My wife and I haven’t traveled often since the onset of the coronavirus, so when we do, we go big.
We’ve already traveled 4,200 miles, camping in Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana. This week’s column is coming to you from northern Idaho, where we are visiting family and taking advantage of the nearby hiking trails.
Before we left North County San Diego, we stockpiled two things: Covid tests and beer. The tests were because we wanted to be sure we weren’t bringing anything with us or leaving anything behind. The beer (and whiskey) came along for two reasons.
First, I’ve always learned that a visitor bearing gifts is often well-received. Second, and more importantly, drinking together* is a way of connecting and communing in the celebration of friendship, family, and love for each other.
I just got a little misty.
Bringing some Burgeon, Bagby or Battlemage along for the ride is our way of sharing a little bit of our home life with family and friends. It is our way of sharing our pride in the place we have chosen to call home. It is our way of representing that even though we are very much a product of our Wisconsin birthplace, we are just as much now a representation of North County San Diego.
It goes like this. We tumble out of the car dusty and dirty and often reeking of campfire smoke. Regardless, we’re greeted with open arms.** We hug and slap backs and comment on how big the kids have gotten and how good the yard, house, and car look, and then someone says, “Beer?”
“Yep,” we reply, and the cooler comes out. There is some negotiating over whose beer will get drunk first. Will it be ours? Will it be the local beer in the garage beer fridge? It is all for show. Eventually, they’ll both disappear into our bellies or get swapped into each other’s cooling apparatus. Our hosts are just as eager to share their local standouts with us as we are with them.
Once the cans are cracked, the communing can begin in earnest. For fifteen minutes or five days, we’ll share our stories and hear theirs. We’ll drink more beers. We’ll talk and laugh and cry and laugh again. Finally, we’ll reach a moment of silence.
We’ll sit together — on a porch, in a garage, or at a picnic table — and I’ll be reminded of some advice Kurt Vonnegut relayed from his uncle Alex over a lemonade.
“When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is,'” Vonnegut writes.
Amen, Kurt. Amen.
The cooler was full when we left — Eppig, Rouleur — and weeks later, it’s still full. We’ll be hitting the road again soon, headed for California with craft beers from the Post Falls Brewery here in Idaho, from Karben4 Brewing in Madison, WI, and from Bierstadt in Denver, Colo.
When we’re home again, sitting on the back porch, watching the sunset over Carlsbad Village, we’ll tip one back and remember our traveling communion. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. We’ll drink and laugh again.
*For us, it is beer, but it could just as easily be spirits, hard seltzer, wine, coffee, or lemonade. It isn’t the specifics but the act of drinking and sharing that matters.
**Just another normal day of swabbing our own nostrils and performing a Covid viral test while traveling 70 miles per hour down the interstate. What a world.