All posts by John Froelich

Safe and Sound in Wimberley

Despite what it may have seemed like in the last post, after leaving New Mexico, the trip was totally straight-forward and fine. We made awesome time, and made it into Wimberley, TX in time to see some an awesome sunset.

Awesome hues of blue into deep red and pink greeted us as we crested over the hills into Wimberley. We made it to Casa DeBonilla and grabbed an awesome Christmas Eve dinner.

Then quickly hit the sack.

Christmas day came around when we woke up, where we spent the morning opening presents with Jim and Debbie, and then we al enjoyed an impromptu jam session on our guitars.

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PRESENTS!

 

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Super comfy pajamas, courtesy of Jim and Debbie. Seriously, folks – they’re the best.

 

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Mandy and Jim starting out our jam sesh.

 

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Impromptu jam session, doing some Beatles on Christmas morning with Jim, Mandy, and John.

 

We spent all of Christmas day watching Christmas movies and playing the guitar, and it was totally awesome. We slept late into the next morning, and a little before lunch time, we went out to Wimberley and did some walking around and city sight-seeing.

 

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Some deer hanging out right outside the door of Casa deBonilla.

 

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Jim and Debbie at Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, TX.

 

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Goofing around at Jacob’s Well.

After doing some shopping in the town, we went out to Twisted X, a local brewery with some kick ass beers.

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Mandy sampling the Twisted X beers – they were awesome.

They had a really cool tree on the site too, with the pictures from their bottles carved into the wood.

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After some beers, we decided to grab dinner at one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in recent memory, Jack Allen’s in Dripping Springs, TX.

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Pork-belly BLT sliders. So good. So, so good,
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Braised lamb tacos with cilantro, marinated red onions, and cheese.
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Chicken-fried ribs with bacon-mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies, Absolutely incredible.

 

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Yule-log desert – A vanilla sponge cake thing wrapped in chocolate with cherries and a local vanilla ice cream.

If you ever find yourself in Dripping Springs, do yourself a favor and check out this restaurant. Now, we’ve returned to the house to spend the rest of the night in a food coma.

Stuck in a Winter Wonderland…

As I write this, Mandy and I are stuck in a massive blizzard on the side of the road in New Mexico with snow up to our tires. So what better thing to do than write a blog post?

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Aw, crap.

I’m not sure if a flash-blizzard exists but that would be the best way to describe what we’re currently sitting in. Our visibility has shrank to mere feet in front of us and sometimes hardly even that.

What I’m currently looking at is like something out of a story book. It’s the sort of storm that you imagine only being summoned by some evil entity; Gargamel of the North, maybe?

It’s the type of storm that comes on with malevolence and covers everything around it in cold and frost.

The sort of thing that you can’t help but feel powerless in front of.

The wind coming down from the mountain to our left is snow, ice and sleet. The windows have begun frosting over and ice is starting to form on the windshield.

Panic? What panic?

Snowwww.
Adios, Colorado. Hola, New Mexico.

The road that we were driving on, once covered in a patina of snow, has gradually filled up in peaks and valleys around us.

We’ve been walled in to our own car.

If you’ve never been trapped on the side of the road in a snow storm, trust me when I tell you that you really don’t want to.

You should know that we didn’t set out for this. The morning actually started really nicely, with a cup of coffee and a good pace being made out of Golden, Colorado after the roads had been plowed.

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Moar mountains.
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Colorado is such a beautiful state.

We made some good time out of CO, and shortly after crossing the border into NM, we ran into the bane of every road tripper.

The road block. Dun dun dun.

We’ve handled this sort of thing before.  Being the mighty road warriors we are, we had decided to find our own detour. We plugged a detour into the GPS, telling it to avoid the current road, and off we went, problem solved. We drove a bit out of the way onto Highway 72 which also heads east and found another road block. We were going to turn around and head way down south when we found this quaint little country road called Potato Mountain Rd that headed straight down to another part of US 64. Jackpot!

Unbeknownst to us, the initial road block was for an 84 mile span of US 64, not just a few miles as we had assumed. Once on US 64, it got a bit gusty. Then it was hard to see beyond 20 feet ahead. Soon, we couldn’t see but 5-10 feet in front of us. We made it to Des Moines, New Mexico, pulled off at a gas station, then decided cautiously that if we just kept driving 5-10 miles per hour, we’d be okay and could continue on. It was only wind and a little snow. Nothing awful. Yet.

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It’s just a little hazy. We’re fine, fine. No, really. It’s fine.

We got stuck in some deep-ish snow (it really didn’t look that bad) about 1 minute down the road from the gas station.

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Well, this is a disappointment.

Around thirty minutes after we had gotten stuck, even having gotten out to try and push the car, thoroughly soaking our shoes, we had resigned ourselves to sitting and waiting out the snow. At least we had a full tank of gas and heat to keep the snowstorm at bay. We settled in to wait for the snow plows, listening to a few podcasts, Mandy knitting, me writing.

More cars began coming up from behind us and some in the lane going opposite us. Some managed to make it through the drift that we got caught in, others would get feet in front of us, and then become lodged.

One SUV near us had tried plowing ahead in the opposite lane at breakneck speed, seemingly defying gravity and gliding across the over-snowed road. It came to rest in a snow bank that came up to their front fender, colliding with it in a loud thud. Steam began escaping the hood and the driver walked out of the car in anger.

The ones lucky enough to pass us merely got caught in a deeper snow drift five minutes down the road.

Eventually, some rescue crews made it onto the scene to begin the process of extricating any stuck motorists. Snow plows and tow trucks began making their way down the street, trying to create a safe path for cars. A valiant effort, considering Snow-Mageddon 2015 was taking place around them. According to one of them, the state had tried to shut down US 64 but the word didn’t get out fast enough, so they put up roadblocks on the major roads going instead.

Oops.

Road Trip Tip #2: Dial 511 if you don’t know what a road block is about before trying to find your own detour.

When a snow plow finally rolled up to us about an hour into sitting in the road, he signaled for us to roll our window down – no small feat in the middle of a blizzard. Against the wind, he told me that he had to go free another thirty cars at a gas station down the street from us, the resting spot for those that decided to test their luck beyond us.

He assured us that he would be back with friends to get us out once he dealt with the gas station. An hour later, he proved to be a man of his word. After a lot rocking back and forth and a good push from the plow driver, we were freed.

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The passenger side of the Fusion after being freed. We’d come out the next morning to discover the driver’s side door frozen. Just a little yank and it was fine, though.

“You’d best go up the road ahead of you.” He told us, pointing to a small side road a few yards in front of us, also covered in snow. “There’s a church there. You’ll probably need to hole up for the night.”

Thankful to just be out of the snow, I followed his instructions and found the church. Cars were lined up around the building and whatever could have been a parking lot was filled to the brim.

The inside of the church wasn’t much different than the parking lot. People were packed at tables and on the floor, trying to find a spot to keep for the night. If I had to guess, there were about 70 people inside.

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The church before it was filled up. The wind was howling outside for the next eight hours.

“Sleeping bags are on the floor to the right.” One of the road workers said, leaving the church after a break. “You should grab one before they run out.”

We didn’t, thinking we would only be there for 4-5 hours. It was only 4:30 pm. Plus, we had our own sleeping bags in the car.

We found our own pew next to a dog named Bunny. We chatted up Bunny’s owner, a 20-something heading home for Christmas. She had rescued another stranded driver that was headed to Colorado Springs. Everyone there sounded like they only had another 3-5 hours. We still had 11 hours to go ahead of us on our journey to Wimberley.

We tried to keep ourselves occupied. I read, Mandy again began knitting. She switched between knitting, reading, and looking around, unable to focus, waiting to hear whether or not we’d at least be able to fit in another few hours of driving in for the day.

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After we found a spot for ourselves. Much like the man in jeans in front of us, we wound up sleeping on these pews overnight.

Around 6:30 pm, one of the highway emergency workers came in and let everyone know that it didn’t look like they were going to open the roads tonight. The wind was still wailing outside and it was not safe to drive.

So we had to spend the entire night there. Luckily, we had tons of almonds and some mead-filled chocolates in the car. It was a comfortable temperature, so we didn’t bring in the sleeping bags.

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Some of the cars streaming out of the parking lot and into the road.

Pews do not a comfortable bed make. They’re just slightly more narrow than the width of a typical human body if you try to lay on them. If you sleep on your side, your arm goes numb because wood does not give.

It also became bone-achingly cold in the middle of the night. But the only thing we could do about that was go out into the 14° weather to the car to fetch the sleeping bags, so we dealt with the cold.

The night was mostly sleepless. The church creaked horribly when anyone walked to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Until about 10pm, there was a cacophony of sound, from movies to video games, to people talking amongst themselves.

Later into the night, all you could hear was snoring. I never gave much thought to how each person’s snore could be like a signature. It was like we were in a swamp, listening to an orchestra of frogs.

By 3:30am, we could not sleep to pass the time any longer. Mandy dialed 511 — a number she had noticed on signs that we had passed on the highways for travel information. They hadn’t updated the information since 10pm last night.

By 4am, we decided to grab our things and just go sit in the car. The sound of snoring was a bit maddening and we really wanted to get on the road. With each passing hour, our arrival into Wimberley inched further into the night.

To our surprise, the road outside of the church looked pretty clear. The Fusion was icy but there was no snow packed around the tires.

We warmed up the car. It took about 20 minutes to get the windshield thawed.

And we were off.

There were only two small crossroads before we would be back onto US 64.  The first small road we could take to get to US 64 was covered in snow. We skipped that, flashbacks from yesterday’s two hour stint in the snow urging us to pass.

Driving straight, we got to the US 64 intersection. There was a tiny 1 foot snow bank that the snow plowers hadn’t quite cleared. We paused. A mini van came up behind us and whizzed on over the bank. Mandy thought maybe we could go over the same tire tracks. Maybe we could clear the snow with our shoes. We tried, it was packed. We decided to turn around. We weren’t feeling particularly brave anymore.

We drove around all of the side streets available to us for about 20 minutes before finding nothing as cleared as that one intersection. So we went back. I stared down that tiny snow bank, squinting at it angrily to let it know I meant business.

It blinked.

I revved my engine, hoping the Fusion could handle what was to come, fearing a repeat of yesterday.

I hit the gas. Mandy cringed.

We flew over that tiny snow bank like the Dukes of Hazard. Not really.

But we made it.

Sunrise and Snow Hikes

On Saturday morning, we decided to get up early and make it to the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Golden, CO to catch the sunrise.

Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater

One of the first early morning shots we took.

Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
The sun is beginning to reflect into the clouds. The colors just cascaded across the sky.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
You can barely see the sun starting to crest the horizon.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
Closer, still.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
A shot of the amphitheater at sunrise. There were only a few people there with us.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
The sun finally crossing the horizon. You could slowly see the dotted lights of Denver fading out as the sun hits them.
Mandy at Sunrise
A shot of Mandy in the early morning sun.

After we had our fill of the sunrise, we decided to head out to a small town not too far down from Red Rocks called Evergreen and do a hike up to Maxwell Falls. A very uphill hike in the fresh snow, that left Mandy and I feeling like we had run a marathon.

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Pines and snow were basically all you saw on your way up the falls.
Wee! Downhill!
Mandy posing a picture on the downhill.
A Selfie at Maxwell Falls
Us, somewhere near the top of the falls.

Total Steps: 22,000+

Don’t Eat Fish in the Mountains

Sabrina, Mandy, and I after arriving in the mountains.
Sabrina, Mandy, and I after arriving in the mountains.

Sabrina was awesome enough to drive Mandy and I into a little mountain town called Winter Park. It is known as a skiing/snowboarding place, but with us lacking either skill, we decided to go snow tubing instead.

Mandy and I after in front of a gorgeous little condo/hotel in the town.
Mandy and I after in front of a gorgeous little condo/hotel in the town.
Waving in front of an elevation marker for us. It was 9,236 feet above sea level. 
Waving in front of an elevation marker for us. It was 9,236 feet above sea level. 
Me, lugging one of the inner tubes at the bottom of the lane. I don't care how old you are, you're never too old to go snow tubing.
Me, lugging one of the inner tubes at the bottom of the lane. I don’t care how old you are, you’re never too old to go snow tubing.
After our first runs down the slope.
After our first runs down the slope.

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After an hour on the slopes and single-digit weather, we drove a little bit more into the town and found a sushi restaurant. Here’s the thing; you won’t find good sushi 9,000 feet above sea level.

In fact, you’ll find bad sushi. Maybe we are spoiled by Orlando, but this place was not good. The drinks were overpriced and questionable in quality, and to say that the sushi was disappointing would be the understatement of the year. It was bad, and after we had finished less than half of the sushi we ordered, we left.

Heed my words: You can not find good sushi in the mountains. And if you do find sushi, don’t eat it.

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After leaving the sushi restaurant disappointed, we were surprised to find that the whole little town square was lit up with Christmas lights. We took a picture in front of the tree before heading back down to Sabrina’s.

Achievement Unlocked: Wimberley, TX

Any complaints we made yesterday about I-10 paled in comparison to what Tuesday had in store for us leaving Baton Rouge. No more than 10 minutes after leaving the hotel, we find out that the next ten-mile stretch of I-10 has been shut down due to a major accident. Because of this, all traffic was being detoured off of the interstate onto a little one-lane county road. Cars and semi-trucks alike were all being shunted onto a tiny road that you had to fight through to move ten feet.

Traffic Jam

The detour in total was ten miles, and it took us two hours before we made it back on to the road. This considerably pushed our time to Wimberley back, but being good adventurers, we tried to not let it get to us.

10 Mile Backup and Detour

It only sort of worked.

After getting back on I-10, the rest of the trip was a high-speed blur moving through Louisiana and into the heart of Texas. Hours melted away with farms and farmhouses giving way to stretches of vegetation and and the type of sunset that you only get in the South. This was another day that kept us in the car for most of the day, trying to make up for lost time from the morning.

Cows in a pasture in Texas

Around 7PM, despite the GPS trying to lead us to some sort of Indian burial ground (we forgot to take a picture), we made it to Casa deBonilla in Wimberley, TX in good time and good spirits.

Lvl. 1 Explorer : +50xp

Okay, so maybe we’re not level one. Mandy and I have been traveling with each other for awhile. Our first road trip took us along the East coast of the US to the north ; a destination of Asheville, NC, and many stops in between. Our next one took us driving from Orlando to the Grand Canyon, leaving west.

What I’m driving at (no pun intended) is that we’ve left Florida from just about every direction you can, and they’re all boring. If you’ve ever found yourself on a stretch of I-10, you know what I mean. In the winter, everything is brown, the sky is gray, and the road is black. The entire world is rolling past you in sepia going 70 mph and you begin to imagine what the Dust Bowl must have been like.

Road Trip Tip #1 : If you want to make a road trip, don’t live in Florida.

Highway 10… Much bored.

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This is what a majority of yesterday looked like for us. We’re on our way to Texas to visit family and have made the drive up I-10 to Texas (and beyond) two times now, this being the third.

This time, we made a detour in the panhandle down into Panama City to adjust our eyes back to seeing color again and to grab a lunch at a popular, local oyster house.

Hunt’s Oyster Bar proved to be a needed break from the road, with fantastic seafood. Their oysters were absolutely incredible and the fried seafood was perfection. Lightly breaded and lightly fried. Rarely can you go wrong with fresh seafood on the coast. When I say ‘the coast’, I mean you walk five minutes in any direction and your’e in the water.

Some seagulls in the panhandle of Florida

We took the rest of the way through the city, keeping the ocean to our south. It proved helpful for a couple of hours being  off of I-10, but eventually, all roads lead back, and at the end of Pensacola, we begrudgingly took the on-ramp back up.

Mandy getting ready to take some pictures

Empty beaches on the Panhandle

John enjoying a quick jaunt on the beach

Seagulls

Several more uneventful hours on the road, and we found ourselves in Baton Rouge, LA. We grabbed dinner at a roadside cajun restaurant, and we both wish we would have taken some pictures of the place.

The restaurant, Keith’s Seafood, turned out to be an unassuming little place in the hollowed out shell of a gas station, like a little cajun hermit crab, ten minutes off of I-10.  We both had some shrimp and clam po-boys and some seafood gumbo, and any apprehension I had at eating at a turned out gas station evaporated immediately. Tremendous seafood again, with the gumbo overflowing with whole crab legs and boudine. A little spicy, rich, and all around fantastic. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring the camera with us when we went out here so you’ll have to take our word for it for now. I imagine we’d probably make a detour back on our way home, though. Two more hours on I-10, and we decided to crash at a La Quinta for the night. Now, we’re getting ready to get back on the road and head west. Next stop: Wimberley, TX,