lupestripe: (Default)
This post was originally posted on my LiveJournal earlier today:

I have decided to move away from LiveJournal and over to Dreamwidth.

I have not made this decision lightly, particularly as I have been updating this journal for over ten years, but the recent changes to the Terms of Service combined with this prompting a diaspora away from this service has somewhat forced my hand.

The community on LJ used to be so vibrant, back in the days when social networks were far less prevailent, but it is not what it once was. The vasty majority of people left for Twitter years ago, but there were still a few who remained here. Unfortunately, with the changes made to the ToS in April, most of the remainers have also gone, leaving this place somewhat empty.

Added to this is that I have changed the way I update my journals, moving away from using mobile devices and back onto a desktop. This means the lack of a mobile app for Dreamwidth is less of a problem, with the bus providing too many distractions for me to be able to blog well.

I won't delete this journal and will cross-post where I can, but if you would still like to read my posts, please join me on Dreamwidth. My journal is here:

Thanks for reading and for taking an interest in my life. It's been a blast.
lupestripe: (Default)
One of the positives and negatives about Leeds is that it's such a huge beer city. The positives should be obvious - I am a huge fan of craft beer and sampling a range of different flavours - but of course this isn't particularly good on the waistline. By some miracle, I didn't put any weight on during my trip to the United States - and indeed have lost about 1kg since then - but my social life is really getting in the way of my weightloss goals and finding the balance is tricky.

Over the weekend I was alerted to a Meet The Brewer night at the Adelphi on Facebook. It seemed interesting as the brewer in question was Steve Grossman of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, a place we had visited in Chico, California, just six weeks ago. He had brought some rare beers over to sample - with their core range only really being available in the UK - and he gave a talk about each one, along with details about the history of the brewery that he founded. It was one of the first craft beer breweries in the world, having started in 1980, so it was truly fascinating to hear him speak about the early days. He also talked a lot about environmental sustainability, which is something we got to see ourselves when we did our brewery tour. The beers we sampled we had had before, again in the US, but with four halves and a burger thrown in for £15, it was exceptionally good value. We had arrived a little late due to Wolfie's bus breaking down - 6:15pm for a 6pm start - but fortunately we didn't miss anything and I even got to ask a few questions along the way. Unfortunately I didn't get chance to speak to him one-on-one about our trip to his brewery as he was somewhat jetlagged and headed off before I got chance, but it certainly was a fascinating encounter.

In the end, we ended up drinking another 3/4 of a pint as there were a few leftovers, while we got chatting to some of the staff who work in the Adelphi. I had always thought of it as more of a real ale pub, but they have definitely moved into craft, as this was part of a six-week long festival. There must have been about forty people at the event including some local Leeds brewers such as the guys behind the Leeds Brewery. Apparently, it was a Leeds brewer who had convinced Steve to export to Britain - their first foreign venture - 13 years ago, so it was amazing to think that our city was the first outside of the United States to get such a famous staple of the craft beer scene. Moving back to the Adelphi, it is certainly more airy and brighter than it had been before, with the top floor now having been converted to a kitchen where they do a range of food. My beefburger and fries was very good and Wolfie enjoyed his chicken katsu burger, with the both of us having calmed down after the rush to get to the gig in time (I was livid with how late Wolfie was as I had custody of his ticket and couldn't go in without him).

I had wanted to show him Howl but we had quite enough to drink in the Adelphi, although we did drop by BrewDog as we had quite a wait for our bus. Here Wolfie tried an IPA I had had the previous week at the quiz and I went for LIVE East Coast Crush, which was tasty. Wolfie was forcing me to have another third, which was frustrating, but it didn't really spill over into an argument. When we got back, we shared some crisps before Wolfie went to bed, with me staying up for another two hours to sober up. We had got back at 10:15pm and I went to bed about 12:45am but even then I was still a little drunk, and we had only had three pints of relatively low strength beer. Even this morning I didn't wake up great, suggesting that my ability to recover has been somewhat curtailed by my advancing years. Still, it was a good evening and a rare break from our rule of not going out on weeknights if we can help it, but we still really need to focus on the weightloss going forward.

Home Fun

Jul. 10th, 2017 12:04 am
lupestripe: (Default)
This weekend was one of connecting with old friends. Over the last few years, I have felt that our local friendship group has somewhat drifted apart. This is due to a number of circumstances, the main one being all of us acquiring houses, but without a core group of friends, I had started to feel somewhat redundant in the fandom. This was brought home last weekend when there was a BBQ to which we weren't invited, making me feel increasingly more alienated. After my usual 48 hours of moping, I resolved to do something about this, and this weekend proved to be a huge step towards re-establishing those contacts.

Admittedly, we had already had our Friday night plans sorted before last weekend as Adia had invited us around to her house to watch Sing. We hadn't seen the movie and had missed it in the cinema, so we thought it a perfect opportunity. Mid-week, she widened the invite to Taneli and Arcais, with the cheetah accepting and the panda unavailable due to work commitments in Derby and Leicester. This meant that there was to be five of us in the house - Adia, Soma, me, Taneli and Wolfie. Unfortunately, Wolfie would end up being delayed as he was sent to Chester by work at the last minute, and this meant that we didn't get to see the movie in the end. He arrived shortly after 8:30pm so we contented ourselves by watching The Chase and the new version of The Crystal Maze with Richard Ayoade. It's hard to judge the reboot as we are still trawling through the celebrity specials, but they seem to have done well with the zones and the games themselves were of their usual high quality. Ayoade himself I feel will grow into the role, but his constant remark of "Tuck In" has already started to grate. Still, watching how useless the celebrities were provided great mirth while we shared a whole host of junk food, which made for a fantastic evening.

We had nothing planned on Saturday until the evening, when Arcais was coming around. This afforded us a lie-in, but having arisen around noon, I didn't want to waste more of such a beautiful summer's day, convincing Wolfie to drive to Brighouse. There he has a cousin who has just opened a small craft beer shop called The Trembling Hand. We had kept meaning to go, but we are only ever usually free on Sundays when he was closed. This was therefore an opportunity, so we popped down there, spending a good fifteen minutes chatting to him about beer. The shop is quite small but stocks an impressive array of stuff, and all for fairly low prices too. We decided to come back as we were leaving the town, taking advantage of the sunshine by having a pleasant forty-five minute stroll by the canal. It was very tranquil when we weren't dodging youths on bikes, with the canal dawdling its way alongside the river, with beautiful green foliage draping into it. There were a number of modern warehouses on either side of the canal, something it would be churlish to complain about as it was for the eighteenth century equivalent of such industry that the canals were built, while it was great seeing the old locks and stone bridges dotting the canal's course. At one, we saw a newly wed couple getting their wedding pictures taken while at one of the locks we saw a gaggle of scouts working as a team to get their barge up. After about twenty minutes, Wolfie's foot was starting to throb though, so we had to double back and head back into Brighouse, where we saw a number of interpid kids climbing up the sheer faces of the rock climbing centre, reacquisitioned from a former industrial plant. We then dodged back into the Trembling Hand to pick up twelve beers in the end, as well as advising a charming elderly gentleman about craft beer. He had just started getting into Tyskie and bless him he thought that was exotic, so I pointed some fresh German examples to keep him happy. He had actually come in to speak to Wolfie's cousin about local history and left, only to return and admit he felt a little churlish for not buying a beer. We were only happy to help.

We got back home shortly after 4:30pm and were fortunate to see Taneli and Arc drive down our street. Arc pretended to be a dog and barked at us from out of the car window as Taneli pulled up. They disgorged and we spent a pleasant hour in the garden setting up our brand new BBQ, which still needed to be chained to the wall and cleaned. As this was being done, Arc and I went to ASDA to get some food for the BBQ, while we also got some new Mini Cheddars Stilton as Taneli wanted to try them. They were quite nice, with a slight tang of stilton, but certainly not the most faithful adaptation. Taneli had to go to a family meal so needed to head off around 7pm, after which we grilled the meat, using lettuce leaves rather than bread buns for the burgers in an attempt to reduce calories. We also had some grill steaks cooked on our new hotplate, while Arc had made a delightful fresh salad from couscous, tomatoes and basil. It was a great way to end a summer's evening and after this we ended up watching Don't Tell The Bride and pissing about on Snapchat pretending to be goths and dogs. A happy evening indeed. It would have been great had Arc stayed but her tattoo - which had just been finished off that afternoon - had started to leak and she was conscious of getting it all over our sofa and bed. She headed off just before 10pm, while we chilled for the rest of the evening.

We were up quite early on Sunday as we had agreed to do some mascot performance work at St Gemma's Hospice for their annual summer fete. It was going to be another gloriously hot day so I packed my EZCoolDown vest for the first time in forever, noting as the day went on how it became more and more like an insulating vest once the ice packs had thawed. We were out of the door at 9:30am and had picked Shiro up twenty minutes later, not aided by Kirkstall Road being closed for a fun run. We then drove to Cross Gates to pick up Cosmo before heading up to the hospice, arriving ten minutes before our scheduled arrival time of 10:45am. I chatted to the organisers and they guided us to our changing rooms, and twenty minutes later we were out and about, mingling amongst the crowds. There were a range of great concessions there, including a rope twining one and a cheese stall that sold a range of gourmet cheeses. It was great to see the Otley branch of the North Bar down there serving Pimms and I even got to meet their pug Stan, who was very barky when I was in suit but calmed down as soon as he had been picked up. There were also some delicious cakes there while after the suiting we got free hot dogs and burgers for our efforts. We donated the monetary equivalent. The highlight for me was the book stall though as I kept acting out Fifty Shades of Grey, as this was one of the books they were selling. I also kept putting 'My First Children's Bible' next to it, which caused me a fair bit of amusement. The mini putting range was also a highlight, particularly when I nudged the ball down the track with my snout. The fact there were so many stalls meant it was so easy to act up and make people laugh, such as when I used the hook-a-duck poles as conducting rods for the choir, while the kids of course loved the furry critters. There were three of us and Wolfie monitored our welfare, with the temperature being so hot that we had to really be careful. I managed four hours in the end, which wasn't too bad considering the temperature. The others lasted different amounts of time, while Gemma the Giraffe and West Yorkshire Police's own PC Bob mascot were there too. We were given buckets but considering there was so much to spend money on there, we didn't collect loads, but I am delighted we added a lot to the day. This was particularly the case in the garden, where kids were conducting a pirate themed treasure hunt and playing games like quoits. A few showed me the prizes they had won too. With an hour to go, I decided to get out of suit and walk around, introducing myself to all of the stallholders I had taken the piss out of in suit. They seemed quite happy, and it was good talking to them, particularly the book stall people who wanted to know all about furry. It was difficult to tell them until ten minutes later the gentleman told me he was a huge fan of Lara Croft and went to Cosplay conventions. Had he mentioned that, it would have been an awful lot easier. We left at about 4pm, and dropped Cosmo and Shiro off, returning home to do mundane things like DIY and slide slowly into the working week.
lupestripe: (Default)
While I have been catching up with my US trip, there have been a number of happenings over the last fortnight which I have not yet detailed.

A week last Tuesday, 27 June, Wolfie and I headed out into Leeds for one of our regular evenings with Oracle after work. We met him at Atlas Brauhaus as I wanted to give Charlotte, the General Manager there, an update as to our venue situation. As I explained on the newly launched Leeds Furs site earlier in the month, Atlas is closing mid-month to become a trendy cocktail bar, meaning we have had to find a new venue. She has been working behind the scenes to facilitate this, and we have since agreed terms with Bar Soba. Her help has been invaluable and we are hoping that she will stay in touch. She is certainly a good friend to the Leeds Furs.

After giving her an update, we headed over to Mans Markets, a place just off Wellington Street which we had been meaning to try for a while. Tucked under the row of bars here, Mans Market specializes in food from Hong Kong, a cuisine that I had never had before. Going downstairs, the place opens out into a huge sitting area and we were soon shown the card based system where if you want to order a drink, food or pay your bill you placed the relevant card between two pegs above the table. We sampled their specially brewed pilsner while opting for a starter of Pork War Tip Dumplings, which were crispy and rammed full of meat. Wolfie got the Chicken ones and we traded, with me definitely prefering the Pork. For our main, all three of us went for the Mans Mountain Rice, a mountain of rice covered with chicken, vegetables and a creamy coconut sauce. The different flavours were all familiar - quite aromatic with notes of lemongrass mixed with the creaminess of the coconut - but the combination was quite unique, making for a gastronomic experience that I had never had before. The serving lady was also really helpful and we left feeling fully satisifed.

Wolfie's foot was in a bad way, so we decided to try and curtail the walking, heading instead to the collection of new bars underneath the office blocks that had just sprouted up. We had targed Veeno but as Wolfie was not drinking due to having driven in, we thought that may not be overly appropriate. We also spotted another bar, Good Life Bar, which had only just opened, again under one of the new shiny buildings. This was a New York style place with a good range of beer, and indeed seemed perfect as a furmeet venue due to its size and location. They don't open on Saturdays but would do for a private party, suggesting a possibility here. If our new venue doesn't work out, it would be definitely something to consider. The only problem is that aside from the open space immediately outside the entrance, there is little else around there, with only the canal being suitable for a fursuit walk. We traced the steps we would need to take as we walked back into the city and feared it may be too far. As we headed back, we thought about a number of bars in which to have our final drink of the evening but with Wolfie and Oracle being teetotal, it was somewhat difficult. In the end, we walked all the way to BrewDog, where we rounded off the evening.

Last weekend was quite quiet, with us dedicating time to doing jobs around the house, although we did go out on the Saturday (1 July) evening as Brett and Jo wanted to meet up. This was a good night to hit the town as it was also the 20th anniversary party for North Bar, one of the first ever craft beer bars in the UK, which opened in 1997. Back then they largely served Belgian beers but since have developed the craft scene in the city, even collaborating with the guys at Belgrave to set up their own award winning brewery, North Brewing Co. They even brewed an exceptionally juicy and fruity 20th birthday DIPA which could be bought at the bar on the evening. We arrived in Leeds just before 9pm, knowing that North Bar would be rammed and would unlikely to thin out before midnight. This proved to be the case so we started off at Tall Boys, a place where we buy beer but where we rarely drink. Brett knows the staff here personally and as we walked in, we saw him conversing with the guy behind the counter. They had three of their five beers on tap still available so we grabbed a pint of two of them then spent the next hour or so chatting between us all, largely about beer and the beer scene in Leeds.

We left shortly before 10pm and walked past North Bar, seeing it absolutely rammed. As a consequence, we decided to go to the North Brewing Company Brewery itself, which is near my work and open every Friday and Saturday evenings. I had read they were doing Food North on select nights in June and July, where they have a number of food trucks stationed in their car park, and wondered whether this night would be one of them. It turned out to be the case, with a vegan Mexican place and a Thai truck on standby, although by the time we got there, they had sold out of most food. We had already eaten so this wasn't really much of an issue for us, although Brett and Jo hadn't eaten since lunch. The bar was still quite busy though, and there were a number of tables outside too, which is where we sat, enjoying the fact it was still light at such a late hour. There were a number of dogs wandering around, including a small doggo friend who simply just didn't care, even urinating on the green turf of the special throw the beanbag into the hoop game they had. Suffice to say, we didn't play after this. This was Jo's first time at the bar and she was very impressed, telling us so as we headed back into town, which from here is about a ten minute walk away.

We called off at Shuffledog on the way back as we noticed they had a Cloudwater brew on tap from which they were donating fifty percent of the proceeds to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. As it was such a good cause, we decided to waive our usual Brewdog discount so we could give more to charity. The beer was very good, but there was little else of interest in this bar, with the range of beer having gone downhill since the turn of the year. As a consequence, we decided to try Belgrave but that was way too loud and way too busy to be enjoyable. We then moved on, trying to find a place we could go. As Brett and Jo ordered takeaway in one of the dire fast food places on Briggate, I noticed that Slate (which has now been renamed to something else but I forgot what the hell that is) and Social were pretty quiet. Spying the open gate into their beer garden down one of the side streets, we dodged the bouncers and headed in, only to be told that the Social was closing and thus we had to go to Slate. This was fine, but the range of beers was nowhere near as good as it used to be, and we ended up getting a few in can and bottle. Still the Thai Green Tea one from Ridgeside was good, and it was good to sit outside in a beer garden, with a string of white lights twinkling above us and the warmth of a summer's evening consuming us.

We had checked North Bar before going to the beer garden but it was still busy. By the time we left, it was touching midnight so we made the executive decision to go into North regardless, which is what we did do afterwards. It was still exceptionally busy but there was nowhere else we could really go, plus they had their Scandi beer fest on, meaning there was a range of interesting brews to try. And try them we did, starting with the anniversary IPA and then moving on to a range of others. We had a 12% chocolate stout that tasted exactly like a Double Decker while I was encouraged to buy one of their 20th birthday packs, with the profits being donated to St Gemma's, a hospice in Leeds for which I do some mascot work. Inside the pack was a can of Transmission beer, a badge, a bobble hat, a bottle opener and a history of the bar, which for £20 wasn't too shabby indeed. There was cake on the side of the bar but alas I couldn't get any, with it being obstructed by an Austrian to whom I thought it would be good to speak German in a loud voice. I was clearly getting quite drunk by this stage, although I still felt sober when I had entered, and when the tunes became Nineties classics such as Parklife by Blur and Common People by Pulp, I was pretty much in heaven. Added to this was the 'Brexit is shit' graffitied on a blackboard in the toilets and it was pretty much perfect.

The bar thinned out shortly after 1am, and I think we stayed for another forty minutes, enjoying the beer and of course the company. Jo fancied some dancing and was starting to feel the alcohol, so she and Brett headed over to Mojo, an indie club around the corner. We followed them ten minutes later but we couldn't find them amongst the thronging masses. As a consequence, we left, noticing that The Domino was still open. This is an underground speakeasy which has been open for about three months. Situated inside a fake hairdressers, you technically need to know it exists and which one of two doors takes you down there. At that time of night, the door was wide open, so it was pretty obvious but the gentleman at the door was still watching out for things. He held on to my can of Transmission as we headed inside, with us ordering two peanut butter stouts at exorbitant cost. This is more a whisky and cocktail place than a beer place, but I did enjoy the underground vibe, even if I couldn't quite finish my beer. We called it quits shortly afterwards, walked down to the gay area to pick up a taxi and got dropped off at home at around 2:30am by a guy who said he never picked really drunk people up. Assumedly this was a sign that we weren't that bad. Still, once back we did polish off a full tube of Pringles so perhaps we were.

When you get to your Thirties, no-one ever tells you that two day hangovers are a thing but Christ was I still suffering on the Monday morning. It was that or my incredibly poor sleep, as I had suffered insomnia the previous night to nearly 4am. Wolfie was down in Bristol on Monday through Wednesday, leaving me pottering around the house on my own. Jo was in London on work too, having just been promoted at work. She was away Tuesday through Thursday, leaving Brett on his own for the regular monthly quiz they do in little Brewdog. He had asked me whether I could join him on the Tuesday (4 July) evening and I agreed on Saturday night, but as Tuesday became closer I started to have my doubts. I want to avoid drinking on a weekday ideally, and the quiz starting at 8pm meant I had a lot of time to kill in town. In the end, work overran and I ended up in little Brewdog anyway, talking to the staff about beer. This was after I had called in at a new heavy metal bar called Howl, which is situated near the Old Red Bus Station. The beer here is okay - Brooklyn Scorcher Ale was the best they had - but it was great to have a bar in Leeds dedicated to heavy metal. There were only four of us in the bar, all single and sat at different tables, and the place was small enough to make this awkward, but I am delighted I got to try it. The Russian lady at work had recommended it to me.

After this, I had developed a taste for alcohol, which is how I ended up in Brewdog. Starting a conversation, I found I had ordered a third, and I texted Brett to change my mind about the quiz, having turned it down earlier in the day. He was cooking but said he would get a cab and meet me in the bar, giving me just enough time to walk around Leeds to find then have something to eat. It actually proved tricky but I ended up in The Griffin, having a burrito which was cheap and cheerful. Brett too was slightly early and ended up in Friends of Ham, which is where we met before we walked over to Brewdog together. We were bang on time, but technical issues with the microphone meant the quiz started quite late. Still, we were patient and as we waited, Brett pointed out the main competition, a Scotsman with an insane knowledge for beer. With 30 general knowledge and 10 beer knowledge questions, this would prove crucial but Brett has a habit of finishing first or second in this quiz so I knew we had a chance. In the end, we romped it, getting 33/40, eight points more than the Scotsman's team and twelve more than the third highest. Our knowledge complemented each other's perfectly, with me getting the sports questions and Brett securing the music ones for example. I did struggle to remember that 'How To Disappear Completely' was the Radiohead song that BrewDog had named a beer after, getting it just as we had handed our paper to be marked, but I changed it quickly to grab an extra point. Aside from that, I was surprised by just how comfortable our victory was, and of course the £10 beer vouchers each made it for a rather cheap night. I headed off about 10:15pm, and stayed up until 1:30am as I got absorbed in the Ian Hislop documentary about the first great immigration debate from 1880-1920, which meant I was a little fuzzy for work and felt a little guilty too. It was still a great evening though and I am glad I went out.
lupestripe: (Default)
Friday (9 June) was quite a sad day as we had to say goodbye to Tuxedo after spending two solid weeks together. We left Flagstaff at around 8am, regrettably not getting chance to see any of it beyond the hotel, and made our way to Phoenix around two and a half hours away. It was from here that we were going to fly back to Portland, where we would begin our journey home the next morning. There wasn't really a sense of sadness as we set off though, largely because we had an adventure still to come, descending over 6000 feet into the hottest major city in the United States. As we drove, we noticed the terrain becoming increasingly more arid, with scrubland and then cacti appearing as we passed the fantastically named town of Bumble Bee. This was in stark contrast to the woodland of the Coconino National Forest, which we travelled through to start our journey down interstate 17 and to the capitol of the state of Arizona. We stopped off at a rest area to take a few pictures but the journey was largely uneventful, with the environs of Phoenix approaching quicker than we expected. Tux had used to live here in the Eighties and so pointed out the sheer scale of the urban sprawl since then, with around twenty miles being added to the city on its northern approach. None of the office units and shops were there back then, and it was interesting to get a plotted view of the development of the city. Due to inward migration, Arizona is one of the most rapidly increasing states in terms of population, with Phoenix being a huge draw. This is despite the major heat as it was touching 104F as I became reacquainted with the I10 - a road I knew so well back from my time in Louisiana. Indeed, it was the first time I had been on the road since 1995 and while I was still 800 miles from where I used to live, my heart did warm through the experience. As we drove through the urban freeway, we saw the skyscrapers at the heart of the modern city, along with one of the main stadia here, before Tux deposited us outside the Departures hall of the airport.

Saying goodbye was quite difficult - so much so that I accidentally left one of my jumpers in Tux's car - but we consoled ourselves in the fact that we may meet up again by the end of the year as Tux may be visiting Scotiacon. After thanking him deeply for planning and guiding us throughout the last two weeks, we waved him off as he headed to Orange County and we headed back to Portland, where our journey began. We had made good time and we were actually early, so we checked in, headed through security and waited, to our delight at a craft beer bar which served a range of brews from a local brewery. We tried a raspberry flavoured one and an orange one I think, while a lady sat next to us fifteen minutes later and touted me for a recommendation. She was most grateful for the choice I picked out for her, and we had a pleasant little chat as we waited for our plane. Alas, we couldn't spend more than an hour in this fantastic bar, which was a shame due to the sheer range of beer they had on offer, but with our flight due to be called, we had to rush to the gate. The wait wasn't too long and boarding was a breeze, with the journey passing over some wonderfully rugged mountain terrain, of which I managed to grab a few pictures. The flight was only about two hours and we had soon landed, in weather conditions far different to the oppressive sun and heat of Arizona. Back in Portland we were caught in a torrential thunderstorm swapping 104F for 58F so it was quite a shock, particularly without my coat. Still, we tried not to let it affect us as we grabbed our luggage and headed over to Island Number Two once more, where we asked the desk to phone the Ramada shuttle bus to take us to our hotel. This they did and twenty minutes later we were walking through the reception area of a rather tired hotel. One of the staff members seemed not to be too bothered by us, but the other was very friendly. The one not bothered was the one who served us, but at least we got our keys quickly and managed to settle in. Before taking a shower, we decided we needed to print out our Boarding Passes for the flight home and this proved to be more of an ordeal than we realised, largely due to confusing instructions from Thomas Cook. Still, we did what we could before I grabbed a shower in preparation for a night in Portland ahead.

It was our last night in the US and Portland being a beer city meant we couldn't turn down the opportunity to go out, particularly on a Friday. The only problem was that our flight out of Portland to Los Angeles, from where we were due to fly back to Manchester, left at 8am necessitating a 5:30am start. Still, we had planned to meet a number of furs downtown and didn't want to disappoint them. I had hoped to arrange the evening through Snelrev but he was busy, so he suggested Mousepaws, who arranged a nice little bar crawl for us. I had invited Tarka but he came down with concrud and couldn't make it, so it was just the three of us in the first bar. Due to time constraints, we decided to take a Lyft into town, and we got a rather friendly young woman to whom I enjoyed chatting. She was asking about our trip and seemed bubbly and vivacious, while we also got to talk about life as a taxi driver in your own personal car. We gave her a high tip and rating, largely because of her affibility but also because she dropped us off at our destination pretty much bang on time at 6pm. Our first stop was the Widmar Brothers Brewing Company, where we saw Mouse already at the bar. We grabbed a couple of flights each and joined him, with Wolfie disappearing to a table around fifteen minutes later as his friend Cal, his boyfriend and another friend joined him. The trio spoke and although we came over, there wasn't enough space on the table for another two, meaning we slunk back to the bar to finish our beers.

The beer was good - standard for Portland but good generally. The plan had been to move on to McMenamins White Eagle Saloon but Cal had already ordered food, meaning that they had to stay in Widmar's. Having spoken to Wolfie, it was decided that he stayed with them and I went up tp McMenamins for one with Mouse. This worked quite well, although I was a little frustrated that non-drinkers had been invited on a pub crawl. Still, Wolfie got to catch up with his friends and I got to sample another bar, which again resembled something like a British pub. It was quite dark and atmospheric, with a stage at the far end, which was being set up for live music. I grabbed a tasty snack of tater tots and bacon here as I hadn't eaten anything since lunchtime, while I sat on the stool at the bar, supping another great locally produced beer and chewing the fat with Mouse. He seemed to know a lot of the bar staff so we got into conversation too, which only enhanced the general friendly vibe of the place.

It was about 7:30pm by the time we left, heading back to Widmar Brothers to see Wolfie and his entourage. They had just finished so we all left together, with Cal and friends heading one way and Wolfie, Mouse and myself heading to Labrewatory, a place which allows home brewers to sell their beer to the general public. This was a great place, understandably busy, but with a strong range of different beers in different styles. They even had an ESB called Extra Special Brexit made with English hops, which was a shame. We had the mole milk stout (Mole Mole Mole) and the kettled sour pale ale (Georgia On My Mind) from memory and both had exquisite flavour profiles. This place was probably the highlight of the microbrewries we tried due to the sheer diversity of the beer they had on tap.

While we were here, I was tweeting Noxy, who said he could come meet us after work. We arranged to meet at the Ecliptic Brewing Company up on North Mississippi Street, which necessitated a half mile walk from Labrewatory. It was getting dark by this stage, and we had to cross under the interstate. All of this, coupled with the alcohol, made the steel and concrete bridges particularly imposing, partiuclarly as between the brew street where we were and the huge brewing scene near Ecliptic there was nothing but eerily desolate light industrial units. This added quite the atmosphere - in a full moon no less - as we traipsed up the hill and towards Ecliptic, outside which Noxy and his partner were waiting for us. It was great to see them again and after struggling to find a seat inside, we managed to nab a long bench and order another tasting tray, not to mention a desperately needed burger as we were craving food. I can remember the conversation being convivial but not much else. We stayed here for about an hour, but with the time pushing 10:15pm and with our early start, we knew that we had to head. This saw us saying our farewells, but not before we had ordered a Lyft further up the road, at least getting to experience some more of the brewing scene on North Mississippi. We got our car - a red pickup truck in actuality - outside Stormbreaker Brewing, which had a slight Wild West theme about it. Mouse popped in for a beer, Noxy and his partner left, while we were transported back to the hotel where we got a vague five hours sleep.

Getting up at 5:20am is hell enough as it is, but after a skinful it was torture. We did manage to drag ourselves out of bed though and get to reception for the 6am bus shuttle service to the airport. Once there, we found we had to wait in a humungous queue for check-in, with us being unable to do this online the day before due to some administrative reason of having booked the flights through Thomas Cook but us flying Alaska Air for the first leg of the journey. We also had to drop our luggage off anyway, and there was confusion here too as whether we would have to pick it up in LA (as we had to do when we routed through San Franscisco on the way in) or whether it would go straight on to Manchester. As it turned out it was the latter, but the check-in staff didn't seem sure and I wasn't convinced until I spoke to the check-in people in LA. Anyway, with luggage checked in, we made our way to the gate, deciding not to stop at the craft beer bar on the way due to the early hour. We also didn't have much time after the long check-in queue so this was probably wise too.

The first flight was smooth and we landed in LA on time, where we had a six hour layover before our Manchester flight. At any normal airport, this would be enough time to pop into the city centre but LAX is about an hour away from downtown Los Angeles and it's not particularly accessable. Perhaps we didn't need to go through to the terminal building outside security but we weren't sure about whether we needed to pick our bags up or not. What this meant though was that we had about four hours in the terminal building before we could check in for our flight back to the UK. We spent some of this time at a nice pizza restaurant in the main international terminal, while we also spent a while walking around the rather dull arrival and departure lounges. We saw someone with a Nutribullet, which pleased me no end due to the infomercials I have become somewhat addicted to on late night TV, while buying a neck pillow really was one of the highlights. Still, the four hours passed pretty quickly and once past security, at least we could get a drink from another place, albeit a trendy cocktail bar. This passed the time at least though and soon we were boarding our flight. The trip home was largely uneventful although I was disappointed they had the same movies going out as they had on the way in. Still, I got somewhat obsessed with Thomas Cook's two mascots - Lollo the Giraffe and Bernie the Bear, who have their own little song which was clearly written in a foreign language (I suspect Swedish) first before being translated into English as some of the phrasing didn't quite work. They even have their own dance routine which was interesting to watch about ten times. Aside from this, there was little else going here, suffice to say that the communication from the airline wasn't great. I doubt I would fly with them again, but at least it was cheap I suppose. Despite this, we were left with numerous happy memories of our trip and despite some initial misgivings, we are glad we went. It was just the right combination of furry stuff and tourist sightseeing and we will always be indebted to Tux for driving us around. And with more invites from American furs already, hopefully it won't be another five years before we go Stateside again.
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Thursday (8 June) was another warm day in northern Arizona, although as we were high up in the mountains, it wasn't sweltering. Of course, back home this was General Election Day and with a sizeable Tory majority still being predicted, I had started to feel somewhat apprehensive about the country we were going to which we were going to fly back that weekend. Being eight hours behind, the opinion poll was due to be released at 2pm, meaning we had a morning of touring before getting an inkling of the result. I had largely been able to put the election out of my mind thus far on the trip, just eyeing the opinion polls on Twitter on occasion, but the worries had started to increase during the 48 hours prior to the vote and thus I was somewhat apprehensive going into the day.

We left the hotel in Page shortly before 9:30am, with the intention of calling in on Horseshoe Bend as we made our way out of town. As befits the name, this is a stunning bend in the Colorado River, where we water traces a horseshoe shape around a huge dusty rock. Upon arriving at the car park, we were dismayed to discover that this natural wonder was a three-quarter mile walk away on a rather soft sandy surface, which meant Wolfie would struggle to proceed due to his injured foot. As a consequence, we made the executive decision to forge on with our plan, heading towards Monument Valley in Utah on our way to Four Corners National Park. Our decision to do Monument Valley was something of a last-minute thing, and we had only tried the night before in the hotel. Alas their internet site prevented us from purchasing the tickets while the phone line was engaged, both late on the Wednesday evening and when we had tried to phone them at 8am that morning. As a consequence, we could only drive down the public highway, route 163, but this proved to be a very good second-best option. The road pretty much picks its way through the stunning sandstone buttes and it is also largely straight, meaning you get a good view of them as you are approaching. Alas, there were few places where you can stop off and take pictures, meaning I spent a lot of the journey hanging out of the car window attempting shots, but it was ultimately worth it. The best rocks were just over the Utah border and the area was made famous by the number of movies in which they featured. Indeed, this array of thin and thick rocky columns and peaks came to define what the Wild West was, which only made these geological phenomena more fascinating. The stratification of the buttes only added to their wonder and although our drive through them was all too brief - they only last for about thirteen miles - it was certainly a worthy detour. The fact all of them had names such as The Totem Pole, Three Sisters and the West and East Mitten Buttes only added to their sense of mystery.

The principal town on the Utah side was the fantastically named Mexican Hat, which is little more than a rocky outpost. Crossing the San Juan River near there, we were stunned by the ninety degree turn the road performed so as to avoid a huge cliff, a turn which was made even more dicey as we were following a huge articulated vehicle. Mexican Hat itself was a rather dusty place, with a number of low rise hotels which looked more like shacks. There was a petrol station and 7-Eleven where we had a pit stop but ultimately this was exceptionally rural America within a rather Martian landscape of iron oxide rocks, swirling geological patterns and rock formations stacked in impossible ways. Driving on towards Four Corners, little changed, with all settlements being a few wooden huts amongst the scrubland, with the red rocky desert defining the area. It was a wonder to drive though but incredibly poor, and again a world away from the America you largely see on TV. Montzuma Creek was one such example - slightly bigger than Mexican Hat and with an elementary school - it still seemed a place where little actually happened and how the economy works out here is anyone's guess.

We pressed on towards Four Corners, soon crossing the Colorado border and entering state number 26 (number seven for Wolfie). The scenery didn't really change that much in Colorado and was a far cry from the Rocky Mountain terrain for which the state is most known, but I guess that was always to be expected. We followed Colorado Route 41 for a brief while before turning onto US State road 160, which lead us straight to Four Corners. On arrival, we noticed that we briefly crossed into New Mexico (state number 27, number eight for Wolfie) in order to get to the car park, with us parking behind one of the numerous small souvenir concessions which resembled concrete prison cells (or bus shelters if I was being generous) which opened out onto the monument itself. This was a big moment for me as I had wanted to visit Four Corners since I first heard about it in 1994. I was living in Louisiana then and our friends the Pontbriands had visited the previous summer. They showed us pictures of the four of them in four different states, and even at the age of 11, the young traveller in me was somewhat excited. So this was the realization of a dream of 23 years, so I was incredibly excited. Even better was that due to the place's remoteness, there weren't that many tourists, meaning seeing the monument and getting a picture of you standing in four states simultaneously was actually quite straightforward. The exact spot was marked by a brass plaque in the ground, beyond which there stretched some lines etched into the concrete which traced the outlines of the states for about ten metres. This formed four quadrants and on the edge of each there was written the state. The state flags, along with the two Native American regions' flags were flying here too, while further back near the souvenir stands there was a marble plaque in each state detailing that state's history. There was only about fifteen tourists at any one time waiting in line to take a picture at the actual spot, so we didn't have to wait too long to do the same. In all honesty though there was little else to do here and after buying a commemorative fridge magent and spotting a sign detailing the distance from here to all the major places in each of the four states, we hopped back in the car and headed off.

We were staying the night in Flagstaff AZ so it made sense for us to drive through New Mexico before reaching interstate 40 at Gallup. This allowed us to see some of another state, while it also meant we never retraced our steps. In reality though we were paying far too much attention to what was happening back in the UK as after we had passed through Shiprock - so named because there is a nearby rock buffe which looks exactly like a ship's sail - the exit poll for the General Election was released and we couldn't believe our eyes. Reception was hard to come by in rural New Mexico, but Wolfie managed to get a signal briefly. He was driving so couldn't spend too long messing about, but when we saw the headline we were plunged into a sense of elated shock. Initially I thought it wasn't right, that it was erroneously highlighting the 2015 exit poll, which was in the same ballpark. I quickly purchased data, churning over the phrase 'Conservatives are largest party' in my mind as this same thing had happened two years agon and pointed to a hung parliament rather than an outright majority. As I say, getting reception was a nightmare, but upon consulting my politically inclined friends on Twitter, it soon became apparent that the exit poll was correct and that the Tories had completely blown it. From a Brexit perspective, despite my despair at Jeremy Corbyn's position, this really gave me a boost and we spent most of the rest of the day glued to our phones as the results came in. We didn't want to count chickens, particularly as the 2015 exit poll had been about 20 seats out to the Tories' disadvantage but as shock after shock started to happen, we became increasingly confident that the majority had gone.

This boosted us, and Tux could feel it in the car too, even if we did have to apologise over and over to him about our distraction. We put NPR, public access radio on, but they covered little apart from the opinion poll itself. We were elated though and we weren't really paying much attention for the rest of the journey to Flagstaff. Fortunately, it was largely more of the same in terms of scenery, while our trip through Monument Valley meant we had to sacrifice other sights later in the day. As a consequence, we only stopped off in Gallup for fuel, while we also didn't get to see the Petrified Forest or Meteor Crater after we had crossed back into Arizona. However, we did manage to stop off at the city of Winslow on the way to Flagstaff, driving down some of the old historic route 66 as we did. Most of route 66 has been turned into interstate 40, but the roads through the old towns still remain, with Winslow being one of them. Winslow was made famous for being mentioned in the song "Take It Easy", which was performed by the Eagles. This meant it was thrown a lifeline as once the interstate was built, the town suffered economically. You can still see this on its outskirts but in the centre, there is a whole homage to the song, which references 'standing on the corner at Winslow, Arizona'. The corner is still there and there is a monument to the song, with statues and a mural at Second St. and Kinsley Ave. There are a number of shops and bars on this street too, and even a flat-bed Ford as mentioned in the song, suggesting something of a renaissance built on tourism, Meanwhile the railway tracks one block away, part of the huge coast to coast transport network, highlighted the once importance of these railroad towns and even now you could see trains over a mile long of containers shipped from China and being distributed across America. Here there were some delapidated warehouses, hinting at a town in decline, although the park next to the train tracks was a pleasant place for a stroll. Of course in the town there was a lot of reference to the historic route 66 and all of the myth and pathos of that road. It was all like something out of a Bruce Springsteen song, referencing middle-of-the-road America and it was a true privilege to see it.

This was pretty much our last stop of the evening aside from a rest area forty miles outside of Flagstaff, where we saw some rabbits. After a quick trip to the restroom, we pushed on and arrived at the Marriot Springhill Suites at around 6:30pm. After checking in, we headed over to Coco's Diner, a solid chain in the south-west where we had a pleasant burger but an even better dessert. They are a bakery and their speciality is cheesecakes, and I remember mine being absolutely divine. Through the meal, however, we were distracted by our phones and the election results, which were close to being fully declared by the time we headed to bed. We followed the final results in our hotel room, supping the last of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp beers (we ended up having to take only two beers back to the UK in our hold luggage as we had made a good concerted effort to get through our 12 remaining throughout the course of the week). It was an exhilarating night all-told and in a way I wish I had been back in the UK for it, although I wouldn't have traded this trip for that. The only negatives were our Tory MP retaining his seat and Nick Clegg losing his, but aside from this, it was a generally positive night. Indeed, it had been a generally positive fortnight and we went to bed happy, although sad that our vacation was coming to a close.
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I never thought I would ever see the Grand Canyon. As I don't really drive, it was never going to be overly accessable, so when Tuxedo suggested doing this roadtrip, one of the huge draws was being able to view it. Of course, I had heard about it and some of my friends had urged me to go, but I never thought I would get the opportunity. On Wednesday 7 June, I did.

We left Kanab at a reasonable hour and soon crossed into Arizona, with wide open green plains the terrain of the day. As we drove closer and closer to the Canyon, the landscape became more lush, with tall trees dotted everywhere. Indeed, this verdant landscape was one of the huge surprises of the region as it continued pretty much up to the rim of the Grand Canyon itself. We drove for about fifty miles down US Route 89A and turning onto Arizona state road 67. We were headed for North Rim, the less popular of the two sides of the Grand Canyon, with the South Rim being far more accessable from high population centres such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. The car park was pretty full when we arrived, but the number of tourists was actually quite low, and there was certainly plenty of opportunity to see the wonderous view into the Canyon and beyond. Words can't really do it justice, it was just a stupendous sight of rusty rock bluffs which seemed to stretch on for ever. It was remarkable to think that the Colorado River, which was so tiny in the cravasse below, was responsible for much of this stunning landscape. There was a path along which you could walk about a half mile, seeing over the canyon edge and into the valley below. Wolfie is scared of heights so he dropped back, allowing Tux and I to traverse the more dicey bits, with one point being a narrow bridge with a sheer drop on either side. Indeed, what was interesting about the place was how the canyon was actually on both sides of us, which demonstrated its sheer scale. We did manage to head up to Bright Angel Point, an exposed promontory which looked out over a meander in the canyon, where we could see a huge geological fault which was part of the reason behind the extreme landscape. It was exceptionally windy up here and I feared losing my hat, not least falling off the bluff as there was only a mid-height railing to guard against this, making me feel that perhaps Wolfie had made the right call by dropping back. The safest view was in the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge, a hotel and restaurant clinging right on the lip of the canyon, affording excellent views over the valley. The sheer scale of the place was such that we couldn't see the South Rim at all from where we were, which was surprising, but this only added to the awesomeness of the spectacle. There were a couple of other promontories on the other side of the lodge, which I explored while Wolfie lay on the sunlounger on the terrace admiring the view. I also got to spy Roaring Springs Canyon, from where most of the water for the North and South Rim area comes.

There was a modest collection of services at the car park area, with the Lodge being the largest. There was an incredibly hard to find Visitor Centre while we also grabbed some pizza at a little cafe in the main area of the park. As we were eating, the staff sang happy birthday to our server, which was a nice little touch and we tipped her more accordingly. In the gift shop, I became furry trash by buying the 'Who's Tail On The Trail At The Grand Canyon' book while the 'Who Pooped In The Park?' was also quite interesting. There was a touching scat event at the centre too, where you could learn all about animal shit. In the complex there was also a number of chalets which Tux had tried to book, as watching the sunrise (or indeed set) over the Canyon would have been truly magical, but alas they were all booked up a year in advance and we didn't get the trip planned until early April. The Visitor Centre was full of other interesting stuff too, largely dedicated to the geological processes involved as well as the flora and fauna in the area. The North Rim is a popular place for hiking, with a number of walks into the Canyon itself, but sadly we had to refrain, partly due to Wolfie's foot which was still causing him problems but also because of my desperate fear of snakes, with this definitely being snake habitat. The Visitor Centre merely confirmed this.

Despite our lack of walking, we were able to follow a vehicle trail which traced the valley for around twenty miles. We decided to work our way to the end and double back, spying mountain meadows as we did, which are often preserved due to the large number of forest fires in the region. The forest has a habit of taking over, so these natural fires have the ability to preserve different habitats, which is why many are managed these days. The road was narrow and largely forested, twisting and turning until it disgorged itself at a carpark. We parked up and walked the two hundred metres or so to the cliff edge, where a stunning vista greeted us. The rocks were layered in different hues of red, staggered upwards as the valley got wider the closer it got to us. There was vegetation staggered across this, punctuating the rustic colour with splotches of green. The panaoramic splendour was something else and you could see why people choose to get married here. We saw a quintent of elderly people battling against the wind as they tried to take a picture on the cliff edge, while Wolfie was concerned I was getting far too close to take my shots. Meanwhile, as we walked through the forest here, we saw dried up river channels which channeled water through the area and over the sheer cliff face upon which we were standing.

After drinking this in, we headed back to the car and the next vantage point, which afforded another excellent view and indeed the only one where we could see a tributary of the Colorado River below (with the river often being obscured by the topography). Here we met a local ranger, indeed the one who had checked our annual pass as we rolled into the Park, who was monitoring the National Park but was willing to speak to anyone as she did. We saw her talking to a couple with a rather bouncy dog, before we had a chat about how the area was formed. She told us about a prehistoric site just over the road called the Walhalla Ruin, which was occupied by Puebloan farmers 800-1100 years ago. They were pre-historic Indians known as the Kayenta Anasazi, and they left around 1150AD. In the summer months they lived up here, whereas in the winter months when the valley was cooler, they lived by the river. How they got between the two still remains a mystery but what is known is that they were good farmers, growing crops such as beans, squash and corn. The ruins were the remnants of a modest old house within the forest, very near the canyon edge, and it certainly made for an interesting diversion.

Roosevelt Point was our next stop for more canyon fun. This used to be a huge plain until two tectonic plates collided, buckling the land upwards. It was this which created the Rocky Mountains and the smoother Colorado Plain out to the west, again creating a stunning vista. We stopped here for a few photos before pressing on to Point Imperial, another vantage point some 8000ft above sea level. There was a toilet here and it was here that we saw our Ranger friend again, who had disappeared as we had headed to Walhalla. She was talking to a huge group of Chinese tourists, who were blocking the promontory somewhat, meaning I had to be quick to get my pictures. No dinosaur fossils have ever been found at the Grand Canyon because the layers from their era were softer than the rock around it, meaning it has been eroded. There is no visible basement rock here, creating a more swirling and erratic landscape, and highlighted just how immense the whole area is.

This was the final stop really, and as we headed out of the park, we stopped off at a convenience store for supplies. The lady inside was really friendly and we told her about our trip, which surprised her due to the sheer distance we were aiming to cover. We then got back in the car and headed back the way we came, turning right when we got to the 89A as we were bound for Page, where we were due to stay for the night. The scenery was initially flat scrubland, but in the distance we saw a long sandstone ridge approaching. Taking the opportunity to park at a layby full of RVs, we took a few pictures of the rocky cliff and the sprawling plataeu beneath us before pressing on, listening to the delightful comedy of George Carlin as we did. I had never heard much Carlin before but I know he was seminal in the field of stand-up, so it was a real pleasure to get to know his work. It was also great listening to him with friends driving through the Arizona desert. As we kept driving, the landscape became more rocky again, with steep cliffs through which the road ran. We stopped off at a number of vantage points before we crossed over into the Navajo Reservation. The border was the Colorado River and here there was a Visitor Centre. It being around 6pm, it was closed, but there were two stunning steel bridges spanning the river - one for the road and the other for pedestrians. Spying a photo opportunity, we pulled into the carpark and walked across the bridge, taking some pictures of the stunning river valley beneath us. As I did, I spotted two vultures circling overhead before they landed on the ironwork beneath me. I managed to grab a couple more snaps before they took off. In the distance we saw a small by-plane coming into land, followed by a second, while I got chance to take photographs of the stunning rock bluffs which littered the area.

The temperature had hit over 100F by now but this didn't deter us, with us getting out of the car yet again to take some more photos over a plain. Here there were a number of small tents from which Native Americans were selling a range of handmade products, although due to the late hour they were largely packing up. We then pressed on to Page, checking into our hotel shortly after 7pm. Page was only really founded for one reason - the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1950s. Founded in 1957, it was initially a place for the workmen and now where most of the scientists who administer the dam live. It does have a thriving tourist industry though and with a population of over 7000, it's not a particularly small place. We visited the dam and it is a wonder of engineering, a sheer concrete edifice plunging into the river. The curved shape of the structure only added to its grandeur, as did the electricity wires spanning from it, leading to a sub-station perched high up the river valley. To get good views of the dam and the valley, we walked across the road bridge, which had a metal barrier to protect us from falling. There were holes cut out of the meshing at various junctures though, meaning we could take unimpeded images, but I was very fearful I would lose my phone to the wind. Behind the dam was the water of Lake Powell, a popular tourist spot and a stunning body of water in such a dry area. The dam and wrought iron road bridge in the background were true testiments to engineering and it was interesting that when we headed back to the hotel later that night, we ended up watching a documentary about how the dam was made. I wasn't sure whether that was on by coincidence or whether it was a local channel that showed nothing else, but it was certainly fascinating to watch as we drank one of our Sierra Nevada beers, with us needing to get through them by the time we had to board our flight to Portland on the Friday.

The only other thing we did that night was enjoy some excellent Mexican food at Fiesta Mexicana. Arizona's Mexican food is supreme and this restaurant certainly was. We found it as it was one of the most highly rated in the area, evidenced by the fact we had to wait twenty minutes to get a table on a Wednesday evening. Once we did though it was worth it, with a fantastic burrito served with refried beans, rice and salad. After all the free tortilla chips and salsa it was perhaps a bit too much, and we did leave feeling rather bloated, but it was an exquisite meal nonetheless. Driving through Page was an experience too as we saw a rather neat little town with loads of churches, a number of nice houses and a few good restauarants. I'm not sure there was much else aside from the fast food and hotel places off the main road which skirted the town, but it certainly seemed a wholesome little place, a slice of true America. It was definitely good to be here.
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So it was quite an early start on the Tuesday (6 June) morning as we had to cross a timezone to get to Zion National Park. It was only an hour and a half from Mesquite but with the hour time difference, it meant the journey felt like two and a half hours. We crossed into Arizona pretty much as we left the casino car park, travelling up I-15 which weaved its way through a stunning mountain pass just north-east of Littlefield. The sandy rock formations, jagged and tilted in wonderous directions made for a great view as the interstate snaked its way through them, with each corner delivering an even more breathtaking scene. Carving a motorway through here was quite an achievement and even though the scenery lasted a mere fifteen minutes or so, it was undoubtedly one of the more memorable parts of the trip.

The interstate is only in Arizona for something like thirty miles, cutting across the far north-western corner of the state, meaning we were in Utah before we knew it. It was here that we crossed the timezone, although only technically as Arizona is on Mountain Time but does not observe Daylight Savings meaning it is on the same time as the Pacific Coast in the summer months. In the town of St George, we stopped off at a Pilot truck stop to get gas and the obligatory 32oz Big Gulp, surveying the almost lunar landscape beneath us. It was then back in the car, passing near but not through the town of Leeds on our way to Springfield, which is pretty much the gateway to Zion National Park. We parked up outside a Hampton Inn and slathered ourselves in suncream, with the temperature forecast to be in the 90s and already quite high at 11am. We then waited in the shade at bus stop number six for the shuttle bus which was to take us to the park. As we rode, we spied the awesome craggy landscape rising high above us and we knew that this was going to be an awesome experience.

The bus was part of the orange Springdale line, which connected the town with the entrance of the Park. We then had to walk over a bridge, showing our Annual Pass as we did, before exploring the visitor centre and gift shop. Here we bought a Zion National Park hat, largely because we were concerned about sunburn and wanted extra protection. The line for the second bus was quite lengthy but it did move pretty quickly, meaning it wasn't too long before we were being transported through the Park itself. This was the green Zion National Park line, which had nine stops along the route. We decided to go to the farthest first and work back, meaning we stopped on all the way to the Temple of Sinawava. The journey was about forty minutes in length and as we made our way up the river valley, we were struck by the sheer scale and awesomeness of the crags we were viewing. The fact that we were actually in the valley too only enhanced the sheer scale of everything, and indeed it was quite surprising that such a tame river could have created all this. At the Temple of Sinawava, we opted to follow the river deeper into the canyon, following a footpath which took us around a couple of meanders amidst this awesome spectacle. There were a number of other tourists there so my fears about snakes were somewhat unfounded, while we did manage to get to see some interesting wildlife, particularly the deer who weren't too bothered by the human presence. We did track one for quite a while before it broke across the path and into the river, wanting a drink. However, it was the squirrels who were the most friendly, with many of them literally posing for me to take pictures of them. Despite the 'do not feed the animals' signs, I suspect many people did. The canyon narrowed as we kept walking, with the cliffs being particularly steep. This was due to the geology of the area, with the Virgin River being confined by the hard Navajo sandstone, meaning it had to cut straight down. This was in contrast to the wider river valley, through which the bus had driven.

We walked along the path until it had run its course, with the option of going deeper should we want to wade through the river. As tempting as this would have been, we hadn't brought suitable shoes, so we sat and watched the children playing with their families before doubling back and catching the bus. We got off at stop number 8, Big Bend, to see the sheer cliff faces plunging towards two meanders in the river, before hopping on the next bus, which conveniently came just five minutes later. It was a really well-thought out system as it enabled us to see a lot of the park very efficiently. At Big Bend, there was an interesting sign detailing the Mormon Christian names for the rocks, and how they had taken their inspiration from the Bible.

Stop number 7 was Weeping Rock, where a dripping stream feeds a garden of moss and ferns. The impermeable rock here acts like a reservoir, forcing water (particularly snowmelt) through cracks in the canyon walls. It is in these walls that vegetation could grow, in stalk contrast to the rusty and sandy rocks around it. We had a short walk up one of the sides of the canyon and into Weeping Rock, which afforded a breathtaking view of the lush green river valley in front of us, backgrounded by the harsh red hues of the steep cliff. Walking up there, we got to learn about the different flora in the valley, and if it was up to me, we would have done one of the longer walks up the cliff face. However, Wolfie's foot was starting to bother him and he couldn't even get up to Weeping Rock, missing out from standing under the overhang and surveying this miraculous vista. This meant we had to take it slowly from hereonin, so after a good ten minutes appreciating the view, we descended and walked to the bus stop, where we hopped on another bus which took us to Stop number 6 - The Grotto. This was a walk up one of the cliffs, which we couldn't do, but we did walk to bus stop number five, which was along the road. As we did, we noticed a helicopter circling - indeed it was one we had spotted on the ground as we had come up the river valley by bus some three hours earlier - with it occasionally coming close to the cliff edge to survey something up there. As we walked, we bumped into a geological surveyor who had a piece of apparatus pointing where the helicopter was stationed, and he told us that there was someone trapped up there. We watched the drama unfold for a short while before we saw the helicopter pull away, at which point we decided to finish our walk and get to the bus stop.

Zion Lodge was halfway up the valley and situated here was a restaurant, so we decided to grab some lunch. We just had sandwiches, with me picking out the tomato as I always do, while we also grabbed a local beer too. We didn't realise that the Zion Brewery had a concession outside, meaning we opted for a more mainstream craft beer, but it wasn't too much of a big deal as we had spotted a cafe at the Park entrance which was selling the brewery's beer. Finding a table amongst all of the tourists was tough and we ended up in the beating afternoon sun, but it was good to put our feet up for fifteen minutes and take a breather before completing the rest of the tour. To be honest, there wasn't much else to see after this. The scenery at the Court of the Patriarchs and Canyon Junction was impressive, but not as good as it had been further up the valley, and by the time we pulled in at bus stop number two, time was getting pressing anyway. Here is where the Zion Museum is situated, which gave details about the geology, flora and fauna of the local area, not to mention the customs of the local indigenous population. A brief history of the National Park was also covered and while there was a video presentation lasting twenty-five minutes, we opted to skip this and head back to the Visitor Centre, which was at bus stop number one.

Upon leaving the Park, Tux agreed that we go to the Zion Brewery cafe, where we discovered that in Utah, it is illegal to buy alcohol without food. This would be a nightmare for us, but as we wanted to try this local brewery, we decided to grab a pretzel with sweet honey mustard just to observe the law. It wasn't a mistake, it was actually quite delicious, while the beers we imbibed were perfect after a long hot day in the sun. We spent about an hour in the bar before hopping back on the Springdale Line bus and ultimately to the car. We had a short drive ahead of us of about ninety minutes, the first part of which was taking route 9 through Zion National Park itself (I love how the road signs in Utah are shaped to represent beehives but look a little like a turd). Tux had done this once back in the Eighties with his mother in a huge RV, but it had been winter and not a particularly pleasurable experience, so he was glad to be doing it again in better circumstances. I didn't blame him for his previous fears as the road hugged the cliff edge quite tightly, while there were a number of twisty turning tunnels which were marvels of engineering but were actually quite disorientating. It was so easy to get distracted by the stupendous scenery, which as a passenger I was permitted to drink in, and as we left the National Park we couldn't help but feel we had been to a rather special place. As we left, the terrain had one final treat though, small coned hills with varying layers where the wind had whipped around them.

The journey to our hotel for the night in the small town of Kanab was largely uneventful. We stopped off at the Checkerboard Mesa, a hill so-called due to the checkboard appearance on its surface, with horizontal lines caused by the cross-bedding of ancient sand dunes and the vertical lines caused by cracking due to temperature variation in winter as water freezes and thaws. Desert bighorns are native to this area but alas we did not see any. Aside from this, the terrain largely stayed the same and we pulled into Kanab at about 7pm. There isn't a load to do in this small town although it was interesting to see the giant white K carved into the hillside in the distance. Utah streets are also interestingly named based on their location from a central point, so our hotel was on 200 east for example. There is a logic to a lot of the American naming system. We were feeling quite tired so we didn't want to venture too far, instead going to the Three Bears Creamery across the road for dinner. My sandwich was alright, albeit somewhat small and only served with crisps, but it was the ice cream where they came into their own, with a wide range of flavours from a local dairy. I had mint choc chip and a local berry flavour, and it was definitely worth it, making it a rather excellent way to end the day.
lupestripe: (Default)
The Monday after BLFC was always going to be the longest day driving, and we clocked about 10 hours overall. We got up reasonably early and said goodbye to Sierrapup in the hotel lobby after we had spent a good half hour carting all of our supplies from the room to the car. We also gave Taneli his con stuff which he had left in our room before we bid our farewells, with those two bound to follow our route for a third of our journey before they branched off towards Las Vegas.

We left the con hotel at around 10:30am, and it was rather sad to leave, although the Sunday evening Dead Dog night was definitely quite sparsely populated, making this the right time to go. After filling up with petrol, we headed out into the suburbs, where the terrain soon turned into sandy scrubland. Apparently this area is popular with retirees but as we moved further away from Reno, the more sparsely populated it became. Towns like Fearnley and Fallon passed us by, with a number of small delapidated villages lining Route 95 as we headed towards Hawthorne. Many of them seemed to exist only to sell Fireworks, with a few warehouses dotted between the rundown wooden buildings. Just outside of Hawthorne, we stopped off at Walker Lake, a rather rare expanse of water in a semi-arid environment. We found a parking spot just off the road, where we pulled in to take some pictures over the lake. In the sand, we saw a handful of lizards playing while in the distance we could see rows upon rows of identical white huts which form the Hawthorne Army Depot, where a load of military weapons are stored. Hawthorne is very much an army town, and the main street was bedecked with American flags (indeed it was here that I took the most American photo ever, with a McDonald's sign on one side of the road, an American flag on the other and a pick-up truck bombing down the middle). On our right as we entered we saw the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum, outside which there was a miscellaneous collection of hard artilery. Alas, we didn't have time to drop by though as lunch was calling, which saw us stop off at the rather tired looking restaurant in the El Capitan Casino. This was a place that Tux knew quite well and although the service was slow, the sandwich was pretty tasty, although the honey in the tea was pretty disgusting. It was a relaxing pitstop, however, even if it was a world away from the GSR back in Reno.

As we turned towards Tonopah, it was highlighted just how desolate this area is, as there was a sign warning us that the next gas would be 100 miles away. Fortunately, we had filled up, meaning we were safe as we drove through yet more arid scenery littered by incredibly poor villages in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, the poverty here was quite shocking and a long way away from the America that is projected on our TV screens. I had seen this before when I lived in Louisiana but the desolation on every level was quite shocking, even for me. Indeed many of these towns had seen better days, probably in the days of mining, and some of them had more RVs and pick-up residences than actual houses. The motels in these parts were particularly sorry.

The scenery didn't really change as we were driving. There was a salt flat near Mina from memory, and after that the terrain became even more arid, with sand predominating with a few scrubby bushes dotted about. In the distance there was the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which must have been so tantilizing for anyone caught out here in this incredibly dry environment. The only other exciting thing that happened before Tonopah was when we stopped due to some roadworks taking place. The traffic was allowed to form one long line, meaning we had a good five minutes just parked in the road. This enabled me to get out and take some pictures before having to jump back inside to continue our journey.

To say that we had travelled 100 miles to get there, there wasn't an awful lot in Tonopah aside from a gas station, a few hotels and a small number of residences. It was as prosperous as Hawthorne had been though and looked rather pleasant, set into one of the few hillsides we had seen close up. It did have a bit of a Wild West feel, but there was the Tonopah Brewing Company along with some decent accommodation, highlighting that it is something of a tourist town, albeit a modern one. Equidistant between Reno and Las Vegas, I suppose it makes a good stopping off point and while Taneli and Draken would have kept following Route 95, we turned off and followed Route 6 into even more rural Nevada. There were hills on this route, albeit sandy rocky shallow peaks very similar to the ones outside Marrakech in Morrocco. It did make for more involved scenery at least and the road being cut into some of them at least made that part of the journey more lively.

Further down the road, we turned onto Nevada Route 375 - commonly known as the Extra Terrestial Highway - as it is the road closest to Area 51. You don't ever get to see the infamous place, it being situated over a brow of some hills you see as you drive along, but the town of Rachel is the closest place and they have capitalized entirely by opening the Little A'le' Inn cafe there. Rammed to the rafters with alien memorabilia, it made a pleasant stop to get some ice cream, not to mention some tourist tat that they sold in abundance. We got a fridge magnet before noticing some beer in the back storeroom, so we got a bottle of this too. While we were here, we watched footage from the One Love concert in Manchester, which had taken place the day before in response to the terrorist bombing in the city a fortnight earlier. It was rather surreal watching scenes from a place I know so well in this cafe in the middle of rural Nevada. The cafe has definitely hammed up the alien stuff, both inside and out, but it was a nice novelty and on the way out, I got chatting to a bloke in his pick-up who was clearly bored and had nothing else to do. This isn't hugely surprising in a place that only has a population of 54, but it turned out that he was from the East End of London, and had moved over to the US as a kid. You couldn't tell he was British but he reminisced fondly about the place, probably more fondly than I feel about it right now.

We were only ever going to stay a short time in Rachel as we had to press on, still having another three hours of driving to go. On our way we saw dust storm tornadoes and Wolfie saw a roadrunner, resisting his coyote/wolf urges to go and chase it. Wolfie was driving by this point and I was in the back, with the length and heat of the day starting to take its toll. I was quite sleepy and missed the roadrunner, not aided by the gloaming skies nor the luggage piled up in the back seat next to me. Our destination was the border town of Mesquite, which was a far cry from the glamour of Reno. We were staying in the Virgin River Casino, which again had seen better days, but the hotel section in seven separate communes out back was comfortable enough. We were in commune 7, and after a rather lengthy wait to pick up our keys, we headed to our room. For the only time during the trip, we were to be in a separate room to Tux, and it was this that contributed to it being four times the price of our stay at GSR - and that was only one night compared to five. We had got an insanely good deal in Reno due to Tux being fulled compped for three nights, as well as him being on staff. All in all, the five nights cost us $5.75 each as there was four of us in the room, which truly was bargain of the century. This was roughly the price of a poor quality steak in the restaurant of the Virgin River, which is where we went once we had checked in. The casino floor had definitely aged, but there was still a good number of machines, which were quite busy considering it was a Monday evening. The restaurant, even though it was 9:30pm, was also quite rammed. The steak was on special offer and so we couldn't get past it, although you definitely got what you paid for - in this case $6,99. The steak was definitely poor quality, the vegetables mushy and the baked potato was somewhat burnt, but the butter was to die for, and that made it okay in my book. Indeed, the butter was so good I avoided the sour cream entirely, which is rare for me. I suppose I can't complain too much though, considering it was so cheap.

After the meal, I just wanted to crash so Wolfie and I left Tux playing on some of the slots. The night air was touching 100F and it was clear we had gotten a lot closer to Las Vegas and with it to a lot lower elevation. Even when we woke up at 7am it was still blistering. We had hoped to go to the casino again for breakfast, but we slept in slightly and fearing we didn't have enough time, we absconded to the McDonald's across the road. Judging by the quality of the food, this was no bad thing, and as we assembled outside the car for 8am, I was delighted we were bang on time. It was an early start, but we were about to cross our first timezone and with it, move one hour ahead. We were also about to visit two new states, which I will detail next time.


Jul. 2nd, 2017 09:17 pm
lupestripe: (Default)
In many ways, BLFC was the exact opposite to Furlandia. It was bigger, with a full suite of events and there was never a time when you were struggling for something to do. Going to a con that was tipping over 5000 attendees always filled me with some element of trepidation as there is a very real chance of being lost amongst the crowds, but this didn't happen in Reno. Indeed, it turned out to be one of the best cons I have ever attended.

Just walking through the lobby you sensed that this would be unlike any other convention to which you had ever been. The clinking sound of casino instruments greeted you, along with the guady lights tempting you to play. The thing that struck you most was the darkness though, in complete contrast to the warm sunny afternoon from which we had just emerged. We checked in and spent the next hour shuttling supplies from our car to the hotel room, which was way up on the 23rd floor. The hotel itself was split so there was a set of lifts for floors 1-8, others for 9-17 and more for 17 and above (floor 17 got double service for some reason). This meant that waiting for a lift wasn't as arduous a process as I feared it would be, and going to and from the room turned out to be a breeze. Once checked into our room, we met with our other roommate Sierrapup pretty early on, with him being a long friend of Tux. He arrived early evening on the Wednesday after finishing work two hours' drive away, and it turned out we shared a good number of interests.

The hotel itself was fantastic. The large casino dominated the main floor but most of the convention space was in the basement, where there were huge events spaces, not to mention a number of eateries including Port of Subs and Johnny Rockets. There was also a full 30-lane bowling alley tucked away to the side, with go-karting and bungee jumping in the parking lot outside. On the main level, there was a choice of eight restaurants with all different cuisines, while we were also introduced to the wine vending machine, where you loaded up a special card with money and you could get 2oz, 5oz and 8oz samples of any of 80 wines. It was a really good system and cheaper than the beer, which was quite expensively priced due to where we were. The place itself was absolutely massive and there was an awful lot of walking, which made the con feel quite spread out. Registration was a synch and shortly after proceeding, we bumped into Tarka and Taneli, with the three of us retiring to the otter's room to sample some more of the wine he had brought. It was to be the first of many room parties we were going to enjoy - indeed I have never been to a con where I have been invited to so many.

The Wednesday evening really was just an orientation day. We bumped into one of my Hong Kong friends, with whom we ate dinner in the wine place, before we had gone to Tarka's for wine. After this, we must mooched around downstairs, ending up in one of the bars where I ended up being sucked into an argument taking place between a man and a woman who were clearly partners. He was a bit of a wanker but she was incredibly drunk, and spent the next twenty minutes hemming me in and telling me how proud she was of herself, which was a bit odd. This was after I had explained what the furry thing was and how it was an expression of individuality, which is something with which she could get on board. She also detailed her childhood history of abuse, which was incredibly awkward, and I listened sympathetically while Wolfie and Tarka were enjoying my discomfort. At an appropriate point, I made my excuses and headed to the toilet before returning back another way. Earlier in the day, Tarka showed us his photography ruse of taking three pictures of fursuiters using an old 90s camera and then giving them a floppy disk with those images upon it. The look on their faces was priceless and I was even given a disk of my own.

There were a number of interesting panels at BLFC but other things so often clashed, meaning I only got to do half of the things I wanted. I did go and visit the pup play area and enjoyed my first puppy mosh, although I was too shy to get on the mats and play. Part of the problem here was my lack of availability in the days before the mosh, which took place on the Saturday, to meet up and get to know the other pups at some of the other social events they did. I did bump into Nachohusky though, who I had spoken to earlier in the con, and he assuaged my fears somewhat. I had only intended to stick my face in and see what it was all about, but on his recommendation I went back to the room and picked up my latex pup hood for the final half hour of the event. I am glad I did this, as I was in two minds about whether I wanted to go at all, not really knowing anyone there. However, I had signed my name up to the event and there were puppy prizes on offer (not that I won any) so it was good to make an appearance. I had hoped to go to the beginners guide to pup play on the Friday night but it was an 18+ event and you needed ID, something I didn't have as I was fursuiting at the time.

The reason for the Friday night fursuiting was that this was the Fursuit Festival, which was their equivalent of the Fursuit Parade. Due to the numbers and the nature of the hotel, a parade wasn't appropriate so from 6pm to 9pm all of the suiters gathered in the huge main dance area. The main purpose of this was to take the big fursuit photo, where I was once again obscured by some tall guy with his arms in the air, after which there are a number of different photoshoots littered across the hall. Done in 15 minute intervals, they are based on things like maker, suit colour and species, although initially I thought it was just by maker, meaning I was to be billy no-mates again. This meant that I missed the pink photoshoot but at least I got to do the husky one, which is indeed where I met Nacho and my green friend Hex, who I kept bumping into on a regular basis. Indeed, he was at the inflatable panel the following day, where a large collection of inflatables were set up. I enjoyed taking photographs here and helping the fursuiters create a tower of deer made out of the smaller inflatables. There were a number of my SE Asian friends in this panel for some reason and it was great to see them so soon after FURUM, so this was definitely a fun panel to go to.

Lerching back to Friday evening, I sat out the pony play event, even though I really wanted to go as I had a room party to attend. It was with a group that didn't really get going throughout the con, which was a shame, although part of the problem was it was quite cliquey. The room party was small and thus didn't prevent me from going to the 10pm event which was the Kink Discussion Panel hosted by Stormy and Toby. One thing to point out about BLFC was just how open everyone was regarding their fetishes - it was certainly okay for people to walk around in latex pup and pony gear, which is something to consider should we ever go again. I quite liked this more adult side of furry being on display and felt that in an 18+ venue such as a casino, it was an appropriate place to express this. It also made meeting kinky friends an awful lot easier, which is also no bad thing. The Kink Discussion was very good, even if we did have to speak louder during the second hour due to the recording of a furry podcast in the adjacent room. We explored a range of different fetishes and many people discussed their experiences, both positive and negative, dom and sub. We also delved into the psychological aspect of fetish, which touched on things like it being an outlet for childhood abuse. I ended up discussing in-depth about my self-harm issues and how a kinky lifestyle has enabled me to channel these destructive emotions into something more productive. It was an incredibly hard thing to admit, and I hadn't gone there with the intention of discussing it, but it seemed appropriate given the nature of the talk along with the supportive people who were around me. I had liked to have stayed after the event, but Draken was hungry and wanted to get some food, so ushered us out rather quickly. This was a shame as it meant that we were somewhat on our own that night after midnight, with Wolfie having gone to bed to nurse his foot after the panel and Draken having gone to a room party. This left Taneli and myself alone in his room eating Cheetohs and drinking wine, feeling somewhat deflated.

I didn't really go to many room parties, although I did host one for littles which was quite well attended. We ended up watching the Disney version of Robin Hood and eating junk food, which was a great way to spend an evening. There was a second similar party in our room the day after as well, which was even better attended, so we did get to meet some like-minded people. Wolfie was away both times as it wasn't really his thing, the second time having been roped into the rope workshop panel as they wanted volunteers to demonstrate some tying up techniques. There was the usual room party at Spoticus's place, but he had an executive suite which you needed a special key card to access. I tried going up the stairs but they had locked the door on floor 27, meaning I had to miss out. I wasn't too fussed about this though as Spoticus will be at EF so I'll be able to have my fill there.

Aside from this, the only other room party we attended proved to be the one which has generated the longest lasting friendships - Ofthewild's Beer Tasting Event. I found out about this as we were touring the Sierra Nevada Brewery on the Wednesday morning, with Tux saying I should get in touch with him. This I did and it was one of the reasons why I ended up buying the Beer Camp box set from Sierra Nevada. Fortunately, I didn't seem too weird or pushy when I kept asking him for details, which he finally gave on the Friday night. He was staying in a deluxe room and once we were there, we were greeted by about 20 furs who were congregating around a sofa, all supping beer. There was a huge red ice chest which was full to the brim with booze, while we added the bottles we had brought too. This was the same night as my littles party so we could reluctantly only stay an hour, but we got to try small splashes of about ten different beers in that time, all from breweries of which I had never heard before. Meeting Ipequey was the highlight here and we bonded over music, as he was wearing a Pulp Different Class T-shirt, which was very much the music of my teenage years. We chatted endlessly about the Britpop and indie scene, forming such a friendship that he has already invited us to visit Austin for a craft beer tour there. There was a second beer party the next day, which we also dropped into, but alas Ipequey wasn't there so we couldn't meet up. We are chatting regularly on Telegram though and of all the new people we met, he is the one who is probably our closest friend.

The Dealers' Den was pretty extensive, although noticably there was a huge vacant space in the middle. All of the NSFW stuff was shepherded into one room, and you had to show ID to get in. Wolfie convinced the bouncer to check ID on the way out, ensnaring one poor chap who didn't have ID on him. With the bouncer not letting him past and the room being a dead end, he was stuck there in limbo for a considerable amount of time. There wasn't an awful lot of adult stuff on sale at the con, with most of the main space being taken up by the usual mix of accessories, clothing and books. We bumped into Fox Amoore and we chatted a wee while, while I picked up some glowy pink ears. We also looked at getting a pink harness, but the prices were quite high and Nachtkrallen told me that he can make them for an awful lot cheaper. This meant I skipped this purchase. Meanwhile, I thought the art show was quite poor, with very few works at all and only a modest artist section. For a con of this size, I would have expected more, but there wasn't really anything.

Aside from all of this, we just had fun bimbling around the con. The go-karting and bowling was free at certain times of the day, meaning I got to experience karting for the very first time. I was a little nervous at first and ended up dropping a half lap behind everyone else, effectively racing on my own for most of the middle part of the race. However, once I found the racing line and boosted confidence, I managed to catch up with everyone. Unfortunately, as I was making my first overtake, the power was cut, bringing an end to the racing, but the fortunate aspect of this was it did prevent Wolfie from lapping me. I was a little distracted at this time though as this was when news of the London terrorist attack was filtering through and we wanted to keep up-to-date with everything that was happening. Wifi was a little difficult to get outside and it was only when we returned that we realized the full horror of what was unfolding.

As well as the con, we did manage to go into Reno on the Thursday, exploring the city for half a day. There was a biker festival being set up in the middle of town so some of the main thoroughfares were closed, but we wandered through stalls selling aggressively patriot and invariably black t-shirts along with other biker paraphenalia. We had gotten a Lyft to downtown, with the kind driver correcting Taneli's random pinpoint destination by driving us to where we actually needed to be. He also highlighted one of the gay bars in a rather matter-of-fact but borderline homophobic manner, before dropping us off on one of the main intersections. We then started exploring this rather modest place. We saw a number of old casinos, which were looking rather tired in comparison to the more modern Grand Sierra out of town. The guady lights were particularly enticing however, particularly in the evening, with the pink 'Reno The Biggest Little City In The World' being the iconic symbol of the city. Before nightfall, we walked along the Truckee River which was rather picturesque in the beating sun, stopping at a cafe to grab a beer when we felt we had done enough exploring. After this, we headed to the National Automobile Museum, one of five dotted across the US. This one contains many vehicles from the private collection of late casino owner William F. Harrah, and details the history of the American motorcar from around 1900 all the way to the 1970s. Each gallery is linked by a themed "street", featuring vehicles as well as faux shop fronts, adding a little style to proceedings while there were also a number of cars there owned by famous people such as Elvis Presley's 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, Frank Sinatra's 1961 Ghia L6.4, John F. Kennedy assigned 1962 Lincoln Continental and John Wayne's 1953 Chevrolet Corvette. The range of cars was extensive and indeed we struggled to find time to see everything before the museum closed, with Taneli and Draken being far more efficient than we were as we wanted to appreciate all of these fantastic machines.

The Museum closed at 5:30pm, with us having covered Galleries 1 and 2 pretty well, but really rushing through 3 and 4. It was here that we said goodbye to Taneli and Draken, who headed back to the hotel, while we were due to meet up with Tux an hour later and go to the Reno Aces baseball game. With an hour to kill, we walked back along the Truckee River and headed to the Sierra Nevada bar, which was a little dingy, very much like a rock pub. There was a nice outside bit though overlooking the river so we sat and had a drink, overlooking a charming park on the other side. Enjoying the sun, it was shame we had to leave, but the ball park was right next to the Automobile Museum and we had to walk back along the river to reach it.

The hub-bub of fans heading into the sports stadium was starting to build and Tux arrived about five minutes after we did. We looked at some of the stalls in the grounds of the stadium as Tux collected the tickets. Soon we were inside and found our seats, with us going to get the traditional hot dog and beer that accompanies American sporting events. It was expensive but delicious, and we did get a beer for tips as they had inadvertently poured one too many for a previous customer. We were happy to take it. The game itself started at 7:05pm, with the national anthem sung in unison by over 4000 baseball fans. I always struggle with national anthems so it did feel a little awkward, but we stood in reverential silence as it was played. After this, the ball game began, and what I didn't realise was just how tactical it was. I do know the basic rules of baseball but there are times when it was hard to follow, but fortunately Tux was giving me in-depth analysis of pretty much every play. The Aces won 9-2 against the Las Vegas 51s in the end, but it certainly wasn't a fast-paced game, with boredom creeping in on occasion. Of course, the breaks between innings meant the crowd could be geed up with all the phony stuff such as dancing and clap-o-meters on the huge Jumbotron. We appeared once and I must admit seeing a huge image of your face is fucking terrifying. Anyway, as the ball game took place, there was music playing every now and again, and of course the famous seventh inning stretch was a huge highlight where, right in the middle of the seventh inning, everyone stands up and stretches. There was a special song here too about being taken to a baseball game by your dad sung by a scary anthropomorphic baseball which popped up from behind one of the Jumbotron screens. It was all rather worrying. Almost equally worrying was Archie the Reno Aces mascot, which looked like a hirsute rubescent Grimace. His moves were rather good though and he did provide entertainment at least. The match lasted three hours and it was of high quality - with this being the league below the MLB (and indeed the Arizona Diamondbacks have an arrangement with Reno) - and I was very glad that we went. It was after the game that we saw the city in darkness, with the bright lights of the casino enticing you in. It was definitely a nighttime place, largely because I couldn't see many of the usual shops and restaurants downtown you would expect to find anywhere else, so at least it had some life about it. Still, we had to get back to the GSR and the con, so we got a Lyft to take us back.

The only other thing we had scheduled was a trip to Lake Tahoe on the Sunday. Taneli and Draken had hired a car for the subsequent week and were due to pick it up that day. They proposed a road trip to the lake, which was only about a half hour drive away. After a fair bit of fannying about, we got a Lyft to the airport, which was just two junctions away down the interstate. While Draken was sorting out the rental arrangment, I walked around the modest terminal building, which seemed to celebrate the winter Olympics which once took place in the area. Once the administration had been done, we clambered into the white Flex van they had rented and set off, climbing into the mountains quite quickly on twisty turny roads. The first view of the lake was magnificent and it only got better the more we saw. Some of the vistas were high up on the mountain passes, affording great panoramas with snow capped peaks in the background, but we also got to go right by the lake shore too and see it up close. At one point, we stopped where a waterfall cascaded down the rocks and into a drain by the side of the road, with a manmade tunnel having been constructed to guide it under the street. In the end, we did a circular around the lake, crossing into California without even knowing it and having a very sub-standard meal at a local iHop (a word that the sat nav said in a very funny way). While driving around the lake, we also got caught up in a cycling road race, meaning that progress was somewhat slow. Still, this gave us more time to view the lake, which was no bad thing as it was truly stunning. Sierrapup had given us a few tips and places to visit too, but a few of the sandy beaches were charging extortionate amounts for parking so we avoided them. We did go to some of the vantage points though. He also suggested we look at some local horses but we avoided that as Taneli isn't a fan. On the way back, we also stopped by a rather nice river before hopping into Nevada and returning to the GSR. The whole trip took about five hours and it was a really pleasant day, just hanging with friends and chilling. It's something of which I would like to do more in future.

We stayed at the con until Monday, getting an incredible deal on the room due to Tux's frequent stays there. All in all, it was one of the best cons to which I have ever been, partly due to the friendliness of it but also because it was something different. Having done two cons in two weeks, we had definitely made the most of the furry side of the trip, but we still had five days left in the US and there was plenty of tourist sites still to visit.
lupestripe: (Default)
We had to get up quite early on the Tuesday morning (30 May) as we had a six hour drive to Chico ahead of us, with a detour along the way to stop off at Crater Lake National Park, the only national park in the state of Oregon. Along the way, as we gained altitude, the trees became more and more Nordic in nature, with pines predominanting. We stopped off at a layby to take in the view, as well as to use the bathroom, but one look at the shit-encrusted toilet which had frozen fecal matter stuck to it pushed us away. The scenery irself though was quite stunning, and we could see patches of snow dotted across the landscape. It was late May and thus it was still surprising that it was here, particularly as the outside temperature was above 20C, but it had been a very heavy winter in terms of precipitation and this partly explained the remaining snow.

To get to Crater Lake, you have to use rather narrow winding roads which twist their way through the forest. The North Entrance to the lake was still closed due to snow - a common situation even at this time of the year - so we had to drive around to the South Entrance. Tux had offered Wolfie the opportunity to drive along the pass, but his foot was in too much agony to be a viable solution. As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, we could see 6ft walls of snow on either side of the road, forced there by the snow ploughs. This went on for a while, becoming higher and higher until we approached the entrance to the National Park. Here Tux bought a year family pass as we were due to go to other parks during the course of our stay, after which we turned into the modest car park outside a wooden tourist information area, which was partly obscured by the mountains of snow. We had to use the back entrance - and indeed as we were leaving another visitor suspected the place was closed until I told them about it - but inside there was a rather pleasant little store and a little information about the natural wonder we were going to see. The highlight was a twenty minute video presentation about the lake and how it was formed 7,700 years ago. The caldera is a remnant of the crater of Mount Mazama, which erupted during this time, casting ash far and wide. As the lake was created in such a manner, there are no rivers or streams entering or leaving it, meaning the water is pure snowmelt. This means that the water is amongst the purest in the world and indeed it is used as a worldwide standard for water purity. In the presentation, we also got to learn about the history of the National Park and why it was seen as being so important to preserve, which was probably more interesting than the geology itself.

After watching the show, we got back to the car and headed to Rim Village, which is really a collection of wooden chalets aimed at tourists. However, this was also to be our first view of the exquisite lake, which projected a goregous range of whites and greys due to the snow and the clouds. As the cloud parted and the sun came out, the purity of the water manifested itself as a rich azure, which was wonderfully evocative. To get the best view, we had to climb up some snow covered field and onto the lip of the caldera, which is something from which Wolfie refrained due to the poor state of his ankle. I moved further down the red ticker tape line which demarked the boundary after which we could not roam, but Wolfie at least did get to see the lake close up at our next stop a few miles around the lake, which had a car park next to a wall which afforded another breathtaking vista. At the second spot there was a rocky outcrop which technically shouldn't have been accessed by the public, but this didn't prevent a large number of people taking selfies. One of the reasons for this was the view of the small island in the centre of the lake, which was like a psyren lulling people for a closer look. The small number of trees littered almost forlornly along the caldera edge only added to the beauty of this special place and stood amongst the snow yet in a rather warm air, I just stared outwards at it for ages. The main benefit here was that it wasn't that busy - yes, there were some tourists there, but it was the Tuesday after Memorial Day and I suspect it was quite quiet because of it, meaning there was a slight air of tranquility.

These were the only two vantage points open so we drove back down the mountain and continued on our way to the city of Chico, which is where we were due to stop for the night. Before reaching the Californian border though, we stopped off at the In N Out Burger at Redmond, having heard good things about it from a number of my American and British friends. For the exceptionally cheap price of $7.22 it did not disappoint, even if I did forget how to put a tray on a table resulting in a good portion of my fries spilling all over my seat. They do pride themselves on quality ingredients and the lettuce was particularly crisp, with the pickles being of a good sharpness, resulting in a very pleasurable meal. I opted for the standard Double Double burger - it's always good to go with a staple when trying a new place - and I must admit that it was probably the best chain restaurant meal we had on the trip. The place was moderately busy, and I liked the white and red diner feel, and it was certainly an excellent place to stop. Before crossing the border into my 22nd state (and Wolfie's third), we also filled up with fuel, giving me the opportunity to buy yet another 32oz Big Gulp, something that is quite an essential on long road trips in the blistering heat.

We crossed the border into California shortly afterwards, bemused by being stopped by their department of agriculture, who asked us whether we were carrying any fruit with us. The fruit industry is huge in California and any outside pests could significantly harm it, but all it took was a simple 'No' for us to be sent on our way. As a check it wasn't overly stringent and it would have been very easy to lie (we didn't), which made me wonder about the point of it. A few miles further beyond, we stopped at a rest area which was situated right next to a gentle river in a towering valley, where our friend Smokey the Bear was telling everyone about all the different types of snake there are in the state. It was on a sign but even seeing pictures of the slithering fucks made me feel somewhat queasy, so I opted for a quick trip to the toilet before getting out of there.

As we drove towards Chico, we ended up listening to public service radio, which was debating a range of political issues. We spied the towering snowy peak of Mount Shasta as we drove down I5 before we turned off the freeway and headed back into the mountains towards our destination. The mountains were quite dusty, after which we saw significant amounts of farmland, with the odd Trump Pence banner situated in a number of front yards. Apparently, some poeple in southern Oregon and northern California are trying to form their own state of Jefferson because they are sick of being outvoted by the metropolitian liberals in the state. Indeed in this area we saw a number of Trump fans, including a guy in a white pickup truck who had the biggest American flag ever flying off the back of it. The fact that we were in redneck country was highlighting by a billboard we saw for a 'Huge Party' which featured Firearms, Food and Fun, whch sadly we had missed as it had been on the preceding Saturday.

Chico is a liberal oasis in the midst of all this, being something of a college town. We were staying on the outskirts, which was a shame as the only chance we got to see of Chico was the next morning. After such a long drive, we decided to have food in the hotel restaurant, which was distinctly average, while I struggled to do a full gym session in the heat. Wolfie decided to go in the hottub to try and rest his foot while we took advantage of the laundry facilities in the hotel. We had forgotten that most American hotels have laundry services, meaning we packed far too many clothes in relation to what we actually needed. This was a huge shame as it meant we hadn't needed to sacrifice quite so much fetish gear for the two cons. Still, you live and learn. The hotel was just in the middle of a retail park so there was little to do, meaning we ended up having a sober and early night, which was just as well as we needed to be at the Sierra Nevada Brewery for 11am the next morning.

We actually got to downtown Chico an hour early, largely because we needed to call off at a bank, which we did. With a little time to kill, we decided to have a walk around this charming little town, with a large number of hippie and hipster independent shops. The Elrey Theatre was another example of a building built in a golden age while we were a little disappointed to find that Chico Museum wasn't open on Wednesdays. Wolfie's foot was still bothering him a little so we couldn't walk far, and by 10:40am we had driven the few blocks to the brewery, where we spent a little time wandering around the extensive gift shop ahead of the tour. Taneli said he wanted a Sierra Nevada T-shirt, which we bought for him, while we noticed a number of individual beers as well as the 12 pack 'Beer Camp' limited edition release which we just had to have. With us needing to get to BLFC in Reno, which was three hours away, swiftly after the tour, we decided to do all our souvenir shopping before the tour began.

Indeed, we were quite lucky to get on the tour at all as Tux had booked it the night before upon noticing that such a thing was possible. In the end, there were about fifteen of us in total, and as we sat in the holding area before going into the main building, we were given a sample of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and were shown a video presentation of the history of the brewery. The lady who was guiding us was fantastic and answered all our questions as we walked around, including mine about how they ensure the exact same water consistency here and in their sister brewery in North Carolina. The tour was more extensive than the Deschutes one, as befits a bigger brewery, and we even got to taste the saccahrin sweetness of the liquor before the yeast is added to it. The highlight for me though was the visit to the hop room, which smelled like a floral bouquet in terms of richness. There were about ten different hop types all in big white vats, and we were allowed to rub them into our hands and smell the wonderful aroma of the yellow lupulin. The Brewery is large and airy, with some beautiful artwork on some of the walls. We had always wanted to visit the Sierra Nevada Brewery as it was one of THE first craft breweries, plus they brew some of the earliest craft beer you could get in the UK. Some of their beer is quite ubiquitous but a lot of their range is unavailable here, which made the visit even more worth it.

The end of the tour, like all good brewery tours, was the tasting room where we got to try seven beers. Six of them were from the Beer Camp, which made us regret slightly that we had bought the whole crate, but they were so good that they were definitely worth having again. Just before we had started the tour, we noticed a group of friends drinking in this bar and were wondering whether they had special access, suffice to say I was quite relieved when we were taken there at the end. In our group, I got chatting to a friendly retired couple who I think were from Texas, and who had an extensive knowledge of the craft beer scene in the western United States. They even recommended a few places to try in Reno, and it was great chatting with them for a good quarter of an hour or so. There was one table in the centre of the bar and we had all congregated around there, making meeting people quite straightforward. Tuxedo wasn't drinking because he was driving, but he did want to have a sip of all of them to try, meaning that Wolfie and I split his sample between us. The result of this at noon on a Wednesday was that by the time we had left, we were quite drunk, which didn't bode well for a three hour journey. Indeed, about forty-five minutes into the journey, we needed a pee so we stopped at a lay-by overlooking a plunging river valley which was covered in vegetation, with the water meandering beneath us. With the sun beating down, it was probably the most beautiful view I have ever seen while having a pee. We had stopped off at the world's most quiet Burger King before we set off for Reno, where we discovered that they do average hot dogs along with average burgers, but even that toilet break wasn't enough.

The road to Reno followed a river valley, with the train tracks taking the same route. Indeed in various places wraught iron bridges criss-crossed each other as the topography allowed, enabling road, river and rail to make unheeded progress. There were a number of reststops along the way, so we stopped off at a number to take pictures, with the crystal clear water always being a top draw. As befits a mountainous terrain, there were a number of tunnels dotting the route, including one or two where there was engineering work taking place. This saw us stuck behind a work lady (it was usually ladies for some reason) with a Stop sign while we waited for the guide truck to guide us through, and this enabled us to marvel at the engineering involved in cutting these tunnels out of the hard rock. The landscape shifted towards the California/Nevada border into one of total desolation, with barren scrubland and jagged hills the only features. It didn't feel like it was thirty miles or so from a pretty major city, but it felt like the American equivalent of Saddleworth Moor or some such place. Tux had been here before of course - he had been to most places on this trip - and as we crossed into Nevada and state number 23 (and Wolfie's number four) we could see the casinos waiting for us. Reno is only fifteen miles into Nevada so getting there was straightforward, and as we descended into the valley, we could see the cityscape ahead of us. Our hotel, the GSR, was clearly visible, a white obelisk on the horizon which grew larger and larger as we approached. As we turned in, we saw a number of furs in ears and tails waiting for the go karts while yet more were unpacking and getting ready for the con. The big LCD screen outside had a banner welcoming us to the convention and as we pulled into our parking space, we knew we would be in for one hell of a time.

Bend OR

Jun. 29th, 2017 11:24 pm
lupestripe: (Default)
By American standards, our drive on the Monday after Furlandia (29 May) was quite short at a mere three and a half hours. However, we did have a deadline as we needed to be in the town of Bend for 3pm, when we had booked a tour of the Deschutes Brewery. Tuxedo isn't a particularly large beer drinker, largely due to health reasons, but he tolerated our love of brewed beverages. Indeed, it was his idea to go to the Deschutes Brewery, a brewhouse of which we hadn't heard before and yet is one of the biggest and most well-known breweries on the West Coast.

As is so often the case in the US, the scenery on the drive was stunning, with twisty roads winding through a valley alongside a river of crystal clear water. The mountains provided a breathtaking backdrop, while Tux's knowledge of the local botany was particuarly insightful, particularly when the trees changed from pine to spruce over the main ridge, which demarked areas of high and low rainfall due to the topography. Most of the scenery we could only see from the car window but we stopped where we could - largely in laybys and parking spaces - to take as many unobstructed pictures as possible. There were quite a number of lakes, created through various damming projects of the 1950s and 60s, which made for a tranquil setting, particularly in the late Spring sun. The thing that was most striking though was the juxtaposition of the lush green trees alongside the barren rocky cliff faces, which when mixed with the beauty of the scenery made for a picture postcard scene.

Further into our drive, atop one of the major ridges, we experienced a rather eerie scene as we saw the jagged remains of trees which had been burnt out from a forest fire. Such fires are rather common and do occur naturally, but a number of them are caused by man, and there are many signs littered by the roadside highlighting the fire risk that day. These are often advertised by Smokey Bear, who always looked a little sinister to me, as if he was the one always associated with such destruction. The burnt out remains were quite desolate, particularly when placed next to perfectly functioning and lush vegetation, triggering the imagination into seeing what was once there before the fire had taken hold.

About two hours into our journey, we stopped for lunch at Sisters, Oregon. Very much a town that has been done up for the tourists, with neat painted wooden buildings all displaying the stars and stripes, the highlight here was our stop at the Sno Cap Drive In. As Tux told us, every little town has a burger joint and this was a place to experience a real slice of Americana. The burgers are usually cheap and good, and this was certainly the case here, where we opted for the simple cheeseburger with tomatoes, lettuce and pickle. I also opted for a Marionberry Milkshake, made from a local berry not too dissimilar to a raspberry. It was thick, gloopy and refreshing, and although our burgers did take a while to come, they were definitely worth the wait. Plus, we didn't really mind as the sun was shining, we had a picnic bench and we could look over at the picturesque town as we waited.

Bend was only about an hour away from here and we arrived just in time, checking in before heading over to the brewery. Wolfie's foot was still giving him bother, meaning it was more of a hobble than a walk, but at least we got to see a little of the town along the way. The brewery was about a half mile from where we were staying on the other side of the river, and as it was Memorial Day, there were a number of families and kids tubing on the water. In the distance we saw three chimney stacks, assumedly from a former factory, the middle of which was proudly displaying the American flag. It was something you could see from across the town. Upon arrival at the brewery, we picked up our visitor passes from the main shop and bar, and joined another twelve people who had also booked the tour. It lasted for about forty-five minutes and we got to visit most of the important parts of the brewery, following the process from beginning to end. The chap running the tour knew his stuff, although I did have to correct him on the accurate pronunciation of 'Burton-on-Trent', the town in Staffordshire famous for its beer. It was interesting observing all of the specialist German equipment they had had installed, and it was this engineering that particularly interested Tux, while it was clear that it was a relaxed place to work due to all of the quirky signs which were displayed across the building. The highlight for me was probably the bottling line, even though we didn't get to see it in operation because it was a national holiday. I had never been in such a place before, which is what made it interesting for me, while I did think the tour was conducted exceptionally well. We even saw a sculpture of a metal dog made out of various brewing equipment. At the end of the tour there was also an art gallery dedicated to the labels of their festive winter ale, Jubel Ale. They have been doing this since they first started brewing in 1988 so there was quite a collection of unique artwork on the walls, which made for a fascinating plotted history.

Of course the highlight of any brewery tour is the beer tasting, and we were permitted to have samples of any four beers from their modest tap room at the end. Unfortunately, this is all we were allowed to have, but we were told about their brewpub in the centre of town, along with the Bend Ale Trail, which for us turned into something of a disaster. Bend is one of the fastest growing cities on the West Coast and is something of a retirement town due to its favourable climate, but it also has a great range of breweries, far more than we had anticipated. Indeed, there are twelve in the heart of town and a further three nearby, and the local tourist board has created an ale trail where if you visit all fifteen and turn up at the tourist information centre, then you can claim a prize. All you need to do it buy a beer and get the associated brochure stamped when you do. Well, what kind of excuse did we need, particularly as Tux needed to head back to the hotel room early to do some work. So after a brief discussion with our tour guide and one of the nice barmaids behind the bar, we picked up our ale trail leaflet and headed back over the bridge into the heart of town, which was ten minutes away in the opposite direction from our hotel. However, as we had headed over to Deschutes initially, we had noticed one craft beer bar so we decided to stop off there first. Creatively called 'craft kitchen and brewery', here we had a taster tray of six different beers as we looked over a car park towards some new builds on the edge of the city centre. It was quite heavily raining by this point so it was good to do this just to stay dry.

It was around 5pm by this point, but with Wolfie's foot, we knew we couldn't go far so we planned a route to cover the main bars that were in the city centre. As we walked into the centre, we ambled past a playing field in which there was a small tent set up with three flags outside. There were a number of seats, with a sign proclaiming they were doing a continuous reading of the name, age and town of every soldier killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the names were read out, a drum beat sounded, making for quite a sombre spectacle, although it was a shame that there was only really us to hear it. This was Memorial Day after all, so it was quite surprising, but it was a good memory to those who had died in those wars.

Our next bar was the Old Saint Francis, another McMenamins similar to the one we had tried in Portland the previous day. They had some similar beers to the other place, but there was enough to try here to rustle up another taster tray, meaning we were already on to sixteen beers by the time we left. We had planned to have food at the Deschutes Taproom as we were told they served some good stuff, and this is indeed what we did, although in hindsight it was probably a mistake. By the by, we headed deeper into the city centre and past the Tower Theatre, built in three months in 1940 and probably never changing since. Along the way, we also spotted signs for the Bend Beer Chase, highlighting just how much an obsession beer is in this rather small town. We called off at the Bend Brewing Company shortly afterwards but we were starting to feel the strain, definitely sampling another taster tray but struggling to get through it. Our last stop was therefore the Deschutes Brewery Taproom which from memory was great, although we were all beered out by this point. It was here we got some food, probably about three hours too late as it was 9:30pm and we hadn't eaten anything since lunch. I had a tasty Ruben sandwich which was quite strong on the pickle, but I don't think I was hungry enough to eat all of it so I left a fair chunk. Part of the problem was that we had shared nachos in the Bend Brewing Company place and it had kind of spoiled our appetite. The Bend place was particularly good as it was a long thin bar with benches, and surprisingly busy considering everyone assumedly had work the next day. It was a pleasant environment to be though, with really friendly staff.

The stumble back to the hotel was about fifteen minutes and as we walked, we resolved ourselves to come back and try the other breweries. Wolfie and I could easily spend three or four days here and now we know another fur from the city (who we met later at BLFC) then I think we could very easily go on a craft beer tour of the area. The city, even though it's a long way from anywhere, was vibrant with excellent bars and a good scene, so much so that we even started thinking about moving there. It was also just a pleasant place to be, and as we got back to the hotel and crashed just after 10pm, we thanked Tux for bring us here, to a place that before the trip we had never even heard about.


Jun. 28th, 2017 11:09 pm
lupestripe: (Default)
Furlandia was a great little con, albeit one with a rather parochial feel. Most of the furs there were from the local area, with some from the Seattle area using it as their replacement for Rainfurrest. As a consquence, we knew a fair number of people there and this only grew as the weekend progressed, largely because Tuxedo knew everyone and introduced us to many. This wasn't to say that we didn't know people in advance though - Fox Amoore was there and he introduced us to Peppercoyote as 'my friends who are equally pissed off about Brexit' while it was a nice surprise to see Paperkup there, someone we must have last seen at a London Meet about seven years ago. Indeed, meeting people at the con was exceptionally easy, perhaps due to the friendliness of Americans or perhaps due to the conducive space in the hotel. Of course it helped that I was far more positive than the miserable guy I am in the UK, meaning I felt it reasonably straightforward to open a conversation. Furthermore, being British in a foreign land is always a point of interest, and this gave me confidence to get chatting to people.

Our first interaction was in the dealers den, where I bought the fantastic book 'If You Give A Bunny A Beer'. This looked quite hilarious judging by its cover but it soon descended into a harsh pscyhological analysis of alcohol abuse, which suddenly became rather less funny. This did provide a good talking point in the den though and as well as this, I also bought a plastic con badge in the shape of a pink husky for $5, which I thought was pretty neat. The den was quite modest in size but I was surprised by the variety of different things on offer, and of course everyone was super friendly. This extended to the bar area too, where there was always someone to talk to and where there was a range of good quality local craft beers on tap. This made us feel quite at home and became a good place to hook up with people on my Twitter and Telegram feeds I wanted to meet. Indeed, if I saw anyone tweet about their presence at Furlandia, I jumped into the conversation suggesting a meet-up, feeling that they would have followed me rather than the other way around and it was par for the coure with social networking and interaction. This strategy worked rather well and we did get to meet a cool group of people.

One of the highlights of the con was on the Saturday morning after we had eaten the remnants of the previous day's breakfast from Carol's Corner Cafe. At around 10am, we were told there was a bright pink van waiting outside selling doughnuts from the highly acclaimed local emporium Voodoo Doughnuts (note the correct spelling of doughnuts). Apparently, 'the magic is in the hole', which is odd as many of our doughnuts didn't have holes, but they were very tasty indeed, even if they were incredibly bad for you. We got six, which came in a box that can only be described as a beautiful work of art (with the slogan 'Good Things Come In Pink Boxes'), although admittedly we only ended up eating four throughout the course of the next 48 hours. This was partly because the temperatures were hitting 32C and fatty doughnuts were the last thing I fancied in such weather, but also because we were doing so many other things. Some of them were rather sickly and I am not sure why we got them, except to sample some of the more extreme and decadant food that the United States produces. On reflection, the Capn' Crunch was particularly unappealing.

The Fursuit Walk was on the Saturday at around 4pm, which was my first opportunity to get into suit. Indeed, it was to be my one of only two suiting experiences at Furlandia, largely due to being busy with other things. This is always the way for me at cons and I do wonder why I bring the suit at times, although I would probably regret it if I didn't. The procession itself was the usual affair of around the hotel, through the lobby and outside, although the walk was curtailed somewhat due to the oppressive heat. Before the walk, we had waited patiently for our photograph to be taken in the main stage area, which seemed to take forever in the baking heat. The one surprising thing was the sheer number of photographers wanting to take pictures of the suits, while it was fantastic that a number of people commented on how much they liked mine and that they recognized me from it.

One interesting thing about this con compared to others to which I have been was the not insignificant number of minors in attendance. Children are allowed provided they are accompanied by their parents, and there were a number of kids as young as 11 walking around the convention area. Some had spectacular fursuits and in the Fursuit Lounge on the Sunday I got talking to the mother of one of the children, who told me that she had made the fursuit herself even though she was only 14. I was stunned by such talent at such a young age, but this was something that was actively encouraged by her parents. I do feel that schools in the US put more emphasis on the arts and creativity than they do in the UK - this was certainly my experience when I went to school there - and it was fantastic to hear that parents thought that the furry world is a good place to harness a child's imagination. I countered that it was also a great place to meet people from all over the world and learn about important things such as tolerance, something which was found to be agreeable. It was quite refreshing hearing the fandom being looked at so positively, as opposed to the UK where many furs seem to be slightly ashamed of it.

I didn't go to that many panels in the end - once you've done 22 cons, you have kinda done them all - but on the Sunday afternoon I did attend the dance competition because I had befriended two other fursuiters and they dragged me there. Indeed, this happened just before I had met the parent, and I must admit the quality of the moves were far greater than anything I could do. The comments from the judges were all overwhelmingly positive, which was nice to see, while the music and lighting complemented the event well. Indeed, in the darkness of the main stage area, it was hard to accept that it was so bright and sunny outside, it being around three o'clock in the afternoon. This was the only panel I did though, partly because there weren't too many but partly because there was little of interest. The dances in particular were quite poor as again it was the same type of generic dance/hardcore/trance music which is played at all cons. Oh a little diversity wouldn't go amiss.

The con started to wind down on the Sunday evening, so we had arranged to meet up with Tuxedo and Tarka at Fogo de Chão in downtown Portland for around 7pm. Fogo de Chão is an all you can eat Brazilian meat restaurant not dissimilar to Fazenda in Leeds. It was exquisite, with exceptional salad (the kale and orange was divine) and something like eleven different types of meat (including lamb, beef, chicken and sausages). With tasty home-baked bread too, the meal was a delight, as was the company. We had last met Tuxedo and Tarka back at Rainfurrest in 2012 so it was great to meet up with them again and properly catch up away from the bedlam of the con. Of course, we were going to spend a good few weeks with Tux but, even though Tarka was also going to be at BLFC, it was great to catch up with him too. His 'I'm an otter story' when crossing the Canadian/US border one time is possibly my favourite ever furry story, largely due to its delivery. Tarka always seemed to be everywhere at both cons, so bumping into him was incredibly easy, while we even had a small room party with Taneli and myself where we drank about six bottles of wine that he had bought from a local supermarket. It was a very pleasant evening, lasting from about 7:30pm to 10:30pm, as was the trip to the Brazilian restaurant.

We had actually headed into town slightly earlier at around 5pm as we had planned to meet up with another Twitter friend of mine, Noxyburd. He wasn't at the con due to work reasons but he and his boyfriend met up in the McMenamins bar on SW 10th for an hour ahead of our meal. This place was done out in the style of an English pub, but it wasn't quite all there, although the beers we sampled as part of the taster tray were just as good as any of the ones we had tried on the Friday. They were perhaps more ale-like in style, a theme which continued in a number of their venues which we visited both in Portland and Bend throughout our stay in Oregon, but definitely worth purchasing. Wolfie's foot was really giving him trouble by this stage so the walk uphill to the bar was somewhat slow, but when we got there, we had a delightful hour with the duo before we had to head off and meet Tux and Tarka in the Brazilian place. The only other point of interest here was we got chatting to a couple of college students on the Max Line from the Airport to Downtown, who told us all about Portland and how fantastic the city is. I countered by telling them about my hometown and how we had a similar bridge to the one we went over to get to downtown. I probably bored them to tears.

After the meal, Tux drove us back to the Sheraton, where things were already winding down. As we got back, we saw staff dismantling the stage and filling up huge lorries full of equipment while the corridors had already been stripped of their furry paraphinalia and were looking rather bare in shades of brown. This was particularly striking in the morning and the shells of a couple of rooms which were currently undergoing renovation (they seem to be upgrading the rooms three or four at a time) only added to the desolate feel of a departing con. On the Monday morning though I did get to have a nice chat with a furry couple in a lift as I went to the small shop to pick up my breakfast bagel and cream cheese (something of which we had availed ourselves on the Sunday morning too). They were telling me that they lived in a podunk town three hours away but were moving house later that day, albeit just down the road. The talk ended up lasting half an hour, with me clinging on to the good times, although I knew in my heart we needed to go as we had a long drive ahead of us.

Furlandia then was a fantastic experience, a con of 800 furs which felt a lot smaller. Whether it was because of a lot of day tickets (I think there were 500 weekend passes sold) or because the local nature of the event meant many people just commuted to and from it I'm not so sure. It was an intimate con though, and one that was incredibly friendly, although there was a lack of room parties and events later in the evening. This didn't stop us drinking in the bar until the early hours (well Taneli and I did, Wolfie was holed up in the room with his foot issue), but it wasn't a full-on con experience. It was still pleasant though and we made many good friends, plus Portland is definitely a city we need to visit again. There is every chance we may be back.
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Over the period from 25 May to 11 June, Wolfie and I headed over to the USA to attend Furlandia and BLFC, which were only a week apart from each other. We had spoken to our friend Tuxedo Kitty over the course of the preceding six months and he suggested we combine the cons with a road trip across the western US. Having not really seen this part of the country - and Wolfie having never seen any of America outside of Seattle - we decided to take him up on his offer and devised a route from Portland OR to Phoenix AZ, taking in a range of destinations along the way. It took a fair amount of time to arrange, and Brexit-related currency rates and Trump's immigration policies almost kyboshed the whole thing, but as we headed out on that Thursday morning, a rare warm and sunny British day, we were convinced we had made the right call. In the end, it was.

We arrived in Portland on the Thursday evening, although that was not without its dramas. We initially flew into San Franscisco, with Thomas Cook giving us a layover time there of two hours and 15 minutes. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem but we didn't realise we had to go through custom formalities before getting our internal flight. With the line extensive, it took us over an hour and a half to proceed across the border, although the customs official did say we could get our flight if we ran. We grabbed our bags off the carousel and checked them in at the Transfer Gate. We still had to make it through another tranche of security and even though we were cutting it tight and the polite border guard said we could cut the queue, it didn't seem particularly British so we waited. After traversing through, we had a huge sprint right towards the end of the terminal, which was particularly difficult as this was the height of Wolfie's foot problem and he could barely walk let alone dash. So I made my way alone, hoping to tell the flight attendant we were coming, only to find that the plane was running 17 minutes late and we had plenty of time regardless. Had the flight not been delayed then we would definitely have missed it, but perhaps we were due a small element of luck.

The Alaska Airlines flight to Portland was very good, with Alaskan craft beer and delicious beef jerky welcoming us to America. The scenery we crossed was also breathtaking, the high mountain peaks, many of which were still snow-topped, making for a quite awesome view. We were a little jetlagged but excited to see Tuxedo again as we dropped down into Portland and my 21st state (and Wolfie's 2nd). Traversing the airport was easy and we were soon directed to Island Number Two outside, where we caught the shuttle bus service to the Sheraton Hotel, where Furlandia was taking place. It was early arrival day and Tuxedo was waiting in the lobby to greet us, introducing us to the reception and then guiding us to our room. We then went out for a delicious pizza at By Design, which is a bit like MOD back home where you can custom design your own pizza and they cook it in front of you. We were also taken aback by the sheer range of craft beers they had on draft, at least 10 which for a pizza restaurant is good going. The pizza was crisp and tasty, and it was an excellent introduction back into the US. However, with tiredness catching up with us, we decided we should probably head to bed, turning in just before 10pm.

We arose quite early the next morning and there was a treat in store as Tuxedo drove us over the Washington border and into Clark County, where we went to Carol's Corner Cafe between the two interstates. It's the sort of place that's real Americana and you would only know about it if you knew the area. Fortunately, Tux used to work around here and so had been coming to the place since 1994. This is a classic American diner, with breakfasts the speciality. Fantastically busy over the weekend - particularly Memorial Day Weekend which was coming up - on the Friday morning it was lively but not rammed, meaning we easily got a table. I got some tea, which was served in a beaker which wouldn't look out of place in a chemistry lab, while Wolfie and I ordered two specials of shredded potato, egg, ham and cheese similar to an omelette. The portion was humungous, and we ended up taking a third of it back in a doggy bag for Saturday breakfast, but the taste was exquisite, with the ham and thick American cheese complimenting each other so well. The service was typically friendly too, with offers of free coffee and tea refills quite regularly, and it was certainly an excellent way to start a sunny spring day. After this, we headed over to Fred Meyer to pick up some beer and supplies before driving back to the hotel, where people were starting to arrive for the con.

Furlandia is about 800 people strong, and most are from the local area, meaning they typically arrive after work on the Friday. With an afternoon to kill therefore, we decided to go into downtown Portland using the fantastically convenient MAX line. We walked to the nearest station, about ten minutes away (or 20 if you are Mr Wolfie Limpalot), and were soon on a tram being whisked into the city. We were fortunate as three hours later, on the same tram route, two men were fatally stabbed and a third injured after they tried to protect two teenage girls who were being racially abused by a white supremicist. The incident made global news and was quite a sobering reminder of how things can turn nasty very quickly. We were downtown by then though, having observed that Portland truly is a city full of bridges. Many were quite wonderous pieces of architecutre, including one which looked very similar to the Newport Bridge in my hometown of Middlesbrough, albeit more rusted. We didn't get much time to look at the bridges though as we were guided through the gentrified Chinatown area before getting off at Mall 4th/5th as we spotted a bar we thought we would try. Portland has more microbreweries downtown than any major city in America so it was clearly going to be our kind of place, meaning we were always going to take the opportunity to try some tasty tipples. This is what we did at the Rock Bottom Brewery, where we had a taster tray of six of their core range while watching an advert involving a box sat on the toilet pooing to check for prostate cancer. American commercials are weird. Anyway, the bartender was really friendly and told us about a range of places to see, not least a bar further down the street which was on the 17th floor of a building, affording an excellent look over Pioneer Square. We went up there, but the bar was hideously trendy, so we just drank in the view before heading back down.

Pioneer Square is the centre of the city and is currently being renovated. Named after the rather imposing Victorian era building on its eastern flank, the main sight is the clock tower dominating the middle of the square. There's a signpost detailing all of the distances from this spot to a number of major cities, but the arrows were not pointing in the right directions, which was a bit strange. Underneath the square is where the tourist information place is currently held and not having a guidebook of the city, we thought we would take a look. In the end, we spent over an hour in here chatting with a gentleman behind the counter who had made it his life's aim to visit every single Anglican cathedral in England. Indeed he had already planned a trip to Bradford this forthcoming September and suggested that we should meet up. He was very interesting though and told us an awful lot about the city's history, along with a range of different beer tours we could go on. This was to prove invaluable when we returned two weeks later and we thanked him as we left, blinking into the sharp light of the hot sunny day.

There's a bank not far from Pioneer Square which was built in the 1930s and was one of the first buildings of its architecutral type in the world. It has glorious marble pillars and flooring, along with a golden ceiling, and it's very much a case of stepping back in time. As it was a working bank, and it was closing, we didn't want to stay there too long while we also looked at a neighbouring building which I believe was part of the same project. By this stage, even though we had only done a modest amount of walking, Wolfie's foot was really starting to play up so we decided to head to the Pearl District in Portland's North-East to sample some more beers. We could have stopped at the Deschutes Bar but it was busy and we were scheduled to visit their brewery in Bend, OR, later in the week so we decided to go to Fat Head's Brewery instead, which was further down NW Davis Street. As was the case everywhere we went, we were ID'ed, which made we feel quite young (we were even ID'ed in Fred Meyer buying bottles for the room) and soon we settled in to taste their massive range of excellent beers. Many of the ones here were quite new to us, with some interesting flavours, so stopping by was definitely a positive, while we also got a huge soft and salty pretzel with sweet mustard dip to tide us over.

Not eating proved to be a slight error, as Taneli dropped us a message on Telegram telling us he was out with a local fur friend of his called Tawn. They were in a bar called Tugboat on SW 7th, not too far from where we were. We supped our drinks and headed over there, with Wolfie's ankle still causing him pain. We managed to get there though, and it was quite a nice place, albeit a little darker and perhaps more dive-like than the bright airy places we had just experienced. They did have some homebrews on tap though including an exquisite 11% stout which I ordered for Wolfie and I. In this bar, I got chatting to a rather friendly girl called Jennifer and her boyfriend for the best part of half an hour. She was from California and in the end she invited me to stay with her at her home, which was very nice. It was great speaking to them and while Tawn perhaps felt a little awkward dealing with a drunk Wolfie, the evening itself went rather well. However, after the 11% beer, we definitely needed food so we ordered a burrito from the Mexican place next door and retired to Bailey's Taproom across the road. Tawn's boyfriend and one of his friends had come out by this point, but we had been promised a lift back, and we were feeling a little worse for wear so we did insist we had back to the hotel shortly afterwards. I think I did try another beer in Bailey's but I can't really remember, the only thing that struck me was the sheer range of beer they had on offer there.

So we headed back at about 10pm and we just crashed, with the jetlag and the booze really catching up with us. Still, it was an excellent first day in the US and Portland was definitely a city close to our hearts, which boded well for the remainder of our weekend.
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It's been a very busy weekend as on Saturday we headed down to Birmingham via Sheffield. The reason for stopping off at the Steel City was to go to the Sheffield Meet, which we hadn't done for a number of months due to other commitments. Usually, we don't need an excuse to visit a BrewDog and with some of their number now part of the LeedsFurs meet committee, we thought we would show support by going down there, plus we do always try and go to the Sheffield meet three or four times a year. The fact it was on our way to Birmingham, where we were going for an evening event, made it happily convenient.

We got to the venue just after noon as the furs were piling in, and discovered that the BrewDog app had been telling lies about the beer they had in stock. This was because they had had a Fourpure Tap Takeover the night before and hadn't had the opportunity to update it. By the by, there were two beers we hadn't yet sampled so we had thirds of those, which was just as well as this was all we could drink due to the need to drive to the Midlands. We caught up with a number of cool furs, including Cub, Kyuu and Bailey, while we also participated in Grem's quiz, where I got the nickname 'Google' because I knew the answers to every question in the guess the year round. I faltered a little on the Spain's population question, but I am pretty confident we did well. Alas, after picking up a few beers to take down to Birmingham, we had to leave before the winner of the quiz had been announced. Still, even though we were only there for two and a half hours, it was a nice little meet and hopefully we can come back again another time.

The main event in Birmingham was at fetish club Underworld, which SLOSH had rented out for their annual 'Messing About' gungy games event. Ever since watching Fun House in the early Nineties I have had an obsession with gunge and having joined the society back in April, I was determined to go down there, aided by a number of Birmingham furs who had encouraged me to sign up back at the Easter meet. In the end there were 10 furs of the 90 people in attendance and thus any fears I had had about not knowing anyone were somewhat assuaged. Indeed, for some reason I have something of a positive reputation in the city and many people were glad to see me.

Aside from the furs, I didn't know many other people so hid my shyness through humour, making a fair few people laugh about the time Martine McCutcheon was killed by a truckle of cheese on Midsomer Murders, along with a load of other crazy stuff I was coming out with. Through this, I met a load of cool people and it definitely made me feel more relaxed. Indeed meeting people was just so easy, perhaps because of the wacky nature of what we were doing, and I am definitely hoping to return to future SLOSH events.

You had the choice of participating or not particpating in the gungy games, with Wolfie opting out as it isn't really his thing (plus his foot is still playing up and would have been a risk on the slippy floor). I opted to participate but my number wasn't drawn out of the bucket, so there were no games for me (the people participating in the games were determined by the drawing of balls from a bucket which corresponded to the number on your wristband - I was number 45). If I was being honest, I had an element of trepidation about performing in front of so many people so it was a slight relief I wasn't picked, although deep down I probably did want to have a go.

There was a new addition to proceedings - the Gunge Tank - which had been constructed specially for this event. It was a proper set up too, similar to the early prototypes in Noel's House Party. It was used frequently throughout the show, which was compared so well by a sarcastic bloke from Hartlepool and another bloke in a red sequined dress. Some of the games required set-up and as they were being prepared, they asked us questions relating to gunge and old TV shows. I was delighted that I got Annibel Croft as being the other person in Treasure Hunt but was frustrated I didn't have the confidence to shout out 'Carling Black Label' for one of the other questions, an answer which was in the deepest recesses of my mind. The showmanship from the duo was first-rate though and they contributed to an excellently staged event, with a show that even Wolfie enjoyed and he's not really into the scene.

At half-time we had a competition to guess how many cups of gunge someone could store in their plastic Gary pants while you could also nominate people to go in the gunge tank. We decided to opt for Ray, who was too shy to participate in the games but always wanted to be gunged, and we got nearly all the furs in the room to nominate him too. Alas, he didn't get chosen but after the show, some of us got the opportunity to be gunged ourselves. I was one of those lucky ones and considering this was a lifelong dream ever since I had watched Noel's House Party in about 1990, suffice to say I was absolutely rapt. Getting into the tank was an incredibly slippery and difficult experience, it having been used a fair bit already, but it is the moment of trepidation before the gunging happened that made it so exhilarating. This was only aided by one of my furry friends, upon noticing it was me in the tank, insisting that they use bright pink gunge, which only made the whole thing sweeter.

It was a Scotsman who pulled the lever, another great chap, while Wolfie was more interested in the engineering behind the construction. The gunging itself was marvelous, but I was surprised by just how much there was, not to mention the rather bitter and gritty taste, as some of it had gone in my mouth. It also took me about ten minutes to get full visibility back, which made the waddle to the washing pits quite difficult, but of course it was totally totally worth it. I must admit I was quite shy asking whether I could do it and indeed had already put my good clothes back on before the opportunity presented itself, feeling a little down as I did, but Wolfie asked the treasurer of SLOSH on my behalf and I am eternally grateful to the people at SLOSH and indeed Wolfie for letting me live my childhood dream.

We were staying in a hotel just down the road from the venue and upon arrival, we noticed about twenty of our fellow attendees drinking in the bar. The people at the event were from all over the country - and indeed there was someone from Germany - so they were just chilling. We asked whether we could join them and spent the next two hours talking shite and making new friends. A handful went off to a room party involving Morrison's trifle but the rest of us stayed downstairs, finally heading to bed at around 1:30am. As the last ones left, we popped over to McDonald's as our last food was a pizza at BrewDog many hours earlier, with my Tennessee Stack being an adequate burger, pretty much like all their food.

We woke up quite early on Sunday but Wolfie's foot had jarred, meaning we didn't get chance to do much in the hotel room. The drive back was pretty sedate, with us stopping off for a Sunday lunch at the fantastic Elm Tree pub in Heath, Derbyshire. This was the first entry that had come up when I typed 'good pubs M1 notts' into Google, and it was an excellent choice, even if it did get the county wrong. The carvery was top notch with three different types of meat, Yorkshire Puddings and all the trimmings, which made us feel quite bloated for the rest of the day. When we got back, we just pottered around the house and I went to the gym so nothing overly exciting but then there had been enough excitement over the weekend really.
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It's been a very busy week, starting on Tuesday evening when we headed to Tapped Brewery Company in Leeds to sample a few drinks from the Pirate Life Brewery. They are an Australian brewery recommended by Brett, who had drank their stuff in his homeland before attending a similar tap takeover at Brewdog York on Sunday. We couldn't go to that but we agreed to meet Brett and Jo in town to sample the four beers on offer, as well as meeting the brewers who were doing a small tour of the UK highlighting their beers. The drinks themselves were good, but not remarkable, and I was surprised just how busy the bar was before realising that the Stone Roses were playing the Arena. Indeed, it did get a lot quieter after 7:30pm but with Wolfie on call, we couldn't venture too long out. Wolfie only wanted a pint so only tried three beers - with us taking a can of the fourth one home - while I had an additional half as he supped his final one. We hadn't seen Brett and Jo since the Hop City Beer Festival over Easter, so it was good to catch up with them, but by 9pm and without any food (save for a really meagre baguette) we really needed to head home.

It was quite good we did really as upon arrival just before 10pm, Wolfie went to check up on a hedgehog he had noticed before he left. Thinking it was dead as it was lying on its back with its feet in the air, Wolfie just left it, but as he attempted to move him, the little fella sprung into life. It was quickly apparent he was quite injured, with a nasty gash near his left ear, but we weren't sure what to do. We scooped him into a container and brought him inside, where we noticed some maggots in the wound. He had clearly been mauled by a cat or other woodland creature, and had just been left there. We didn't have the medical expertise to clean the wound but he was just an infant, with eyes still closed, and we didn't want him to suffer either. We did some research and tried ringing a hedgehog farm, but they refused to pick up, until I noticed there is a 24 hour vet in Meanwood. I gave them a ring and they told me to bring him in. Fortunately, as Wolfie had barely drank, we could drive down there so after giving the little guy a pipette of water, which he guzzled thirstily, we drove the 20 minutes to the vet. The receptionist told me the vet had an emergency to deal with, but we left the hedgehog, who we had christened Colin, on the table with them before heading back home. We still don't know if he pulled through but he seemed quite lively (although I was scared in the car that he had stopped moving) and the wound looked superficial. I do hope they rescued him and introduced him to a hedgehog sanctuary as they said. Emotional, we stopped off at McDonald's on the way home for a Coke and a calm down before heading back home the wrong side of midnight.

Wolfie was working in Birmingham on Wednesday, staying over, while I was off to Ripon Races for our annual horse racing gathering at work. It was much the same as previous times really - me losing a load of money on poor bets before clawing a modest sum back on a last race each way, while socialising with work colleagues throughout the evening. We got our traditional free drink courtesy of the company while the director and I slunk away to have our traditional pie and peas supper. They do three Ainsty craft beers at the races now, all of which were actually quite good, so I had those and stopped there, not wanting to drink too much due to my current weight issues. Choosing winners and each way bets was quite tricky last night due to the small fields running, with all races barring the last having seven runners or less. One even had four after two were disqualified going into the stalls, which delayed the race by ten minutes. Aside from this, it was just watching some great sporting action in the sun with a beer in hand, with the surroundings of Yorkshire's Garden Racecourse a particularly pleasant way to spend Midsummer's Night. The craic was good and I did get to meet some people from the sister company, although it was noticeable that there were few staff from my side for whatever reason. Still, it was a good evening and definitely enjoyable, certainly worth repeating again.
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It's been a busy weekend, conducted in scorching temperatures which were reminiscent of those we enjoyed during our recent trip to the United States. Saturday saw us host our usual Leeds Meet, which once again took place in the Atlas Bar. Wolfie's foot, which caused him significant pain in the US, is still screwed after someone on the flight home tripped over it, damaging it again. This meant that I had to do an awful lot of running around at the meet, not aided by the fact that we had forgotten our bed sheet for the screen, meaning I had to go and get another one from Wilko. The Meet went very well, although my plan for a shorter fursuit walk due to the intense heat somewhat fell through when we discovered a pro-Corbyn demonstration taking place outside the library, assumedly in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. This meant we had to skirt around it and up towards Millennium Square on police advice. This saw a far more lengthy walk, which culminated on the newly pedestrianised Greek Street, where we entertained the throngs of people enjoying the sun eating and drinking outside. We also met Del the Puppy, who was too busy eating his meat initially to come and say hello. After that, he did say hi though and we spoke to his owner about furry and what it's all about.

Saturday was the first meet run by our new committee, a necessity due to how big they now are. With Wolfie's foot buggered and Cosmo, Oracle and Raven fursuiting, organizers for the walk were few and far between but we did get it sorted. We are also hoping to launch our new Leeds furs website in the coming days, while Atlas welcomed us again with a special shot mix they had made for us called 'Phoenix Feathers', a cherry/vanilla liqeur which had sparkly pink bits in it. It was very much appreciated and I am delighted the venue enjoyed having us. After this, a handful of us headed up to Merrion Street and Bar Soba to check this place out as a possible venue too, as well as enjoy the beautiful Asian fusion cuisine which they serve there. We headed back home at around 10pm to discover that there had been a street party on our street in our absence. We hadn't been invited to it, which was a little upsetting, although we hadn't been to the first two and this may explain it. However, this wasn't through a lack of desire, merely because we were busy, with the Meet often clashing when these events are on. It may have been part of the Great Get Together in memory of Jo Cox - and we were thinking of doing something for the furmeet in aid of this - but there was little information online for Leeds and work last week was such a stress that I didn't really have time to give it much thought.

The weather on Sunday was even more beautiful than it had been on Saturday, so we ventured to get up reasonably early and go and do something. This we did, walking down to New Pudsey train station early afternoon to go visit Todmorden and Sowerby Bridge in the hills. To be honest, there is little at either of them - they're largely market towns beside the Rochdale Canal - but it was interesting looking at the mill architecture, along with the town hall in Tordmorden which highlighted in a Greek frieze that the town is on the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. There is a wraught iron lock here, painted green, while we had a walk by the canalside where we saw a high brick wall separating the canal from the high embankment along which the railway line runs. It was quite a feat of engineering. The market in Todmorden was particularly pathetic, selling an odd miscellany of tat while about two thirds of the stalls were somewhat empty, while the town itself seemed to have a plethora of old antique shops. There was a small microbar but after an hour here we decided to go to Sowerby Bridge on the way back to Pudsey, to see if there was anything else there.

The answer was not really, although we did get to see the River Calder. There seemed to be more pub options here and indeed we went to one by the river as we headed back to the station, but in the end it was just a pleasant high street with little on it. Granted we didn't realise the canal was further up and that there could have been more up there, but by this time we were back at the station and waiting for our train. At the station, we called in at the small bar/cafeteria which we were surprised to see stayed open until 9pm. Here we were served some wonderous pork pies with delicious jelly which left us sated. In the distance, we saw the folly that is Wainhouse Tower but couldn't get to it, which was a shame as it did seem interesting.

We had to head back though as we were due to meet Wolfie's friend Adam, along with his wife and young girl, who had invited themselves around for a barbeque on the proviso that they brought all the food, which was fair enough. As we walked back from New Pudsey railway station, I craved a Coke and with the supermarket shut due to Sunday trading, the only place open was the Subway in the petrol station. Here at least we got a refreshing big gulp while we also got some free meatballs too as they were closing up. Tasty. This meant that we were slightly late getting back to our house, and saw Adam waiting in our front garden for us. Still, at least it wasn't raining. Soon we had the BBQ in full swing and we got chatting. I had never met Adam's family before and it was a delight. His wife is Polish and I may have offered her a job as she's looking for work and I have a need for a Polish editor, which was a nice turn of events. Meanwhile, the little girl was very busy just exploring the garden and playing with her toys, pushing her Octonaughts ones down the steps. The food was great, even though there was a paucity of options due to everyone else having the same idea as us and cleaning out the supermarkets by the time we had arrived. We also had some dodgy Indian Paneer which we thought would be likely halloumi but in the end was rubbery and tasteless. Not good. The garden is somewhat wild right now and the number of ants is far higher than I would like, but aside from that it was a good few hours in the sun and a nice way to round off the weekend.
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On Tuesday evening we went out with Oracle for one of our regular gastronomic sessions. We met at ShuffleDog, where they had a modest tap takeover of four Cloudwater beers. I must admit that I find Cloudwater one of the more over-rated breweries, particularly regarding their IPAs as many of them taste the same, and so it proved with three of the four on offer here. We had only intended to drink two, then come back for the others, as they were all 9% but in the end our tastebuds got the better of us and we ended up having all four. This proved to be a little difficult as I ended up quite tiddly as we headed for meal at The Cat's Pyjamas. This was as delicious as it had been the first time we tried it over the May Bank Holiday weekend, with me getting the deliciously creamy saag paneer that Wolfie had had last time. It was arguably a little rich and sickly towards the end, but it was a great meal and we did get to try a couple of new craft beers too. The onion bhaji starters, which were shared in a bowl were also a winner. After this, we headed over to Belgrave Music Hall, having not been here for a while. The range of beer was not as good as it once was and it still had a little bit of a pretentious air about it, but it was great to be in a bar that we don't visit regularly at least.

Wolfie buggered his ankle on Thursday, twisting the ligaments and so he has largely been incapacitated over the last few days. This didn't stop him going to the meet on Saturday though, although we did have to get a taxi there. This was quite useful in one way though as we had to transport the new screen for the fursuit changing area, which we had made out of discarded plastic piping and a sheet. It was quite rudimentary but did the job. We weren't expecting that many people at the meet on an account of Confuzzled being this weekend, but we still got quite the turnout. The pool tables, newly installed earlier in the month, proved to be quite popular although I had erroneously thought they were free from 12 noon to 4pm, but this turned out just to be on weekdays. Still, I paid £10 for their useage and we got them for the rest of the day, which proved to be a blessing as the fursuit walk was sadly cancelled due to the weather. It was good at least that we had something to occupy the fursuiters though, along with the space to accommodate the inability of going outside. We also got our new Leeds furs hi-vis jackets delivered that very morning, which looked rather snazzy, while we are currently finalising our new committee and Leeds furs website. It's good to be motoring ahead with this after a year of stagnation, and it's also great to have the enthusiasm for the meets back. We will always be grateful to the White Rabbit for accommodating us, but the size issue was becoming a problem. Despite this, we have now spoken to Jack and are hopeful of securing an weekday evening event in due course. Indeed, we ended up there after the meet when Draken went walkabout, and it was nice to be reacquainted. Unfortunately, I hadn't had much food and with the stresses of the last few weeks piled on top of me, I had something of a breakdown. Arcais and I went to get a Subway together and had a heart-to-heart but there is an awful lot I need to fix in my life once I come back from the USA.

Wolfie had put too much strain on his foot at the meet, which saw him in agony throughout Sunday, meaning he largely stayed in bed. This was frustrating as it meant on top of my professional work, which I had to do due to the insane workload I currently have, I had to do most of the planning for our forthcoming US trip too. Wolfie's foot problems have continued into today and the strain is really getting to me - long days at work and doing all the organising for our vacation by myself has caused an awful lot of mental problems, problems I thought I had buried back in 2005. I am not particularly happy with the demands at work right now - nor living in the UK - and while both could change should my company back my EU office idea (which I have now formally presented), I do feel somewhat frustrated and helpless. This isn't aided by the fact I feel uninspired by work too, so I am hoping this forthcoming break will at least allow me respite and enable me to gauge perspective on my current situation before I do anything too rash. I do feel quite strongly about leaving the UK but of course this is easier said than done and I don't know if biding my time or jumping is the best course of action. I am hoping answers will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.
lupestripe: (Default)
Saturday was our 10th annual Eurovision party and it was probably the best so far. I feared we had invited too many people but nine - Stray, Luna, Marcus, Craz, Absolute, Adia and Wolfie's former colleague and baldy beardy man Adam - turned out to be just the right number. Wolfie also managed to rig the sound system so we could hear the songs and commentary despite people talking over it, which meant that I could engage with the contest while anyone else was free to talk if they wished. People turned up from about 6pm, with the full contingent being there an hour later. We then ordered a huge number of pizzas from Domino's and settled down to watch the action, with Graham Norton being on scintillating form once again. I must admit that I didn't reckon much to Portugal's entry - the eventual winner - but it was good that a new country took the title and I hope it put paid to the usual tedious talk of 'political' voting. I noticed that when Australia gave the UK 12 points, some of the people who drone on about the voting suddenly didn't seem to mind, which didn't really surprise me of course. Anyway, the UK finished 15th, which I thought was a little low really as it was quite a strong song this year, sung very well. It was a shame that my personal favourite, Azerbaijan, with the dancing horse head on the ladder didn't do as well as it deserved to, while as I have mentioned, the tedium that was Portugal's song was quite surprising in how well it was received. Considering it got a lot of votes from a lot of places, I guess I was just in the wrong. He did look a little like Salad Fingers though.

The highlight, as usual, was the banter on Twitter with friends from across Europe. This definitely adds a sense of togetherness about the event, and it is still one of my favourite nights of the year. After this, Adia headed off, but the rest of us stayed around to watch the NutriBullet Infomercial from High Street TV, a half hour programme that is always on in the early hours of the morning and something with which I have become worringly obsessed such is its general naffness. I can probably quote the whole thing now, and my love for it didn't really transcend to anyone else, which was probably also the case for the Chin Review, which we introduced Adam to afterwards. By this time, Wolfie and I had gone through a whole keg of pale ale that we had bought at a service station in Gloucestershire on our way back from JFTW last month while I had probably eaten enough snacks to give me a week's worth of calories. They are so deliciously moreish.

Craz had an appointment at 11am so Wolfie woke up early and drove her and Absolute home, leaving me to snooze. Adam had headed off when we all went to bed just after 3am, leaving Stray, Luna, Marcus and his holey anus pants he was flashing most of the evening behind. We awoke around noon and after a pleasant breakfast at Cafe Barthez, which is now becoming something of a post-Eurovision tradition now that we boycott Wetherspoons due to the pro-Brexit stance of their arse of an owner. After this, the trio disappered, leaving Wolfie and I alone to enjoy the rest of what has been a rather sunny day. Due to this, we decided to go out to Garforth, a place to which I had never been, where we had a pleasureable half hour stroll through the town centre. Along the way, we saw the flame for peace, a gas lantern standing near the station which underneath contains candles for you to light your own flame. This was probably the only thing of real interest in Garforth although we did gatecrash two staff members of a local cafe who were cleaning up while listening to loud heavy metal. I thought the bistro was open but alas it wasn't, but it was here where we discovered the existance of a local Garforth brewery called Quirky Brewhouse. They stocked two of their beers in the shop, and with an offer of two bottles for a fiver, we decided to purchase. They also told us that the brewery was just down the road and that they had a taproom that was open until 8pm. Seizing on this information, we decided to go, particularly as it was only a ten minute walk in the spring sunshine. It was situated in the middle of an industrial estate, tucked behind some iron warehouses, but once we got there, we saw a large number of people sat outside at tables. Inside, the bar was quite small but it was comfortably full, meaning we were only left with one table to choose. This is where we sat as we enjoyed the local ales and marvelled at the range of craft beer they were selling. They also have specialist gin nights and catering vans too, suggesting this is quite a serious place, so it was quite the discovery to find it.

With Wolfie driving, we could only really have a half, plus I wanted to go to the gym to try and work off a small fraction of the calories I had consumed during Eurovision. This saw us head off shortly afterwards, going back to the car, on the way discovering a local garden that had about 25 sculptures of humans made out of flower pots. It was all incredibly well done, with a little tube leading from the front gate to a money collection box for donations. It certainly cheered up my day, as did the picturesque Garforth station, where we parked our car so we could see the beautiful red wraught iron bridge. On the way back home, we drove through a number of pit villages before heading back into Leeds, stopping off at Thwaite Mills, a place we didn't even knew existed yet one we will have to visit sometime as it was sadly closed. A trip to Farsley was in order to see a local off license, which was once good, became terrible but has since upped its game due to the wide range of craft beers they now stock there. It was quite impressive and very near us, so something to bear in mind in future. This is one of the huge highlights of our Sunday afternoon trips out - we always tend to find surprising or interesting things while exploring.

Time was pressing however so we had to be quick as I really did want to make the gym. Fortunately, I just about made it, doing my usual workout before heading back home to cook fish finger sandwiches, vac the mess up from the night before and work on our partition screen for the Leeds Meet for the fursuit changing area. So all in all then a rather busy weekend, albeit reassuringly cheap and great fun.
lupestripe: (Default)
With Middlesbrough's relegation from the Premier League this evening confirmed, a rather miserable 12 months has now been capped off. The frustrating thing about Boro is the problems have been evident all season and little was done to change them until it was all too late. And like with Gareth Southgate all those years ago, we appointed a rookie manager who surprisingly couldn't turn things around. The fact we were so meek in pursuit of survival is perhaps the most galling aspect of this. We are not one of the three worst teams in the league on paper, but there has been a crushing inevitability about this for some time, and I'm frustrated that after seven years battling to get back into the Premier League, we have surrendered our place so meekly. Back to square one it is then, but I am not sure I'll be on board next season. After 23 years supporting them, I must admit my interest has started to wane and coupled with Middlesbrough being one of the most pro-Brexit towns in the country, my attachment to the place has significantly reduced. We'll see how I feel in August, but I may not bother. The fact that Newcastle got promoted as champions over the weekend just rubs salt into the wounds.

The feelings tonight contrast deeply with the elation of Emmanuel Macron being elected as President of France yesterday, a relief in many ways as the tide of populism across Europe seems to be being halted. I was quite buoyant, even going out and buying French wine, cheese and bread for a celebration, and it was one of the first times I have felt hope in a long time. Of course, all this came crashing down when I awoke this morning and remembered in which country I still live, and this only became more acute as the day's General Election campaigning unfolded. I think my time is done here and on Friday, I have my annual review at work where I think I'll lay it on the line. We'll have to see what happens, but I don't think I'll be happy until I have left England now.

The weekend was rather quiet, just doing jobs around the house mainly aside from a trip to Hull on Friday evening for KEN, a local fetish event. We knew a few people running it, and a few of our crew wanted to attend, so we thought we would give it a whirl. Getting anywhere on a Friday night is often difficult due to work though, and indeed we didn't arrive in the city until pushing 9pm due to a range of circumstances including a diversion on the M62. We weren't ready until 10pm, forcing everyone to wait, but soon we headed out and around to the nightclub, which was conveniently around the corner from the hotel where we were staying. We got changed into fetish clothes - in my case one of my dresses which I believe I pull off quite well - before heading to watch the burlesque show which involved a number of cool acts including a sword swallower, a striptease Velma from Scooby Doo and a lady riding a stuffed pink flamingo. After the event, the stage area became a modest dungeon but I spent most of my time chatting to random people, including a number of university students whose first fetish event this was. I even got one to try spanking for the first time, which was an achievement, and it was great chatting to them. We didn't play ourselves on account of the number of Red Stripes we had - which induced such a hangover that we couldn't go to another fetish event on the Saturday to which we had intended to go - but it was more of a social event and ultimately worth it, even if the nightclub was a bit dingy and the floors sticky. The problem was we only had five Red Stripes, but the hangover from such shitty beer was far far worse than what you get with craft.

We stayed until the end, even meeting the compare of the stage show, who was a nice fella. After this, as it was late and the hotel nearby, I decided I couldn't be bothered changing so just walked back in my dress, which got some looks from the consierge on the reception but I genuinely feel more comfortable in women's clothes and am tempted to do it more regularly. Still, I wasn't too fussed, it had been a great night and definitely one we would like to do again sometime.
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