Thursday, June 26, 2014

Beer, Glorious Beer!

On Sunday I was a volunteer at the Northern Virginia BrewFest. Excited at doing this for the first time, I arrived early. I had been hoping to pour beer for Old Bust Head Brewery or Devil's Backbone but neither of these were on the list for Team Orange. I looked up and down the sheet not recognizing any of the names and then asked the advice of Hank, a guy I'd been chatting to, who seemed to know about every pint pulled in Virginia since time began. He studied the names earnestly and then gave me 3 options. Because I had been the first to respond to our team leader Lou's e-mail I was allowed first pick, and so Blue Mountain Brewery became mine.
We all milled about until Bob the big boss called us to attention and read out the rules. It was all very simple and common sense and I was itching to start. We were all given free t-shirts, a beer glass and 4 tasting tickets to use once we'd finished our shifts.
Because apparently our glasses had a tendency to walk, Lou attached a stylish name tag to all our glasses. He said he wanted us 'to have a ball!'
Lou walking us down our block and showing folks where their stations would be for the next few hours.
I got to Blue Mountain and found I had 4 pumps! Most of the others had 2. But there was a positive side to this because we were all advised to try our beers so we could talk with experience when questioned by the punters, so I set to work immediately.
Within half an hour I had learned all about my beers and the brewery which is located in Afton, VA, SW of Charlottesville. Devil's Backbone is also down that way so I see a superb winter day trip in the future.
After a while I had a helper, Carlos, who turned out to be from Costa Rica, the country that would finally knock England from the World Cup. We couldn't believe it and became fast friends, laughing at the fluke that had placed us together.
This old fashioned popcorn was being made a couple of stalls down, a major pull for many, but not for me.
Before the public entered the VIP's had an hour to walk around. They had paid extra to begin their tastings without the crowds but there weren't that many of them. This was a bonus for us since it meant we had time to walk up to other breweries, chat with the crew and taste some more beers, in a professional sense of course, in case any of the public asked about other breweries. We manged to get a lot of tastings in but when the public entered, it was all hands on deck. I really don't know where the morning went but those few hours seemed to pass in minutes. Beer lovers are very happy and sociable people. Everyone was so friendly and chatty, asking about the beers. I glowed when folks thought that I worked for the brewery since I could answer most of their questions, and it soon became apparent that we had one of the best beers on the field. Dark Hollow is a stout aged in Boulder Trace bourbon kegs for 120 days, and you can really taste the whiskey. I rarely like stouts but this was delicious, and everyone else thought so too. We actually needed to change the keg on our shift, it was so popular.
These guys came back for a third glass of Dark Hollow and they weren't the only ones.
Me and Carlos on duty! I loved this job, it brought back memories of the many evenings that I worked in a pub back in England. I hadn't lost the knack and wasted very little beer, even knowing when the pipes weren't working right. I had a whale of a time and hope to work at the Fall Fest, maybe even for Blue Mountain again. Anyone interested in their beers can check out the site here. I also recommend the Local Species, a summery fruity Belgian style beer, aged in the Boulder Trace barrels for 100 days.
Steve came to meet me once I finished my shift and we headed over to the food tents.
The Super Burger. But I wasn't impressed, eating only half of it. But not to be daunted by this we started off on our beer tasting session, with me on the punter's side of the taps.
DuClaw's biggest draw, the Sweet Baby Jesus, a peanut butter chocolate stout, a firm favorite's of Steve's and one he thought I should try, being a new fan of dark ales. But alas, it wasn't for me, despite the 'Reeses' influence. I kept sipping hoping that somehow my taste buds would belatedly whoop 'Hallelujah!' and find the ale decidedly delicious, but it wasn't to be. I had to pass across my glass so Steve could polish it off and he was noticeably disappointed in my verdict...
But he soon cheered up when we came across this strapping lass and I insisted on a photo which promptly made it onto Facebook.
The sun was belting down and after filling our glasses again we decided to find a shady area to chillax and have a smoke. Steve had brought two humungous Romeo & Juliet cigars, and I have to admit being a little intimidated at their size. I hadn't had a cigar since the last time we were here and they weren't this big then.
Steve could sit and just hold his in his mouth but somehow I didn't possess that skill. I kept trying and it kept drooping so I had to continuously support it with my hand.
Steve taking a photo for some folks also kicking back. We continued walking about, puffing on our huge cigars and using up our beer tickets. We bumped into Lou a few times who was really enjoying himself and I stood in briefly for a guy so he could run over to Blue Mountain to get a glass of the Dark Hollow. He'd been hearing about it.. We also met other crew members now off duty, everyone was so nice. I think Steve's also interested in volunteering in the fall, he was pretty impressed with the camaraderie, and obviously the opportunity of free tastings.
And so one last photo to finish the day before we headed home for naps. I really couldn't have put it better myself!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Turnpike Tunnels III

Saturday morning I woke up to a grey dull morning, heavy with black clouds and chilly. I was meeting the crew to cycle the turnpike tunnels again in PA and the forecast wasn't looking that good but nevertheless I got up and prepared for the trip putting on a jacket and throwing a fleece in the car also. As I got my bike rack out of the trunk the heavens opened, forcing me to rush back indoors, put on a jacket and hat, then go back out to load the bike. I might be soaked but I wasn't going to be late.
It was a good hour into my journey when I realized that the seat of my bike was going to be sodden but there was nothing I could do about it now. I arrived at Breezewood and met the others. We all huddled in the foyer out of the rain but under freezing cold AC vents. But fortune was looking down on us and the rain gradually stopped, letting us dash to our cars and drive the last half mile to our destination.
I had a towel in the trunk and managed to soak up most of the rain from my seat but it was a little damp starting off. Scott had not dressed for the weather at all so he gratefully accepted my fleece.
We set off up onto the overgrown roadway and cycled quickly to the first tunnel, a mile away.
One guy had brought two young kids with him, about 8 years old. He paid them no attention and they rushed back and forth picking up old rusty spray cans, pieces of metal, BB bullets and chewing tobacco tins. I watched aghast. Matt asked if they were allowed into the building as one of them was already clambering in, and he nonchalantly shrugged his approval. I climbed in too. These were rooms leading upstairs to the air filtering machinery. There were huge holes in the floor, and I called out, "Don't go in dark areas!', "Keep back from those holes!" and "Stay close!" as I tried to lead them upstairs in one piece. I was a mess. Their Dad later told me that he always let them do their thing and as long as he "got them back home alive" then that was alright.
I was pretty shocked but later that evening after I'd reflected on his words, I actually admired his parenthood skills. Although I couldn't condone taking small kids into any urbexing areas, in a society where children are wrapped up in cotton wool and shielded from every danger, he was a refreshing dad. My brother and I had grown up exploring like these kids and getting into all sorts of mischief, but learning as we went along and fending for ourselves. These two kids, I acknowledged, wouldn't grow up into weak saplings with allergies and no sense of curiosity. But I do have to admit to being relieved when he turned back after the first tunnel. Those kids would definitely arrive home in one piece this time!
Margie took this one of me and Scott is above doing a balancing act.
We got up into the area above the tunnels where the smog from the vehicles was sucked up and then extracted using the huge fans. This hole I looked down through once held a light that lit the tunnel.
As we emerged from the other end of the tunnel Matt above spotted that he had a puncture and then within 5 minutes poor Lewis had one also. There was a fair amount of glass especially around the tunnel mouths. We heard a monstrous rumbling coming from inside the tunnel and I found it a little frightening, it sounded like something from a science fiction movie as we saw a light deep in the gloom that advanced towards us with the rumbling getting louder and louder. Eventually a guy on an ATV loomed up in front of us and stopped. He was patrolling the trail, helping to keep the vandals at bay.
A sedate Margie cycled past while Richard and I had to be silly. I was snapped by Matt.
When we got to the mouth of the second tunnel we came across a couple who had the largest amount of camera gear I'd ever seen, and I looked around, amazed and very impressed that it appeared to all have been carried in here on their bikes.They were from, an urbexing site, which many of us were familiar with. We were surprised at seeing how young they were, but if their camera gear was anything to go by, they were obviously very capable and knowledgeable.
We checked out the ventilation building at the far end of this tunnel since the one where Opacity had set up was thoroughly boarded up. The shot above is up above the tunnel showing Margie's flashlight as she walked towards me. It was pitch black up there.
Margie's cat, Furbex, stopped for a nap as we turned to go back into the tunnel for some photographic fun.
 There were some other folks at the end of the tunnel and Matt had the bright idea of asking them to photograph us as we all cycled out of the tunnel. The guy was a real trooper as we all sped towards and past him and ended up getting a great shot with just one take. Poor Roxanne is barely in the photo at the back and to the left. There are ledges on each side of the tunnel and she had lifted her bike up on to that thinking we were shooting a static photo. If she had ridden forward 20 ft she would have plunged headfirst down a hole. Thankfully she didn't do that but we all giggled insanely as we imagined the out take.
 We pedaled back inside to the center where there was the least light and got out tripods and flashlights to play around with some light painting.
Joe had brought some aluminum steel wire which we rigged up into a ball and after lighting it he whirled it around in front of him and above his head. I had brought some colored lights which we also played with but I don't have any photos of those since I was the one waving them around.
The top photo with me is one that Joe took. One of our crew had fallen way back while we were cycling the 4 miles or so between the tunnels so gallant Margie had volunteered to ride back and see if she was OK while the rest of us waited in the tunnel mouth.
As I was milling about looking for something to photograph an image popped into my head and so I asked Scott to assume a shocked expression while looking at the drain. And then later in Photoshop , I added the clown from IT.
I was pretty tired as we ended our ride. Even though it hadn't been very far I think most of my energy had been used up laughing. We had a great group and not wanting to finish the day we all drove back into Breezewood where instead of our usual beers, we all opted for Margaritas. I'm still not sure why that happened but they were great and more laughs ensued. I was exhausted by the time we finally wrapped up the day and headed home.