TTYL, Phoenix

Today is Day 1 in my new home: Bloomington, Indiana.

It’s a place that has felt like home for a few years, but now it’s official. My clothes are hanging in the closet. My car is parked in the driveway. My computer is on a desk in the office.

So how did I get here? We drove my car, Max, a trusty and handsome Exterra, across the country. That’s him, below.

We drove from Phoenix to Jerome, Arizona, to Salt Lake City to Lander, Wyoming, to Fort Collins, Colorado, to Mount Rushmore to Fairmont, Minnesota, to Byron, Illinos, and six days after leaving Phoenix, we arrived in Bloomington.

Is there a quicker way? Well, sure. But I’ve driven the direct route three times. It’s not that great.

So this time, we took a Road Trip. Note the use of uppercase letters, which suggests things like beef jerky consumption (check), getting pulled over for speeding (check) and finding a bug in a motel room (check).

We drove approximately 2,894 miles. We filled the car with about $890 in gas. Just kidding. That’s an obscene number! You didn’t believe me, did you? (I was honest about the mileage, though. I didn’t want to get in a car for like a week after we made it to Bloomington.)

The Road Trip was awesome. Road trips are the new tropical vacations. Take one. Plan to see a friend, family or sight each day and you’ll always have something to look forward to, which makes driving less like punching a clock. Drive through the West – it’s gorgeous. Avoid interstates – they’re boring. Bring binoculars. I used my grandpa’s pair to look out into the desert and up at Mount Rushmore, just like he did on road trips decades ago.

Like all true road trips, we hit a pretty big detour, about an hour into the trip. The detour took us through the Grand Canyon, which I had seen but Jeff had not. We initially crossed GC off the list of sights to see because it was too far out of the way. But, there we were.

In retelling the story, Jeff, an Eagle Scout, claims he was “over nature” until he saw the Grand Canyon.

We continued on to Salt Lake City, arriving four hours late at 3:30 a.m. Thanks, detour. We spent the night and in the morning we checked out the Salt Lake City Temple.

Back on the road, and five hours later, we arrived in Lander, Wyoming, where Jeff’s cousin Sarah lives. She works for NOLS, a company that puts on leadership classes in the wild.

We had venison burgers for dinner. They were a lot like regular burgers, except that they’re a tad drier and you think about deer every time you take a bite.

Fact: Sarah’s boss hunted and butchered the deer that we ate.

That’s Sarah and Jeff, on Sarah’s back porch.

Here are a couple things I learned about Lander: There are about 7,000 people and everyone in the town is on a listserv. So, if you need help, say, butchering your deer, you can ask for help that way. On Veteran’s Day, the town’s VFW members wake up super early and fire cannons in the yards of veterans’ homes, or homes where veterans used to live — it’s fun to not tell new residents about this tradition until there’s a cannon going off in their front yard at 5 a.m., Sarah said.

Also, there’s a beautiful canyon that Sarah took us to twice: Once after the deer burgers, and then again the next morning before we got back on the road. Sarah’s really adorable dog, Cleo, joined us.

From Lander, we headed to Fort Collins, Colorado, to visit Timiry, a friend from high school. Within minutes of pulling up to her house, we were on bikes, pedaling toward New Belgium brewery, which makes Fat Tire beer. They give you three samples for free. A cool thing is that their coasters are post cards that the brewery mails off for you. So, we wrote to our moms and dads and friends to say we missed them and wished they were here and that the beer tastes the same but was free.

We also hit O’Dell brewery (above, where Jeff and Timiry are), which makes a beer I like called 90 Shilling. Timiry is really fun and a fantastic hostess. Though we miss her in the Midwest, she’s doing amazing things in Fort Collins, so we’ll let her stay.

From Fort Collins, we drove five hours to Mount Rushmore, which really wasn’t on our way to anywhere, but it felt like the American thing to do. It’s pretty amazing to see in person.

Using binoculars, we could see the rims of Roosevelt’s glasses, which was a neat detail. If you visit Mount Rushmore someday, I suggest packing a lunch and enjoying it on the benches on the other side of the balcony that everyone is hanging on in the photo.

From Mount Rushmore, in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, we took Interstate 90 – which is as straight and long as it appears on a map – across the state. We planned to stay in Sioux Falls, in the southeastern corner of South Dakota, but as we got closer, we felt like we could drive a couple more hours. We randomly decided on Fairmont, Minnesota, about two hours past South Dakota.

I called my dad to let him know where we’d be stopping – this totally random city – and he laughed and asked me if I knew the significance of Fairmont:

In the late ’50s, my dad took a road trip to Mount Rushmore with his mom and dad and sisters. When they passed through Fairmont, my grandpa got pulled over. Instead of getting a ticket, though, he got a key to the city of Fairmont from the mayor. It was a tourism booster, and my dad’s family got a free overnight stay and a tank of gas.

I had heard my dad tell the story before, but I didn’t remember the city where it happened. My grandpa passed away earlier this year, but I think he would have really gotten a kick out of Jeff and I staying there on a whim.

From Fairmont, we had an easy drive to Byron, Illinois, where we visited my grandmas, aunts and uncles. We woke up early the next morning for the final day of driving.

Not really a glamour shot of my grand re-entrance into the state of Indiana, but here it is.

Home sweet home.


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