & Nickel for my final tasting. N & N is part of the Far Niente Winery group. It was set up in the mid-90's to bottle premium "single-vineyard" Cabernet. We get to taste seven of them...and they are all phenomenal wines...deep, dark, rich...packed with flavor. They're also really "pricey", so "self-restraint" is not a problem...I buy two bottles only.
Big lunch + lots of wine = "nap time"! Back to the hotel after a quick stop at Wal Mart...have to get a cheap bicycle and a pair of goggles (the forecast for Burning Man is dusty and sandy).
With a two-hour nap, I'm awake and feeling good...time to head out for dinner! Pizza sounds good, so I head for a place called Azzurro for a wood oven pie. I order the Sicilian (tomatoes, cheese, anchovies, black olives and capers) with a few glasses of a local red blend. Then, up the street to another wine bar, Carpe Diem, for my last two glasses of wine in the Napa Valley...the 16 x 20 Cabernet.
Time for bed...heading back to Ren tomorrow for the weekend...then...Burning Man!

Camping Out West...Day 70...Wednesay, August 25, 2010...Another Day in the Napa Valley

Another bright and sunny day here in Napa. My hotel has coffee ready at 7:00AM, and I'm right there for my first cup of the day.
Some time on the posts, bills, emails...and I'm ready to head out for lunch. Many people regard a place here, The French Laundry, as the best restaurant in the world...and it's chef, Thomas Keller, as also the world's best. It's almost impossible to get a reservation for that place, but chef Keller, has two other places, one of which (Bouchon) is my destination today.
The menu is classic French "bistro" cuisine, and I'm thinking that this will be about as close as you can get to dining in France. I'm not disappointed...the charcuterie platter is outstanding, onion soup is a classic, the cheese plate great as well. These all get accompanied by numerous glasses of local white and red wines...skillfully poured by my bartender, Sabrina.
After lunch, it's over to Joseph Phelps Winery for my "private tasting" at 2:00PM. Soon, I'm seated in a comfortable chair with Keith, the winery's "Trade Hospitality Coordinator". And...for the next two hours we discuss and taste all of the Joseph helps wines. Keith is very knowledgeable, and he answers all of my questions about the soil, the climate, aging, use of oak, etc. It's all great fun. I'm exercising some self-restraint, so I only purchase two bottles.'s back to my hotel for a two-hour nap before heading out for dinner. Several people have suggested a place called Oenotri for great Italian. It's a great place, but I'm so stuffed from lunch that I can only manage an appetizer (more charcuterie)and dessert (gelato)...and, of course, more wine.
Across the street from the restaurant, there's a small tasting bar serving the wines of John Anthony...they're good wines..."jammy" with a lot of fruit. Plus, I've got another cute bartender! Another gal there recommends a place called "Redd" for lunch tomorrow and, hearing that I'd like to taste wines at the Nickel & Nickel Winery tomorrow, is happy to give me a referral card...excellent. My new-found self-restraint is holding up well...I only buy four bottles.
A quick car ride back to the hotel and, by 11:30PM, I'm snoozing away.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 69...Tuesday, August 24, 2010...In Vino Veritas

It's a nice leisurely 30-mile drive from Petaluma to the Napa Valley. My hotel, while no luxury property, is nice and comfortable. They let me check in early and, best of all, they've got a spot where I can unhitch and park the camper.
For lunch, I'm returning to an old favorite...Mustard's Grill. It's been 15 years or so since last I ate there, but I still remember their famous onion rings...the "perfect" onion ring. They're every bit as good as I remembered and, thanks to my great bartender, Mo, I'm drinking a great chardonnay. For the main course, the Alaskan Halibut Tostada is fabulous...more wine! An ice cream parfait with a Late-Harvest Pinot Gris is the perfect dessert. It's the best meal that Ive had in months.
I meet two very friendly "locals" at the bar...Cheryl and Dean. They offer some welcome advice on winery visits and local restaurants.
All that wine early in the day has made me it's back to the hotel for a nap. At 5:00PM or so, I'm up, showered and thinking about dinner. After that huge lunch, I'm thinking "small" for dinner...sushi! Around 7:30PM or so, I take a cab over to Sushi Mambo...a few pieces of tuna, some salmon...lots of good Chardonnay. At the sushi bar, I meet another local of whom, Nicole, works for Joseph Phelps Winery. Soon...I have an invitation to a "private tasting" tomorrow...nice!
After dinner, I'm settled in at Henry's...the local "dive" bar for a few beers before calling it an evening. By 11:0PM, I'm back at the hotel and off to bed.
A very good day today!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 68...Monday, August 23, 2010...News (Good) About Cleo...On to Napa!..."In" at Burning Man!

First, some good news on Cleo. I talked to Doc Howard, and he said that Cleo is recovering well...she's eating again and has some of her old energy back. There's a good chance that she'll be able to come home later this week. Good news!

I'm up early today, and I'm looking forward to today's drive...south on Highway 101, along the coast, then inland through some State Parks, and finally down through the Sonoma Valley.
So, after another shower and several cups of coffee, I'm off. The coast part of the trip is beautiful. South of Eureka, I head inland and, soon, I see a sign for a "scenic drive" along the "Avenue of the Giants"...gotta take that drive. It's about 30 miles following the Eel River through some huge groves of giant redwoods...very cool.
Then...I'm in the mountains again...six hours or so over, around and through range after range of mountains. Music helps...I'm listening to some Simon and Garfunkel as well as Mylo's "Destroy Rock and Roll".
Then, just south of Ukiah, I see a welcome sight...vineyards! I am officially in "wine country". Down through the Sonoma Valley, all the names are familiar to a winelover...Lytton Springs, Beckstoffer Vineyard, Geyserville, etc. A few miles of this, and I'm thirsty for a glass of wine (or more).
At 5:45PM, I'm at the KOA Campground in Petaluma...very nice. I pull into my slot and immediately proceed to open a bottle of Justin is good!
For dinner, I grill up a giant "ball steak", a unusual shoulder cut that they had at Costco. Grilled meat and red doesn't get any better than this.
Checking my emails, I find that I've been accepted into the "Syncytium" camp at Burning man...some friendly folks from Chicago, Ann Arbor, Detroit, etc. to camp with...excellent!
And tomorrow...Napa, a hotel, winery tours, great meals...I can't wait!

Camping Out West...Day 67...Sunday, August 22, 2010...Driving Howland Hills Road to Stout Grove

I've finally caught a break in the's sunny and less cool this morning.
Gotta see more trees so, after coffee, I'm back into the Park. The Ranger at the Visitor's Center has suggested that I drive Howland Hills Road...about 20 miles on dirt and gravel through some of the biggest redwoods in the Park.
It's a splendid drive...meandering along parts of the Smith River and Mill Creek. The trees are densely packed in places, and the sunlight filtering down is beautiful. At Stout Grove, I stop to hike the 1.2 mile loop trail, and I'm fortunate to catch up with a ranger-led hike.
Later, I stop four or five times for other short just can't get enough of the trees. Around 1:00PM or so, I'm back in Crescent City for a late lunch at the Chart Room...three glasses of Sauvignon Blanc (yum!) and a giant bowl of Dungeness Crab Louie (the best!).
Back at camp, it's time for a well-deserved shower and some general maintenance. I unload and repack the camper and part of the Escape which, over the course of my travels, have become somewhat disorganized.
The camp has Wi-Fi, so I post a few blog entries, check emails and pay bills. I'm also in contact with some fellow Burning Man enthusiasts to see about joining a camp there with some fellow midwesterners.
At 4:30PM, it's cocktail time! A cold margarita or two before dinner. Some nice ravioli with vodka sauce with a few glasses of Chilean Merlot makes for a great meal.
Later, I'm sitting in the camper...listening to music, working the Internet and finishing my biography of Woodrow Wilson.
The "National Parks" part of my trip has come to an end...but I've still got Napa, Reno and Burning Man(!) before I return home.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 66...Saturday, August 21, 2010...Up North Into the Redwoods

Another cold, damp and foggy morning...up early and a five mile drive for coffee.
Back at the RV Park, I'm all hitched up and ready to head north to the upper unit of Redwoods National/State Park.
I'm taking the "scenic route" through the redwood forest in a deep's a great drive. Forty miles later, I'm in Crescent City...real civilization. As long as I'm on the coast, I want seafood! So...I head for the Harbor House...two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, a Dungeness Crab cocktail, and fried's all good!
Then...on to another RV Park...this one a very nice KOA north of the town.
I've got a strong cell phone signal, so I make ten calls or so to let people know that I am alive and's nice to hear some familiar voices.

One sobering note...I talked to my friend and vet, Dr. Howard, about Cleo. They've gotten her blood sugar normalized but, despite the antibiotics, her "white count" is still very high. Dr. Howard mentions the three-letter acronym, that sends a chill through me, as a possibility...FIP...feline infectious peritonitis...the same disease that killed my first cat Smokey and, I am convinced, Niles.
We won't know anything for sure for a few days but, if you are of that nature, you might say a small prayer for Cleo.