Monthly Archives: November 2011

Day 13: Airway Heights, WA

Airway Heights is a strip-mallish spot just west of Spokane, near the airport (big surprise there).

The cheap-ass hotel where I’m staying has the Slowest Internet Ever, so in the interest of protecting what sanity I have left, I’m going to keep this short (previews are a bitch) but here’s the route map:

You’ll note that there is no direct route; the route I took was as close as it gets through the Rockies.

Nor was I able to take many pictures – and this connection is so slow it’s taking forever for it to merely think about letting me post something. Maybe tomorrow.

I did avoid the snow – mostly; there was some at the higher elevations in the mountains. Then through Idaho and into Washington I got the “sunny and 45″ treatment again. Not that I’m complaining. But I’m glad I decided to push on through this morning.

I don’t think I’m going to try to make it all the way to the west coast tomorrow; I’ll probably crash one or two nights near Seattle before getting to the Pacific. Depends on how I feel, and, of course, the weather.

Day 12: Shelby, MT

Holy shit, I just drove over 650 miles.

Thus, today’s post will be short. As usual, a route map; this one is less approximate than previous ones, since the route is just a straight shot across on U.S. 2:

Needless to say, I had little time for pictures (or beer), but the scenery changed very little – all high prairie with a few low hills and towns to make things fractionally less boring.

I did see this one vaguely anachronistic scene:

That ram would totally be lunch if this were real.

And I did manage to get a few other pictures, but I’ll keep them to myself for now as I have Plans for them.

Checking the weather, I see I made it through Ohio and Indiana just in time – they’ve just been snowed. But they’re talking about a couple inches of snow here, tonight, and who knows what I’ll run into in the Rockies? I’ll just have to decide what to do tomorrow, tomorrow.

Day 11: Devils Lake, ND

This morning, when I stopped to get fuel, a guy noticed my license plate. It was just below freezing, a calm and mostly clear morning, with no snow in evidence except a bit on the ground. The guy asked (be sure to read this in a Minnesota accent), “So how do you like Minnesota, Virginian?”

“Bit warm,” I replied.

He laughed and got in his truck.

Thing is, there’s not much to say about northern Minnesota. I understand that there are many snowmobile trails, and lots of good hunting and fishing opportunities. Those, however, are outdoor, winter activities – no, thanks, I’ll just sit here by the fire. Well, I’m sure hunters, fishers and snowmobilers look at what I’m doing – traveling across the country, warm inside my car – with the same sort of incomprehension.

I’d hoped to get farther, today, perhaps to Minot, North Dakota, but I could find no haven there – all the lodging is either closed, or booked solid; I’m not sure which. Likely a bit of both. I found one place in Devils Lake, and paid more than I’d have preferred, but something about beggars and choosers comes to mind.

Today’s route:

The drive, mostly along U.S. 2, took me through the lake country of northern Minnesota and into the northern plains. Far from the snowy hell I was expecting, the day remained pleasant and mild, and Route 2 is a four-lane divided highway with a high speed limit, even higher once you cross the border into North Dakota.

That said, I nearly fell asleep twice.

I did get a few pictures along the way. Here’s one of Oak Lake, in Minnesota:

More like Ice Lake if you ask me.

 

The bulk of the drive, though, was a lot like this:

I, ah, may have used some photo editing features on this, just a bit.

 

And I think it’s going to be more of the same tomorrow. Also, remember how I said I couldn’t find lodging west of here? Well, that continues to be true. For a long time. For about 12 hours, in fact. Until Shelby, Montana. That means tomorrow, I have to cross the rest of North Dakota and more than half of Montana, and we’re not talking about small states here. I’d planned to make this in two legs, not one – but I don’t fancy sleeping in the car unless I absolutely have to.

The good news is the weather forecast remains clear and mild (well, mild relative to the northern plains), and if I make it to Shelby tomorrow, that puts me in sight of the Rockies – at which point a lot of what happens will depend on the weather.

Day 10: Grand Rapids, MN

Yes, that’s Grand Rapids, Minnesota – not Michigan. I still haven’t been to Michigan, but I had an opportunity today. I could have pulled over by the side of the road and spat on it, were I so inclined. But I have no reason to hock a loogie on the state (yet), and there were cops around (though you have to wonder if it’s in Wisconsin’s jurisdiction if the spit lands in Michigan).

Anyway, you can see the point where I was almost, but not quite, in Michigan on today’s route map – the route nearly touches Michigan near the town of Ironwood, in Hurley, WI:

And so today, I crossed the Mississippi. Grand Rapids is named for a stretch of that river, not far from its headwaters, which marked the original head of navigation of the river. Of course, someone dammed the river since then, so the rapids are long gone, but the town name remains. The Mississippi’s headwaters, incidentally, are about 80 miles west of here, at a pond named Lake Itasca.

“Itasca,” I should note, is not a Native American name, despite its sound. Some dude, when searching for the head of the Big Muddy, found this lake surrounded by swamps (and, presumably, ice – it’s damn cold up here), and named it after Latin words for “true head”: veritas caput.

Naturally, it’s probably not the actual headwaters, since there are several streams flowing into it, and plus, what really matters on a river is its total watershed.

But I digress – I tend to see the world in terms of watersheds. I’m sure you’d rather see today’s pictures.

First of all, a bit of Lake Superior, because U.S. 2 swings just past one of its western bays:

Gichigami? Gitchee Gummee? Le Lac Superieur? Oh, screw it - Lake Superior.

 

Speaking of U.S. 2, I traveled a portion of it through New England, and only picked it up again today. I think I’ll be spending quite a bit more time on this road, as it stretches from here to Washington, near Seattle. U.S. 2 is unique in that it was designed in two sections: the part in New England, and the part out here west of the Great Lakes, though rumor has it that Canadian roads connect the two stretches.

Just past that view of Lake Superior, in the town of Ashland, Wisconsin, I stopped at a car wash – see, when I stepped out of the car to take the above picture, I noticed that my car was encased in nearly solid road salt, because as I drove north from Merrill, there were snow flurries, causing Wisconsin to dump an entire ocean’s worth of salt on the roads – and got this picture of a pretty cool mural:

Right side cropped off because Walgreen's added nothing to the picture.

 

A while later, I whizzed by this sign at about 65 miles an hour. After glimpsing it, I had to make a couple of U-turns to make sure that a) I saw what I thought I saw and b) if (a), get a picture. So here’s the picture:

An airplane-? I guess you can make one out of anything!

 

And I would have totally stopped at the place it advertised, but I couldn’t make out the faded directions.

One final word about Grand Rapids: its biggest fame claim is that one Frances Ethel Gumm – better known as Judy Garland – was born here. I am, in fact, staying in a hotel immediately adjacent to the town’s Judy Garland museum, not far from her birthplace.

Just don't ask me to explain the rubbish bins at the end of the rainbow.

I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned Oz in yesterday’s post.

Well, tomorrow promises to be extraordinarily long, especially if it keeps on snowing. We shall see…

Day 9: Merrill, WI

As today marked my first time ever in Wisconsin, I was hoping for a better day. While the temperature was still fairly mild – mid-40s to mid-50s – the rain began in Illinois and never let up. It could have been worse, of course; at least there was no snow.

I mentioned last time that this would be a fairly long route, and it was. Here’s the approximate route:

Since the route was long and the weather crappy, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity today for sightseeing. I did catch sight of this one B&B near Harvard, Illinois, called RavenStone Castle.

Seriously.

No, I didn’t stay there. I just thought it looked cool.

When I finally got to Merrill, upon checking into the cheap hotel room, I discovered that it’s tornado country:

I guess #4 is in case you end up in Oz.

Well, I don’t think a tornado is the weather phenomenon I have to be most concerned about right now.

Wisconsin also does something I’d never seen before: county roads are given letters, not numbers. I don’t know if other states do this, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the road labels. Since most of the roads follow the common midwestern grid pattern, the off-interstate route to get here became an exercise in making 90 degree turns in the rain, like a wet Pac-Man – and I don’t know if I was on the same road several times, or if different counties used the same letter for different roads. Probably the latter. I couldn’t possibly retrace my route without the GPS.

Day 8: Lafayette, IN

I stopped in Indianapolis, on its outskirts, anyway, today. There’s a friend I’ve known online for several years, now, and I finally got to meet her at a Starbuck’s. We talked for a bit and got the nastiest looks from the busybodies at the coffee shop because there’s a bit of an age difference between us. They say age is just a number, but they don’t really mean it, not when they’re ready to assume certain things that just aren’t the case.

I ended the day in Lafayette for four reasons: One, a good friend of mine and a cousin both went to Purdue; two, my father lived here long, long ago; three, it’s directly on my way from Indy to my next destination; and four, there are two breweries here. So between a personal connection and beer, those were reasons enough for me.

Today’s route, which was rather light compared to those of previous days:

It turned out that the Starbuck’s where I met my friend was just a few hundred feet from a brewery! So after we talked, she went to work nearby, and I went to dinner at the brewery, giving me an opportunity to enjoy a small sampling of their beers. Indianapolis has over a dozen breweries, though, so I’ll have to go back sometime.

While we were outside on the patio, I saw this:

I don't even.

 

I don’t know if you can make that out, but it’s one person in a motorized wheelchair pulling another person in a non-motorized wheelchair who’s holding on to the motorized wheelchair while carrying a Black Friday shopping bag. A wheelchair train, if you will. Which you probably won’t.

My friend was like, “Welcome to Indiana.”

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I was actually born in this state. But hey, at least the beer was good.

In addition to the relatively short trip today, the weather stayed mild – though there was frost on the car when I started out, it melted soon enough, and the thermometer stayed between 50 and 60 for most of the day. Again, enjoying this while I can; I doubt it will last.

Tomorrow, I won’t have time for breweries, unfortunately. Which is too bad, really, because I’m heading through Illinois to Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is known for its beer. My sources indicate nearly 100 breweries in Wisconsin, about the same number as in the much more populous New York. This doesn’t even include the ones you can name off the top of your head in Milwaukee, ones which no self-respecting beer geek would be caught dead visiting. But my first priority is to get to the destination. The trip is going to be over 400 miles, one of the longest legs of the journey.

Still, if I see anything amusing along the way, I will get pics, as always.

Day 7: Pickerington, OH

In contrast with yesterday, today’s driving was a breeze. Temperatures stayed between 30 and 45, and the sun was mostly out – not a hint of snow or even rain. Yes, I’m enjoying this while I can; I don’t expect it to last.

Today’s destination was the home of my friend, Michelle, and her boyfriend, Keith. They invited me for Thanksgiving dinner, so in the spirit of the holiday, thanks, Michelle and Keith!

Today’s map – we’ll see if it works this time, like it didn’t yesterday.

Points B and C on that map are breweries: one brewpub (Main Street Grille) and one production (Hoppin’ Frog). Naturally, being Thanksgiving, they were closed; however, since they were on my route anyway, I stopped for pictures. I present here one picture I took at Hoppin’ Frog, which is amusing in spite of – or perhaps because of – its predictability:

Ribbit

 

Whilst driving, I saw a sign for something relevant to my interests: the “Neil Armstrong Site.” Now, the weird thing about Ohio is the sheer number of aeronauts and astronauts it has produced, starting with the Wright Brothers (yes, they flew first in NC, but they were Ohioans) all the way up to John Glenn, the first American in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first human on the moon.

Now, those of you who know me probably already know that I consider the Apollo 11 moon landing to be the most significant event in human history. It was the moment that a (non-microscopic) living thing from Earth first reached another, distinct globe, and that’s about as significant as it’s possible to get.

But I know enough about Ohio to have experienced a bit of trepidation about the “Neil Armstrong Site.” I found it, and it’s an open park, not something you have to pay admission for, so it wasn’t closed for Thanksgiving.

My trepidation, of course, was well-deserved. They tried. Really, they tried to put together a tribute to the first human exploration of the moon, tried to capture its significance. The information panel explained that it was at that site, when Armstrong was six years old, that he first leapt from the boundary of the Earth’s surface to fly in a Ford Tri-motor airplane, thus beginning his love of flight. And they put together a decent reconstruction of the Apollo 11 site, complete with footprints and lander.

There was just… one… little… problem.

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for McDonald's

 

I wonder what the over/under is for the date of the first McDonald’s on the moon? I’m sure once we have a base there, Ronald won’t be far behind.

Anyway, time to have me some turkey, if I have any room left after all the horse doovers. Tomorrow: west to Indiana!

Day 6: Hamburg, NY

Note: I’ve created an informational page about the current trip, in an effort to help new readers and clear up any confusion about what I’m doing. Just click on the “Current Trip” link above or here.

Hamburg, NY is in the greater Buffalo area, not far from Lake Erie. As usual, here’s a map of the route – I tried to get this to match the GPS track, but it’s still a bit off, though it gives the general idea.

(Okay, the route isn’t showing up for me in the preview. I’ll try to fix that in a later edit.)

Well, starting off today was a bit slow. After five days of decent weather, I woke up to this:

Oh, shit. I'm in Narnia.

People the night before had been talking about getting some “light snow” before morning. I guess a foot is what qualifies as “light snow” in Vermont.

Which leads me to a request: For the love of everything that’s right and pure in the world, stop talking about how global warming can’t be happening because it just freaking snowed, especially if you live near the ski capital of the northeast. That kind of conversation non-starter is right down there with “Hot enough for you?” when it’s sweltering out and “Everything come out okay?” when someone returns from the restroom. At least these latter two clichés have a good, smart-ass answer. The same one: “Nope.” The global warming thing? Okay, it was funny the first time, back when Al Gore was inventing the internet. Now, it just sounds ignorant. Why? Because the fact that it’s snowing doesn’t mean global warming is not happening. Doesn’t mean it is, either. Just means it’s snowing. Are you a climate scientist? Neither am I. So let’s stop assuming one way or the other, because then we’re not talking about the weather (safe) but politics (minefield). This crap is bad enough when you hear it in Georgia, but in freaking Vermont? Come on, people… when it snows in Vermont, that just means that it’s finally warm enough to eat some Ben&Jerry’s.

Speaking of Ben&Jerry’s, their plant is just south of Stowe, near Waterbury. It was closed when I got there, but I got a picture of the outside.

Now hurry up and make some Dude Food, Ben & Jerry's.

The two breweries I drove past in Vermont (The Alchemist and Bobcat Café) were closed. I got pictures, anyway, but they’re mostly boring – though the Bobcat sign is pretty cool:

It's a sign.

The third brewery I visited today was open, and the people there were nice and friendly, and didn’t make global warming jokes (it hadn’t snowed there, yet): Naked Dove Brewing Company in Canandaigua, NY. No, I can’t pronounce it, either, but I’m probably closer with that than I am with another town I drove through: Skaneateles. Seriously, every time I try to pronounce that town name, I either come up with something vaguely obscene or I sprain my tongue. I thought about rolling down my window and asking a passing pedestrian, but I didn’t want them to think people from Virginia were rude.

Now, I mention on the current trip page, above, a quote by Charles Kuralt: “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.” Thing is, there’s another way to cross the country without seeing it, and that’s to drive in the snow or fog. And my journey – from the mountains of Vermont, across the Adirondacks, and into the middle of New York State – took me through both snow and fog, which together added, I don’t know, maybe four hours to my trip. No joke. And even in a Subaru, driving down an unplowed mountain road in the snow is not fun. I don’t mind the extra time so much, except I have to get up early tomorrow to make it to Thanksgiving dinner in Ohio.

Speaking of which, I’m off to bed. A happy Thanksgiving to my US readers!

Day 5: Stowe, VT

I don’t ski.

Now, I wouldn’t be above strapping a fake cast on my leg and sitting by the fire in the lodge, but skiing is an outdoor activity that also has one of the weirdest spellings of any English word ever, rivaled only by syzygy.

So for me to spend the night in Stowe would be like a teetotaler spending the day at a brewery. But I’m doing it anyway, just because that’s where my semi-random path led me.

For starters, yes, I managed to wake my ass up before sunrise. In fact, I managed to wake up, shower, put all my shit in the car, and get pictures of the sunrise just before blasting out of Lubec.

Proof!

Along the way, I visited three breweries. Two of them, Sea Dog (Bangor, ME) and Oak Pond Brewing Company (Middleofnowhere, ME), were not open when I drove by – Sea Dog looks like it’s a great brewpub when it’s open; Oak Pond is just a brewery in a barn. Nothing wrong with that, but brewers like that don’t tend to have hours.

The third, Sunday River, I managed to hit right around lunchtime, and behold! It’s a brewpub.

Just in time for an emergency bacon cheeseburger

Somewhere along the way, I ran into a minor delay for some road construction.

They LIED. The road work stretched for 1.87 miles!

And…

Making this bold so everyone knows how important this is…

I found the Best Place EVER!

I found the place that PRINTS BACON!!!

Well, I got to Stowe just as the sky began to darken, so no pictures tonight. Not even sure if there’s anything worth taking pictures of – the place is kinda an upscale tourist trap. There used to be a brewpub in town, but it closed for good recently (moment of silence … … … ) but the front desk here recommended a place called Sunset Grille. So I’m going down to the Sunset Grille.

And now you’ll be hearing Don Henley in your head for the rest of the day. “Meanwhile, have another beer,” indeed. You’re welcome!

Day 4: Lubec, ME (again)

Yes, I spent an extra day here. This was planned. This morning, after eating breakfast — or, well, trying to eat breakfast; I won’t name the only open breakfast joint I could find, but it was quite possibly the worst breakfast I’ve ever had, and I once had an eggplant omelet so that’s saying something* — I achieved the true start point of my cross-country trip, the easternmost point on the mainland, contiguous US: Quoddy Head State Park, Maine.

This makes today’s map pretty easy:

Now, a while back, I posted a picture from Wikipedia (I think) of the lighthouse there; today, I took my own pictures of it. Here’s one:

Note the lack of snow in the scene - locals tell me that's rather unusual.

It might be fun to open up that post and flip between the two pictures to note their similarities and differences. The big one is probably lighting – I took my picture early in the day, maybe around 9:00 am, so  (I should note that I can’t figure out what time it actually is right now – I’m sitting about 200 feet from a time zone change, and apparently what time it is depends on where the signal is coming from.) The angle’s also a bit different.

And this is what the easternmost spot of land in the continental US looks like:

It's somewhere in the picture, anyway, but it's not the Canada in the background, across the strait.

And just a few other random pictures from the Lubec area:

Seems Legit.

Always nice to see Virginia town names up in Yankee territory.

A view from the inn's back yard. Again, across the strait, Canada and a different time zone.

Well, I’ve got it in my head to try to get up to watch the sunrise tomorrow, which occurs at the ungodly cow-milking hour of 6:30 am. This will also – if all goes well – put me at my next destination sometime before midnight tomorrow. But the sunrise is usually something to stay up for, not wake up for – so we’ll see if I even hear the alarms (I’ve set multiple devices to go off at 6. I still might not hear them. And then there’s still the question of whether it’ll actually be 6.)

 

*Don’t bother commenting with stuff like “but eggplant omelets are awesome!” – eggplant is not actually a food, and anyone who thinks otherwise is horribly deluded.