Thursday, May 7, 2015

Day 25- St. Louis/Beckley

The morning came too quickly for the vast amount of sleep I got last night, and I stayed the whole night in the hammock. I was super cozy in the morning and did not want to get up, I could have just laid there all day like a pea in a pod. Eventually I decided to get up so I could pack the car, and drive over to the bath house to shower. During my packing, I noticed a few beetles hiding from the light under my sleeping pad in the hammock, glad I could keep them warm; a little sketched out I slept with beetles. I went and showered, and much like the night before when the light turned off after awhile in the bathroom; it did while showering. Luckily, it was now daytime so it wasn't really a problem. After my shower, I went to the office to square away any payment issues there may be. The gentleman from last night was there and said they were able to get ahold of them last night and they were not happy about the refund but they did it. He even said they do it all the time at this location with no hassle, seems this location was more friendly and I was glad I ended up staying here even more. He charged me for the night before, and then I was on my way. I headed to the botanical garden, and I was glad I didn't try to squeeze it in last night when I saw the size of the grounds. When I walked in the main building to get my ticket, I noticed a very familiar glass sculpture that is very similar and done by the same artist as in Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. There was an instant nostalgic connection as I stepped upstairs, and passed through the doors outside to the garden grounds. There were construction workers everywhere getting ready for the Lantern Festival later in May. They were building Asian structures, welding them together in preparation. There was also an abundance of ground keepers working on the gardens. It reminded me of Wickham Park on steroids in Manchester Connecticut, the place was gorgeous and all I could think of was how great it would be to take wedding photos here. One of my favorite gardens included a multitude of Iris flowers, one of my favorites. It reminded me of a time I went to this man's house in the countryside of Connecticut, and his wife was a botanist at Uconn; their garden was beautiful. Typically, I am a vegetable garden lover, and not so much flowers; this changed when I visited their house and fell in love with Irises. Multiple times I was reminded of Alice in Wonderland, this could be because Allie and I had just watched the Tim Burton version, but the Iris garden was one of these times. They were so colorful and almost had a personality similar to the pansies, daisy, dandelion, and rose in the Disney version. The second time, was wondering around the English gardens full of mazed green hedges, pillars, and traditional gardening with pavers as sidewalks. There was so much to see, and like anything on this trip; I could have spent the whole day here at the garden. I knew today would only be a half-day since after I was going to the Anheuser Busch Brewery, and then had about an 8 hour drive ahead of me. I saw as much as I could, fell in love with a tiny fairy-like house on the premises, and followed my own maze in-between school groups wondering around. After visiting the domed botanical house, I left the garden area and headed to the brewery. It was just before noontime, which was a perfect time since the "it's 12'o clock somewhere" was here. They told me the tours leave every half hour so the next one would be at 12:00, and was complimentary unless I wanted to upgrade. I chose the complimentary tour, and then toured inside the facility waiting for the formal tour to begin. I took some photos of some memorabilia that decorated the building, and then checked out the gift shop of course. After about 15 minutes we all gathered where our two tour guides talked to us before heading outside. The majority of the tour was lead outside with a few inside destinations. We walked down the streets of the historic brewery which opened in 1852. The brick buildings and factory-like feel reminded me of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory with the stacks; yes today is full of movie comparisons apparently. Our first stop was the Clydesdale's stable; there were two gorgeous ones outside in the pen. The brewery always keep a rotation of them on grounds for the tour, others are either out on the road, on Grant's Farm, or at Warm Springs Ranch (where I really wanted to tour but they have limited availability, and require reservation ahead of time, I called just to be sure they didn't have an opening.) I would love to own Clydesdale's, very expensive to purchase and take care of but they are beautiful. Next, we went in the carriage house where their immaculate stalls are, and their dressings. I could have lived in this barn it was so clean, and beautiful. The dark wood, stained glass, and chandeliers were just extra. After, we went down to the cellars where the beechwood aging process that is exclusive for Budweiser was; it was around 50 degrees down there. Before heading to the Mash Tanks, we had our first complimentary sample. The choices were Bud Light or Budweiser; naturally I chose Budweiser since I prefer it to the slight beer tasting carbonated water. We were given a wooden chip to redeem in the Biergarten at the end of the tour for a 16 oz of whatever they had on tap. Loving souvenirs, I asked the male tour guide if by any chance I could have a second chip to take home (no I didn't just want two free beers) he told me at the end he could get it for me. We finished out the tour in the mash tank room which was equally beautiful as the rest of the facility, but very warm. We exited downstairs by the brew kettle and stepped outside to conclude our complimentary tour of the brewery. There was once a school house on the grounds but the government thought it was a bad idea to have children on the grounds of a working brewery so they maintained the building and is now still used as office space. Back at the Biergarten we went up to the bar to redeem our free 16 oz of beer. I saw multiple options on tap, including a few flavors of Shock Top (a favorite of this non-beer lover) but decided to stick with Budweiser for two reasons. One, I actually don't mind Budweiser I have had it on a few occasions by choice and would choose it any day over Bud Light, and secondly; I was at the source of the history of Budweiser which was first introduced in 1876. A little information pulled from good 'ol Wikipedia which was also told on the tour is; "Adolphus Busch left Germany for the United States in 1857. He settled in St. Louis, Missouri where he met and married Lilly Anheuser. Lilly’s father, Eberhard Anheuser, owned a small brewery that had been making lager beer for some time. In 1864, Busch partnered with his father in-law to form what would eventually become the Anheuser-Busch Company." Since I had a light breakfast, I was certainly feeling the beer and needed something to soak it up before my long drive on this fine Cinco De Mayo. I decided to get the chicken sandwich with parmesan fries, it is not pictured here because it wasn't beautiful, but also because I ate everything before I could even think to turn on my camera. After a full belly, a slight buzz, and sun kissed skin from sitting outside I decided I better be on my way. To be home for Mother's Day, Sunday May 10th; I figured if I drive around 8 hours to a random location of Beckley, West Virginia, and have around a 7 hour drive to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, which leaves about 6 hours home to Connecticut. Originally I was going to stop in Louisville, Kentucky to visit Scout from my Appalachian Trail Thru Hike last year, but figures she would be gone the days I would be passing through! Not to mention, I missed the Kentucky Derby by like 3 days! I decided to drive on through Louisville, and make note to hopefully visit Scout one day if she still lives there, but to most defiantly go to the derby one year. You will notice below is an almost un-identifiable photo of an airplane part, now mind you; I have gotten rather good at driving with cruise control around 70-80 miles per hour, and taking photos with my Canon 5DII; this was one of the times I wasn't able to quite get the camera ready in time. After a lot of miles, a stop at a gas station, and a couple signs for White Castle; I finally decided to stop at what was generally credited as the first fast food chain in the United States. Most of you that know me well know I don't eat fast food, I stopped eating it a couple years ago and haven't really looked back. I don't consider In 'N Out burger "fast food" nor do I consider Five Guys, or Panera. I am talking about Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, etc. However, I had to try White Castle. I pulled into the very outdated, rundown fast food chain being one of two cars in the parking lot. I decided to go inside and skip the drive-thru, I ordered two sliders and in two seconds the bag was handed to me. I drove away and tried to savor the moment as much as possible, the flavor of the plain cheese burger with pickles and cooked onions was pretty good; but the fact that the quality was a fast food burger made it overrated. It is all about experienced however, and now I can say I have had a White Castle burger, though I will probably never again. I was nearing my last leg of the trip, it was weird to think by this weekend this chapter in my life would come to an end and I would be back in Connecticut with my family. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, I have thoroughly enjoyed every day of these last 25 days. Though I do miss my family a lot, there is only so much photos, and FaceTime can do for a person. I entered my last timezone, back to Eastern time and rolled 7,000 miles on the rental. I haven't really driven in the dark since the first day to Nashville, and I remembered how it drained me. I would be arriving in the vicinity of Beckley around 10:30-11:00pm well after sunset. I didn't know where I was staying, since I Googled campgrounds in Beckley and came up with three random options that didn't seem viable. I didn't really want to stay in a hotel/motel, not entirely for the cost; but I didn't need to. I had camping equipment, and I had a car, no need to spend money to sleep in a bed. A luxury last year I would have paid good money for, but this time around it seemed less important. I stopped one last time to get gas and use the restroom before stopping for the night, inside the bathroom conveniently dispensed condoms; though I wouldn't be needing any. The GPS was telling me to drive a few miles down a random road to take me to Beckley, West Virginia; I decided to put in Chincoteague, Virginia so wherever I decided to stop, it would at least be on the way. In my mind, I saw myself just staying at a truck stop and sleeping in the car; luckily, about a mile later was a sign for a rest area and gift area. I pulled into the truck stop, and it was your typical hot spot. There were cars and tractor trailers parked everywhere, people outside of their trucks and cars hanging out, and gassing up. I decided to check out the gift area up the hill. I figured it would be less busy, with less light pollution. I drove up the driveway and found multiple parking lots, one lot had about 8 cars in it, and another was completely empty. I decided to go in the empty lot, and park against the trees. I put the arm rest up in the driver's seat, grabbed my pillow, and used my big quilt to fill the gap in between the two seats. I used my towel as a blanket since it was too warm for an actual blanket or sleeping bag, but I can't really sleep without at least something over me. It actually wasn't too bad of a makeshift sleeping arrangement. I closed my eyes and awaited another long drive in the morning.

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