Note: It took a little persuading, but Leah agreed to write a blog post! Here’s her take on our recent road trip. Thank you, Leah!
My mom’s is decisively the best memory for (auto)biographical details. I think I have a reasonable memory, but generally for numbers. For instance, on our recent road trip, my mom and I stayed in room 211 in Rapid City, SD, and 218 in Rochester, MN. 222 in South Bend, IN. I share that mostly to illustrate that if you want qualitative details, she’s your gal, not me. But, she’s asked me to provide some thoughts on our recent trip, and after enough reverse psychology (“I know you won’t write anything,” she said multiple times), I finally assented.
Though my mom and I technically had the same experiences during the road trip – we stopped at the same locations, ate at the same restaurants – it represented very different things. She was on a road trip, while I was closing one chapter of my life and heading into the great unknown of a new one. And in that sense, for me, the road trip began in September 2016. That was when I started looking seriously for jobs. It really got serious when I thought I was going to leave Seattle at the end of January, though I actually stayed, in limbo, until the end of March. At that point, I tetris-ed* my belongings into the car, and said my goodbyes. (*I’m using tetris as a verb here because I think using a word like “pack” would not do justice to the monumental effort it took to get everything into the car, with room for two passengers and my mom’s bags, too.)
The morning we left, it was rainy and grey. I said a last, highly emotional goodbye, and drove to pick up my mom from her hotel, trying to hold it together. Honestly, the most contentious moment of the trip probably happened within the first two minutes when my mom chirped “Bye Seattle!!” I quickly replied, “If you want me not to be sobbing while driving, then how about we not say any more goodbyes?” She agreed, and I actually pleasantly surprised myself – there was no sobbing for the rest of the trip. That alone could constitute a victory!
Our first day we made great time, stopping for a light lunch in Spokane, crossing into Montana, grabbing an iced tea at a recommended café in Missoula, and finally coming to rest in Butte. Rest was about all Butte was good for, best I could tell, and I was pleased to hightail it out of town early the next morning. That next day, Montana’s big sky greeted us as Springsteen sang us eastward. We crisscrossed mountains and valleys, relishing the meandering streams and rocky crags we passed. The burgers we had for lunch in Billings got top marks, and they literally fueled us as we headed slightly south. In Wyoming, I had never seen so much nothingness. Well, not nothingness, but no sign of humans, that’s for sure. Rolling hills with snow-capped mountains in the distance made for a pretty landscape, but it was so isolated. We were also highly amused by a weather front while in Wyoming, which is not something I ever thought I’d say. It was clearly raining a bit in front of us, but the scale of the land made us completely unable to identify where the rain was. We kept saying, “I think we’ll be in it when we crest this next hill” or “I think the rain is coming down on that ridge.” We were wrong so many times! Though we did ultimately hit the rain, it was amusingly disorienting to be so thrown off by the scale of the landscape and sky.
Ultimately, we ended that second day by winding our way through the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills were unexpectedly stunning. While I was anticipating being wowed by Mount Rushmore (and I was), I did not realize that it was located in the midst of a Yosemite-eqsue landscape. Dark, granite spires with scattered evergreen trees shone in the glorious setting sunlight. It was a special time to be in the park as it was off-season and the end of the day, so we got to experience the monument with only a handful of other visitors. We spent the night in Rapid City, SD just outside the park, managing to avoid hitting the many, many deer we saw nibbling the grass on the side of the road. I attribute this successful avoidance of deer to my ongoing conversation with them: I just calmly and repeatedly told the deer, who definitely could not hear me, that I did not want to hit them and if they just stayed where they were we’d all be fine.
The next day – day 3 – we hit our first stretch of truly lousy weather. As we drove through the emptiest stretch of country I’ve ever seen, the rain, sky, land, and road spray all joined together in various shades of drab. It was like purgatory: everything was empty and sad, and you drove forever and never seemed to get anywhere. I swear when we hit the end of the rain around the time we crossed the Missouri River I couldn’t help but cheer. That day we saw the Corn Palace and the Jolly Green Giant, which were strange and welcome breaks from the driving, and ended the night with a delicious dinner and a restful night in Rochester, MN.
Day 4 I’d happily erase from my memory, aside from a delectable lunch in Madison, WI. Let’s just say that after hemming and hawing about how to best avoid traffic in the greater Chicago area, we went 70 miles out of our way to avoid said traffic, and ended up in a big ol’ traffic jam anyway. Plus rain. Plus truly boring scenery. Blerg. Getting to our hotel that night didn’t go exactly as planned, either. Instead of plugging in the address of our hotel, I managed to just plug in “South Bend.” When my GPS cheerily displayed “You have reached your destination!” we realized we were just at a random intersection at the exact center of South Bend. We had a good laugh about that. And ultimately, we were rewarded when we did get to the hotel because our room was incredibly swanky! It was entirely unexpected, but it had a gas fireplace, two bathrooms, and two king-sized beds. Needless to say, that was a highly welcome surprise after a rough day on the road.
Day 5 was a long but rewarding day. We initially planned to stay overnight in Buffalo, but we hit slightly better weather than expected, found a much better rest stop than expected, and with the Weather Master’s approval we decided to keep driving ‘til we finally made it home after a full 12 hours on the road. (To claify: I refer to my dad as the Weather Master.)
If you haven’t driven on I-90 through western New York to Albany, you might not know that the landscape changes around Utica. In truth, western New York is pretty boring to drive through, but about an hour outside of Albany you start to hit these beautiful hills and mountains. That stretch of the Thruway always reminds me of driving home from college. I never appreciated the Hudson Valley’s beauty when I lived in Albany, but that landscape always told me I was almost home.
In many ways, my road trip is still not over. I’m home, but I’m not home. In about a week, I will be headed to Boston, and two weeks after that I will start a new job. There are so many questions and possibilities for the future, and whatever comes next, I imagine that I will always be comforted and a little thrown off by coming home.