Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thoughts from a Cross-Country Road Trip

A collection of random thoughts and observations from our 16-day, 7,100 mile, 132 hour road trip around the country:
  • We live in an incredibly beautiful country. I mean, even the supposedly boring parts are incredibly beautiful (e.g. Kansas and South Dakota). Except Ohio. Ohio is boring. I swear this has nothing to do with how many times I've driven through Ohio in the last 24 years. 
  • South Dakota is particularly beautiful. I had no idea. Everything from the rolling hills in the east to the Badlands and the Black Hills in the west definitely made this my surprise favorite drive-through state.
  • Montana's nickname of "Big Sky Country" is no joke. The sky really just feels bigger, and that's probably because of the complete lack of any vegetation. But oh man. I have never felt that small without the presence of stars. 
  • Also, we drove for a good 2-1/2 hours without passing a single house or, more importantly, a gas station in eastern Montana. Thanks Google Maps for not mentioning that fact when you told us to get of I-90.
  • The Mississippi River is huge. That probably goes without saying. But it was not nearly as big or dramatic as the Columbia River in Washington State. You're driving across this incredibly flat and arid farmland that looks like nothing if not the Scottish moors for hours, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you're on the edge of this massive red rock canyon with an unbelievably wide river at the bottom and you just think, "How on earth can we even get across this?" 
  • Seattle was an very friendly city. There's not a ton to see there as a tourist, but everybody was just so nice. Also, the Space Needle is overrated, but the Chihuly blown glass gallery is absolutely incredible. I didn't even know you could do that sort of thing with blown glass.
  • My single favorite moment in Seattle, and possibly of the entire trip, was sitting down after a long day of walking around Seattle in Rachel's Ginger Beer at Pike Place Market and drinking a Montana Mule (ginger beer and whiskey) for a solid forty-five minutes. Talk about delightfully relaxing.
  • All of the coastal roads are beautiful, but US-101 comes nowhere near the coast in Washington, so you might as well wait to get on it until you get into Oregon. 
  • Pretty much all of the West Coast beaches, with a few exceptions, are at the bottom of cliffs. This is very foreign to me, being from the East Coast, so I just thought I'd call it out.
  • Redwoods are very big. And there is a portion of US-101 that winds through them so that it feels like an awesome video game. 
  • Napa is just fun. It really is the only place in the world where people come solely to drink good wine and eat good food, so it feels distinctly European. Plus, it means the food and wine are really, really good. Mmmmmm.
  • San Francisco is very hard to do if you're not with a local. We spent a good 1-1/2 days wandering around the city and felt like we totally missed the real city. We definitely need to go back.
  • However, the tourist stuff in San Francisco is cool too. Alcatraz is awesome, the sea lions are hilarious, and we accidentally were in town for races 3 and 4 of America's Cup, and got to stand at the finish line for both races. In related news, catamarans are awesome.
  • Big Sur would be a lot cooler without being engulfed in fog. Or so I'm told. 
  • Santa Barbara has a ton of shopping. Like, miles and miles of stores, which is only a slight exaggeration. I think people go to Santa Barbara for things other than shopping, but I have no experience of these things.
  • Also, the police department in Psych is a lie. It does not exist. The exterior shot of the police department is nowhere to be found, and boy did we look hard for it. Stupid Vancouver. 
  • Mediocre diner pancakes taste a whole lot better when your toes are in the sand. 
  • Also, I've been trying to avoid mentioning food in these notes, but I had the best sandwich I've ever had at Pickles and Swiss on State Street.
  • If you've never been to Las Vegas, think of every crazy elaborate tourist trap you've ever experienced, and then blow that up to how it could be done if you had unlimited money to make it awesome, and that's Las Vegas. And it really is awesome. Just because it's the mother of all tourist traps doesn't make it any less awesome.
  • You can get an incredible hotel room in Vegas for nothing. But if you want to do things like, I don't know, eat, prepare to spend some serious dough. (Seriously though, our hotel room in the Signature at MGM Grand was a suite with a full kitchen, two bathrooms, a full Jacuzzi, and a balcony. And the TV rose out of the desk with the push of a remote control button and said "Welcome Emily." And it cost $110 a night. No joke.)
  • Utah is gorgeous. But you already knew that.
  • Driving through the Rockies at night is bad. Driving through them in the rain is worse. Driving through them during the Colorado floods of September 2013 means you need to give up and find a hotel in Vail.
  • When you're driving cross-country, and one of your main goals is to see the country, try to plan your days so you don't have to drive at night. In other words, I have no idea what Missouri looks like. 
  • The St. Louis Gateway Arch is actually pretty cool, except it's hard to get a good view if you take I-70 right into the city because you're too busy trying not to drive off a bridge to actually look at it. 
  • The last day of driving on a long trip is the worst, because all you have to look forward to is your own bed. But there is nothing like that feeling of being home and collapsing into your bed. 
Sometime I should share all the incredible food we ate. Maybe I will. But not today.