50 in 50: Done.

I started writing this post in mid-September, but the days have conspired to keep me busy and sap my energy. Today, since I’m now 51, I will finish this post:

Last week [early September], in my 50th year of life, Laura and I visited my 50th state: North Dakota. The desire to visit all 50 eventually has been on my mind for a few decades, but the idea of getting my last state in my 50th year (before I turn 51) came to me on the day before my birthday last year when we visited Maine (48) a week before, followed by New Hampshire (49) the day before I turned 50. I thought: “Hey – I just did the 49th state in my 49th year, so maybe I can do one more this year.”

Sure enough, that last state was North Dakota. I’ve now completed my state travel map which now shows as all red. I’ve been to every state and some island territories, such as Guam, St. Thomas, and St. John, as well as DC which doesn’t really count as a state. In the course of that visit, I’ve added yet another airport to my list. It’s a very nice airport with a beautiful sky painted on the ceiling.

Fitting since it’s certainly one of the “big sky” states. Fairly flat with very few trees. Sort of like this:

Many said, or rather asked sarcastically, “What is there to do in North Dakota? There’s nothing there…” We discovered, to our great benefit, that there is quite a lot to do – at least, there is in summer. I cannot speak to winter in the Dakotas – I can only imagine that it’s rather bleak and brutal. During the summer months (or month? – I imagine that it’s not quite as long as in the more temperate zones) there is much outdoor activity to be had.

Theodore Roosevelt spent much of his time recovering from the death of his wife and his mother in the western wilderness of this state developing an appreciation of the wild landscape. This appreciation led him to create many new national parks later in his terms as president. In the western part of the state, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is broken into two “units” one in the north and one in the south. Separated by the high plains, these two different sections of badlands are like mini “grand canyons” carved into the flowing grasslands. Each one was different in feel and had unique charms.

The north unit was smaller, but we felt more interesting. We drove through the entire length of the park and were able to see most of it in a few hours. A more thorough experience could be had by camping and hiking through the various trails (we only hiked one – we are novices when it comes to hiking). At one point, we were able to see the “concretions”, or strange spherical rock formations mixed in to the landscape.

While examining these, we came across a lone bison wandering the nearby grass. It was a big, old, mangy bull and it had cornered an older couple just by wandering by. It seemed to be looking for a boulder to scratch its belly.

Later that day, we ventured to the edge of the state to see the Fairview Lift Bridge. Long decommissioned, it’s now open to walk across and into the tunnel behind it. It was a unique experience and I have to give credit to my cousin Matt Phillips for suggesting a visit.

We then headed across the border into Montana for dinner, and then headed back to our hotel through dark empty roads. Empty, that is, except for deer. We counted over 50 deer we had to slow down for and avoid. That made the trip take a bit longer than it should have.

Next, we visited the south unit where there was the Painted Canyon, through which we hiked, and then took the trail to the Petrified Forest on the western edge of the park. That trail took the most time since there was so much to see. The terrain changed so much between desert valley, hilly cliff trail, high plains grasslands, and painted desert canyon with petrified wood scattered throughout the area.

This picture does not do it justice, but it’s the best sample of a few varieties of the petrified wood (foreground) scattered around looking like wood chips and the carved out walls of the canyon.

We visited Minot and toured the Scandinavian Heritage Park and visited local restaurants. All in all, a great time was had by all. We are certainly well pleased that we chose to travel there and spend more than a week galivanting across the “empty” state. Now we know that we have to go back.

And we certainly won’t think there’s “nothing” to do there.

Updates and News

You may notice that the web site is missing a few things… like all of the pictures. Well, apparently, this was a planned change that I somehow missed in my flurry of emails. The backend database that serves this web site on Azure was migrated off the service and onto a standalone hosting platform and then disconnected. They were kind enough to provide my the backup of the file, so I still have all of my archived data. What is missing, though, are my pictures which are still in the old directory structure, but not linked to the new location and posts. I’ll have to go through the links and download them… Lots of work to do … again.

And Now For Real News

Maybe not terribly exciting to you, but I’ve added yet another airport to my list: OGG, or the main Maui airport which we visited for a vacation a couple of weeks ago. I’ve updated the list and now have 95 airports on it that I’ve visited over the years.

Maybe I should add some pictures of Maui? Probably.

European Travel Visas?

It seems that political stupidity is global. The EU has recently voted to end visa-free travel to EU nations for US citizens. What this will mean is that Americans wanting to go to any member EU countries will have to apply for an entry visa before travelling to the EU member countries. How long before and what the process is, I don’t know. Nor do I know when this is supposed to go into effect. What I do know is that this will have enormous repercussions for both the US and EU – especially economically.

How many people who are simply used to flying to Europe will decide not to visit since they have to apply for a visa for entry? How many people who will travel to Europe for work visits will simply not go, or put off the trip and do video conferencing instead? The European hospitality industry will suffer indeed as fewer Americans will want to bother with the additional paperwork.

Also, there will likely be US retaliation for this action by requiring the same reciprocal action from EU citizens travelling to the US.

Check here for a good perspective from a non-US travel blogger about the wider implications of this and related EU actions.

These travel policies have been going on for some time, several years in fact, so they have nothing to do with the new administration. However, I would think that in light of the present administration’s tendencies to act somewhat precipitously that some tactful diplomacy on the EU’s behalf would have been warranted.

Road Trip: Day 8 – Pendleton to Redmond

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Or Woodinville, WA in our case. For now, anyhow, since the corporate apartment is there.

Yes, I know it’s now two weeks late, but I’ll give you the update now.

We have arrived in Woodinville, WA after a shorter trip than most days we’ve been spending on the road. We left Pendleton, OR in the morning and drove a little over an hour to Walla Walla, WA. Somewhere along the way, we crossed the border into Washington State.

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Stopping in Walla Walla, we had breakfast at a local place called the “Maple Counter” which was supposed to have much gluten free stuff. However, there seemed to be a miscommunication about whether or not they had GF waffles or not in the restaurant and the service we received was somewhat lackluster. My food was excellent, however, and after the meal, we spoke with the management and they will be making some changes in the future to make the GF experience better. We will certainly be coming back to check. 🙂

Once again, we were on the road – this time, to the Greater Seattle Area. First, of course, we must clean the bugs off.

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The road ahead changed from arid to heavily forested almost immediately over the next major rise. Tumbleweeds to pine trees – well, almost. We never actually saw any tumbleweeds, although in many places it seemed we should have.

Our goal at this point was to head straight into town, pick up they keys to the corporate apartment, head there, unload the trailer and turn it in. There were a couple of missteps with this plan. First, I got the wrong key pickup location, which cost us an extra hour in drive time to go pick up the keys at the new location. This, combined with the stairs at the corporate apartment and unloading time, pushed our trailer return time past the closing time of the local U-Haul place. This added a level of stress. Secondly, as mentioned, there were stairs. I suppose I was spoiled by the last corporate apartment which had an elevator. This one was a low-rise and therefore only had stairs. Third, it was HOT. And I mean in the 90s. That made for a very sweaty, uncomfortable unloading.

But, I had asked for AC in the apartment, so it should be okay, right?

Wrong.

There was AC in the apartment… which hadn’t been turned on. And, it was one of those portable units and incapable of cooling the entire place. I was very upset when confronted with this as I had specifically requested AC since we were to be there during one of the hottest months of the year. So I was grumpy, exhausted, tired of driving, hot and sweaty that night – which is why I did not want to write this blog entry. Plus it was not properly installed. They had put it in the living room – blocking the sliding patio door. We had them move it to the bedroom, and even then it was bad.

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As you can see here, there is a piece of the machine that is supposed to go in a window to exhaust the hot air. Only they used tape and didn’t fit it properly into the window. I had to fix it. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The next morning, which was Sunday, we decided to sleep in a bit but we still had to get up and return the trailer. Now, we were finally and officially “done” with the road trip.

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We were able to negotiate a little with the relocation people to find a better place with AC. More on that next.

But – we have arrived and the road trip is complete. All 3,560 miles of it.

Road Trip: Day 7 – Tremonton to Pendleton

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Today was a long day. Long because we wanted to have a short last leg tomorrow.

It started very well… until a great chasm was opened in the pancake-like plains of Idaho. We only had a handful of miles left in Utah, so they passed quickly.

Now apparently, the state tree of Idaho is an orange barrel.

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They seem to plant these along the side of every road. In fact, I don’t think we saw a road without one. This began at the state line and didn’t end until… well, the other state line.

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After taking this picture, we were unceremoniously chased away by an irate construction worker. We fled the scene in dismay.

Now that we had become accustomed to the flashes of orange streaming by our car in regular intervals, we were lulled into a sleepy trance by the gentle, rolling flatness of the surrounding area. We had heard that there were some waterfalls in the area, hence the name “Twin Falls” and were attempting to find them. When, much to our surprise, we see the chasm mentioned above. It was also known as the Snake River Canyon

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We dallied here a few moments before attempting to find more of said waterfalls.

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Here, Laura located a rare (apparently) road-trip rainbow.

After moving on from here, we made a few stops at other places, we crossed the state line into Oregon. Soon, we refilled the car with gas and cleaned the windshield, as is our normal routine: pump the gas, use the restroom, clean the bugs off.

Only, this time, not five minutes from the gas station – not even yet to the freeway, our windshield was plastered with numerous bug carcasses and their fluids in grotesque splatter patterns across our field of view. This made taking pictures as well as driving somewhat difficult, as you might glean from the picture below.

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While taking a cross-country road trip sounds romantic and fun, and certainly it has it up-sides, there are some drawbacks, some “realities” that make it not picture perfect.

We have enjoyed the trip so far, but now… we’d like to be done.

Signing off in Pendleton, OR.

Road Trip: Day 6 – Laramie to Tremonton

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Today, since we got to a late start, we made some plans while dining at the local McAlister’s deli where my niece works.

Say hello to Brittany:

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The long journey across Wyoming was indeed long and full of strange sights for people used to the Virginia hills. There was a definite theme, however, to the landscape: flat mixed with strange outcroppings or sudden drop offs. The wind was atrocious in many places. At first, it was fine since it was pushing us along, but later it shifted to the side and made us and all the trucks lean to the right. Maybe that’s why there are so many windmills along the way. This is certainly a good place for it.

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Towards the end of Wyoming, the sun began to go down and we then crossed over into Utah. We had been seeing mountains towards the south with lots of snow on them for a while, and Laura pointed out that they were part of a national park in Utah.

The scenery changed drastically with the border and the freeway began to roll down into a valley lined with cliffs of multi-colored stone. Much grass and other green plant items covered the hills – very unlike Wyoming. The road began to curve more and we eventually arrived in a small town called Riverdale for dinner. Soon after, we were back on the road unable to see the Great Salt Lake right next to us.

We must now sleep. We are in Tremonton, UT in our hotel. Tired.

See you tomorrow.

Road Trip: Day 5 – Rapid City to Laramie

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After a long and arduous drive across South Dakota, we were expecting more of the same for the next part of the trip. We were, however, pleasantly surprised with the change in topography. Where there were wide, flat plains before, there were now beautiful rolling hills (or mountains, depending upon your perspective) with trees. The road began to curve quite a bit more as well, thus slowing our already stately progress. Our objective this day, was first to hit Devil’s Tower and to finally end up at my sister’s place in Laramie.

The first part of the trip again started a little slow. This was primarily due to our difficulty with breakfast. It seems, that if you want a fast breakfast in “Rapid” City, you must avoid IHop. We chose an alternative, which was passable but not recommended. Moving on, we travelled north through the aforementioned rolling hills towards Wyoming.

Along the way, we decided that we should make a token stop at the city of Sturgis, SD where the biker rally is held.

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Getting our first view of Devil’s Tower was impressive. It rose from the ground like a wart on a witch’s nose.

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The formation is very interesting up from and seems to be out of place when contrasted with the rest of the land features of the surrounds. We took a hike around the base gathering even more pictures, some of which I will post later. After wasting much time milling around, we moved on to hurry to my sister’s in time for dinner. We almost didn’t make it in time.

Now, after leaving the tower, Wyoming changed and became even more boring and flat than South Dakota. Eye-numbing flatness… We chose a route which put us on a back road, but cut at least 30 minutes off the drive. However, I neglected to make a bathroom stop at the last civilized town on the interstate… and we drove for the next 2 hours or so needing to stop for a restroom. Imagine, however, a place with no pit stops, no gas stations, no rest areas, no pull offs, not even any trees to hide behind while “communing with nature”…

We finally made it to Laramie and had a great dinner with family and got to spend some time staying up a little late. We also left late this morning, but that was so that we could spend even more time with them.

Thank you, Mandy, for taking some time off work to spend with us! I type this now in the McAllister’s where my niece Brittany works and we’re finally getting on the road for Day 6.

Onward, Ho!

Road Trip: Day 4 – Sioux City to Rapid City

2016-05 VA to WA Cross-Country-Relo Sign Day4My apologies for this taking so long, but on Tuesday (May 31) we had a very busy day and I was so tired that I didn’t take the time to whip up a blog post.

Tuesday morning, we woke a little earlier, but had to waste some more time re-arranging some things in the trailer and still didn’t get out when we wanted to. But fortunately for us, we had a time change mid-state that gave us an extra hour at the destination.

What can I say about South Dakota? Well, it takes a long time to drive across. Wow. And it’s flat, too. We saw a lot of this:

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After many grueling hours of driving this barren land, we ended up passing through Rapid City, had dinner at Firehouse Brewing Co, which wasn’t all that great. Then, we drove up to a winery on the way to Mt. Rushmore. The winery had mostly sweet wines, based on various berries and fruits, although their most famous one was a rhubarb wine.

After that, we headed over to Mt Rushmore which was appropriately impressive.

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We got a good hike around the park and came back for a truncated lighting ceremony, which was fine since it was still rather cold.

Then, the day was done and we retired to our hotel. Thus was the end of Day 4.

Road Trip: Day 3 – Kenosha to Sioux City

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Since parking has been our concern with this trailer, I decided to park where I could get a good look at it overnight and in the morning:

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Today, we began our journey a bit earlier than yesterday. Last night, we decided that I did not need to go all the way to Omaha to broach the Nebraska border, but instead we chose to go to Sioux City which is on the river just across from Nebraska in Iowa. This puts us an hour ahead of our other route while saving us another hour in our drive today. With that in mind, and that we wanted to get up and leave early, we of course… didn’t. Instead, we got a bug in our ear that led us all the way up into Milwaukee – which I had already removed from our plans to save drive time. We went in and had some frozen custard at a place called Leon’s:

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After enjoying the wonderful, rich custard, we ventured into the downtown area, which was mostly deserted due to the Memorial Day holiday. We snapped a few pictures and saw the “Bronze Fonz” overlooking the river.

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Finally – we were then on the road again. Southern Wisconsin is actually a beautiful place, full of hills, valleys, trees and very interesting old barns, or as Laura said: “A barn-anza!”. After transecting the rest of the state, we crossed the Mississippi river into Dubuque, Iowa. Here are a few pictures along the way.

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Southern Wisconsin

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Barns in Iowa

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A little ray of sunshine after the storm.

The drive across Iowa was long, but not boring. The sights along the way kept us engaged and alert – especially the storms we drove through.

As a way to maximize the number of states we cross, we made a pit stop in South Sioux City right before getting to the hotel to get fuel in Nebraska. That makes three states on this road trip that I can add to my list.

Road Trip: Day 2 – Cleveland to Kenosha

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After arriving so late the night before, we decided that we needed a smidge of sleep before heading out for another day on the road. We slept in, had a wonderful free breakfast (it’s good to still be a Hilton Diamond member) and then headed out towards Chicago around lunch time.

Going through Ohio was a great drive – the terrain was wonderful. Rolling hills, trees and farms with some excellent old barns dotted the countryside. Indiana, however, was much more boring – not rolling hills, just small ground swells and the trees were fewer and far between. I suspect that we have more of that coming in Iowa and South Dakota.

Along the way, Laura discovered a store call the Pickle Factory – where they had all things pickle related, even when they were pickles at all. Here are some pictures.

We stopped in Chicago for dinner after getting gouged by the toll bridge to cross into Chicago.

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Traversing Chicago turned out to be fraught with potholes, traffic and getting lost (my fault – I had punched in the wrong address for the restaurant). We stopped in to Goose Island Brew Pub for my favorite Stilton Burger.

After that, we left Illinois and entered Wisconsin, thereby adding a new state to my list. 🙂

End of Day 2.