Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday is a seasoned traveler!

Hello, girls, it’s Monday, and I’m back in my home time zone. But more on that later. First stop, punishments!

Carlyn and Christina – This will by no means be the extent of your punishments, but you have each earned three weeks of topic choosing. I shall let you know which weeks in due course. Christina, I do hope everything’s all right, since we haven’t heard from you at all over the weekend.

And now for JAB week. As one might expect, I will be talking about my vacation.

So, you all knew I was heading out to Seattle for my cousin’s wedding. But what I am not entirely sure of is whether or not I mentioned that we were driving. My family of five grown adults. In a five-seat car. From Bowling Green, Ohio to Seattle, Washington. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

Over the course of my seventeen-day trip, we drove a total of 5,300-some miles, crossed through twelve states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Iowa), listened to the entire Percy Jackson series on audio book, visited at least five national parks and one national monument, and saw much, much more of the country than I have ever seen before. Of the twelve states we visited, six were entirely new to me (Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming), one was essentially new, as I’ve only seen an airport in Minnesota, and Iowa was the wild card, as I honestly can’t remember whether I’ve been there before or not.

The driving part of the trip was honestly not as bad as I thought it would be. Like I said, we spent quite a bit of it listening to the entire Percy Jackson series on audio book. That was 52 hours of material, so it took up quite a bit of time. The rest of the time we listened to soundtracks from musicals, and then for a bit of nostalgia, the old Tom Chapin kids’ tapes we still know by heart from when we made a fairly regular drive from Illinois to Ohio and back three times a year. So the time passed actually fairly quickly, especially on the drive out, when were logging between 400 and 600 miles a day.

Time passes very surreally in that case. For five days, all we did was drive, eat, and check in at motels. Occasionally we stopped at a few natural landmarks. We commented frequently in the beginning that eastern North Dakota looked a lot like Minnesota which looked a lot like Wisconsin which looked a lot like Illinois which looked a lot like Indiana which looked a lot like Ohio, but once we hit a pull-off at the Painted Canyon of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota Badlands, that changed. Like a lot. You don’t get views like that anywhere in Ohio, or anywhere in the Midwest. The vastness of it is what took my breath away. The vastness of that whole state, actually. Northwest Ohio where I live is flat as flat can be, but we have forest and trees that break up the view. In North Dakota? Same flatness, but nothing to stop you from seeing for miles and miles. It’s so huge, and so sparse. We could drive for hours and barely see another living soul, and then BAM! Civilization popped up out of nowhere. Teddy Roosevelt credits North Dakota for inspiring him to run for President, actually (fun fact). It’s not a place I’d want to live – far too few people for my liking – but it’s a beautiful state.

Montana was similar. There’s a reason they call it Big Sky country. We spent the night in Billings, and saw the slightly famed Boothill Cemetery, where people would bury their dead on the way out to the west coast. Also resting there is the scout who brought the news of Custer’s defeat. Billings is also home to The Place Where the White Horse Went Down, after a story of two Indian braves who returned to their tribal lands only to find their entire tribe dead or dying of the white man’s plagues. Rather than succumb to the disease, they rode their horses straight over the cliff, to die a faster and more noble death.

We made it through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota on our first day’s drive. The next two days, however, were devoted almost entirely to North Dakota and Montana, respectively, just to give you a sense of the scope of things. Then, after spending whole days in a single state, we crossed Idaho in about an hour and a half. The last day’s push was to Seattle.

Eastern Washington looks nothing like you’d expect Washington to look. If I hadn’t known where we were, I would have guessed Arizona or New Mexico. Eastern Washington is a desert, a place where pull-offs warn you to watch for rattlesnakes and the ground is dry, sandy, and covered in brush. We stopped at the Ginkgo Petrified Forest National Park and did a modicum of hiking to see the petrified stumps of ancient trees.

Once in Seattle, our days were filled in a much more . . . urban way. Our first full day in Seattle, once all the family had arrived, we visited Pike’s Place Market downtown, which is a huge, multi-story farmer’s market. Ever seen fish flinging in Seattle? This is where it happens. It is home to the usual fruit and vegetable and jam and bread vendors, of course, but in its basement level, it houses bookstores and candy stores and clothing stores and one completely geektastic store where you can buy pretty much every movie screenplay ever written, and no few scripts for television shows as well. I bought The Princess Bride, and it is amazing. My brother bought the first draft of Star Wars: A New Hope. Understand, they filmed like the sixth or seventh.

Our next day in Seattle, we actually drove three hours away, to visit Mt, Rainier. My super outdoorsy uncle wanted to take us on a seven-mile loop hike near the summit, but we were unable to go through with that plan. Why? Eleven feet of snow might have had something to do with it.

I’ve never been able to throw snowballs at my brothers in the middle of July before, and I’ve really been missing out. We ended up doing a three-mile hike further down the mountain, away from the snow, but still enjoying temperatures of around sixty degrees. Mt. Rainier is beautiful, absolutely awe-inspiring. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it was worth it for the sights we got to see. The Seattle weather even broke long enough for us to see the mountain’s summit.

The next two days were dedicated to the wedding, with the bridal shower on Thursday (followed by a production of The Tempest in the park) and the wedding itself on Friday (after a noon showing of Harry Potter seven, of course. I have my priorities straight). The wedding was beautiful. My cousin Carrie and her now-husband David got married on a dock by the bay, and it rained through the entire ceremony. The facility had huge white umbrellas that the maid of honor and best man held over the bride and groom, and they kept passing umbrellas out for the crowd as well. My aunt performed the ceremony and had so many nice things to say, even if those of us not enjoying the protection of an umbrella wished she hadn’t said quite so many.

We all consoled the bride and groom about the rain by saying it was a true Seattle wedding, and as true Seattle residents, they should be proud. The reception was lovely, and my uncle gave a Father of the Bride speech that brought everyone to tears – and if you knew my goofball of an uncle, you’d understand just how impressive that is.

Saturday, we celebrated my grandma’s 90th birthday with a huge family dinner at one of the houses we’d rented. We were going to grill salmon for everyone, but the wedding hall gave my aunt and uncle all the leftover food they’d paid for, so we had a huge meal of wedding leftovers instead! Then we did our classic family singalong and taught my cousin-in-law Jon all the sign language to our favorite Tom Chapin song “Family Tree.” You could call that a rite of passage to our family.

Sunday was a dim sum brunch in downtown Seattle with the bride and groom before they left on their honeymoon. I’d never had dim sum before, but I do recommend it if you get the chance. It’s a fun way to share a meal. Then my family took off, to start the long drive back home.

We stopped to see the Missoula M in Missoula, Montana, and said a technical hello to Hank Green. We also paid our two dollars each to see the Berkeley Pit of Butte, Montana, and I cannot get over the fact that the poisoned pit of acid in the old open copper mine that is threatening to poison the town in ten years’ time is a tourist attraction. With a gift store. And a giant statue of the Virgin Mary looking over it. This is America, folks.

We spent a full day in Yellowstone on our way through Wyoming, and that was gorgeous and totally made up for the fact that we ran out of gas on the way there and had to wait for AAA to come bring us a can to get us back on our feet. In Yellowstone we saw moose and buffalo (bison?) and some kind of antelope. Old Faithful was a bit of a tease and seven minutes late, and so failed to live up to its name, but was impressive nonetheless.

We saw Mt. Rushmore on our way through South Dakota, and can I just say, I thought it would be bigger. But I learned a lot of really neat trivia there, like the fact that the figures were originally going to be portrayed from the waist up, but they ran out of good rock halfway down, so had to settle for headshots. And Jefferson was originally on Washington’s left until the sculptor decided he didn’t like the visual and so blasted the face off and started over. Also, Delaware has no national parks and Gutzon is an awesome name you wish got used more.

Once we were out of Mt. Rushmore and the South Dakota badlands, though, there were no more sights to see, really, and that’s when we all started to get a little impatient and eager to be home. My brothers and I started playing the “Oh my god, what do you mean, we’re still in South Dakota?” game. We all rejoiced when we hit Minnesota that day, before immediately going into the “When are we out of Minnesota?” game.

But we made it back, safe and sound, and it was quite a trip, all things considered. Believe it or not, I’ve given you the shortened version here. Kudos if you read through all my ramblings. I was going to leave you with a picture of my family in front of a snowbank, but that will have to be edited in later once I'm on my own computer and not the library's.

I hope your last two weeks have been as enjoyable as mine, and Alexandra, I'll see you tomorrow!

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