Lunch update: day 1

One word: serene. 

I’m sitting at fantastic 16th century pub after a peaceful 15 mile walk. It’s about a mile and a half to my b&b, so I plan to try all the beers here before I leave​. There’s some Old Peculiar from a wooden cask I’m looking forward to. 

I’ll write a full update later but for now I will leave you from a scene from the spot where I ate lunch. 

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Planes, Trains, Undergrounds, And Automobiles (Blessed Are The Flexible), cont…

My train ride up to Leeds, which is usually a 2-hour ride, was extended to 3, not including the 1.5 hour delayed start. When all was said and done, after 5 diversionary routes, I rolled into Leeds just before 6am, 5 hours after I left London, 7.5 hours after the trains typical scheduled arrival, and 13 hours after my planned arrival.

I dragged my bedraggled body through the Leeds train station just in time for the first train to leave for Ilkley. Getting in so late was not without a bright side. A train ride was quicker and much cheaper than a taxi, which was my initial plan. Astonishingly, the train left right on time and carried me efficiently and comfortably to my termination. I had to fish out my room key which was left by the hotel owner under a car and crawled into bed at 7am. Total trip time, door to door: 29.5 hours.

Ilkley is a beautiful market town. I was glad to see it at dawn. Peaceful and empty. After a few hours of sleep, I awoke to an Ilkley bustling with an endless stream of cars. I’ve already visited a couple pubs, a brewery, touch some Roman and Anglo-Saxon stone carvings, and had a nice relaxing smoke.

Even though the trip up here was excruciatingly long, I’m thankful for the decisions I made. While I reluctantly tossed some beer and whiskey to get through security at Phoenix (rather than wait in the static bag check line), I was very happy to get out of Heathrow with my bag in hand. I’m fairly certain that waiting for someone to track down my baggage at chaotic Heathrow would have extended hours, if not an entire night, to my trip. And had I waited to rebook a flight to Leeds, I don’t think they would have found an open seat on a flight before tomorrow.

I need to organize my gear for my 13 mile hike tomorrow and freshen up, then it’s back out to the high street for a few more pints and a modest meal. Cheers!

Planes, Trains, Undergrounds, And Automobiles (Blessed Are The Flexible)

It’s midnight. King’s Cross station London. I should have been to Ilkley hours and hours ago. But I lay sprawled on a cement floor, laptop propped up on my knees while I wait for my delayed train (which was my plan C) to show.

The day, yesterday to be precise, started in Phoenix.  I checked in online in the morning. When I arrived at the airport at 6pm, for my 7:30pm flight, the British Airway check-in/bag check line was out of control. A computer glitch had everything at a standstill. I found my place in the back of the line, sat down, and watched the minutes, then hours tick away while I waited to check my bag. At some point, it dawned on me that the plane was going back to Heathrow whether those of us stranded at check in were on it or not. I packed thrifty enough that I could carry on the bag I intended to check if I just got rid of some liquids. So I gave the poor people in line a few beers, dumped my flask of whiskey and made my way through security and up to the gate. Time: 8:30pm Az. 


At the gate, I found a similar scene. People limp and irritable. The staff was just as in the dark as the passengers. No one knew when or if we’d be leaving Phoenix. I grabbed some food and few beers and waited. And waited. Finally, about 4 hours after our scheduled departure, we departed. Queue sleep.

I woke up an hour outside of London and quickly determined that I did not have enough time to make my connection to Leeds. No biggie. I can roll with the punches. Debarking the plane I was greeted with the most chaotic airport scene I’ve ever witnessed. The computer glitch was global. Numerous impossibly long lines, people screaming at any employee they could find, babies crying, more limp and irritable people. I found my place in the rebooking line and waited. And waited. The line did not move. I called BA, I called American Airlines. No one could help but I learned the next possible flight to Leeds was the following night. The line did not move.

I decided I had a small chance of getting on that next day flight and, at any rate, I needed to get out of the airport. So I left the rebooking line and got in the back of border check line, woefully and accurately described by an employee as “1,000 people long.” 

<breaking news> I’m on my train but it’s still delayed. It was supposed to leave at 11:30pm, now estimated 1am – then at least a three hour ride. And then I need to figure out how to get to my hotel 20 miles away. I estimate a 5am check in. <Back to the story>

The border check line took three hours. No water. No bathroom. Three hours of the type of line that is very slow moving but not slow enough that you could sit down. A constant annoying shuffle. Ear buds in, rock and roll on. Find that pack of gummy bears at the bottom of my backpack. OH WHAT’S THIS? Looks like someone wasn’t very diligent emptying the whiskey flask. It’s not so bad.

My plan was to see if I could find a train to Leeds. I knew one left late. But I also have a cousin in London so I figured I could I could stay with her until the AM and then ride up on the train. Either way, I needed to get to Paddington and talk to the train people.

On my way to Paddington, I received a message from a couple of very old and dear friends who happen to be in London. We decided I would book the late ticket out to Leeds and hang with them in King’s Cross station until my train left. A train ride and couple underground exchanges and just like that I’m having beers with some of my dearest friends. Isn’t life funny like that sometimes? Gut punch, side jab, unexpected surprise.


I said Farwell to my friends and lay watching the station sign flash delayed… uppercut. 

 The train is about to leave. Conductor: “Not one diversion, but three.” Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be broken.


The Virtues of Traveling Alone

When I turned 18, my father offered me a choice between two birthday/graduation gifts: a new computer or a solo plane ticket to Europe and month long Eurorail pass. I chose the computer.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later, after finishing law school (a few hours after taking the California bar, to be exact), that my wife forced me to travel out of the country. We had a great time. It was the first time I experienced the joy of international travel. During this trip, my interest in the English walking tour was renewed while driving through the Lake District. Incidentally, we spent the night in a filthy inn not more than a mile off the Dales Way in Kendal.

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Falling in love with real ale in northern England 2005. Old Speckled Hen, if memory serves.

It took a few more trips to Europe and some soul crushing life events to finally spur me to go out and travel on my own – to finally do something that always scared me. And I am so grateful that I did.

I often wonder if my life would have taken a different course had I took that trip as an 18-year-old. It’s not like I didn’t want to. But I was terrified at the prospect of being on my own so far from home. I was not confident to trust myself to be spontaneous. But knowing myself now, I believe I would have gained the confidence to take more chances in life. Maybe I would not be so hesitant to try for the things that I want.

Why do we hesitate to pursue things we dream about? Granted, there are often real obstacles in the way our dreams. But, speaking for myself, more often than not, I made obstacles where there weren’t any. Truthfully, I wanted obstacles to keep me from being bold enough to do something daring. I made excuses because I was either too scared or too timid to pursue the thing I wanted. I know that I’m not alone in this.

When I talk about my trips, one of the first questions is always, “who did you go with?” People often seem surprised that I go by myself. I don’t often get asked why I go by myself, but I suspect people wonder.

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It’s not that I don’t like traveling with other people. Some of my most fulfilling adventures have been with my wife and close friends. However, there is something about a trip alone that satiates a special metaphysical longing. There are also more practical reasons I intentionally travel alone.

The first reason I travel by myself is because it scares me. What if I unwittingly upset a local or get lost or mess up a lodging reservation? What if I get lonely? What if I need help? Traveling alone forces me to confront my petty fears. Not only do I confront them, I come to realize how petty they are and thereby produce a new level of confidence. This confidence banishes that nagging fear that leads me to create obstacles that keep me from doing what I want.

Similarly, I want to be spontaneous. I’m not a spontaneous person. But I want to be. Any amount of spontaneity I currently have is attributable to my wife making me do stuff of which I was previously too afraid. Spontaneity scares me. It makes me uncomfortable. Those petty fears are at the root of it again. On the trail, by yourself, it is hard not to be spontaneous. When your plan includes venturing to point A from B with a whole lot of mystery in the middle, you end up on unexpected adventures or meeting new people. When I’m traveling with someone else, spontaneity suffers. There’s often less room for spontaneity because there are always more plans or we might be less willing to strike up a conversation with strangers because we are content with each other’s company.

Traveling alone also allows me to think without distraction. To this end, during my first walk, I made a decision to turn off my phone (not that it ever had service anyway) and not listen to music. I don’t want distractions. I certainly don’t want to feel like I need to keep a conversation going. I want my brain to take my thoughts where ever it wants. I feel more creative and introspective when I’m walking alone. And that’s not just a perception. There’s solid science to the notion that walking boosts creativity. The older I get, the more I seem to need time to clear my head and reflect. It is a necessary catharsis.

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Silence also provides an opportunity to take in my surroundings without interruption. Whether it’s in an old pub or out on a remote part of a footpath, I can take in more of the environment than if I was with someone else. Maybe I linger a little longer in an old church. Maybe I spend an extra few minutes taking in a sunset because I don’t need to hurry because my partner is tired or needs to pee. As I noted in a post last year:

Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to… [a] farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned.

― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

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Lastly, when I travel I alone, I do what I want. I could happily hit three different pubs in a day, but I know that is not most people’s idea of fun. Roman villa a mile off the trail? I’m going. But I don’t really get excited about shopping or botany. Alone, I don’t have to subject my interests on anyone and I don’t have to be subjected to someone else’s interests. It’s me time.

In summary, I travel alone because it transforms me closer to the person I want to be. A person who is willing to step out of his comfort zone to obtain those things he wants. A spontaneous person willing to take adventures as they present themselves. A person with clear thoughts.

I didn’t take that trip when I was 18 but I want to be a person who is bold enough to take the next one.

On Real Ale: The Sparkler

Last year I wrote about my love for real ale. To summarize, real ale is England’s traditional method of fermenting and serving beer. The result is a less cool, less carbonated, low alcohol, and ultra fresh beer, which is supremely quaffable and moreish.

The English pub culture, with all its distinct regions and football schisms, generally shares an undivided adoration for real ale. However, there is one point in which the country vehemently disagrees: to sparkler or not to sparkler. The sparkler is the King in the North, while in the south (meaning, anywhere but the north), it is considered terrible for beer.

To understand the sparkler, it is important to understand how real ale is served in the English pub. In America, we use systems that push the beer out of a keg and through the tap by forcing pressurized co2 through the lines. With real ale, because of the beer’s natural and relatively low carbonation, the influence of extraneous CO2 is frowned upon. Not only is the use of forced CO2 not traditional, it can over carbonate real ale and hinder the change of favorable flavors caused by oxidation.

Real ale is therefore served in one of two ways: 1) by use of a simple gravity tap (common during beer festivals) or 2) pulling the beer from a cask located in the cellar by use of a hand pump, referred to as a “beer engine” (commonly employed in a pub).

A sparkler is a small perforated nozzle that screws onto the tip of a beer engine thereby causing the beer to shower out of the pump. Without a sparkler, the beer is pulled out in a steady uniform stream. The sparkler acts a diffuser, generating a pint full of beer with tiny uniform bubbles. There are a few different variations of sparklers, each with different sized holes, resulting in different sized bubbles. Visually, a beer poured from a sparkler has an ample, tight, and uniform head and cascading bubbles that clear from the bottom up – exactly like a beer on nitro, like Guinness (which is no accident. Nitro beers we specifically engineered to mimic cask beers served from a sparkler). The same pint pulled through an engine with no sparkler will pour clear and have a significantly smaller head made up of much larger, un-uniformed bubbles, and often, no head at all.

The northerner argues that a drinker first drinks with his eyes. The big soft head and cascading effect of a sparkled beer is more visually appealing. And while a southerner, may not disagree with this assessment, they are quick to point out that such an appearance comes at a price. Real ale already contains relatively low volumes of CO2 in solution. When the beer is pulled through a sparkler, the CO2 is knocked out of solution and transformed into tiny bubbles and cascading beer. The result is a flatter beer.

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cascading beer pulled from an engine with a sparkler

The northerner may agree that the beer is negligibly flatter but the mouthfeel of the sparklered beer is far smoother, even creamy. A sparkled beer is, therefore, more quaffable.

Perhaps the south’s primary gripe with the sparkler is that it produces a finger or two of head, which replaced another ounce or two of beer. The sparkler, it’s argued, results in a short pour.

But what about the actual flavor? In my opinion, this is where preference based on objective facts takes a backseat to subjective perception. It is generally true that hoppy beers benefit greatly from a nice head. It is the reason many brewers demand that a bottle or canned IPA should be poured into a glass before serving. The aroma compounds of hops use foam as a diving board. IPA beer served with a head, generally smells hoppier than the same IPA served without a head.

In the sparkler debate, the north takes the position that a foamy head helps the drinker experience the presence of hops. They also believe that by knocking that hop aroma to the head, some of the harshness of hop bitterness is dissipated. A sparkler also aerates the beer thereby achieving a kind of favorable quick oxidation. Less hop bitterness and aeration produce a seemingly maltier and sweeter beer. The southerner doesn’t necessarily disagree with the notion of how the sparkler alters the taste of hops in the beer. They, however, argue that by knocking hop aroma to the head, the flavor of hops is diminished, which makes for an inferior pint, and produces a beer different from what the brewer intended.

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I tend to side with the north. When I make real ale at home, I usually use a sparkler. I do like a creamy head and smooth body. And a cascading beer is something to behold. However, I haven’t formed an opinion in terms of actual taste differences between the two pouring methods. I intend to conduct scientific experiments on my walk. Stay tuned.

For further real ale information, check out the following videos:

Charlie Bamforth on the sparkler

Yorkshire’s Perfect Pint Series – a fantastically informational and entertaining real ale series by the owner of the pub I will be visiting