Wedtrip 2016: How Chuck, Bucky & Ron Kept Me Moving

‘Out battered suitcases were piled high on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.’ -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Topping off at 6300 miles round-trip, this year’s ‘Wedding Roadtrip’ was by far mine and the General’s most extensive excursion yet.

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Inside the General–probably the most common setting for my snapchats

I was so thankful when I heard the three weddings I wanted to go to this summer all happened to be in an eight-day span–I did not have to consider choosing.

 

midwest15Seeing college buddies again after a year of separation brought me to tears on more than one occasion. Thank you to all the happy couples for gathering everyone together again! I also stayed with friends en route–Matt and Maddy in Portland, The Sean Berry outside Denver, Mitch during one of my four treks across the state of Nebraska. In St. Louis I had three days ‘off’ from driving, and stayed with Emily & Tommy, experiencing St. Louis and relaxing by the pool. I also explored St. Charles with college friend Brittany and Arizona-childhood friend Kristen, the latter of whom moved to St. Louis and strangely enough met Brittany at their mutual church.

midwest12I could not even begin to list all the beautiful people with whom I reconnected at the weddings and during Seward NE’s famous Fourth of July celebration. I love making friends wherever I go, but relaxing in the presence of dozens of people you love and who love you back brings a peace beyond words. We reminisced old memories, made new ones, listened to a lot of country music, shared a few drinks, talked about tractors, and danced the night away. Country people and their gracious communities will always captivate me.

midwest7The mechanical issues on this trip were a bit disheartening, but each situation was better manageable. I left Seattle almost directly from the shop after replacing a severely frayed throttle cable. After 2000 miles, only 100 miles short of my first destination, the bearings in my A/C compressor locked up and snapped the fan belt while I was on the highway at 9 p.m. on a Friday. (Nothing ever breaks during normal business hours, does it?) I tearfully called Dad in Montana and he immediately had a tow truck take me to a mechanic who was open late, and I drove away two hours later. In addition, I knew plenty of people in Omaha NE, and the Doerrs opened their home to me, complete with air mattress, until I could finish the final stretch the following morning. On the return trip I ran out of oil in Kimberly ID at 10 p.m., but a helpful country boy and his sister added oil to the thirsty General, directed me to my campground, and gave me the name and address of a mechanic who opened early the next morning for a proper oil change.

midwest5In regards to timing, I broke down in all the ‘right’ places and without major readjustments to my schedule. The bigger damage was, of course, to my wallet. I had budgeted generously for the trip and even portioned out a few bucks for a tune-up at Chuck’s Auto Repair before the trip, but did not think I would have two more trips to–you guessed it–Bucky’s Express and Ron’s American Car Care Center before returning to Seattle.

midwest3Financially there was one major thing that kept me from complete disaster: an app called Roadie. Roadie, the self-termed ‘On-the-Way Delivery Network,’ allowed me to compare my route with people who needed stuff hauled across the country. Kevin C. wanted his motorcycle hauled from Portland OR to Millcreek UT, and I happened to be going that way. By using the app to contact Kevin, I met his brother outside Portland, who loaded Kevin’s bike into the bed of my pickup, securing it themselves with their own equipment.

I was off! I drove 13 hours with what felt like half the gold of Fort Knox in the bed of my pickup. ‘You’re paying for this trip,’ I whispered continually to the red machine in my rearview mirror. ‘Please don’t get stolen. Please don’t bounce out. Please don’t break.’ I even slowed down around mountainous corners and did not drive more than four miles per hour over the speed limit (vast improvement, for those of you who are unaware of my safe yet cop-infested driving record).

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Castle Rock NE–I also spent time in Castle Rock CO on this trip

Since I was pulling into Millcreek late, Kevin and his wife Katie offered to swap me a night on their couch for two six-packs of Oregonian beer. Another trade in the books, and I not only saved on money for lodging, but got paid enough cash to cover my gas money from Seattle to Omaha! Thanks to Roadie, and Kevin, I was able to finish my roadtrip only $25 over my original budget, which includes expenses paid to Chuck, Bucky and Ron. My diet for the past couple weeks has consisted mostly of rice and Top Ramen-esque meals, and the General’s A/C is permanently condemned–but this trip was worth every penny for the sake of mental clarity and emotional fulfillment.

 

Joining a national gym (24-Hour Fitness) last December turned out to be one of my better ideas in regards to travel plans, because I was able to lift in Denver and Portland to supplement my running and burn off some extra drive energy. I ran around three lakes, in Storm Lake IA, one outside St. Louis, and one outside Lincoln NE. Regarding diet, this was also my healthiest trip yet: I only ate out twice, and bought everything else at grocery stores to pre-make meals in St. Louis, the halfway point.

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St. Louis: penguins, pool time, and a museum exhibit that possibly inspired a future roadtrip…

This year I only spent one night in a campground (sorry Mom) (she hates when I do that) (but it’s cheap and I love falling asleep under the stars while surrounded by the comforting sides of the General’s truck bed) (sorry Mom), as opposed to the four nights last year on a shorter roadtrip. I was also travelling through areas where I knew more people, and to my benefit (?) my friends have spread out more, allowing me to see more people on a given route rather than only at a destination.

 

There was a moment, while crossing the desert north of Moab UT at 84 mph, that I thought, ‘Even if my truck is disintegrating around me, perhaps I can make it just a little closer to home before the inevitable happens,’ and I laughed a maniacal laugh. My windows were rolled down and half my current driving outfit was lying on the passenger seat while I tried in vain to beat the heat, and my left arm became more sunburned with each passing minute, and my hair was tangled and my face was grimy. I was high on hugs and love from all the people I had seen in the previous two weeks, and I laughed. I was rocketing through hundreds of miles of burning sand on a tiny strip of pavement inside an inanimate machine which was the closet thing to a best friend an inanimate machine has ever been to me, and currently my only friend for as far as the eye could see, and I laughed. For a time I did not know if I would have enough money for fuel to get home to Seattle, but I just kept laughing, because my mind was at peace and there was still road ahead of me, so why not laugh?

‘But no matter, the road is life.’

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Rockin & Rollin & Coastin

I think I laughed more in those days than in all my life before.   -C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

chicahio3People ask me how I travel so much, and honestly I don’t know: a couple months ago I was sitting in an ice cream shop in Nashville during a music festival (see previous post) and got a call from Elias asking if I wanted to go to Chicago after Haiti (see also) and visit my brother in Wisconsin and of course I couldn’t turn that down but didn’t know if I had the financial capabilities for such an adventure but then I discovered my parents were flying out to see my brother as well five days later so I just moved my flight upandflewfromOmahainsteadofMontana. (Now breathe.)

So that’s how I travel. (I still don’t know.)

Sometimes the pieces just fall into place.

One thing leading to another, networking, keeping in contact with friends, combining trips, living simply while on the road.

chicahio2Both halves of the trip encompassed museums, restaurants and general upper-Midwest-city exploration.

Chicago: Elias and I had three days to explore Chicago, and my brother Kevin and his girlfriend Megan joined us on the second and third days. The first night Elias and I stayed in the Wrigley Hostel, which I highly recommend: superb location near downtown, clean and spacious rooms, a plethora of bathrooms and reasonable prices. In the basement common area Elias and I made Dutch, Danish and Australian acquaintances over a pool table and a game of Jenga. The hostel was friendly, comfortable, and safe–I regret I only stayed one night!

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Sharks!

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Ugly-cute fish

Sites: We were hoping for the $8 entrance fee for the Shedd Aquarium which we saw online, but that only included the main floor. Granted, this area was expansive: exhibits showcased critters from all parts of the world. Those from the Amazon River were undoubtedly the ugliest (but, like, in a cute way. Mostly). However, the lower level housed whales, sharks, otters and a young dolphin. We also pet starfish and watched penguins play and swim. For a one-time event, the $35 ticket was worth it (student discounts were also offered).

We debated between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, but decided on the latter. The exhibits featured nine captivating videos by artist Keren Cytter which felt like rewatching old dreams; an interactive exhibit by Kris Martin in which we walked inside a tipped-over hot air balloon into another room; and my favorite, a handwritten lecture on music made almost entirely of questions, titled ‘Silence,’ and mounted on a wall page-by-page on yellow legal paper.

chicahio14Is it possible that I could go [on] monotonously asking questions forever? Would I have to know how many questions I was going to ask? Would I have to know how to count in order to ask questions? Do I have to know when to stop? Is this the one chance we have to be alive and ask a question? How long will we be able to be alive? Contemporary music is not the music of the future not the music of the past but simply music present with us: this moment, now. This now moment….That moment is always changing….We are thinking, I am talking and contemporary music is changing. Like life it changes. -Silence

chicahio9The four of us made our own art by capturing the moment ourselves, or sometimes capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment:

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Megan photographing the hot-air balloon; Kevin, her; Elias, Kevin’s ear; me, the whole hilarity.

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Back-of-the-head selfies are wildly popular right now. (We’re starting the trend.)

Of course we could not leave Chicago without spending some time on the lakefront with the Bean, which I recently learned is officially titled ‘Cloud Gate Sculpture.’ There was a symphony playing in Millennium Park, and a large crowd had gathered to listen, mostly lying on blankets on the lawn in front.

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Buckingham Fountain

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Cloud Gate at night

Friends: Anthony and his roadtripping buddies were passing through Chicago after a jaunt through Canada, and happened to be going to the Shedd Aquarium at the same time. My college roommate Hannah and her fiancé Joe were also passing through the city, so we chatted for a few minutes beneath the shadow of the Bean. The more I travel the more I cross paths with friends–and the more I realize this is probably setting the stage for more spontaneous encounters. (I travelled with both Anthony and Hannah when I went to Florida and Nashville in June.)

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Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee: Kevin lives north of Milwaukee, so Elias and I walked around downtown all day while he went to work. The Third Ward has plenty of coffee shops and boutiques to satisfy us college-students-ish. The paved lakefront sidewalk runs past the art museum and through a park with a statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Apparently he was a third-generation Milwaukean.

Sites: Mainly food, for us on this trip at least. The Milwaukee Waterfront Deli delivers sandwiches to the second floor with a tiny open elevator which was fun to watch. Also the deli has great sandwiches, but of course that takes second place to a dumbwaiter that goes around corners. This was my first visit to a classy Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, and it was well worth the visit.

chicahio17We also paid a visit to the British-style John Hawks Pub, but we opted to sit on the deck next to the river to enjoy the view instead of going inside. On our final night in Milwaukee, Kevin took us to Safe House, an espionage-themed restaurant that requires a ‘password’ to access through an alleyway door! It was originally the meeting location for the Milwaukee Press Club, so I enjoyed the journalism as well as the espionage décor.

Riding surreys and bikes

Riding surreys and bikes

Muskegon: The ferry across Lake Michigan saved several hours of driving around the south side of the lake. We took the earliest boat so we could have two days at our destination. We rented surreys (two-person side-by-side bicycle carts) from The Depot and rode six miles back to the lake at Pere Marquette beach. The path followed a main road, but we only had to cross traffic twice. The beach was lovely, far nicer than I expected. The gigantic waves apparently provide some of the best surfing opportunities in the country, as well as a prime location for sailing, kiteboarding and other watersports.

chicahio19Sites: Muskegon’s two World War II museums were different than most: one was located inside a landing craft used on D-Day at Omaha beach and also in Sicily, and the other was, in part, a tour through submarine USS Silversides! The former museum included memorabilia from all of WWII, and a vast amount from D-Day itself, while the latter museum focused mostly on the history and mechanics of submarine warfare.

Sandusky: Ohio held the crowning moment of the trip, the day for which Mom and I have waited…for five years…to conquer every roller coaster at Cedar Point, the ‘Roller Coaster Capital of the World’! After succumbing to wind last May, we were ready for action. We planned two days into our stay instead of one, which was a good idea since high winds which force the coasters to close are common on the narrow peninsula. We finally made it to Millennium Force, voted the world’s best roller coaster several years in a row. We also rode Top Thrill Dragster, one of two strata coasters in the world (height drop of more than 400 feet), which reaches 120mph in 3.8 seconds during ascent.chicahio26 chicahio27

Sites: Cedar Point itself was incredible. As a die-hard Disneyland family, we keep high standards: but Cedar Point met all those standards in hospitality (friendly, clean, safe) and fun (attention to detail, creativity, enough thrill rides of varying degrees to keep a family occupied for days).

Hotel Breakers on Cedar Point property provides simple, stress-free access to the park. Additionally, HB guests receive one-hour early entry to the rides and access to several restaurants and bars located inside the hotel, pools, kiddie pools, hot tubs, and a beautiful beach facing Lake Erie to the east. In the mornings we rode the coasters before the wind kicked up, and in the afternoons we spent time enjoying the other perks of HB. Some beach activities included jet skis and parasailing for extra cost: we took advantage of the latter.

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Beginning my 900-foot ascent

Cleveland: Our last stop. We were flying out the following morning, so we had an afternoon to visit the city.

Sites: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see. We spent five hours in the six-floor museum, watching scores of great videos of hundreds of musicians from the 1950s to the present. A musician or band must have recorded a song at least 25 years before consideration for the Hall of Fame. Five or six groups have been selected each year since the museum’s opening in 1986. Besides the videos, there is also an array of famous garments, guitars and handwritten lyrics. The travelling exhibit was dedicated to rock photographer Herb Ritts, who took many of the famous portraits of rock stars used for magazines, etc.

The Rock Hall is a well-organized museum if you proceed the correct way: but I admit that wasn’t easy. From the beginning when we couldn’t find the entrance to the parking garage from the street, to passing through the science museum to get to the Hall of Fame, to circling the lower level of the museum right to left (it was designed to be viewed left to right), the Hall could have spent a little more time on proper signage.chicahio22

Our final activity was a Cleveland Indians game that night. They were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, but I rooted for the Indians because…well, I admit, I’m worse than a fair-weather fan–with all the travelling I do I find it hard to choose allegiance to one team or another, so I just root for the home team, whoever that may be! Indians won, and we had a great time. PS – Barrio, across the street, has great late-night tacos (and tequila), if the stadium hot dogs leave something to be desired.

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Bird & butterfly sanctuary north of Chicago downtown

It’s not a true Jarvis vacation if every day isn’t jam-packed full of fun!

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Chicago

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On Motion: January Roadtrips

“To me–a blank fortune is…an open sky on the horizon. Fill in the blank. A fortune no one’s ever written up ahead of time, because no one could imagine a life as strange and as beautiful as the horse you’re about to jump on.”  -Sarah Ruhl, Late: A Cowboy Song

There is something beautiful and exhilarating about constant motion, something powerful. Motion accomplishes something that stillness cannot. Perspective changes: physically, and then psychologically.wisco1

Such were my thoughts as I pushed through the West, then the Midwest, changing landscapes falling behind me and looming before me, one after one after one, the blue hood of my Dodge pickup pressing on in front of me like the prow of a ship.

January was full of time in the car, most of it alone. I didn’t mind: in fact, I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks.

I get excited when I drive. Sometimes a good song comes on the radio, or a prayer rises in my heart, and I laugh. It bubbles up, and I roll down my window and lean out up to my waist, feeling the wind and the tears running out of the sides of my eyes, and I yell at the world in happiness.

This was my first drive from my home in Western Montana to Nebraska in the winter or alone. I have made this same trip eight times before, but always with someone else, and always sometime between April and August (although we still hit white-out blizzards even in that time frame). I needed to get my truck and my college belongings back to Nebraska for the upcoming semester.

I looked around for a driving buddy for a while but I wasn’t too disheartened when none surfaced. Every brain needs a rest from constant interaction.

I began my journey January 2, and that first day on the road was glorious. I missed being behind the wheel while I was in Italy. I spent 14 hours flying across beautiful Montana and south through Wyoming, leaving my beloved mountains in my rearview mirror for seven months. I had heard there was a storm on my tail, but I had a good chance of outrunning it for the first day.

I always make a few calls while I drive, catching up with old friends. Some people tell me it’s dangerous, but if you have ever driven alone across eastern Montana and all of Wyoming in one day, you know it’s much safer to be on the phone: otherwise you risk falling asleep out of sheer boredom (although as long as you keep the steering wheel straight you may still stay on the road at least until you run out of gas, probably 30 miles from the nearest gas station).

wisco2I found a tiny motel in Cheyenne for only $55. I could hear the man snoring next door, and there was a wind (not draft) coming in through both the rotting wood around the window in the bathroom and the 3/4-inch gap around the front door; but all I really needed was sleep, and I can sleep through anything. I just used an extra blanket or three.

The second day was a white-out blizzard. I spent six hours gripping the wheel as the wind whipped white sheets across the road, erasing any remains of asphalt to my view. I arrived at my apartment in Nebraska exhausted.

But the next morning, I was up early and out on the road for another 10-hour adventure: I wanted to visit a friend from Italy before the semester got started.

I spent four delightful days roaming around Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was in the single digits all week, and the wind chill put us deep in the negs. However my friend Anthony, who had also studied in Florence last semester, still managed to give me a grand tour of downtown Oshkosh during my stay.

wisco3We hit up Peabody’s where they offer live jazz every Sunday night, and we attended The Traveling Suitcase’s debut concert for their new album. Anthony knew the lead singer/drummer Nicole Rae (he knows everyone in that city).

I also stopped for a night to see my brother Kevin at his school in Mequon, and he treated us to Panera. We don’t have those in the West. I also hung out with his college buddies, some of whom I remembered from my visit last March.

Over the week, as I socialized with Wisconsinites, one thought pervaded my mind:

Wisconsin is the South of the North.

I am always struck by Wisconsinites’ superb hospitality. I know the Midwest is known for this trait in general, but Wisconsinites’ love for their Home and their Guests is a thing to behold.

The drive to Nebraska was blessed by good weather, although I counted over three dozen cars and six semi trucks off the road in mangled fashions, a result of the storm the previous day. I heard about a 190-car pile-up in Illinois just east of where I passed through.

I was home for only one weekend before I piled into a car with six other people and drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky, for a travel conference (ironic, I know).

wisco4There is not much to say about this weekend except that I experienced my first two all-night drives, and that I got to spend a Saturday evening in downtown Louisville. We all grabbed a few drinks at Sully’s downtown. There were so many lights in the walking district that it reminded me of what I imagine New York City to look like (a future bucket list location).

In true college-student fashion, we managed to fit 14 people into two hotel rooms, 10 in one and four in the other. Thankfully I had a sleeping bag with me: the gypsy life, my friends, and the beauty of constant motion.