In October 2017 I accepted a job in Seattle, WA beginning in the middle of July 2018. Before I began my job I finished my masters, broke up with my four-year-long boyfriend, lost 20lbs and headed to the west coast. As I began my new life in true Megan fashion a vacation was required.
A long time ago someone told me and my mom that they were sitting in traffic with an international student and they gleamed, “Wow this is amazing that you live in a country where your government takes care of your roads.”
I think about this story all the time, mainly when sitting in construction traffic. I know we pay taxes but driving coast to coast it is truly amazing that we live in a country where this is possible. There are 2,500 miles of roads that I drove on and not once did I have to worry about safety. Do you realize how amazing this is and what beautiful opportunities America provides for its people? I didn’t have to get a visa to begin working in a different state. I simply had to drive my happy ass here, get an apartment and find a job. When people tell me in a disgusted tone that they want to move to a different country because they can’t stand America I chuckle because we are living in the land of opportunity. Trust me.
Needless to say before this trip, I considered myself well traveled… That was until I realized how nieve I had been about the idea of traveling. I’ve been to 12 different countries and never have I had quite an experience as literally seeing the United States from coast to coast. Driving you notice simple differences like the soil changing colors and fast food options. I often think how crazy it is that people live and die in the same exact spot and never experience the world. I am perplexed by people who don’t have dreams of traveling out of the United States. After this trip, I realized it was nieve for me think that these experiences can only be found traveling outside of the US. Yes, I still think everyone should leave the country once in their lifetime but this trip restored my faith in the US.
Let’s get back to trip details. Here is where they get sticky and I’ll try to not ramble. The drive consisted of my dad and I driving two separate cars to Seattle from Indiana. Literally the whole 2,000+ mile drive we were right behind each other on the interstate. Then because I have to present a paper at a conference (You can now find me on Google Scholar. NO BIG DEAL!) and attend a wedding the week before I start my job, we are driving one car back to Indiana from Seattle the first week in July. However, the way back to Indiana will be a much shorter cross-country trip. Hence the name of this blog, take one. This is about the initial move out to Seattle with two cars loaded down to the max driving cross country.
One of the many jokes on the trips was that my dad’s new Outback was in its element driving through the mountains. Featured in all photos is an Outback loaded down with a Lazyboy recliner, bookshelf, and all my other ‘valuables’.
Day One & Two: Pit stop in Iowa & then to the Badlands
As it turns out there is roughly nothing for about a 14-hour drive from Indiana through the heart of the Midwest. We first stopped made a short day and drove to my friend Olivia’s house in Iowa. Special shout out to Olivia and Jared who have missed their true calling to own a bed & breakfast. SHE EVEN MADE ME A PIE! Seriously they are probably the best hosts. There are very few people who will take in two people (specifically a unique combination of dad and daughter) for one night and make them a homemade breakfast.
That next morning and day consisted of driving 10 hours alone in our cars. One might wonder what father lets their 24-year old daughter drive for that long alone. My answer: one that raised an independent daughter.
And the fact that he has faced the reality that I’m moving 32 hours alone with virtually no one (this isn’t really true but for dramatic effect) and has accepted I am in fact my mother’s daughter and love independence and a challenge. I mean… I traveled around Europe alone when I was 20 years old… I’ll be fine.
Honestly, it wasn’t bad but I wouldn’t ever drive more than 10 hours in one day. I got through approximately one audiobook and 3 podcasts. Made 2 calls to my BFFs and next thing I knew there was an hour of driving left. The best part about I-90 is that the speed limit is 80 MPH. The worst part about I-90 is that gas stations are so sparse getting below quarter tank is asking for a panic attack… That only had to happen once before I learned.
Day Three: Badlands
The ideal situation is driving east to west. This is because time zone changes are in your favor. This road trip we experienced all four time zones in the United States, in one week. It was to the point where my body was just accepting food whenever it smelled it. Traveling east to west means you’ll wake up at 5:30am with ease which helps to beat the crowds and afternoon heat. Our day in the Badlands began 5:45am and we were back at the hotel for a rest by 1:30pm. Perfection. We beat the heat of a 95-degree day and had time to hang out by the pool and hot tub.
Besides the inspiring views, the most amazing part of our 2 miles hike through the Badlands was realizing that at this exact time last year my father was still on bed rest recovering from a shattered heel. Now he is doing activities he never thought he’d be able to do again. We learned a lot about each other on this trip but I think the most amazing realization was how far we’d come from the previous year. Our family has gone through the worst of the worst and here we are enjoying life again. The human body is amazing, the mind is amazing and most of all life is amazing.
My Badlands travel guide
GET UP EARLY!! Families won’t be able to make it to the park until 9:30-10am. If you’re like me you enjoy having the trail to yourself without little minions. Babies are great but they can wait… that’s the title of my baby fever Pinterest board and words I live by.
Stay: Best Western with the inside pool and hot tub. Honestly best hotel coffee I’ve ever had. The staff is wonderful and it’s fairly close to the park and walking distance from diners.
Hiking: Notch trail
Food: Bring your own. There aren’t many choices so they are slightly overpriced for the quality and just junky. We only ate out for dinner and just had peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch. Which is also a Megan travel trip of how I cut costs on most of my travels.
Sunset: Pennicile Lookout was great even on the cloudy day.
Day Four- Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower
As we continued the tour of all Best Westerns from Indiana to Seattle we head to Devil’s Tower. The day was filled with multiple stops from the Badlands to Devil’s Tower.
Don’t get me wrong Mount Rushmore was cool but it was exactly the type of tourist trap I try to avoid on vacations. Most of the trails were closed so we spent more time driving out of our way to see Mount Rushmore than we did at the site. The carvings were amazing to see but honestly, the drive through the Black Hills was more amazing. I would only suggest going to Mount Rushmore if you’re a history buff because for a nature girl this excursion didn’t do much for me. But we did take our picture and walk as far as we could get. If there is one thing I wish we could have done differently it would have been to bring binoculars.
After Mount Rushmore, I insisted we take the more scenic route. Usually, this is the part of a vacation where I end up with a tragic story about how the road less traveled is kept that way for a reason but this time everything turned out. We ended up in a town called Deadwood which was a nice stop for lunch and a good way to stretch our legs. Deadwood is an old mining town filled with casinos and has a nice old time feel. It was great for pitstop and I was happy for this small win. I jokingly said throughout the trip that I am taking a tour of America’s veggie burgers from east to west coast.
Purchasing the American is Beautiful pass was one of the most cost-effective and best purchases on the trip. For $80 you have access to all national parks, generally, a national park is a minimum of $20 for a day pass. Our second stop using the pass was to Devil’s Tower. After this experience, I have a new appreciation for water and all the capabilities. Throughout this trip, one constant for all the sights was how water has transformed rock. It’s truly amazing that as humans we are so drawn to the beauty of water and how it can effect rocks. During my alone time driving, I began to think about the complexity of humans and how water is the main component. Water is a sacred aspect of life and as humans, we are attracted to water and find peace in it. Devils Tower was an example of how humans find what water has done to rock to be a sacred symbol. Indian tribes use it as a place to perform rituals. There are color ‘scarves’ tied on trees around the tower that represent offerings.
Almost just as amazing as the tower was the view out onto the wild west. The clouds here are BEAUTIFUL and look so fluffy like cotton candy. There is something about being this far west that makes you daydream about what it was like to be one of the first settlers seeing everything for the first time. That is honestly how this trip felt for me. Like I was on a voyage and seeing the west for the first time in my life.
My dad and I joked that Devil’s Tower was brought here by the aliens. But seriously when looking at this tower it is hard not to think that aliens put it here. The loop around the tower was paved and easy. The best part too was that it was filled with benches for breaks to take in the views.
I haven’t mentioned yet how were blessed and cursed with completely sunny days. There is a reason this ginger is moving to such a rainy location. My upcoming blog post will be able traveling tips including skin care safety.
Day 5 & 6: Yellowstone
After a quick 8 hour drive, we arrived in Yellowstone, our third national park of the journey. The first day was timed just perfectly. We arrived at the park around 4pm with a Subway sandwich packed for dinner. I told my dad I didn’t want to go and see Old Faithful because it sounded too touristy. I bet you can guess where we ended up first. You guessed it: Old Faithful.
We ended up spending almost two hours here. One of my biggest pet peeves with well-known sights like this is the number of people that just come for the photo. Instead of enjoying the moment and being blown away that Earth erupts hot water every 40 minutes you came to take a photo and then make a mad dash to the car. There is a really nice boardwalk here that I would highly recommend to get an understanding of the different type of geysers that are here. Most of the geysers on the trail erupt at some point, Old Faithful just erupts the most constantly and frequently, hence the name.
Something AMAZING happened as we were driving around looking for a place to watch sunset. My dad decided that we needed to make a right-hand turn on a small side road with no real idea where it was going. AGAIN, this is usually the part of my vacation where I tell some story that only becomes funny 6 months down the road. HOWEVER, this time the stars had aligned for us. How lucky did we get that this happened twice! We were driving by just as the largest geyser in Yellowstone was about to erupt. As we sat in our car and watched the ‘firework’ show the sun began to set. The eruption lastest for about 45 minutes and was the perfect way to end our first day in Yellowstone.
The second day started like pure Switzer fashion at the crack of dawn. At 7:30am we were headed to the mountains. I would always suggest that if possible start your days early so you can be in the hotel by 6pm with a local beer in hand enjoying the comfort of the hotel. Staying at Yellowstone until sunset was beautiful but at the same time, it took an hour and a half to get back to the hotel because of the traffic. On day two at Yellowstone, we took the lap around the entire park and it was beautiful. There was no cellphone reception and you had to learn keywords for directions to get around. It was a beautiful time to spend together. We pulled over at all the major attractions. Again I wish we would have brought our binoculars.
Yellowstone Travel Tips
Stay: West entrance has been the best for our short trip here. It is the closest entrance with an exit and of course a best western less than a mile outside of the park.
Hiking: Just walk the boardwalks if you are doing a short trip. We walked about 5 miles in two days just by doing the short boardwalks at all the major stops.
Food: Billwinkles was seriously one the best meals we have had on this trip. I was getting tired of bar food but made an exception for this place. We hadn’t eaten a warm meal in almost 48 hours. The food and service here were amazing.
Small rant about this picture craze that is ruining major attractions.
Remember, the trip isn’t about getting a picture at every location. Actually, experience and appreciate the scenery. I love thinking about what settlers must have thought when they first found this location. Watch the bison and observe how they behave without taking excessive photos. As a culture, the whole “Pictures or it didn’t happen” is ruining major attractions. People walk up, take a photo and leave without actually looking at the attraction with their own two eyes. I swear I saw people never once actually looking at the sceniory. Takes photo and walks away. Why would pay hundreds of dollars for a vacation for a shitty ass photo when National Geographic has taken better ones than your iPhone 8 is beside me.
Day 8 and Onward: Seattle
We got to my new apartment and it is perfect. I had so much anxiety as I entered a 30-mile radius of Seattle. I had never seen the apartment before I signed the lease and had only gone off reviews and images I found on the internet. The carpet is brand new and the bathroom is the perfect combination of clean and updated. Besides being on the bottom level there is nothing I would change about the location. And get this, I’m within walking distance of a Trader Joes.
I’ve spent almost the entire amount of money I set aside for this journey a couple weeks sooner than I expect but you know what… that’s okay. I had a mental breakdown my second evening living at my new apartment wondering if I made the right choice. We spent 2 hours building something from Ikea only to find out there was a recall and the holes were out of line. The next morning we headed back to Ikea to return the dresser and headed to a discount store for some higher quality items. After collecting myself I reminded myself this has been my dream for 3 whole years and one minor mess up wasn’t going to ruin my whole experience.
Moving to Seattle has been and it still is my dream to make my life the best it has ever been. Since my mom passed away my motto has been living Option B. This wasn’t my first choice to live this life and make all these decisions without her. Option A was to live my early twenties with a mom to text every day to ask silly questions but that option is no longer there. But because of her love and strength, she passed onto me, I will continue to live my best life. Option B.
5 thoughts on “Cross Country Roadtrip: Take One”
Megan this blog was wonderful & now I have gotten over the disappointment of not getting daily updates on your travels. I love you-ML
I have never really considered in my first-world brain how fortunate we are for roads. Well built and maintained with even many options to avoid traffic.
I, too, enjoyed the Black Hills/Badlands more than Mt. Rushmore. It really was the first time in life that I realized how small, in a world so big, I was.
Even hiking through Shades I can’t help but wonder what the first people must have thought when they discovered it. Such a mix of emotions. We’re they fearful? We’re they in awe?
Lastly, glad to see your Dad’s selfie skills improving!
Megan- Steven and I are so happy to see you chasing your dreams! Keep pushing forward!
Megan, this is a great post, and I really enjoy your perspective! Having worked at Old Faithful in ’81, I highly recommend a dedicated trip there with back country.
While you’re getting used to the Seattle area, consider hiking options on Vancouver Island as well. Jeanne can fill you in on the WCT. Love you!
Thank you for writing about your adventure. It has reignited my desire to travel west. It’s great to see your dad hiking and taking selfies.