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