1000+ miles, 4 cities, 3 hotels, 2 Great Lakes, several hikes, 2 border crossings, 2 Jolly Pumpkins, 1 music festival, 1 freak thunderstorm, innumerable hours of talking and quiet. Let’s do it again soon.
I might have mentioned before that we’re not good at road tripping. Which is to say: we don’t enjoy driving. Long drives almost always mean traffic, construction, excessive junk food, and, if we’re visiting my family, terrible weather. Seriously, it storms almost every time we drive west. So when I suggested that instead of going to Portland – our proposed vacation destination – that we take a road trip somewhere, you need to realize that we were going out on a serious limb.
After some discussion, we settled on a plan: camping in Wisconsin, followed by a few days in Madison or Chicago or both. And instead of taking awful 94 through awful Chicago traffic, we’d go the long way ’round Lake Michigan – north to the tip of the Mitten, over into the UP, and then south along the Wisconsin side of the lake. We resolved to avoid the interstate whenever possible, and to stop wherever suited our fancy: historical markers, dive-y restaurants, intriguing attractions. I was in charge of researching accommodations, while Shane looked into places to eat, helpfully plotting them out by number of hours along that day’s drive.
And so we set off, heading due north on 75 on a beautiful day. First stop? The Cheesehouse – or, more properly, Pinconning Cheese Co.
We both love cheese, as you well know, but weren’t expecting much from this roadside attraction. Which is to say that we found lots of uninspiring cheese, a few tasty cheese spreads, and an impressive array of meat sticks that Shane snacked on for the next few days. Our total came in below the $5 credit card limit, so we also got a giant pickle that literally had to be held with two hands and made the car smell like dill and garlic.
Our first true road meal came at Spike’s Keg O Nails in Grayling, MI:
Spike’s has been operating in this location since the day after Prohibition was repealed. The menu explained the history of the bar, which has had five owners in its 78 year history. It’s exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find in a smallish town, and exactly the sort of ambiance you’d hope for on a Friday night: lots of townies eating fried fish and drinking cheap beer around small tables.
Who were we to question a good thing? The fried fish was fantastic: crisp batter and flaky tender white fish accompanied by the typical Midwest sides: cole slaw, choice of potato (fries), and a dinner roll. We skipped the roll and split a salad, and were totally pleased with our $15 dinner.
Not wanting to jump right back into the car, we took a walk around downtown Grayling, where we tamed a ferocious beast, sat by the river, and generally started to ease into vacation mode.
We still had a few hours left in our drive, however, so it was back in the car and due north for us, stopping only for a Whippy Dip detour:
and a scenic overlook:
A Pleasant Peninsula indeed.
Day 6: Rockford, IL > Ann Arbor, MI
States: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan
We had to get on the road first thing in the morning in order to get to Ann Arbor in time for a 4:30pm apartment showing, which meant limited lingering over brunch with the extended family, much to my disappointment. It was nice to get to see everyone – hopefully next time we won’t be so rushed. After a quick stop for hugs at Jenn and Bill’s, we were on the road a little after 11 and motored on around Chicago, dipping down into Indiana before hitting Michigan’s glorious 70 mph highways, rolling into Ann Arbor just in time.
Apartment #1 was a 2 bedroom with a basement located in a tree-filled neighborhood about 1.5 miles from Kerrytown and the U of M campus. The landlord’s dad gave us a tour, mentioning along the way that the current tenant worked at the library. On our way out, we noticed a stack of articles about institutional repositories on his coffee table. What are the chances, right? We had some time to kill before apartment #2, so we made our first trip to Zingerman’s.
Zingerman’s! Sigh. The stuff of dreams. Walking around Kerrytown felt like going home to Champaign – neighborhood-scale streets, friendly people, good food. We immediately found a co-op and I literally leapt for joy – or would have, if I hadn’t felt totally brain-dead from the driving and the hangover. With two days ahead of us, though, we decided to save some exploring for later, and went to check out apartment #2, which was closer to the fun stuff but also much smaller and weirdly laid out. Satisfied with our house-hunting, we checked into our hotel, signed the lease, and headed off for dinner.
I really can’t describe to you how happy we were that evening. The weather was perfect. We had a new apartment, and along with it a huge weight off. We wandered around the downtown area, settling on Blue Tractor for a totally adequate dinner, then heading back to our hotel to pass the hell on out.
Day 7: Ann Arbor, MI
We’d expected to have to do a bit more househunting, so with a lease signed and sealed, we found ourselves with a full day free in Ann Arbor. We started off with breakfast at Zingerman’s – polenta for me, and the Kentucky King Platter for Shane. The rest of the morning was dedicated to lazy walking around, exploring little shops in Kerrytown, and sitting in a park and feeling sleepy. We had a late lunch at Red Hawk on campus, then went back to the hotel for a nap. I ❤ vacation naps.
After a bit of driving around, we decided to park ourselves at a coffeeshop in order to enjoy the beautiful weather and our books – then ended up at Ashley’s for dinner and, as it happened, trivia. Shane went to Ashley’s for dinner when he was in Ann Arbor for his job interview, and was so enamored with their drafts list that he insisted we go back. This turned out to be a fortuitous choice! We had our books sitting on the table, and a girl came up to ask Shane if he was, in fact, reading Infinite Jest. She said that she was part of a book club participating in Infinite Summer, and invited him to join them for their discussion in the future. Fun and random, right? Well, as the evening progressed, we inadvertently eavesdropped on her conversation and learned that not only is she a nice person who invites strangers to a book club – she also works at the U of M library in a department that Shane will be working with! Upon discovering that, we exchanged contact information and exclaimed about the coincidence! That made two totally random encounters with library people – or library people’s stuff – in two days, which to me feels like a pretty good sign that we’re moving to the right place. In addition, thanks to my otherwise totally useless knowledge of The Doors, we came in 2nd in trivia, winning a $10 gift certificate to Ashley’s that we look forward to using once we arrive.
Back at the hotel, we were in for an interesting night. We turned in around 11, hoping for a good night’s sleep before a long day of travel. We were definitely not in luck. From 11-1, we were treated to unending noise from our upstairs and other nearby neighbors. It wasn’t a lot of noise – just enough to keep us both awake. Shane tried to call the front desk – no answer. I finally got dressed and went to talk to the management, only to discover that they closed up shop at 11. Perfect timing! I guess that’s what you get when you’re paying $50 or less for a hotel. I went upstairs to knock on the hotel room door, and instead ran into three cops dusting for fingerprints on a busted vending machine. I have no idea what they were really doing there – but whatever it was, it quieted down our neighbors, and we finally got some sleep out of the evening.
Day 8: Ann Arbor, MI > Alexandria, VA
States: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia
The final day of our trip was also the longest day of travel – for Shane at least. Having used up all of my earned vacation time for this trip, I had made arrangements to work the late shift on the day of our return. Not knowing how much time we’d need in Ann Arbor, though, we’d talked it over and I’d booked a one-way flight home from Detroit. After breakfast at Zingerman’s (trip #4, including a stop for a beverage and Caroline’s coffee), we drove to the Detroit airport. I wheedled my way onto an earlier flight, putting me back in sweaty-sweaty DC at 3pm – just enough time to cab home, take a shower, feed the cats, and turn around and head back into DC for work at 6pm. If anything noteworthy happened on Shane’s long looong loooooong drive home, I’m not aware of it, as by the time I got home at 9:30pm, he had been home with enough time to unload the car and bottle his beer. I owe him one – a big one – for that trip.
So, all told, we logged 1837 miles in 8 days, acquired several cases of beer, saw a lot of family and friends, found a new home, and made it back in one piece. We were patient and kind to each other, despite forgetting both camera and iPod chargers. There were no major incidents of any kind. A successful trip!
Day 3: Lakewood, OH > Rockford, IL
States: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois
We hit the road early to cover the 7 hour drive to Rockford, stopping for bagels before driving through a torrential downpour for basically the entire state of Ohio. We listened to NPR as long as we could, quering Twitter for information about stations along the way. Once through Ohio, the rain lifted, and we carried on to Three Floyds in Munster, IN, for lunch and the acquisition of still more beer. As we passed through Indiana, we wasted a solid few minutes watching our phones to see how quickly they would catch up with the switch from Eastern to Central time. My phone won, just for the record.
Three Floyds provided us with a great opportunity to see how many business can begin with ‘Munster’ – and also a delicious plate of sausages and pickled things. Shane was excited to have Dreadnaught and to try the Apocalpyse Cow, while I stuck with the always solid Robert the Bruce. We got a case of Gumballhead plus 22s of Dreadnaught and Apocalypse Cow, which required a side trip to another business whose name started with Munster. Back on the road, we carried on to Rockford, skirting Chicago traffic and stopping for a dip cone somewhere in the north suburbs.
That evening was my sister’s not-bachelorette party, so after a quick nap, we picked Jenn up and headed to the Irish Rose for dinner. Not-bachelorette meant that boys were allowed, so Shane and my brother were there, along with Cassie, her boy Nate, and Robyn – plus Joes T and O who met us out later. After a very tasty dinner, we rolled on to Carlyle and Swilligans, where Shane and I left the party in order to SLEEEEEEP. It was just the right amount of boozey and fun as far as I’m concerned, but then I didn’t have Jenn’s hangover in the morning.
Day 4: Rockford, IL
States: Illinois, Wisconsin
I did, however, have some excitement in store for me. I got up early in the morning to prep for my web-based interview that would be taking place at 8am Central time. When I rolled into Mary’s Market, though, I discovered that my wallet was missing. Cue much swearing and freaking out, as well as no delicious Market breakfast. I went home, searched the car and suitcase, and then gave up and did my interview. Fortunately I had my ID and checkbook and also fortunately we bank at a national bank, so I was able to get cash before my nail appointment (bright red!). A few phone calls later, and MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, my wallet was located at Swilligans, where we picked it up en route to the rehearsal later in the evening.
At this point we’d gone 24 hours without acquiring any more beer. Can you believe it?
My parents took us out to lunch at Jester’s, a local Greek place they like a great deal. Shane managed to mystify the girl at the counter by asking for his gyro to be made spicy – apparently they haven’t heard of harissa – but our food was solidly good with GIANT portions – something I haven’t missed from the Midwest, though the Mid-Atlantic’s not much better. We kicked around the house for a bit, showered, then headed down to Klehm for the rehearsal. Mark did an impressive job of wrangling the bridal party and family, including two very cute and spazzy ring bearers and two very funny flower girls. The gardens were beautiful, and the rain held off until we packed into cars to drive 45 minutes north to the Rockton Inn for the rehearsal dinner, hosted by Bill’s parents. These sorts of occasions are always interesting – it’s rare to actually know everyone in the bridal party, so there’s a lot of sitting around awkwardly and just talking to the people you know. We chatted with Mark and watched Bill’s nephews, my cousins, and Belah run around and hang off Bill.
Since we were already almost all the way to Wisconsin, we decided to take a quick trip across the border in a classic Midwest thunderstorm to get my beloved Spotted Cow, which isn’t distributed outside the state. The first stop was Cub Foods in Beloit, my go-to spot for Wisconsin beers, only to discover that it CLOSED! From there we went to Everett’s, where we discovered Port Pizza Hop 15 and Shark Attack, some beers from Lost Abbey that we didn’t buy, and also that Everett’s is actually not in Wisconsin. A third stop at Woodman’s provided us with a 12 pack of Spotted Cow, a wine bottle of Raspberry Tart, and Dancing Man Wheat, one of many New Glarus beers that I hadn’t seen before. I look forward to being closer to Wisconsin if only so that I can sample these more often!
Another stormy drive home, and we crashed for the night in hopes of getting enough sleep to make it through the wedding day. We wisely removed Gypsy‘s collar, resulting in a quiet fuzzball sleeping between us for part of the night.
(or: 7 days, 8 states, 1 wedding, 2 families, 1 apt, and 2 tired librarians)
Day 1: Alexandria, VA > Lakewood, OH
States: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio
After a very full day of Important Work Stuff, we loaded up the car and set out at 5pm, basically the worst possible time to drive anywhere in any metro area. The first 15 miles of our trip – from our apartment to the Beltway – took a full hour. Fortunately we had NPR and various forms of jerky to get us through. Carrying on, we encountered the Pennsylvania turnpike, which lacked rabid bears but did contain some pretty epic construction and/or accidents that significantly slowed us down. Shane was a trooper and carried us through to Lakewood, Ohio, where we arrived at his mom’s house at around 1230am, completing a 6.5 hour drive in about 7.5. Shane’s momma (and the cats) welcomed us with a lot of whispers, and we almost immediately crashed the hell on out.
Day 2: Lakewood, OH
Despite getting in LATE, I was up at 9am to test the web conferencing software I would be using for an interview later in the week. We kicked around the house, then went to the farmers’ market and Discount Drug Mart (which, apparently, ‘saves you the run-around’) with Shane’s momma, then stopped in to Rozi’s to pick up the first of OMG SO MUCH beer. Throughout the trip I referred to these stops as our Smokey & the Bandit operation (sans pesky sherriff). According to Shane’s tweets, he picked up DFH Sah’tea, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Bière, Nøgne Ø Sunturnbrew, and Southern Tier Back Burner. This was a portend of things to come.
We met Shane’s BFF Steve for lunch and GOOD LORD MORE BEER. Steve gifted us with five six-packs and a three-pack of underfills from Great Lakes. They’re all anonymously bottled, so we’ll see how we do on figuring them out, especially because Shane kept getting confused by the conversation about the bottles, their provenance, and their actual contents. We grabbed lunch at the Buckeye Beer Engine, a bar with pretty fantastic taps just around the corner from Shane’s momma’s house. I haven’t really met any of Shane’s friends from way-back – just his friends from college on – so it was pretty hilarious from start to finish.
Both of Shane’s brothers had to work, putting us on a pretty tight visiting schedule. After a quick nap (punctuated by Kittens Inspired by Kittens-type screaming), we had dinner with Orin and Shane’s momma at Luxe, in what is apparently an up-and-coming neighborhood that mostly appeared to be under construction. Shane and I split a really fantastic charcuterie and cheese spread before Orin had to take off for rehearsal. The rest of the evening involved hanging out with Travis, his girlfriend Kristen, Orin, Shane’s momma, and Shane’s aunt Corinne and uncle Chris. At this juncture let me tell you that Shane’s family is great, but they are hella loud, god love ’em. It was really fun to see everyone, though, as the only other time I’d met them was when we visited in 2006. Unacceptable, right? We’re both excited that we’ll be living 2.5 hours away instead of 6.5 (or 7.5, depending on the day) and will be able to visit more often. Anyway, over the course of this evening I learned about “knee basketball” and that both Shane and Travis regard socks as “napkins on your feet”, among other interesting and informative facts. We kicked everyone out at 11 so that we could crash before the next day of driving.