Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wine Country Tasting

I'm such the Wino!  I've "tasted" wine all over Italy; Bourdeaux and Paris, France; Greece, China, and Texas!  In a way, this trip has kind of turned into a wine tasting pilgrimage, though.  I mean, California, Oregon, and Washington are a given but I had no idea that New Mexico and Arizona produced wine!  Apparently, EVERY state does now!

I spent yesterday wine and, oh get this, Sake tasting in the Willamette Valley!  Lillie was along for the ride and was welcomed into a couple of the vineyard tasting rooms but, otherwise, was attached to a table while I imbibed indoors.  Knowing a dog was outside waiting, the proprietors would all take a bowl of water out to her, effectively leaving me guilt free to imbibe longer.

The differences between the various states' wines, the years of the grapes, and the people introducing me to them are so widely varied that it's very difficult to accurately compare them.  I can say that, for me, Napa beat out Santa Ynez, and, some of the Willamette Valley wines have beat out Napa!  If the people were personable, the taste was much more palatable!  Just saying!  Okay...the taste didn't improve but the experience completely improved!!

Thursday, I visited Hip Chicks Do Wine simply because I liked the name.  I bought a very nice Muscat too!  Yesterday, I visited Kason Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards, and Kramer Vineyards.  My first stop was father and son owned, Kason Vineyards, where the son, Matt, was the only one in residence when I arrived.  Though his duties included everything BUT giving wine tastings, we had a nice conversation while he provided me with 5 very healthy pours!  As I was leaving, his father, Steve, arrived and insisted that I try the premium wines.  Steve was very generous and I felt as though I was just drinking with a friend.  He educated  me on certain points of the wine making process that I don't recall anyone else ever telling me about.  Though I am in the land of Pinot Noir, it's not my favorite wine but I ended up buying a fantastic bottle!

Elk Cove and Kramer Vineyards had friendly staff, very good wine, and gorgeous landscape!  I limit myself to buying one bottle per day of tasting so I didn't purchase any of their wines and moved on to my final stop, Sake One.  Lillie stayed in the Jeep for the short time that I was in there.  It was only $5 to taste 3 flights and I really didn't need any more than that as I was driving, after all.  It was amazing stuff!!  I thanked them and hurried back to Lillie then continued up the scenic Hwy 47 towards Portland. I completely recommend taking this route..."The Road Less Traveled" as it's dubbed by the "Guide To Willamette Valley Wineries".

The best perks of wine tasting at vineyards (I'm not a great fan of "cellars" or "tasting rooms") are the people you meet, the conversations you have, and the incredible scenery!  Wine country in any country is worth a visit even if you don't drink wine!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Camping for Non-Campers

I'm addicted to travel.  My entire life, I've traveled.  I've actually even traveled portions of the US in all of that travel.  However, I was young and I was not aware.  I was only truly aware when I was overseas.

A couple of years ago, I hiked several trails in Zion National Park, including Angel's Landing and a small part of The Narrows.  That is when my eyes were opened to the beauty I had not previously seen in America!!  That is also what influenced me to want to road trip America once I returned from Italy in 2012.

When Lillie and I hit the road, I only felt freedom!  I seriously had no fear.....I, of course, was naive to renter people!! LOL  Anyway, when Lillie and I hit the road, I was so happy...yet also praying that my Jeep wouldn't die on me!!  We headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico.  This was our first night camping.

I'm not a camper but I had been planning travel without a home so I had purchased a light, two man tent that I could eventually attach to my backpack when the time came.  This tent is the epitome of easy!!  At Carlsbad National Park, you can't camp but you can find plenty of camping nearby!  I was tired so I paid for the first site I found and set my camp up pretty quickly.

One thing I love about camping is that most of your neighbors are social!  That night, in New Mexico, my 2 male neighbors were from Austin, TX.  Over all of my years of traveling and all of the locations, one thing has remained true.....Texas is everywhere!!  Camping for free in the Gila Mountains, there were 6 of us.  Of those 6, 4 were from Texas!

Anyway, I've never been much on camping so, months before hitting the road,  I took a couple of camping trips to Oklahoma to learn my tent and what I might would need that I didn't have yet.  The first camping trip made me realize that the Jeep wasn't going to fit as much as I was planning!  Other than that, it was simple enough and, honestly, I don't need anywhere near all of "supplies" that I have.  The used Coleman stove that I purchased is amazing as is the tent itself.  I have an air mattress that I've never used because I'm perfectly comfortable on a couple of foam pads that I've had for years.  I have plenty of blankets for cold nights, tarps, and I have my magnifying mirror so I can see what I'm doing to my  face in the mornings.  Lillie has her bed but, at least at the start of this trip, preferred to glue herself to me which effectively pushed me off of the foam and her onto it!

At first, I kept a fileting knife next to my sleeping bag but that was completely unnecessary most nights.  Only
when I was in secluded campsites or had questionable neighbors did I try to remember to include it in my nightly tent decor.  The only night that I was awakened and was truly afraid was in the San Bernardino mountains in California.  I pitched my tent in the dark next to a creek but I had noted warning signs for bear.  There were a lot of other people in the campground but it was pitch black once everyone turned in for the night.  At 2am, I was awakened by something or someone rubbing against my tent.  I froze for several minutes before peering out of the tiny, clear plastic slits in the tent to see if I could see anything.  My imagination had  me seeing the fire pit as a bear cub! Though I had planned on breaking camp at 5am, it was still dark so I was too afraid.  Of course, I got no sleep!  Once it was daylight, I emerged and circled my tent looking for prints.  The only ones I found were human.  I have a feeling that several of the teenagers that were camping there decided that scaring folks might be the highlight of their night.

I now can set up camp and tear it down in no time.  Lillie is apparently paranoid that I am going to just leave her behind so she has requested that I load her into the Jeep first.  After all, she's very aware that I won't be going very far without it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Traveling With A Dog

I had been planning for well over a year to chuck it all and travel abroad once Lillie had passed on.  I saved a multitude of links to help me travel almost for free (they are posted on my Dreamlife Destinations page).  Of course, those travel plans were for traveling solo!  I've found that, 1) road tripping isn't free (duh!) because you need gasoline to actually get from place to place, new tires, oil changes, etc. and, 2) traveling with a pet is extremely limiting!

Tucked In on a Cold Night
I have links for free campsites, couchsurfing, house sitting, etc.  All wonderful, realistic options for not spending money for accommodations.  However, with a pet along for the ride, I've found that home owners' pets may not want another dog in the house and my dog can't house sit where there is a cat.  Couchsurfing hosts aren't as willing to accept a dog in their homes and, as for free campsites, they tend to lean more towards RV's so are in parking lots...not exactly somewhere I'd want to pitch my tent (especially in the heat of summer)!  The ones not in parking lots tend to be full or are remote which, with a deaf dog, don't leave me feeling very safe....nor do I feel that Lillie is safe.  Of course, the packed out Jeep is always an option!

I love to hike but back country camping (where all of the good hiking and scenery is!) in National, Forestry, and State Parks is not an option when you have a dog with you.  Of course, if you have an old dog with arthritis with you, hiking is more like ambling...or even crawling.  Bless her heart, Lillie has pushed through her comfort zone in this area!

"I asked for Red!"
 In the heat of summer, there is one thing a loving pet parent needs to be aware of.  That would be how seriously hot the ground, rocks, and pavement are on your dogs' paws!  I first realized this when I got Lillie out of the Jeep to enjoy Arizona's Painted Desert with me!  Poor baby was high stepping within the first minute and, once she found a patch of shade, refused to move!  I got the message and led her back to the Jeep where I left the motor running so she had air conditioning.  I quickly took my pictures and raced back before someone drove off with her and all of my belongings.  This has become the procedure when I find scenes and sites that I can't live without capturing!

Seeing the sites (indoor attractions, for the most part) are a problem too if you're not in a cooler climate as you have to leave your pet in the vehicle.  I'll stop to see how long it will take to tour the facility and if they offer kennels.  Many National Park attractions do have kennels available, either for free or for a fee.  Unless I just wander upon something, I tend to pull it up online to find if I should head there or not waste my time.  I also am big on wine tasting at vineyards.  The majority of them have actually allowed me to bring Lillie in with me.  All of the others had patios so I leashed Lillie to a table and brought my tasting outside.

That brings up eating out issues with a dog in tow!  Typically, you can find a restaurant with a patio that allows dogs.  The adventure here is weather! LOL  In New Mexico, we were thrilled to get off the road to stretch our legs in a cute little town.  I finally found an open patio area that had a table just waiting for us!  As soon as my order was placed and my drink was delivered, the skies opened up!  I ran to the car and retrieved my umbrella while Lillie crouched under the picnic table.  With my lunch plate in my lap, umbrella held in place by my knees, I ate.  For the misery Lillie endured, I fed her some tasty portions to keep her loving me!

Monday, August 19, 2013

About Us

My name is Renee' McCain and this is mine and Lillie's blog.  At the beginning of this blog, I am 51 and Lillie is 11.5 years old.  She is a mid-size, overweight dog who is half Australian Shepherd and half Heeler.  Due to allergies, she's lost most of the fur on her tail and her nose.  Her eyesight isn't very good anymore and her hearing is almost gone.  She also has arthritis.  She has always been my soldier and is dependent and totally devoted to me.

After working the majority of my life at jobs I didn't like, starting my own companies on the side, not happy with any of it so doing all of it just to pay the bills....I decided to do something that I love.  I grew up traveling as my father worked offshore oilfield.  Once I  made enough money, I began taking my children on trips but then they were grown and now they are married.  I traveled to 9 countries overseas solo over the past 3 years.  Then, in October 2012, I was laid off.  I was relieved and my mind immediately shouted, "NOW you can travel!".

In November, I flew off to my favorite destination in the world, Italy, for 5 weeks of backpacking.  I wanted to stay so much longer but the friend who had looked after my old, insecure Lillie had her own life to get on with.  The thought of sitting in an office, doing something I was good at but didn't enjoy depressed me more than anything.  My head was anywhere but Here.  It was everywhere but Here.

So I sold and gave away most of my belongings, sold my Mustang convertible, rented out my condo fully furnished, and in July 2013, Lillie and I hit the road in the fully packed out used Jeep Grand Cherokee I had bought.  Lillie had no idea that it would be a while before we came "home" but she has since come to see the Jeep as Home.