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Reflecting On A Final (Solo) Ride

Reflecting On A Final (Solo) Ride

As I sit here on night seven of my Alaska adventure with Ariel, my thoughts turn to last week’s solo adventure and really the last 12 years of solo travel.

This little getaway had a lot in common with my past solo trips:

  • Waking up not knowing where I’d sleep every night.
  • Major last-minute diversions from the itinerary.
  • Staying at the cheapest, crappiest place I could rest my head.
  • Eating most meals in the car or motel rooms.
  • Dicey moment at an international border.
  • Going off the beaten path and letting the road take me instead of the other way around.
  • Ultimate freedom.

But still, it was missing something more important than all of that.

My travel mate, Ariel.

I love traveling alone.

Chilling out at the Perito Morena Glacier, Argentina.
Chilling out at the Perito Morena Glacier, Argentina.

Anytime you travel with a partner you have to make compromises. Ariel is……less open to the kinds of places I’m willing to eat and sleep for example. She also is a planner. When we travel together, she will look at our route and look for places to eat, sleep and stop along the way and pre-book them. Our travel together ends up looking more like an organized tour itinerary than a disorganized wanderer’s journey.

Taking a breather in Northern Ireland.
Canyonlands, Utah
Standing atop the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah. Not the brightest thing I ever did.
I get a little too close to a royal guardsman...
Pro tip: Never make physical contact with a royal guard in London.
Thumbs up or thumbs down at the ancient Coliseum in Rome.

This can have major advantages, especially as it pertains to cost savings on booking rooms months in advance as opposed to minutes in advance. And by preparing for your trip, you can research the best places to eat and the coolest sights to see. If this is your style of travel, I highly recommend doing it this way. Also, there are few things more demoralizing than driving for 10 hours in a day, then pulling into some tumbleweed town with one motel at midnight…only to find out there’s no vacancy there or it’s closed.

And that the next town is another 2+ hours down the road.

Not good.

The disadvantage is that when you make your reservations months in advance, it makes it much harder to call an audible like I did when deciding to go to Devils Lake just the other day. Or years ago, when I decided to go about 200 miles out of my way to see the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, which unexpectedly led me to my first view of the Milky Way Galaxy – one of my favorite travel memories of all time.

Pompeii, Italy
Even in Pompeii, random strangers will ruin your carefully staged picture.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s just not the same without her. The give and take between my spontaneity and her planning is really what makes us such a great travel pair. She makes the plans. I improvise whenever the plan doesn’t work out so well. We really do work so well together as a travel team.

From the deepest caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM
Ariel and I take a quick break at Carlsbad Caverns near Roswell, New Mexico.

To mountains in the sky.

Skyrim
Glacier National Park, Montana. Or is it Skyrim?

And all the way to the literal ends of the Earth.

The ends of the earth...
At The Sauvage in Rangiroa, French Polynesia. The residents refer to it as “the end of the Earth.”

I’ll still take the opportunity to go off on my own when the situation arises. A quick detour on a business trip. A short diversion on a weekend when I’m alone. But for the most part, having a child means the odds of these opportunities are rapidly shrinking to zero.

No. Going forward, travel – especially adventure-style travel – will no longer be a solo sport. It will be a team effort. As a unit. As a family. And while I may reflect back fondly on my times as a solo traveler on this blog on occasion…

Journey's end
The end of our New Zealand road trip was a bittersweet time for us.

…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Day 1: Primary Mission ACCOMPLISHED

Day 1: Primary Mission ACCOMPLISHED

So the first day 1 of this trip are now behind me……..and so far, so good.

Day 1 started with a relatively painless experience at EWR and then a pretty long layover in Chicago. The United Lounge at O’Hare was ehhhhhok. Apparently they’ve decided to follow Delta’s lead and offer up Mac ‘n Cheese plus soup. It just wasn’t as good as Delta’s offering in Atlanta. Anyway, who cares, right? United Lounges all suck and you should never pay to use them.

Landing in Iowa was actually a pretty big moment for me because right then and there, I got my 47th state.

After switching my car rental reservation from a minivan to a pretty lame (but not as lame as a minivan) Hyundai Sante Fe it was off to the races. I had only three hours to get from the airport to the “Field of Dreams” and then get to Effigy Mounds National Monument before it closed at 6 pm.

The Field of Dreams

I made it. The Field of Dreams site is actually really cool. I had never seen the movie until I watched it on yesterday’s flight, but like everyone else I always knew the whole “if you build it, he will come” thing. The filming location looks exactly like the movie, as you might expect. The outfield wall really is a cornfield. What really makes it a must see destination though is that it is TOTALLY FREE. I mean, I was barely a fan of the movie and I would have happily paid a few dollars just to see the place. It’s also pretty easily accessible as it’s only about a three and a half hour drive from Chicago. You can easily make a day trip to here AND Effigy Mounds from the Windy City.

Speaking of Effigy Mounds, that was stop number two. This is a really interesting location that was basically used by American Indians as a burial site. Today it’s a preserved space with really nice forest hikes.

I made a new friend on my hike! So what if he ran off as soon as he saw me!

I’d already been to a place like this near St. Louis that is much bigger and more impressive looking from afar, but what makes Effigy Mounds so fascinating is that they created these burial mounds in the shapes of animals. I only got to see the one that looks like a bear, but there are lots more if you have the time.

Little Bear Mound

Also you get a really good view of the Mississippi River from the overlooks at the site. Absolutely worth it to see this place.

The mighty Mississippi.

From Effigy Mounds it was, at last, time to move to the completion of a mission I began just over seven years ago. State number 48, the last state I had to visit of the contiguous United States was Minnesota……..

I did it. I can finally I’ve been to all of the continental United States.

…and I finally did it on my first day out here. Man, what a feeling. The border crossing where I went from Iowa into Minnesota was pretty remote. I was alone.

The Iowa/Minnesota border.

Well except for like 1,000 mosquitoes but I didn’t care. It was really amazing to be able to say that I’ve been to every one of the Lower 48 United States. Alaska and Hawaii are still to come, but those are “vacation destination” type of places that are not so different than going to the Bahamas or Europe. Amazing places to be sure (I’ll let you know firsthand about Alaska next week), but in some ways easier to get to than say, Nebraska. You have to REALLY WANT to get to Nebraska. And Delaware. And Maine. And freakin’ Minnesota. So it was really a big moment for me to get this done.

And that was Day 1.

One Last (solo) Ride

One Last (solo) Ride

So this has been a pretty big year for us. Not only did we bring home a new dog member of the family………

But he’s going to be a big brother to our first child this coming January!

Needless to say, as excited as we both are, our availability for travel – especially the type of travel we love best – is going to be dropping from complicated (with the responsibility of a dog) to essentially nonexistent (with a baby…toddler…family).

It’s not that we won’t be able to go anywhere, but truly unplugging in some remote location at the far end of the world will soon be literally impossible for years. And while finding adventure in the everyday is how we try to live our lives, the days of 50 day long road trips from one side of the US to the other are well behind me at this point.

So it’s time for one last ride.

This weekend Ariel is going to a bachelorette party. Next week we are going on a “babymoon” to ALASKA. In between, with a suddenly free weekend of being solo, staring down the barrel of the ultimate responsibility, I decided to move closer to completing TWO of my main travel quests.

Years ago, I decided I wanted to try and reach all 50 states. The only two left of the lower 48 that I haven’t been to are Minnesota and Iowa. With Alaska coming up next week, I decided to sandwich in a quick getaway while I still have the chance.

Here’s the planned route:

It’s a little bit aggressive.

1,020 miles in just about three days works out to about 6 hours on the road per day. I’ve dealt with much worse. The big question I suppose, is really, why even bother with this whole endeavor?

Well here’s what I’ll be crossing off the list over the next three days:

1. Hitting the last two states in the Lower 48. With Alaska next week, that means I will be one state away (Hawaii) from my ultimate goal.
2. Due to an odd quirk in how the border between the United States and Canada was designed (more on that later), I have to actually venture into Canada on this mission. That gives me credit for Manitoba. Along with British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, I’m about halfway to getting all the Canadian Provinces! Actually who am I kidding, when in the world am I ever getting to freakin Nanavut. Still, I’m only Yukon and Saskatchewan away from all the bordering provinces at least. Whatever.
3. If you follow my map, you’ll see I’m heading all the way up into the farthest tip of Minnesota. This is actually the northernmost point in the Lower 48. I’ve already been to the furthest east (Lubec, Maine), south (Key West, FL) and west (Cape Alava, WA) points. AND due to a sheer stroke of luck I stood at the geographic center of the Lower 48 (Lebanon, KS). So this is it for that list. Another sidequest completed.
4. My route takes me to the source of the Mississippi River, the “Field of Dreams” in Iowa, and Fargo, North Dakota! Also Effigy Mounds National Monument and Minneapolis are on this route.

Sunrise over the easternmost Point in the United States. West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine.

The bigger question – is why now?

Well, to be honest, I really don’t see another opportunity in the immediate future. Maybe ever. Minnesota and Iowa were two states I left off of my epic solo road trip in 2010. Ariel isn’t especially interested. And what circumstance really exists where I would ever bring a child (or an entire family) to either state? No offense, but they don’t exactly rank very high. The priorities – outside of the immediate vicinity of New Jersey – would probably be places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and other amazing places that Ariel has never been. Certainly the Grand Canyon or the Utah Parks, plus numerous international travel destinations, would come first. And if Ariel and I are going for a mom/dad only weekend getaway…….neither Iowa nor Minnesota are likely to make the cut.

Taking it even a step further, as the name of this blog implies, this – right now – is the time I’ve been given to achieve this goal. Who am I if I don’t take my own advice?

Finally, with our trip to Alaska coming up next week, that means that whenever we go to Hawaii – most likely as a family – I’ll be able to share the ultimate completion of my main travel quest with my future children and wife.

I can think of no better way – even if it doesn’t happen for decades – to reach the finish line, than that.

Here we go…

Stay tuned for updates from the road.