Massachusetts to Nevada and Back Again – Part I

I like to think of myself as a closet adventurer – I unfortunately spend most of my normal life either in one class or another, at one job or another, or at home doing work for each. However, when I take time off I like to really take time off. So far this summer I’ve spent more time away  than I have anywhere near my home state. Most of that has been spent in Buffalo visiting the mister, but fifteen days were spent on a road trip I’ve been wanting to take for years.

I went with Steve, a very good friend of mine (Mike was stellar about this). We had a rough plan of where we wanted to go, so on Tuesday July 12th around 8pm we left, on our way westward.

Our first stop was Buffalo to quickly visit Mike, which was a profoundly wonderful way to begin the trip. It was 4am when we arrived, and the visit was only two hours, but since I only get to be with him once a month I was ecstatic.

Our goal for that night, Wednesday, was to be in Chicago. It was a day-long drive from Buffalo, so we decided to stop over in Cleveland for a couple of hours since it was a sort of midpoint between the two cities. Cleveland was lovely, clean.

Cleveland on a sunny day

We walked around outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Outside because it was $26 for admission, and we really didn’t care too much about seeing memorabilia.

Photobomb at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

We stretched our legs and had some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was my turn to drive, so off to Chicago we went.

I should explain that we were taking this trip as a modern adventure – we were trying to get rid of as many creature comforts as we could during the time spent away. This meant we were on a strict diet of granola bars for breakfast, pb&j for lunch, and a random assortment of raisins and granola for dinner. We would sleep when we both felt too tired to drive, I had a tent borrowed from a friend, and he had the car. We had a few all-nighters when we were both jazzed over what we had seen during the day, or what would be seen in the coming hours. Showers were taken when we could get them, which ended up being every other day, a welcome surprise. Going out to eat, was only to be done sparingly – mostly when we were visiting friends. I left my laptop at home, so unfortunately my nightly Skype dates with Mike were to take a hiatus. Steve did bring his precious, his iPad, as well as his professional camera gear and his laptop so he could unload the hundreds of photos he took.

Our vehicle of choice was Steve’s, a Chevy Malibu Hybrid – a nice car, but the hybrid feature was particularly kind on our wallets. It was to be our home for two weeks, so we outfitted it with a cooler to hold our food, a couple of metal water bottles for each of us, and my big paper map of the US. The trunk was our closet and storage for our beds. I had a sleeping bag and a yoga mat to be used as a ground cover in the tent. Steve had a blanket and an air mattress. I had a book to read (The Hobbit) when I wasn’t driving, enjoying the scenery, or sleeping. As I mentioned, Steve had his iPad.

Anyway, off we went to Chicago. We had planned on staying with a friend of Steve’s, but she advised us that three people in a studio apartment without air conditioning in 95 degree weather may be a poor choice. We agreed, so we found a cheap hotel room (which ended up being really nice) right across the street from Millennium Park.  We got there just as the sun was going down. That night we went out to eat at the original Pizzeria Uno and got four cheese and basil pesto deep dish.

Original Pizzeria Uno
Four cheese and basil pesto deep dish

So yummy, but it was a lot of food, even to split. Afterwards Sarah showed us around downtown Chicago. We went to the beach, the bean, and saw the new Marylin Monroe statue that had yet to be unveiled.

The next morning the first thing we did was to go to Harpo Studios, and Steve was a very happy man.

Oprah!

We walked around Millennium Park for a while after that. Seriously, Chicago is a city done right. Nice and clean, lots of green places to play in, sculptures that are interesting and culturally relevant, and everything is very well taken care of. I would move there in a heartbeat.

Millennium Park... file this under how I would like my future backyard to look like
The Bean... actually called the Jay Pritzker Pavillion

That afternoon we started driving toward South Dakota. The next morning, Friday the 15th, we stopped over in Oklahoma to visit with AJ at Catholic Heart Work Camp. From there we drove through Nebraska and Iowa, stopping at the World’s Largest Truck Stop, where there was a truck beauty contest and the best mullet I’ve ever seen.

That afternoon we crossed the boarder into South Dakota.

This is my 'crossing state lines' face

I had no idea, but South Dakota is such an interesting place. We stopped off at an exit for a pit stop at a convenience store. Instead, we found the weirdest consignment shop I’ve ever been in. The woman at the counter told me where the restrooms were and I walked to the back room. Immediately I realized that this place could either have the coolest things on its shelves, or someone waiting for me with a chainsaw in the back, and Steve and I would end up as inspiration for a crappy slasher flick. Luckily I was not hacked to bits. But I did buy an old license plate. The woman at the counter was so sweet too… She told us if we walked about 5 minutes up the road we’d find a little town that was abandoned during the Great Depression and the first house we’d come to belonged to a woman who starved herself and died there. So we did.

Next door neighbor of lady who starved herself house

I decided to go exploring inside of the house. I got through the living room, which was just a tornado of debris, until I ran into the biggest swarm of flies I’d ever seen. And according to every scary movie I’ve seen, that was my cue to exit. We hung around for a bit longer, and I resisted the huge urge I had to go back to the shop and buy everything they had.

It was getting way too hot to stay outside, so we continued on our way.

South Dakota: the land of weird ghost towns and grasshoppers

This is when I learned that billboards actually work. Starting from about 100 miles back, we began seeing signs for 1880 Town, where they filmed Dances With Wolves, Little House on the Prairie, and lots of other westerns. They advertised every couple of miles, so by the time we were an exit away we clearly had to visit. It was SO worth it.

Yeehaw 1880

Every house or shop there is from somewhere different in the country, but all from 1880. They were moved to this town by the founder and countless westerns have been filmed there every since. We spent a few hours there, exploring the houses and shops. There was even a camel.

We spent so much time there that it was clear we wouldn’t make it to Mount Rushmore that day. So we took our time driving there and saw the most beautiful sunset either of us had ever seen.

My Blackberry clearly could not capture the awesomeness that was this sunset. With the badlands as a backdrop it was crazy gorgeous. Luckily Steve had his handy dandy professional camera.

We’ll end our adventure here for now. Part II coming soon.

OPR

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