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Texas Is Full of History...both Golf and Otherwise Since my dad and mother were both from Texas, I grew up hearing stories about Texas for years and years. As an adult interested in golf I learned that golfers from Texas have become legends in the golf world. So as I left New Mexico and began my long drive to San Antonio, the next stop on my tour, I was looking forward to my visit to the Lone Star State. What I learned is that you don’t just visit Texas. You become engulfed by it...the vast miles from city to city, the blasts of wind blowing across its desert landscape, and the pride that its people have for the state and its traditions. I began to understand all the stories about Texas that my parents told me over the years. However, it wasn’t until I played the Brackenridge Park Golf Course in San Antonio that I became aware of what golf has meant to Texas and what Texas has meant to golf. Brackenridge is a public course only minutes from downtown San Antonio. But it’s not just a public course. It is one of seven municipal courses that make up the Alamo Golf Trail and is the oldest municipal course in Texas having opened in 1916. It has quite a history including hosting the first Texas Open in 1922 and 21 Texas Opens between 1922 and 1959. Brackenridge was designed by famed golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast who also designed Winged Foot, Beth Page, Baltusrol and the San Francisco Country Club courses. Before playing the course I visited the Texas Golf Hall of Fame which it houses; viewed the statue of Harvey Penick outside its granite clubhouse; and learned that golf legends Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan all won Texas Open’s there and that Ben Crenshaw, Bruce Lietzke and Tom Kite all won Junior Championships there. Playing Brackenridge was fun. My 83 from the White Tees at 5807 yards wouldn’t have won me anything but it was thrilling just to think that I had been playing fairways and putting on greens that the greats of golf once played. At a little over 6200 yards from the tips, Brackenridge isn’t a long course. However, because of more than 6000 trees on its narrow fairways, and an abundance of fairway and greenside bunkers, plays much tougher than its 6200 yards. It was enjoyable playing a course that was designed in the past when shot shaping was more important than just bombing it from the tees as is the norm on many of today’s new courses. Position on Brackenridge is definitely more important than length, not only because of the abundance of trees, but because creeks and ponds comes in to play on eight holes, seven on the back nine alone. Since Brackenridge is only minutes from downtown, it was easy for me to drive back to my hotel, take a quick shower and still have time to walk over to the Alamo, which much to my surprise is located in the middle of downtown San Antonio. I watched the outstanding IMAX big screen documentary Alamo...The Price of Freedom and toured the historic site. It was a most interesting and emotional experience to understand how and where Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, William Travis and the other heroes of The Alamo fought for 13 days against overwhelming odds and eventually sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom. The Alamo pamphlet of the Daughter’s of the Republic of Texas says it all... “While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds--a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.” While in San Antonio I was able to do something I had wanted to do for a long time. I took a ride on the San Antonio River in one of the colorful river barges that you see pictured in travel books and on travel shows. The ride passed numerous restaurants with outside tables where tourists and locals were dining under brightly colored awnings. I enjoyed the ride and listening to the barge guide tell about the history of the river, how the lengthy River Walk was developed, and how the barge rides had become such a draw for tourists over the years. While in San Antonio a rain storm washed out one day of golf that I had planned. It gave me a good opportunity to do a bit of catching up, work on organizing the next stops on my tour, and do a load of laundry. Working in my rooms at my hotels, the Drury Plaza Hotel North and the Drury Hotel River Walk, was really quite pleasant as both hotels are all suites hotels with large comfortable rooms. Happily I was able to cut down on my meal expenses while staying at the Drury Hotels as all their hotels, and there are over 120 in 20 states, serve fresh all you can eat complimentary buffet breakfasts and complimentary cocktails and an abundance of hors d’ouerves each evening. The Drury Hotel chain is 100% family owned which is rare in the hotel industry. I think that is one reason it has been able to build its reputation on “giving the customer more than what they can get at any other hotel…cleaner rooms, friendlier team members and extras that don’t cost extra”. I found this concept to be not just a PR slogan but an actual fact. The Drury Plaza Hotel North in San Antonio is a new, sleek and contemporary hotel. The Drury River Walk is in a former bank which opened in 1929. Drury Hotels bought it in 2003, spent four years and over 70 million dollars renovating it, and opened it as a hotel in 2007. It’s stunning. You can check out the San Antonio Drury Hotels and the Drury Hotel chain by visiting their website www.druryhotels.com. When I left San Antonio, I headed northeast to Austin, the capital of Texas, where I was invited to stay one night at the Barton Creek Golf Resort and Spa, rated the #1 Golf Resort in Texas. It was easy to understand how it got its rating. It’s in a beautiful forest setting, has all the amenities you would expect in a world class resort and four outstanding golf courses, two designed by Tom Fazio, one by Ben Crenshaw and one by Arnold Palmer. I played the Fazio Canyons course and was fortunate to be paired with Matt Higley, an Assistant Pro at the Fazio Foothills course. Other than the fact that he was 45 years or so younger, had played pro golf until an injury caused him to give up life on the pro circuit, and that he hit the ball farther than I can even dream about, I found we did have one thing in common, he was from the San Diego area and had played my home course, Shadowridge Country Club in Vista. Matt was very helpful as we played. He gave me good pointers as to preferred fairway locations off the tee, where to hit my second…and third shots and sometime fourth shots, and helped me read the tricky breaks on the greens. I wish he had also been able to lengthen my drives, hit my fairway shots and sink my putts on the fast sloping greens. While breakfasting at the Drury River Walk, I met Dave Rollins and his wife who were from Austin. They told me a must place for ribs and breakfasts in Austin was Rudy’s Country Store and Bar B Q. Matt and several others confirmed this. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it for ribs but I did have breakfast there. I ordered the design-your-own breakfast burrito and was pleased with my decision. It was big and delicious. Rudy’s is a very down to earth place to eat with rather unique locations that combine gas stations, country stores and their restaurants. But don’t think of Rudy’s is like most gas station convenience store operations. It’s not. It’s a casual buffet style restaurant that has a gas station and country store as part of its operation. The one I ate at served good fresh food prepared by young enthusiastic crew members in a fun atmosphere with red checked tablecloths. Although mostly in Texas, there are Rudy’s locations in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. I suspect there will be more to come if the rest of their operations are as good and highly touted by locals as the one I visited. After breakfast I filled up with gas and headed for another long drive across Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“The Land of Enchantment” When you think of New Mexico, do the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque immediately come to mind? Until my recent visit to New Mexico on the second week of my 50-week, 50-state golf tour, those were the cities I immediately thought of. That’s changed. Now I think of Las Cruces and Elephant Butte, the two cities in New Mexico where I played golf on my tour. Las Cruces, located in southern New Mexico is the home to three of the four New Mexico courses I played...Sonoma Ranch, Red Hawk, and The New Mexico State University Golf Course. Sonoma Ranch, which has a 113 slope rating, is just under 6100 yards from the Whites. I played it in a steady 20-30 mile an hour wind which made for quite a challenging day of golf. The course’s rolling terrain, water hazards, and large undulating bent grass greens, combined with the wind, required some very controlled shots. Fortunately I played with Mike Elizalde, a Las Cruces local who knew the course. We had a fun time so we joined up and played the next two days together at Red Hawk and the New Mexico State course. I always enjoy playing golf with someone who is local and not only has course knowledge but knowledge of the area. Mike was that kind of guy. He not only knew the courses but seemed to know everyone. One of the reasons I found out was that he is co-owner of the very busy and well known sports bar/restaurant, Ump 88 Grill. Mike and his partner, Major League Umpire Doug Eddings, number 88...hence the name...took over an unsuccessful Irish Pub and turned it into a Las Cruces hot spot with a great atmosphere and specials every night. When Mike told me about his Taco Tuesday it reminded me of spending many a Tuesday night having tacos at my home course, Shadowridge Country Club in Vista, California. However, when Mike told me Ump 88 Grill served as many as 2,800 50 cent tacos each Tuesday, I had to see for myself. I arrived about 7:30 and Ump 88 was packed with lines of people waiting to get in and evidently had been that way since it opened before noon. The tacos were good, the fun atmosphere enjoyable and the mixed crowd of college students, families and groups of friends were fun to observe. The second course I played was Red Hawk, a new course that opened in October, 2011. Situated on 200 acres with 100 acres of turf, 50 acres of planted native grasses and 50 acres of natural desert, it’s a links style course with no trees, 76 large sand bunkers, and five lakes with water coming into play on eight holes. Like Sonoma Ranch, Red Hawk has rolling fairways and bent grass greens and with tees that range from 5500 to 7500 yards. It’s sure to gain the reputation as being a challenging but fun course for players of all skill levels. Both Sonoma Ranch and Red Hawk look out at the Organ Mountain Range so named because of the peaks that look like the pipes of a pipe organ. The surrounding desert, valleys and Organ Mountains produced scenic visuals which made for pleasant additions to my rounds of golf. My third golf game was played on the New Mexico State University Course which opened in 1963. It’s the home course for the New Mexico State “Aggies” men’s and women’s golf teams. The men’s team has been the Western Athletic Conference Champion four of the last five years. A number of top individual players including Rich Beem, Brad and Bart Bryant and Tom Bryum have played for New Mexico State which is one of only a few universities in the nation to offer the Professional Golf Management Program. The course is a parkland course with mature pine and oak trees lining most of the fairways. Although the fairways are fairly wide, the trees definitely come into play when you spray your shots. Because the fairway grass was dormant and tight when I played, I found that when I hit the fairways I got extra yardage on most of my tee shots. This will change when the fairways turn green and are softer. Putting on the course was somewhat easier that either Sonoma Ranch or Red Hawk as it has milder greens with fewer severe undulations. The course plays to just under 7100 yards from the tips but has four sets of tees to choose from so it very enjoyable course for golfers of all ages and skill levels. It’s a very popular course as it is quite reasonable, easily accessible, has an excellent modern club house and pro shop, and a very friendly and helpful staff. Thanks to the Las Cruces Convention and Tourist Bureau and the management of the Hotel Encanto, the three days I stayed in Las Cruces I was able to stay at the Hotel Encanto, southern New Mexico’s only AAA Diamond Hotel. The hotel is a member of the Heritage Hotels and Resorts with six hotels in New Mexico and one in Arizona. Each of them takes in the preservation of Southwest heritage and culture. I really liked the original photographs and the Southwest atmosphere at the Encanto. Staying there with its relaxed atmosphere certainly helped me enjoy Las Cruces. Following golf at New Mexico State’s course, I drove 85 miles north to Elephant Butte to play Sierra del Rio, the Jack Nicklaus course I had read about. Frankly as I was driving north I was thinking why am I doing this as I was way out in the middle of nowhere. When I arrived in Elephant Butte, population 1300, I again questioned myself. However, when I checked into the Elephant Butte Inn, my worries went away. Although it was an older motel, I found it and all of its staff very helpful, my room comfortable and the meals in the casual restaurant excellent. Once again I learned you can’t judge a book by its cover. When I played Sierra del Rio I found out it has been recognized by Golf Digest as one of the top 10 courses in New Mexico. I had a ball meeting and playing with a group of locals and out-of-towners from Ruidoso, home of Max Cowan the 2011 winner of the prestigious and almost world renowned Fagapo Invitational Golf Tournament. The course, located within the 1,000 plus acres of the Turtleback Mountain Resort, has five sets of tees. Players of all skills can be comfortable playing Sierra del Rio whether it be from the 5,060 yard silver tees or the black tees all the way back at a little over 7,300 yards. Playing from the Whites at 6,157 yards, which had a 132 slope, I found the course to be challenging because of elevation changes, desert gullies, and well protected greens even though it had wide receptive fairways and, for a Jack Nicklaus designed course, mild and puttable greens. On my last day in Elephant Butte, which is only minutes away from New Mexico’s largest recreational lake, I spoke to the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Legion about Wounded Warrior Project. It was like preaching to the choir. The ladies of the auxiliary have been recognized locally, state-wide and nationally for the outstanding work they do on behalf of veterans. Following my presentation, I filled up at the local gas station and headed east to Carlsbad on my way to Antonio, Texas. I stayed overnight in Carlsbad so I could visit the famous Carlsbad Cavern which is located about twenty miles West of Carlsbad. Glad I did. The Cavern is amazing. I took the Big Room Self-Guided Tour, one of eight tours available. After an elevator descent to the Underground Rest Area, some 800 feet below the surface, I spent an hour and a half walking 1.25 miles along a mostly level non-skid trail that winds through the cavern. I gawked at stalactites and stalagmites that began forming some 500,000 years ago. It was an incredible experience. After my walk, I got back in my car and headed for San Antonio, another day and a half and two tanks of gas away. It was a long boring drive. Week Two, New Mexico
Wounded Warrior Project Benefiting from A New Concept In Golf Reporting… Golfing the US with Chuck Miller, the Traveling Guy, a new concept in golf and travel reporting, had its debut on January 7, 2012 on the nationally syndicated golf show Real Golf Radio. Each week through December 15, 2012 golf and travel writer Chuck Miller is raising awareness and contributions for Wounded Warrior Project as he visits a different state to bring Real Golf Radio listeners upbeat and informative reports about golf and travel throughout the USA. Miller reports each Saturday morning from a different state about courses and points of interest in the state he is visiting. His reports are helping listeners conjure up fantasies of birdies and pars and are giving those in the radio audience the opportunity to vicariously visit all 50 states. During his 50-week, 50-state driving tour of the US, Miller will be reporting about his experiences visiting and playing golf from Alaska to Florida, Hawaii to Maine. All the courses Miller is reporting on are ones open to public play. Some are in the mountains, some at the seashore, others are in the desert. Some are municipal courses, some are resort courses. In the months to come he will report on the northernmost course in the US, the highest USGA sloped course in the US, and the only free course in the US. His reports on Real Golf Radio are also appealing to non-golfing spouses and friends as he includes snippets of information about local cultural and scenic spots as well as tips on places to stay, shop, dine and just have fun. Golfing the US with Chuck Miller, The Traveling Guy on Real Golf Radio is an informal yet informative approach to golf and travel reporting. Golfing The US with Chuck Miller, The Traveling Guy is giving listeners insight into golf and travel throughout the United States.
CopperWynd Resort and Club. It had been a long time since I had the opportunity to enjoy a fireplace in my bedroom or the type of luxury that CopperWynd offers its guests. It was one hell of a start. CopperWynd is an intimate luxury resort located on a 99 acre hilltop location. Guests that stay in one of its 40 rooms and villas can combine desert serenity with world-class service and have the opportunity to swim, play tennis, dine and take advantage of the outstanding golf courses just minutes away. I felt very fortunate to be able to start my golf odyssey in such an elegant manner. My week in Arizona was jammed packed. After a marvellously restful night at CopperWynd, I got up early to get ready to play SunRidge Canyon which is located just minutes down the hill from the resort. I was teamed up with three Canadians who were in the Phoenix area for eight rounds of golf during their seven day trip. We had a ball. SunRidge Canyon was similar to most desert courses in the winter...the grass on the fairways was pretty much in a dormant stage. This was good news/bad news for me as it helped make my drives run farther but made my fairway shots a bit more difficult because of the tight lies. Fortunately my home course, Shadowridge Country Club in Vista, has somewhat similar winter conditions so I didn’t have to adjust my game very much.....as if I could adjust it. SunRidge played downhill for most of the front nine, and then headed back up the canyon on the back nine. Playing the White Tees at 6004 yards I found the relatively wide fairways receptive but the hard fast greens quite a challenge. My adjusted 92 was disappointing especially since I went 10 over par on SunRidge’s last six holes, known affectionately as “The Wicked Six”. The six holes, two par 3’s, two par 4’s and two par 5’s, were a true test...particularly since they were pretty much uphill and into the wind. Water was not a factor on the course as there were only two holes, the short par 4 10th, 308 yards from the tips and 285 from the Whites, and the par 3 14th , 181 from the tips and 157 from the whites. But, the numerous fairway and greenside bunkers, both left and right dog legs and hard fast greens definitely made up for a lack of concern over water. The second round of golf I played in Fountain Hills was at Eagle Mountain. I had played there once before during a media event for golf writers and was looking forward to playing it again. I wasn’t disappointed. Like SunRidge Canyon it also has wide receptive fairways, carved through and around canyons but unlike SunRidge Canyon, Eagle Mountain’s fairways seemed to feed errant shots toward the middle of the fairway. For someone like myself who seldom drives the middle of the fairway, this made for pleasant surprises. Eagle Mountain has only two holes where water comes into play, the par 5 10th and the par 4 18th. For some reason I am drawn to water holes as to me they are more scenic and more challenging, particularly when water comes up close to the green and the pin placements leave little room for error. Unfortunately my golf balls are more often than not drawn to the water on these types of holes. The third course I played was the Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort’s Lookout Mountain in Phoenix. In my weekly report on Real Golf Radio, I characterized Lookout Mountain as a “hybrid course”. The first six holes were more of a parkland course with trees lining both sides of the fairways. The remaining twelve holes combined both a parkland and desert setting. Lookout Mountain, which just recently became affiliated with Troon Golf, has long been a favorite of locals and guests of the Point Hilton. It weaves its way through rugged terrain and from some of its higher elevations has delightful views of Lookout Mountain. Because water is scarce in the desert climate, lakes and ponds are really a non factor on the course. However, ten dog legs and lots of native grasses make it imperative to have good course management when playing the course. My favorite hole was the shortest and what I was told, at 105 yards from the White tees was “the hardest par 3 in Phoenix”. A quick look at the yardage book didn’t tell the story. To hit the green and stay on it provided the test. Tee shots from the elevated tee box had to clear a gully of desert and cactus, avoid the severe slope in front of the green which would more often than not would allow the ball to roll back to the gully, and then be hit high enough to hold on the narrow back to front green, I hit a gap wedge to about eight feet above the hole and was told that I would be lucky to have my severe downhill putt stay on the green. On that cheery note, I barely, and I mean barely, tapped my ball and then nervously watched it pick up speed on it short journey toward the hole. As it was about to speed merrily bye, it caught the left edge, did a 360 and dropped into the cup for a birdie. I was ecstatic. My playing partners said it was a good thing my ball went into the hole or I probably would have been chipping back up the hill to save par. Anytime I get a birdie I’m thrilled. To realize I had just birdied “the hardest par 3 in Phoenix” made me pleased that Lookout Mountain was a course I had chosen to play. When you combine the Point Hilton’s all suites concept with the fact that the golf shop is just a wedge shot away from the resort’s nearest rooms, you have a winning combination for a fun golf vacation. The resort also looks to be a great place for a family vacation. It has a very large pool and pool area where you can listen to water tumbling down the multi-tiered water fall adjacent to the pool; a water slide for the kids, a spa, tennis courts, casual and fine dining, etc. etc. The fourth course I played during my week in Arizona was Conquistador, one of two championship courses at the Hilton El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort just north of Tucson. Conquistador and its sister course Canada, along with its nine-hole Pusch Ridge Course, are the three courses that make up Tucson’s largest golf resort. I had the pleasure of playing with a long time golf buddy, Bill Jones, his wife Helen and Jack Rickard, a retired golf writer and former sports editor from Tucson that I had met at a media event in Mesquite, Nevada. Golf to me is really a game to be played with friends and such was the day at Conquistador. Bill, Helen, Jack and I thoroughly enjoyed playing the wide fairways, avoiding the few lakes on the course, hitting to elevated greens and staying out of the desert while playing Conquistador. Since Bill was recovering from shoulder surgery and had played only a few rounds over a period of months, and Jack and I prefer the White Tees, we let Bill join us. Bad decision. Bill shot a three over 38 on the front nine and had me in deep trouble until he tired on the last few holes of the back nine. Jack and Helen watched and laughed as Bill and I did our usual needling of each other after almost every shot, something we had done for the more than 20 we had golfed together. It was a fun day.. All the courses I played in Arizona were to the most part still wearing their winter tan. Once the grass turns and gets a little longer, all four will be just as you see them on their websites... beautifully green. Green or dormant didn’t matter, they were all excellent and enjoyable courses to play. The next time you head to Arizona and its more than 325 days of sunshine a year, be sure to include SunRidge Canyon and Eagle Mountain in Fountain Hills, Lookout Mountain in Phoenix and Conquistador and Canada in Tucson in your golf plans.The natural place to start my 50-week, 50-state golf tour was Arizona. It was going to be a relatively short drive compared to ones that would come in the future, and it would be over a highway I had driven many times. A mere six hour drive from my home in Vista, California including a stop for lunch would start me on a journey I had been eagerly awaiting. My first stop on my projected 345 days away from home, was Fountain Hills, Arizona, a lovely community only minutes away from Scottsdale and Phoenix. Thanks to the Fountain Hills Convention and Visitor’s Bureau my first two nights on the road were spent at the ultra luxurious
It started with a rush and it wasn’t adrenalin. It was water rushing from a broken hot water heater line that had water flooding the garage. That was what I heard when I went to the garage at 5:30 AM on departure day of my 50-week, 50-state golf tour to get a suitcase. What a way to start. Was this a way to test my patience for obstacles that I might encounter during my golf odyssey? Was this a bad dream? Once I realized it was neither of these, I turned off the water to the house, woke my significant other Shirley to alert her to the problem, and then went back to finish my packing. Fortunately there was a solution at hand....Sam Homant, a good friend and the contractor who did all the remodeling on our home which we had purchased a few years earlier, was called and agreed to come over and fix the problem. . At about 10:15 AM, with the rushing water problem ready to be solved, I doubled checked my car trunk which held the clothes I would need for a year on the road, the myriad of books of information about courses and places, two plastic file containers with an assortment of office supplies I would need, my new Toshiba laptop, two cameras, my beat up but still useable briefcase, and two bags of cereal, cookies and other assorted goodies I figured I would need on my trip. And of utmost importance of course, the new TaylorMade golf bag which TaylorMade graciously presented me into which I had placed my trusty left handed clubs, six dozen golf balls and my golf rain outfit which I had worn on all seven continents. I closed the trunk, backed out of the driveway, took a few photos, kissed Shirley goodbye and I was off to Fountain Hills, Arizona the first stop on my tour. While on the road for the next six hours I began to realize the long awaited day had come and my highly anticipated 50-week, 50-state golf tour was underway. I was excited, not only about the tour, but also the opportunity I had been given by Wounded Warrior Project to help raise awareness and contributions during my tour. (Let me be clear about this. I am not associated with nor will I receive any compensation from Wounded Warrior Project. I just feel strongly about the wonderful things they do to help wounded combat veterans who have returned from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and am proud to be able to help them in some small way). My plan is to urge everyone I meet to visit their website WoundedWarriorProject to see what they do and what they have accomplished since they were formed in 2003. I’m hopeful that when people understand the good that Wounded Warrior Project does, they will make a contribution to their organization. While driving I began to hope that all the planning I had done in preparation for my tour would prove to be correct, all the while knowing that I damn well would have to be resourceful, self sufficient and able to adjust to new surroundings and challenges for an entire year. Did I have second thoughts? Sure !!! Was I going to let these thoughts stop me? Not on your life. I had planned, talked about and desired to make this tour for so long I wasn’t about to let some mischievous mind games hold me back. I was about to do something that to my knowledge had never been done before by anyone. That in itself was stimulating. I was headed out to play golf in 50 states in 50 weeks and to give weekly reports on the nationally syndicated golf show Real Golf Radio about golf, places to stay, and things to see and do in the state I was visiting that week. For me this was going to be an exciting adventure, an opportunity to combine three passions... golf, travel and people. I hope when you listen to my weekly segments on Real Golf Radio, and read my weekly blogs on my website, TheTravelingGuy or on Real Golf Radio’s website, that you will let me take you on a vicarious golf and travel trip. My weekly goal will be to give you insight into courses and areas of the US that you might find interesting as possible destinations for future golfing vacations. I will be reporting on courses and areas from Alaska to Florida, Hawaii to Maine. The courses I will mention will all be open for public play. Some will be in the mountains, some will be on the seashore, and others will be in the desert. Some will be resort courses, some will be municipal courses. There will be a wide variety both in destination and style...for example, the northernmost course in the US, the highest USGA slope rated course in the US and the only FREE course in the US. My tour, which I have titled, Golfing the US with Chuck Miller, The Traveling Guy, is going to be an experience of a lifetime for me...and I hope for you.