Saturday, October 29, 2016

Lessons Learned from a 12,000 Mile Trip of a Life Time Across America, July - September, 2016

Lessons Learned from a Trip of a Life Time Across America, July 8, 2016 to September 21, 2016

We did it, we drove back and forth and up and down the country during the summer of 2016. In July we sold our house, put everything in storage and headed west. I have been through the bottom and the middle of the country but had always wanted to travel the northern route, up though the Black Hill and Montana. As we were getting closer to the sale of our house and what should we do Louise reminded me about my interest in the Lewis & Clark journey. Why don't we do that with some side trips to the National Parks. And it is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service so what about that.
Red going west and blue returning east.

So that is what we did. Somewhat by design and somewhat by how life works we also had a hole open up in our lives. I had been winding down my business, moved it home and now that we are selling the house we decided to put a hold on buying one and take a break. Everything worked, our car, our car's air conditioning, the road, no accidents or injury's. We got there and back.

We traveled about 12,000 miles over 2 1/5 months. Driving from Boston, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington, down to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, up to Yosemite and Yellowstone, to Montana, northern Michigan, Chicago then back to Massachusetts. We traveled in a Subaru Forrester staying mostly in mid-priced hotels and occasionally camping. We planned on doing more camping but it was just so hot that we couldn't. We debated about some kind of RV but for this trip we used just the car. If we had a small RV it might have been more comfortable when we just needed a nap but the car is what we did.

Grand Teton National Park, striking and beautiful.

The most beautiful place, maybe Grand Tetons National Park. The most desolate, northeastern Wyoming. For Louise it was the Westport Hotel along Route 1 in Westport, California, just a beautiful place on the California coast. But we saw many, many beautiful places. I was just amazed with the wheat fields in Western Montana, I had no idea. They are Huuuuuuuge.

Lessons from the Road
• A small, 6 pack size cooler that goes in between and behind the front seats is perfect. Put in some cheese, a couple of drinks, some apples and a yogurt with ice from the hotel and you are ready to go. My original thought was for a big one but the big ones are just to big.

• Get your financial life in order. We were able to pay all our bills from the road, mostly online. But it takes some effort to get this all straight. We also had a PO Box.

• Prescription sunglasses, the best decision. I have never been a sunglasses person and need to wear glasses to drive. Before leaving I got an exam and two pairs of glasses, regular and sunglasses. The sun is so much brighter in the west than the east and for half the trip we drove into it. Glasses worked great

• This one can be hard, but try not to set dates to visit people. This is your trip, not theirs. It is amazing how a date even weeks out can ripple back on you if you are doing a wandering type of trip like this. A number of times we ended up hanging around places waiting to get together when in reality we would have just moved on. Put your visits at the end when you are coming home.

• Visit sites in the morning, travel in the afternoon. Drive to where you will be visiting tomorrow.

• works fantastic for hotel rooms. We didn't really have any places we had to be. We would just pick a hotel once we got some place. I used the web and phone app Select a city or area, bring up the hotels and pick one. It worked great.

• Pick rooms with king size beds. We found those rooms to be better. The beds weren't so beat, somewhere on that mattress is a good spot. Queen size rooms the mattresses often seemed well used.

• Apple Maps or Google Maps on your phone are amazing. We used Apple Maps all over the country for all our directions. I also carried individual state paper maps from AAA for the big picture. But used the maps on the phone for daily travel. Travel services from AAA are free if you are a member.

• Small individual packs of cheese along with an apple can give you a very nice boost in the afternoon. Coffee in the morning, a cold juice in the afternoon. We also sometime ate at the food bars in grocery stores. You get what you want.

• Three meals a day in restaurants is a recipe for gaining weight. Still working on getting that off.

• Having a rough route really helps, I used the route from Julie Fanselow's book Traveling the Lewis & Clark Trail. It worked great. Her book took us to many places we would have never gone. With that rough route we then took side trips to national parks. Some people use Routes 66 or Route 6 to cross the country. But kind of knowing where you are going keeps you on a path.

• Car phone charger is a must, a small LED flash light is a must. Keep these with you all the time.

• To keep track of when to pay the bills I carried a paper chart with dates I paid and needed to pay, along with a monthly calendar. To many moving parts. You don't want to miss your car or health insurance payments. Most people these days keep all this in their phone but being able to scribble on paper really helped. I did prepay some bills, others I paid as we went. I kept a file with passwords and key info. We also staged a duplicate set with a relative just in case.

• A roll of paper towels, a bottle of Windex, a set of folding chairs, nice to just sit sometimes along a river, and a beach blanket. There are beach blanket with a plastic side and a cloth side, they are waterproof and work great.

• This is a big one. Figure out where your stuff goes and then put it back into that spot every time. Same spot every time, every day, always. It takes a little bit to figure out where these spots are but if you don't you will loose your stuff. This applies for your car and your person. For me car keys in left pocket, phone in right, my backpack behind the drivers seat. Louse, backpack behind the passenger, my suite case on the left, Louise's on the right.

• Bring your own laundry soap and a pile of quarters. We actually kept all our quarters in the pocket on one of the passenger doors. We did laundry in a number of hotels. It worked great.

• We took one camera, the iPhone, we each had one. I debated about what camera to bring and finally just settled on the iPhone. It worked great, for a phone, directions, internet, posting on Facebook and Instagram

• I also took a small MacBook Air for keeping up with my bills and for keeping a blog of the trip. It is light and connects everywhere. Include a small bag for all your chargers.

• Car phone charger is a must, a small LED flash light is a must.

• I used Google's Blogger platform for keeping a daily journal. I was going to keep a journal book and even made one, but the online blog worked better. It takes time, often about an hour a night. Louise would sleep and I would blog. But then people can follow and we can remember where we went.

• For social media I used Facebook and Instagram. I would blog and then repost the post on my Facebook page. I was surprised how many people followed the trip. I would also Instagram and share across my Facebook page.

• Have your credit card company send you notices on your phone when you use your card. Great way to keep track of what is being charged. Moving your financial life on line is a bit of work to do but is essential if you are going out on a long trip.

September 20-21, 2016, The Home Stretch, Holyoke, Mass and the Famous WEBS-America's Yarn Store

September 20-21, 2016, The Home Stretch, Holyoke, Mass and the Famous WEBS-America's Yarn Store, and driving to the end of our trip.

If we really wanted to we could be back on the east coast today, but we have one more stop after crossing the Mass, New York border. Louise loves to knit and the mecca of knitters is WEBS-America's Yarn Store in Northampton, MA. This is a yarn store that buses of knitters show up to. it is huge and much loved. And we are driving right by it, it is just off the Mass Turnpike. So one more night, we stay in Holyoke, MA and then on the 2st we visit WEBS.

It is a funny feeling crossing back into Massachusetts. Our license plate now matches all the other cars, we have come home. We sometime got funny comments on the road when people see your license plate from the other side of the country. Especially from the Rangers at National Parks, they are always looking. But we are back in our world, but we actually have no home to go to as we sold it in July. We are here but there is no here. With the good fortune of a friend we have a house to stay at in Rhode Island for the next few months while we look for a new home. 

We leave WEBS and head to Rhode Island and the end of our trip.

Crossing into Massachusetts on the Mass Pike.

Stopping at the first rest stop along the Mass Pike.

September 18-19, 2016 Toledo Ohio, Fleitz Pumpkin Farm, Maumee Bay State Park, Oregon, OH and Jamestown, New York

September 18-19, 2016 Toledo Ohio, Visiting Fleitz Pumpkin Farm and Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, OH and stopping in Jamestown, New York.

Leaving Chicago we continued heading east along Interstate 90. We know we are coming to the end of the trip and we are more in a lets burn to get it done mode than wandering. The weather is nice and we make great time. For the night we stop in Toledo.

On Monday we head east with a couple of stops. That has been our habit. We drive and if we see something interesting from the road we stop and visit. It has been a great way to discover new and fun places. Close to our hotel we found the Fleitz Pumpkin Farm in Oregon, Ohio. This is a family fun farm with corn mazes, pumpkins, rides, goats and lots of apple cider. It was fun just seeing all the different kinds of gourds and pumpkins they have. If you are in the northern Ohio along Lake Erie region check it out. Pretty close to the farm and also in oregon along the shore of Lake Erie is the Maumee Bay State Park. This is just a nice 1,300 acre state park with a two mile interpretative board walk through the forest and marshes along the shore. It was a nice break from the road.

Getting back on the road we headed east, cutting through the top of Pennsylvania and into New York. We have hit the east coast. We stopped in Jamestown, New York for the night.

Pumpkins along the road at Fleitz Pumpkin Farm.

I liked how they organized pumpkins and gourds around the grounds.

Standing by the pumpkin measuring stick.
Walking along the board walk in Maumee Bay State Park, OH.

Bruce and Louise at Maumee Bay State Park, Oregon, OH.
Getting gas at Love's truck stop. We stopped at a lot of truck stops along our journey.

We are back in New York, getting close to the east coast.

September 16-17, 2016 Drive to Bloomington and Chicago, Illinois, Crazy Amount of Traffic

September 16-17, 2016 Drive to Bloomington and Chicago, Illinois, Crazy Amount of Traffic

We are closing in on the end of our cross country trip and squeezing in some visiting. Both Louise and I have some relatives and friends in the Chicago area so time for a little visiting. First up is one of Louise's cousins who lives outside of Bloomington, Illinois. They haven't seen each other in 42 years, we had a great visit and had a lot of catching up. It is amazing how similar she is with her cousin Steven.

Hanging with Louise's cousins

On the 17th we drove up to Chicago for lunch with friends and then dinner with one of my cousins and her mother, my aunt. I also hadn't seen my cousin for around 20 years. Again some great catching up. We had a great visit and some excellent meals. Oh ya, the traffic around Chicago is way busy. We have spent so much time out in the west and away from cities that there is always a little readjusting to busy city driving. It was a great weekend and gave us a lot of wonderful memories.

Friday, October 28, 2016

September 15, 2016 Drive Length of Michigan to Joliet Illinois, the Prison and the Blues Brothers and Route 66

September 15, 2016 Drive Length of Michigan to Joliet Illinois, the Prison and the Blues Brothers.

Leaving Mackinaw City we headed south through Michigan down to Joliet, Illinois. We have some friends and relatives in the Chicago area and want to get close so we could visit. All I knew of Joliet was from Jake and Elwood and 1980 crime comedy The Blues Brothers movie. This is where it takes place and it is also home of the famous Joliet Prison. This is an old industrial town south of Chicago. Rivers, canals and trains all meet and go through this area. The town is a little rough now but in the day this was a transportation center. 

We visited the Joliet Area Historical Museum which also houses a Route 66 museum and items from the Blues Brothers movie. The museum is nice and covers the history of the city along with several special exhibits like the Route 66 and one on John Houbolt who was a key engineer on the Apollo Moon lander. We also visited the Joliet Prison. You can't get in but you can drive around and there are interpretive displays in the parking lot. This prison was active from 1858 to 2002 and was one of the worst prisons in the country. Hugely overcrowded and cruel with terrible facilities like no running water in 1910. All of the ideas we think about with terrible prisons were somewhat created because of this place. It is built out of yellow limestone and now used as a TV or movie set. Just be thankful you never ended up here.

Joliet Area Historical Museum, Route 66 and the Blues Brothers

Inside the Joliet Museum, exhibit showing the building of the Illinois and Michigan Cannal

Hanging with the Blues Brothers

Outside the Joliet Prison in Joliet, Illinois

Entrance to the Joliet Prison

September 13-14, 2016 Fargo, North Dakota to Ashland, Wisconsin along Lake Superior, Mackinaw City, Michigan

September 13-14, 2016 Fargo, North Dakota to Ashland, Wisconsin along Lake Superior to Mackinaw City, Michigan

We are really in the last week or so of our trip, heading east. My father grew up in Detroit and I use to hear stories of my relatives going up to Mackinaw Island and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Coming out of Fargo we realize we could just keep heading east and we could go visit. For the 12th we drove across Minnesota and then down to Ashland, Wisconsin on the bottom of Lake Superior. Ashland was a center for iron ore and lumber in its hay days. It has a famous 1,800' dock now demolished. Now kind of a nice resort and lake front town. We actually stayed in a nice hotel right on the lake. We also saw this really big fish by the road.

Leaving Ashland we headed across the UP as they call it and crossed the Mackinac Bridge down into the lower part of Michigan. It is a really big bridge. Most of these two days we were just driving. Stopping here and there to look at either Lake Superior or Michigan. There are a lot trees up in this area. There wasn't much to see but it was still cool to go through it.

Standing along the shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula

Bruce and Louise along Lake Superior
Standing under the giant fish in Ashland, Wisconsin

September 12, 2016, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Fort Mandan and the World Largest Buffalo

September 12, 2016, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Fort Mandan, Washburn, North Dakota and the World Largest Buffalo at Frontier Village in Jamestown, North Dakota.

Well remember that missed turn we didn't take in Yellowstone Park, well that worked out. By going back up into Montana we ended up driving further north and decided to straight across to Michigan. Along the way we got to visit one of the most important sites on the Lewis & Clark Trail. Fort Mandan in Washburn, North Dakota. Fort Mandan is where Lewis & Clark spent the winter of 1804-05 and where they also met Sacagawea and her husband Toussaint Charbonneau who translated for the Corp on their journey. Before you get to the fort there is an excellent interpretive center in Washburn, North Dakota, Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. What is kind of cool is they have three very large statues of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea out front.

Leaving the fort we continued driving east along Interstate 94. Along the highway we noticed a giant buffalo off to the right. Another cool road side attraction. This is the Frontier Village and the Worlds Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND. We got there at closing but were able to walk around, the village is kind of cool. They have gathered all manner of antique buildings are artifacts that showcase the pioneers and how they lived. And the giant buffalo which has been watching over Jamestown since 1959 is the coolest. This is also the home of the National Buffalo Museum which includes actual live buffalo.

Entrance to Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn, North Dakota.

Louise standing infront of Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark metal sculptures.

Louise outrunning some buffalo.

Bruce by the giant sculptures.

Exhibit in the museum showing how the Lewis & Clark corp carved out a canoe by hand.

Standing outside the entrance of Fort Mandan, in Washburn, North Dakota

Our guide taking us through Fort Mandan.

Interior cabin at Fort Mandan. Notice the blankets.
Entrance to Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum.

Louise breaking out of jail.

Louise standing in one of a couple of cabooses in the Village.

Outside the National Buffalo Museum.

The worlds largest buffalo statue. I love these things