Beer Camp Release Party Adventure
Our camp counselors had remained quiet and vague so far on the exact release dates of our beer. Now, unexpectedly, I was being shown a printed sheet showing off the Ryeway, complete with a logo and description. The release was imminent, and I was ready for it.
Myself and good friend Aaron from Sacramento had both submitted videos into the contest and managed to be among the winners who all spent several days in the Willy Wonka like experience of Beer Camp at the brewery in Chico. The culmination of camp was the group of twelve of us brewing a beer of our choosing on their system. Getting twelve brewers and beer lovers to decide on a single beer to brew isn't easy, but we all happily landed on a hoppy, honey rye ale we'd call Ryeway 117.
The final part of the experience is what we were all now looking forward to; the brewery planned to ship each of us a keg to use at home as well as send two kegs to our home bar of choice where we could have release parties.
I had the time, the mobility and above all the thirst to give it a go. I'd been cruising around with Marilyn for some months now, she was more than up for the coming weeks full of hitchhiking from beer to beer.
We'd been staying with her friends in San Francisco which lead up to the visit to the Torpedo Room in Berkeley, which is also where one of my fellow campers lived. That night we stayed with him, talking homebrews and having a good time.
In the morning we set to head towards Sacramento to pay Aaron a visit. The distance between Sac and the Bay Area is less than a hundred miles, sometimes hitching between you get lucky, but it's also easy to get caught up. This started off like that, getting caught up.
Marilyn and I slowly thumbed out six rides, chunking our way out of Berkeley, mile by mile, barely getting past Vallejo with the day slipping away. A cop ran us off the highway which set us back as we had to do quite a bit of walking to get back to a good spot, pausing a couple times to snack and hydrate.
Finally back to an on ramp which seemed pretty remote we managed to get the golden ride, a woman with her two young kids. They weren't heading all that far, so at first, with the sun knocking on the horizon, it seemed like Sacramento might have to wait a day, but sometimes magic happens.
She insisted on getting us Amtrak tickets for the last little section of distance. She raced us into the station, snapped out a couple tickets and we had to run to the closing doors of the paused train that had timed out perfectly, running and shouting "thank yous" in joyful travel awe.
As it turned out, we were so close in fact that no conductor even made the rounds to us by the time we reached Sacramento. Some free Lyft credit got us to Aaron's house, homebrews and talk of the coming Ryeway filled the night.
Two days later we hopped in the car to head back to Berkeley, the word I got was they'd have Ryeway on tap, but a quarter of the way there I got word that indeed it would not be. Tricked again, we made a couple beer related stops back in Sacramento instead.
The next day it was time to hitch up to Chico, the motherland. Aaron dropped Marilyn and I off and we started flashing our sign and making our way. First a couple guys with a joint to share who took us past our junction, a quick short ride from a guy who got us back to it, another guy heading to a retirement community in Lincoln and finally a pretty rad girl heading straight on up to Chico, she even dropped us off right at my friend's house.
We spent the next several days waiting for the good news of the release, meanwhile otherwise enjoying Chico. We had beer tastings, wine tasting, saw a Led Zeppelin cover band, generally partied and made visits to the brewery to check on the progress.
We poured a couple pints of our golden masterpiece, a spicy, sweet hop kicked bliss bomb, glasses clinked and a smile rose that would stay plastered to my face for weeks. The Ryeway 117 had arrived.
My friend and I brewed that night too, an orange chocolate summer stout, still full of excitement. Another few Chico days went by, some hiking, shuffleboard and the rest of it, but then the next Ryeway landmark arrived as they'd have our beer on tap at the brewery itself.
"Ryeway 117" on the chalkboard, on the menu, and now in a glass in front of me. I camped out in my bar stool in front of the tap handle until nearly 7pm, my version of an eight hour work day, savoring every sip from every pint they poured. Marilyn joined me at some point, my counselor even popped in to have a pint and say hello. I was euphoric, all was right with the world. Freedom. Bliss.
The next day we had the backyard party and kept the Ryeway flowing, drinking it into the night. The day after that I made the hungover trip back to the brewery, Aaron had made the drive up from Sacramento and we clanked several glasses of the Ryeway, all had some food and even went on the tour for kicks. Even Jim came later with a bunch of his friends for his release party.
A day later I went outside town a little bit to help a friend out and make a little extra cash, we also brewed a few batches of beer. This friend grew his own hops, so these would be some particularly fresh batches. Marilyn and I crashed there for the night, then he generously drove us on down to Aaron's place back in Sacramento, primed for some more release parties.
The day after was Aaron's release party, he had it at his go-to beer bar in Folsom, Sam Hornes. Aaron and I got to pour the initial beer and then the night kicked off, pint after pint of the good stuff, plenty of friends popping in for the same. There was a great feeling of success, every sip was a victory.
We roamed around Berkeley a bit the next day, then Hunter gave us a ride to the highway entrance where we managed to hitch a ride from a guy heading to Concord, exactly where we needed to be for the next release party.
In the midst of the city there seemed to be no forest of any kind, no places to tuck away and stealth camp for the night. We kept walking, kept looking, kept making weak late night attempts at hitching a ride, destination our destination Sacramento once again.
The Uber car pulled up, the older gentleman driving started chatting us up and heading towards the motel. We told him how we'd been hitchhiking towards Sacramento, ran out of daylight and were going to call it a night. As it turned out, he was from Sacramento and we were his last ride of the night, so he decided to "turn off the meter" and proceeded to drive us the hour or two east to Sacramento with him. Not just that, but he lived around the same suburb as Aaron's house where we were headed.
So what looked like an unlucky end to a great night turned out excellent, even if it meant amping up the dogs in the middle of the night to wake up Aaron and Jess with our unexpected early arrival.
Afterwards we headed to a friends house, then on the car ride back to Aaron's place Marilyn and I hit a boiling point. I suppose we'd been on the edge, but when she saw me swiping girls on my phone she snagged it out of my hand to the floor in the backseat, stomping me when I tried to retrieve it.
Passions and drinks were high, I apologized to Aaron and Jess and suddenly wanted nothing to do with Marilyn anymore, "I'll never bring anyone like her around again", I told them. The toll of a 24/7 traveling relationship was adding up.
We hung out in the house again the next day, generally hungover and avoiding communication, but eventually got over everything, at least enough to keep chugging along together. We had a lot more beer and good times to take care of.
Aaron dropped us off on the highway, we quickly thumbed a ride from a couple girls heading just over to West Sacramento. Next a quick ride from a guy to Davis, then an Air Force guy to Vacaville. A guy in a box truck after that got us north of Vallejo, then a guy heading to Santa Rosa scooped us up. That was a good ride, the guy had stories of his ancestors having duels and his mom being the trainer of Seaworld's "Bubbles", the famous whale.
Santa Rosa wasn't part of our plan necessarily, but we knew what to do, the guy dropped us in the exact place we wanted to be, Russian River Brewery. After a couple pints of Pliney we headed back to the highway while there was still daylight.
We hitched a ride from a young couple to the next town up we wanted to get to, Healdsburg, home of Bear Republic brewery. We had some beer there and finally had to venture out to find a camp spot. Luckily, we'd made this trip before the previous summer and had found a spot off the freeway which happened to be on of Marilyn's favorite spots we'd found. We more or less got to this exact same spot, just some flat ground in the trees between the highway and a sound barrier wall, well hidden and comfortable for the night.
In the morning we figured to detour up to Fort Bragg, but after a little while of no rides and a coffee break we decided to refocus on our Petaluma mission, which was now just a little south of us. We hitched a quick ride from a chill guy heading to Santa Rosa again, he dropped us off at a coffee shop for a bit while he took care of some things and then picked us up again, taking us out to a winery in nearby Sonoma.
After some tasting there Marilyn and I walked back to the road, hitching a ride from a passing girl who took us across town. We were close to Petaluma at this point, but were already running out of time if we wanted to catch the last tour of the day. Perfect timing, though, a teacher driving by scooped us up off the road and drove us directly to the Lagunitas Brewery. The girls in the gift shop loved our hitchhiking sign, plus we were just in time to take the entertaining tour and get some beers.
We walked on downtown after that, we'd managed to find a host on Couchsurfing that said he could put us up for the night so we went and had some more beers while we waited for him to get out of class.
Unfortunately, time dragged into the night and we never heard from him. By the time it was clear that he'd bailed on us we were entrenched in the middle of town in the dark. Once again we were on the search for a place to camp, not always easy in cities in the night. With a little help from satellite imagery, a trick I use a lot, I'd found a potential place to camp, but it was a good far walk to get there.
Off we went, trekking into the night. At last we made it to the hilly spot with a decent bundle of trees just outside the town. We made our way into the small wooded area only to discover that we weren't the first to seek out this place, there was a palace of a tarp set up, a pretty well established homeless camp for someone.
Not wanting to step on some one's territory or startle anyone we moved on. Instead we settled for the less attractive option of open air camping on the other side of the hill. It wasn't perfect in terms of being hidden, but it would have to do for the night.
In the morning it was my birthday, we woke up, packed up and scrambled back down the hill and made the walk back to town. We dried out in the park, then found some place to play shuffleboard and relax for a while.
After some walking through the heat we hitched a ride from a guy going to San Rafael, then there we got a ride from a guy who'd just gotten off work and for kicks drove us to the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Marilyn was considering walking over the bridge, but once there the combination of the wind and the dwindling daylight had us standing by the bridge entrance with our thumbs out instead.
We didn't think twice, we hopped up and found some empty seats while the on board tourists didn't seem to bat an eye. We laughed to ourselves as we breezed over the bridge in goofy style. Once over the bridge the guys paused the bus for a minute to come over and ask us what our deal was, where we were headed. We told them LA, they knew just where to drop us off.
We cruised on through the Presido as they remarked over the loud speakers about the area, then finally got into the city and hit the 101 where they signaled for us to hop out.
We thanked them and jumped out. Indeed we were on the 101, a road that goes all the way down to Southern California, but this section was smack in the middle of San Francisco. Not exactly prime for hitchhiking.
We stopped for a drink to contemplate our options. Daylight was already running out. We thought about who we knew in the city we could possibly catch up with, perhaps couch surf with for the night. Public transit was another option, just take it as far south as possible, but it would be well into dark by the time we got anywhere remotely hitchable.
In the end we decided to get a beer instead. During said beer Marilyn went ahead an booked us a room at a nearby hostel. It was my birthday after all, might as well drink some high quality beers and take it easy for a night.
In the morning we walked to the interstate and managed to hitch a ride as far as interstate 580. Still in the city congestion of tight roads we walked up to the highway, but only to meet a cop that didn't want us there. He gave us a short ride to a terrible on ramp in Oakland, so we walked the city streets to get to the next one in hopes that it was a little more spacious.
We waited a bit, but eventually scored a ride from a florist heading to Hayward. There's a brewery in Hayward, so, we went to it. Buffalo Bill's it's called, and they had a shuffleboard table, easily the best bar game. We planted ourselves there for a good while, but finally got a move on to walk back to the highway and keep getting south.
We paused at a diner just shy of the road and wound up scoring a free meal. The manager there had done some motorcycle traveling, when he noticed our backpacks he came over to hear our story, in the end he picked up our tab. Pretty awesome.
We got a ride to Tracy once we stuck our thumbs out. We walked up to the highway, but again got yelled at by a passing police officer who didn't like us there. We managed to get a ride anyway down from the highway entrance, there was a guy just out on a drive to clear his head, he got us down Interstate 5 to Patterson.
We got our next ride from there from a truck driver with some good stories. He'd spent 17 years in prison, in fact we passed the very prison while heading south. He was into things like armed robbery and, more than anything, stealing cars. "We used to do crash 'em up derbies", he told us, basically him and his buddies would steal a few cars and find a big open lot to smash into each other.
He dropped us off still north of Bakersfield at a truck stop. We made a weak five minute hitchhiking effort, but soon retreated to the truck stop in the dark of the night, eventually settling into a motel room for the night.
The morning came and things were easy, we hitched one single ride from someone heading directly to Hollywood, which is exactly where we were aiming for first. My sister was living there, we share the same birthday, eight years apart, so she'd rented a swank hotel room with plans of partying with friends. Party we did, drinking champagne and the like into the night as we tallied up noise complaints and made trips to nearby diners and so on, eventually a whole bunch of us crashing in the room for the night.
We spent a few more days bouncing around Hollywood before moving on, southbound even more. We hitched a short ride from a woman just to Sunset Boulevard, all the way warning us of certain murders we must worry about while hitchhiking. Sure.
Instead of a murderer, our next ride was a nice Chinese guy that took us to a restaurant to get some tasty food and then happily took us all the way down to Oceanside, which anyone who's hitched in the tangle of Southern California knows is a pretty amazing ride. From there we scored a great ride from a guy in a classic car who took us further down into San Diego County and directly to White Labs.
White Labs makes brewing yeast, the same yeast found in home brew shops and used by many a brewery around the world. They opened a tap room where they brew simple batches of beer and then split up the batches into different vessels with different strains of yeast. The result is being able to come in and order a sampler of four or five of basically the same beer, being able to taste the difference the yeast makes.
It's a beer geek's dream, and this was the second time Marilyn and I had been there. The first time was the previous summer and something pretty cool had happened. After we'd left and walked to the highway to start hitching towards Mexico we ended up getting a ride, but it was from the girl who had bar tended for us and she went out of her way to get us east a ways.
The same girl was there this time again. We caught up with her and jumped into some samplers. Once again she was getting off work right when we were getting ready to go, and once again she would give us a ride, minus the element of walking back to the freeway and sticking our thumbs out.
Also this time she didn't have to go out of her way, instead we we were heading to the same place where she was heading, where she lived, Ocean Beach in San Diego. Conveniently she dropped us off near Pizza Port, a really fun Southern California semi-chain brewery. Not only is it a great brewery, but it also happened to be the location chosen by the local Couchsurfing group to have their weekly meetup.
The night skipped around from Pizza Port and on to some other bars, eventually landing back at Alicia's place for the night, our energetic host. We roamed around the beach the next day and checked out some places, in the afternoon Alicia took us out to some tidal pools and we checked out more of the area. The three of us went to one of the new Stone Brewery locations for a few beers as well.
After a night catching up with my brother he dropped us off to continue hitching back north, finally towards Santa Monica for another Ryeway release party, this one being another fellow camper Jameson.
We hitched a ride from a friendly guy who went well out of his way and drove us all the way through the sprawling Orange County and Los Angeles nonsense to Santa Monica, another incredible ride, straight to a beer bar called the Daily Pint. I talked to the owner there, this is where I was planning on having my "official" release party, being that it was relatively close to both my brother, sister and some other friends.
We had a beer there and checked it out, also meeting up with one of Marilyn's friends who was in town. After a meal elsewhere and some running around, the hour drew near to Jameson's release party, so we made our way to the bar.
Jameson was there along with his friends and a Sierra Nevada rep to pass out trinkets and whatnot. Pint after pint of Ryeway, the greatest beer in all the land, another good night raged on.
The next set of release parties were in Oregon, so without missing a beat we on the road once again the next day, northbound.
Hitchhiking out of Hollywood isn't always easy, we waited at a ramp for a good while, thumbs and hopes high. At last a car pulled over, but seconds later so did a cop who had likely come to chat with us. "You better hurry!", he yelled at us, motioning for us to go ahead and take the ride. Instead, though, the car that had pulled over got spooked and drove off.
"I didn't mean to scare him off", the cop said apologetically. He too drove off, I guess just wanted to check that we were decent people or some such, but instead had run off our ride we'd waited so long for.
We waited a while longer and then got a ride from a BMW dealer guy who said he was also an actor. Another short ride came after that, then a ride from a minivan where we piled in alongside the driver's kids and cruised on up to Santa Clarita. By the time we got there it was dark, though, but we managed to find a nice place to set up camp out of the way.
We'd actually been driven off the highway by several miles, so in the morning we caught the local bus up to the north part of Santa Clarita by the McDonalds, a place I've hitchhiked from many times and is the best for blasting off northbound.
It did indeed turn out to be a very productive day of hitchhiking. First was a ride from a guy heading to the Bay Area, he dropped us off around Tracy. The second and only other ride we needed that day was from a chill guy, Liam, heading all the way up to Arcata on the northern coast. We got along great as we drove and drove, Marilyn even took a turn behind the wheel.
By the time we got to Arcata Liam had offered to let us stay the night. His brother seemed a little skeptical at first, but talk of brewing and beer in general quickly eased his concerns. By late night Marilyn and I were camped comfortably in the backyard.
After some showers in the morning Liam drove us over to Mad River Brewing where his brother used to work. Marilyn and I hung out there for a good while trying the different beers and getting a little personal tour to check out some of their equipment, some of which had been part of Sierra Nevada's original gear.
Next came a ride from a Massachusetts couple heading to the beach, another guy heading up to Orick, then a guy from Texas who took us briefly to check out an elk refuge before dropping us off.
Right as it got dark one last car pulled over, packed with people and stuff, but we managed to cram in on top of each other. They were heading to or from a Rainbow gathering. One of the guys told us how he used to live in a tree in order to protect it from getting cut down. He spent six months up in the tree with a support group that would bring him food and whatnot, he even had a box up there where he could lock his hands up in cases when authorities would come up and try to remove him.
Eventually they dropped us off and we found a place to camp, still shy of the Oregon border. We got one short ride in the morning, then hitched a ride with a big RV, the first real proper, full sized RV that had picked us up since we'd been traveling together. We chilled out on the couch while the couple gave us snacks and we cruised north until getting just south of Coos Bay.
A local guy gave us our next ride to town, then a doctor gave us a lift and made a slight detour so we could check out the chainsaw art which was a defining part of the area.
Our last hitched ride of the day came from a guy who used to be homeless in Los Angeles, we bombed up north as he told stories of his life on the streets and in shelters, dealing with a bum leg and chatting about some of the evils in the world as well as his plan to escape up to Alaska with a medical settlement he'd recently received. He got us all the way to Newport and dropped us off Rogue Brewery. We like beer.
We hung out there for a while drinking samplers, Marilyn's friends from Corvallis made the drive to the coast and then we rode back home with them. They were marine biologists and seemed to live a pretty chill life.
We borrowed the car the next day and got ourselves to Eugene, mainly to visit the Ninkasi brewery and load up at Voodoo donuts. A couple other stops and we headed back to Corvallis.
Oh Ryeway, so delicious. I was getting used to these nights of electric bliss in a glass.
The next day another one of Marilyn's friends drove down from Portland, the five of us all hit the river for day of kayaking and picnics. Afterwards, another brewery visit of course, then Marilyn and I headed up to Portland with her friend Megan where we'd be staying for a bit.
I met him at one beer bar in the afternoon and by dark we'd been to half a dozen or so different spots. Somewhere in the night Marilyn, Stephanie (my fellow beer camper) and others had joined us on our beer rampage through the city.
At last we were ready to pull ourselves away from Portland, on to our last beer camper to visit, Scot in Bellingham, Washington. We'd missed his official release party, but he would have his own personal keg and I couldn't wait to toast the Ryeway one more time.
The day started with constant rain and waiting a couple hours or so, but finally the sun emerged and so did a ride just over the border into Washington. Walking along the highway there we got a ride from a woman in a minvan with her two car seated kids in the back, she was heading to Tacoma.
We rode all the way having a good time chatting, she dropped us off downtown where we found a place to grab a bite to eat and consider our situation. Amazingly we were able to get online and find a Couchsurfer who responded, he was up for meeting up at a nearby brewery and potentially hosting us.
We met up with him there along with some friends, it wasn't long after carrying on that he offered us some floorspace for the night. We headed back to his place and exchanged brewing stories, he shared a homebrewed blonde ale with us before we all went ahead and passed out for the night.
Eventually we got a response from a host, so we walked our way to Fremont where he lived. We met up with him there, he actually worked at a beer store around the fish market and made all the stocking decisions. It'll come as no surprise that we headed to Fremont Brewery straight away, tasting the good stuff and getting to know each other.
We decided to hang out for another day there. There was one person I wanted to see, Jake. I'd lived with Jake on a boat in California for about a month or so in Orange County. We were fixing it up under the impression that we were going to cruise around the world shortly after. It didn't really pan out like that, though, things were dragging on and I was the first to become skeptical of the owner/captain, Mitch.
I jumped ship when it became clear that the "month" it was supposed to take seemed like it would be dragging on much longer, we'd yet to sail anywhere and there was no timeline in sight or even a clear guarantee that we'd all be sailing along once it did take off.
Marilyn and I caught up with Jake at an apartment he'd been crashing at, also around Fremont. It had been over a year since I'd seen him, he caught me up on the boat and what had gone down. Apparently Jake was the last of the three of us to stay on board, Mitch had offered to pay him to stay on. He stuck around another few months and never got paid, never sailed anywhere. Mitch eventually sold the boat for a decent profit, then turned around and bought something like a 156 foot vintage boat up in Canada that he parked around New York City, turning into some kind of temporary , cocktail bar. Not exactly the plan he'd signed us up for.
Anyhow, it was good catching up with Jake now in Seattle. We spent the day bouncing around Fremont to various bars, the salmon ladder and some other spots, back to Fremont Brewery again as well. We ended the night at a shuffleboard board bar, then finally Marilyn and I headed back to our host's house.
Pretty easy day with some cool people, our last ride dropped us off at a brewery in town where we got into sampling until Scot came and met up with us. He took us to another couple good beer spots in town, then we wound up back at his house where it wasn't long before he broke out the Ryeway. It was a fun night of geeking out on homebrew gear and chatter, sipping the nectar of the Gods, one last great Ryeway session in this massive beer adventure we'd embarked on.
Just because this excursion was over, the adventure never was. Marilyn and I had many more miles to log together, on our own and with other travelers seeking adventure.
"The road goes on forever, and the party never ends".
April 19, 2014 to June 18, 2014