About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

There's No Place Like [the Lefto] Home in Kansas

Saturday, September 25, 2010
Today was the Smithsonian's 6th Annual Museum Day, a day when anyone can go to the website, find their favorite museum across the country, print out the coupon, and go - for FREE.  Thank you Smithsonian  =)  So since I was going to Kansas, the most logical museum of choice was the Oz Museum, a little museum (in a little Wamego) housing 2,000 artifacts dating from 1900 to today.  I was looking forward to movie memorabilia, but mostly it was stuff from Frank Baum's children book and collectibles like lunch boxes and barbies, and [cheesy] set reproductions.  It's a great little museum for people that appreciate the book.  I just had other expectations is all.  I'd also like to add that the people of the museum were honest.  When I called to ask how much it was, they gave me the prices and added that they were participating in Museum Day (I had no idea that existed before they told me), so if I came in today, it would be free.  I know of places that unfortunately wouldn't be so forthcoming about tips for free admission.

A few hours later, I arrived at Justin and Kara's in Wichita.  We've lost touch over the years.  We were leading different lives back then.  I was only in high school, and Justin and Kara didn't yet have children, then I loved to Los Angeles where I  matured quite a bit and really came into my own, as they moved to Florida and later to their present home in Kansas for Justin to advance his career.  I do have memories of their first-born son, Jakin, which almost a decade later I decided to share with my old friends as we got caught up in the living room of their new house.  He was only an infant when we were driving along and I (sometimes being quite animated) threw up my hands and exclaimed "Ugh," immediately prompting a resounding "UGH!" from baby Jakin back in his car seat, with his hands in the air and a big smile on his face.  "It was cute the first five seconds before it grew annoying as you guys continued it back and forth for quite some time after," Kara recalled, chuckling (or maybe I was the only one chuckling, lol).  Well Jakin's quite a but older now, and this was my first time meeting Asher, and Eli, their youngest.

We enjoyed a delicious tilapia dinner Kara prepared, then they all took me for a walk around their neighborhood and pointed out the vacant house where until recently, their very good friends lived.  They're very missed, and as we moved on down the street Asher took an extra moment to remember them.  Not enough time has passed for Justin and Kara to feel like Kansas is "home."  I know what it's like to move to strange place where you don't know anyone.  New friends are like family, so I can imagine how difficult it's been for them to readjust since their absence.  About a quarter-mile away from reaching their place, it suddenly grew black, windy, and rainy, and I thought to myself "Auntie Em, it's a twister!"  The street lights started going out, and sure enough when we hurried inside the power was out.  I thought to myself, "Yay!" my inner child proclaimed.  We spent about the next hour playing a group game where we all tell a story, each person going around saying one new line; every story ending the same way with Eli enthusiastically calling out "boogers!"  Ahh, kids.  The power came back on and I finished out the night by reading a chapter from the boys' book to them.  Jakin read along with me in his own copy, so that he could chime in with corrections to any mistakes, Eli would chime in too with his ever-popular "boogers!" and as I put my different story-time voices to work, Asher paid me the perfect compliment: "You're weird.  That's what I like about you."

Sunday, September 26, 2010
I caught up on some much needed R&R, and made myself a fruit & yogurt parfait while the Leftos attended church.  When they got back home I started a load of overdue laundry and Kara said, "Matthew come over here.  Look at this."  She was planning a trip to the grocery store and about to print off a coupon, when I hunched over her computer and saw the World Market website advertising a can of "Spotted Dick."  Not long after thanking Heinz for the belly laughs, Jakin came over and asked what was so funny!

About 20 minutes later Kara and I arrived at World Market for a little "shopping," but really we wanted to take a look at this stuff for ourselves, lol.  We searched high and low for the British treat, and finally we spotted the dick (so to speak).  Alas, World Market was not playing an immature prank, for there was the dick pudding, alive and well, safe and sound within its canned walls.  A couple photos and a cash register trip later, we were back at the Leftos for more family fun, heh heh.  *Note:  Hospital managers at Gloucestershire NHS Trust and the catering staff at Flintshire County Council renamed the pudding Spotted Richard on menus because of the use of Dick in the name, which is short for "Richard" but also slang for "penis". Gloucestershire NHS Trust restored the original name in 2002. Flintshire County Council reversed their renaming after a few weeks.  Get the scoop here.

Even with running behind schedule, Kara was Sonic-bound after I confessed I hadn't yet eaten at one.  She made it her mission get Matthew some [Sonic]!  After a Sonic beverage binge (they have all kinds of fun flavored soda pops and shakes - I ordered a pineapple one) and food frenzy of mozzarella sticks, Thai kettle chips, and Mexican Layered-Dip pringles, and a horse and buggy sighting (Amish country), we arrived (on time) at the Kansas Underground Salt Mine & Museum, one of the "Eight Wonders of Kansas."  

"Hutchinson seized the unique opportunity to provide a destination attraction for the citizens of Kansas, the United States, and the world to explore an exotic environ carved from salt deposits formed 280 million years ago, 650 feet below the surface.

In the United States there are 16 salt mines but Hutchinson is the only one, in fact the only one in the Western Hemisphere, that has an underground museum open to tourists. There are only two other underground salt museums in the world and they are in Poland and Austria. People from throughout the country have clamored for an opportunity to visit the Hutchinson salt mine. 

Our adventure began with a 5-minute safety video with about 82 easy steps to safely use our equipment, lol, then we boarded a double-decked elevator taking us 650 feet down.  After an introduction from the docent, we were free to wander through exhibits that tell the story of salt mining, the geological history of the area, and how these vast salt caverns under Hutchinson have been used to store over seven million documents, including the largest underground vault of films and movie memorabilia.  And they are proud to note that the world’s oldest living organism, estimated to be about 250 million years old, is now living at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum as part of its newest exhibit featuring the unprecedented discovery of living bacteria found trapped inside a salt crystal.  Lastly we took "The Dark Ride," where we boarded a tram that into the black abyss to explore the mined out areas where we saw naturally occurring geologic formations and artifacts left behind by miners over the last of 85 years.  One tram stop was the mound of salt crystals, where we were able to pick out a free souvenir for ourselves =) 

We snapped a few photos of the nearby Cosmosphere and Space Center, then we grabbed dinner at Chili's, where we received a free extra order of mozzarella sticks, just because one of them was hollow.  Rock on!  And I noshed on my salad and pizza I ordered off the children's menu (aren't I just adorable?) as we conversed, while the kids colored.  It was my last night there, so when we arrived back home they put the kids to bed and we had a nice time spending the next hour having some adult time.  I said my goodbyes to Justin, who would be leaving for work before I got up, and went to bed.

Monday, September 27, 2010
I continued to try and help Kara with her computer (we've been trying things the past couple of days, since some wacky behavior resembling a virus are taking place), opened a can of dick with her (one spoonful was enough for her), and we said our goodbyes.

By early evening I arrived at Castle Rock, an unusual, fragile outcropping of limestone, chalk and shale formation reaching toward the sky out of nowhere, which may not last many more years. The tallest spire fell following a thunderstorm in 2001.  About 40 miles west, things get even more interesting as you enter "The Badlands" of Kansas," an area of chalk bluffs, chalk flats, and chalk pinnacles known as the Monument Rocks or the "Chalk Pyramids," and made famous for its fossils dating back eighty million years ago, when the region was an open ocean brimming with calcium-shelled microscopic animals, giant oysters, sharks, bony fish, and reptiles swimming and flying overhead."  I felt worlds away from home getting a look at these things; my camera could not keep up!  How awesome!

St. Louis, MO: Budweiser, The Arch, City Museum

Friday, September 24, 2010
Last night was sort of rough, lol.  I slept in my car in Hawn State Park, about 90 minutes south of Saint Louis.  The sign read "Picnicking Only,"  but I felt this was just a suggestion, lol, so I parked there in the huge empty lot for the night.  There wasn't a stray light to be found, and with the campground out of sight, it was just me and the trees.  Wonderful right?  Well I don't know why, but there's just something about staying in a car versus staying in a tent, that sends my mind reeling with scenarios of terror.  Why oh why did I have to watch all of those horror films?!  I think I'm a pretty level-headed guy, and I knew the odds of me getting my face hacked off by some escaped mental patient were low, however, even with the security system armed and my deep love for nature, it was difficult getting to sleep.  Yet, when I'm in my tent [without any security], I feel safe, cocooned within its walls.  Go figure.

My first stop in Saint Louis was the headquarters of the world's largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch.  It's 5 o' clock somewhere, right?  The complimentary factory tour took us through the historic Budweiser Clydesdale Stable (the horses were right on cue standing right in front of the mural of Clydesdales on the truck in the background, lol), Beechwood Lager Cellars, and Bevo Packaging Facility.  The Brew House was closed for the day due to regular maintenance.  Did I mention the Budweiser takes you to the hospitality room for free beer and pretzels at the end of the tour?  And they don't skimp.  I was expecting sample cups.  No, no, no.  They give you a full glass, and provide seconds, and probably thirds if you wanted.  I opted for Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale (brewed with golden delicious pumpkins and select seasonal spices, including nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and clove).  The taste of pumpkin, if any, was very subtle.  I chased it with a glass of Bud Light Lime (the splash of lime makes all the difference).  It smelled and tasted just like Fruit Loops, which was perfect considering it was 11 in the morning!

Afterward, I went to the Saint Louis Gateway Arch, where for $10 (only $7 with my America The Beautiful National Park Annual Pass) I was able to hop into a space-like, 5-person tram pod that takes you up to a little observation room at the top.  At 630 feet, The Arch is the tallest national monument in the United States, trumping even the Washington Monument in DC by 75 feet!  The span of the Arch legs at ground level is 630 feet, the same as its height.  One a clear day, the thirty-two windows in the viewing station allow visibility of up to 30 miles, providing stunning views across the Mississippi River, southern Illinois, and Saint Louis County.  Great photo opportunities!  The entrance to each leg of the Arch contains a different informational exhibit. The north leg display includes photographs and information about the construction of the Arch. The south leg display shows life along the St. Louis riverfront in the 1800s.
What would follow is a visit to the most wacky, whimsical wonderment I've ever been to:  City Museum - "Where the imagination runs wild!"  "Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company, the museum is an eclectic mixture of playground, fun-house, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects, requiring even the most jaded adult to experience it through as freshly as a four year old.  Twenty welders, masons, sculptors, and painters work full-time to re-assemble architectural relics salvaged from local buildings slated for destruction and other "leftovers" into a delightful and disorienting collection of pits, tans, slides, tubes, tunnels, chutes, caves, ponds, and mazes.  This continually changing work of art has outgrown three floors of the old factory and has spilled over onto the parking lot and up the side of the ten-story building to the ferris-wheel on the roof.  It's interesting to note that founder Bob Cassilly actually created the museum for adults (hence the 1 AM closing time of Fridays and Saturdays)!"

After several amazing hours of entertaining my inner child, and grabbing some chow at one of the museum's many off-the-wall concession cafes, I submitted to the mandatory post-museum visit to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, a Saint Louis tradition since 1931 is mandatory.  "The velvety concoction packed with cream, eggs, and honey comes in one flavor - vanilla - then you add fruit, nuts, or candy as you wish."  I ordered the milkshake - so thick I tipped it upside down without any cream falling out (just the stray, already-melted stuff).

Tonight was the first time I slept at a rest stop.  Up until recently I was hesitant about it for two reasons.  1:  All the rest stops I checked out when I began my trip like Michigan for example, had signs warning "No Overnight Parking," and "Patrolled by Police."  So much for Mid-Western hospitality.  2:  My dad told me it was unsafe, and he went so far as to say that there are wackos that will specifically target overnight cars at rest stops to mess with.  That's a much different account than the one my friends Matt & Clarissa had, who told me they encountered no trouble whatsoever when they stayed overnight at them.  Well, there were no signs against overnight parking, so I decided to give it a try, and my experience was a positive one.  That's not to say I slept like a baby, no way.  It was a little nerve-racking after remembering what my dad said, and being in new surroundings.  Every noise would make me prop up and look out my windows to see if anyone was "coming for me," lol.  So between sleeping last night in the state park away from the campground, and sleeping at the rest stop, I think I'm currently operating on 8 hours of intermittent sleep.


About Me, and Arkansas

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Located on the banks of the Arkansas River in the heart of Little Rock’s River Market District, The William J. Clinton Presidential Center includes America’s newest Presidential Library housing the largest archival collection in American presidential history.  Featuring 20,000 square feet on three floors of exhibit space, the Clinton Library chronicles American history at the turn of the 21st century.  It's the biggest and most popular of all the presidential libraries in the U.S.

After posing my secret service look in front of the actual '93 Cadillac Fleetwood presidential limousine, I looked around looked around a reconstruction of the White House Cabinet Room, the center of presidential decision-making since 1902.  I browsed the 13 policy alcoves which documents the daily schedule of the president for every single day of his two terms, and a interactive 110-foot time-line within which the history of the Clinton Administration unfolds.  Then it was just another day at the Oval Office inside the full-scale replica, and I explored the section of the library displaying exhibits about life in the White House (the splendor of state events, the spirit of holiday celebrations and how the Clintons made the White House their home).  Lastly, I gave my presidential address.

Before leaving Little Rock, I took a few snapshots of the capitol, then visited the Little Rock Central High School, a still functioning school and National Historic Site.  A place that even weeks later, sends chills down my spine as I sit here choking back the tears writing this.  I cannot remember being so moved by a place I have no ties to.   "Built in 1927 as Little Rock Senior High School, Central was named "America’s Most Beautiful High School" by the American Institute of Architects.  It was here, that in the fall of 1957, nine brave African-American teenagers faced great obstacles and angry mobs to desegregate it.  Ranging in ages from 15 to 17, these teenagers showed an enormous amount of courage and are considered civil rights activists - meaning that they fought for the right for children all over the country to attend the school of their choice regardless of their race.  The controversy in Little Rock was the first fundamental test of the United States resolve to enforce African-American civil rights in the face of massive southern defiance during the period following the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decisions. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower was compelled by white mob violence to use federal troops to ensure the rights of African-American children to attend the previously all-white school, he became the first president since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period to use federal troops in support of African-American civil rights.  Today, history remembers these students as the “Little Rock Nine.” Their actions showed the world that individuals who act upon their beliefs can change the course of history, and in 1999 the Little Rock Nine each received the Congressional Gold Medal-our nation's highest civilian honor-for their efforts to desegregate the school."  

I think the reason this place is so moving to me is my own experience growing up different, desperate for equality.  As a gay man, I'm no stranger to torment.  During adolescence I knew I was different.  All the other boys abandoned the "cooties" stage, and started acknowledging their attraction for the opposite sex.  Growing up in a small town with churches on every block and no diversity, and knowing what happened to Matthew Shepard, I was scared to death of freely expressing myself or seeking guidance, fearing persecution or worse.  So I denied who I was, hoping it was just a phase I'd eventually come out of if I didn't acknowledge or act on my feelings.  I attended a Billy Graham "crusade" that I was invited to by friends I met in the community theatre, and I gave myself to god, confident that if I fully devoted myself to him, that I would change.  Over time I became a leader and example to the people of my church and youth group.  It felt good living with a mission; a purpose; being "righteous in his sight," and feeling a sense of belonging within my circle of church friends - even when deep down I knew that I, the homosexual, didn't belong, and never would.   It wasn't long before my righteousness became self-righteousness.  I was secretly judging people, keeping score of people's "wrongs" compared with my own.  It gave me a feeling of pride to "help them with their problems."  I've always loved people, and wanted to be embraced as "normal," whatever the heck that is.  I think that's the reason I started using humor; to win over people's friendship.  And why I loved performing.  On stage I captured people's full attention, and their applause made me feel special; above all the cruelty I felt by my peers.  I didn't care that people liked only the funny "on-stage Matthew" and not the true one.  I continued this way in high school, and tried to just brush off the overwhelming comments from classmates, but I started hating myself (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em), believing that they were right; that gay people are freaks in need of correction.  It was when I went to college and started hearing alternative viewpoints, that I started becoming unafraid to question things and express myself more freely.  And when I "got away" to Los Angeles I found my true identity, and met people who loved me for me.

Now, back to Arkansas!  =)
I arrived in Hot Springs this evening and just before ordering my din-din from Starbucks, I received a wonderful phone call from Pete, a CF host who said to come stay with him!  Like myself, Pete is currently taking a break from a ride on the corporate ladder.  He recently spent two months at Plum Village Buddhist practice center in France.  His interests are Farming/gardening, live music, live poetry, art, meditation, and peace.  Did I mention is backyard is the Hot Springs National Park?  

I pulled into his driveway and there was Pete, bamboo stick in hand.  He didn't hit me with it so that was a plus.  He was just outside finishing his stretching.  He welcomed me inside his home and showed me to my own clean, tidy guest room. He delightfully whipped me up a delicious Asian tofu dish - with an Arkansas twist, lol.  Later he led me through his nightly relaxation exercises, which just about put me into a coma, lol.  My experience with Pete reminded me that I have a lot of energy, and I'm taking my cross-country trip by storm, and sometimes Matthew, you've just got to relax.  That's what Hot Springs is all about.

Thursday, September 23, 2010
This morning I checked out Bathhouse Row, offering a unique glimpse into the role of Hot Springs in "The Golden Age of Bathing," and the health spa craze of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The eight bathhouses (four are still operational) are the largest grouping of such structures in North America and their architecture showcases a broad range of styles, including Neoclassical Revival, Renaissance Revival, Spanish and Italianate.  Next to the visitor center I saw the Thermal Water Station, where locals were filling up their crates of water bottles [for FREE!] with water from 4,000 year old natural springs!  How awesome is that?!

Afterward, I toured the Fordyce Bathhouse, considered to be the best in its heyday.  It operated from 1915-1962, when it closed due to declining business. It remained vacant until reopening as the park visitor center in 1989, allowing visitors to watch an orientation movie, shop the Eastern National store, and of course, tour.  As usual, I took so many photos my camera died, so I had an ice cream soda at a little shop across the street while I charged it back up.

Then I strolled the Grand Promenade, a half-mile-long, scenic walkway that runs north-south on the hillside behind Bathhouse Row, displaying the exposed 4,000 year old natural springs (too hot to wade in), and checked out the Stevens Balustrade, situated between the Fordyce and Maurice bath houses at about the center of the row - two stone pillars topped with bronze federal eagles mark the original main entrance to the Reservation and a wide concrete path leads up to the balustrade.  Before I left Hot Springs, I filled up a gallon jug of the delicious thermal water at one of the cold water filling stations.  A wonderful treat for the road ahead.

Rockin' Out in Tennessee

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I got into Nashville around 1:30pm, so I grabbed some chow at Swett's, a landmark dating back to 1954, serving soul food cafeteria-style.  I entered the corridor of celebrity photos, grabbed my tray (cue the memories of high school hot lunches) and loaded up my plate with sweet potato pudding, squash casserole (heaven!), and peach cobbler.  After some people watching (the employees had shirts reading "Changing the world one piece of cornbread at a time") I checked out downtown, featuring honky tonks (the bars have live bands all day from noon to 2am), The Ryman Auditorium, revered as "The Mother Church of Country Music"where the Grand Ole Opry radio show is currently broadcasted, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  

Just 20 minutes south of Nashville, at the advice of Jodi, I visited Franklin, one of my most favorite small towns yet.  Named to Southern Living's "Best Small Town" top ten list, "it's as if a gentler time and place were captured and preserved in picturesque Franklin, nested among the foothills aof the Cumberland Mountains.  Centered on a statue of an unnamed Civil War soldier, the charming town square is a focalpoint of the immaculate 200 year old historic district, where slender church steeples rise amng the streetops and Main Street is lined with brick sidewalks.  Its quaint downtown offers a Great American Main Street experience, where scores of shops, art galleries, cafe's beckon visitors to linger."

It was evening time when I met Alex, or "The Big Borowski" as I like to call him, my CS host in Memphis.  He greeted me in the parking lot of the university where he's attending graduate school to be a music teacher.  After making sure I parked in a spot that wouldn't give me trouble from campus security, I dropped my bags in his dorm room, and we were off for a fun night out on World Famous Beale Street, "Home of the Blues...Birthplace of Rock N' Roll."  The street is blocked off to allow patrons to walk around (most likely inebriated, lol) and cross as they please.  The music, smell of BBQ, and neon lights of the music joints and horse-drawn Cinderella-like carriages lured me right in.  Alex showed me a few his favorite spots including a little outdoor music stage, a second-hand store selling everything under the sun, and a bar with a play pen full of live goats.  Yes, live goats.  Soon we were getting acquainted over beer and crawfish nachos (smothered in BBQ sauce - in fact the waitress noted "we don't have salsa") in one of the many bars featuring live music.  Alex was hilarious.  He entertained my goofy sense of humor with the quick wit of his own, and we didn't hold back sharing each others' stories and view points, and were friends in no time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Alex slept in, while I made my way to The King's, i.e. Elvis Presley's Graceland!  The next two hours would be the most fun I've ever had touring a famous estate.  Elvis was wealthy, but he wasn't boring, and his home reflected that.  Instead of trying to impress people with lavish extravagances like gold paint (e.g. Biltmore's "The Breakers" summer cottage in Newport, RI), The King had his home designed to suit his own personal taste; a perfect example being "The Jungle Room," a tiki-themed room where even the ceiling is covered in green carpet, inspired by Hawaii, a place he loved.  Regardless of how tacky or kitschy the upper social classes may deem it.  

"Step inside Graceland Mansion and follow in the same steps as Elvis himself as you enjoy an audio-guided tour featuring commentary and stories by Elvis and his daughter Lisa Marie. See where Elvis lived, relaxed and spent time with his friends and family. The Graceland Mansion tour includes Elvis’ living room, music room, parents' bedroom, dining room, kitchen, TV room, pool room and the famous Jungle Room.  After touring the Mansion, check out the other great parts of the 14-acre estate as you tour Vernon Presley’s business office and Elvis’ racquetball building. Also part of the Mansion tour you'll visit Elvis’ trophy building that houses an amazing collection of his gold and platinum records, as well as other great memorabilia from Elvis’ early career, his movies, his charitable endeavors and more.  The final stop on the tour of Graceland Mansion is Meditation Garden where Elvis and members of his family have been laid to rest." 

*I'd like to note I saved myself the $10 parking fee by parking directly across the street at the souvenir shop!  =)


"Kentucky Woman"

Friday, September 17, 2010
My fondest memory of Jodi is hurling tomatoes at her and her brother Travis in an all-out tomato war during a visit to their place when we were kids.  Our mothers were friends, so sometimes I would get to go visit her and Travis, and see what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into.  Jodi has ridden horses for as long as I can remember, so it's only natural that after high school she would move to Kentucky where she'd go to school for Farm Management and buy a house in the heart of horse country.  I hadn't seen Jodi since high school, and even then we had sort of grown distant, but Jodi has always been just about the kindest person you  could ever hope to meet, so we remained friendly with the occasional hello as we passed in the hallways.  See, before middle school my family moved a little farther North - it was only four miles, but apparently that was enough for our introverted mothers to lose touch.  Now, after nearly a decade, I'd be visiting Jodi as an adult, nervous and excited for what our reunion would look like.

Jodi lives in Goshen, about 20 miles northeast of Louisville; a town where the wealthy like to build their retreat homes, easily identifiable by the huge red brick homes and flashy trucks in the driveways.  I knew I was getting close to Jodi's as I entered her part of the road I like to dub, "Ranch Row."  It had grown dark, and my GPS was confused (sometimes it gets nervous in small towns), but I managed to find Jodi's by the markers she has described (the 3 lots before hers all had For Sale signs), and as I pulled into her driveway I was greeted by Cappy - Jodi's affectionate, attention-craved long-haired German Shepherd, who thinks he's a lap dog.  I spotted Jodi behind him, and after a hug and hello, she introduced me to her lazy-boy, I mean her boyfriend Brian, who's been detained to the recliner the past couple weeks, after getting his leg broken when a co-worker backed into it with a piece of heavy machinery at work.  Good times, lol.  I also met Brian's cousin, who they've graciously taken under their wing for a while (they're good people!).  After getting all caught up, I turned in for the night, exhausted after the day's long drive.

Saturday, September 18, 2010
I awoke after Jodi had already left for work, and about an hour later I received a call from her asking me if I wanted to check out the farm.  Heck yes!  

I pulled up to the farm where she worked, just down the road a few miles, a picture-perfect setting for a tourism postcard reading "Come to Kentucky," a green plot of land filled with red-topped wooden buildings, white fences in front of the pasture of horses, and a very old, renovated log cabin.  My new friend Cappy barked hello as I drove down the dirt drive, up to the barn where Jodi would be.  She introduced me to the horses, including one that loves on you just like a dog, following you wherever you go, lol, and I met a co-worker who shared with Jodi all the local gossip, then Jodi got me on a lovely horse, starting in the corral to get us acquainted before we hit the trails.  I wish every day could start this way!

Next I went into Louisville (which the locals pronounce 'lool-ville'), being lunchtime I grabbed some grub Lynn's Paradise Cafe, the funkiest restaurant I've ever been to, marked by kitschy decor and ugly table lamp collection!  I ordered the breakfast scramble of eggs, local cheeses, tomatoes and battered shoestring onions - an item that beat out Bobby Flay's dish on Iron Chef!  It was accompanied by fried green tomatoes, homemade buttermilk biscuits and a side of cheese grits.  That's a whole lot of food ya'll!  And, being the Bourbon state, I had to try their Mint Julep, a sweet (and did I say strong?) Kentucky traditionalThen I explored downtown for a view of the world's biggest carbon steel replica of Babe Ruth's own 1920's era bat!

Sunday, September 19, 2010
Today Jodi took me to her favorite Chinese buffet of all time; it was sooo good, and they had everything, even sushi (I wouldn't have expected that in a relatively small town in Kentucky)!  After being resuscitated, I spent the rest of the day on my blog.  It was nice having a day where I could just lay low for a while.

Monday, September 20, 2010
Today I grabbed my camera and headed to Old Louisville, "a neighborhood of elegant homes, mansions, and churches form the late 1800s and early 1900s.  It's the third largest historic preservation district in the U.S.,with some 1,400 structures lining wide boulevards and narrow side streets."  Then I checked out Bardstown Road, the street with all the bars, restaurants and fun shops.  I tried the award-winning Dutch Apple Caramel pie ala coconut mode at Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen, a local favorite institution.  That was some seriously good pie, ya'll.  Afterward I met David, a really cool guy at Starbucks, who after talking about my trip, told me he will hook me up with an awesome house to stay at in France!  I can't believe the floodgate of opportunities my trip is opening!  Being my last night at Jodi's, she and Brian took me out to dinner for some laughs and stories, like how yesterday Jodi was so loopy after her overnight shift at the vet clinic, that when we were getting into my car from the Chinese buffet, she said "Matthew, your little thingy doesn't stick up very far!"  I confirmed that she was only referring to my door lock.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
This morning I took my memories of Jodi, the farm, and Louisville, and set out for Mammoth Cave National Park, where "prehistoric man roamed the longest, most extensive underground cave system on Earth, 2,000 to 4,000 years ago, leaving behind petroglyphs and artifacts."  Apart from the speculated 600 miles of yet uncharted territory, the national park offers some serious opportunities for adventure, from 2 hour historic tours (I chose this one) to strenuous, 6 hour spelunking extravaganzas complete with headlights, head hats, and knee pads!  The cave has many features, including Grand Avenue, Frozen Niagara, and Fat Man's Misery.  I had a good time, but my experience could have been improved if we were given a fun tour guide (we had an unpleasant old man) and opportunities to take photos WITH flash.

Georgia [Aquarium] on my Mind

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
It was already evening when I got into Savannah, so I drove straight to the visitor center that was about to close, and delved right on in to check out the stuff on the map!  "An urban masterpiece, Savannah is America's best walking city, a living museum that is the largest National Historic Landmark District: 2.5 square miles hold more than 2,300 significant colonial and Victorian homes and buildings, most of them lovingly restored.  Savannah stands out for its leafy 1-acre squares that punctuate the district - 21 (out of an original 24) remain. America's first planned city, Savannah was laid out in 1733 on a perfect grid by it's founder, British general James Oglethorpe.  'White gold' (King Cotton) subsequently filled the port city's coffers with real gold, and handsome mansions prospered, those that survived the centuries eventually coming under protection of the Historic Savannah Foundation, born in 1955.  At President Lincoln's request, Savannah's fabled architecture was spared burning during Gen.  William Tecumseh Sherman's scorched-earth military campaign in 1864."

I had a ball taking in the sights of the historic buildings and beautiful homes, the fun bars and restaurants along The Waterfront, the  squares (miniature city parks with benches and statues) - one of which a fellow tourist pointed out was a location for a scene from Forest Gump, and the locations from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

While I was walking around this gem of a city, I received a wonderful phone call from Jeff, a local who generously offered me to come have a spaghetti dinner with him and his c-surfer that was staying with him!  I gratefully accepted, and had a great time with him and his CF'er. Great conversation, amazing food (it was the best spaghetti sauce ever!), and he gave me some helpful advice/feedback about some personal things.

After dinner I went to Ricki's, who was going to host me that night.  She's a real laid-back, friendly girl with a great sense of humor and a creative edge, currently majoring in fabrics (or something fabric-related; my memory escapes me) at the Savannah College of Art & Design.  She and her friends offered to take me out with them, but respected the fact that I was exhausted, letting me go to sleep after getting acquainted.

Thursday, September 16, 2010
My first stop when I arrived in Atlanta this morning was Flying Biscuit Cafe in Historic Candler Park, their original location.  It's a "down-home joint with a contemporary take on Southern cooking." Let me start by saying I'm a porker, lol.  I ate way, way, way too much!  I started with the orange-scented french toast topped with raspberry sauce and honey-creme anglaise, then adjusted my belt buckle to accommodate the Flying Fried Green Tomatoes dredged in seasoned cornmeal, topped with cashew-jalapeno relish and goat cheese, then onto the "Award-winning creamy, dreamy, southern-style grits," and of course their signature biscuit with apple butter.  PHEW!  Doctor, am I dead yet?!

After they lifted the roof and picked me out by crane, I walked off some calories at Centennial Olympic Park, the "focal point for the 1996 Summer Olympics."  Then I went to the Georgia Aquarium - the best aquarium EVER!  I waited until 3pm, at which point admission was a measly $15 with the student discount.  "Built in 2006, it is the largest aquarium in the world.  A 9-acre state-of-the-art facility with a staggering 8 million gallons of both fresh and salt water that contains more than 100,0000 different animals, representing over 500 of the planet's marine species."  My very favorite exhibit was The Ocean Voyager, which currently contains four whale sharks - the largest species of fish in the world.  The exhibit provides the second largest viewing window in the world "at 23 feet tall, 61 feet wide, and 2 feet thick."

I did not, however, have a pleasant experience upon reaching my car afterward.  There was a rediculous fine of $25 on my windshield for "parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk."  No painted curb, marker or sign, not a single indication that it was an illegal parking spot!  I checked the hours on the back, and knowing they closed in 30 minutes and were closed all day tomorrow (Friday, when I would be leaving town), the next 3 miles to the court was grueling.  The entire downtown was completely grid-locked.  I finally reached it, fed the meter, and was met by a door being locked just as I had approached!  They closed 3 minutes early, argh.  Not that I could've done much with those 3 minutes anyway, but grr.  I would spend the next several days sending forms and emails to a handful of people at the court, my case pending...

I walked off some stress at the huge, 185-acre  Piedmont Park, and got to talking with Jonathan, a guy who without ever knowing be before, told me:  "If you ever get into an emergency situation and need money, let me know."  I can't remember my exact words, but hey would've been something along the lines of "WOW, that's amazing of you."  He replied, "You're traveling the country, man."  Jonathan my friend, you simply rock the hizzy.

I walked over to a nearby Caribou Coffee, where I met another friendly fellow, Brent, who took me out for a drink and conversation at his favorite local watering hole.  Where do these amazing people come from?

At the end of the night, I received a surprise phone call from a "Nomad Kim" a cool Vietnamese chick replying YES to a last-minute CF request I had sent out.  She was my perfect host-surfer match too, because she said she was too exhausted to entertain, to which I replied, "You have no idea," lol.  She invited me into her tidy, very zen home, where she lit incense, lowered the lighting, put on some mellow music her previous foreign surfer gave her (no, I'm not going there, get your head out of the gutter, lol).  I looked around and complimented her on the patio, which looked Moroccan-style, to which her eyes lit up and replied "YES!  That is EXACTLY what I was going for!"  After not entertaining each other, lol, I got in some much-needed zzz's.

Friday, September 17, 2010
This morning I headed North to Dawsonville, where I checked out the Amicalola Falls, the highest cascade East of the Mississippi, measuring in at whopping 729 feet!  The I passed by a gajillion apple farms, and, not yet having my Georgia peach, thought I'd give it a shot at Mack Aaron's Apple House, boasting "11 kinds of fried pies," including coconut!  They were selling the apples in bushels, and the peaches in big bags.  I really didn't want that much (and it wouldn't stay fresh on the road).  I paid for a peach pie, and then returned a second later, asking the lady if it would be okay for me to buy only a few of each.  She smiled and said no prob, and when I grabbed my apples and peaches, she kindly said "Honey, I'll let you have 'em."  She insisted, and I gratefully accepted.  I hope it wasn't because she thought I was some neo-nazi that would've otherwise robbed her.  You never know what people are thinking with my head being shaved, lol.  :P  Then I saw a road-side stand where a guy was selling the ever-popular Southern snack of boiled peanuts.  I thought, well I'm heading north now, I may not have many more chances to try 'em, so I stopped and he sold me a couple bags, the traditional salty kind, and the hot n' spicy, which were definitely hot n' spicy indeed, heh heh.

Charleston and Pen-Pals in South Carolina

Saturday, September 11, 2010
I got into Charleston this evening and made sure I knew how to get to David's house.  David was my CS host, but unlike the others, he was actually letting me stay in his home, while he would be out of town!  He knew Greg, my host in Maryland, and after talking with him and learning of my sterling reputation, lol, I was pleasantly surprised with a phone call from him yesterday, sharing the news that he felt comfortable with me staying at his place while he was gone.  After finding his place and getting settled in the guest room, having never been to Charleston before, I left for a crazy night out on the town. Okay, maybe not quite.  I had my oil changed and went to bed early, lol.  I know, I'm a wild guy and you can't handle it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010
"At the time of the American Revolution, Charleston stood as one of the young nation's largest. wealthiest, and most dynamic communities, a city some called Little London.  Plenty of cities have since surpassed Charleston in population, but this sultry and gracious metropolis at the confluence of the Cooper and Ashley Rivers remains unparalleled in charm.  Its downtown historic district contains one of the nation's largest collections of colonial architecture, not to mention a fair share of distinctive Victorian beauties, all handsomely preserved." 

I was stoked to try some real Southern cookin', so my first stop was lunch at Jestine's Kitchen for sweet tea, sweet pickles, corn bread with honey butter, "Oyster Po' Boy" (deep-fried oysters on a hoagie roll topped with chipotle sauce) with slaw and perfectly season fried okra, and the super rich chocolate-cola cake.  The food was soooo good, the service was outstanding, and even the friendly (and notably TALL) owner Dana (who was actually working side-by-side with her employees) checked in on me and welcomed me back anytime (whenever I eat at restaurants by myself, people assume I'm a food critic, lol).

After finding the strength to stand up and roll myself out, I grabbed a map of the area's historic landmarks and was snapping photos in no time!  I took the Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway (the quintessential drive lined with live oaks draped in the famous Spanish moss that comes to mind when thinking of the Old South) to the old plantations, including Boone Hill Plantation which is approached by the Avenue of the Oaks, a corridor of oak trees dating back to 1743, and the setting for scenes in such films as Gone with the Wind and The Notebook.

I don't like coffee, but even still, David recommended I check out Hope and Union coffee shop - he swears they have the best coffee I could ever wish to try.  I can't comment on the coffee (it all tastes the same to me), but it was the modern interior design of the place that I was impressed with, and the warmth of the staff and clientele.  Then I explored the beautiful homes and their perfect curb appeal, and impressive historic buildings of downtown, including the Charleston Museum - the country's oldest, founded in 1773.  

I returned home (David's place) and went through his movie collection (he has good taste), selecting South Park to occupy my time before David he would get home.  When he got in, I asked him how his charity bike ride went, and he took me out to a favorite dive bar to meet his friends and listen to live bands.  We had a great time!

Monday, September 13, 2010 
Last night I received a wonderful phone call!  It was my pen-pal of mine of a few years now, Daniel, and he asked me to come stay with him and his boyfriend David (lots of Davids in SC, lol) in Columbia, woo-hoo!  I had never met him before; we first started sending messages to each other when we discovered we were both huge fans of the movie, "Death Becomes Her," my all-time favorite comedy since adolescence. How can you beat Goldie Hawn, Bruce Willis and Meryl Streep?  You can't.  Anyway, I said my goodbye to my CF host David as he left for work, and I made my way to Columbia, the capital of SC.  I was just sitting around blogging at the Starbucks as Daniel and David were at work.  David sent me a message to introduce himself and welcome me into their place, and it wasn't before long that we spent the next couple of hours doing nothing but exchanging "Death" quotes.  I want his job, lol.  When he discovered I was already in Columbia, he enthusiastically invited me to lunch and treated me to some super good pizza at a place a few blocks from his work.  We hit it off right away, no awkward "ice-breakers" necessary, just a ton of goofing around.  Some people don't understand my quirky sense of humor, but if they do, fun is in store =)

I drove to their place after they got home from work, and I finally got to meet my wonderful pen-pal Daniel!  We had a blast at Eric's San Jose Mexican Restaurant, where I sipped a margarita the size of my head and got to know my new friends more.  And what do you think we did after dinner?  Watched Death Becomes Her and QUOTED EVERY SINGLE LINE of course!  So much fun!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Tonight when the D's got home Daniel and I went to the grocery store to pick up food for dinner.  We were doing an Italian night, and Daniel put his mad cooking skills to work, whipping up his famous baked mac n' cheese (HEAVEN), and eggplant parmesan, and we had wine and watched Adventures in Babysitting, lol.  I hadn't seen that movie in FOREVER!  I never realized until watching it now as an adult, just how BAD it is!  So bad it's good, lol!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
This morning we said our goodbyes (didn't want to leave), and I parted ways with the incredible D's.

I called Sheila, an old acquaintance of mine from my hometown in Minnesota, who I haven't seen in years!  She saw my adventure on Facebook and let me know she had recently moved to Hilton Head South Carolina!  I met her at an Italian place where she generously treated me to salad and pizza, and we got all caught up.  Her husband does auto repair & detailing, an industry which she said has really slowed down in MN.  He got a job offer in Hilton Head this past June, so they went down for a week to see what it's like, fell in love with the place (and the weather!), and like that, they started their new chapter!  No more shoveling snow, multiple wardrobes, warming up the car...yeah, I can see how someone could get used to that!  I was totally spoiled with the weather when I lived in Los Angeles; it wasn't as easy doing the harsh winters when I moved back to Minnesota.

Sheila showed me all over the place - Old Hilton Head with that traditional South Carolina feel, her new home, the cool Visitor Center where I learned that the area of water around HH is one of the few places on Earth where the unique behavior of strand feeding can be observed.  This is when the dolphins will come all the way out of the water onto the bank to devour their meal!  And of course no trip to the HH is complete without hitting the beach!


Asheville & the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Thursday, September 9, 2010
This evening I arrived in Asheville, North Carolina, "a haven for progressive and creative spirits: artists and craftsman, New-Agers, musicians, retirees, environmentalists.  It's also a terrific base for outdoor enthusiasts, with outstanding hiking, white-water rafting, and golfing."  My first visit was to Borders Books, lol, to get a plan together.  I decided to stay at Bon Paul & Sharky's Hostel, where I was able to set up my new tent in the backyard, yay.  Setup was a snap, and I grabbed a shower and went into town to check out the local nightlife.  I went to LaRue's "retro trailer cocktail lounge", which I figured would be dead at only 8:30pm - I was right, lol.  I could count the number of patrons on one hand, but the bartender was nice, the beers were $2, and the kitschy decor was very amusing, with everything from lava-lamps to cake pans on the wall, LOL.

Then I visited Scandals, "three stories and four bars that caters to a young hipster crowd."  I was in luck!  It was $5 bottomless beer night, so there were a lot more people there.  I stayed downstairs mostly, where I listened to the live bands and chatted with the cool bartender chick "Mogley," who recommended some things to do in Asheville.  On my way back to the car I was approached by a sketchy dude who asked me "what I was into."  Wanting to tell him "not YOU," lol, I kindly replied with "nothing," and walked to my car, luckily avoided any more creepy hassle.

Friday, September 10, 2010 
After sleeping like a baby in my lovely new tent, I packed 'er up, grabbed a complimentary continental breakfast from Sharky's (did I mention it only cost $15?!), and set out for the day, starting first with a visit to the hallowed Biltmore Estate, the mesmerizing mansion I first laid eyes on when I saw the movie Hannibal (I'm a BIG fan of the Lecter series).  I got as far as the gatehouse (big enough to be my home, lol), because I wasn't going to pay the steep admission fee, and they wanted $45 just so I could take a few photos of the exterior.  Forget it, I can just save photos from Google images to my computer instead if I wanted :P 

It was time for the main event, the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was celebrating its 75th anniversary.  I headed North first, where I took photos from Mount Mitchell - the highest point East of the Mississippi.  At 6,684 feet, the observation deck offers amazing views, in fact, six peaks in the small range are among the ten highest in the eastern United States!  Then I made my way South to Looking Glass Falls, Looking Glass Rock, and some awesome hiking in Graveyard Fields (isn't that a cute name?, lol), covered with the beautiful colors of Autumn.

I grabbed some awesome fish nachos at Salsas Mexican Caribbean Restaurant.  They have the most mouth-watering, creative cuisine of any Mexican restaurant I've been too, and the food is all fresh; the menu changes daily.  I counted TWELVE different dishes I wanted to try!  Then I watched a street performer for a bit, and walked down to check out something going on in the park just a couple blocks away.  It was the Clips of Faith Beer and Film Tour - an annual tour sponsored by Craft Beer, benefiting Asheville on Bikes, with short films on beer & sustainability.  It sounds like a Christian film festival but “Lips of Faith” is a New Belgium beer line, lol.  When it ended I revisited LaRue's, and, being Friday, was a lot livelier than last night, and I got to talking with Garrett, a friendly ex-military dude, who after hearing about my travels, generously offered for me to stay with his family!

Saturday, September 11, 2010
This morning Garrett didn't want to send me off with an empty stomach; he made me a delicious brunch of eggs and grilled shrimp!  Him and his fun wife Jennifer and I joked around for a while, then it was time to move on.  I thanked them for all they had done for me, exchanged information to keep in touch, and I was back on the road.


Luray Caverns & Jesse in Virginia

Monday, September 6, 2010
Taking Carrie's advice, I drove through Staunton this evening.  It's a lovely little town where Woodrow Wilson was born, full of 19th century architecture and FIVE National Historic Districts!  I snapped a few photos and drove a little further in Waynesboro, where I parked it for the night.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Taking more of Carrie's good advice, I toured the spectacular Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley this morning.  "They're one of the most-visited caves in the East, with nearly translucent stone drapery, a 170-ton fallen stalactite, and the 2,500 square-foot Dream Lake, among many other impressive features."  And let's not forget the "stalac-pipe" organ, "which uses electronically controlled rubber mallets striking natural stalactites to produce tones covers 312 acres, earning it a listing in the Guinness World Records as the world's largest instrument."  Awesome!

Then I made my way into Norfolk to visit my buddy Jesse who's in the Navy!  We caught up at Tropical Smoothie, where I met his friend and his roommate, and I got to see his digs (right on the beach!), and then he took me to his Naval Station where I saw the awesome fleet of ships.  It was great =)

I drove to Zane's (he would be hosting me the next couple of nights), a laid back researcher for Peta (their headquartered in Norfolk) and got acquainted with him, his cool neighbor friend James (the kind of fun dude who maintains a Facebook photo album called Learn to Park Asshole, lol), and Zane's super sweet yellow lab, Molly Barksdale, lol.

Every day of my trip keeps getting better and better *big smile* Life is amazing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Zane went to work and James came over and picked me up.  Last night he told me he'd have today off to show me the area.  We grabbed breakfast at Sugar Plum Bakery in Virginia Beach.  From the looks of it you think you're just visiting a typical spot for sweets, but in fact this is not your ordinary bakery.  It's actually a not-for-profit organization following a demonstration grant award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, whose mission is "to serve the needs of persons with disabilities through employment, education, and training."  Very cool.

My Von Deutch hat died, so we got myself a wide-brimmed insect-repellent hat from the local sporting good store.  I may look absolutely ridiculous in it (YEP!), but it'll keep the sun off my face, which is all I care about.  Function over fashion, people.  Then we went to Pelon's Baha Grill for "the best fish tacos East of the Pacific Ocean."  We took 'em to go so we could devour 'em at the beautiful beach around the corner.

We took Molly for a walk, but she refused to poop!  I knew you'd want to know that.  We chilled out at James' place, and he we got to talking about hammocks, so naturally he grabbed his hammock and set it up right there in the living room above the couch for me, lol!  Thanks James, you're the man!

Then I went to Jesse's after he was done with work.  We went for a walk on the beach and spotted a washed-up jellyfish.   It was awesome and I wanted to touch it but Jesse freaked me out when he said it could maybe still sting me.  Sting me?  Big deal.  It's nothing a little urine can't fix, lol!  Why are all my first encounters with animals roadkill (now beach kill)?!  The armadillo, coyote, jellyfish...  I love nature, but c'mon!  Then we went to Hooters for some apps.  Our server was beautiful and we got real chummy, and I felt a little guilty that she was barking up the wrong tree, so to speak, lol.  

I said goodbye to Jesse and he sent me off with two CDs!  One was a mixed CD of techno club music.  Jesse LOVES club music, and especially mash-ups (two songs put together), and he's always up on the hottest songs (thanks for keeping me current Jesse!).  The second CD was Johnny Dangerous.  I hadn't heard of him and Jesse couldn't have me leave without getting a taste of this first and original X-Rated, Raunchy Hip-Pop Star!  All I can say is it's not music for shy people, LOL.

I got back to Zane's and we talked late into the night about all kinds of stuff.  Couch-surfing is an amazing experience all on its own.  All of these wonderful hosts are unique, fascinating individuals that have something I can learn from, and it's literally changing my life.  Thank you world.  =) 


For the Love of West Virginia!

Saturday, September 4, 2010
I don't know what came over me last night (oh wait, yes I do, it's called boredom and access to food), but on the way to West Virginia I spent every second eating.  A simple stop for a veggie burger at Burger King (have you not tried one yet, their amazing!) resulted in a veggie burger plus shake, and a stop for gas turned into gas + chips and dip.  My music blaring, the windows down, the junk food binge, the wind blowing through my hair (er, I mean bare scalp)...I'm so bad ass.  LOL.

This morning I drove through the Monongahela National Forest, aka "The Mon."  Where at 4,863 feet, I drove up to Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia, which you can easily reach via a half-mile hike up Whispering Spruce Trail, to a viewing tower with breathtaking views.  

Then I went to the Seneca Rocks, one of the best known landmarks of West Virginia and a rock-climbers paradise, and had some pizza and local cheese across the street at the Front Porch Restaurant.  Afterward I went to the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center to meet my hosts, Michael & Carrie Kline, a wonderful pair of folk music singers from Elkins.  I listened to their set, and fell in love with their music, especially "If the World Had a Front Porch," written by Tracy Lawrence:

...There were many nights I'd sit right there and look out at the stars
To the sound of a distant whippoorwill or the hum of a passing car
It was where I first got up the nerve to steal me my first kiss
and it was where I learned to play guitar and pray I had the gift
If the world had a front porch like we did back then
We'd still have our problems but we'd all be friends
Treating your neighbor like he's your next of kin
Wouldn't be gone with the wind
If the world had a front porch, like we did back then...

That's exactly what they would do the next couple of days - treat me, a perfect stranger, like their kin.  After their set they introduced me to Sadik, a cool Moroccan guy that arrived the same day as I did; he's teaching at the college in Elkins.  They were going to act as ambassadors to him, well, they would act more like family, but they wanted to show him around and make him feel at home in his new neighborhood and make sure he was getting what he needed.  Then the four of us walked around the corner to a very old homestead restored to its former glory with original furniture and vegetable garden with all kinds of crazy things in it that were used for practical purposes back in the day.  After that I got my feet wet in their favorite swimmin' hole nearby.  

Our caravan took the mountain back roads past farms and old mud storage huts, to their place in Elkins, about 45 minutes away.  When I got to their house, it was like I had imagined - warm, colorful, eclectic, beautiful paintings and photos on the walls of the wonderful people they've met in their lifetime.  My room was cozy and simple, reminiscent of an Amish country house, perfect for a little R&R.  

It was one of my favorite nights ever.  We had a wonderful home-cooked meal; Carrie made a delicious tofu dish, and we all had so many hearty laughs cracking jokes and watching Sadik show us how they pour and serve tea in Morocco - they will actually raise the tea pot super high as they pour, then they will empty the cups of tea back into the pot and they will do this several times, lol!  Sadik shared some yummy cookies from Morocco with us, and he had lots of questions about America, so we talked about everything late into the night - life, religion, politics, attitudes toward GLBT people, the list goes on.  It was great =)

Sunday, September 5, 2010 
This morning the four of us went to the Jubilee festival in historic Jackson Mill, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson's former farmstead.  Sadik and I wandered around the different arts and crafts vendor tents, checked out the classic car show, watched wheat and corn being ground at the Blakers' Mill, toured the Old Jackson's Mill Museum, saw Civil War Reenactments. and toured the historical buckskinner encampment.  That's when we weren't watching Michael and Carrie's concerts.  Afterward we went back to Michael and Carrie's, where I had a great talk with Michael on his back porch overlooking his "poutin' shanty," and he brought a big smile to my face when he said "Is your father proud of you?  I am."   (Thankfully I do have a solid relationship with my dad/hero)  Then another spectacular dinner!

Monday, September 6, 2010
This morning I offered Michael and Carrie a hand finishing the roof of their firewood shelter, and said my goodbyes to this wonderful pair of souls.  They sent me off with some fresh apples and an audio book they thought I should listen to, named "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," an award-winning story of "a sophisticated, vulnerable young man with a deep appreciation for the world and no idea how to live in it."

I listened to the CDs of their music I bought as I headed to the New River Gorge Bridge, a structure of amazing statistics,.  3030 feet long. 876 feet high. 70 feet wide. 88 million pounds of U.S. Cor Ten steel and American cement.  They could move the Washington Monument underneath it and still have 325 feet left of empty space, which makes the bridge a perfect location for the BASE jumpers and rappellers that take advantage of the Bridge Day festivities.  After snapping some photos of the bridge and the river below (one of the best destinations in the country for white-water rafting), I took a beautiful drive on the Highland Scenic Highway, a quiet two-lane highway in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest, and stopped to walk the half-mile boardwalk of the Cranberry Glades, a grouping of cool peat bogs resembling those usually found much farther north and in Canada.