Monday, July 23, 2012

We're Back!

Hi, all! I'm happy to say that I'm back from an incredible trip with stories and even more photos to share. I'm also sad that I'm back in city because as beautiful as our skyline is, even the view of the Empire State as we drove into Manhattan at 1 in the morning couldn't compare to some of the sights we saw on the road.
During our trip, I loved seeing the different landscapes that comprise the U.S. and that through this trip I caught glimpses of our country in many of its dresses. I happily stared out the window watching the view change state after state. From the flat plains of South Dakota and its miles (and miles!) of cornfields to the lush pine and fir forests of Wyoming, then climbing 8,000 ft through Utah's mountains and exploring the bottoms of its crimson canyons and finally bearing a seemingly endless stretch of Arizona's desert heat. You don't even know how many photos of the sky and road we've taken.
Even with all the traveling I do I always look forward to being surprised, to turning the corner and having my breath taken away by some new discovery. I have to admit that I now find myself addicted to that search. I want to explore, I want to be exposed to something entirely different than what I've grown used to in my 30 years of living in New York City. In the last 17 days I've rolled in the yellow wildflowers of Minnesota, strolled within a supervolcano, nearly busted my ass in a freezing river gorge, skipped on the cracking Earth under the Arizona sun, screamed my stress away at the top of Bryce Canyon, and watched the same sun tuck behind a different landscape every evening.
So can you blame me that I'm sad to return to the busy city scene I've always known when I've just made most of America my own playground? It was exhilarating! Exhausting, yes, and Lord knows some of camp spots we stayed at left plenty to be desired (like showers), but it was worth it if only to see just how vast, how different, and how gorgeous this planet can be. This kind of beauty never gets old. We traveled more than 6,000 miles to see a piece of what this country is made of and for that I consider myself one of the lucky ones - not only for being able to get out and see it firsthand, but for also having the curiosity to explore it in the first place.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

America Via Instagram: Part 2

The Instagramming continues! Here are some of the things we've captured during our travels:

Dorkys (@dorkysramos)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9

Ky (@kylagbe)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9

Bret (@sorkness)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wall Drug Hijinks

During our drive through South Dakota, we stopped into a popular tourist trap called Wall Drug. I can't even explain the thing because it just seems to be a Midwest-style strip mall meaning you've got shop after shop selling you stuffed moose heads, kitschy souvenirs, straw hats, and Native American artifacts. We even got made fun of for taking photos around the place. (Yeah, well we do the same to you fools when you come to our turf!) While there, the group came across an out-of-business "antique" jukebox in which instruments were programmed to play the tunes. Well leave it to the boys to only see it as a fun challenge...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Eerie Happenings, Night One

We rolled into the Connellsville Walmart Supercenter parking lot around 4:30am, exhausted after our first night of driving, which took far longer than we had anticipated. Delirium hung from our eyelids. Four of us finally decided to check out the store briefly. Spyder, Aaron, Dorkys and I joked about being the zombie invasion arrived via RV as we put one foot in front of the other.

Music played to a hollow auditorium and we were the only life stirring in the valley between frozen foods and girl's clothing. Three of us reached the back of the store, with Dorkys casually strolling behind. When Spyder and Aaron decided to head across the store, I turned to Dorkys and saw her walking back to the front. Casually, I followed, walking no faster than she was, hoping to catch up to her when she stopped to look at whatever she was looking for.

The hard fluorescent light flooded my sleepy eyes, creating a surreal feeling of detached alertness. Ahead of me, Dorkys turned into a bank of clothing racks and I craned my neck to find the top of her head, still maintaining my distance. From where I was, I couldn't hear her footsteps and the soft rock on the overhead sound system seemed to be so far away.

I caught a glimpse of Dorkys as she emerged from the clothing, only to turn straight into an empty checkout aisle. My curiosity grew as I padded after her. I wondered if she was going for some candy or if there was a display in the front of the store that caught her eye. When I reached what I thought was the checkout aisle she had gone through, I was met with the empty gaze of a young lady in a blue apron, waiting to ring up nobody. Dorkys was nowhere in sight.

I stood at the front of the store and looked in every direction, my eyes primed in search of her puffy, curly ponytail. To my mind's best deduction, she had vanished into thin air. I peered into the dark arcade, but I knew she would never walk into such a creepy place on her own volition, tired or not. I laughed to myself, knowing that there had to be a better explanation than my girlfriend phasing into another dimension. Was I hallucinating? Had I merely imagined that I entered Walmart with three companions? I sought out Spyder back within the store to be sure.

When I saw Spyder approaching me from the produce section, I blinked and stared and paid extra attention to make sure she was real. When she was finally close enough, I told her my situation; my girlfriend had just exited this plane of reality and I was completely baffled. Her amused response reassured me that I wasn't having some waking dream, so I left her in pursuit of a rational explanation.

Turning back to the front, I retraced my steps. This time, I lifted my eyes a bit, looking for more than just a 4'9" Latina. And that's how I noticed it. The sign. For the restrooms. Right where Dorkys had disappeared.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

We Just Need to Keep Driving

This is ridiculous, I thought to myself when we woke up Sunday morning at Potato Creek State Park in Indiana.  I had thought so much when we mapped out 23 states in 16 days.  Maybe that isn't true.  I had thought that after most people reacted not only with shock and envy, but admiration for our ambition.  The first night, however, our 12am estimated arrival at an Ask to Park Walmart in Connersville, PA turned out to be a 4am arrival.  And then we had driven all the next day only to arrive at Potato Creek at 11:30pm.  This cannot go on, I thought, we are going to have to change the route.  This is ridiculous, I thought to myself again and then said out loud to Spyder. 

Me: This is ridiculous
Spyder: Yeah. 
Me: What do you think about changing the route?  Maybe just going to Yellowstone and back?  We cannot keep going like this. 
Spyder: Maybe. 
Me: Our drive time didn't take into account stopping for gas . . . or food . . . or that we are driving an RV . . . or places we would like to stop. . . 
Spyder: Yeah.

At this point, I was talking mutiny and I scanned the group and imagined what each of them would say to a route change.  My eyes landed on Bret and I knew that I was beat.  He would not have it.  He had a plan and he would not return without completing that goal, period.  And then I looked at the the RV.  

Me: It is the great white whale.  He's chasing the great white whale.  He won't back down. 
Spyder: I think that makes him Ahab. 
Me: Yes. 

And so it is.  I'm not sure what Bret is chasing, but I know that he does not back down from challenges.  He put down this route, he told others of his plan, and like an ancient wanderer, he would not return without his spoils.  And I would not have it any other way. 

So I didn't bring it up and I hunkered down to start planning with him how to make the rest of the trip work.  And it has.  We are on day 5 and every day has been better than the last.  We figured out how this thing works, and like life with a capital L, you only figure out how it works by doing it, and you get better at it as you go.  And, we are all chasing something.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

America Via Instagram: Part 1

We've been feeding our Instagrams like crazy on this trip. Check out what some of the road trippers have been capturing on the road and follow along:

Dorkys (@dorkysramos)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9
10 / 11 / 12

Ky (@kylagbe)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9
10 / 11 / 12

Bret (@sorkness)
1 / 2 / 3
4 / 5 / 6
7 / 8 / 9
10 / 11 / 12

Hello from the Road!

Holy crap it feels like we've been driving for life! So far we've driven through seven states in a mere four days and I wish I could say that we've walked and explored more than we've driven the RV. IN REALITY: we've hauled ass to make it to our campsite reservations on time because we can only go so fast in a 30-foot vehicle. We've already cut out Chicago (too much of a hassle to visit with an RV) and House on the Rock in Wisconsin so we can complete a 10-hour drive to Minnesota from Indiana.

And still at only four days in, it's already been quite the experience. The first night I could hardly sleep in bed while the RV was moving because with all it's shaking and rattling and squeaking, the whole contraption felt like it was going to explode on the highway. (It didn't.) Now I don't know if it's the minor duct tape repairs we've been doing around here, smoother roads, or just getting used to the constant rattles, but it's a bit better now. The jumping bed almost rocks you to sleep. Too bad it can get hot as hellfire in the back of the motorhome.
So far we've camped out at a Walmart (Did you know they allow RVs to stay in their parking lot for free?), at a campsite in Potato Creek State Park in Indiana, and Flying Goose Campground. For the last two I wish we had more time to just relax, take advantage of the activities they had to offer like boating, swimming, and fresh-air breathing, but alas. At least we plan on taking two days to explore Yellowstone in a couple days, which I'm really excited about. It'll be the trip's grand attraction!
Oh hey! Last night this city girl had her first camp out experience! We stopped by a Walmart (they are everywhere outside of New York City) to buy dinner fixings we could cook over a campfire and feasted on hot dogs, grilled corn on the cob and asparagus, and salad. For dessert, s'mores, of course, and banana boats: roasted bananas which have been slightly peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, smeared with peanut butter, chocolate, and marshmallow bits, and closed back up to throw on the fire for 10-15 minutes. I didn't get a taste because I was too busy trying to capture long exposure shots of the amazing starry sky, but I promise one will make it into my tummy very soon.
Afterwards, A. and I climbed into our tent and I'm happy to announce that after two weeks of insomnia, my knocking out abilities have returned full-force.

A few more travel notes:

- This greedy country has a whole lot of land and about 10 million miles of corn.
- So far we've taken spontaneous dips in Ohiopyle, Penn.'s river gorge by Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and in the Mississippi River after sneaking into someone's property to get to their backyard access. Hey, we tried knocking and no one was home.
- Yummy food stops: Cracker Barrel, where the food is too much and the drinks just keep on coming; the Highwaters Grill in Ohiopyle for really good fried shrimp and tender pulled pork sandwiches; and Culver's chain for burgers and shakes.
- I was in the middle of a conversation with A. when I glanced outside and started squealing and running to every window. I never imagined I'd get so excited over wind turbines, but it was just surreal to see how huge they are in person.
- Traveling with these fools has been great! So far so good and I've been getting to know Bret and Spyder a lot better. Our sixth companion Aaron, who we found via Airbnb, is pretty cool, too. There's nothing like spending 10 hours in a confined space and not showering for the first two days to bring people together.
- We were treated to a fireworks show that nearly put Macy's to shame after exiting a highway in Indiana and seeing the colorful explosions in the distance. So we immediately pulled to the side of an empty road and enjoyed what we like to think was a welcoming just for us.

Monday, July 9, 2012

...we join our program already in progress.

It is Monday morning. We set off Friday evening. The plan for the trip was to post regular updates, but we are having connectivity issues with our mobile wifi hotspot. So here we are, in Minnesota, on the banks of Lake Imogene. But before I tell you about where we are, let's recap how we got here.

We departed from a nondescript parking lot somewhere in New Jersey and drove toward the Western edge of Pennsylvania. We had calculated that we would reach the Walmart in Connellsville at about midnight. After stopping for dinner at a Cracker Barrel and taking our sweet time at a Flying J gas station, we rolled into the barren pre-dawn parking lot at 4:30am. Some of us went to sleep, others stayed up to watch the sun come up.

When the morning came, we cooked breakfast in the RV and headed to see Frank Lloyd Wright's famous work, Falling Water. While strolling around the grounds, a guide informed us of a swimming spot a short drive up the road. We waded and soaked for a half hour before moving on to lunch at the Highwaters Grill. That was officially the best pulled pork I have ever had. We'll see if it stands up to the South. We didn't reach our campground in Potato Creek State Park in Indiana until 11pm.

We woke up Sunday determined to get to our next destination with daylight remaining. What followed was a mad dash across four states (Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota) to where we are now, the Flying Goose Campground. We set up our tents, built a campfire, cooked hotdogs, corn and asparagus, and drank shitty beer. It was lovely.

Today, we're headed to South Dakota. Pictures and more detailed recaps to come.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Epic USA Roadtrip Preview Video

With 5 people in the group, we rented an 8-person RV with the expectation that we would get one or two more to join us on our travel. To aid in the recruitment process, this video was concocted. It outlines our aspirations for the trip and it includes a few funny photo recreations by the group.

A big thanks to Bret for putting the bulk of this all together. He spent a lot of time on it and we appreciate his hard work.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Road Trippin'

One experience that often pops up on bucket lists is an epic road trip with friends and in July a small group of us will be doing just that! We're renting an RV and driving around the country for 17 days, passing through 21 states, to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, and back. It's going to be one amazing adventure filled with campouts, breathtaking views, kitschy discoveries, ruckus, and a whole lot of bonding. We're still nailing down our route, but so far we hope to check out:

 - Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water in Pennsylvania
- Chicago, Illinois
- Sioux Falls, Mount Rushmore, and perhaps the Badlands in South Dakota
- Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
- Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in Utah
- Salt Lake Temple, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park in Utah
- Grand Canyon in Arizona
- Four Corners (Where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet)
- San Juan National Forest in Colorado
- Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee

 And in between all that, we're driving through Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia exploring roadside attractions, local foods (BBQ and fried weirdness!) and drinks (Kentucky bourbon!), and the diverse natural scenery on full display in the middle states of America. I have to admit that I never paid much attention to that chunk of the U.S.A. (its vastness is incredible, by the way), but in the last week alone we've been amazed at all that Utah alone has to offer. I mean really, Utah?! Chalk it up to the New Yorker in me. Now I can't wait to leave the east coast behind and finally see what that part of the country is all about.

 Have you ever taken a road trip through the U.S.? I'd love to hear your tips, suggestions, or any awesome things to see/do/eat in these states. We're also looking to add two more people to our crew of five so check out our kick-ass preview video and let me know if you'd like to try out for a spot in our RV and drive around the U.S. with us.