Friday, July 31, 2009

2 Weeks Later

It's been almost two weeks since I returned from 6000 miles of road with my 12 year old daughter. We drove from Georgia, to Maryland, to North Dakota, to Florida, and back during June and July. We visited 22 states in four weeks, spotted wild bison, and camped more nights than I care to remember. The highlight of the trip was definitely North Dakota. Rachel and I both listed "no air conditioning through Ohio" as the low spot.

This post contains some tips I would give someone crazy enough to attempt this trip with their almost-a-teenager.

Wow, that's a lot of driving! Tips to make the time go faster -- or to slow things down on purpose
From Cross Country 2009
  • join AAA before you go. Hotel discounts and free maps paid for my annual membership.
  • play the license plate game. We spotted 47 states, several Canadian provinces, and a Mexican state before the trip was over.
  • use the state line rest stops to your advantage -- we ate lunch and rested at many of these
  • bring a portable DVD player
  • get a power inverter so you can plug AC devices into your car's cigarette lighter
  • remember that DVDs rented from redbox vending machines can be returned to any other redbox machine. At $1 a night, it's cheap entertainment
  • get off the interstate and enjoy the back roads
  • 250 miles is far enough to drive in one day
  • on one long driving day, Rachel and I stopped to watch a matinee movie. What a great way to burn off the heat of the day and enjoy ourselves on an otherwise long day in the car.
Camping for 4 weeks? Are you crazy? How we stayed sane in some odd campgrounds
From Cross Country 2009
  • national parks are the cheapest way to go (averaging $10 a night) but usually don't have showers, state parks are next (about $20 a night) with typically nice facilities, and private campgrounds are often most expensive (usually $25 a night).
  • we found state parks via the Google. Ohio and North Dakota were standouts in terms of awesome facilities. We were quite unhappy at Rocky Arbor State Park in Wisconsin Dells because the site was covered in ants.
  • as a AAA member, I got Camp Books which was a helpful way to find private campgrounds. While I prefer state parks, we noticed the private camps usually had an onsite pool and some had free wi-fi internet.
  • even as tent campers, Rachel and I sometimes paid for a site with electricity so we could watch a movie at night. In Ohio, I think it was a $5 upcharge -- well worth it in our opinion.
  • next time around, I would leave the propane lantern behind as we only used it once
  • we found it most convenient to shop for dinner daily
How'd you fit everything in your Jeep? It was tough at times...
From Cross Country 2009
  • everything must have a container or bag. Don't let stuff float around your vehicle or you'll never find it. Trust me, as I had to tear the Jeep apart looking for my spoon.
  • severely limit the clothes you bring. I took only 3 pair of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, and a half dozen t-shirts. I opted for dark shorts to hide dirt and chose clothes that match in all combinations. Laundromats (the campgrounds sometimes had them onsite) are inexpensive and give you time to write postcards.
  • though we didn't get the advice until South Dakota, you may want to try this packing tip: "Put everything you want to pack on your bed. Then put all the money you expect you'll need. Put half the clothes back and get twice the money." (Thanks, Aunt Rachel for this gem!)
  • all of our camping gear went into a plastic foot locker. The rigid case gave us a platform to stack our clothing duffels on top of.

Does this make us Campers 2.0?
On using the web when you can't get cell signal
From Cross Country 2009
  • Starbucks provides 2 free hours of wi-fi internet access per day. Simply purchase a stored value on a Starbucks card and register on their website. We did virtually all of this blogging from Starbucks stores.
  • Twitter updates were a great way to notify our friends about our progress.
  • I have tied my Facebook status to my Twitter updates so my FB friends could also see our progress.
  • Twitpic lets you post a picture taken on your cameraphone to your Twitter (and my Facebook) status.
  • Know that you will encounter dead zones. Mount Rushmore and surrounding areas was awful for my AT&T service. Be patient.
  • I like Google's Picasa Web Albums for photo sharing because I heart their geotagging feature.
Now I'm off to organize my travel journal, a handwritten description of my journey with lots of little bits I scrapped together during the trip.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Miscellaneous Mississippi & Picture Updates

So, there's this old family tradition around cannons and vacations (that goes back to when I was a kid). I like to see them all. Here's one from Vicksburg, Mississippi.

From Cross Country 2009

Rachel and I at the Florida state line:

From Cross Country 2009

Check out the web album of our trip. I've added photos from Florida.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Since we've been in Florida, I've seen some very interesting things. For instance, we saw two people smooching outside of Wal Mart! Florida is the only place you can see someone riding a motorcycle with golf clubs sticking out of a bag on the side.

Only in Florida do the golfers ride Harleys on Twitpic

Petrillo's is the absolute most amazing place in the universe for eating pizza. For anyone that's been to Florida before may have seen the sign that says Bizarro's. Petrillo's name was changed a while back to Bizarro's but my mom still calls it by the old name. A pizza slice there might be the size of three or more slices of pizza at a normal place. The line can take up to an hour at times because Petrillo's is so popular, not to mention it's on the beach. The people that work there are usually very fast at taking your order and getting it to you.

On July 11, 7-11 gives away free 7 ounce Slurpees. I tried to hit as many as I could -- I was going for my fourth of the day but they were out of cups! Can you believe that?!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

War Eagle!

Rachel and I drove through Mississippi to arrive in Auburn on Thursday afternoon. I got a chance to give her a tour of campus and a little bit of town. After a little deliberation (Guthrie's was also on the list), I introduced her to an Auburn food tradition: Momma Goldberg's Deli.

At Momma Goldberg's in Auburn on Twitpic

I ate lunch there pretty much every Tuesday during my college career. It was a hole in the wall then and still is. This is the spot where you can get a little of Momma's Love steamed to perfection.

Speaking of holes in walls, we stayed at the old Heart of Auburn motel. It's situated right across from the library and within walking distance to Tiger Rags, my favorite spot to buy Auburn schwag.

The old drill field behind Nichols Center (the ROTC building) is now new dorms. Rachel will tell you I spent the whole time in Auburn pointing out what had changed (and the list was substantial) since I left in 1996. One thing that was still there, however, was the parking lot by Nichols where I learned to drive a manual transmission. We just had to have another driving lesson. I think she's getting the hang of it!

We were so worn out, Rachel and I slept hard that night because we knew we had 500+ miles to drive the next day so we could get to Melbourne.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


"It's like Pirate Kansas" says my friend Phil. We crossed through Nebraska and Kansas under a bunch of thunderstorms. While in Oklahoma, we visited Elle and Dave and our new friend Marye.

From Cross Country 2009

We watched fireworks in a northern suburb of Oklahoma City then spent the day Sunday in Norman, home to the University of Oklahoma. What a gorgeous campus! Dave graduated from OU and was a very knowledgeable tour guide. We went to The Library, a very cleverly named pub, for lunch then went to the real library to see the Great Reading Room.

The visit was very relaxing and we're back on the road now. We've stopped for the night in Hot Springs, boyhood home of President Bill Clinton. Rachel and I are considering a mineral hot bath in the morning. The spa also offers a full body massage, but I just can't do it. Strangers touching me is just...ick.

From Cross Country 2009

There are a few more photos up in the Picasa Web Album.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

You Have to See Crazy Horse

Deadwood was too touristy, Mount Rushmore felt too patriotic, but the Crazy Horse Memorial -- wow! It's nowhere near done, but it has sheer scale going for it, overwhelming its presidential neighbor.

From Cross Country 2009

If you like to gamble and are over 21, Deadwood is probably a great place to visit. The museum was pretty cool, though. Rachel wasn't thrilled by either.

As for Rushmore, I suggest visiting before you go to Crazy Horse. They're about 1/2 hour apart, which seems close on the mountainous roads here. Both charge an entrance fee (Rushmore was $10 per car, Crazy Horse was $10 per person) and your Annual Park Pass isn't good at Rushmore.

Other highlights from our day
Snow in July? Check it out:
From Cross Country 2009

Rachel climbs up rock faces (Megan looks from below):
From Cross Country 2009

Bison not 15 feet away:
From Cross Country 2009

I've had pretty much no cell phone signal since we left I-94 in North Dakota on Wednesday morning. Who knew even Deadwood would be a dead zone? Hence the slow on Twitter updates. I did get a few minutes of coverage at Mount Rushmore today, where I took the time to call Mom (wouldn't you? she worries).

The stats
  • Miles driven: 3000 since June 19. That's an average of 230 miles per day.
  • Plates spotted: We've logged 43 states so far. Alaska is now on the "seen it" list.
  • Car candy: Twizzlers Pull-N-Peel
  • Nights logged without a pillow: 8
  • Number of times Rachel has kvetched (complained): too many times to count

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

North Dakota TOTALLY ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From Cross Country 2009
So this is me after learning the basics of driving with a clutch(manual). I learned that it really tires out your left leg cause you have to hold in the clutch. The car kept turning off because I let go of the clutch to fast. There are so many rules!!! I am never getting a manual car. I will only ever get an automatic car in the future. So it turns out at the end of our lessen, another jeep(like ours) came in and a father and son switched places and the son was learning to drive like me! The only big difference was that he was like 20!! He was also pretty bad at it. I saw him jerk forward a few times before going smoothly. It felt good to know that I wasn't the only person bad at a manual. After all of the driving we went to the state park, which was by the way the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It was sooooooooooooooooo pretty. It took a while to get use to everyone who passes you(even in cars) to wave at you. That felt weird. The next morning when we were trying to find the highway, I was getting a little nervous because we were in the middle of no where with a quarter tank of gas. Other than that it has been mostly driving.

The Blog is Now Misnamed

We made it to North Dakota!

From Cross Country 2009

Rachel and I goofed off for a while in Fargo, including time for her first driving lesson. Right there in the parking lot of Fargodome, she got her first taste of working a clutch (and stalling). She's promised to blog about the experience, so I leave it to her.

We did a load of laundry then drove on to Fort Ransom State Park to camp for the night. Maybe it's the place or it could be my lack of experience with North Dakotans, but I thought the park ranger kinda looked like Frances McDormand in "Fargo". But that's not really the point. The park was gorgeous. All around Fargo, the land was flat and relatively treeless. We pulled off I-94 to head to the park and suddenly the landscape changed. There were gentle hills and we eventually entered a stand of trees and a river (the Sheyenne) runs through the trees & park.

From Cross Country 2009
While we were in "primitive" camping, the sites were still well-manicured. I've seen picky old men's front yards in worse shape. There were about 8 sites facing a field of prairie grass (see the picture above). We spotted several deer moving through the grass. There was just one other camper when we got there -- a photographer with California license plates on his car. I'd love to see his pictures!

After dinner, we explored the scenic view atop the highest hill in the park. We could see nearby farms and a vast area of prairie grass. According to onsite signs, the valley was carved by a river formed when glaciers melted umpteen million years ago.

From Cross Country 2009
Rachel took the chance to stretch her legs.

From Cross Country 2009
I looked at the nearby hillside where I could hear mooing.

From Cross Country 2009

We're in Bismarck now (about 2pm on Tuesday). It's the first city we've seen since Fargo this time yesterday. Everyone warned me there was nothing up here. They were right. Gas stations included. However, this wide open space is so different than anything I've ever experienced. It's just gorgeous.

The Stats
  • License plates spotted: 37 states and 2 Canadian provinces
  • Nights camped: 6
  • States visited: Georgia (Megan only), South Carolina (Megan only), North Carolina (Megan only), Virginia (Megan only), Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota
  • Loads of laundry mistakenly washed in fabric softener: 1 (the package looked just like detergent!)
  • Best money spent: $2.50 on a pint of Ben & Jerry's Half Baked ice cream after the water park in Wisconsin Dells

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Minnesota, Friends, & Kayaking

Rachel and I made the 4-hour drive from Wisconsin Dells to Minneapolis on Saturday morning. The weather was great (overcast and vaguely cool), so I'd rate it about an 80 on my 1 to 100 scale.

From Cross Country 2009

We arrived in Minneapolis Saturday afternoon and spent the weekend with Darrell and Ashley. Our main activity here was kayaking the St. Croix Riverway. Wild River Outfitters rented us flat water kayaks and set us loose on the river with instructions to call for a pickup when we reached the end of the trip. Easy enough. Fortunately, the St. Croix is a pretty smooth river. We encountered nothing more than Class 1 rapids and the occasional stiff wind in the face. There's lots of camping along this river that forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Here are a selection of photos from today's adventure:

From Cross Country 2009

From Cross Country 2009

From Cross Country 2009

From Cross Country 2009

See the entire album of our vacation photos. We owe Darrell and Ashley a huge thank you for putting us up while in Minneapolis. Tomorrow we move on to our next adventure!

Friday, June 26, 2009


Rachel and I are quite sunburned tonight because we were at Noah's Ark, billed as America's Largest water park in Wisconsin Dells. Yes Mom, we did apply sunscreen, though clearly not enough.

From Cross Country 2009

Betting is now open...
I'm taking bets on how painful our ride will be up to Minneapolis tomorrow with bad sunburn. Judge on a scale of 1-100 where 100 is a nice, comfy air conditioned ride. There's a prize for the closest guess!

We loved the water park! Wikipedia tells me there are 49 water rides at Noah's Ark. Other than guessing it's the number of rides, I can't figure out by what measure these guys are the biggest.

Cute story of the day: When we pulled in the parking lot, I parked next to a sharp yellow Jeep Wrangler. The ladies who owned it, glancing at my license plate, asked if we drove all the way from Georgia just for Noah's Ark. I was ready to say a sarcastic yes when Rachel responded, "No, we're going to North Dakota." (Oh, and they get points for the bumper sticker that read, 'No, this isn't my husband's Jeep.')

Lehr requested photos of the two of us today. Sorry, but that just didn't happen. I'll make every effort to get Rachel into the Minnesota state line photo but no promises.

"Best meal I've had in a long time" award from Rachel
Velveeta shells and cheese, as cooked over the camp stove.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wi-Fi Spotty, Twitter Helps, & Driving 2k Miles So Far

As I sit in this Starbucks reflecting on what to write about the trip thus far, a few things come to mind.

For one, I like my paper travel journal. I've kept it since 2001 as a spot to put little scraps of paper collected, a spot to write my "must sees", and a spot to summarize my days. The blog isn't a replacement. I think I went into this trip thinking northdakotabound might replace the journal.

From Cross Country 2009

Twitter, however, is a great way to update everyone. In fact, when I sat down this morning to write postcards, I realized I'd already mentioned all the interesting bits on Twitter!

On Saturday, as we head to Minnesota to visit Darrell and Ashley, the Jeep will turn 2000 miles since I pulled out of Lehr's house in Marietta. I estimate the trip will take me about 6000 miles total.

We stayed cool today using a little spray bottle filled with icy water from our cooler. Spritz a little on the schvitz and we both felt a lot cooler. Rachel favors spraying her feet while I like hitting my neck.

I'm craving adult conversation, so please (*please*) feel free to give me a call and check in on the trip. Please also feel free to tell me you can't talk long. Thanks to Jason B., Annie, Kimberly, and (of course) Mom for checking in.

I leave y'all with a picture of Rachel and I at the Field Museum in Chicago. Annie specifically mentioned there were no pictures of the two of us together. That's life with a 12 year-old, unfortunately. I had to buy Dippin Dots to get this photo.

From Cross Country 2009

Sleeping in a hostel

Sitting in a jeep just about all day with your mother in100 degrees weather is soooooooooooooooo boring!!!! If you know Megan or me (unlikely me) and you live along the way please tell us what you do to stay cool and have fun with no a/c. Also a What Up?! to my BFFs!

So for the last two nights in Chicago I spent in a hostel. NOT like a hotel. You are stuck in a room with people speaking German or French or something. Weird. And on top of that I am on the top bunk with the only direct way to get up there is with getting multiple scratches on your legs(yeah i tried). Since the two bunkbeds were pushed together the ladder type thing on the end was impossible to get to. So I had to climb up onto the bed next to me and climb across to my bed. The bad part was that the bed I had to climb up on was extremely squeaky! Not the best experience. But on the good side there were really good blueberry muffins every morning!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How many states is that?

Here's a Google map of our journey so far...(I love the Google!)

Tuesday marked our entry into Indiana and Illinois. A complete list of states we've hit is at the bottom of this post. Unfortunately, Rachel is boycotting state-line photos because they're too embarrassing. So here I am somewhere along I-90.

From Cross Country 2009

Because we've been away from the interwebz the last 3 nights, there are lots of new photos in the album. I've included highlights below.

Camping in Ohio
What's with this weather that cools off significantly at night? This Florida girl never thought she'd really need her fleece on this trip.

When camping, Rachel and I go ultra-cheap. PB&J and mac & cheese are our staples, sometimes even in the same meal.
From Cross Country 2009

Central Ohio, about an hour north of Columbus
How awesome is this road that runs off to the horizon? It reminded me of the movie "Secondhand Lions".

From Cross Country 2009
Rachel and I spent the better part of Monday driving diagonally across Ohio. We were fortunate enough to be on back roads, so we got a taste of rural farmland. As we drove US-33, every so often a county road like the one above went off to the side. Every 30 minutes, we ran through a small town.

Dum Dum Factory Tour
Our major goal for Monday was to visit the Spangler Candy Company in Bryan, OH. We learned on the way into town that the factory tours are closed on Mondays. Dangit! We were first in line on Tuesday at 10am when they opened:

From Cross Country 2009
As compared to other factory tours, Spangler's was ok. You get to see the packaging room and lots of warehouse space. I suspect some cleanliness regulation prevents us from seeing them actually make the candy.

The Windy City
Finally, we got to Chicago Tuesday at about 3:30. The Jeep is very hot, what with no A/C and all. We both wanted to dip into Lake Michigan to cool off (do people even swim in lakes up here? What about alligators?) Rachel and I were exhausted walking to the beach because it was 20 miles from where we're staying. Not really. We plopped down onto the grass and I got this great shot of Navy Pier and the Ferris Wheel:

From Cross Country 2009

Most questionable time-passer while driving
  1. Watching Bones, Season 1 on DVD.
Miles driven
1500+ miles

States visited

  1. Georgia (Megan only)
  2. South Carolina (Megan only)
  3. North Carolina (Megan only)
  4. Virginia (Megan only)
  5. Maryland
  6. Pennsylvania
  7. West Virginia
  8. Ohio
  9. Indiana
  10. Illinois

Monday, June 22, 2009

OH has a lot of farms! I saw several PA-Dutch style painted barns today & a red/white pattern I've never seen. Keep an eye on Twitter @ right for short updates.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Atlanta to the DC Area

I got on the road Friday night around 10pm (Lehr: if you're reading, it's because Wal Mart took me nearly an hour!). Thanks to a tip from a friend, I stopped in the Welcome Center after every state line to snap a photo of the "Welcome to...". Check out my album of pictures so far.

Cross Country 2009

I may have entered the cheap hall of fame with this one, but I didn't want to shell out for a hotel room. When I got too tired last night, I pulled off at a rest stop, locked the doors, opened the window, and snoozed. Very refreshing!

So now I present my Top 10 Reasons to Drive Through the Night
  1. Cankles are sexy. My ankles currently make any pregnant woman's ankles look svelte. This also happened when I flew to Turkey -- I think it's the upright for many hours thing.
  2. At 2am, 5 Hour Energy just doesn't work. I drank half of one then slept for an hour! Is that a caffeine nap?
  3. North Carolina sunrises are supreme. Thanks, Zenovia for ordering it up for me.
  4. You can't tell that the Jeep's A/C is broken.
  5. Mid-day Washington DC traffic -- time it right and you get there just in time to become thoroughly lost on Malcom X Blvd in Capitol Heights.
  6. An hour of unexplained traffic near Potomac Mills. Who knew the road to Quantico has nothing else along it? I just wanted a break from traffic and a Slurpee...the Marine at the gate didn't laugh.
  7. Banana Slurpee at 7-11. Ok, so that has nothing to do with when I left.
  8. Vanilla ice cream sundae with marshmallow creme topping at Friendly's. See #7.
  9. The most interesting people stop at rest stops at 2, 3, 4, and 5am. I'm pretty sure I saw a man who'd wet himself run into the restroom at 5am.
  10. Your mother can't call you every hour to ask how it's going.

Rachel and I head out from the DC area early tomorrow morning. Next stop: Pennsylvania. We're going through the western part of the state, on our way to Ohio.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

First Post

Megan and Rachel leave on their (semi) cross country trip on June 21 from suburban Washington DC and return four weeks later. Generally, we drive west from DC, through Ohio to Chicago, through Wisconsin and to North Dakota. Later, we turn south and make our way to Florida.

Many thanks for destination ideas to Jason B., Jason R., Rachel B., Barbara M., Elle, and several of Megan's former students.