Last Days of Summer

When I left off the story of our road trip, we had just arrived in Minnesota. That was over a month ago, and somehow I just never got around to writing about the rest of the trip. And then it seemed like too much time had gone by, and I avoided my blog like I do when I get writer’s block and don’t know where to start. But now we are only TEN DAYS!!!!!!! away from staging/orientation for Peace Corps, and I feel like I should wrap up our summertime adventures before I start writing about Macedonia. I’m hoping to post more frequently after we leave, and I’m usually better about blogging when I’m abroad, but we’ll see.

Our friends Ben and Kirsten live in Minnesota, and while they’ve been out to see us in DC a bunch of times (and married us!) I’ve never been to Minnesota at all, and only had wonderful epic stories to go off of. After we left Chicago, we drove through THE ENTIRE STATE OF WISCONSIN (my favorite part was when we stopped at a gas station and inside the convenience store, first thing when you walk in the door, was a cheese display with actual good cheeses in it) and into northern MN to a cabin Kirsten’s parents go to every summer. It was nice to have a break from straight sightseeing and just relax on the lake with no plans or need to go anywhere.

Minneapolis is deceptively wonderful in the summer. If I didn’t know what winter had in store for them, I might have just unpacked my bags and stayed forever. The more I think about it, this was pretty much the theme for most of the places we visited across the northern route. Most of my plans for Minneapolis involved eating, because it was what Kyle had raved about the most. Hot dish! Burgers the size of your face! Delicious fried cheese covered things! All of my favorite food groups in one place. Plus lakes everywhere, and fancy Victorian houses, the sculpture garden, the Mall of America (I had to go. I couldn’t not go. As a Valley kid, I was practically raised in a mall, and this is like the Mecca of malls.) And everyone is SO FRIENDLY. When we were driving out of MN we stopped for an oil change and when we told the guy at the register how far we had driven, he ACTUALLY said “Oh Jeepers! That’s a long way!”. HE SAID JEEPERS. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

On the way to Yellowstone, we spent a couple of night in the Black Hills. We hadn’t planned it ahead of time, but we happened to be there at the same time that the Sturgis motorcycle rally was happening. I have never seen so many bikers in one place. When we arrived at our campground, the owner told us there had been 9 deaths so far that day, the first day of the rally – six accidents (a lot of the bikers didn’t wear helmets), and three heart attacks (a lot of the bikers were also incredibly obese). We went to Mount Rushmore, took a drive up to Sturgis (SO MANY BIKES), and enjoyed some time at our campsite watching wildlife.

I was really expecting Yellowstone to be the high point of our trip, and it didn’t disappoint. The main thing I would do differently next time would be to pick one campground (Canyon most likely) and just stay put. We moved to 4 different campground in 6 days, and while it cut down our driving time between seeing things, it was kind of exhausting. On the other hand, Yellowstone is so crazy beautiful that I’m glad we got to really experience so many different parts of the park: the lake, Hayden Valley, Lamar Valley, the Grand Canyon and falls, Mammoth hot springs (where we spent a few hours relaxing in the Boiling River, where a cold river and a super hot spring come together and basically make a natural jacuzzi – one of my favorite things we did), all of the mud pots and geysers and fumaroles. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We actually cut our trip to Yellowstone a day short, and drove down through the Grand Tetons to Jackson. Jackson was another spot where as soon as we came into town through the mountains, I could immediately see myself living there (if not for the winter, of course). There’s no cell service at all in Yellowstone, so it was kind of hilarious when we came through the Tetons because our phones just exploded with noise and notifications and emails, and I realized that I hadn’t missed being connected to the world at all. After an AWESOME lunch at a brewpub in town and a little exploring, we drove through to Boise before pushing on to Oregon.

Just after we crossed the Oregon border was the first time I thought we might actually run out of gas. This had been a running fear of mine for most of the trip, but we were on a pretty major highway and there was always gas every 20 or 30 miles, even if was just a mom and pop shop. Until Eastern Oregon. We left Boise with a third of a tank, and I figured I would just drive for a bit and fill up in Oregon. All of a sudden we were down to two dots, with endless desert stretching out in front of us and no gas for 50 MILES!! So we drove down some tiny road for twenty miles back to Idaho, to a farmer’s coop gas station, barely making it. Crisis averted.

Oregon as a whole was probably my favorite place we visited. Our first stop was in Hood River, about 45 minutes east of Portland. It is mostly known for having more breweries/wineries/cideries per capita than anywhere else in the country. Our two days there were filled with awesome food and beer, live music, incredible hiking, and THE LOUDEST campground I’ve ever stayed in. It was a really nice state park…that just so happens to be sandwiched between an active railroad (with trains coming and blaring their horns every two hours all night) and a highway. But it was right on the river, so that made up for it a little.

We drove out to the coast and spent the afternoon in Astoria (home of The Goonies!) and then drove down to a campsite we found next to a marina. Aside from the fishy smell and the not so great bathrooms, it was actually a nice spot with people to chat with, a huge fire pit (which was great because it was rainy/misty most of the time we were there) and giant Jenga. The biggest highlight for me was the Tillamook Cheese Factory – cheese and ice cream and more cheese samples. This part of the trip would have been way nicer if there weather had been good, but the rain and damp made us not really want to hang out on the beach like we’d planned. We headed back towards Portland, where we spent a day doing basically all of the touristy things you can do in Portland (with more money and space, I could be really dangerous in Powell’s). We did have EPIC Thai food at a place called Chiang Mai, more really good beer, and just wandered around the city and the Saturday market.

After we left Portland, we were close to the end of the trip. While we still had a lot of stops to make and people to see, and things we were looking forward to, it also really felt like we were ready to stop traveling for a bit. Sometimes you just want to sit in bed and watch Netflix all day, which isn’t an easy thing to do when you feel like you should be constantly exploring and doing things. We drove down through the Willamette Valley, stopping for wine and cider along the way, and met another Mak20 in Eugene.

(Can I just pause here and say we are pretty much the luckiest people on the planet, because everyone from close friends to people we hadn’t even met yet were so welcoming to have us in their homes, feed us, host us overnight, meet us for dinner or an outing, and it just really means a lot to us to have that opportunity and friendship. Seriously.)

Our plan after Eugene was to camp in the Redwoods, but when we arrived we realized the wildfires were much closer than we had anticipated, and while we probably wouldn’t have been in immediate danger, the smoke was so overwhelming that we decided just to keep driving and spend more time in San Francisco the next day. We did take the Avenue of the Giants drive through the Redwoods, which was pretty amazing in spite of the haze. On the way to our rest stop for the night, we grabbed these fusion bahn mi sandwiches at this drive through place in Eureka. It was hands down THE BEST sandwich of any kind I have ever had. And it was enormous.

We saw San Francisco in two parts. I got a gig writing an article for a travel website, and I was supposed to stay at a Holiday Inn along the way (that I got lots of free points to pay for) and include a short review in my piece. So we picked a fancy one in Fisherman’s Wharf and did all of the tourist things – walked along the Embarcadero, climbed crazy hills into Chinatown, ate delicious Italian food in North Beach, took pictures in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. The we drove down to Santa Cruz to see our friend Sage and spend some time eating burritos and laying on the beach.

So my best friend Terza and I have known each other since we were 7 years old. And now she is a crazy smart PhD/Vet student at Davis, doing all the science things, and again while she has visited me on the East Coast I have never visited her in all the time she’s been in either Berkeley or Davis. I am a bad friend. BUT I finally got to visit her! Win! And see Shelby dog, and lay in a river, and go for long walks, and tour the vet school and not see frozen raccoons, and eat and drink delicious things. The thing I’m most sad to miss while we’re gone is her double doctor graduation, which has been in my calendar for years now. But apparently they live stream it, because I live in the future.

AND THEN IT WAS KYLE’S BIRTHDAY!! Kyle turned 30, and to celebrate we went back to San Francisco. We wandered around the Mission, got some AMAZING Burmese food, and toured the Anchor brewery (and drank lots of samples). We stayed with our friends Ariel and Julia, who we met in Thailand and who are about to take off on their own adventure. It’s always so amazing to me when you meet people while traveling who turn into good friends, and who then you don’t see for a few years, and then when you see again it’s like no time passed. AND I got to play board games.

We spent one last day in SF walking around the Castro and Golden Gate Park, and then it was time to head back to LA. We drove down the coast through Big Sur, and while our original itinerary had us camping for a few days along the way, we just wanted to be home. We’ve been back in the Valley for almost two weeks now, mostly seeing people and spending time with our families. It’s been a little stressful to think we leave so soon, and everyone else is so busy packing, and since our bags are back in DC we really are leaving some stuff to the last minute. But it’s also allowing us to just enjoy our time here. Now we’re off for another day of adventure! Nine more to go!!

**I have more pictures to post, but it turns out I’ve run out of storage space on the blog. Whoops. I’ll upgrade or figure something out before we leave, so I’ll add them on later.

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