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Things on the bus were going well—too well, perhaps—so when we found ourselves stranded in a hardware store parking lot a mere 70 miles from the final festival site, our new North Carolina brewery, nobody was terribly surprised.
Sixteen days and 4,800 miles after rolling out of Chico, the bus had had enough of Beer Camp and a wheel bearing finally gave up the ghost. For those of us on board, after weeks of traveling and joking about impending disaster, the wheels truly fell off the wagon.
Luckily, it pays to have friends nearby and the good people at Catawba Brewing Co. sent in the cavalry on their way to Mills River for the festival. (They handed our founder Ken Grossman the keys to an SUV—get goin’, Chief! If you’ve ever doubted craft cooperation, chew on that bulletproof example.) We arrived at the brewery slightly late, but we made it. Spanning the states, through countless adventures, we had finally reached the end.
The seven festivals were spread over different regions and each had its own unique feel and flair, but shared the “we’re all in it together” camaraderie of craft beer. With nearly 700 breweries signed on for the journey, new beer discoveries were just around the corner of the next tent. Beer Camp Across America was a great equalizer, showcasing breweries of all shapes and sizes from tiny nano-breweries to some of the largest players in the game. Meeting up-and-coming brewers, and thousands of beer lovers from all corners of the nation, demonstrates just how far craft beer has come in a few short years. It felt right to bookend the wild tour with the mothership in Chico and our newly minted brewery in Mills River—a finish line yet a beginning at the same time.
The road-trip highlights were many. We lived at the extremes, from heart-pounding and adrenaline-filled excursions (white water rafting, sketchy helicopters, skydiving, and swinging from a trapeze in New York City) to drawn out surreal stretches of waiting (like 9 hours on the bus slogging through Utah.) The odd thing is, it’s the small things that have the biggest impressions: meeting new fellow brewers, tossing back a few with strangers in Midwestern bars, exploring the regional variance in truck-stop cuisine, brewer dance parties in the back of the bus at 80 miles per hour and getting to know our bus-mates and colleagues in a way none of us will soon forget.
Beer Camp Across America was the trip of a lifetime and an incredible celebration of craft beer. As our rowdy bus barreled across the country, packed with friends and ridiculous amounts of beer and spirits, it mirrored the momentum of craft beer right now in America—exciting, ambitious, and ready for the next adventure. I don’t think any of us anticipated just how absurdly fun it would be. Throughout the trip, when the bus stopped, everyone was hobbled with sea legs from the swaying. Now that we’ve finished the tour, the swaying is a fond memory as we adjust back to stationary life. We’ll steady up soon and together use the experiences and memories to brew with renewed vigor knowing that there is always more to do and see. Plus, we all need to recover our dignity after our failed attempt at a four-day, bus-brewed Berliner Weisse!