Cross-Country Roadtrip 2011 (Part 1)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I’m back! Did everyone miss me? I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks on one of the most amazing experiences of my life – a roadtrip across the US that took me from California across Arizona and New Mexico, into Texas, then up through the in-between states to Illinois and Chicago where I met my Great Aunt-in-law, Sharon, and went to the Field Museum where I saw so many wonderful things in person for the first time. From there, we drove to Pennsylvania and met with a wonderful friend, then we returned to Chicago to trace the route of a character in a book that Claudia is writing so we’d know where she was driving, then we headed east again and south down to Mississippi to meet with a client, before turning West again and riding the I-10 all the way home by way of Houston, TX to visit my wonderful parents!

It’s been an amazing two weeks, and now I want to tell you all about it! (And don’t worry – there will be pictures! I got an awesome new gallery plug-in for my site and it makes posting pics so much easier.)

Lona and I left on the 27th of October. We were supposed to rent a car, but that turned out to be fairly cost prohibitive, so we wound up taking Claudia’s wonderful car – a bright orange Honda Element, complete with WAMBTAC signage across both driver and passenger doors.

Claudia wanted to first go to her High School Reunion, which was the following Saturday, and happened in Northbrook, Illinois. But it was already Thursday when the money came in to allow the trip to begin. No time to drive it and have her still make it for the Saturday reunion. So, it was decided that Lona and I would drive and she would fly, we’d meet her in Chicago on Saturday or Sunday (or Monday), and then continue the roadtrip from there.

Lona and I left that Thursday around four in the afternoon. Consequently, most of our driving that first day was done at night as we followed our directions north to get on I-40, which passes through Gallup, New Mexico, where we were supposed to meet aunt Bera. That meeting didn’t end up happening due to a scheduling issue that is quite frustrating and I don’t really wanna think about. Anyway!

The first night, we stopped in Needles, on the CA/AZ border. We found a Best Western, pulled off the highway and stopped, only to discover over the ensuing night that we had both essentially “packed backwards.” That is, we each had two luggage bags with us, and both of us had packed all the stuff we NEEDED in the more inconvenient to get out of the car and maneuver of our two bags. This resulted in me getting up and getting dressed early the next morning, then going down to the car to retrieve my toiletries bag and my daily meds, as well as my hairbrushes.

It isn’t too impressive that we’d packed backwards – after all, I’d never done something like this before and Lona hadn’t done it in a long time – so neither of us quite knew what we were doing or which bag would turn out to be more convenient.  What impresses me the most is that we BOTH packed exactly backwards. It took us another night to fix it (which resulted in a very frustrating night of hauling ALL of our bags – four major luggage bags, all full of stuff – into a Holiday Inn and up to our room so we could spread out and RE-pack everything into something more convenient, then reloading the car the next morning). After that, we had no more baggage issues for the rest of our leg of the trip! 😀

After the aborted meeting with aunt Bera, we were aimed for another one when we got to Texas. We found out that Claudia had, in the rush of our packing, not actually taken anything for herself (her pills and everything were in the bag she’d put in the car with US) to last beyond the day of her reunion. In the rush that we packed, it isn’t surprising that this happened, but still… it resulted in the fact that we had to make a quick turn north before we’d even reached Dallas on the 40 and headed south to meet my parents in Houston. This resulted in a very tearful day while we flitted in and out of phone service, so our information passing was sporadic at best and everyone was upset. That… that was the hardest day of this whole vacation. Thankfully it was rectified later, but still! A very upsetting day in which much crying was done.

Lona and I headed north through Oklahoma. During one of our gas stops, we wandered around a neat little store that was full of native american made stuff, and other little knick-knacks. I picked out a gift for my brother, who’s 1/4 Cherokee, and just generally spent some time looking around before we got back on the road again. We drove for a very, very long time in what seemed like nothing but emptiness. We talked about finding somewhere to stop, but then an adventure finding gas (and finding me a restroom that wasn’t locked) encouraged us to listen to Dad’s voice, which we were both hearing, that was yelling at us not to get off the freeway if we didn’t SEE the place we were going to stop FROM the freeway. We ignored him once and wound up gassing up in the back woods of some Reservation town somewhere in Oklahoma along the I-44 – the station itself was closed for the night, but the pay-at-the-pump still worked, so we were able to gas up even though there was no-one anywhere around us. We went on like that for what seemed like a VERY long time, before we finally crossed out of Oklahoma and into Missouri.We stopped for what was left of the night in Joplin, Missouri.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast at a Waffle House that was right next to the Best Western where we spent the night, we got back on the road and crossed what remained of the “Show Me State,” before crossing into it’s Prairie neighbor, Illinois. Due to the path we’d taken (the most direct highway route from where we’d had to turn north in Texas), we were entering the state at it’s southernmost point, essentially. It took us another nearly twelve hours before we finally reached our destination: aunt Sharon’s house in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago.

Much hugs and happiness went around when we finally reached our destination, and aunt Sharon showed us where we’d be staying for the next couple of days. We stayed in and relaxed the following day, playing many games of scrabble and cards. It was nice to not be on the road for a change – I couldn’t believe we’d actually made it all the way in less than four days! Even with our abrupt about-face in Texas, it still seemed like it should’ve taken much longer. This was about when I realized that my concept of distance was being radically changed on this trip.

Before embarking upon this incredible, cross-country adventure, I had felt like being in the car for 2 hours to go somewhere was a long trip. Driving for longer than that seemed impossible – and I’d never stayed in a motel before. Well, once, but spending the night on someone else’s motel couch because you visited them all night doesn’t really count. And yet, by the time we reached Illinois, I was looking at 12 hour drive times and going “Oh, that’s just a day! We can do that.” I had the pattern down – stop at the motel office, Lona goes in to book the room, then we park and I get out and get our two important bags out. Head to the room, get inside, get out necessities and shower, then get ready for bed. The next morning, get up, pack up, put the bags back in the car, gas up, and get back on the road. And as proud of myself as I was for being good on the road and knowing what I was doing, it was nice to stop for a few days and NOT be driving.

The second full day we were in Skokie, though, was an awesome adventure! I’d never before been on a train at all, so it was decided that we would buy CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) day passes and take the Skokie Swift train into town, then get on the Red Line El, which becomes the Red Line Subway, and then take a bus in order to get to the Field Museum instead of just driving into town. It was an awesome experience! I’ve now been on a train, on an elevated train, on a subway, and on a bus in a major city! And it all culminated in a visit to one of the most renowned natural history museums in the world. The gallery that follows is an example of just SOME of the things I saw while there – some of the pictures didn’t come out well, and I don’t currently have a photoshop-esque program in oroder to fix them.

My next blog post will include the next bit of our trip, since it’s all far too long for one update. Tune in next time for more cross-country fun!