Archive for the ‘ Road Diary ’ Category

 

Cruising Coronado

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

I had a fantastic day with my sister Susanne today…we rented beach cruisers and road all over Coronado Island in San Diego, California. Have you been to Coronado before? If so, what’s your favorite thing to do? Please leave a comment below.

It’s a very, very sad day…

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

It is a very sad day for me and my family. After battling and recovering from prostrate cancer, then trying to fight lung cancer, my father lost that battle this morning around 1am. I just learned of my father’s lung cancer a couple months ago when he told me he did not have much time to live. I was not sure what to do, how to console him, or even how to deal with the situation. The most meaningful thing I could think to do, was to write him a letter and share my fondest memories together. My step-mother Hattie told me today that this letter meant a great deal to him. I post this publicly mainly for friends and family, however perhaps this approach will inspire others to do the same for their loved ones in a similar situation. BTW, the pictures posted are of course unrelated to the subject matter, but rather to show/celebrate my father’s life.

Dear Dad:

I can’t tell you how much I’ve been struggling the past few weeks since I learned of your illness. While I knew the inevitable would eventually happen, I certainty did not expect it this soon. I suppose some of the warning signs were on the wall and that you’ve known for a while now. I wanted to let you know how much I love you by sharing some of my fondest memories together.

When I was about nine or ten you dropped me and Cary [my sister] off at Ron and Mary Ann’s [aunt and uncle] house for a week. Darren [cousin], who is a couple years younger, had just gotten a mini bike—during my visit I had learned how to ride it. When you came back a week later to pick us up, I was so proud to show you how skilled I’d become at riding. As you drove up the road leading to the house on the hill, I raced down to meet you. When you got out of the car, you were so angry with me…or perhaps your frustration was pointed at Ron and Mary Ann for not asking you if it was okay if I rode the motor bike. I could not understand your anger at the time, but later realized you were just being protective…that you were very nervous about my safety while riding. What you did not realize at the time, was that my acquaintance with the mini-bike was one that provided a great sense of freedom and happiness. I recall during my younger years how protective you were…you worried a lot about Cary and me.

After that week at Ron and Mary Ann’s, all I could talk about was how much I wanted a mini-bike like Darren’s. Given that Darren was two years younger, I could not understand why it was okay for him to have a mini-bike, and not me. The next summer in Seattle, I believe I was ten, you were on the couch sleeping and I went outside to mess around. I noticed a big tarp under the deck that was clearly covering something. As an extremely curious kid, I had to learn what was underneath. When I lifted the tarp to expose the covered obstacle, I was awe-struck. I could not believe what I was looking at. I had to do a double take to make sure my eyes had not deceived me.  I lowered the tarp and raced up the outside deck stairs, opened the sliding door, and began shaking you violently in order to wake you from your nap.

You never liked to be woken from a nap, but this was of an urgent matter. I exclaimed, “Dad, Dad…what is that underneath the tarp…under the deck???” You had some some smart ass reply like, “What tarp, what are you talking about?” I replied, “the mini-bike dad! Whose is it, why is it there?” Your nonchalant reply, “Oh, that…I’m holding it for a friend whose kid has a birthday next week.” While your reply was devastating, it did make sense. My birthday was months earlier, and, Christmas was a long way off. I so wanted that mini-bike to be mine, but now my enthusiasm was all but a whimper. With my head hung low, I sauntered back outside where I sat on the steps of the deck feeling dejected. If I recall correctly, you let me stew for a little while. Then, you came out…casually popping your head beyond the door and said, “The bike is yours!”  Stunned, and not quite sure I heard you correctly, I managed to speak a near inaudible, “What?” You said, “The bike, it’s yours…I was just teasing you.” I had just come off a roller coaster of emotion…one of excitement, then down to a gloomy low, then back to a feeling of elation.  At that moment, and to this day, you were the greatest dad in the world.  That bike made me so happy…for so long.  I recall you loading it into your car and taking it to Julie’s [my aunt] for me, for a weekend of trailblazing. A couple years later when you bought the cabin on Harstine, I had a whole new playground to explore.

Next Story…

A few years earlier, Cary and I went to the park up the street and were accosted by a bully. We came back to the house and told you what had happened…you said something like, “Why didn’t you stand up to the kid?” I think I replied “I don’t know how, he was much bigger and older…that I don’t know how to fight.” You then began to give me some pointers on boxing and helped build my confidence.

A week or so later I saw the bully in the park, but rather than waiting for him to pick on me, I just walked up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, leaned back, and let a right hook cold-cock him square in the nose.  Both of us were stunned for a moment. Me, for having the moxie to follow through, and he for both the pain he was feeling as well as the shock of this small runt two years his junior who just socked him in the nose.  At that moment, it seemed I had woken a giant.  As he steadied himself, he said, “I’m going to get you!” All I could think to do was run…and run I did! I was a very fast kid.  I ran into the tennis court where a game was being played. I jumped up on a ledge and turned just as the bully was upon me. I decided flight would not end the skirmish, so I found the determination to continue to fight…to the end.  Just as the bully reached for me, I used the height advantage I had by being on the ledge to my benefit.  In one fell swoop, I kicked the bully as hard as I could in the head. Stunned once again, the bully fell to the ground. Not letting trepidation get to me a second time, I jumped atop the bully and began hitting him everywhere I could. Finally the bully got up and began to run away…with the parting words… “I’ll get you for this, Shubic!”

A week or so later, I was in the park playing with a local female friend…when out of the blue, the bully was upon me. He had fire in his eyes. I was so afraid at that moment, but before blows could be thrown, my female companion said, “Hey so-and-so, remember what he did to you last time…you’d better get out of here or he’ll do it again.” Thankfully those words resonated with the bully and he left…never to bother me again.


Next Story…

Near that same timeframe, I started to play baseball. Our team, including myself, really sucked. You had an idea to help us…you became the umpire! lol…remember? Your strategy was to assist us in helping us know when to swing the bat or not…by preemptively saying “Sttttttrrrrrrriiiiike.” Or, “Baaaaaaall.” I can’t recall if we actually got better or not, but I do recall meeting the ball with the bat the first time and having a big grin on my face as I rounded first base.

Next Story…

I mentioned Harstine Island earlier, as a place I loved to ride my mini-bike. When you first took Cary and me there, I could not believe what you had done—clearly you had more vision than I at that moment. Harstine provided a lot of fond memories over the years…including many cherished father-and-son moments.

It must have taken us three summers and countless loads of tongue-and-groove cedar to finish the ceiling. It took many more years, but you and Hattie made a lovely home out of what was once a decrepit shack.

I’ll never forget how you teasingly blamed me for killing that old man…

As I got a bit older and outgrew the mini-bike, you once again surprised me with that blue, Honda 175cc. For some reason I cannot remember the year, or the circumstances, but I will never forget how that extra horsepower took me to places that the mini-bike never could. Just up the hill from the cabin was an entrance to a forest service road where I could explore the interior of the island. The access to the forest service road was just off the main road and required a steep accent up a hill. I used to love to give it all she had (the bike that is) and hit this one spot at the top perfectly that would launch me into the air. I would ride up and down that hill, each time trying to get higher and higher as I built more confidence. Unbeknownst to me, just adjacent to the forest service road was some private land owned by a neighbor who would often harvest and chop firewood. This old man hated listening to me rev the motorbike engine up and jump over and over—so, one day he thought he’d teach me a lesson by moving a log in front of the road at the top of the hill. One day I was racing up the hill and did not see the log until the very last minute. Since I was going up a steep hill I only had two options. One, dump the bike and risk injury. Or two, find my spot where I knew I could get air and jump over the log. Of course I choose the latter. At full open throttle I hit my jump perfectly and got great height, just enough to clear the log. While in the air I saw that old man looking at me with an expression of disdain. While in the air, I waved at him with a big grin on my face. The grin was mainly in jubilation for making it over the log, but I think the ol’ man took my smile as a sign of disrespect—it may have been a little bit of both, since the son-of-a-bitch tried to injure me.

Not long after, I was back at the cabin.  We were both enthusiastically rooting for the Seahawks when there was a knock at the door. You wanted me to get the door…I told you to get it! Neither of us wanted to miss a moment of the game.  I finally acquiesced and was stunned to find the ol’ man at the door, shaking with such anger.  He asked me to get you, when I went into the living area and told you, you were so peeved. You hurriedly spoke with him, then raced back to the game and asked, “What did I miss?” I was so worried you were going to be angry with me, but all you said was, “leave that old man alone will ya, you’re going to kill him.” Truer words were never spoken as he died but a week or so later.

Next Story…

One of my saddest memories on the island, and one that I have always cherished was the time that I had just spent all my money on that black 4×4 Ford truck and ended up rolling it into a ditch just a week after I bought it. It took me hours to walk all the way back to the cabin, much of it in the rain. It was nearly dark by the time I arrived, I was soaked to the bone, shivering and exhausted…mostly emotional exhaustion. I was fully expecting you to tear my head off for being so stupid, but instead, you hugged me and told me everything would be okay. You must have known that yelling at me would do no good…that I could feel no worse than I did at that moment. Then, you went into action—you got on the phone and had a tow truck meet us out at the site of the accident and took care of everything for me. Thankfully, the truck was not as damaged as it could have been.

Of course there were also a number of times that I pissed off the neighbors, at which time I received an earful from you…like the when I was doing donuts on the beach with my motorcycle. How was I to know that there were oyster beds being cultivated.  All I could see was the excitement in front of me for finding beach access on an island circumambient of cliffs.

I also have such fond memories of when we’d go over to Nyssa and Al’s cabin [step-mother's folks] for cocktails and enjoy a card game and some revelry. Those two were the sweetest people ever…I can still hear Al’s distinctive laugh, and fondly remember Nyssa’s caring nature.  I can also hear your voice telling me that the purchase of Al’s boat was a dumb idea. You were so right about that one. Chalk it up to one of many life lessons I’ve had to learn on my own.

Next Story…

There were a few incidents that I actually managed to keep secret for a few years, such as my most embarrassing moment ever…a story I now share on occasion:

My girlfriend and I at the time went to the cabin to spend a few days during the middle of the week. We hopped on my motorcycle and cruised over to the pool. There was not a person around and it was a gloriously sunny day. I made the suggestion that perhaps we should lie out nude. The suggestion was met by a resounding “no” by my girlfriend. She said, “what if someone were to come?” I explained that there were few people on the island during the middle of the week, and besides, we’d hear them come up in plenty of time to get dressed. With a bit more coaxing, she acquiesced. We had a wonderful time frolicking in the pool—then finally finding solace in one of the chaise lounge chairs. The sun had tuckered us out and we both had ended up falling asleep. I began having a strange dream…one where there were people surrounding us…trying to get our attention. Come to find out, that dream was a nightmare because it was reality! There must have been 8-10 people standing right next to us trying to get our attention. Mind you, we were both lying on our backs (full monty). As soon as I discovered what was happening, I pulled the only towel out from underneath my girlfriend who was lying on it. This sudden motion woke her up. As soon as she realized what was going on, she yanked the towel back from me. We hurriedly put our clothes back on and got the hell out of there…in disgrace.  I figured my girlfriend would never talk with me again after such an embarrassing episode. We hopped on my bike and tore off. Half way back to the cabin…we both simultaneously, burst out laughing.

I also recall some of our family events we had out at the cabin, like Forth-of-July. We would get a bunch of fireworks from the Indian Reservation and I would light them off on the beach for everyone to see from the vantage point of the deck.  We had a lot of fun at those family gatherings.  So much laughter, teasing of one another…and, of course, just good ol’ revelry.

Next Story…

I also think the cabin was the spot that you first taught me how to fish; unfortunately we never seemed to catch much. I still laugh at the time we went out on your boat at Marrowstone and both of us got really good bites at nearly the same time. You were convinced that we had caught each others’ line, however that didn’t explain the fact that my fish got away, and yours took off running. Your reel was humming! You said, “quick, help me slow this down!” As I frantically looked for a glove to put on to protect my hand from the racing line, and made my way to you, the final loops of line ran out just as I reached to grab it. Talk about the one that got away! You taught me to look for a distinct lineation in the water that shows the changing of the tide…we were right on that thing when we caught those fish.

Oh, gosh, I also remember the time that I went to the cabin alone…perhaps to do some work there. One of your garden beds was full of broccoli and cauliflower—just about ready for harvest. You said to me, “Hey, be sure to scare off any deer that try and get in the garden. If you hear hoofs on the deck, be sure to get up and scare them off.” Well, sure as shit, that first night I was there I heard hooves on the deck…I got out of bed and hurried outside. Just before I opened the door, I turned on those super bright floodlights. As I peered down at the garden, I could not believe my eyes. The entire garden, some 50+ heads of broccoli and cauliflower were completely gone. Not even a leaf remained. Apparently, I heard the hooves as the deer were leaving, not coming. Boy, I sure did not look forward to giving you that news.

Next Story…

As you will recall, I had quite an infatuation with cars at an early age. And, a habit of getting in them and driving into the house. After the second time, you must have learned your lesson and decided that it was time to actually teach me how to drive. I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 and I recall you letting me in your lap and driving.  That was such a thrill for me. I remember the first time; I kept hitting the brakes way too early. I was worried about hitting the car in front of us, but apparently we were way, way behind it. I think as a kid our perceptions are not fully developed. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was that you let me drive!

Next Story…

One thing that I noticed about you from an early age was how generous you were. My first memory of this was again, about 7 or 8. If Cary or I were playing in the yard with friends near dinnertime, you’d always ask them if they wanted to stay. I recall one friend who was always excited when you’d cook steak, as that was such a treat for him. All the kids in the neighborhood thought you were the coolest dad on the block. If we went out to dinner with friends or family, you’d always insist on paying.

Your generosity extended beyond monetary things. When I lived with you after high school, I recall your willingness to stay at Hattie’s place so that I could have friends over. That hot tub got a lot of use. :-)

Whenever we’d head out to do some errands or visit grandma or grandpa, you’d often take us to the Spud at Green Lake for lunch or dinner.  “Single with extra fish and a chocolate shake,” we’d all order. I think one of the reasons that I still love going to the Spud whenever I’m in Seattle, is just because of those fond childhood memories together. Actually, I recall that if we went to see Grandma, it was a toss-up between Spud and Kid Valley.

Early on you taught me the importance of a good work ethic, rarely was anything handed to us, but rather we’d have to work for it. I remember when you owned that restaurant and I’d often go with you on the weekends to vacuum and clean up for extra money. I used to get a kick out of getting some pop from behind the bar out of the soda gun.

When it was time for our first cars, your deal was, however much money we could save up, you’d double it. You didn’t care how long we saved, that when we were ready, we’d tell you how much we had and you’d match it. I thought that was a good deal and struck a good balance. Of course, I was very antsy to get my first vehicle, so I only saved up around $1700.  I think I spent about $3100 on my first car…that blue, Datsun truck. I even had a couple hundred dollars left over for insurance and a tank of fuel.  Even though I went to an affluent high school, where many of the kids were driving brand new vehicles (often expensive ones), I was very proud of my truck since I had worked for it. I think without question people appreciate things when they have to work for them rather than being handed out.

I know you are not happy or proud by many of my life choices, but one thing I’ve tried to do is live life to its fullest. I am so thankful for everything you’ve done for me and I’m so grateful to have had you has my father.

I love you so very much…a piece of you will always be with me.

Forever your son,
Michael

If you knew my father, or have a story of your own to share, I’d love to hear from you…please post a comment below.

Back in San Diego for my birthday

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

I’m back in San Diego after a fantastic winter trip to Finland, just in time for my birthday. I’m staying at my sister’s place and the weather couldn’t be better. We had a few friends over, including my girlfriend Terri who flew in from Phoenix. BBQ swordfish tacos, veggies and an array of other wonderful dished were served up…courtesy of my wonderful sister Susanne and her husband George. After dinner and a number of cocktails, we played the most amazingly fun party game I think I’ve ever participated in…Cards Against Humanity–if you’ve never played, you have to check it out!

Manitoba from 38,000 feet

Monday, March 10th, 2014

As I flew across the skies from London en route to San Diego, I snapped this pic at 38,000 feet above the untouched natural beauty of Manitoba, Canada.

Day three in Rovaniemi

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

After my exciting “Winter on Wheels” activities, it was time to switch gears. First up was a visit to the Arktikum Museum, walking distance from downtown Rovaniemi. The Arktikum exhibitions take guests on an a journey of Finnish Lapland and its Arctic region, while providing a comprehensive look at its history and culture.  While Lapland is comprised of four nations (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia), the museum focuses on just Finnish Lapland, which geographically encompasses Rovaniemi (in the south) to northern Lapland.  The time-frame of the exhibit spans from prehistory, to the 1970s.

Next up was a trip to the southern part of the Arctic Circle where we visited the official village headquarters for Khris Kringle, otherwise known as, “Santa Claus.” Visiting the Santa Claus Village is really a special experience, with lots of activities for the kids, and a reminiscent time for the adults. For me personally, Christmas as a kid was really a wonderful time and I have many fond memories. This experience was quite special for me.

Also located within Santa Claus Village is a unique Lappish venue called, Santamus, that caters to groups and special events. Santamus is an unforgeable restaurant experience that temps all the senses. The glow of burning firewood and the sounds of of a creek’s water cascading gently over river rocks create a warm and soothing ambiance.

Santamus emphasizes the serenity of the wilderness, while combining fine dining, live entertainment, and fun activities that guests will not soon forget. Oh, and the theatrics of mist, a large sailing ship floating through the space and streams of water falling from the ceiling and projecting the images of guests will delightfully awe guests.

Winter on wheels day 2

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The second day {click here to read day 1} of my “Winter on Wheels” excursion in Rovaniemi started with an introduction to the days mode of transportation…a snowmobile (aka snow machine). I had never ridden a snowmobile before and was extreamly excited for this Lapland Safari.

After a brief safety review, we hopped on our rides and raced toward the frozen river in which we’d navigate toward a single track forest trail. As we meandered through a network of snow trails we eventually stopped at Northern Gate Safaris for our first break in which we had an opportunity to dog sled and ride in a reindeer sleigh, both were also new experiences for me. The husky dogs are so full of energy and are very excited by the idea of running. After our sled ride we got to meet some of the dogs and learn more about mushing.

Adjacent to the dog sled area is a reindeer farm where we took turns riding/navigating a reindeer sleigh. Afterwards, we walked to a structure and sat around a warm fire where we listened to a native cultural story being told by a woman in heritage clothing talk about the importance of the reindeer to the Lappish people.  We then walked to a traditional Lappish building where we were treated to lunch, which consisted of reindeer meat.

Soon after, we were back on our snowmobiles for more of our scenic journey through the forests of the Finnish Lapland, far removed from civilization. After a few hours, we arrived at our next destination…a private lodge called, “Bear’s Den” situated along side a river and nestle by nature. At the Bear’s Den we enjoyed a traditional Finnish sauna and tasty dinner among its legendary surroundings. The Bear’s Den become a famous place by former Finnish President Kekkonen, who hosted such dignitaries as Golda Meir, Leonid Brezhnev and Lady Bird Johnson.

During the sauna portion of the festivities I learned that the word “sauna” is actually Finnish and that the activity is performed a bit more modestly in the States. Unbeknownst to me, sauna is not just where you go to sweat, but rather where men go to bond…in the buff. Men casually hang out (figuratively and literally) in an extremely hot room, putting water on the hot rocks and waving towels to circulate the air (with junk in full view). Oh, this is also done by drinking cold Finnish beer, presumably a healthy way to replenish the fluids that are being lost [insert sarcasm]. After we were sufficiently toasted, we ran down a snowy path (naked mind you…with strangers no less), where conveniently, a hole had been cut out of the frozen river—inviting us to further humiliate ourselves with the additional reduction in our manhood…some know this as, “shrinkage.” Suffice it to say, this form of “sauna” was a new experience for me. I’m always willing to try something one…twice, if I like it.

After a shower and getting dressed, we made our way to the dinning room where we enjoyed a wonderful meal in the incredibly cozy space.  All-in-all it was a fantastic day that included, excitement, relaxation and bonding with new friends.

Winter on wheels in Rovaniemi, Finland

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The past two days here in Finland have been so incredibly fun! My fellow travel journalists and I were treated to a couple of Lapland Safari excursions that not only boosted our adrenaline, but also elicited lots of enthusiastic hoots and hollers.

From downtown Rovaniemi, we took a short ride to a track set up on a frozen river. Here, we got an introduction to driving on ice in one of three rally sport cars. After our brief lesson, we donned helmets and took turns getting buckled in. While I waited my turn to drive, I captured some video footage for a number of upcoming videos I’ll be producing.  I realized that it takes a few laps around the track to get a feel for how the cars would handle, but I was surprised at what seemed like a great level of trepidation among my fellow journalists. My competitive juices were kicking in and I could not wait to show these folks how it was done.

Before it was my turn to drive, I hopped into the Ford Escort rally car with a French gal in our group. It was immediately apparent that she did not seem to know how to drive. The clutch and brake were her nemesis.  I asked her, “You don’t now how to drive?” She replied in her thick French-accented English, “but of course I know how to drive!” Somehow she got the car into gear and we took off. Surprisingly, she had a good feel for the car.  Even though she did not seem to have much fear, I believe she was going a bit faster than her abilities. There were several occasions when she got frighteningly close to those photographing the activities. When it was time to switch drivers, she came in a bit hot (fast) and did not seem to know where the brake was and had to swerve out of the way in the nick of time before hitting another car.

I was pumped, it was my turn to get behind the wheel. With a few revs of the engine, I put my foot on the clutch, swiftly shifted into first gear and was off down the first straight-a-way…weaving in and out of the cones like a natural. In the curves at the end of the track, is where practice really came in. If you were going too fast, you could spin out of control—or, end up pushing so much snow that you’d really slow down. It was a bit scary how comfortable I actually felt as I continued to push both my limits, and that of the car. After we all had plenty of practice, it was time for the competition to begin. We each had two laps to post our best time…the winner would be crowned champion. I was the second to last to go and therefore fully aware of the times I had to beat. My first lap was a bit sloppy, but I made up for it in the second and ended up posting better than 5 seconds faster than my nearest competitor. Our guide, someone who has lived in the snow and ice his whole life, was up next—this was my biggest competition. After looking at his performance, I figured it was going to be close. Thankfully I squeaked out the win by just more than two seconds.

We then moved down the river to another track where four-wheel ATVs were awaiting our arrival. I have a lot of experience on ATVs, and so I was feeling pretty confident about the next race. Like the rally cars, we had a bit of time to move around the track on our own. Then, it was race time. Again, two laps around the track with the best time would win. This track was a bit smaller than the rally car track, but was equally fun and challenging. The time to beat was just over 1:15, I told the timekeeper I would come in under 1:10. As I took off from the starting line, I realized I had given the ATV a bit too much gas and I wasted time getting traction. Once I did though, I was weaving through the cones at a brisk pace and came in just slightly over my predicted time of 1:10.

After the ATV races, we went to a nearby area where lunch was being prepared. We sat inside what I can only describe as a tepee with a large fire in the middle. It was quite cozy inside and the fresh salmon soup really hit the spot. What I learned about these Lapland Safari excursions is that they can be tailored to meet any need or desire. And, the company is capable of catering any size group with an astonishingly large fleet of machines, i.e. snowmobiles, ATVs, etc.

After lunch, we headed to the rally track where they had several high-performance go-carts ready for us. I have raced these carts indoors, but ice was going to be an interesting experience. Unlike the rally cars and ATVs, the go-carts did not have studded tires, and, the ice conditions were not optimal as there was little snow to help with traction. Regardless of the lack of traction, these carts were a blast and really had some get-up-and-go once you hit a spot on the track where the tires did not spin freely.  Similar to the other two activities, we were afforded a fair amount of time to practice before the race. This race, I did not fare as well and ended up coming in second overall.

Not far from the track was a fire surrounded by several benches covered with reindeer pelts for warmth.  After the cart races, we walked to the fire where the awards ceremony took place. We were each presented with a memento reindeer bell with a piece of reindeer leather inscribed with the “Winter on Wheels” event. The bell was a lovely reminder of a day that will go down in the memory bank as one of the most exciting winter activities I’ve ever done.

Continue reading “Winter on Wheels” Day 2…

Dinner in an igloo

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

I’m now in the northern part of Finland, in the Lapland capital of Rovaniemi, which is a community that apparently Santa Claus lives near.  As a matter of fact, the Hotel Santa Claus (where I’m staying) is said to have hosted the jolly man on more than one occasion. This evening I met up with some fellow travel journalists, one from Russia, two from France and two others are from the Ukraine.  After getting settled in our hotel, we made a short journey to a place called, Snowland (Lumimaa), a seasonal igloo restaurant serving local fare. Snowland is not just a restaurant, but rather a snow/ice experience. In addition to the dining portion of the evening, there are many sculptures to admire as well as other structures on the property to explore. There is even a fire pit to cozy up to while sipping some Finnish vodka from a glass made of ice.

Snowland is not a place the locals frequent often, but rather it caters to tourists, who like me…travel long distances for the unique experience. I won’t lie to you, it is pretty cold inside, but the staff does everything to make the experience as comfortable as possible. If you did not dress adequately, they have blankets you can barrow, while the seating areas are covered in reindeer pelts, which are quite warm and surprisingly soft.  The meal consists of a starter course, which on this evening was a tomato bisque. The entree was a minced reindeer patty with local root vegetables in a tasty sauce. For dessert we had warm local berries topped with rich cream, with a choice of coffee or tea. My first instinct was to eat my food very quickly, since of course I was in an igloo at near freezing temperatures. To minimize the cooling process, a server brings a very hot stone that is placed on a piece of sawn log (so as not to melt the ice table).

The entire experience at Snowland is one I will not soon forget. If you’ve ever been to Snowland before, please post a comment below and let me know what you thought of the experience.

My Nordic adventure starts today…

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Today is the day I begin my journey en route to Finland, the first Scandinavian/Nordic country I’ve ever visited. This will however be my fourth trip to Europe. I will be flying from San Diego nonstop to London where I’ll have a short layover. I then board a flight to Helsinki where I’ll spend a few days before heading to Lapland in the northern part of the country. Stay tunned for lots of pics, videos and updates.

Pit Stop: New treads for the truck

Monday, February 24th, 2014

As a road trip blogger, it’s vitally important for me to keep my Ford F-150 transport vehicle in tip-top shape. After more than three years and tens of thousands of miles, I was due for a new set of tires. I am one of those people who is very brand loyal when I find a company I like. When I was seventeen I had an ol’ beat up ‘78 Camaro I was fixing up. I’ll never forget the expression on the folks faces when I first drove up in my new (very used) sports car. They both shook their heads and said, “well, if that’s what you want to do,” and walked away with an air of apprehension and dismay. They could not get over the fact that I had sold a perfectly good vehicle for what they saw, was a piece of junk. Little did they know how it would end up looking six months later.

One of the first things I did to make my Camaro look cool was to buy a new set of tires and wheels. Discount Tire was a local company just down the street, with a reputation as the best place in Arizona to get a good deal on tires and wheels. As a high school kid with limited funds, the word “discount” resonated with me. I remember the hilarious commercials Discount used to air with an old lady throwing a tire through a window of one of their stores…with voice-over saying, “If ever you’re not satisfied with one of our tires, please…bring it back.” [I didn't even look that slogan up, I think I remembered it verbatim after all these years]. I guess it was the combination of reputation, creative/effective marketing and convenient location that initially got me in the door. I’ll never forget the feeling I had seeing my Camaro sporting new tires and wheels…even though the rest of the car looked like junk, the new addition made ya take notice.

When you walk into a Discount Tire store for the first time, you’ll notice how friendly the staff is…they seem both excited to be working there, and, genuinely interested in assisting you. No matter how busy they are, someone will be sure to greet you and let you know that someone will be with you as soon as possible. Another team member might chime in to ask how you are, or if they can offer you a bottle of water. You are truly made to feel welcomed, and you get the sense that they not only want to earn your business that day, but for a lifetime. You will not feel any sense of pressure to buy a particular set of tires, but rather the service folks want to help you make a decision that is right for you.

Whether you have an appointment or not, the guys in the service bay will hustle to get you back on the road in no time. After more than 50 years of only selling tires and wheels, Discount Tire is a well-oiled machine that has service and installation down to a science. I’ve never seen what appears to be chaos, come together like a well orchestrated symphony of teamwork. As cars come in and out of the bays, like train cars at a station, the team is constantly communicating with one another so everyone is on the same page. A supervisor (or perhaps he should be known as a conductor) will let the team know what tasks are to be performed as cars enter the bay. Tires will be fetched and brought to the vehicle while the old tires are dismounted. There is a constant stream of movement to and from the vehicle and service areas…one guy will be taking the old tires off the wheels, while another guy takes off weights and preps the next tire. The process is like an assembly line, where the tire then moves to the balancing station, until finally it’s rolled off toward a waiting vehicle. There must be 4-6 guys working on a single car to get it out the door as quickly as possible.

I was up in Spokane, Washington when I purchased my last set of tires. As a road trip blogger, I never know where I’ll be—so it’s nice to know that with over 800 locations across the country, if anything happens to my tires, there’s a good chance there will be a Discount Tire near by. I often use their free air check and balancing services…and, I’ve even had to use the road hazard warranty a couple of times.  I had a tread separation in Provo, Utah once and the guys at the Discount Tire store fixed me up and got me on my way…free of charge (excluding the new tire warranty that is).

I’m not sure why, but I rarely get the same tires each time. I guess a lot depends on availability for my tire size. On my current F-150, I had a couple/three sets of stock Goodyear Tires, but they just didn’t seem to last very long, so the last time I opted for Yokohama Tires. These were a really nice set of ATS (all terrain) tires and they’ve lasted a long time. My only complaint was the fact that the tread spacing was quite wide and when I’d go off road, I’d often pick up rocks. Over the years I’ve had a few sets of the Pathfinder tires, which is an exclusive brand to Discount Tire. I have found the Pathfinder tires to be good performers, long lasting and quite affordable for what you get. So, when Discount Tire offered to let me try out a set, I jumped at the chance. After I’ve had an opportunity to drive on them for a while, both on and off-road, I’ll do a follow-up post on their performance.

As someone who does a lot of driving on varied surfaces, including off-road, I really need a tire that is the complete package…one that is good on the highway, inclement conditions, as well as rugged and off-road. The Pathfinder Sport S A/T seems to fit the bill…it combines a smart balance of on-road handling and off-road traction. The durable, specialized tread compound resists chipping and cutting during off-road adventures and is backed by a 60,000-mile warranty. The tire’s winter rating assures reliable traction year-round.

As you can tell, I’m a pretty big fan of Discount Tire. They are a company that embodies the fundamental ingredients for success. Discount Tire is one of only a couple dozen companies that I go out of my way to recommend to people. If you are a Discount Tire customer, I’d love to hear about your experience with the company…please leave a comment below.

Full Disclosure: Discount Tire Company supplied these tires for me to review.