Mono River Rock Cafe


Drive along the blistering purgatory of central valley freeway until your brain burns, then turn east. Keep heading east as you rise above the dust and heat and up up up you go.  The more trees and boulders you see, the narrower the road becomes. You’ll lose your breath on the mountain and gain your air back to gasp down a one lane rutted path with drop-offs, vistas,  and pickups stuck in rocks.  Continue this madness until almost the end of the road, but not quite. Arrive at your destination and wonder how on EARTH all these people in WHAT vehicles managed that route too?!?!

Set up camp to the sounds of the river and jam with the mandolin player next door. Hop into various hot springs and be unable to try them all. Hike to a ‘temperate’ lake, enjoy communing with nature and realize you’ve just skinny dipped with leeches.



Be amused to learn that the leeches do not latch onto you but much prefer your sexy partner instead. Be relieved they are teeny leeches and not huge gnarly bloodsuckers.

Pie has now been richly earned and you grab two house-made apple pie slices sold to you by a lass from halfway across the world and made by the man who karaokes in the kitchen. Marvel that each ingredient, tool, piece of wood, EVERYTHING has been hauled in via the white knuckle road.

Finish your days in hot springs by the river, and nights up a rock shelf at a secret camp playing dominos and jamming with two permanent residents and another stalwart from the far side of the globe. The eldest is a shoo-in for skinny Gandalf. They run errands and fix things in return for permanent camp rights, this includes stealth pot hole repair praise the gods.

Pie fed, leave late the last day because you sat in a hot spring that morning, ogled views on a hike at the breath-stealing peak, and sidetracked to a Sequoia grove. Arrive at  your partner’s residence on a mountaintop observatory near midnight under the full moon.

Pack and arrange things for a day before heading  home. Cry because while the ocean is beautiful, the harried civilization is far from civil and THAT is not home, any more.

You’re an adult, you have responsibilities, you feel trapped.

Dream of homemade apple pie, dominos by the fire, hot springs, fixing potholes, and a life well lived. Dream of finding home again.


For line drawing emphasis. Who wants to color this in

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Surfing and Strolling near Mono River Rock Restaurant

SURFING: Not literally. But once you realize there’s leeches in the lake you can pick up enough speed to glide over the top of the water.

STROLLING: All directions of the compass!

Estes Park Pie Shop


509 Big Thompson Ave. * Estes Park CO 80517 * 970-577-PIES *

I can’t quite find the word to describe the feeling, seeing one’s former garage contents behind museum glass under the heading, ‘ What they used back then’, but I can try. ‘Kerfuddle’ comes to mind. You see, months earlier I had emptied out my folks’ house and ginormous STUFF ( refer to The Sequoias entry ), some of which was apparantly museum-worthy mountaineering gear. There’s another word for realizing those moldy hats and clippings and strewn-about-junk has historical value which needs to be shipped off, and that’s, ‘areyoukiddingme’. The plus side is while sorting this mess I got to poach any extras I wanted – and now I found myself staring at our garage items and my own camping gear on reverent display at the American Alpine Club in Golden, Colorado.

“ Are you donating that backpack too?!”  A happy docent pointed to my backpack.

“ No! I’m still using it!” I blurted, clutching it tighter.

And truly I was. The reason I passed through the American Alpine Club was our garage storage had scored new digs, and I wanted to check it out. Afterwards I planned to visit my Dad’s best friend who has done measly things like the west traverse of Everest. Dad’s friend’s name was helpfully written in marker across the back of the day pack, so my excuse for couch surfing was to return it to the rightful owner. Meanwhile that pack was still in great shape so why not keep it alive and exploring?

You can’t visit mountaineers without bringing food, and if you listen closely you can hear my brakes squealing,  *ERT!* when I spied a sign that said, “You need pie!”  Why yes! YES! I do need pie always! Everyone gets pie!

Estes Park Pie Shop is located in the gateway to Rocky Mountain National park, surrounded by stunning mountains and many elk and stores that will make you wish you’ll never see another wooden carved bear in your goddamn life. Not knowing what our family friends would like, I picked up three kinds of pie.  Again, this is where my notes went kablooie, but I do recall a multiberry, a peach, and an apple. The trick with the apple was, Estes Park Pie Shop has different kinds of crust ; crumble, pastry, or lattice. My goodness! In the name of fairness, I won’t reveal the preferences of Sir Mountain Climber and his gorgeous wife. I will tell you this: Estes Park pie after a hike is divine!

Also divine were the hiking views. Kathy ( wife of climber ) patiently took me on a Rocky Mountain hike which was spectacular despite me dumping my head in puddles to cool off. On the way back down the loop we ran across a ranger’s hiking llamas. I know they exist but had never seen one in person so close, nor did I realize they were so expressive. Here’s one featured on historical binder paper with what turned out to be historical tent sweepers, who knew:


 History buffs can ogle fascinating tent sweepers in the American Alpine Club museum, or via docent tour of Astrid’s gear. Decidedly younger pie and llamas are best viewed by Estes Park Pie Shop.  And the famous backpack? It’s now officially part of Astrid’s pie hunting and camping tools. Onward!

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Surfing and Strolling near Estes Park Pie Shop

SURFING: Noot. But there’s couch surfing all over Colorado. I hope.

STROLLING: Rocky National Park. During every little day hike I swear I could hear the angles singing ‘AAAAAAA!’ It’s that beautiful. Big caveat, as a surfer – aka sea level denizen – expect to suck wind at altitude while getting passed by people, dogs, llamas, insects, etc…use this time to take photos and dump your head in scenic puddles if you’re an overheater like myself.




2350 Meadows Blvd. * Castle Rock CO 80109 * 720-455-3664

You can live on pho for 10 days, but around day 5 one starts craving variety. In the middle of a Colorado schooling stint, with no time to cook, I was told the best place for great, but inexpensive food was…in the HOSPITAL.

That’s right! In Castle Rock, people go to the hospital FOR THE FOOD. What the…?!?! I hauled my ass and my books there, chomped through delectable ceviche, and attacked the dessert menu.

PIE. Listed underneath ‘Homemade Salted Caramel Gelato “Sandwich” ‘ – ( holy crap! Gotta try that too ) – was ‘Sodacracker Pie with Fresh Berries.’  Have you ever heard of such a thing?! Sodacracker pie manifested as a surprise of scrumptious meringue festooned with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and whipped cream. Before demolishing it I whipped out my camera and took photos. Nobody batted an eye, I suspect people take food photos in Manna on an hourly basis.

Woe unto me, my camera ate the photos. So I ripped off a pie photo via Manna’s Facebook account, then ironically thought it’d be a marvelous idea to draw while I was ill. Look at this beauty:


What. The fuck. Do note that the ‘101 F’ is written upside down, nice touch. Perhaps I’d have been better off IN the hospital than artistically butchering the hospital’s fine desserts. Rest assured, in real, healthy life the Sodacracker Pie is gorgeous and uniquely yummy! I was a repeat customer.

And why is Manna restaurant so freaking awesome?! Because it was created by a superstar and now run by one too. I was gonna paraphrase this intro but here’s the whole shebang, it’s so impressive:

‘Dan Skay was the opening Executive Chef at Littleton, Parker and Castle Rock Adventist Hospitals. Chef Dan worked on the design phase for Castle Rock Adventists’ Manna Restaurant. He is Nutrition Manager and Executive Chef for Manna with help from Chef de Cuisine Adam Freisem. In 1992, Chef Dan was the winner of the Great Chefs of America Culinary Competition and also the Grand Prize Winner of Custom Foods Golden Recipe Competition. Other accolades included winner of 1995 Premier Chefs of America, 1996 National Cully Award, 2000 Colorado Govenor’s Symposium Celebrating Colorado Cuisine, winning Best Colorado Entrée, and 2009 AHF National Culinary Competition Gold Medal Winner in Palm Springs, CA and the Wall Street Journal title of Hospital Top Chef. Most recently, Chef Dan won the national 2014 AHF Spotlight Award for innovation in healthcare food service and the MUFSO Best Concept Award.’

Chef Dan Skay and Adam Freisem make the hospital a place you go to ON PURPOSE. In addition, the wait staff was friendly and awesome. This team simply rocks it . In their honor, here is an awful picture of them. ( So sorry you guys!!)


Bravo, Manna Restaurant!!

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Surfing and Strolling near Manna Restaurant

[ Pie tastes best when you’re hungry ]

SURFING: If you know people in Castle Rock, I guess you could go couch surfing.

STROLLING: Lots of open space! But hurry, as developers are encroaching like aggressive slime mold. Front Range weather changes by the minute so be prepared to experience all four seasons. During summer, stroll during the morning, afternoons turn into exciting games of Thunder Dodge.



On the Main Street * Stokmarknes, Vesterålen * Norway

Upon hearing my pie plans for Stokmarknes my local friends advised, ” We have two bakeries and they are not very good. ” Undaunted, I visited both of them. This led me to discover the greatest chocolate bar EVER:


 Behold Viking chocolate. This giant nugget is thick as my little finger and soooo delicious. It’s found in stores all over Norway – admittedly I’m pretending to speak for the entirety of Norway, and I never wandered below the Arctic circle. Fantastic for hot chocolate and breaking off ‘just a wee bite to warm up, ‘ never mind this excuse being torpedoed by the warming Gulf Stream that chugs along the Norwegian coast.

Stokmarknes is also gingerbread-happy, and they host a gingerbread ‘house’  contest every year. The entries are displayed in a downtown window, and this is how I found myself standing on an Arctic sidewalk in December laughing out loud:


Bwaaah hahahahahaha!!!

Who made this Trump tower?! Can I invite them to dinner?! Can I make THEM president instead ?! Normally I don’t trace but for the sake of capturing every nuance I went for it here.  I love the Scandinavian style hearts and stars on the side of the building. The helicopter and martini glass  – ( oops forgot to draw it, pretend it’s on the floor behind the figurine ) – are fantastic details , could one be disqualified for adding non-edible elements?

It goes without saying this tower is an infinite improvement on the larger version. Stokmarknes, you and your gingerbread parodies are forever in my heart!

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SURFING and STROLLING in Stokmarknes

[ Pie tastes better when you’re hungry ]

SURFING: There is! More or less. My surfing friend/host was telling me about various places that probably work. On the right swells. In summer. Some exploration and patience is in order. Bucket list!

STROLLING: Repeat the following, ” No such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, and you should be fine. Surrounded by mountains and fjords, Stokmarknes has 360º of hikes of various lengths and difficulties. ESSENTIAL, however, are ‘pigger’, that means ‘shoe spikes’ in Norwegian. Forgo spiked shoes and you’ll enjoy a worm’s eye view – because you fell on your ass – of locals literally running down the icy street.

 One of my favorite walks is the Stokmarknes Aurora Interval Training Workout. This stroll cannot be planned, nor is there a set path. To find this trail, you A) Park yourself at your Stokmarknes friends’ house, stay up half the night, and obsess over the current-time, online Tromsø magnetometer. B) When the levels start spiking, throw on your warm clothes, run outside and up the water tower hill. C) Pace around, “Ooo”,” Aaaa”,  and enjoy nature’s light show. D) Walk down the hill when the aurora peters out, then run back up the hill when you’re at the bottom and the green lady makes another appearance. E) Return to your friend’s house when the sky calms down, repeat A-E multiple times. F) Hot chocolate and collapse.



KAFFEBONNA * Stortoget 3 * 9008 Tromsø * NORWAY * 47 77 63 94 00

Part bakery/cafe, part pit-stop from the weather, this ideally located bakery is within walking distance from anywhere in Tromsø’s center. Surrounded on two sides by large windows, you can sit with your pie and coffee, ogle the Arctic blue light, and if you sit strategically facing south-east ( lame tourist’s guess ), across the water you face what could be the grandest homage to a baked good anywhere:


Behold, the Ishavskatedralen, aka The Arctic Cathedral, and pride of Tromsø.  The reasons for the Ishavskatedral’s iconic design are still up for speculation. If you’re anyone but me. CLEARLY this landmark is an enormous piece of pie! I mean, take a look:


Is it not obvious

Holy Pie Wedge!

I recommend the Tromsø pie pilgrimage; walk across the bridge aka wind tunnel to the Ishavskatedral. Pay respects. Walk back to the sentrum and experience the true meaning of wind chill. Seek shelter in Kaffebønna and delight in pie and a delicious cup of coffee, all the while with the northernmost icon of pie within sight. Lovely!

Quick note: I did cheat as Kaffebønna did not have pie on the day I visited. In addition, with 9 hours of jet lag an interview seemed foolhardy. So I ordered the next closest thing to pie, a kanelsnurr. No you sickos, it is not brains, though appearances look deceiving in the picture. Nor is it ‘Camel snot’ though a bad translation is tempting. Kanelsnurr is aka ‘cinnamon swirl” a not-sticky, most outstanding cinnamon roll I’ve ever eaten! I don’t know what they did to it, but le swirl was light, not-too-sweet, and thus a cinch to eat in one sitting. Can I have another, please?!


Defective Sketch of Successful Pastry Event!

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The northernmost brewery! Arctic tapas! Beer samples! Tromsø Beer Safari is a hoot and plan for 10 samples not 5 which I misheard in the beginning, oh my.  You probably don’t need to buy tickets 6 months in advance like I did, but who am I to argue with long term goals. Tromsø Beer Safari will not disappoint!


Surfing: There is! Kind of. In the general area. There are also known places in Lofoten, nowhere near Tromsø of course, but hey since we’re in the same part of the world…. check out my next bucket list item: Unstad Arctic Surf.

Strolling: EVERYONE walks in Norway. Inclement weather is no excuse. In Tromsø , as previously mentioned there is the Pie Pilgrimage stroll from Kaffebønna to the Arctic Cathedral and back. Or, point your feet at a peak or well-marked-on-a-tourist-map trail and go. Prestvannet is a local lake that makes for a small easy hike and I’ve vowed to return to Tromsø to ‘attempt’ it. The real challenge strolling around here is not feeling embarrassed falling on one’s arse while locals are BICYCLING UP icy hills!