Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 3: South Dakota to Bozeman, MT

Day 3
South Dakota to Bozeman, Montana: In which I get a little nuts with statistics, and we meet a new old friend

Day 3 was an easier trek in that we were on the road for less than eight hours—the last “long” day of our trip.  Our route took us through Wyoming, which was beautiful, and startlingly empty.  A quick bit of research confirmed this (I still had 3G in the middle of the prarie): save for Alaska, Wyoming is the least densely populated state in the U.S. with 5.85 inhabitants per square mile.  Montana is close behind with 6.86.  For comparison’s sake, my home state of Michigan has 173.9 per square mile!  These may seem like dry statistics—and I apologize if I’m boring you—but I was intrigued.  I’d never been out West before, never seen the vast emptiness of it, and it was a very real reminder of, “not everyone lives the way you do,” perhaps the greatest (or simplest) lesson of travel.

As we made our way to Montana, the landscape became mountainous.  As we passed into the Montana border we also entered Crow Country—as in the people, not the bird.  Billboard PSAs specifically targeted the Native American population.  “Don’t kill your heritage by smoking,” or something slightly more eloquent than that.  We stopped for lunch at a Taco John’s, where we saw an honest-to-goodness cowboy who was 6’6” without his hat, easily.

We passed through Billings, which is the most populous city in Montana with approximately 104,000 people.  (Here I go again with the facts.) For comparison, Ann Arbor has 114,000 people. To be in this West, with so much land and so few people, felt new, and I was surprised by how much I liked it.

We chose to stay in Bozeman because of its proximity to Yellowstone, and because Neal’s brother had lived there for two years.  He had great recommendations for hikes nearby, as well as places to eat.   Dinner that night was at Montana Ale House, an enormous restaurant and bar that resembled a converted train station.  It could have been the name, it could have been that I was parched from our day on the road, but I’m pretty convinced that Yellow Humpy Hefe was the best beer I’ve ever had. 

While we stood at the bar, waiting for our table, we noticed a little old man in a Michigan shirt and hat.  I was disproportionately excited.  “Let’s say ‘Go Blue!’ to him,” I told Neal, imagining this sweet old man to be an alumnus, who’d certainly have many interesting stories to share. 

So we gave our greeting, and he looked at Neal and said, “Good morning!” then he shook his head, muttered, “what am I saying?” and took his seat.  It turned out our friend was either senile, or old and confused, or possibly just drunk.  Hopefully, the last one.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Road Trip Interlude: The Great U-Haul Debacle, or, The Ballad of Roger and Joan

Pulling a U-Haul is often necessary for a cross-country move, but it’s definitely not ideal.  The trailer's unwieldy, the towing vehicle becomes slow to accelerate, and every hill feels like a struggle.  Our particular trailer had a delightful tic: when you turned on the right blinker in the car, the trailer’s right blinker went on, and when you turned on the car’s left blinker—the trailer’s right blinker went on.  We didn’t report this to U-Haul while on the road for fear they’d make us unload the whole damn thing and switch it out for a new one.  Under those circumstances, the blinker situation didn’t seem all that bad.

But as mentioned previously, our biggest issue was fear of U-Haul theft. I think any rational person would share that concern if they had all their personal belongings in one tin-shed-on-wheels.  And if Neal and I have a motto for travel, real estate, or life in general, it’s this: Trust No One. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 2: West Des Moines, IA to Rapid City, SD

On July 21, exactly one week after getting married, my new husband and I departed on a road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan to our new home: Seattle, Washington. This is my road trip diary.

Day 2
West Des Moines to Rapid City

Day 2 was the longest and most strenuous of our planned drives.  We hit the road around 7 AM again, on Central Time now.  We didn’t eat a real breakfast and hadn’t had a real meal—save for dinner—the previous day, so it seemed like a good idea to stop for lunch.  At an Arby’s somewhere in South Dakota, we encountered one of those pretty Midwestern girls Kerouac must have been talking about.  She wore a cowboy hat on top of her long wavy hair; she couldn’t have been more than 18.  She studied me as we gave her our orders, and when she crossed the counter to tidy up the dining room, she commented on my shoes.  “My sister would kill for a pair of those,” she said, “she wants the sparkly ones.”  She continued moving around the dining room, chatting warmly with the patrons.  She teased an older couple, good-naturedly, saying, “Watch out, I bite!” to something the gentleman said.  He asked her if she had a horse; she replied she just dressed like she did.

We were careful to fill up before hitting the Badlands.  We were on 90 now, Neal having taken 29 up at some point along the way while I was sleeping.  I imagined the Badlands to be an empty gray desert, with perhaps a bleached steer skull posed artfully in the sand just off the highway.  If I had ever seen pictures of the Badlands before, I had clearly forgotten them.  I was at the wheel.  In order to see the Badlands, we’d have to exit 90 and take a slight detour, which would eventually deposit us back on the Interstate, near the town of Wall (more on that later).