Posts tagged recap
Posts tagged recap
Miles traveled: 246
States: 2 (Ohio, Michigan)
The final stretch of the journey. Bittersweet.
Left Westerville in the afternoon to head up to Bowling Green. Decided to stop there and visit my brother on my way back to Michigan. He and his friends were having a get-together that night, so I decided to crash the event and hang out.
Had a great time, a few drinks, and some very, very good food. Started with some fresh fruit, then curry, then shrimp dumplings, then later an onigiri, which I made myself.
The next day, I went with my brother and his friend Fahad to a Chinese buffet and stuffed myself to the gills with as much sweet and sour chicken, crab rangoon, and donuts as I could stand. Not the best decision before a two hour drive, but I managed not to fall into a food coma on the way.
It was weird to arrive back in Holt. I exited the freeway at the exact same place I started on my way, 41+ days before. I had seen so many places, met so many people, and learned more about myself and my country than I could have imagined.
I won’t lie. I started to tear up a bit as I pulled back into the driveway and turned off the car. I had accomplished something that had been a dream for years. I faced all of my fears and anxiety, made it through all the setbacks, and lived my dream. No matter what happens from here on out, I made my dream a reality. Nobody can take that away from me.
Now I’m in the middle of the process of applying for jobs, looking for an apartment, and paring down my possessions to the bare minimum to make the move easier.
I’ll post some trip stats next, then probably a general wrap-up post. I will probably continue to use this blog to write about future adventures, so keep an eye on it.
Thanks for following along with my great American adventure!
Miles traveled: 745
States: 3 (Missouri, Illinois, Ohio)
I knew I was in for a long haul on this drive. I didn’t want to have to stop at any more hotels or campgrounds, so I decided I’d be making the drive straight through from Joplin to Westerville, which my GPS told me would be a 12+ hour drive.
For the most part, the early drive was uneventful. A few stops for gas and food, but mostly just cruising. The only minor snag was at the Missouri-Illinois border. I crossed into Illinois and stopped at the first exit for gas. Getting back on the interstate, I got confused, and somehow ended up headed back to Missouri. I crossed back over the river, took the first exit in Missouri, and got headed back in the right direction.
Later on down the road I stopped in Eaton, OH for a bit to visit my friend Kelly and have some dinner. From there it was a relatively simple drive across I-70 to the Columbus area and Westerville.
It was great to see my parents after so long on the road and to share some of my stories with them. It was also nice to be able to thank them in person for all of the support they provided me for this trip. It was an incredible experience, and I hope they know how much it meant to me to have their support.
Miles Traveled: 205
States: 1 (Missouri)
Drove down to Joplin early in the morning. On the way, I contacted AmeriCorps and let them know I’d be coming. Once I arrived, they set me up with Catholic Charities at a distribution center.
At the center we passed out donated items to residents who had applied for aid and been approved for specific items, such as kitchen goods, food, clothing, toys, and hygiene products. I spent half a day at the center, passing out items and getting to know the staff. I worked that first day with Nick and Tony. Both of them were from Pennsylvania and had served in the armed forces - Nick in the Army and Tony in the Air Force. They were a lot of fun to work with and it was very entertaining to hear them bicker back and forth about their respective branches of service.
After my day was done at the center, I had a talk with my dad in which I recall saying while I was happy to be doing what I was doing, for some reason I had let myself run with the assumption that I’d be doing something like clearing debris and building houses. I didn’t feel like I was doing the “big stuff.” My dad, as he tends to do, put it in perspective for me by reminding me that for people whose homes were destroyed and who had nothing left, receiving a set of dishes, bedding, food, and toys for their children was the big stuff. Many of the people we helped had just finally gotten their FEMA trailers. They were finally getting to feel a sense of “home.”
I had dinner at the Red Onion Cafe in town. My server was great, and talked with me a bit about the city, the disaster, and the recovery process. The food was delicious and I didn’t have to wait long at all.
On my second day, I arrived at the distribution center in the morning, only to find out they needed help at a construction site where they were building a house. After spending an hour or so at the center, they sent me over to the job site where I spent the rest of my day. The crew building the house was from Wesbecher Construction, from Marble Hill, Missouri. They were donating their time to come out and work on the house. They were a really great crew and made me feel like I was welcome. I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about building a house, so for the most part my job was just to be a go-fer, but that was fine with me. We also got to meet the home owner whose house we were rebuilding. That was a very moving and humbling experience.
The experience did drive home some of what Mike Rowe was talking about in his testimony before congress, which is linked on the My Inspirations page. My dad built houses, and yet, I know almost nothing about it. I don’t think I know more than a handful of people who do. That bothers me. I think I’d like to learn.
I met up with the crew for dinner at Pitchers, the restaurant attached to my hotel. The food was quite good, though the service was lacking. It was nice to get to know some of the crew a bit more, too.
The next day I woke up to a call asking me if I could head over to the build site as soon as possible because they were preparing to raise the trusses for the roof. I rushed over and we set to work. Four of the volunteers worked out a system for carrying and raising the trusses, and the crew set them as fast as we could carry them. We finished them very quickly and then began adding the decking to the roof. We managed to get the roof almost entirely decked.
Over the span of the two days I was on the build site, the house went from not even having all of the walls up, to having almost the entire roof done. It was such an awesome experience.
The last night in Joplin, the local Methodist church provided a big dinner for all of the volunteers. There was so much food and everyone was so nice. I also learned about a clean water non-profit called Poured Out, which provides purification systems and clean water facilities to communities in need around the world.
All in all, it was an incredible experience. I was honored to be able to help out this community still so much in need, and to work with such wonderful, caring people. I learned a lot about myself and about the needs of a community still reeling from disaster.
I highly encourage anyone interested to contact AmeriCorps and see what help is still needed. The volunteer intake hotline number is (417) 625-3543. More information can be found on their Facebook page.
Miles traveled: 390
States: 2 (Illinois, Missouri)
Started the day with an appointment at the Apartment People office in Lakeview. The hope was to find an apartment I liked and get the leasing process started so I could move as soon as possible after returning to Michigan. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. The leasing agent I worked with was very nice, but there just weren’t many options I could check out. I’ll have to go back and try again.
The drive down was pretty uneventful. I was trying to make good time, so I didn’t bother with many stops. Pretty much just tried to get as far as I could before I needed to sleep. As I neared Cuba, MO, I decided to stop at the Wagon Wheel Motel for the night. It’s a Route 66 attraction and a place I had really wanted to stop on my way down the first time.
It’s a great motel. The pricing is fair, the rooms are very recently refurbished, and the management is incredibly kind. I actually called after hours (which I didn’t realize when I dialed) and the manager drove out from her home to check me in for the night. I can’t stress enough how great she was.
Miles traveled: N/A
Great weekend with great friends. Woke up late after attempting to make up for the cumulative sleep deprivation of the previous few days. Stopped by The Doughnut Vault just before they ran out and had one of the most delicious doughnuts ever. If you’re ever near Merchandise Mart in Chicago early in the morning, do yourself a favor and check this place out. But get there early! They run out quickly.
Spent the rest of the morning and afternoon hanging out in the hotel lobby with friends, processing photos, and updating the blog.
The evening’s festivities took place at a bar in Chicago called Mullen’s. This bar is home to one of the greatest sandwiches known to mankind - a pot roast sandwich on garlic bread. If you find yourself in Wrigleyville, you owe it to yourself to have this sandwich. A brief warning, though, it will ruin all other sandwiches for you forever. No joke. I may have also had all of the whiskey. May have. The world may never know.
Sunday morning was brunch at The Wishbone, which is always delicious. They tout themselves as “southern reconstruction cooking.” They have some of the best french toast I’ve ever had, including a “crunchy” version coated in corn flakes. I made the absolutely brilliant decision to have a banana and chocolate milkshake with my breakfast, and it soothed my raging hangover in a way I could have only dreamed.
After brunch I hung out in the lobby with some friends before retiring to my room and sleeping off the events of the night before.
Miles traveled: 1,464
States: 6 (Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois)
What a long haul.
I had planned on getting an early start, as I wanted to take the Beartooth Highway out of the park and the drive was going to take more than 24 hours even if I drove straight through. I woke up at around 4:30 AM to the sound of intense thunderstorms over the park. Figuring I’d rather tear down my camp in the rain than set up the rainfly and then pack up wet gear in a few hours, I rushed to pack everything up as quickly as possible. I figured I may as well get on the road and see if I couldn’t make it to the Beartooth Highway for sunrise.
I had only gotten a few hours of sleep and it was still hours until sunrise, so the drive was very slow and cautious. The road wound through the darkness for miles and my heavy eyelids kept threatening to drop. Rather than risk my safety to be on the Beartooth for sunrise, I decided to stop in Lamar Valley and wait for first light. This provided me with the opportunity to have a quick breakfast and take some great sunrise photos.
Once the sun was up, I headed out for the northeast entrance and the Beartooth Highway. It was so beautiful. Just miles and miles climbing the mountains past lakes, streams, valleys, and even snow, despite the 60+ degree temperature. Near the top of the mountain, I even saw a couple of falcons soaring around the peak.
On the way down from the mountain peak was Rock Creek Vista Point, a scenic overlook and rest area. I stopped for a bit to take in the sights and noticed a bunch of chipmunks running around the area, begging people for food. I got down on a knee to see if the chipmunks would approach me, and one climbed up on my lap. I was able to get a couple of good shots.
I wanted to make it to Badlands to stay for the night, but I was running far too late. Instead, I stopped at Mt. Rushmore just as night was falling, and then decided to try to make it to Sioux Falls before stopping for the night.
The rest of the night’s drive was in complete darkness, with only a big electrical storm to the south to provide any light. I was so exhausted that I started thinking I was seeing mountains around me on the horizon, so it seemed like it was time to get some sleep. I ended up falling asleep in my car in the parking lot of the Highland Travel Plaza in Mitchell, SD.
The morning’s drive was pretty straightforward. No real stops, just a rush to get to Chicago. I arrived around 5 PM and met up with my friends in the hotel bar. We went to a karaoke bar where I ate delicious mac and cheese bites and did a completely awful rendition of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.” (Turns out the Save Ferris cover version is a bit different from the original.)
States: 1 (Wyoming)
Camp: Bridge Bay Campground, Yellowstone National Park
I had originally planned to leave early in the day and head for Badlands, but the size of Yellowstone had made it difficult to see everything I wanted to. Instead, I extended my camp reservation at Yellowstone for an extra day.
My first full day in the park, I purchased a fishing license. I had initially hoped to learn to fly fish while at the park, but the only guided fly fishing tour was upwards of $400 for one person. Looks like I’ll have to wait to learn. Rather than sulk over the expense of fly fishing, I drove out to Gull Point to fish from shore. The whole experience was rather nerve wracking, as I was out away from my car and a bit worried about running into a bear, but I tried to ignore that fear. Fishing was a total failure, without even a single bite. I wasn’t terribly disappointed, because that’s pretty much what I expected. Without knowing the area and without any sort of guide, I couldn’t expect much success in such a short time.
From Gull Point I continued around the south end of Grand Loop Road, crossing the Continental Divide twice. Shortly after, I stopped at Scaup Lake to take a few more photos. The water was very calm and there was a beautiful reflection of the trees on the water. It wasn’t quite as impressive as Sprague Lake at Rocky Mountain, but it was pretty nonetheless.
Just past Scaup Lake is Old Faithful, which was one of two main attractions I wanted to see that day. When I arrived, Old Faithful was about an hour and a half from erupting. I listened to a short presentation about the mechanics of the geyser, and took some time to walk through the rest of the nearby geyser basin. It’s truly stunning to see so many geothermal features in one area. It really brought to reality the fact that I was standing in the caldera of an active supervolcano. Beyond that, it also made me very grateful at the realization that half of the geothermal features and two-thirds of the geysers in the world are in Yellowstone for us to view and enjoy.
I managed to get a good seat to watch Old Faithful erupt. While it was very cool to see, and even cooler to see that they had predicted the eruption down to the minute, I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped I would be. Maybe I’d just been spoiled by the rest of my trip, but I didn’t feel the sense of awe I was expecting to.
I took a break for lunch in the cafe at Old Faithful before heading out for what I was most excited to see - Grand Prismatic Spring. More than any of the other geothermal features, Grand Prismatic Spring captivated me. The tremendous size and the vivid colors are just breathtaking. I walked the boardwalk through the area and around the spring to get a good look.
Getting photos was difficult. First, it’s hard to capture such a large feature from ground-level. Second, every now and then a gust of wind would blow steam into my lens and cloud everything up.
As I was getting ready to leave the area, another photographer approached me and told me there was a trail that led to the hilltop just across the spring. According to him and another visitor who joined the conversation, it was a relatively easy hike and gave an unobstructed view of the entire feature. Though my knee was feeling pretty sore from a fall I took on the South Rim Trail the day before, I decided to go for it.
The trail was short, but relatively steep. Fortunately, though, the climb was aided by a number of logs and fallen trees on the way up the slope. Part-way up the climb, someone on their way down commented in passing, “It only gets better the further you go up.” So I climbed the entire way. What a view. Where on the ground you could see some of the color and steam, from the top of the hill you could see everything. All of the colors, the way the deposited minerals create brilliant orange tendrils reaching out from the main pool, the heated water bubbling up from below, all of it. So wonderful.
I spent at least an hour at the top of the hill before continuing on my way. On the road back to camp, a large bird swooped over top of my car, so I stopped to see if I could get some pictures. As the bird circled overhead, thermal soaring above the road, I managed to get a few good shots and feed my “bird nerd” side.
Closer to camp, I was once again stopped by a herd of bison on the road, then by a crowd gathered to watch for the wolves in Hayden Valley. Though we didn’t spot any wolves, I stayed for a couple of hours and talked with some other park visitors. We had a great time talking and watching the other wildlife in the valley.
After that I returned to camp for the night to get some sleep, as I was planning to leave early in the morning to start on the 24 hour drive back to Chicago.
Miles traveled: N/A
States: 1 (Wyoming)
Camp: Bridge Bay Campground, Yellowstone National Park
Woke up just after sunrise and made my way to Yellowstone Lake to take a couple of sunrise shots. Came back to camp for breakfast and then set about deciding what to see during the day.
I decided it would be best to visit the Fishing Bridge area and pick up some supplies at the gift shop before heading up to the northeast section of the main park area. This would take me past the Mud Volcano/Sulphur Cauldron area and up to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Upper and Lower Falls.
The Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron areas were quite cool. I had seen a bit of geothermal feature areas the night before at Beryl Spring, but to see such an expansive field with so many different features was pretty impressive. There were bubbling mudpots, splashing hot springs, and the large, steaming Dragon’s Mouth Spring.
From there I crossed Hayden Valley toward the Canyon and the Yellowstone Falls, but my path was temporarily blocked by a massive herd of bison. Before arriving at the park, I told myself I wasn’t going to be one of those people who stopped his car on the side of the road and freaked out over the bison. 112 photos later I had to admit to myself that I just might be one of those people. It’s hard to comprehend just how huge the bison are until one is walking within a foot of your car. The way I’ve described it to most people as being like the “Welcome to Jurassic Park” scene. It’s almost hard to believe these massive creatures exist.
Once I finally got over the awe of seeing the bison for the first time, I went out to the falls. I walked along the South Rim Trail to Uncle Tom’s Trail. On the way, I slipped and hurt my knee, but decided to go for the 300+ stair walk down to the base of the Lower Falls anyway. It was a great walk and gave a very beautiful view through the Canyon. The climb back up, however, was quite a struggle. 300+ steps climbing 500+ feet is a lot of work on a bad knee.
I checked out the brink and the base of each of the falls before going back to camp. On the way, I stopped again to see the herd of buffalo again. I passed a crowd gathered in Hayden Valley, who were apparently watching the wolves. From what I had heard, they were a long way off and I didn’t figure I would get a good picture, so I decided to pass it by. Shortly after that, a bear was spotted walking in the woods, which I managed to catch for a couple of quick photos. Frighteningly, it was walking in the direction of my campground.
Despite that, I managed to get a decent night of sleep.
Miles traveled: 673
States: 4 (Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
Camp: Bridge Bay Campground, Yellowstone National Park
Woke up early to catch the sunrise at Mesa Arch. I was a little slow in getting ready, so I pretty much had to run the trail out to the arch to make it in time. Once out there, I hung out and talked with a couple of other photographers and waited for the sun to make its appearance.
When the sun finally came up, it was a truly beautiful sight. It rose right through the arch, bathing the arch and the canyon below in so many different colors of light. I’m so glad I made the decision to hike out there for the sunrise. It delivered where the sunset definitely did not.
The rest of the day was mostly just driving. One highlight of the trip was noticing “Hillside Letters” on the mountainsides around me through the entire route.
I made it to Yellowstone around 8PM. Before getting to my campsite, I stopped to check out Beryl Spring along the way. It was nice to get a look at the geothermal features on my first day in the park. After that, I spent some time editing photos and checking out the stars before going to sleep.
Miles traveled: N/A
States: 1 (Utah)
Camp: Willow Flat Campground, Canyonlands National Park
Originally, the plan for this day was to check out Canyonlands, Arches, and maybe Dead Horse Point State Park. That ended up not happening. I spent the entire day at Canyonlands.
My first stop was at Shafer Canyon Overlook across from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center when I first arrived. I walked out to the edge of the cliff and sat down for a while to take in the scenery. I ended up sitting there for almost an hour.
Initially I was kind of unimpressed with Canyonlands. After spending a couple of days in Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s hard for anything to compare. It’s really just a completely different experience. At Rocky Mountain, the scenery just towers over you. At Canyonlands it all rolls out below you from massive red cliffs.
By the time I was ready to leave the overlook, I had changed my mind about the park. There’s something incredible about looking out over the series of canyons and considering the natural processes that created them.
The campground where I decided to stay was right down the road from the Green River Overlook, so I went to check out the view there. The actual overlook had a paved path out to it, but I decided to walk around and see what I could find along the canyon rim.
The visitor center had a display that said Green River Overlook was the best place for sunset pictures, but the scene didn’t really deliver. However, I hung out until dark and got some good pictures of the stars before calling it a night.
Back at camp, a nice German family stopped by as they were walking around the area. We talked for a while about my trip and about their previous trips to the US and the National Parks.