Go West Young Man!

Back in the summer of 2014, Tyler and I journeyed from California, so he would have a car to use during grad school, job search, etc. We had quite a road trip. If you need a reminder, you can read about it here, here, then here.

Fast forward to 2018… earlier this year Tyler gave me a call, told me that his transfer to Seattle had come through, and asked me if I would like to drive with him from Charlotte out to Seattle. Why, of course, said I!


Departure Photo, March, 2018


Departure Photo, June, 2014

We got on the road with only a few objectives, and with nine days to make the drive. We settled on a northerly route to accomplish one of Tyler’s objectives (visit as many new states as possible) and one of mine (visit my fiftieth state). We knew that a northern route might be a little risky in the late Winter, but the weather reports looked good, so off we went! We like to stay off the interstates as much as possible to avoid [1] trucks and [2] boredom, so we used our trusty atlas to guide us to promising county, state and US highways. With two well-stocked phones and an old iPod, we had a fantastic soundtrack for our journey!

Tyler also had an objective to visit as many National Parks as possible, so we drove off towards western North Carolina and Smoky Mountain National Park. The mountains were spectacular even in winter, and the waterfalls were flowing.


Waterfall with forgotten name in the Smokies


The mile-high “Mazdarati”


The Smoky Mountains in late winter

We spent the night in western Tennessee, and got on the road early after a lovely breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express. First stop was Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Tyler wanted to stop there to add a park to his list, and I wanted to stop there so I could pretend to be Daniel Boone, and so I could listed to an old traditional banjo piece entitled, oddly enough, “The Cumberland Gap”. We visited Pinnacle Point to take in the view, and were pleased to find that while the parking lot was in Kentucky, the viewpoint, six hundred feet away, was in Virginia.


Pinnacle Point at the Cumberland Gap


In my mind I could see Daniel Boone scouting through these hills!

As we left the park and started driving through Kentucky, we soon stumbled upon the birthplace of that most world-famous of all Kentucky products. I am talking, of course, about Kentucky Fried Chicken!


I learned a lot about the Colonel, who was quite the character!

After passing on fried chicken as a mid-morning snack, we continued across the state to sample the Kentucky product in which we both had a higher level of interest. Yes, I am talking about Kentucky Bourbon!


The column still at Wilderness Trail, which had not yet been put into operation


Fermentation at Makers Mark, still done in huge tuns made of cypress wood


The Makers Mark distillery grounds. Yes, we got to taste some lovely stuff!

We spent the night in Louisville, where oddly enough there was a huge St Patrick’s Day street celebration (on March 10th!) and more drunks per square meter than I had seen in a long, long time. Next morning it was off to Chicago to visit the Carbery’s, some friends of mine from Yale. We spent a lovely evening with them and had some very tasty Chicago pizza.


I believe that Chicago has the most interesting architecture of any American city


Chicago pizza

After Chicago we headed for Michigan by way of South Bend. Tyler had never seen Notre Dame, so we paid a quick visit to the campus (home of the fattest squirrels I have ever seen!) and took the obligatory Touchdown Jesus photo.


A quick pose…


Get it?

Both Tyler and I were interested in visiting the upper peninsula of Michigan, so drove up the mitten right about at the pinky, stopping for the night near Traverse City. We awoke the next day to unexpected snow, which made the drive “interesting”. Once we crossed the bridge onto the Upper Peninsula, however, the snow cleared up, and we had a nice drive through the UP, along the upper edge of Wisconsin, to Duluth, Minnesota. We had a lovely beer at a local brewery, marveled at Lake Superior, and got back on the road for a couple more hours.


Gassing up as the snow starts


Lovely driving conditions


Yes, the “Mazdarati” got a little dirty


The shores of Lake Superior

We spent the night in Grand Rapids, MN, most notable for an only-in-Minnesota sign at the hotel, and a Mississippi River that was the size of a large creek.


Pets are OK, but not Hockey Sticks


The Mississippi Crossing

After leaving Grand Rapids, it was off to Fargo, North Dakota, and my date with destiny. North Dakota is my fiftieth state, and I am not the only person who saved this state for last. In fact, there is a large club! I got a T-shirt and certificate for my trouble, and got to see the real Wood Chipper used in the movie “Fargo”.


The Wood Chipper


State Number Fifty!


Proud member of the club

We had very nice tacos for lunch in Fargo, the got back on the road to South Dakota. We stayed in Wall, but did not go to the drugstore. The next day we went to Badlands but could not see it, and went to Mount Rushmore, which was above the clouds. Still impressive, and moving.


Lovely day for the Presidents


Bad Visibility and Brutal Cold in the Badlands

From Mount Rushmore we headed for Gillette, Wyoming, then up towards Billings, Montana. We saw some beautiful countryside, and we saw some stunningly large mining operations. We ended up spending the night in Bozeman, which was a lovely small college town. The next morning, following the ubiquitous motel breakfast, we headed for Big Hole, which I had driven through some years before at dusk with Roscoe, and wanted to see it in daylight.

I checked the road reports, which indicated everything was clear. However, between the publication of the report and our arrival, six inches of new snow fell, the temperature dropped to 19 degrees, and the roads were only partially cleared. Tyler got his first taste of truly hazardous winter driving, and our pace slowed to a crawl. As we reached Big Hole, the conditions got better, but the bike rack started falling off when we hit bumps. A quick inspection showed that each bike had taken on about twenty pounds of frozen road spray, which had to be chipped off.


Bikes in Big Hole, post-chip. The debris pile on the road came from the bikes

We stopped at Big Hole Battlefield and learned how despicably Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were treated, then it was off to Idaho. We followed the path of Lewis and Clark down nearly to the Snake River, then turned north to Pullman, WA, to continue our tour of America’s small breweries.  We then suffered through a somewhat hellish evening drive through Eastern Washington to the garden spot called Ritzville.

The next day was the last of our drive. Pretty uneventful, though the Columbia River crossing was a definite highlight.


Early morning shadow portrait above the Columbia River

We arrived in Seattle pretty much precisely on schedule at noon. Tyler got his key from his roommate, and we made the inevitable trip to Target to gear up. In the meantime, Karen flew up spur-of-the-moment from California, and the three of us had a lovely dinner together. Sunday morning it was back to the airport, and California.

I love a good road trip, even in Winter, and hated to see it come to an end. Could be my last cross country drive for a while, I’m afraid!


Tyler and I are big fans of paper maps, and our route is hi-lighted here. This is the same dog-eared atlas we used to navigate out to North Carolina in 2014!


Final trip odometer reading.

6 thoughts on “Go West Young Man!

  1. Roger Woodward

    Great story and great adventure. Thanks for the write-up. Unfortunately Jaclyn’s return from UPenn will be via (sadly) the more traditional “Jet Blue” method… 😉 She starts at VMWare in Palo Alto late August.

  2. Johns Beekley Sr.

    A number of years ago, Ann and I tool that same route through Michigan and went through North Dakota, my 49th state (alas! I may never make it to my 50th – Alaska). It al makes me yearn for the road!

  3. Olivia Henry

    Loved reading the latest episode of your” On the Road” adventures. You all travel just the way I enjoy, seeing National Parks, wild places, historical spots, “off the beaten path” roads, visiting every state. The breweries sounded delicious, especially Makers Mark. Having time together with Tyler is wonderful, and harder as kids grow up. Hope you keep traveling and sharing your great stories.
    I loved the 3 week cross country trip in 2010 I made with Tim Jr when he headed west to start Stanford. We took a southern route, after Niagara Falls, hiked, saw Graceland, lots of National Parks, Texas Bush ranch country, where Tim was thrilled the speed limit was 80mph, soaked in hot springs, went in caves, crossed over into Mexico for lunch and he came out with a sombrero on his head,, watched bats fly en masse out of Carlsbad Caverns, explored all over the 4 corners states, mesas, mountains, waterfalls and high desert bouldering. We arrived just in time for Tim to spend a week of orientation, camping, hiking in the Sierras.
    Tim Sr flew out for Commencement , then we took a 10 day northerly route home, saw our first train over a mile long, in NV, loved the colors of the Badlands, saw Rushmore, in sunlight, too and a BIA Indian school, with its upsetting historyandgot happily soaked on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls. Tim wanted more time at Devil’s Tower, while I wished but never got to my 50th state, North Dakota, since Tim didn’t care to see it ever. Ah, well, I see another road trip one day.
    One day, I might share my 4 week solo drive from NH to CA in 2014, to give Tim Jr our old jeep as an early graduation present, so he could find a job, move.


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