When we were in Chicago, we heard that Minneapolis had just gotten their first big snow of the year. On our way there we began seeing snow on the ground as soon as Wisconsin, but the roads were all salted and plowed and were no trouble at all.
We got to the Triple Rock in Minneapolis around dinner time, and proceeded to load in. On our way in we saw our good friend Anton Reder who’s band the Anchor Windlass was opening for us that night. We set up, did a thorough sound check, and went to the bar side of the venue to get some grub.
The only other time we’d played there was just over a year earlier, and it was fairly lackluster. It was an early all-ages show with about 10 people in the audience. This time things were already looking much better. We watched Anton and the boys play a solid set of all original songs, followed by a great rock-a-billy band called The Reckless Ones. Then it was our turn. We played a nearly flawless set after playing almost every night for the last three weeks. The band was tight as nails, and the crowd was great. It felt especially good after our first experience there being what it had been.
After the gig we followed Anton to his place so we could crash for the night. He’s a groundskeeper for the retirement apartment complex where he lives. He’s by far the youngest resident. Two frozen pizzas and a Big Lebowski viewing later, we retired for the night.
The next morning we grabbed a quick Denny’s breakfast with Anton, and it was time to move on. We all took turns hugging him, said our “thank yous,” and were on our way. It was my turn to drive.
Our gig that night was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It took us exactly one tank of gas to get there, so I drove the whole way. Our GPS had apparently never been to Sioux Falls, so it took us all over town on some remote back roads before we were able to find Nutty’s North. There was no snow here, but it was bitterly cold. The show went well and had a better turnout than we expected. Since we didn’t know anyone in town, Mike told the crowd we were looking for a place to stay as long as there were no cats or smoking indoors. One nice fellow volunteered his place, so he rode with us back to his house. He showed us to the basement where he had three air mattresses, but no way to pump them up. None of us had the lung power or patience to make that happen. Within 10 minutes a handful of our host’s friends who were at the show arrived, and they all seemed ready to party. This might not sound very rock ‘n’ roll, but we were all really tired and just wanted to sleep. They seemed like nice people who were genuinely excited to be hanging out with an out-of-town band, so we stayed up way too late with them anyway. We even did a little acoustic jam for them, and they loved it. Eventually Mike wandered upstairs, and found a couch to sleep on. I followed suit shortly after, crashing in the far basement room on the floor next to the water heater. The Trotland Brothers eventually retired to the bitterly cold van.
The next morning we woke before anyone else in the house and hit the road without food or showers. We needed to be in Bismarck, North Dakota by 4pm.
The drive from Sioux Falls to Bismark had to be the most boring of the tour—flat and straight. Harley did most, if not all of it.
We arrived a little behind schedule, but it was okay since we were playing a house party for our friend Jason Kaiser. Jason really took good care of us. He got us two hotel rooms (we each got our own bed!), dinner, and whatever we wanted to drink. After quick and much-needed showers at the hotel we headed back to Jason’s to start the show. When we got back, the house was already full of people waiting to watch us play. With a P.A. and stage lights all set up in the basement, this house party already had a real “show” vibe. We were the only band, so we played two long sets. The room was packed full of partiers who were loving every minute. I even got peer-pressured into doing a keg stand (my first ever) in the middle of our second set. After another crazy, sweaty, and even a little bloody version of “My Generation” we called it quits.
Sometime during our set we had heard that it had started snowing outside. Hard. As I took my first load of gear upstairs and out the front door I saw what everyone had been talking about. There was already half a foot of snow on the ground, and it was still coming down. We trudged through the snow in the driveway to get the trailer loaded up, had another drink with Jason and left the party for the hotel. What was amazing to us Pacific Northwest boys was that the roads had already been plowed. The hotel was only a three-minute drive, and after a few doughnuts in the snowy parking lot (to clear a path for ourselves in the morning of course) we retired to our rooms. I quite enjoyed sprawling out in a warm bed for a change.
In the morning we all felt well rested (some of us a little hung over). We headed out early to meet Jason and his roommates for breakfast. We drove five minutes or so to an Irish pub appropriately called The Blarney Stone and parked on a side street. It was sunny, but still very cold. There was also about a foot of snow on the ground. The three of us went inside while Mike decided to re-park the van since his first attempt left the trailer sticking out into the road a bit. After a couple minutes he joined us inside and informed us that the van wouldn’t start. We collectively groaned with disgust. We placed our order and all went back outside to see what might be the problem. After a failed attempt at jump-starting the van and being out in the cold for several minutes we decided to call AAA. We finished our meals and went back outside to disconnect the trailer since the tow truck would not be able to tow both van and trailer. The tow truck arrived soon after, and we followed our poor van to the nearest Sears. After a couple of hours hanging out in the Bismarck mall the van was ready. Apparently the starter had frozen, and after warming it up in the shop it was working again. We didn’t want to take any chances of being stranded in the middle of nowhere, so it was then we decided that since we only had one show left in Billings, Montana we could not shut the van off at all until we were all the way home. We said goodbye to Jason, left Sears and went back to the Blarney Stone to retrieve our trailer. We were on our way.
The highway to Billings was a bit icy at times, but not too bad. We had to make good time since we were now three hours behind schedule. When we got close to town the snow started again. On a typical gig day we usually arrive at the venue with hours to spare before show time. This was not one of those days. We got to the venue just in time to load our frozen gear directly to the stage for our set. It was the early show that night, so we only had a 30-minute set. The crowd was quite small and subdued, so we got through with our set quickly. After all, the van was still running outside, and we just wanted to get home in one piece. We were in Billings for literally only an hour before we were on the road again.
The snow was still coming down pretty hard so we played it safe and drove slow. We had to drive through the night and most of the next day through the weather to get home. None of us got much sleep that night.
At around noon the next day we made it to Ellensburg, Washington where we stopped for fuel and got some lunch at Subway. Then Mike took over for me behind the wheel, and we continued to head west. By the time we got to Snoqualmie Pass we were in a blizzard. Visibility was zero, and the road was very slick. We saw many truckers pulled over chaining up, but we pressed on without chains. Finally after white-knuckling it over the pass, the worst was behind us. Or so we thought.
Once we reached highway 18 through Auburn the snow had turned to rain, and the roads were fine. We got to I-5, then to SR-16 with no problem. As soon as we crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, we noticed it had begun snowing again.
We pressed on through Gig Harbor and into Port Orchard, where we hit a snag. Traffic slowed to a halt, and we saw many cars and trucks ahead struggling to make it up the now very slippery hill out of Port Orchard. The road was now totally frozen over, and there were no plows anywhere. Other vehicles were sliding all over the road, and we did our best to just avoid getting hit. We were also having trouble getting any traction, so we thought it’d be a good idea to ride our right side on the rumble strip, which did indeed help a little. We barely made it up the hill and down the other side through Gorst, all at a snail’s pace. We finally made it to our exit, and slowly made our way into Bremerton. By now it was about 4:30pm, and the naval shipyard had just let out. Traffic was completely gridlocked all over west Bremerton. We inched our way to the intersection of Burwell and Montgomery and had one more big hill to climb to make it to the studio. Car after car tried and failed to get up the hill ahead. We had made it all the way from Bismarck to Bremerton, and now we decided we had to chain up! We pulled off the road, and dug the chains out of the trailer. None of us had put chains on since our great “chain debacle” in January of 2008, so it took us a bit to figure them out. We were also dealing with icy cold 70 mph winds. We finally got the chains on tight and began to forge our way up Burwell. With the chains our traction was good, but there were still vehicles all over the road that weren’t moving anywhere. With Mike still at the wheel we carefully maneuvered around each vehicle and made our way up to Naval and Burwell. There was just enough space between a few of the hundreds of cars for us to squeeze into the driveway at Monkey Trench Studios. All four of us began to hoot and holler simultaneously, as our long and at times very dangerous journey had almost come to an end. Now we needed to get to each of our respective homes.
Marshall and Harley’s parents Steve and Theresa, Marshall’s girlfriend Jen, and my girlfriend Rachel had all bravely made their way to the studio to bring each of us home. All but Rachel and I decided to ride with Mike in the chained up van to Jen’s house. Rachel and I figured we would be okay in her four-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee. The two of us said our goodbyes to everyone and walked behind the studio to 4th Street where she’d parked. We got in, and Rachel turned the key in the ignition. Nothing happened. After my recent experience with the van, I guessed that the starter must be frozen. After sitting in the car for several minutes we couldn’t feel our feet anymore, so I called Mike to see if he could come get us. He said he would, but that he was now home and had turned off the van. It also wouldn’t start! By now I was so anxious to get home I suggested walking, but Rachel wisely talked me out of that idea. It was far too icy and windy, and we had way too far to go. To get some warmth we walked across the street to Tom’s Teriyaki, where they offered us some hot tea. After sitting and contemplating for a few minutes I decided to call my friend Shane Kerr. He has helped me out of countless jams in the past, so I gave it a try. He said, “Hang on, me and Jesse will be there as soon as we can!” About 30 minutes and two cups of tea later, Shane and our friend Jesse Shaw walked in. We were so happy to see them! We piled my stuff in Jesse’s big for-wheel-drive Chevy, and headed towards home. Every road was covered in a solid sheet of ice, but the truck got around surprisingly easily until we got to one of the steepest hills in town on 15th Street. As we went down the hill we started fishtailing badly, nearly smashing into several parked cars. Jesse barely regained control as we got to the bottom of the hill, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Finally we pulled up to our house. Rachel and I hugged both Shane and Jesse and thanked them for getting us home safely.
We walked inside and hugged each other for several minutes. I have never felt so happy to be home in my life. The tour had been a successful one, and it was now officially over.
Stay tuned for Chapter Four in Japan.