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.

Camping Out West...Day 65...Friday, August 20, 2010...Dude, It's All About the Trees, Man

This morning is every bit as chilly, foggy and damp as last night.
I'm hungry this morning...and...since I'm close to "civilization", decide to drive into the town of Orick for breakfast. There's a nice little cafe advertising breakfast, so, I'm in. Coffee, a glass of milk, two piecs of French toast...$13.50! Well...I figure that they need to charge those prices in order to afford the $3.84/gallon gas at the only gas station in town.
After breakfast, I head right into the Park...first to the Visitor's Center (souvenirs!), then on to the "Lady Bird Johnson Grove" of trees. It's a nice little one-mile loop trail through the's cool, quiet (all by myself), and the light filtering down through the trees is are the trees. They are not as big around as Sequoias, but they are much taller...awesome. Back in the Escape, I drive further into the Park...more loop trails, more trees...all awesome.
By now, it's already after 3:00PM...time to head back to the RV some blogs.
More pasta for dinner...more wine. Retreat inside the radio...a nic evening.

Camping Out West...Day 64...Thursday, August 19, 2010...On to Redwoods..."The Gestalt of Cheese"

I'm excited about today's drive...according to the map, every mile is a "scenic drive".
Around 8:30AM, I head out of Lassen...down out of the mountains to the town of Redding.
From Redding, I'm heading due west on Route 299 towards the coast.
Much of the drive west goes through the Shasta/Trinity National Forest...around Lake Shasta, in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, and then sixty miles or so along the Trinity River through Trinity Canyon. It is a spectacular drive...even if a bit scary for awhile when the road climbs up and over the Coastal Mountain Range.
That road ends at Rt 101, and soon I'm heading north to the town of Orick. Much of the Park called Redwoods is actually several California State Parks. The National Park was not created until 1968, so the result is a "hodge-podge" of State and Federal land.
The only camping is in the State Parks, and the price is steep...$35/night with no electricity, showers, etc. So...I opt for two nights at an RV Park. Less picturesque, perhaps, but I've got electricity and clean showers.
Late in the afternoon, I'm sitting around camp watching the fog roll in from the ocean. I'm right on Humbolt Bay...and I'm reminded of one of my favorite artisnal cheeses from California...called "Humbolt Fog". Then, in an instant, the "link" between everything...the bay, the fog, the cheese, the suddenly clear in my mind. The fog here is an essential element of the microclimate that allows redwwoods to grow. They grow here because the cool fog from the ocean provides them most of their water (some 5000 gallons per tree, I'm told).
Such a revelation calls for a cocktail, so I'm opening a bottle of Chateau Souverain Cabernet before dinner. Later, I grill up another prime steak from Costco...along with some corn on the cob. Later, it's cold and damp I hook up my XM radio receiver to my little "boombox" and retreat to the inside of the camper. It's comfortable...lights to read by, warm (it's insulated), nice music from XM, cold beers at my reach.
It's 11:00PM before I finally clos my book and roll over to sleep.

Camping Out West...Day 63...Wednesday, August 18,2010...A Quiet Day

I learned that most of the hiking here at Lassen is way south of my camp. I'm not inclined to go back through the mountains, so I'm spending a quiet day at camp.
In Reno, I picked up a copy of Cooper's biography of Woodrow Wilson...fascinating book. He went from the ultimate triumph to the ultimate defeat over the course of two terms as President...then to suffer a catastrophic stroke with eighteen months left in office...tragic.
So, I spend a quiet day reading...a little lunch...a nap.
Before I know it, the sun is starting to set. Dinner time! I'm enjoying my pasta, so that's on the menu again tonight...along with a nice bottle of that great Nero d'Avola.
Later, sitting around my campfire, I meet one of my fellow campers, Tom Reddick, a lawyer from the U.P.! and...he's a Burning Man "veteran". We talk for well over an hour, and he's giving me some really useful advice. There's a "camp" of Michiganders at BM, so I need to hook up with them via Internet. I'll need goggles of some sort...lots of dust and sand. A bike (a cheap one" is a must to get around. The BM site is laid out with "avenues" and "streets", so it's easy to find things/events/people/etc.
Later, as I fall asleep, I'm already formulating "plans".

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 62...Tuesday, August 17, 2010...Driving through Lassen

It's only a 30 mile drive from the south end of the Park here to my campground in the north, so I'm having a leisurely morning. There's coffee at the Visitor's Center...two cups are a must. I also buy my usual souvenirs...ballcap, t-shirt, refrigerator magnet.
Then...the drive. OK, since it's Lassen "Volcanic" Park, I don't expect it to be isn't. The first ten miles are mostly uphill...with the usual steep drop offs, no guardrails, etc. On the "BPS" (Bill Pants-Wetting Scale), I gave it a 6. The last 20 miles or so aren't too bad...I'm already on top of the mountains.
Along the way, I'm stopping often for photos and, at one point, a short hike in to a place called "Bumpass Hell"...named after the unlucky Mr. Bumpass, who fell into a boiling mudpot and lost a leg many years ago.
At the campground, I'm lucky enough to find a large (very) pull-through site. For lunch, it's a bowl of Korean noodles. Then, I'm off on foot to do a little exploring around Lake
At 4:00PM, I'm back in camp for cocktail hour, followed by a great dinner of fresh ravioli with vodka sauce and a nice bottle of Sicilian Nero d'Avola. As the sun sets, my campfire is roaring's cold up here...40's at night. But the fire is warm, the wine good. But around 10:00PM, it's off to bed.

Camping Out West...Day 61...Monday, August 16, 2010...On to Lassen Volcanic National Park (Belatedly)

As I anticipated, there will be no early departure for Lassen Volcanic N.P. on this day.
I'm not even out of bed until close to 10:00AM. Then, there's the fact that I need to do a load of laundry or two. While the laundry is going, Tom and I tackle installation of the new battery. Nothing is ever easy, and the battery is no exception. All of the screws are "metric" (naturally), and we have to take off the air filter to get the battery out. Tough going, but Tom is good at this kind of stuff.
Laundry completed, I finally load's after 1:00PM. Tom has been a great host, and I'm looking forward to seeing him again in twelve prepare for "Burning Man"!
Soon, I'm heading north out of Reno towards the town of Susanville. I know that I'm going to have to go through some mountains...I just don't know how many or how high. I'm in California again pretty soon after leaving Reno, and I reach Susanville with no problem. The rest of the route, though mountainous, is scenic...and not too steep drop offs.
Around 6:00PM, I'm at the south entrance to the Park. The campground that I'm headed for is at the north end of the Park, but I'm not in the mood to drive that this night. I'm lucky...there's "walk-in" camping right at the south entrance, and there's a parking lot right next to the campsites. Ten minutes later, I'm settled in for a cocktail. The Costco in Reno had prime beef, so tonight I'm grilling up a nice thick N.Y. Strip...with a side of pasta and a great bottle of Chilean Merlot (also from Costco).
Even down at the south end here, I can already see the's gonna be good.