Road Trip 2013: Touring North America (Part 1)
Road Trip 2013: Touring North America (Part 1)
In many ways it feels like our road trip around the United States just began, and yet today we are making the 12-hour drive from Moab, Utah to our final destination, North lake Tahoe. We will spend 8 days in Tahoe re-grouping and relaxing before flying to Argentina on November 14th. This month has been exactly the kind of adventure we were looking for. After visiting Montana and South Dakota, we spent time in Michigan, Chicago, Louisiana, Austin, Southwest Colorado, and Moab. We visited with friends and family, explored potential homes and jobs, took thousands of pictures, ate a wide variety of delicious food, and sat in more coffee shops and breweries than we can count. We are ending a few days ahead of schedule, which is good considering how expensive travel can be in the U.S., but we still got in all of the places that we had hoped to visit. This trip has turned out to be great training for the next 10 months of travel in South America. It was nice to transition from structured city life to life on the road without having to worry about language barriers, illness, or potential culture shock. Throughout the month we got to test out all of our gear, practice sleeping on a variety of surfaces, budget money, and learn how to enjoy very long drives. We feel more ready than ever to take on international travel.
Though I feel like I could write a whole book about these last few weeks, I’ll try my best to summarize and highlight some of our favorite experiences. Our time in South Dakota was a bit restricted by a massive snowstorm that had blown in the week before we arrived, so we mostly drove around and took in the touristy sights from our car. We loved the Black Hills National Forest, but quickly realized as we drove east through the state toward Wisconsin that most of South Dakota is in fact a very barren, desolate land. The Southwest corner of the state stands out like a crown jewel, all aglow in wild colors, sculptured rock, historical towns, and gorgeous lakes. We did spend one night in our car in the middle of South Dakota and the driving rain and lightning show did add something to the otherwise bleak landscape. From South Dakota we headed into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Most people don’t even know that the land mass above Lake Michigan and below Lake Superior belongs to the United States (it seems like part of Canada on a map) but it is in fact a beautiful area of wooded forests and picturesque coastlines that belongs to the state of Michigan. Don had lived in the area for a few years before moving to Portland, so in addition to backpacking along the Pictured Rocks lakeshore and visiting a sled dog company that we want to work for, we also spent a couple days in his old town of Escanaba. It was wonderful to visit with old friends, eat some good old-fashioned pasties, and sleep in a bed. Our 14-mile backpacking trip along the Lake Superior coast was ridiculously beautiful. The area is called Pictured Rocks for a reason; I must have taken over 200 pictures in less than 24 hours. To top off our time in the U.P., we got to visit Nature’s Kennel, where we hope to work next winter as sled dog guides. We had a great time getting to know the staff and visiting with the 150 Alaskan huskies that live on the property. It felt like a home away from home.
Our next stop was the west coast of lower Michigan, where Don grew up and where his parents still live. Don finally got to show me all around his hometown of Spring Lake, including a walk out to a functioning lighthouse in Lake Michigan, and a visit to many of the restaurants where he used to work. It was wonderful to spend time with family, especially since we’re going to be out of the country for the next year. We even got to experience Bronner’s (the world’s largest Christmas store) and drink hot apple cider at Crane’s Apple Orchard with Don’s sister and baby niece. The next logical stop after Michigan was Chicago, where it was my turn to play tour guide. I had lived in Chicago for 2 years after college and a good friend of mine was still in town. We spent the night with her and enjoyed a whirlwind visit in the Windy City. I showed Don my old stomping grounds (including the high schools where I worked in the Southside of town), and we experienced a bit of big city nightlife when we ventured downtown on a Saturday night. We left Chicago sooner than we initially hoped, but our eagerness to travel south and hit some warm temps trumped our desire to stick around any longer. Our next stop was the iconic city of New Orleans.
We split the long drive into two days, stopping for lunch on day two at Uncle Lou’s in Memphis, Tennessee. Lou’s fried chicken, honey rolls, and corn nuggets win the award for best food that we found on this entire road trip. It was one of our favorite finds and definitely a restaurant we’ll end up at again. Don had never been to New Orleans (or Louisiana for that matter), and from the moment we arrived, he was enamored with the city. There are more amazing sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in one corner of New Orleans then there are in many entire states. A good friend of mine let us stay at his place and then spent his weekend showing us all around town, indulging us in jazz music, sight seeing, swimming, and more food than I am willing to admit. We of course had to have beignets, raw oysters, Cajun food, and ice cream, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. We left the city feeling fully immersed in its history and culture, and again, promising our eventual return.
It was only a 2 hour drive to the town of Lafayette, Louisiana, but upon our arrival we could clearly tell we had entered Cajun country, or as they put it, Acadiana. My family is originally from the Broussard-Lafayette area of Louisiana, so for me a visit always feels a little like returning home. A Cajun welcome is unlike any other, always involving tasty food, laughter, loud conversation, and of course, endless dancing. A few of my cousins are all around my age, and they pulled out all the stops for our short but sweet stay. We ate (even more) stick-to-the-ribs comfort food, including an atypical meal of boiled crawfish, which we washed down with Louisiana’s famous “Hurricanes”. Crawfish themselves are about as typical as you can get for the area, but never during the fall months, when they are usually “out of season.” After a memorable airboat tour of the Atchafayala swamp (where the tour guide kissed an alligator – twice!) we stopped in the town of Breaux Bridge and found ourselves the first catch of crawfish for the season. We also found time to dance to the Pine Leaf Boys as they jammed on the fiddle and accordion, cut up raw sugar cane, visited with lots of family, and ended our stay with the annual Black Pot Festival, where we danced some more and ate everything from squirrel to cracklins. There’s nothing better than family, especially when they’re full-blooded Cajuns who love their home and know how to have a good time.
To be continued…
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