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When Zane moves into an old gothic brownstone, he discovers the house comes equipped with a caretaker-Kit, who lives in the basement. Zane is immediately drawn to the charming and attractive Kit. But Kit is much more than he seems. He is a two-hundred-year-old half-human, half-red-fox spirit who guards a Gate between the mortal and spirit worlds-a fact Zane should recognize, but doesn’t.


Orphaned at a young age, Zane never learned he comes from a long line of mystical Keepers. Kit needs Zane’s help to protect the Gate, but how can he tell Zane of his legacy when that will crush Zane’s dreams of traveling the world? If he takes up the mantle, Zane will be bound to the Gate, unable to leave it. But when Zane realizes Kit’s true nature, and his own, he’ll have to make a choice-fight to protect Kit and the Gate, or deny his destiny and any chance of a future with Kit.


Finder’s Keeper, by Shira Anthony (Heart’s Gate #1)


Rating: 4.5 out of 5


BRB, swooning.


Kit is so freakin’ adorable! He is caring and kind, and quite the hottie as well. Zane is a keeper (heh) too – smart, funny, and humble. I adored these two together, and the sense of wonder from Zane was thoroughly charming. His thoughtfulness toward Kit made me smile, and Kit’s awkwardness in accepting this new-to-him consideration is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.


The author does a fantastic job of bringing in some wonderful plot elements that I haven’t often seen in paranormal romances. Her descriptions of the nature of the spirit world and its effect on the human world really made this book something special. The guardian/keeper dynamic is an interesting one as well, and fun to explore.


I do have a few minor complaints, especially some plot developments late in the book that don’t have time to be fully explored or explained enough for my liking. Also, there are a few errors in the editing where the terms “Guardian” and “Keeper” are swapped that made things confusing until I figured out what was intended. These characters are so great I’m happy to overlook these things, though.


This is a great book that brings some welcome novelty to the genre. I recommend it highly.

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Alpha werewolf Eli Hammond returns from a fishing trip to discover a nasty surprise-five members of his pack murdered and the rest missing. He needs help locating and rescuing his pack mates, but the supernatural council in Asheville, North Carolina, turns him away.


Except for one man.


As they work together, Eli is stunned-and not especially thrilled-to discover half-elf Arden Gilmarin is his destined mate. But as Arden and his friends struggle to help Eli in his quest, Eli surrenders to the demands of his body-and his heart. They’ll need to bond together, because the forces opposing them are stronger and more sinister than anyone predicted. The evil has its sights set on Arden, and if Eli wants to save his mate and the people he is entrusted with protecting, he’s in for the fight of his life.


Out of the Ashes, by Ari McKay (Asheville Arcana #1)


Rating: 4 out of 5


Paranormal elements aside, this is your basic good ol’ boy meets sophisticated citified guy. The typical werewolf trope of “fated mates” brings them together but what can I say? I’m a sucker for that (also, the Dreamspun Beyond line is designed to be somewhat trope-tastic, so it’s to be expected). Also, I totally want Arden’s house, but that’s beside the point.


The narrative point of view switches back and forth between Eli and Arden so we get a good feel for both characters. Both are caring, hardworking men and they make a great couple. The side characters are great as well; Arden’s friends-with-benefits Whimsy (a wizard) and Julian (a vampire) play a big role. I am guessing they will be the protagonists for the next two books.


The plot keeps the suspense up, although there a few “What the heck are you doing?” moments and at times the pacing seemed a bit off. There’s also a couple of unanswered questions, though perhaps they are threads to be addressed in future stories. The story is engaging enough that I enjoyed it, though.


Finally: I grew up in Upstate South Carolina so Asheville, North Carolina and Clayton, Georgia are part of my old stomping grounds. I admit that I went into this with a critical eye, but McKay did a nice job of getting a feel for the area, with an appropriate number of references to local landmarks. I could even imagine exactly where some of the fictional places in the book could be located.


I’d recommend this one, and can’t wait to see more in the series!

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A buffalo walks into a cafe. Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but for coyote shifter Donnie Granger, it’s the beginning of an obsession. Donnie is a little hyperactive and a lot distractible, except when it comes to William. He finally works up the nerve to approach William but is interrupted by a couple of violent humans.


While William—don’t call me Bill—is currently a professor, he once worked undercover against an international weapons-trafficking ring. Before he can settle into obscurity, he must find out who leaked his location and eliminate the thugs. He tries keeping his distance to protect Donnie, but the wily coyote won’t stay away.


It’ll take both Donnie’s skills as a stalker—er, hunter—and William’s super-spy expertise to neutralize the threat so they can discover if an excitable coyote and a placid-until-pissed buffalo have a future together.


Stalking Buffalo Bill, by j. leigh bailey


Rating: 4.25 out of 5


This was the first book from Dreamspinner Press’ “Dreamspun Beyond” line that I’ve read. This line promises paranormal romances with relatively low angst, with a focus more on the characters’ emotions and sensual tension. In short, this is pretty much targeted directly to me!


This is such a fun story! The setting alone, a shifter-friendly university in Cody, Wyoming in a world where humans are unaware shifters exist, creates all kinds of possibilities. This is kind of obvious given that the book is labeled “Shifter U. #1” and I look forward to seeing more.


Donnie is such a lovable goofball. He’s smart, funny, and impulsive – every bit the coyote. He’s a perfect foil for William, a stoic and taciturn professorial-type. The sparks between the two of them are so fun to read as they waver between “I can’t keep away from you!” and “You annoy the crap out of me!” I really enjoyed seeing the relationship evolve between the two. I think it’s a great endorsement that I was invested enough in Donnie and William that I was in tears as they reached their Happily Ever After (Spoiler? Not likely!). They really are a sweet couple. The side characters are quite entertaining too, even if most of them have little time on the page. Donnie’s best friend Ford stands out, not only as a smart and pragmatic guy, but also an intriguing type of shifter. I would guess we’ll be seeing more of Ford in the next book in this series.


The one place where the plot breaks down a bit is the international espionage element. It just seemed a little over the top. It’s well-written and keeps things moving along well enough that it’s a minor annoyance, though.


I’ll give this one 4.25 out of 5. I eagerly await the next book in the series!

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A poltergeist haunts Taro, dogging his international travels. It washes glasses, puts dishes away, and even dusts. At least he hopes it’s a cleaning-obsessed poltergeist and not his own anxieties burbling over into neat freak fits he doesn’t remember. When his property manager suggests he call paranormal expert, Jack Montrose, Taro’s skeptical but desperate enough to try even a ghost hunter.


Jack’s arrival crushes Taro’s hopes of a dashing Van Helsing-style hero. Instead of an invincible hunter, he gets Ichabod Crane. As the paranormal puzzles multiply and Jack begins to suggest the entity might not be a ghostly one, Taro adds a budding friendship with Jack to his pile of anxieties. It’s a race to see whether Taro’s poltergeist or his relationship with the obviously-not-ace Jack will reach maximum strangeness first.


Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists, by Angel Martinez


Rating: 4.25 out of 5


I adored this book! Taro is kind of a mess, but he clearly has a good heart and is working really hard to get past his insecurities. Jack is a mess in his own way, though I didn’t think we got a clear picture of his motivations, which is the only reason this isn’t rated 5 stars. Hey, maybe in the sequel…?


I enjoyed these characters and the interactions between them. The story was an engaging, though low-stakes, mystery. The side characters were a hoot, too – Frau Voss, Taro’s brothers, and Taro’s parents (his father cracked me up, a perfect foil for his mother).


Finally, I am also always cheered to see a sensitive, thoughtful treatment of asexual characters, and I think Martinez did a good job of that here. The difficulties of broaching the topic and having to explain it over and over are included here and handled in a forthright and honest manner. I just wanted to grab Taro and hug him!


I recommend this book to anyone for a light, enjoyable read!


(Side note: I came across a comment that referring to m/m romances as gay romances effectively erases bi, pan, ace, and other sexualities. I admit this never occurred to me before, but in the future I will drop the use of “gay” as an interchangeable term for “m/m” in my reviews.)

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A Bear Walks Into a Bar, by Eden Winters


It takes one strong alpha with a tight grip to keep a mountain full of shifters under control. Sawyer Ballantine’s contending with an uppity wolf leader and a herd of shifter elk bound and determined to take over. He might be the lone bear on the mountain, but he’s not going to allow another four shifters to just move in, especially not when they whiff of power. They’ll either be his in all ways, or they’ll be gone.


Dillon, Jerry, Kevin, and Brad have no one but each other since their groups kicked them out. The young bear, wolves, and fox make a merry ménage, pooling their meager skills and serving beer. They’ve stumbled into more than they understand, caught in the dispute between the Urso of Ballantine Mountain and the elk. But winter’s setting in, and they don’t know how to keep Dillon safe for hibernation.


And then a bear walks into their bar.


So, I want to start with a couple of prefatory notes. First, I had previously read Eden Winters’ Naked Tails (reviewed here) and I thought it was quite an enjoyable read. Not perfect, but worth the time. That’s what lead me to this book. Second, it is a fact in the m/m romance genre that explicit descriptions of guys getting it on are included in the price of admission. I’d feel worse about not making a bigger deal about it but having sat through/read countless depictions of heterosexual intercourse in my life, I figure y’all can deal with a couple of scenes of guys screwing.


And then we have this book. I found it entertaining, if nothing else. I have to imagine the author drawing listing the characters and then calculating all of the possible permutations. And most every permutation is covered here, too!


In the world of A Bear Walks Into a Bar, shifters are a secret from the rest of modern society. It appears that shifters are all variety of mammals – bears, wolves, elk, cougars, rabbits, and more. The shifters are tribal within their species and all look upon one another with suspicion. Sawyer is the bear in charge of them all and has to deal with the different factions. So that sets up the plot, and indeed covers most of the plot in the book.


What fills the rest? Pure, unadulterated smut. Which is just fine by me, but it doesn’t make for a particularly deep reading experience. I can’t overstate this – the book is literally 75% sex scenes and 25% plot. The characters are fun, though, and the situations are damn hot. Dillon is adorable, a shy caregiver type. Sawyer is the big gruff alpha who is learning that maybe he doesn’t have to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. And then there’s Brad, the fox shifter. He’s cute, he’s insecure, and if he doesn’t have at least one orifice filled he’s probably asleep. (Furries may nod knowingly here.)


On the basis of content I’d give this a 3 out of 5, but for entertainment value I’d give it a 5. Let’s take an average and call it a rating of 4 out of 5. Enjoy!

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Change of Heart by Mary Calmes


As a young gay man-and a werepanther-all Jin Rayne yearns for is a normal life. Having fled his past, he wants nothing more than to start over, but Jin’s old life doesn’t want to let him go. When his travels bring him to a new city, he crosses paths with the leader of the local were-tribe. Logan Church is a shock and an enigma, and Jin fears that Logan is both the mate he fears and the love of his life. Jin doesn’t want to go back to the old ways, and mating would irrevocably tie him to them.


But Jin is the mate Logan needs at his side to help him lead his tribe, and he won’t give Jin up so easily. It will take time and trust for Jin to discover the joy in belonging to Logan and how to love without restraint.


Rating: 2.75 out of 5


This was an intriguing set-up. Shifters as a secret in modern society, ugly-duckling-becomes-a-swan story, and a nonconformist bucking the system. And for a good portion of the book, it was. Then it devolved into Jin acting like a whiny teenager who annoyed the heck out of me. I have a pet peeve about stories where the primary dramatic conflict could be resolved if the main characters just sat down and talked frankly like responsible adults. If this book had done that it would have been about half the length it was.


The problem I had was that a lot of the pseudo-Egyptian terminology threw me off. Many of the elements of the world building were just missing, leaving the reader to guess at many aspects, but at the same time there were many MANY references to The Rules that every werepanther should know (even if the clan leader doesn’t. Um, what?). Add to all of this the usual insta-love/fated mates trope and I’m left disappointed.


The final tally:

+4 for quality of writing

-0.25 for enough baffling Rules to fill a set of encyclopedias

-0.50 for “I have just met you and I love you!” (I mean, I guess it worked for Dug in Up, but still…)

-0.50 for annoying, uncommunicative man-children

Grand total: 2.75


I won’t recommend it, but I won’t say don’t read it either. Maybe your tolerance for some of this foolishness is better than mine.


(No points off, but a side note: That book cover. It’s certainly a thing, yes. Wow.)

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The Sumage Solution, by G.L. Carriger



Max fails everything – magic, relationships, life. So he works for DURPS (the DMV for supernatural creatures) as a sumage, cleaning up other mages’ messes. The job sucks and he’s in no mood to cope with redneck biker werewolves. Unfortunately, there’s something oddly appealing about the huge, muscled Beta visiting his office for processing.


Bryan AKA Biff (yeah, he knows) is gay but he’s not out. There’s a good chance Max might be reason enough to leave the closet, if he can only get the man to go on a date. Everyone knows werewolves hate mages, but Bryan is determined to prove everyone wrong, even the mage in question.


Rating: 5 out of 5!


Based on the quality of writing in the short story “Marine Biology” (which I loved and reviewed here), I knew going in that this was going to be an enjoyable book. I was not disappointed! Max first appears as bureaucratic drudge, pushing papers all day long. As I learned more about him, what makes him tick and his terrible history, Max became a very sympathetic character for me. The guy has been through a lot but he’s not prepared for what is to come.


Bryan (“Biff” – ugh) is a sweetheart. A caretaker to the nth degree by nature, he is a gentle giant and he knows it. He’s not above using his size and strength as a threat, but only in service to those he cares about. Max desperately needs someone like Bryan in his life. Watching the two dance around the blossoming relationship was a little frustrating, but worth the wait.


Carriger has created a fun world here. The supernatural is commonplace, with shifters, magicians, and kitsune all sharing space in a modern-day San Francisco. We learn about the laws that bind the place and how magic works as we go, so not a lot of time is wasted on exposition. The ending is telegraphed far ahead, but this was a case where even if you knew where you’re going, you’re still going to enjoy the ride.


This is a wonderful book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I highly recommend it, and hope that sequels are in the works!

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As you’ve seen, I took a hell of a lot of photos along the way during my trip, and I’ve only posted a fraction of what I took! Here are my favorite shots from the trip. Note that all of these were taken with an iPhone 6 and retouched using Picasa. My phone tends to dim the photos a bit and desaturate the colors, so I was able to offset that with the retouching.






These photos are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). You are free to share (copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material ) them.

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And now, one final post to cap off The Great Western Road Trip. After 24 days on the road through 3 provinces and 13 states, what did I learn? Well, I learned a lot of things.



  • I need to work on my trip scheduling.

    When I laid out my itinerary my thinking was, I get into town in the afternoon/evening, I have a day in a city, and I leave the next morning. Three days, right? Wrong. I didn’t account for the distances out west. Mornings had me on the road by 7 AM and with few exceptions I arrived at my destination after 5 PM. After that much driving in a day, the idea of jumping back in the car to explore a city is unpalatable at best. Next time, I either need to limit the number of stops I make and allow better for distances between stops, or I need to take more time for the trip.

  • Renting a car was a good idea

    That was 6,400 miles I didn’t put on my 2012 Subaru Outback. I would have made the trip like a trooper, but I’d rather put all that on someone else’s car. (Rental car guy: “Wow. In all the time I’ve run this place I’ve never had someone turn in a car after putting that many miles on it!”) Side note: If you’re in the northwest Chicago suburbs, Mo at the Avis/Budget office in Lake Zurich is a fantastic guy to work with. Friendly and incredibly helpful! (Also he gave me the hookup for the satellite radio for the duration of the rental)

  • The Ford Mustang is a fun car

    Oh my goodness, yes. For mountain driving, for having to speed up quickly to pass someone, for a smooth ride, Mustangs are a blast. I don’t think I would ever own one – it’s a bit impractical for me – I sure as hell plan to rent one again if needed.

  • Convertibles are fun, up to a point

    I had visions of driving everywhere with the top down, feeling the wind around me, luxuriating in the scenery. Well, I didn’t account for the fact that after a while driving at highway speeds you can get a headache from the wind all around you. It can be difficult to hear spoken word stuff, like NPR or audiobooks. And then there’s the sun. Even so, though, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Driving with the top down on cool mornings, through Glacier National Park and the California mountains, along the California coast – all of these were definitely worth it.

  • Sunburns suck

    Sure, you can apply sunscreen. But you have to reapply it. And you stink of sunscreen, and so do your clothes. I got sunburned a few times early in the trip before I got better at managing things, but that was no fun.

  • Rocks to the windshield suck

    Yeah, I got hit with a rock that created cracks that traveled across the windshield. Twice. The replacement windshield and installation cost about US$500 each time. The good news is that I have full coverage via my Chase Sapphire card, with no deductible.

  • Interstates out west are far more fun to drive.

    I generally maintained a limit of speed limit + 5 mph. This made me slower than the speed demons but faster than that slowpokes, and that was just fine by me. But once you get out west, the speed limits go up, from 70 mph on rural roads in Montana to 80 mph on interstates in Nevada and Utah. That is a whole lot more fun! And yes, I did take the Mustang up to 130 mph on a long, straight section of interstate with no one around and good sight distances to see cops ahead. I could have gone faster, but at those speeds, the car has a bit of float to it and it was getting past the point where I felt safe.

  • Canadians don’t celebrate Canada Day very long

    This amused me greatly. I saw this in both Winnipeg and Regina. Canada Day (their 150th anniversary, so a really big deal) fell on a Saturday. Most people had the following Monday off. In the US, this would be cause for big 3- or 4-day festivals. What I saw was a huge to-do on Saturday, with concerts, fireworks, and big festivities. And by Sunday morning? Gone. The only thing left is some scaffolding around the stages, the rest of it all packed up and everyone has gone home. It’s admirably efficient, if nothing else.

  • There are only two bridges between Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon

    Good lord, what a mess. Portland and Vancouver are separated by the Columbia River, which is huge. There are two bridges: Interstates 5 and 205. That’s it. The next closest bridges in either direction are both 40 miles away. Vancouver is a huge suburb, so you can imagine that traffic can be a nightmare. And yet, I’d still say it’s worth it.

  • I love exploring places that are new to me

    I need to go back to Glacier National Park. And Portland. And Winnipeg. And Regina. And Yosemite National Park. And Denver. I didn’t have enough time to explore these places as much as I would have liked, and I found them and the people there to be wonderful. On the bright side, I now have added to my list of future travel destinations!

  • Salads are a good thing

    Man, being on the road for three weeks is murder on how you eat. I tried to keep things light, but it wasn’t always easy and in the end I still gained 8 pounds. Too much sitting, not enough moving. I was able to find a lot of great salads along the way though, and that helped.

  • Beer is a good thing

    Antithetical to the previous observation, isn’t it? And yet I love trying new beers from different breweries. All told, I entered 60 new beers into Untappd on this trip, which include a good number of flights. A nice side-effect is that I also met a lot of really nice bartenders and brewery employees who were friendly and enjoyed chatting.

  • I need dogs in my life (Jasper, Zoey, Kiska, Nathan, and the other Zoe)

    I missed Charlie and Nora so much on this trip. I’m glad I didn’t take them with me because that would have been a level of complexity that would be quite difficult, but I sure wish I could have. Happily, I got to meet, pet, and play with my friends’ dogs: Jasper and Zoey, Kiska, Nathan, and Zoe. Wonderful pups, all!

  • Very few people in this world get me the way that Ford Shepherd does.

    We drifted apart for a while but now he is back in my life, and for this I am very grateful. Us gay Southern boys need to stick together!

  • Sometimes I need to be alone.

    My itinerary included 14 stops. In 11 of those I met up with friends, something for which I was grateful. Even so, the few stops where I didn’t meet anyone were a nice break. I needed the downtime, even though I spent 125+ hours alone by myself on the road. Sometimes socializing can be exhausting.

  • Death is an awkward subject.

    I want to stress that I am not criticizing anyone I met on this trip. I understand, I really do. For most people, Dan’s passing was an event – it is something that happened, and that was it. For those of us who knew him intimately it is a process, one that continues and will continue for quite a long time. Dan did not come up in many conversations on this trip and initially I wondered at this, but then I realized that death is something that we are just not equipped to discuss. It’s awkward, it’s depressing, and we don’t want to trigger any bad reactions. And that’s OK. I realized that the best things my friends can do for me is to just be there.


Out of all of this the best lesson that I learned, though, is that I have SO MANY wonderful friends. To all of you who were able to join me even for a few hours on this trip, thank you so much. You brought home that for all that I have lost, I am never alone. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for this. Thanks to Kellic, Cyn, Mwako, Charles, Lego, Plonq, Atara, Lydia, Andrew, Wolfish, Silver, Tiggs, Thallanor, Tina, Thumper, Hegdish, Drake, Ford, Brophey, Karwood, Partran, Luagha, Baja, Didge, Tyco, Tango, Rooth, Whiteyfawks, Orthrus, Adjacent, Rama, and K. I cannot wait to see you all again sometime soon!


For all that I thought my skills at meeting new people have gotten rusty, it was a nice surprise to be proven wrong. It was great to meet Chris, Jason, Kalypso, Beancat, River Pup, some of the great BLFC staff, and Iberian. Part of the joy of making a trip like this is making new friends, and I was fortunate to do so.


Also, thank you to everyone who followed along on this trip, on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Dreamwidth. Your comments and kind words have kept me company even if you couldn’t join me on the road.


During this trip I posted a song for each day, which a good friend collected into a Spotify playlist and an Apple playlist. These reflected my moods, my feelings about the trip, the landscape, and the people I met as I drove. I leave you with one last song, then: “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods.


Sometimes people leave you.

Halfway through the wood…

But no one is alone.



 

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Current Location: Volo, Illinois


Today’s Song: 65daysofstatic – Supermoon


Something about this song describes the scenery of this entire trip to me – starting off slow through the Canadian Prairie Provinces, then into the mountains and the coast and returning over the mountains, and back to the plains.


For the final leg of the road trip, I made the short (this constitutes “short” now!) drive from St. Louis, Missouri to Volo, Illinois. I was intent on getting home, so drove it as quickly as possible, with only a stop in Dwight, Illinois, for lunch. Continuing my attempts to stick to local places, I went to Dwight Pizza, which had a 4.5 star rating on Yelp. It was…OK. The owner was friendly, possibly overly so, but it was a welcome break from the road.


I got home and unloaded the car, put stuff away, and started a load of laundry, then went to pick up Charlie and Nora from Ma’s. To say they were happy to see me was an understatement.






Thus ends the Great Western Road Trip. The final totals:


6,409 miles traveled


126 hours and 10 minutes of driving


I’ll have a final post with my overall thoughts in a day or so, but to answer the biggest questions I get from friends and co-workers:


Was it worth it? Absolutely.


Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I might rearrange the scheduling a bit, but that was one of the best vacations of my life.


Stay tuned for the wrap-up!

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Current Location: Florissant, Missouri


Today’s Song: Lazlo Bane – Superman (Theme from Scrubs)


I need you here with me

Cause love is all we need

Just take a hold of the hand that breaks the fall

Well I know what I’ve been told

Gotta break free to break the mold

But I can’t do this all on my own

I’m no superman


Yeah. I think too much sometimes.


This is the penultimate day of this road trip. I started the day on the outskirts of Kansas City. Through he power of Yelp (which is really served me remarkably well on this trip) I found a wonderful little bakery/restaurant in Overland Park called McClain’s Market. I fueled up with a granola parfait and an Americano (ever since I left Canada I’ve been hooked on Americanos – go figure).




Then it was an uneventful drive across Missouri. It scares me that at this point anything less than six hours constitutes a “short” drive. If you do this long enough, I guess that’s what happens. Along the way I finished my second audiobook of the trip, this one also be T.J. Klune (The first was The Lightning-Struck Heart). This one was Wolfsong, which I have read before. It is an intensely emotional book and had me crying several times as I traced the relationship between Joe and Ox to mine and Dan’s. A tough listen, but so, so worth it.


I met up with Rama and K at Sugarfire Smoke House in St. Charles, Missouri for lunch. It’s a fun, quirky place with great BBQ sauces. After that we went back to their place and…didn’t do much. Rama and I sat around and talked convention stuff and watched some TV. It was lovely, and considering that it was 105 F outside it was a great alternative to venturing out. A big plus was that I got to pet Zoe, their 90-pound Great Dane puppy!






For dinner we went to Ferguson Brewing Company where I enjoyed my last beer flight of the trip, which had some unusually generous pours!




After a stop for frozen custard on the way home (because St. Louis), I quickly crashed for the night and slept quite well, with the exception of being woken up a couple of times by some very loud thunderstorms.


Tomorrow: HOME!


Miles Driven Today: 257 miles


Time Driving Today: 4:05


Total Miles Driven: 6,075 miles


Total Time Driving: 120:12

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Current Location: Lenexa, Kansas


Today’s Song: Mark Knopfler – Guide My Sword (from The Princess Bride Soundtrack)


A contemplative piece from one of my favorite soundtracks. I’ve been thinking a lot during this trip, and this matches up to my mood.


It was another early start today – up at 5:15 AM. After packing up, rearranging my luggage, cleaning the car, and checking out, I was able to walk to the coffee shop just across the street right as they opened at 6:30 AM.




Today was going to be a very long leg of driving, and not much to see or do along the way. Dring out of Denver was slow going.




The only saving grace was that the air conditioning in the Mustang was in excellent working order, which is good because today was a day when it was absolutely necessary!




I made very few stops, pushing ahead as quickly as I can. After three weeks of glorious scenery and being excited to see more, I’ve reached the point where I’m ready to get on my way home. Kansas wasn’t as boring as expected (there’s a lot more trees than I thought there would be) but it wasn’t particularly visually stimulating either. Fortunately between my audiobook and NPR I was able to make the time pass pretty quickly.


For dinner, I met up with Orthrus and Adjacent at a restaurant nearby. I first met Orthrus many, many years ago over the net. This was the first time that I met him face to face, and got to meet his husband as well. They’re both great, fun guys and the evening’s conversation was wide-ranging and enjoyable.


Tomorrow, the penultimate day of my road trip: a short 4-hour jaunt across Missouri to St. Louis.


Miles Driven Today: 614 miles


Time Driving Today: 8:52


Total Miles Driven: 4,815 miles


Total Time Driving: 98:07

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Current Location: Denver, Colorado


Today’s Song: Fairport Convention – Meet on the Ledge


Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge

When my time is up I’m gonna see all my friends

Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge

If you really mean it, it all comes round again


I like the idea that, in the end, we see all of our friends and loved ones again. It’s a lovely thought.


Today was a day off the road, and a welcome one at that! I was slow to get started, but after getting some breakfast at the coffee shop across the way (it was…meh) I went back to the room and caught up on all of my work emails and tried to gauge what crap-bombs have been dropped in my absence. It appears that I’ll be walking into a bit of a hornet’s next on Monday, but it’ll be manageable. Then it was over to the auto glass place to have them replace the windshield on the rental car (AGAIN). At least it was quick and painless.


Having heard some entertaining things about them on the podcast Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap (specifically Episode 250, “Giraffe Snuff Film”), I drove up to Boulder to check out Decadent Saint/Wild Cider. The ciders were…OK. Nothing that particularly excited me, though the Lemon Basil Cider was pretty good. The Decadent Saint products were far more interesting, though. They are a wine-based spiced concentrate that is made to be mixed with cocktails or diluted and consumed on its own. Apparently they have had a hard time marketing this since there were two different variations of labels for the four products, all with different names. Currently they are calling them “sangrias” although it’s a bit odd to call something that looks like chocolate milk a sangria.






After tasting a flight of them, I picked up bottles of the Passionfruit, Raspberry, and Dark Chocolate. Quite tasty, and I look forward to experimenting with them!


I had checked with Troy, an old friend from college who is well-familiar with Boulder, on places that I should check out. It boiled down to “Go to Pearl Street, park, and walk.” My first stop was at Pizza Locale, where I was instructed to ask for Alex. It turns out that he and Troy are old friends, and Alex was incredibly sweet. We chatted as he worked the bar, and he was very kind when I mentioned why I was taking this road trip. It was a lovely visit, and I left feeling like I’d made a new friend. (Also, he’s damned cute!)


I walked down Pearl Street (and Pearl Street Mall), stopping at a few places that Troy had suggested and finding some of my own. I had to check out Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery and enjoyed a Belgian tripel there. My last stop in Boulder was Hazel’s, a liquor store similar in size to a large Binny’s in Chicago. I picked up some specifically local items that I know I can’t get in Illinois.


I finished up just in time to get on the road for Evergreen, Colorado, where I had been invited to Tango and Iberian’s place for dinner. Evergreen is a good ways out into the mountains – barely a Denver suburb, but manageable. At first I wondered why they would live so far out but as I drove and admired the scenery I began to understand. They have a lovely home there, and I’m sure it’s very cozy and comfortable in the wintertime. We were joined by Rooth and Whiteyfawks, and we had a delicious dinner while catching up on each other’s lives and geeking about various conventions.  It was 10 PM when we wrapped up, and I was pleasantly surprised just how short the drive was back to my hotel – just a hair over 30 minutes. That’s perfectly accessible – heck, they can get to Denver faster than I can get to Chicago from my place!


Tomorrow: The long, long drive across Kansas.


Miles Driven Today: 103 miles


Time Driving Today: 3:27


Total Miles Driven: 4,201 miles


Total Time Driving: 89:15


(There seems to be a large discrepancy between the mileage and time driven recorded by Automatic and the readings on the Mustang. I need to look into this and may revise this tomorrow.)

duncandahusky: (Default)

Current Location: Lakewood, Colorado


Today’s Song: Carbon Leaf – 1 Wolf, 2 Wolf, 2 Wolf, 4


This one is all about the wide open spaces of the west, and driving miles and miles before seeing another person. A nice, contemplative piece, I think.


I started the day super-early in Salt Lake City, Utah. It took some doing, but I finally found one of the few coffee shops open at 6 AM in downtown SLC. Then it was on the road on Interstate 80 eastbound. Just as I was passing through a construction zone on the outskirts of town, I heard a *THOK* and looked over to find…




Sure enough, the crack started traveling across the windshield. This is my second cracked windshield of the trip, but at least now I know the routine – get it fixed myself, Budget doesn’t have to know about it, get reimbursed through my Chase Sapphire card (by the way, this card is AMAZING – automatic trip and rental car insurance for anything that you charge with the card. This has saved me thousands of dollars.)


That unpleasantness aside, it was a pleasant and uncrowded drive northeast up into Wyoming, where I stopped for a breakfast bagel.




Next stop: Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The drive just to get there was pretty in its own right.




I loved the fact that as you drove through the surrounding area the geology was on full display, and Utah helped with this by posting signs along the road explaining different features.




There was a ton of twisty-turns mountain driving, which is so much fun in a Mustang! It helps that there weren’t that many people on the road on a weekday morning so I could pretty much set my own speed, within reason. The views, though. Simply spectacular!




I was originally going to go over the Flaming Gorge Dam and take Browns Park Road overland. It’s an intriguing route, 30+ miles of unpaved road through the middle of nowhere. I had to drop the idea due to 1. Nearby forest fires making it a very real possibility that the road could be closed, and 2. I really didn’t want to possibly damage the dang car any further! Instead, I skipped the dam and went south through Vernal, Utah, where I stopped for a tasty lunch and to make geeky dad jokes.




Then it was a long, long drive to Denver. I didn’t make any stops because it was frequently pouring down rain (the first time in this entire trip, amazingly enough!). The drive down I-70 is always amazing though – beautiful views and very cool road engineering. I finally pulled into my destination, the Hyatt House in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, at 7 PM, 12 hours after I left downtown Salt Lake City. This was the longest I’ve driven in one day on this whole trip and I’m glad I won’t have to do that again!


I really like the Hyatt House brand – they have some great room designs.




For dinner I walked across the street to Brodo, an Italian place. The service was very lacking initially, but once the dinner rush died down it got better. I had a delicious steak salad, and got into a great conversation with the bartender about tonic syrups, gins, and aperitifs. It was a great evening.


Tomorrow I’ll be hanging around Denver to get the windshield fixed, then exploring Boulder, Colorado, and enjoying dinner with friends.


Miles Driven Today: 556 miles


Time Driving Today: 10:13


Total Miles Driven: 4,098 miles


Total Time Driving: 85:48

duncandahusky: (Default)

 


Current Location: Salt Lake City, Utah


Today’s Song: This Will Destroy You – They Move On Tracks of Never-Ending Light


This song makes me think of the miles and miles of desert I drove through today, with the promise of mountains in all directions. I expected it to be a little monotonous, but it was actually a beautiful landscape surrounded by the Toiyabe Range and the Ruby Mountains. The contrast between the dry salt flats and the snow-capped mountains just beyond was stunning.


The drive out of Reno was quite lovely this morning, winding up through the foothills.




I put on the 20-hour audiobook for T. J. Klune’s Wolfsong (which I have read before and I know it is absolutely amazing) and this helped the miles fly by. The only downside is that the book will put you through the emotional wringer, and had me crying several times during the drive. I made a couple of stops along the way to admire the landscape.






I stopped in Winnemucca, Nevada for a quick breakfast/lunch at a lovely little diner. Once again, Yelp steers me to good places. As long as you know that you can’t really rely on the ratings for any place with less than a couple of dozen reviews, it’s a fantastic resource.




I rolled into Salt Lake City at 4:30 PM and checked into my hotel for the night, a Hyatt House. I’ve never stayed in one of these before and it’s a nice step up from a Hyatt Place, geared to those spending several nights in one place.


Dinner was at Red Rock Brewery, an easy walk from the hotel. Their beers are quite good, and the warm goat cheese salad really hit the spot.


Tomorrow the trip continues. This will be an interesting leg, SLC to Denver but clipping the southwestern corner of Wyoming then driving into the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, then overland across northwestern Colorado. I expect this is going to be a long one, so I’m going to try to get on the road as early as possible.


Miles Driven Today: 513 miles


Time Driving Today: 7:19


Total Miles Driven: 3,542 miles


Total Time Driving: 75:35

duncandahusky: (Default)

Current Location: Reno, Nevada


Today’s Song: Kathleen Edwards – Goodnight California


This is such a great song that sets up a nice groove. This is another case where the emphasis is less on the song lyrics and more evocative of the feeling of driving through the Central Valley and up into the Sierra Nevadas.


I started the day in Manteca, California, heading out north on California 99 to Carson Pass Highway. It’s a good hour just to get to the mountains, but the loom ahead of you the entire time and provide a lovely backdrop and contrast to the flat farmlands all around you.


Then it was into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and wow, that is just spectacular. The road goes up, up, up from the valley to Carson Pass.




The geology of the area is quite unique, as my friend Neowolf pointed out. It provided a nice place to take a break and enjoy the view.




There are some interesting-looking resorts up there, and I am sure that the skiing is pretty impressive as well…providing you can get to the resorts. I saw a lot of “Chains Required” signs waiting to be used and Ford mentioned that the drive can get quite exciting, what with the avalanche risk and all.


After the hours of mountain driving, it was time for a stop in South Lake Tahoe for lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the local brews.




The trip out of the mountains from there was surprisingly quick, though the views were quite impressive descending down the eastward slopes.




I checked into my hotel in Reno (a Hyatt Place, the first of a long line of Hyatts this week – all free! ????). On my friend Ricky’s advice, I sought out one of the local breweries before dinner to check out their offerings. They were all quite good!




Then it was off to meet Tyco and a bunch of other staff from Biggest Little Fur Con, a convention that started just a few years ago here and quickly blew up into 5,000 or more attendees.




Dinner was lovely and the opportunity to chat with these good folks was welcome. They’re a damn smart bunch, and the convention has a good organization behind it. After dinner Tyco was kind enough to provide a tour of the Grand Sierra Resort’s convention facilities with some background on how the space is used and the convention’s relationship with the hotel. After seeing all of this I am not remotely surprised the convention has grown as quickly as it has. The GSR is an ideal venue for a furry convention! I definitely hope to attend next year.


Tomorrow it’s back on the road for the long drive to Salt Lake City, Utah. This is a part of the country I have never seen before so I look forward to seeing some new terrain.


Miles Driven Today: 215 miles


Time Driving Today: 5:11


Total Miles Driven: 3,029 miles


Total Time Driving: 68:16

duncandahusky: (Default)

Current Location: Manteca, California


Today’s Song: Kate Wolf – Pacheco/Red-Tailed Hawk


An iconic California song for me, originally by Robin Williamson. Although I didn’t go through Pacheco Pass I did go over the Diablo Range, the same set of mountains, as I headed east out of the San Francisco Bay Area. This to me is summer in California:


Purple clouds turn scarlet in the setting sun

Where sagebrush turns to alive oak and the white tail run

The air is cool as music when the day is gone

And God paints the sky above Pacheco




This morning had me getting up bright and early to hit the road. I was pleased that I was able to find a nearby location of one of my favorite coffee places in the area, Philz Coffee.




I made it to Chris (Didge) and Brian (Baja)’s place a little before 9 AM. The temperature was already in the upper 80s on its way to a high for the day of 107 F. We quickly packed everything up and started the long drive to our destination for the day, Yosemite National Park. It took three hours each way, but it was very much worth it! (Also, it was about 25 degrees cooler!)


Our first stop was at Bridalveil Falls, where I got some hint of just how crowded the park would be as it took about 10 minutes to find a parking space.




Still, it was worth it to get a chance to clamber up the rocks and stand in the fine mist of the falls.




The views all around were simply stunning – the park was definitely everything that I have heard it was. We parked the car where we could and walked over to Yosemite Falls, where we enjoyed the spectacular views and got up-close and personal with the local wildlife.






Chris and Brian were wonderful travel companions, and we had a great time walking around the park!




On the way back we stopped at a Mexican restaurant near their house with a bizarre Christmas-themed menu (“We think they bought it a few years ago and never figured out how to change it.”) but delicious food and a great salsa bar. After that it was back to the house where we watched the last part of Kung Fu Hustle and all of Doctor Strange. The latter was a pretty good movie, but I learned that ambulance and hospital scenes still cause me intense discomfort, and the scene of someone dying on the operating table reduced me to tears. The scars run deep, unfortunately.


No mileage today since Chris was kind enough to drive us in his SUV and I was content to be a passenger. It was nice to see a good bit of country and not have to drive! Day 18 will take me even further east, up and over the Sierra Nevada mountains to Reno, Nevada.


Miles Driven Today: 0 miles


Time Driving Today: 0:00


Total Miles Driven: 2,814 miles


Total Time Driving: 63:05

duncandahusky: (Default)

Current Location: Sunnyvale, California


Today’s Song: Eastmountainsouth – You Dance


Another day of not doing much, and that’s OK. It was a lovely, lazy day that was simply perfect.  I hung out at Ford’s all morning, getting an excellent therapeutic massage from River Pup. He is truly outstanding, for all that he is still in school. If you are in the Bay Area, I can highly recommend him – he’s damn good, and I’m heck of a nice guy. Funny thing: we actually hung out together at Mephit Furmeet in 2000 or so 🙂


Lunch was a wonderful get-together with Brophey, Karwood, Partran, and Luagha. it was so great to see these guys again!




The afternoon was spent cooking (well, Ford was cooking, I was assisting and providing company!). Dinner was a delicious pork tenderloin Wellington, roasted Brussels sprouts, and blueberry pie. After that a low-key evening of sitting around chatting in the cool breeze out by the pool. I needed this time, and I needed time with wonderfully dear friends. I’m sad I have to leave Ford and Sunnyvale, but the trip must continue. This trip has been a reminder of the incredible number of close friends I am blessed with, and all of the places that I need to revisit again soon.


Next up: the Central Valley doubling as the fifth circle of hell, and Yosemite National Park!


Miles Driven Today: 0 miles


Time Driving Today: 0:00


Total Miles Driven: 2,814 miles


Total Time Driving: 63:05

duncandahusky: (Default)

Current Location: Sunnyvale, California


Today’s Song: Dougie MacLean – Restless Fool


The lyrics to this song aren’t particularly relavent, but the general mood matches mine perfectly these days. Plus, Dougie MacLean is an excellent musician.


On Day 15, I rested. I spent the day mostly hanging out by the backyard pool with Ford and catching up. It was, quite frankly, delightful and one of the highlights of the trip.


In the evening, we met up with Latte, Dax, Smackjackal, Shyhoof, and Izzy for dinner at SoFA Market in San Jose, California. It was wonderful to catch up with these folks and enjoy a delicious spicy tune poke bowl.




After dinner we wandered over to Haberdasher for some craft cocktails. All in all it was a wonderful day!


Miles Driven Today: 0 miles


Time Driving Today: 0:00


Total Miles Driven: 2,814 miles


Total Time Driving: 63:05

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