DISCLAIMER: This will be long and filled with a lot of pictures and stories and that kind of thing, I documented a lot of this and it's still a jumbled but fresh mess in my mind...
And without any further interruptions until I inevitably get side-tracked, let's proceed with the the feature of the night, otherwise known as bfx travels the country.
Our first stop was in Erie, PA where we got a lunch at one of the micro-breweries in the area. Erie is the place where my depression and previous emotional issues first arose due to a horrible job and living arrangement so I was none-too-excited to be there...however, I had the most interesting and fun experience at this pub. There was an old English gentleman there who happened to be visiting a lot of friends on the East coast. Very interesting and well-spoken and interested in beer (and not afraid to share his opinion). Who would have thought I would meet a retired Episcopalian English Priest from somewhere in England within four hours of leaving home.
That is more or less where we camped for the night, it was the only privately owned camp that we stayed at and it was this weird city of campers and RVs where we were about the only people in a tent. It seemed like a childhood I never experienced. Final destination for the night: Central Indiana.
No pictures on this day. We drove to an area close to my friends family where we would spend the night. Ended up meeting one of her cousins who coincidentally went to college in the city I'm moving to, used to work in the beer industry, and is a saxophonist who is into punk music. Maybe that's my future (except the saxophone thing)?
The best part about the day was getting to know her uncle, a white man who grew up in Cape Town and become an architect in America. Their is a certain mannerism and deliberate way of speaking that appeals to me and this man possessed it. Even the most mundane of things came off as interesting, but fortunately this was a guy who designed and worked on the development of college campuses across a lot of places and experienced parts of the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Unfortunately he didn't delve into that very much. I was surrounded by vegetarians on this day which was great.
We ventured into Chicago via the metra and this is the first thing I see once we're in the city:
A bit disappointing being there right after the parade and not experiencing that directly. Ohmygod did we do a lot of walking that day, because my friend is a bit city and public transportation averse which meant we didn't see nearly as much of the actual neighborhoods as I would have liked. Mainly stayed in the downtown area but I did get to catch these buildings which I'm sure thenewgreen will appreciate:
They won in the category of "things I found that I wasn't actually looking for". Another interesting thing happened: I was talking to the waitress at this super-hip/chic urban pizza place we went to and it turns out her boyfriend is from the next city over from where we grew up. I swear, everybody has connections in Central New York. Chicago is a cool city but I do wish I saw more of it.
Oh - you know - there was one more thing I intended on sharing here. On the metra ride back I eavesdropped on a conversation happening a seat away from us. This older, white gentleman was talking to a younger professionally dressed Indian lady and I made note of a lot of things:
This guy was a natural-born storyteller. His attentiveness to the conversation was something you rarely see, not breaking eye contact, pauses for emphasis and a manner of speaking that is based more on recalling things than filling the emptiness with "uhs" and "uhms" and being perfectly fine with a minute of silence between things. They talked about life a lot and some of her struggles and he shared a wonderful story about how he met Elizabeth Taylor and spent an hour with her when he was younger, and didn't even know it until after. There are still some people out there with a certain magic in them and this guy had it both in his speaking and the look in his eye.
Tons of driving on this day and I don't have any pictures of our campground because it was entirely unremarkable and used just for setting up camp for the night in South Dakota. But earlier in the day we stopped twice, once in Minnesota and once in Wisconsin.
Of course there's a great brewery that only distributes its beer in the state of Wisconsin...and that's New Glarus Brewing.
Such an amazing view from a farmhouse brewery in the middle of nowhere. The stranger of the day was a middle aged lady I talked to who happened to live in Madison and was making notes of all the beers she was drinking. From talking to her and from her obvious accent it came to light that she was originally from Southeastern Massachusetts so we shared some stories about that part of the state since I was working and living out there the year before.
It's a long, boring drive in this stretch of the country. It's very flat, it's dry, and if it wasn't for windmills there wouldn't be a single thing worth looking at along that stretch of I-90. Fortunately my phone is stocked with a bunch of podcasts (looking at you, Judge John Hodgeman and My Brother, My Brother, and Me). The country starts to change though. Things become less green. They get very flat and brown and then the hills follow. You start to see shades of brown and red and orange that are remarkably unfamiliar. It was at that point I started to realize just how far from home I was going. Final destination: Southeastern South Dakota.
When you drive across the entire state of South Dakota there are some things worth seeing. The first of which is Badlands National Park.
All of a sudden you're surrounded by this green fields that refresh your mind, and peaks and valleys of rock that seem like they're out of a science fiction movie. We did not hike here because of how far we had to go, but there is an entire loop that you can drive through and I can tell you this: It was the first truly beautiful bit of nature we came across on this trip.
Our next stop was the city of Rapid Falls, South Dakota to stop by a brewery and see the area. Any city with an alley like this is okay with me.
And then we found our campground a couple of hours after that. Things started to get very hot but our campground had a great view and was nestled right by a river. Downside: This was easily the buggiest campground I had ever experienced.
We went exploring and found a town about ten miles away with a few thousand people in it:
Oddities: Two blocks of actual town, with almost everything closed by 5pm. We did find a BBQ joint that was still open and was way newer than everywhere else in town. It was about the first time they had had some New Yorkers. When we left we noticed a small group of people with some staff lined up right outside. Apparently tonight was the inaugural beer run, where you run a mile or two with a different challenge every week, and at the end you get a free pint there. Ended up talking to the co-owners and it turns out one of them grew up near Seattle, WA and had lived about an hour east of where we lived in New York from 1992-1995.
Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse National Monuments, respectively. So. That area is really weird because you're in the middle of these huge hills / small mountains which your car is horrible at and you're worried it's going to break at any moment and then suddenly things start to get really touristy. Old west style buildings and attractions everywhere, and just kind of a sleezy feel but I'm sure children love it. Rushmore was cool to see but the viewing area was almost too polished. Crazy Horse was more interesting to me because they aren't accepting federal or state funds, only private donations. Due to that it's not anywhere close to done despite being under construction since 1948 when Korczak Ziolkowski started sculpting it by himself. It's certainly a side of history you don't see or hear much about. At Mount Rushmore a man was next to me and just started talking to me. Older, very red, and with a raspy voice he went on about the plight of the Native Americans and how the white man had no right to commit the atrocities they committed. It was out of nowhere, especially from a guy who came from the backwoods of Alabama. But he was genuine, incredibly genuine, wishing God to bless me and everything. I rather enjoyed the talk and couldn't imagine any other situation like this occurring.
Nice little campground by a stream for the night except for the fact that there was a severe thunderstorm which is not fun when you're in a tent.
You know what's a cool site?
The Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. It's the first mountain range we really came across and it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Grand Teton as a whole was a beautiful park, you end up driving past this mountain range with green pastures and a lot of wildlife and surprising amount of traffic.
Yellowstone blew me away though. It's a huge park and we stayed in one of the bigger tenting areas which had this:
Which is where I spent a lot of time in the water and exploring. I ended up talking to a man and wife while my friend went exploring a different area and it turns out he is an instructor in the Civil Engineering department at BYU. Who would have thought you would come across a person like that on a log in a river at Yellowstone. Seemed like an incredibly smart person, complete with a PhD in Urban Planning and everything.
I arrived just in time to see Old Faithful go off too, which was surrounded by an extraordinary amount of people.
It was cool to see, but just way too framed and not as interesting to me as other hot springs and areas of Yellowstone we were able to see.
This was the view of camp for the night.
Oh wait there was one more thing! Bison are huge and don't care about you and will do whatever they please and it's kind of terrifying.
This one crossed between my car and the person behind me.
The second to last day. A lot of driving. Too much driving. But we did get to see Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park which was the most scenic lake I have seen to date.
It's even more impressive in person. Not much else really happened on this day, I learned that I can withstand driving through all of Montana on isolated state highways without losing my mind which is a nice accomplishment I guess.
Last day! HOLY GOD IT WAS HOT. I MEAN, LIKE 100°F AND HOTTER BETWEEN SPOKANE AND SEATTLE. AND EASTERN AND CENTRAL WASHINGTON IS A HORRIBLE DESERT ESQUE PLACE AND THEN YOU END UP IN TRAFFIC FOR TWO HOURS BECAUSE A WILDFIRE HAPPENS DUE TO THE STUPID HEAT. OH, AND YOUR CAR DOESN'T HAVE A/C THAT WORKS SO IT'S THAT MUCH MORE FUN.
But now I'm living in this incredible city and immensely enjoying my time here before I move to Tacoma and my job starts.
Total Days Spent Travelling: 9 days
Mileage: Over 3,000 miles.
Memories: A lot.
A lot was learned on this trip. I learned that maybe I'm not as introverted as I would like to think. I spent a lot of time talking to strangers and finding it an enjoyable experience to get to know people from all walks of life, and find it fascinating how connected everyone is. I think this was the perfect time in my life to do a trip like this because it taught me that people are nicer and more kind than I give them credit for. Maybe, just maybe, if we can avoid talking about religion and politics and putting things into that spectrum we would all get along a lot better. Because really, in the end, it seems like everyone is looking for some sort of happiness and something to keep them occupied. Be it a roadtrip, camping adventure, or a new business in the middle of Wyoming. Thanks for reading this, and I think the trip has changed me for the better.