Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Things Learned on a Cross-Country Trip

In July, my boyfriend and I took a cross country trip from Wilmington, NC to my hometown in South Dakota. We left Wilmington and went north through the West Virginia mountains, making a weekend stopover at Marshall's parents house in east central Ohio. From Ohio, we went to St. Charles, IL to spend a night with my aunt and uncle. On our third day of traveling, we made it to my mom's house. We spent 10 days in South Dakota with my family and friends, attending a family wedding while we were there. Some of my other family members were visiting from Wyoming at the same time and the house was full, so we slept in a camper in my mom's yard. It was like we were camping, but not really.

When it was time to leave my Mom's, the plan was to drive south from South Dakota and stay with a good friend of mine in Kansas for the night, and then head back east. On the way, we realized that I hadn't done my map research like I should have, and going to see her would have actually been close to 6 hours extra driving time by the time we were back on the road the next day. So, we changed our plans a bit and instead of going south from Kansas City, we went east, driving until we were about 2 hours west of St. Louis and camped at a state park in the middle of nowhere. We bought some bug spray and a pizza from the (only) local gas station, and had a good night. Lesson here: It doesn't do much good to bring a tent if you only bring 1 small pillow and 1 blanket.

After our camping adventure in the woods, we got up in the morning and kept driving east. We drove until we got to Knoxville, TN. We tried to rent a cabin in Gatlinburg for the night but had Miss Dakota with us, and turns out that most cabin rentals in the mountains don't really care for furry four-legged friends ... so a Motel 6 in Knoxville it was. The next morning, we drove from Knoxville back to Wilmington in an uneventful last leg of our 48+ hour trip. We unloaded the rental car, cleaned all of the dog hair out of it, and took it back to the airport.

Along the way, a few observations that were made:

I haven’t yet conquered my fear of driving through tunnels. This was discovered on I-77 North in West Virginia.

When they say “Check the rental car for damages before leaving the parking lot with it,” they mean it. We found the broken driver’s door lock 4 hours down the road. (Six hours later when I finally got the Wilmington, NC Hertz office to answer the phone, I was assured it wouldn’t be a problem and it would be noted on my account. Two weeks later, I was lucky enough to turn the car into the same employee I had spoken with on the phone, who not only didn’t charge me for the broken lock, but gave me a $40 credit to my account for the inconvenience.) Tip to travelers: get a AAA membership and rent from Hertz – they offer a great AAA discount AND awesome service.

The county roads in Columbiana County, Ohio are hilly and curvy and make me (really) carsick, even if I sit in the front seat.

Golden retrievers are pretty good bird hunters, even if they haven’t been taught to do so.

The wind power mills in Minnesota are really cool to look at, but we can’t figure out how the power is used after it is taken from the wind. This question may be a good research item for a future blog post.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin looks like so much fun and it was awfully tempting to pull off and stay for a day or two instead of just driving by.

A ground pig is the same thing as a groundhog.

Some counties in South Dakota have such a problem with pocket gophers, that they offer a $2.00 per animal bounty. To claim your $2.00 per animal, you have to turn the 2 front paws into the county office.

After living in North Carolina and seeing the big ugly scary snakes we have here, I’m not nearly as afraid of the harmless South Dakota garter snakes as I was when I was a child. They didn't make me scream or yell or anything.

Dakota, my 4-year-old golden retriever who has never had puppies, adopted a small gold kitten at my mom’s house and thought it was her baby.

You shouldn’t switch to Captain Morgan and Coke after drinking keg beer all night.

There are more fish to catch in my aunt and uncle’s neighborhood in St. Charles, Illinois than there are in the lakes near my mom’s house in South Dakota.

Pulling over to the shoulder of the road in the middle of a construction zone is allowed during emergencies only. It was an emergency in the middle of Iowa on I-29 when Marshall pulled over to let me jump out of the car with Dakota before she got sick in the rental car.

South Dakota has Michelob Golden Light, and it’s really good.

Even though Wisconsin is known for being the state with good cheese, we managed to drive all the way across it without stopping at a cheese store. We kept thinking we would see another one and would stop then, and were in Minnesota before we knew what happened. I bought Iowa cheese from a South Dakota grocery store instead … sorry Wisconsin Cheese Farmers.

My boyfriend doesn’t like the way I drive. I don’t like the way he drives. Try driving for 2,500 miles that way.

There is a great Sinclair gas station in the middle of Missouri that makes an awesome handmade meat lover’s pizza and it’s only $3.99.

There is a gas station in Kansas City that sells liquor. You can get gas, dinner, a movie and rum all in one stop.

I was in the parking lot of a Krystal Burger in Knoxville, TN but didn’t get to eat there. How unfair is that?

Taco John’s has the best Mexican fast food ever. I love Taco Bell, I do ... but there is no comparison.

South Dakota Video Lottery is kind of fun to play. I won $13 one night and was so excited, you would have thought I won $100.

There’s nothing quite as fun or relaxing as a John Deere wedding on a beautiful farm in South Dakota with family and friends.

One of the most refreshing things is to spend time with old friends and realizing that none of you have changed a bit. I think the best part is how you know everyone's secrets and stories and quirks ... you don't have to get to know them because you've known them since you were all 5 years old.

In South Dakota, it isn’t uncommon to bump into someone you know, even if you are an hour or two from home.

There is an off-ramp in St. Louis that requires good direction skills and 3 U-turns just to get back onto the Interstate. Forget to put a sign up somewhere, Missouri?

When you take a cross country trip with your dog and boyfriend, don't forget to take pictures. I don't even have ONE picture to post with this blog! What was I thinking!

Spending 48+ hours in the same car with the same person is a true test to how much you like each other. I think we passed.

Overall, it was a great trip. Are we going to do it again next summer? Probably not. I think we might fly.

Fishing, Reading and Family Portraits

My boyfriend, Marshall, and I went fishing on the north end of Wrightsville Beach the other day, near the Shell Island Oceanfront Resort. We go to the beach about once a week, sometimes twice, as we live just 15 minutes away. He loves to fish, and I love to read. We normally wait and go at 6:00 p.m., because that gives the beach time to relax from all of the visitors of earlier in the day (and allows us to actually be able to find a parking spot.) Also, the parking meters stop charging at 6:00 p.m. so that’s another bonus.

Anyway, the other day as I was sitting there as the sun was starting to go down, there was a family out there with a photographer getting their family beach portraits taken. This is a popular time of day for families to do this, as it is when the lighting is the best and makes beautiful photos. This family, as most families do when they get beach portraits taken, were wearing all white outfits – everyone matched.

The photographer took shots of them holding hands and walking to the water’s edge … holding hands and walking away from the water ... sitting in the dunes (which you aren’t even supposed to go on the dunes, but for some reason if you are taking family photos then it’s ok.) They proceed to take family photos for 30-40 minutes, until they get to my personal favorite – the photos in the water with their clothes on. With their nice white dress clothes, the family is supposed to wade in the water – ankle deep, knee deep, make it look like they are taking a relaxing stroll on the beach with their feet in the ocean.

Well, the tide was coming up to high tide during this time and some waves were coming in higher than others. As they are taking the knee deep family photo, a wave came and knocked the one woman down. All the way down – she is no longer ankle deep or knee deep in the beautiful ocean, but sitting on her butt in about 3 feet of water. And the photographer is taking pictures of it. And the family is laughing. So was I, because I had given up on trying to read my book because this family was more interesting. The woman gets up and now her white pants are completely wet from her little wave mishap, and the photographer is STILL taking pictures.

This ended their photo shoot. I went back to reading my book, Marshall caught some fish, and then we went home.