We've been on the road one week. Despite what might appear to be a complete life of leisure, we've actually been pretty busy!
DAY ONE: Thought we were going to leave Saturday. Didn’t happen. But the whole point of this venture is to not be married to plans, to be flexible, to go with the flow, and overcome obstacles as they arise, rather than fretting about those our overactive imaginations worry about. Leaving Sunday afternoon was hard, even if we’ve had months to prepare for it. The only good thing about leaving is that we know we’ll see some of our great family and friends while we’re out on the road - meeting up in new and exciting places. At least, that’s what they promised!
Grabbed dinner with an old pal from Brandon’s Atlanta days in Denver, and settled down for the night in Ft. Morgan. One of their public parks offers free camping. Pretty awesome, even if it is right next to the interstate. Looking forward to East Coast prices and frequent fuel stops, saving cash where we can is good.
DAY TWO: First visit to Nebraska for both of us. We stopped in a beautiful campground after driving lots and lot of hours. Spotted a few wild turkeys and were grateful to be in a place with a shower. Yes, we have our own showers, but campgrounds are so expensive (being used to dispersed camping on BLM land) we feel compelled to use them when they’re available. We paid for them, might as well use them. It was a pretty spot, but very near the interstate as well. Even the vast bug populations couldn’t drown out all the people sound pollution.
Over our hours in the car (when Brandon wasn’t working) we discussed the folly of what we were doing. Lots and lots of seat time isn’t the goal of this trip. It’s not about quantity of miles, it’s about quality of experience. This reaffirmation of our plan led us to the nearby Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, NE. What a place. We spent at least half an hour just reading about pioneering women in aviation. We could have spent all day there, but were worried about the dogs getting too hot in the car. It was simply astounding and utterly unexpected. Precisely what we were hoping to find.
DAY THREE: Everyone’s your friend when you’re in a Vanagon! Kinda wish we had a ticker on the dash so we could keep track of all the looks, rubbernecks, giant grins, and thumbs ups we’re getting. Conversations spark up at gas stations and camp grounds and rest stops. It’s better at getting attention than the dogs!
Drove from Ashland, NE to near Iowa City, IA and spent the night just a hundred yards from Lake McBride. Pretty lake where Lily got in a couple of little swims and Piper put in a toe or two. We walked around a bit and then stopped at Walnut Woods Park and had lunch in the shade of the largest stand of natural Black Walnut trees that still exists.
Everywhere we go the grass is beautifully manicured, yet you hardly ever see anyone mowing. Vast fields of lush green along highways and throughout parks… perhaps elves? It’s a nice vacation for those eyes tired of red desert sands (Leigh’s).
DAY FOUR: Ended up in Oregon, OH - right on the shores of Lake Erie. Another very long day in the car. Beautiful campground at Maumee Lake State Park, even if it was really set up for ritzy RVs and not scruffy Vanagons. Still, was a nice, quiet spot with showers. We’re loving all the showers given the lack of A/C in Humboldt as well as the high humidity and high temperatures of the places we’re visiting.
Lake Erie is a big lake. And really dirty. We couldn’t get in the water due to the algae. We left the dogs in the car for a few minutes while we went to look at it. Irate at this inequity, Piper climbed over the center console and jumped out the front window, then went hell-bent-for-leather across the beach. It was like Sherman’s March to the Sea. We caught her in time and returned her to the car, but it was damn hard not to laugh our asses off. You can see the marks she left in the sand.
America is an enormous country. You can’t really appreciate it, even if you’re from the west, until you drive across it. Truly across it. We’ve driven from Grand Junction to ATL multiple times, but it has never seemed to be this big. Or this far.
What strikes us most is the beauty. Nebraska and Ohio and Indiana and Pennsylvania are stunning. So many trees. So much life. So much America. Hundreds of miles of corn fields, dotted with picturesque farms with red barns and silver silos. They’re just so different and beautiful.
Driving at night is interesting, too. You can see into open windows, people doing what we’d normally be doing. Families you didn’t know existed, doing the exact same things we used to do. Makes you realize that the world is full of people who are just like you - same problems, same joys, same sorrows, and same dreams. Perhaps all the impatient drivers we’ve met over the miles would do well to think on those other families and those other people.
DAY FIVE: Humboldt is humming along, making it to French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. We’ve had some issues with the CV boots again, but no real problems (knock on wood.) Just before we stopped for the night we got our first weather. It was real East Coast rain (like what we’re used to from living in Orlando and Atlanta). Manageable, for sure. Until the windshield wipers stopped working. We’d been blowing their fuse for a couple of weeks and in the rush to get on the road we lost track of that to-do. Pulled over, swapped the fuse, and immediately bought a fresh box. We’ll look into what’s going on shortly.
Pretty happy with how well everything is working in the interior. The only change we've made is to buy a packable backpack at a Walmart in Iowa for $3.41. It's holding our pillows, which had to move into the impossibly empty underseat storage area (seriously, we feel like we left stuff at home there's so much room in there) because they were too tall to fit upstairs when the top was down in the storage area behind the upper bunk. They were close, but it was just too much of a strain on the roof, so we moved them. That's it. Everything else has been, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. Sorry if we sound a bit smug, but a lot of brain power went into every decision and it seems as if we got it dialed in pretty well.
This is our first real visit to Pennsylvania for both of us. Got in pretty late, but were committed to getting to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall early in the morning before it got too hot for the dogs. Also made plans to see Valley Forge.
DAY SIX: Made it to Philly today and are staying another night at French Creek. Saw the Liberty Bell, passed by Independence Hall, and went to a Ben Franklin museum. It was just too hot to leave the dogs for as long as it would have taken us to get timed tickets to Independence Hall. As usual, though the particular item (Liberty Bell) was of great interest and seeing something that has meant so much to so many was a privilege, it was the stories of people shared in the exhibits that captivated us. Outside the Liberty Bell museum is the foundation of George Washington’s house, the basement where one of our Founding Fathers kept his slaves. Reading about what was practiced and what was preached by men like Washington and Franklin was more than interesting. As ever, history is messy and complicated, and highlights the idea that everyone’s story is valuable. Every life is valuable.
We had hoped to hit Valley Forge today, but the traffic and our lunch stop just took too long. Stepped off the highway to eat philly cheesesteaks at a very popular local’s favorite. It was a madhouse inside - easy to understand why once you sank your teeth into a foot of deliciousness. The dogs were less than impressed with our enthusiastic gobbling and Lily had to check the bag to make sure we hadn’t left a single scrap behind. We hadn’t.
We came back to French Creek so we could work and will head out early in the morning to see Brandon’s grandmother in New Jersey. It’s obvious we didn’t even scratch the surface of Pennsylvania, making it hard to leave behind. Aren't you jealous of Brandon's office? (He even took an hour off to go mountain biking on a trail that passed right behind where he's sitting. Says it was a pretty good one.)