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Ready for home and Highlights from Chicago to Indiana

I am indeed extremely road weary. The past few days I’ve been sluggish during our travels. One of the few highlights was our stop through Chicago, where we had lunch with my friend Chris, his wife Traci, and their newborn Baily. They decided to treat us to a Chicago favorite: Ed Debevic’s. I’ll let Rob explain why he and Chris got along so well and why they enjoyed more than the food.

After a laugh-filled lunch, Rob and I made our way to the Art Institute of Chicago for a couple of hours, then had a stress-filled drive trying to leave Chicago.

The confusion went something like this: “We want to take I-90E/I-94E, which really goes south, and at some point they break off and we want to follow 90.” 20 minutes go by and I’m on an iPhone looking for hotels in a small Indiana town, and I notice on my google map that we missed the 90 switchover and are still going due south instead of southeast. So arguments ensue about how to get back on track. We turn around, get on 90/94W, looking for 90E. (That’s another thing: what’s with highways in the Midwest having Interstates with 2 or more names? And why do they go N/S when they are called E/W??) Anyway. We get off the highway, and I’m scrambling to get google maps to re/-route us quickly because I can’t decipher the spaghetti mess of highways I’m staring at on my gps. We realize that we need route 55S to bring us to 90E/94E, but signage is not clear. A few turnarounds later and we’re on our way. Then, google maps did not make it clear that the 90E changeover was on the right, and is an exit.

Needless to say, we finally made it out of Chicago, and commenced paying tolls every couple of miles, even into Indiana. I’ve been tallying up the tolls and it’s actually not as bad as you’d think. Here are the states that have tolled us so far: California, Illinois and Indiana. San Francisco killed us with a $6.50 toll (which, I suppose is comparable to the Jersey Tappan Zee bridge), but Chicago and Indiana killed us with sheer number of tolls. AND-one of Indiana’s tolls didn’t even advertise how much the toll was till you approached the cashier! Really, Indiana?

Can you tell that my east coast sensibility is kicking in? We hit east coast time about an hour ago, and the New Englander in me came rolling back like no time had passed. Well, we’ll be home soon enough and I’ll no doubt be reminiscing about this vacation.


I wish I had pictures from Minnesota, but we were sort of on a mission. We got into town around 3:30, and decided to hit a local brewpub – Town Hall. We had a few samplers, chatted the bartender up, then got in the car for our hotel. We had just enough time to clean up and get some laundry done before we headed out to our first home-cooked meal in weeks at my friend Nick’s house. I’ve known Nick since I was a teenager and we’ve remained in contact through every possible social media outlet ever since.

It was great to see a familiar face and see that some things never change. I also got to meet his lovely wife, Zhenya, who cooked us an absolutely wonderful vegetarian meal. They also had quite a few different varieties of beer that we sampled throughout the night while we chatted, discussed the merits (and lack thereof) of Vegas, driving many hours on little sleep, and the crazy things that cats do. That was the other thing: they have three cats, one of which was friendly as hell and warmed up to Rob quickly, especially once he started scratching between her ears.

Our visit made us a little less homesick, and comforted to know we have great friends out in Minnesota, that have similar sensibilities to us. Thank you Nick and Zhenya, for making us feel so welcome.

West to West

Rob Dixon
Siuox Falls, Public Campgrounds

I’m sorry. I haven’t put a pixel to page in many a gigasecond. I’ve been busy. Let me explain…

Driving through the pacific northwest and then to find yourself in the big skies of Montana and South Dakota — it’s humbling. It’s tiring. It’s amazing.

I’ve seen things, man. I’ve been there. Perhaps you know full well. Perhaps you have some idea. Perhaps you have an inkling. Perhaps you have no clue whatsoever. Words can’t explain…

But I’ll try.

Diana and I have been camping most of the way since Seattle. Part of that is because I’m cheap. Yes, I admit it, but before you start throwing stones, the real reason is I needed a change and I knew I would.

I needed away.

Not away from the woman I love, my travel companion here and in life, but a change in pace, a change in tone — a change in scenery and in soundtrack. As I type, right now I am serenaded by crickets, frogs, and oddly enough, the hum of cars on Route 11 SD. It’s a far cry from the fighting couple on the tenth floor of the Richmond Marriott or the skitzo twenty-thirthy somethings meandering throughout Seattle. It’s peaceful. It’s soothing. It’s tending to the fire rather than calling the front desk. That’s the best way I can describe it.

I have encountered the screaming children slamming the doors to their RV, but this campsite is peaceful. I can hear the hum of traffic to the north and the fauna songs, but that’s it. The human contact is minimal except for Diana, which is greatly appreciated.

Everything is wide open here. The scenery just goes on and on. There’s miles and miles of flat countryside dotted with the occasional tree and the more frequent livestock resting by a shallow pond or under the shade of a billboard.

When we do run into the locals they are extremely friendly. There is the occasional disinterested teenager at the checkout, but I think that’s everywhere. Lots of cowboy hats, but not as many as Texas.

We visited Wall Drug and saw the Corn Palace. If you don’t know about those, you’ll just have to look them up. Let’s just say if you’re touring South Dakota and not doing the sport-hunt-fish thing, then you must visit Wall and Mitchell to truly get a feel for the local flavor.


South Dakota

South Dakota: Our original plan was to briefly view Mount Rushmore then drive another 4 hours to Mitchell, SD and camp for the night, giving our total driving time of 8 hours. Normally 8 hours of driving is completely doable. But we underestimated stops, the drive through Rapid City, and the drive to Mount Rushmore. We did actually really breeze through the viewing, since we decided to skip the $11 parking fee, but then we had to backtrack our way through Rapid City to head back into the interstate.

So we stopped in Wall, SD, which is pretty famous for Wall Drug. We passed more than a few billboards for Wall Drug, and we were told by Rob’s dad that we should check it out, since he used to go there as a kid. Since it was within walking distance of our campground, we went early this morning to get some food and do some walking.

They boasted $.05 coffee, free ice water, homemade doughnuts, art galleries, and lots more. The signage for the place is a bit campy, but it totally fits. Take your picture on a 10-foot jackolope, or beside a stuffed buffalo. Enjoy Dueling Banjos being played through the overhead speakers, and browse through an arcade-style tourist trap (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) series of stores where you could buy a variety of t-shirts, geodes, magnets, semi-precious stones, and other kitschy items. Throughout the entirety of the shopping arena, they have all sorts of memorabilia related to the owners of Wall Drug, old photographs of early SD settlers and Native Americans hanging on the walls, which was actually pretty neat.

So after we had our fill and spent a whopping $20 (not including breakfast) we walked back to our campground, and we’re now headed for Sioux Falls. Tomorrow: Minneapolis.

More on Yellowstone

By Diana Guay

To those of you following along at home, so sorry we haven’t blogged in a few days. We finally stayed at a “real” campsite in Yellowstone last night, in Bridge Bay. They had flushable toilets but that’s it. Rob and I managed a tent spot with a magnificent view of the Yellowstone lake, and camp neighbors on either side of us who made us feel at home. Rob made me an awesome twice baked potato with cheese and a really awesome crispy skin.

Check out some more pictures on

Right. Yellowstone. It was pretty amazing seeing the landscape change so dramatically. The hot springs, geysers, the ridiculously tall trees in our camp site… For those familiar with Yellowstone: we started out in the north entrance by Gardnir. Stopped in Mammoth Springs where we walked through a board-walked path towards hot springs where I took a bazillion pictures. It was around our stop at Od Faithful where it dawned on me the weirdness of this shared experience of tourists gathering, all with cameras, trying to capture something. As if a picture of the weird rock formation will mean anything to them in 5 years. I imagine them telling their friends about it. A shared experience, taking pictures of something we all took pictures of. But what is it worth? How is mine any different than that if the French tourist using his camera phone? Or of the Chinese students taking pictures with her disposable camera?

So I looked to Rob. He’s always one to be a golfball for the camera. I realized that what makes our pictures unique is who is in them. I watched Rob. I took pictures of him (and us) on our trip. It was fun. And it kept things interesting.

After leaving Yellowstone through the east entrance, we made our way to Cody, Wyoming, which is where we are stationed now. I started getting cranky on-route, and once we got into our hotel, I realized it’s probably because I feel a sickness coming on. I need sleep, vitamins, water and soup if I want to feel like myself again.

I do have some pictures from the past few days (including that of the infamous elk sampling our tent) but I need some rest. Till then, dear readers.

Yellowstone and beyond

So here I am, in a tent, on my MacBook using the campground wifi, blogging. I know what you’re thinking: I’m not really roughing it. In fact, Rob just made a comment about how he needs a picture of this odd scene. However, I’m taking advantages of services that we’re paying for. It’s also nice that tonight I am LITERALLY feet from the restrooms.

But the view is magnificent. I think I should post some pictures as evidence.

No, I am not kidding. I can walk outside of my tent and this is what I see.

And here is our modest, portable abode:

Last night, I was so tired, I took this picture from inside the tent, watching Rob tend the fire.
Camping in Montana

Check out more large-scale pics on my site.

To those of you who complained to me via facebook or text that we’re rushing right through the states and missing out on a lot – here’s my answer to you: now that we’re camping, we’re only averaging about 4 hours of driving a day before we know we need to start looking for camp. It takes time to set up the tent, get dinner started, clean up, yadda yadda. Then the next morning, you have to take the tent down, clean up and get moving again. So for this leg of the trip, we are slowing down a bit. We’re checking out Yellowstone tomorrow. Rob hopes to go fishing, and maybe we’ll camp in Yellowstone, provided there are vacancies.

Here’s a rough estimate of what we plan to do in the next week:
After another night camping either in Yellowstone proper or not too far outside, we will make our way east: probably going to camp near Sheridan, WY, make our way towards Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and camp there. On our way out the next day, we want to check out the Badlands National Park, spend the night at or near Sioux Falls, then the following night we should be in Minneapolis, where I suspect we’ll be finding hotel accommodations.

That’s the most I can plan out for the time being, since we haven’t really figured out what we want to do in the Wisconsin/Michigan/Illinois/Indiana/Ohio region. We might hit some upstate New York, but I’m not sure yet. Suggestions for states beyond Minnesota? Please let us know. Oh, and we’re fans of breweries, OBVIOUSLY.

Reflections on the trip

By Diana Guay

By all means, please have Tom Pettty’s Into The Great Wide Open playing in your head as you read this, because I am.

Being in wide open country can sometimes be maddening. You watch the unchanging landscape and can predict traffic for about 5 miles ahead of you, the road is that straight. Mountains are incredibly far away, but the nearer flat landscape holds no secrets on the journey towards these large mountains.

Towns start to blur one into another and towns like Carlsbad, NM looks sort of like Townsend, MT. When you take state routes instead of the Interstate, you’re plopped into these towns’ main streets, separated by the long stretches of plains. You’ll be driving upwards of 70 mph, then have to slow to 30 or 40 when you roll into a sprawl. These I can usually predict by following our path on my google map. You start to look for the “golden arches,” as that is our indicator of civilization that I am familiar with. Here, we are guaranteed clean bathrooms, free wifi, and (except in the south) good coffee. I hate to admit it, but they are our oases.

When driving on these long stretches of plains, Rob tells me he almost has to work harder at staying alert, probably because it would be so easy to let your driving brain go on autopilot, and then completely miss the car turning onto the route from the right.

For these reasons, we do look forward to Interstates, since there are frequent rest areas, food/lodging info, and scenic overlooks, things not guaranteed on the local routes.

When changing states, the landscape is known to change dramatically. One minute we’re in the desert with short, brown shrubbery, the next minute we see red rock formations, then enormous tree-less mountains, which eventually give way to the evergreen mountains of the pacific northwest, which feels more like home.

We’ve driven beside so many mile-long trains, stayed in so many hotels that things aren’t feeling as special. Rob’s even noticed that I barely give a second glance to the appearance of a new mountain or interesting natural beauty on the road. Maybe I’m just getting tired. Maybe I’m homesick. Or maybe there’s too much beauty to be seen and I’m in such an overload that my brain is shutting down. It does get tiring to have to pack up your belongings every morning and trudge on. Its sad to find a cute town like Petaluma or a great bustling city like Portland and know that you have to leave the next day. Oh sure, we hope to visit a lot of these places again, but it’s tiring and sad to discover these gems and then put miles behind you toward the next stop.

I am looking forward to seeing some natural beauty of Yellowstone, possibly some badlands in Wyoming, and then Mount Rushmore. But I think I’m looking forward to not moving around quite so much.


I was a little nervous to go camping for the first time, so Rob took it a little easy on me. Our first night was in Coeur D’Alene in Idaho, and it had more amenities than one needs when “roughing it.” The description online mentions bathrooms, showers, a pool and hot tub, as well as a pool table, paddle boats, a convenience store… You get the picture. It was fun, though. I enjoyed setting up the tent, sitting by a campfire and eating food soaked in fire smoke goodness. We toasted some bread, cooked jiffy pop and shared a few local beers until it got too dark and cold.

Which brings us to the one downside to camp night one: it was bitterly cold and we only brought a few blankets. I spent half the night shivering, cured up closely to Rob for body heat, while thoughts of hyperthermia raced in my head. On top of the fact that I had to pee. And the nearest bathroom was about 500 yards away. Uphill. In the cold. But I’m not complaining too much because Rob’s telling me that soon we’ll be camping where I’ll have to dig my own ditch to relieve myself, something I’m trying to ignore in hopes that he’s kidding me.

Needless to say, Rob and I didn’t sleep so well our first night camping together. But even so, when we got up, we were both eager for instant coffee and breakfast from our portable burner and were able to shrug off the cold night as lesson learned. We immediately made plans to find sleeping bags in the next big town: Missoula.

Camp night two in Helena, Montana: So far, so good. Already things are looking up because I managed to set up the tent all by myself (well, Rob assisted on a few key points), giving me time to curl up inside on the cozy air mattress (complete with new sleeping bags!) with warm dusk sun streaming in through the tent’s vestibule. The fire’s already going and the smell of firewood burning is putting me at ease.

Portland to Seattle (Seattle is grungier).

For the short stay that was Portland, it was charming. I loved it. Microbrews on every other block, clean streets and great coffee.

In Portland, Diana and I stayed at the Governor Hotel — lavish digs at a decent price. We visited the Tug Boat and Deschutes Breweries, among others, and even paused to marvel at the solar-powered compacter trash bins outside center city’s whole foods.

I must admit all the microbrewery “hopping” and sampling of the past few days have made the Protestant ethic in me soft. I don’t mind lushing it up, but Seattle is the breaking point.

In Seattle’s world famous fish market I did see charismatic mongers screaming something like, “2 pounds of herring, Harry!” all in unison, then to see a fish fly 15 feet across the market air into the deft catch-and-paper-wrap action of a smooth professional. That was kinda cool.

But, but, but. With Seattle comes some buts. The homeless. The tourists. The hills.

Perhaps I’m spoiled. Maybe I didn’t give Seattle the right chance. But, but, but. I don’t care. That’s life. I guess it’s like any other thing in where you have just the one first chance. Maybe you’ll get more, but probably not if that first chance is blown.

…but Portland was nice. I’ll definitely visit Oregon again.

Oregon to Washington

Portland: As we entered the city, parked, and walked throughout the city I felt at home. It wasn’t terribly congested like NYC but still had decent foot traffic and patrons at restaurants to make it not feel like a ghost town. It was extremely clean (I only smelled garbage once in our entire day and a half in Portland), and extremely young. The average age was late 20’s-early 30’s. They were our age, and some had young kids, and many of them were walking dogs or riding bikes. I felt like I was on a completely different universe. I was walking in a city run by kids my age, and running it much how I would want to run it.

When we walked by a solar-paneled trash compactor, I was floored. I’d never seen anything like this before but it makes so much sense: it’s why the city doesn’t smell like garbage.

Portland, OR: Carbon neutral by 2030

I HAVE to say a few words on the brewpubs. We almost skipped over Portland. We almost went from Crescent City CA to Seattle WA. It would have been a long drive, and I woke up very cranky in Crescent City. So I suggested that we stop in Portland, completely forgetting about it being THE brew city. So we decided to pub crawl, and did samplers all night. Here’s why I love brew culture: it’s young, smart and creative. Folks enjoying good microbrews are generally well-educated, like to have a good time, but aren’t in it to get trashed (like in Vegas, for instance). The end of it: we want to go back to Portland on our next vacation, there are so many brewpubs we didn’t hit.

Portland, OR

On our travels up into Washington: It’s been wonderful. The northwest air is cool and moderate. Much like home. But it’s mountain air and it feels clean in my lungs. We drove up I-5 listening to tunes with the windows open, letting in that refreshing mountain air and life felt grand.

We got into Seattle around 2:30 and decided to do a self-guided walking tour. We basically saw Pike’s Market Place and that was enough. It was fun, bustling, and the cool air coming off the water was refreshing. Driving down to the waterside was interesting: each block toward the water was like a giant stair-step at a very steep decline. Walking down a (perceived) 45 degree angle street was interesting. Walking back up it was a test to my lung capacity.


Check out more Seattle pics.

Next up: we start camping as we head back east – Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas.