By Doug Brochu
In the summer of 2013, three adventurers formed a company dedicated to arriving at Dragon Con at any and all costs. They were to travel the long, winding roads, and make it so you felt as if you were there yourself, streaming all the while with the two magic crystal slabs (iPads), and bringing it to you with Cryptozoic Entertainment and TheOneRing.net’s help. This is a day-by-day re-telling of their adventure.
SATURDAY AUGUST 24TH
Justin the wily hobbit, Ryan the grumpy wizard, and Doug the jolly dwarf, met in the cool of the morn at the local disposable pictograph vendor “Meltdown Comics“. Doug had heard that the mighty Dwalin would be attending Dragon Con this year, so he did what any sensible dwarf would do at this news – he shaved his head, giving himself a mohawk. So proud was the hawk now perched upon Doug’s head that Ryan needed one as well, which is out of character for wizards (and had nothing to do with the soaring heat). They packed up, said their goodbyes, and set out on what would be a journey to test and strengthen them all.
One final stop in the city was needed – to collect a magic brick capable of transmitting their likeness across all tamed lands. The city gave way to desert, but their excitement about the road ahead gave way to only more excitement. Their destination for the day: Zion National Park, a pocket of land left behind from ages past, a slice of the Grey Havens tucked away in the mountains. It was here that they would lay down their loads after a full day’s worth of traveling, and sleep easy, conserving their energy for the days ahead.
As anyone wise in the ways of travel can tell you, even the most well-laid plans go astray. So when the company pulled into the camp well into moon-rise, and found there were no spots, they did not quail. There by the soft light of the moon, a counsel was called to decide their course. Turn back thirty leagues as the crow flies to uncertain lodging, or forge ahead deep into the night with the same uncertainty? Forge ahead they did! It was a lucky decision too. For the windy, winding, mountainous roads they traveled in the soft quiet hours of the night were empty save their own block-like, automated white steed Shadowfax. They blew by roads that, in the day, would be bogged down to a crawl. They felt no fatigue, for the lustre of adventure shone in their eyes.
SUNDAY AUGUST 25TH
Luster or no, there were no elves in this company, so the need for sleep eventually caught up with them. Stopping a few hours before dawn, they found a local camping area in the desert to stop and rest. In the traditional hobbit fashion, Justin needed to simulate the comfort of his hobbit hole. With a great, gaping yawn he sprawled out in the back seat, and soon his gravelly snores echoed from the automobile. Doug claimed it was too late to properly pitch a tent; so he whipped up an alternative for the two companions leftover that the Great Maker Aule would have smiled at. He took the two tarpaulins covering the cargo-bed of the automobile, and fashioned them into a crude lean-to, one anchored flat on the ground to sleep on, and another anchored at an angle from the dining table that came standard in all resting areas. They slept.
As the sun labored his way into the sky, and the darkness gave way to a blood hued pre-dawn, a tapping woke Doug up. He stuck his arm out of the shelter to feel droplets of water striking his naked hand. He chuckled a bit, congratulating himself on being exceptionally clever. By using the tarps previously used to cover their cargo, he had made a water-proof shelter tha- WAIT. THE TARPS ARE OFF THE TRUCK. Shedding all grogginess, he leapt up into the sullen light. Storm clouds were gathering, and this light pitter patter was just the beginning. He bellowed a call for help, and started covering up their precious goods, the cargo meant to sell at Dragon Con. Ryan, being a wizard who sleeps with eyes wide open, was the first to answer his call. Together they wrestled the tarpaulins into place, securing them in the gathering wind.
Sleep had been stolen from them, much like the precious. They had only grabbed a few winks, but the only option was to move forward. They grabbed a quick breakfast at Denny’s, practically chugging their coffee, and started driving. The destination for today was nowhere, but also everywhere. They company simply needed to get as many miles behind them as possible on the way to their first major stop: the magical mountain city of Denver, Colorado. They stopped at two places of note that day – the Four Corners, where four states meet, and the cave dwellings of Mesa Verde. Both proved to be well needed stops, to stretch the legs and mind.
They stopped for the evening at an inn located in the town of Salida. Sleep never felt so good.
MONDAY AUGUST 26TH
Revived after sleeping on actual beds, the company set their sights on Denver, a city a mile in the sky. A few hours into the daily drive, Justin had to ask when we’d be stopping for second breakfast. The day was crisp and fair, with just a hint of fall’s cold embrace, a perfect day for a cookout. So second breakfast was spent by the side of a pristine stream, roasting sausages and smoking pipes. In the rush of activity that was about to sweep them away at Dragon Con, this was a perfect moment of stillness. Full bellies and sounds of contentment accompanied them all the way to Denver, where the Morrison Natural History Museum awaited them. Before they could enter that hall of learning however, Justin insisted they stop at the biggest fiesta in all the land.
Casa Bonita! A hall of laughter, mischief, and daring high-divers, known equally for its electrifying atmosphere and its festive food. A fellow Ringer met them there, and they whiled away the hours with pleasant conversation. In addition to the welcome company they found, there was so much exploring to do! Doug headed straight for the Gold Mines, because that’s where dwarves always go first as a rule. Ryan headed for the lofty seats among tall towers spread about, to have a steady eye on the lay of the land, no doubt. Justin made his way to the cursed caves, for his Tookish side grabbed ahold of him, and he wanted adventure, prepackaged and non-threatening. Hours had passed and the company needed to move on; they said their goodbyes, and such was the kindness of their guest that she paid for their meals. It was the first of many acts of kindness along the road, and they were all extremely thankful.
The best way to learn about the creatures that once walked Middle-earth is to look at their bones, so that is the very thing they did at Morrison Natural History Museum. Assisted by Dr. Robert Bakker, the company was led on a tour of kingly magnificence. The ancestors of Smaug were laid bare before them, and they were allowed to touch, feel, and marvel at them all. After two hours of visiting the past, and all the organic treasures it has left us, the company went to the Best Western Denver to meet their final companion for the journey – the burglar Katalena!
Short of stature, fiery of temperament, and quick to jest, Katalena was just what the sluggish band needed to keep them on their toes. They met at dusk where all dinosaurs go for a good night’s rest, Best Western Denver, and supped together in a nearby tavern whilst discussing plans for the road on the morrow. They parted ways back at the Inn with the promise that Justin and Co. would pick her up and set out at a reasonable hour. They had time to spare on The Road to Dragon Con, and they were in no great hurry as of yet.
TUESDAY AUGUST 27TH
With a full night’s sleep behind them, Justin and Co. took a detailed tour of the inn they had stayed in. The Best Western in Denver was once a Quality Inn, but now it was being taken to a whole new level of excellence. The proprietor Greg had mixed his passion for the fossilized remains of elder beasts with ownership of an Inn, creating something right out of the pages of history. Fossils as counter-tops! Petrified wood to make the bar! An aquatic beast thirty feet long adorning the ceilings! That and many other splendors combined to make an inn of such rustic beauty, Barliman Butterbur would have left the Prancing Pony just to take holiday there.
However home-like an Inn might be, the road always beckons with its rushing song. The company said fond farewells and headed out to pick up their burglar. It was mid-day when they arrived at Katalena’s place of residence. It was hot, and promising to out-do itself as the day wore on. She hopped into Shadowfax and immediately began sewing one of her many clever disguises. She had six or seven stowed away in her luggage, should the need to use them arise. Such was the cleverness of our burglar.
The rest of the day was spent whittling away the miles of the journey, in friendly debate about Tolkien’s writings, and interaction with watchers of the crystal slab. The now complete Justin and Co. drove deep into the night; so deep into the night it was already morning, if not sunrise, by the time they stopped to rest.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 28TH
The road, the road, the road. It goes on and on. So too must the company head ever onward, stopping only for a short while in any friendly harbor to make friends. Today they moved from the Misty Mountains into the plains of Rohan, or would have if they were denizens true of Middle-earth. They weren’t, not in this lifetime; so instead they drove into Arkansas, veered off the highway, and meandered their way into the back-country’s rolling hills to The Wildwood Rabbitry.
Greeted by the two sisters who make the cultivating of the earth their trade, Justin and Co. stretched their legs and said words of greeting in what could only be described as a perfect slice of the Shire. Before they could be shown anything, they were quickly ushered into the kitchen, where they were assaulted by the fabled kindness of the south. Warm yeasty rolls, homemade with a hint of molasses, were given to them to make sandwiches. At the mention of their milk cow, Douglas asked for a glass in earnest. They obliged him with smiles and a tall, frosty glass. At first sip he declared it to be on par with the finest ale, forcing it upon the rest of the company till they were all smacking lips and exclaiming at its purity.
Simple lives these sisters led, but they were far from simple people. Their farm’s name came from their rearing of giant rabbits, ancestors of the Rhosgobel rabbits Radagast had used to move swiftly to and fro. That, however, is a very small piece of what they do. They raise oxen, goats, pigs, and a clutch of chickens. They have gardens, brew their own beers, ferment their own wines, fish in their own lake, and have a pack of great hounds to ward off giant predators set on assaulting their farm. They led a wide-eyed Justin and Co. around the border of their land, stopping to point out its various virtues and qualities.
Not only are they workers of land, but workers of fabrics and tree carcasses. Inside their sprawling farmhouse were shops designed to work metal, cloth, wood, plaster, and any medium they so desired. By day they work on their farm, by night they toil to make costumes, commissioned by people in far-off places. After much discussion, the two sisters, and brother who had joined them, sent them off with smiles and two heaping bags full of country way-bread, to keep them hearty and hale till their journey’s end.
That would be a perfect end to that day, but it wasn’t over. On the way back to the highway, Justin stopped on a whim at a woodworker’s shop. The storefront was humble, the owner portly and kind. With glassy-eyes he showed the company round his shop, glowing with pride as he showcased the pieces of cast cement his three year old grand-daughter had painted. “Princess Maddie” was her title, and her artwork was that of a three year old: shapeless, untrained, and sloppy. The artwork only a grandfather could love and cherish. Justin purchased two pieces, he was so moved by this show of paternal love. The old woodworker took notice. With a thumb of his nose and a wink, he said he’d be right back. He returned a few minutes later with a bundle tucked under his arm, handing it to Justin with a finality that suggested it was given freely. “A little something for this “Dragon Con” you’re headed to”, was all he said.
Back inside Shadowfax we had Ryan open the package – after all, mysterious artifacts gained from chance encounters fall under the expertise of wizards. Inside was a clear jar surrounded by protective packaging, filled with a crystal clear liquid. The old woodworker had given them lightning in a jar, a +10 modifier to charisma, a quick gulp of courage: a mason jar full of genuine moonshine. Justin and Co. marveled at their luck and stowed it safely in the bed of the automobile. This would have been the perfect end to a perfect day, but no, it was not over yet.
Nights spent sleeping in foreign beds are fine, but one does grow weary of the constant strangeness. So when a family of Ringers opened up their home in a show of uncommon kindness and generosity, the company was overjoyed to join them! Memphis is where they stopped that night, and the city where Elfvis of Mirkwood made his final resting place is where the company rested as well. They took the member of the family that was still awake out to a jovial feast at a local eatery, then talked deep into the night, finally falling asleep after what had been a perfect day.
THURSDAY AUGUST 29TH
It’s a bit of a let down to realize, upon waking in such a welcoming home, that you have to leave. However this was much the case. In one last show of thanks they gave the daughter of the house a Legolas simulacrum as they dropped her off at work – which was received well, as she happened to be an archer, and needed a lift. The last day on the road, at least till the journey back, opened its maw to Justin and Co., engulfing them whole while grinding them down with teeth made of gas station stops, and talks of who would drive. As the sun was patting himself on the back for a job well done, and sinking below the horizon, the company rolled into Atlanta – into DragonCon.
The streets were littered with thousands of people, all here for this grand occasion. If every flaw in time and space ripped open and regurgitated a piece of its respective era into one location, it would look like the sidewalks and Inn common rooms at the time of DragonCon. People were dressed as living pastries, people were dressed as technological busters of ghosts, people were dressed in next to nothing, all mingling together in a city-wide safe zone. The company could not stare in wonder for long, as they had cargo to unload. Using muscles which had lain dormant on the road, they hoisted the cargo from the bed of Shadowfax to the vendor stall two floors above.
They had made it, safe and sound, without mishaps save for those that brought good fortune. At this point I’m sure you would like to think that the company spent the first night celebrating till the wee hours of dawn, getting rowdy, meeting new people and going to strange places; but no. Exhausted from the trip out, Justin and Co. had a meager dinner, refreshing showers, and called it a night. After all, they had people who were depending on them to stream the speeches made by those portraying some of Middle-earth’s most beloved heroes. Besides, sleep never comes so swiftly and easily as it does upon completion of a goal.
FRIDAY AUGUST 30TH
The first sound that woke the company out of slumber this day was Doug’s boisterous curses as he dropped his newly opened cask of crystallized coffee. Days earlier he knew he’d be in a big city, and foreseeing the need to stay awake mixed with the problem of long coffee lines, had purchased a small cask of crystallized coffee from a peddler while Shadowfax was being fueled. While opening it for the first time that morning, his fumbling sausage fingers had tipped it out onto the carpet of their lovely room. In the most heavily trod section of the room was a small, dark pile of dried coffee that almost instantly began to melt in the humid air. Doug sheepishly called for the chambermaid to come clean it up, profusely apologizing all the while. However it was almost impossible not to step in the coffee zone, for its location was in a place you had to traverse even to leave the room, let alone to use the facilities. Soon there were sticky, coffee-colored footprints all over the room. That patch of carpet was never the same. You didn’t read this for the coffee stain story however, so I will move on.
DragonCon! It opened to them in its fully-revealed splendor, now that the workweek was coming to a close. Justin headed off with the crystal slab in tow to catch the Hobbit cast panel, where Graham McTavish, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, and Manu Bennett would be making an appearance, to talk about their time spent at work on the Hobbit trilogy , and tell stories of the good times they had. Doug and Ryan headed out to make some sense of all the chaos, also with a crystal slab. They walked the streets and buildings that made up DragonCon, interviewing its inhabitants and generally adding to the ruckus. Katalena donned one of her disguises and dissipated into the throng, for that’s what burglars do best.
They met back together later that night, in a re-imagining of what ‘An Evening in Bree’ would look like, hosted by DragonCon’s Tolkien Track (which is run by TheOneRing’s own MrCere). Many there had dressed up in the fashions of the time, and for a spell danced away the evening with traditional song and dance, provided by musicians Emerald Rose. Then they took part in a costume contest, MC-ed by Graham McTavish, William Kircher and Sylvester McCoy. Doug got so caught up in the atmosphere he even challenged Graham to a friendly arm wrestle! He was politely refused, which was fine, as he had not a chance of winning in the first place. Everyone was laughing, singing, dancing, and generally having a jolly time. The hour was late before the festivities wound down, and the company retired after a toe-tapping first day.
Before going to sleep that night, Doug and Ryan traveled to an inn down the road to meet up with representatives from Cryptozoic Entertainment, a table-top gaming company. They gifted them with games such as The Hobbit: An Unexpected journey, and The Two Towers Deck Building Game, to learn and share throughout the event. They stayed up deep into the night pouring over these table-top games, learning how to play, but more importantly how to share.
SATURDAY AUGUST 31ST
In what would seem to become the norm at DragonCon, Justin and Co. were awakened not by their natural clocks, but by a loud noise. A wordless roar was sounding from outside. Sliding back the curtains and opening the door, it was revealed to be a parade; a parade made up of all the hard-working men and women who had spent the year leading up to this event preparing costumes fit for a ball, or a battlefield, or a rowdy party. While the others were still stirring, Doug grabbed a crystal slab and headed out the door, promising to be back when it was over.
He walked the city streets drinking in the sights and sounds; for it was only here you could catch jedi mock-battling wizards, or demons walking arm-in-arm with angels. He nudged his way through the crowd until he found a likely spot, then spewed an unending commentary to the slab of crystal in his hand as the parade chugged past at a leisurely pace. As the last stormtrooper walked past waving, the parade was finished; the orderly streets became a wriggling mass of humanity as everyone struggled to get back to their rooms, or to meet up for a late breakfast. When he finally got back to the hotel, sweaty and tired, he found that the automated people lifter located in the lobby was backed up to the point of madness. So he did what any sensible dwarf would do; he walked the eighteen flights of stairs to the company’s room. Maybe it was the amount of fun he was having interacting with the crystal slab, or maybe the heat had gotten to his head, but he didn’t realize he had passed his floor until the stairs stopped at twenty-two flights. Sheepish was his return.
The company had not been idle in Doug’s absence. Justin was out sharing “The Beginner’s Guide to the Silmarillion”, a panel of value to most, if not all, Ringers. Ryan was practising his best grumpy wizard faces in the mirror, and Katalena was putting the finishing touches on another one of her disguises. Doug and Ryan left in no time at all to haunt the Gaming Hall; a vast cavernous space used for the decimation of foes, the building of camaraderie among parties, and general magick mischievery. Ryan set up the crystal slab to stream, while Doug set up The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to play with passer-byes. There they spent a lion’s share of the afternoon, teaching fellow gamers how to play this most excellent of board games. When the mood struck them to play something else, they pulled out the old classic: Epic Spell Wars! Ryan loves this game, for what do wizards love more than pretending to cast the spells they already know? They even learned a secret technique called “The Cooty Bomb” from a fellow wizard named Cooty. If you wish to learn this technique contact Wizard Ryan in his lofty, secluded home.
They wrapped up their table with many a hearty handshake and warm words of friendship; it’s amazing how quickly one can bond around shared interest. They then prepared for the night. Just like in nature, when the sun goes down diurnal creatures go to sleep, and the time of the nocturnal has arrived. The evening before was a genteel evening in Bree; lined up for this evening? A Rowdy Dwarven Dance Party, dj-ed by TheOneRing’s own staffer deej! “They’ve Taken the Hobbits to Isengard” isn’t a tune for everyone, but when all of Middle-earth is dancing to it, and you can pick up Hobbits and pretend to take them to Isengard – well, you simply have to join in the wild rumpus. Justin was up on the stage hyping the party. Katalena was sneaking through the crowd, presumably cutting purse-strings or some such thing. Doug was by the water barrels, chugging some after every dance, and growling at anybody who got too close. Ryan was, well Ryan was channeling all of his arcane power into his insane dance moves.
In all the long-winded histories passed down from master wizards to apprentices, there has never been such an unleashing of magic via dance moves as there was that night. It’s as if the protective layer of grumpiness surrounding Ryan hadn’t been a defense mechanism at all, but a way of storing incoming energy to be unleashed at the time of his choosing. He chose that night. He danced with “Party Thranduil” til Thrandy had to take a breather. He then moved to “Party Sauron”, complete with “Party Eye of Sauron”, and danced with them until they bowed out and mumbled something about being too tired to search for the One. He even danced with Thorin and Co. until they left with smiles and shakes of their heads, saying they needed to “save their strength for the dragon”. He danced himself straight into bed, where he promptly fell fast asleep; for no one could shake him awake.
Doug had started a game of “The Hobbit” out in the lobby with some Ringers he had met up with in the dance party. They made a tremendous Thorin and Co., getting through the Misty Mountains without a hitch.
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 1ST
An exasperated “UGH” woke them up that day. It was Katalena, and she had tread upon the vile territory of the coffee carpet in her socks. Though it had been cleaned, the damage was too deep to be wholly erased. The sticky coffee had ingrained itself into the fabric of the carpet, and even as the company watched it continued to spread as if alive. Something had to be done, lest every article of clothing they held dear end up with dreaded coffee stains. Springing forth like a man who had not danced for four hours straight the night before, Ryan grabbed the components capable of holding back the sludgy tide. Pixie sticks; “Only sweet can hold back the bitter!” he exclaimed. With three jumbo pixie sticks blessed by the sugar priests of “Sweet” Hollywood, he formed a triangle of imprisonment around the vile stain, keeping it from moving past those artificially sweet borders. He then sealed it with a wrapped Twinkie in the center, completing the ritual.
The two panels being showcased today were “Previewing The Desolation of Smaug” and “Hobbit Drinking Songs”. Justin left to make sure they were covered. Doug and Ryan went back to the Gaming Hall for another round of Cryptozoic gaming, Katalena joining them for a while, but disappearing when they turned their backs. They didn’t worry overmuch; she was more than capable, and dressed in another one of her hand-made disguises. Doug played games for hours, with Ryan interjecting advice and being the technomancer for the crystal slab. It was the final evening of DragonCon, so they made the best of their time in the Gaming Hall. Then they headed to dinner. Ryan had picked the restaurant, and surprise, surprise, wizards love jazz. With good reason, too; dinner at the Juke Joint left them all physically full and spiritually refreshed. They felt more than capable of handling the last night at DragonCon.
It was in the air, you could feel it vibrating through your skull as you walked the city streets. It seemed we had just gotten here, yet it was about to be all over. We knew that, and everyone else knew that too. Doug had a taste for drink that night, and a very specific drink at that. So specific he dragged Ryan, who had the crystal slab, through three different inns until he found the beer he had been looking for. When dwarves want a specific ale, they get it. Since they were already out and about, they decided to see the sights and sounds of the final night. The sights proved to be many and varied, and the sounds proved to be loud and overpowering. At one point a fire alarm was set off at one of the inns! For Doug’s first con it was quite the experience. Towards the end of the night they met up with some fellow ringers, and passed the time together. They split with promises to see each other the next year, and tales of what they were doing for The Desolation of Smaug later that year.
The company went to bed shortly after, with packing up heavy on the mind.
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 2ND
Justin and Co. arose sluggishly, knowing in their minds that it was over. All that was left now was the packing. In record time they had the room ship-shape, and were heading out to the elevators.
Once they got down to the vendor stall to tear down, Justin had to leave for one final panel, “Hobbit Guests Talk Tolkien & Beyond”. Ryan and Doug took a rare moment of rest to sit by the wayside, listening to music and people watching. Soon the last sale was made by TORn staffers deej, greendragon and Thorongil, who had been hard at work at the vendor stall all weekend, and it was time to tear it down. It didn’t take too long; there wasn’t much to pack up because of the overwhelming support the community had shown in the purchasing of merchandise.
Loading the truck and hitting the road was the order of the day. The open road once again calling them; this time, however, the company wasn’t fresh and bright-eyed. They were beginning to feel the toll their journey was taking on them. However, they had tackled the “There”; now it was time to handle the “Back Again” portion. What better way than to kick it off than with a twenty-four hour drive? – Albuquerque being the goal. Justin started off driving, and they drove deep into the night, and on into the next day.
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 3RD
The sun starts to peep over the horizon, and three of the four passengers in Shadowfax start to stir. The fourth was already awake; he had been awake all night long, driving. He’d stayed up through sheer force of will and cussedness, but now he needed to rest. They stopped for breakfast and switched drivers, then continued to drive all day. The goal of Albuquerque was to be reached at 6pm that day, where they would camp for the night and head to Denver the next day to drop off Katalena. All was well until they entered New Mexico, and storm clouds were ahead. Camping was once again ripped from their grasp, and Doug was much dismayed. They entered into council together, and it was decided that they would drive the additional six hours to Denver that night; a tall order which, if they worked together, they could reach.
It was well into moon-rise when they dropped Katalena off. There was no fanfare, no pompous speeches nor grandiose gestures; only weary travelers dropping off one of their kind. She was overjoyed to be back, and they were overjoyed finally to get some rest. They went back to Best Western Denver to sleep amongst the dino bones.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 4TH
The dawn arose, and with it the original trio of Justin and Co. rose as well, with a steely determination in their eyes. One more twenty-four hour drive, one more push, and then home. Driving during the day isn’t so bad, as there are people on the crystal slab interacting, the sun keeps you awake, and your companions keep the talk interesting. The night, however, is the bane of all travelers. Ryan up until this point had been resting sullen in the back seat, lost in deep wizard thought, or maybe fond thoughts of home. He hadn’t driven much; however, when Doug said in the small hours of the morning that he could no longer drive, he leapt into action. Summoning from another realm the energizing tunes of the Aquabats, he assumed the role of captain and drove till past dawn.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 5TH
Such was the last push of Ryan’s driving that it’s still happening when we meet back up with the company. Only when his strength began to fail dangerously did he give control over to Justin, who then brought them all home: There and Back Again.
Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Available Now – http://www.cryptozoic.com/games/hobbit-unexpected-journey
Best Western Denver Southwest “Dino Hotel”
…And ALL the Ringers who donated, and helped us out with food, coffee, and lodging along the way. This was as much your trip as it was ours!